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Pop Culture in New York

posted by Paul on 7/18/01

New York City is a hell of a place.

28th June. I first ventured there, loaded with luggage and ideas about getting wasted for fifteen solid and fun-filled days, and my initial impression was one of dullness. Lack of sleep and eight hours of travel have a tendency to create that effect, and I don't think I've ever loved a place upon arrival. These things take time, and my first thoughts about New York were that the people were rude and the air stunk. Fairly stereotypical opinions about NYC, exacerbated when someone like me is grouchy.

Well, I hardly wavered in that view, but airport personnel are rarely, if ever, forthcoming.

I travel to the States every year. I love the place. Would love to live there. I'm an Irish guy with big dreams and a shocking worth ethic. That's why I write. I think like a deeper Ferris Bueller and believe, as though I were in the movies, that everything will work out. It's foolish optimism. I can't stand dead end jobs, and as my intellectual qualifications (as if printed grades define you as a person) grow, so too do the charges. Everything is money, but I don't care anymore, because life is short, and travelling keeps me sharp. I'd rather travel than save, bottling a treasure of memories instead of a lifetime of "if only's".

So I travel. And often.

This time I travelled with my ladyfriend, our first trip away together and a test of whether we could stand each other's company for hours at a time - although I'm not the awkward sort, so I can travel alone. I figure it's better to have someone there, though. To enjoy the experiences, to have someone to turn to when you just have to rag on some weirdo on the sidewalk. Eating out can also be a drag when you're alone, and I often have to resist the urge to laugh when some kook looks at me strangely. When someone's there, I can laugh freely and without apology.

And laugh I did. I wasn't in the city three hours when some illegal cabbie offered to run us to our accommodation. "Are you working in a camp in New Jersey?" he asked out of the blue. I just looked at him, his gimp eye squinting back, and contained the laughter.

"We'll take the bus."

We stayed in a youth hostel, something I'd never done before, and am unlikely to do again. Sharing a room with eleven smelly, hygienically-deficient foreigners is not my idea of a good time, and I honestly don't care how "reasonable" the rates are. Give me a bed I know isn't covered in semen and drool (yet. j/k!111) and I'll pay the extra thirty bucks. As it was, we only stayed at the hostel a few nights, and since we used it merely as somewhere to crash late at night, it wasn't too bad.

Our first day in NYC we took in Central Park, which was chilled, contrasting the many slobs on the sidewalks with fitness freaks pounding the paths. It was early, and it was quiet. I had that familiar feeling of first day disappointment. Travel tends to induce initial sentiments of anti-climax, but that died away as we walked along Madison Avenue and onto Broadway. When I'm away, I love to walk. At home, I can hardly walk the length of myself, but it was a joy to walk along the bustling New York streets, staring at the bizarre mix of people. So intense. I'm not the touristy sort by appearance. I don't carry a backpack and, unlike the stereotypical Asian tourist, I don't take sixty photographs of a moving cab.

I just like to blend in and...enjoy.

And the same went for my travelling companion. Why do the touristy things when you can see what it would actually be like to be a New Yorker? Granted, we had no car to honk our horns frequently, loudly and without reason, but we took in the New York delis, hung out in Central Park and eventually got used to the "Don't Walk, Walk" concept of New York traffic lights. Basically, no matter what the light reads, you're taking a risk crossing the road, since many vehicles feel free to drive past when it says "Walk".

Whatever, dude.

A lot happened in that two weeks and it was a wonderful time. With a broken camera, I have no pictures to show. Only memories. But I'd like to share some of my favorite "pop culture" engagements with you, the loyal readers. Understand that these are merely the "normal"/"boring" things I did in NYC. The rest of the two weeks were filled with copious amounts of loving, drink and a drug here and there. And that's the truth.

Watching Artificial Intelligence.

