|The nthWORD Guys Hit the Road:
Business Trip Take 1
by Robert Frigault, Publisher
In solidarity with the German business men who prefer the car and the Autobahn to airplanes and high speed trains to cover long distances in comfort, nthWORD editor Ryan O'Connor and I choose to get to our meetings by automobile. As a senior executive, my ride is a well used Subaru Legacy Station Wagon, a vehicle with an elongated body type also known as an "estate car" that was a family favorite during the golden age of the automobile. I don't have a family, but I like the extra space for stuff which the vehicle affords me and that it lends itself to a classic "lived-in" look. Whenever I leave my home base in North Eastern New Brunswick, Canada (geographically at the end of nowhere) I pretty much have to live in my car in order to return to civilization. Ryan, a Connecticut transplant to Vermont and a younger, cockier executive, drives an early model Chevy Silverado accessorized with Monster Energy Drink Stickers.
I should mention that the Subaru is in desperate need of a gasket job and my busy schedule prevented me from getting it looked at prior to leaving. I also left the important matter of getting my lost passport replaced until the day of departure. Sometimes I fear I'm becoming like my first boss: an eccentric but successful business man who despite higher than average earnings drove a Chevy Magic Wagon with 500,000 miles and was so consumed by his company that he would forget to change his clothes and walked around like a veritable space cadet. Once I sat next to him in an early morning business meeting and watched as a spider dangled from his head and then disappeared into his mangled mad-scientist head of hair. This was during the early days of the Internet and the joke was that he was building his own Website.
This particular business trip was a "B-tour" that would take me Burlington, VT, Boston, MA and the Big Apple, that's right: New York City.
Day 1 (Friday): Wake up! You have to sign this!
At 5am I woke up my partner and had her complete and sign my passport application. Four hours later I was in a lawyer's office making a lost passport declaration and by 4pm that day (and two parking tickets later) I had new passport in hand and was ready to make my grand re-entry into the American empire, smoke effects and all.
Day 2 (Saturday): Putting on the Monkey Suit
After stopping overnight on scenic Route 2 near Sunday River, Maine I arrived in Burlington, VT early Saturday afternoon to meet up with Ryan.
When Ryan and I are representing nthWORD we like to look professional, so new clothes were in order. This is when our creative network comes in handy. One of our close associates Nick is not only a writer, but also a fashion consultant with inside connections in men's retail. Before calling on Nick, I suggested to Ryan that we explore some gently used options in men's attire and he in turn suggested that we head over to Old Gold, the best place to find vintage clothes and accessories in Burlington. When we told the sales team at Old Gold that we were business men looking for business clothes, they were more than accommodating and presented us with the finest fabrics that our limited budget could afford. In honor of our first meeting back in 2006, where Ryan and I showed up at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston coincidentally clad in black jackets and yellow shirts, I selected a crisp yellow shirt, a fine Italian black vest and matching black cufflinks. Ryan chose a more classic look: a white shirt and vintage black sports coat that he accessorized with a yellow handkerchief in the breast pocket, one he fashioned from a yellow scarf that he later scored from a street vendor across from the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan just minutes before our first meeting. We left Old Gold with even less of a bulge in our back pockets and to approving glances from women, gays, straights and young children alike.
Ryan and I are not accustomed to shopping and only do it when absolutely necessary, so understandably we needed to unwind after another stop at Banana Republic to take advantage of their sale on jeans. A preferred manner of relaxation central to our corporate culture - apart from adrenaline sports - is the enjoyment of fine cigars. We selected stogies at Garcia's Tobacco Shop on Church Street that were (according to my politically incorrect imagination) rolled on the thighs of beautiful young Dominican women. Without further ado, Ryan, Nick and I headed over to the park for our cherished ritual and first meeting which, I might add, had the flavor of the Dirty Old Men's Club which I founded in Boston years earlier.
Day 3 (Sunday): Welcome to the Jungle
The Silverado rolled into New York City at dusk. To the untrained eye it might appear that Ryan and I are country bumpkins, but we are in fact technically sophisticated (the Silverado is equipped with a Global Positioning System) and urbane individuals with discerning taste. We gravitated to Manhattan's Park Central Hotel, a preferred choice for business and leisure travelers alike. To keep things interesting and spontaneous we didn't make advance reservations, but opted to check their availability online (from their lobby) and reserved at a discounted rate through hotels.com. Using the bulk negotiating power of a faceless online reservation system, we locked in a sweet rate for a basic room. Then by using sincere charm and friendliness they upgraded us to the nicest room they could manage based on price range and availability.
Day 4 (Monday): Reaching for the Golden Banana
The day of the big presentation Ryan and I arose from the comfort of our separate parallel queen size beds, opened the drapes of our 13th floor room and looked outside, ready to take a bite out of The Apple. After breakfast at NYC's landmark Carnegie Deli we decided to put some finishing touches on our presentation and returned to the hotel to do some work. Our search for a suitable workspace ended when the hotel concierge let us use her desk. Due to our professional attire and demeanor, the concierge insisted that we sit on the guest side of the desk, presumably in order to avoid being pestered by other guests who would inadvertently mistake us for hotel brass. After navigating, shuffling and tweaking our PowerPoint presentation to mental and physical exhaustion, it was time for lunch: over-sized sushi rolls and double shots of Canadian Whisky at Ruby Foo's, Time Square's Epcot Center-esque sushi mecca.
Shortly after lunch, the time for the big meeting arrived. We entered the lobby of the steel and glass tower - home to power, influence and giant leather unicorns. Our meeting went as expected, complete with firm handshakes, hard-hitting numbers, fuzzy metaphors, light banter and an open ending. Walking back I stopped on the corner of 8th and 43rd to point out the New York Times building to Ryan. As we were both looking up, this little old New Yorker stopped to talk to us. "Are you guys from out of town?" he asked. We shook our heads in the negative. "Oh, so you probably haven't heard about the guy who climbed to the top of the New York Times building from the outside. Actually two guys did that." I like those kinds of stories," I told Ryan as the man walked away. Then Ryan and I turned and looked at each other thinking, "What a great metaphor for micro-magazines like nthWORD!"
Later that night my cousin, a medical student doing her psych rotation in a less desirable part of NY, got out of her PJs to meet us at the Park Central. I always enjoy seeing her and hearing her on-the-job, stranger than fiction stories. Some of these stories (code word Geronimo) are bound to find their way into future issues of nthWORD. They will of course have to be edited to protect the guilty and hum, patient confidentiality.
Day 5 (Tuesday): The King's Quarters
We headed over to SoHo for a lunch meeting with nthWORD reporter Gina Ponce at Bar 89 on Mercer St. (Don't miss Gina's interview with Gogol Bordello in this issue of nthWORD.) An interesting feature of Bar 89 is the see through unisex bathroom stalls on the second floor, although all voyeuristic tendencies are quashed when the inside latch closes and a light shines that vanishes the occupant in a frost of, well, privacy.
We spent the later part of the afternoon half-looking for the "make the chicken dance" game: an atrocious Chinatown novelty that I came across in the early 90s involving quarters, a live caged chicken and a button that made the chicken and animal rights activists, I'm sure, hop around in a frenzy. Walking around New York I couldn't help but marvel at how clean the city was and how safe it felt. In 1987 British actor and writer Peter Ustinov called Toronto "New York run by the Swiss" because the city was cleaner and more efficient than its American counterpart. Here's a tip of the cap to New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor Rudolph Giuliani, for their "get-tough" policies and making strict gun control a priority. I remember in the early 90s over 300 people a year were getting killed by stray bullets!
For dinner we met with nthWORD contributor and editor-at-large Jennifer König in Little Italy. The neighborhood is the old stomping ground of Ryan's Italian ancestors who launched him into the future equipped with a magazine loaded full of words. Over pasta and vino Ryan, Jennifer and I bonded, imbibed and brainstormed. Jennifer's six word story "I will be a bird again" and a matching tattoo inspired Ryan to dream up--on his way to the men's room--the new tagline for our mock ads: What's it like to be yourself?
When we first arrived in NYC we dropped off our business cards at the Chelsea Hotel, a "rest stop for rare individuals." That night the scene at the hotel check-in counter was chaotic. A man shaking his laptop in the face of the front desk staff screamed, "I have a reservation for two nights. I booked it through hotels.com. Two NIGHTS!" Apparently the hotel only had availability for one night and there was no record of his reservation. We had made our reservation moments earlier via hotels.com from the Starbucks down the street and couldn't wait to check-in. Apart from the screaming lunatic there was a meek Japanese man trying to communicate with the front desk clerk. The clerk kept repeating "I can't understand what you're saying, sir." Ryan, who also doesn't speak Japanese, nudged the man aside and, international relations be damned, got us a room. Upon seeing the room key the Japanese man turned to us and out of the corner of his mouth muttered contemptuously, "That's a very nice room." The front desk clerk said, "It pays to be nice. Dial zero if you need anything." Pause. "But don't." When we got to the door to the room, we were shocked to discover it had a doorbell! We LOVE the Chelsea Hotel. Visit nthWORD's YouTube channel for a cell phone quality tour of our room at the Chelsea.
Seeing as our suite at the Chelsea was perfect for entertaining, we set out for a night on the town. Walking out of the lobby I turned to the hotel clerk that checked us in and gave him a Japanese bow that was received with an enthusiastic thumbs up. Our first stop that night was Bar 55 in the Village. We walked in and caught the last set of the gifted Leni Stern and her band. Ryan notes that "Leni Stern rips on guitar, but she's so cool with it, so elegant that you might do a double take to find her incredibly sly cascade of notes already gone."