We caught this one on Broadway, so I guess that is noteworthy enough. What put the icing on the cake was that just before the show I decided to make a boneheaded move and actually "conversate" with a shady looking New Yorker. He was overweight, he smelled funny, he was holding a ripped GAP bag and he was staring at the billboard. I should have known better. However, I like to reach out, so I decided to ask him about the movie. Now, you need to understand that I'm a pop culture junkie. I knew all about A.I. I knew it was supposed to be good and that it had already turned a few heads. And frankly, I would watch apes scratching each other, if I knew Stanley Kubrick was involved. And, indeed, I have watched apes scratching when Stanley Kubrick was involved.

ME: Heard anything about this movie?
NUT: Yeah. Artificial Intelligence.
ME: Yeah. Any good?
NUT: Huh?
ME: Is it any good?
NUT: Huh?
NUT: Oh yeah.
ME: What's it about?
NUT: Artificial Intelligence. It's about, you know, Artificial Intelligence.
ME: containing sarcasm and laughter Oh, right. What's it about?
NUT: Artificial Intelligence.
ME: Spielberg directed it, right?
NUT: I dunno. Yeah, SPIELBERG! Yeah, I think he did.

I made my excuses and we left, laughing loudly as we stumbled into the Irish pub/bar before the show. Even as we bought the tickets, this nut was screaming "Ten-Ten. This movie starts at Ten-Ten". Helpful considering the showtimes were listed in BIG FUCKING CAPITALS AND SHINY LIGHTS!!111

The movie itself had little, if anything, to do with "Artificial Intelligence". It's like describing "Pretty Woman" as "about a Pretty Woman", when in actual fact it's about a horrid, vacuum mouthed Hollywood diva playing a whore with a heart. The movie itself was spectacular. Myself and Jaki sat in the back row and, due to crowd size, couldn't smooch once. Not that I wanted to once I saw that damn Teddy Bear, the finest actor in Hollywood this year.

I don't care if he's covered in fur, talks like a toy and runs like he shit himself, he's already sharing attributes with Schwarzenegger. And, in all seriousness, the Super Bear deserves his own show, or at least a spin-off movie.

I adored the movie. I'm like Dawson Leery, you see. I have a big head, I love movies and I fantasize about Steven Spielberg. Face it: the guy is a cinematic god. There hasn't been one movie of his that I haven't enjoyed, even on a superficial level (read: "Batteries Not Included"). "Artificial Intelligence", however, works on a much deeper level, blending Kubrick's typical visions of a barren, yet technologically advanced future with Spielberg's renowned ability to create the fantastical. The film is gorgeous to look at. The effects are literally awe-inspiring, and Haley Joel Osment proves that "The Sixth Sense" wasn't a fluke.

I didn't see a dead career in sight, and that's saying something when Chris Rock and Robin Williams do some vocals in this one. In other words, this movie will help anyone's career. It might even help Christopher Reeve to walk, if he wasn't severely crippled and unappealing. But, more than anything, it serves as a fitting epitaph to the mind and work of Stanley Kubrick. In truth, I don't think even he could have done it better, but if I popped my clogs, I'd rather have my name attached to this than a movie featuring Cruise and Kidman wearing penguin heads and fucking for two hours.

It fits into Kubrick's opus about human free choice. Is "David", a crafted robot, any less valid than a procreated human? Can robots become human? Would they be better off? And, above all, aren't we just robots anyway? Slaves to the system and exercising about as much free will as the MECCAS.

Like all good movies, you're left to decide. I decided it was great, so did Jaki. But she did leave one lingering question:

"Why do all aliens in all alien movies look like that?"

"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" on Broadway..

I'd always wanted to take in a Broadway play. There's a certain magic associated with it. Since I've been to Hollywood, and enjoyed its hollowness, I decided to try out this other fable. Broadway is legendary, and both of us enjoy plays and wanted to say we'd sampled a good one. Now, "The Producers" was playing in another theater. It starred Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, and although I'm no fan of that queen, I don't mind Nathan Lane. No, really, I wanted to see Broderick, the star of three of my top fifty movies of all time. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Tickets were sold out months in advance, and with this being the "hot ticket", you'd have to pay through the asshole just to get within a mile of it. Arousing as that visual is, we decided to try for "One Flew..", an adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel, and a play that had been lauded as "outstanding" and other such helpful blurbology.