After talking to Leni and the band we walked around the village in search of more music. I was ecstatic to learn that Smalls Jazz Club had reopened in their original location at 7th and 10th. I first stumbled into Smalls on New Year's of 1999 and spent the night chilling and listening to jazz until 5am. Six years ago on a trip to NY I was sad to learn that they had closed. The space was in limbo for some time. It almost became a nail joint, then it was a Brazilian bar for a while. Only in 2005 was it finally reclaimed by Leo Kostrinsky, a musician with a long history in the area--his father was also a jazz musician who played in the Village. Leo invited us into his office, a narrow space reminiscent of a back alley lined with bottles of booze. With close-set eyes and bulging muscles that fill his office, Leo, a New Jersey native, told us how, by nothing short of a miracle, he was able to bring back Smalls. Smalls is not just a club, it's an institution whose patrons include members of the Violent Femmes, former poet-laureate Billy Collins, and the legendary Steve Reich and a large list of musicians who can be found in the audio archive on their website. (You can even select them by instrument.) The stage--level with the floor--is engulfed in mirrors that are strategically positioned above and behind the instruments so that jazz heads and music lovers alike can study the details of every run, turn and twist. At 4am, Ryan was still grinning like an idiot as he looked back over his shoulder and said to me, "It's not that jazz is dead. It's about the beauty of the made thing. The beauty of the made thing!" If you can't be there in person, their site also has live stream of their shows. We never did entertain guests in our room at the Chelsea that night. Perhaps it was due to a rainy weeknight, or maybe it really is lonely at the top.
Day 6 (Wednesday): The Last Mile
We met with nthWORD contributor Olena Jennings for a delightful Ukrainian lunch at Veselka in the East Village. To get there Ryan and I walked from Midtown and actually had to exchange shoes half-way. We had walked so much in the past three days that Ryan's soles had eroded and were completely lop-sided. Since we're the same shoe size I offered to switch. As I was walking, I remembered an old colleague who had moved to North Hollywood and would periodically cross a man who had no legs and got around by crawling around on a skateboard. When telling this story he would say "I guess my life could be worse." At that time having no legs and crawling around on a skateboard actually sounded appealing compared to walking in Ryan's soggy lop-sided shoes! I'm going to think twice the next time I decide to walk a mile in another man's shoes.
When we finally got to the restaurant, Ryan, whose ancestors were also from the Ukraine, took the opportunity to conduct some visual and gastronomic research that will no doubt inform his novel-in-progress, the Marionnette. Oh, and if you haven't already done so read Olena's interview with YARA Arts group in our April Issue.
That night we spun the hotels.com roulette wheel again and ended up spending the night at Hotel 99 on the Upper West Side, a brand new hotel that is low on both stars and price, but a good value for budget conscious corporate travelers and tourists. I had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant while Ryan went to see a performance of SITI Company's bobrauschenbergamerica--"a wild theatrical road trip through the American landscape as" painter "Robert Rauschenberg might have conceived it," directed by Anne Bogart and written by Charles Mee. Ryan notes, "I don't know a hell of a lot about 'experimental theatre' but bobrauschenbergamerica had me clapping and thumping my foot in my seat, most likely to the annoyance of the old guy in the tweed jacket to my right. But that's ok, as Bob's mother says, 'Art was never a part of our lives!' There was a man in a chicken suit who crossed the stage, but, 'Why does the man in the chicken suit cross the stage?' This rollicking piece, originally performed in 2001, not only had me laughing aloud, but was fraught with powerhouse performances from all players and a script as taut as a tightrope.
Day 7 (Thursday): Breaking Down at MoMA
After breakfast, we walked in Central Park, passing through Angel Tunnel to pay my respects to my old friend, S.K. Thoth. He either wasn't performing that day or we got there too early. Later that morning, MoMA granted us press access to the Marina Abramovic exhibit the Artist is Present. I was particularly moved (no pun intended) by the work of this pioneer in performance art. During this exhibit, which ran from March 14 to May 31, her longest performance to date, visitors were encouraged to sit silently across from the artist for a duration of their choosing. Unfortunately on my visit it would have been impossible to satisfy the strong urge I had to sit in front of Marina because the guy who was sitting in front of her when I arrived was STILL sitting in front of her when I left after taking in her entire body of work which comprised of approximately fifty pieces spanning over four decades. One of her works which was especially striking "Rhythm 0, 1974" had a table with seventy-two objects that people were allowed to use on her in any way they chose during a six hour period. The objects could be used to either give pleasure or to inflict pain and included: a cup cake, a whip, scissors, a knife and, more notoriously, a gun with a single bullet. During the climax of the performance one person aimed the gun at her head and another wrestled it away. According to Abramovic, she learned that "If you leave a decision to the public, you can be killed." Another room contained "The House with the Ocean View, 2002." An elevated space consisting of three rooms - a bathroom, a kitchen and a bedroom - was constructed for living a minimalist existence by the artist for a period of twelve days. The only exit and chance of escape were ladders with steps made of butcher knives. While sitting there looking at the three rooms, I broke down thinking of the tragic life and death of my mother eleven months earlier.
As we pulled out of NYC, my cell phone rang and it was Hamel, a friend that I had been trying to get together with all week. I told her "The circus is leaving town"