I had read the book before. It moved me. Jaki bought it in Barnes and Noble, when we knew we were going to see the show. We booked a week in advance, because we're rebels like that. And it also give us something to look forward to. A PLAY! OMG!111

Jaki did finish the book before we hit the theater. She loved it, was passionate about it and eager to see the adapted play. I personally preferred the movie, but since I'm a critic at heart, I wanted to dissect the play. In my mind, the movie cannot be bettered. Through and through, it's a masterpiece, with a great script, memorable scenes and a complex, full-throttle performance from Nicholson.

By the time of the play, we were staying in a nice hotel just off Central Park. Before that, sandwiched between a trip to Atlantic City and a few more nights at the hostel, we'd stayed at a cheaper hotel. At that particular hotel (NEVER stay there) I was called a "motherfucker" for enquiring about student discount. I was also the yelled at. I still handed over the money. I am an idiot. Not only was the "hotel guy" rude, our room was small, damp and had rat poison on the floor. That wasn't a feeling of personal well-being filling my lungs. It was probably bronchitis, or the taste of being in hell.

I digress.

We dressed well, hit the subway and took in the gorgeous Times Square scenery. Times Square is a great place, heaving with people and buzzing with life. But it just comes to life at night. It's cinematic. It's beautiful.

I'm running out of cliches.

Oh yeah, it was damn pricey! Booyah!11

The show started at eight, but we made our way into the auditorium at seven-thirty. Jaki keeps me right. She's punctual to a fault. I'm always too late or far too early, but our thirty minutes passed quickly as we talked about our trip so far and looked forward to Gary Sinise's take on R.P Mc Murphy. Sinise, best known as Lt. Dan from the brilliant (there, I said it) "Forrest Gump" was an actor I've always admired (not that way, I assure you). He's appeared in quite a few movies and is always able to bring a layer of intelligence to even the most one-dimensional roles. Any man who can carry Nicholas Cage and Ben Affleck deserves major props, but Sinise is eternally the silent star, enhancing a movie -yet never showily.

I knew he was more of an actor's actor, with a string of plays under his belt. When he hit the stage, the crowd roared cheered rapturously. I sat there with a mild clap, since I hate following the flock. The play was very well produced and flowed easily. Obviously more in keeping with the book, it focused a lot on the Chief and Sinise was a much more humorous McMurphy than Nicholson. In fact, this often played as farce, but I guess me and Jaki were on a different page than much of the audience, since they exploded at parts which clearly weren't intended for laughter. It's like watching "Titanic" when Di Caprio freezes and sixty morons are dying with laughter. "Hehehe he stutters. OMG!" Yeah, they actually laughed every time Billy Bibbit stuttered and needed oxygen any time Sinise spoke.


But it was, all in all, a very good show. I just would have done things differently. Nurse Ratched was played differently and not as coldly as the movie version. For me, that made it harder to follow. If they ever re-make this, they need to cast Kathy Bates and Michael Keaton as McMurphy. Then we'd have a nurse who hobbles people and a man who thinks he's a bat. It would work on the MTV Generation.

Sinise was superb, and you could tell from his very presence that he was a star. The other actors put in great performances, too, but the sticking point of the whole play was that they turned the Chief into a big pussy. In the movie, he's a big lug who never cries. They Sally-Fielded him.

I loved Broadway. I really loved Broadway!

So, that's part one of my NYC adventure, and I haven't even touched on Atlantic City, my weekend with whatever-dude's Dave and my guide to New York eating. But hey, you get the gist...

New York City is a hell of a place.

To be continued...

AOL IM: paulwdfans




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