Ceci n'est pas un tatouage.
What do caffeine-induced headaches, Broadway theatre, and Rene Magritte have in common? Me. It's me.
"Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you."
Well first of all, ya boy ain't rich so I flew into Jersey as I always do and took the NJ Transit into Manhattan. My AirBNB in the East Village allowed me to check in early, so I made my way over to get my first glimpse of my digs for the next week.
I loved my AirBNB - it was small, even for New York standards. It was a fourth floor walk-up that provided a private bedroom and shared living space, and one shared bathroom. My host spent his time holed away in his bedroom mixing music with soundproof headphones on, so really it felt like I had it to myself.
The bedroom came with a couch, mini-fridge, a [powerful] window unit A/C, and wooden twin-sized (and possibly handmade?) loft bed. The narrow window with the A/C was the only window in the room, with a view of the apartments across the way. A small table was available by the bed, which I used as my makeshift luggage space.
There was a full-length mirror on the wall and next to it, curiously, was what looked like it could have been Elvis' passport photo, or mugshot. It was taped to the wall along many vintage NYC postcards on the other walls.
I let it be.
This trip was my birthday gift to myself. A week out of town for a change of scenery so that I could sit back and work on my own projects. Not career-work, my work. For the last year or so, I've been penning an anthology of original short stories with the assistance of my editor, a dear friend who lives in Baltimore who at one point was a professor of mine in University of Houston's esteemed Creative Writing Program.
I began each day the same way:
Wake up at 6:30AM.
Go on a fasted run for about 20 or 30 minutes, and hate every second of it because cardio is the worst. Silver lining: The gorgeous scenery of East River Park, from 13th Street to the Williamsburg Bridge and back.
Shower, pack up the laptop, and pick a coffee shop for breakfast and work.
Ludlow Coffee Supply usually won above the rest, but I did revisit a few old favorites of mine such as Irving Farm and Third Rail. I tried a few new places, too - Five & Dime, Black Cat LES, Felix Roasting Co., and Birch Coffee were all wonderful additions to my list of NYC coffee spots. I regret that I was unable to make time to get up to Harlem to revisit The Chipped Cup.
Monday, I caught the tail end of the impressive heat wave that had been plaguing New York for the previous week. Stepping off the plane was like I was right at home back in Houston. That night as I ate dinner at the World Trade Center, it rained a near biblical rain, ushering in temps in the 60s to low 80s for the rest of the week.
Tuesday I visited The Vessel on a whim. I allowed my thoughts to mull while I climbed the "154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs - almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings," per The Vessel's web page. The panoramic views of Hudson Yards and the river were worth the solitude and sea breeze. Sidebar: I'm sure my quads looked amazing after all those stairs.
Wednesday was for rest. I spent my morning in Brooklyn, one stop away on the L, to grab breakfast at Devoción. Heart and belly full, I rode back into the city, pausing at Felix Roasting Co. for - you guessed it - more coffee. This Park Avenue shop is definitely the most swank shop I've ever stepped foot in.
I found myself wandering Lower Manhattan when I realized I’ve never been to the National September 11th Museum, despite having been to the memorial and the new Trade Center tower. I mean, I was alive and cognizant the day it happened and remember it clearly, but I’ve not seen the New York perspective in such an intimate setting. I thought I’d pay my respects since I had the time.
It was right about when I passed security upon entering the museum when I realized what shirt I was wearing that day. I’m a big fan of St. Vincent - in fact, I have a lyric of hers tattooed on my leg. I happened to be wearing her Masseduction tee that day, quite by coincidence. I hadn’t planned to go to the museum that day, I just kind of walked in. Squarely in the center of the shirt is her album art, large and prominent: A model’s ass (often mistaken for Annie Clark’s own), bent over, in a leopard print leotard with hot pink tights and red heels on.
Perhaps, I thought quietly to myself, this was inappropriate to wear at such a venue. Guess who spent the next hour and a half walking the exhibit with his hand pressed to his chest in an effort to appear emotionally struck (which I genuinely was), but was really using his hand to cover the ass.
(Me. It was me.)
To write, I settled down at the main branch of the New York Public Library at a long shared desk upstairs, which made me feel emotions - I can't put my finger on why. But woof, for some reason that atmosphere really invokes pathos for me, ones which I did not know where to place.
Under the ornate golden ceiling, beneath the distinctly New York chandeliers and stately walls, I typed away. Reviewing old drafts, I chipped away at them, clipping what I had previously perceived as emotive writing, having discovered it to actually be quite oblique to my intentions. I attempted, hopefully not in vain, to bring the voices of my stories out from behind dirty windows and present them through a clear pane.
There's an energy there that brought it out of me. Wednesday was a prolific day of storytelling.
But like writing anywhere else, in New York I faced writer's block, lethologica, and the reliving of emotional trauma - you know, the works.
Staring at the coffee in front of me, rapidly approaching room temperature.
Staring across the park at that distant building,
that man jogging,
or the woman fixing her hair for a photo.
Staring at the screen ahead of me with the cursor blinking, waiting for my input.
Where were all these ideas that I had lined up?
The ones that came to me in the shower,
in the car,
or in my head,
while I should have been communicating with people around me,
during any given social situation.
By the end of the week, I'd cleaned up a hearty chunk of the writing I had set out to do or at least brainstormed, cleared up themes, and figured out plot lines to set myself up for some healthy writing in the future - which is exactly what I wanted.
By nightfall each day, I was restless to get out of my head. I didn't want to think. I just wanted to enjoy something. Tell me a story, please. Sing to me.
I turned to Broadway, like any time I'm in town.
Of course, Broadway is dark on Monday nights. Through the rain, I scurried like a scolded cat to Five & Dime for a reprieve from the downpour - a little journaling and some coffee.
Tuesday I gave Beetlejuice a chance. I was nervous for this one, as the film is one of my favorites and screen-to-stage adaptations are a crapshoot. My dog and I took Halloween last year as Juno and a football player - I was Juno. From teasers and promos, the Broadway set design and technical direction looked insane - and I love Kerry Butler, so I checked it out. I can tell you now that it's perfectly nice theatre - a delightful ensemble cast.
The show is exquisitely directed, and yes, the technical direction is of another planet. Alex Brightman as the titular character was absolutely impeccable (no better comedic timing than his) and Sophia Ann Caruso as Lydia certainly got the angst down (though Wynona Ryder’s creep factor was decidedly missing). It was Delia (Leslie Kritzer) who stole the show a few times if I'm being honest, and of course Kerry Butler (as Barbara) is certifiably still a national treasure. I was surprised at the repeated usage of the word “fuck” in a show where the source material is much more family-friendly… but I didn't mind it one bit. It was a different presentation than the movie, and I loved it.
On Thursday, I was taken "way down under the ground" to Anaïs Mitchell's Hadestown, the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice reimagined into what I'd call a 1930s-inspired post-apocalyptic world - think The Odyssey's reimagining in O Brother, Where Art Thou? but darker, and much more emotional, with Depression Era swing.
Let me just say that I will forever adore anything and everything that Rachel Chavkin touches - and Amber Gray, too, for that matter. The orchestrations alone are worth the price of admission. Hermes refers to the five-member chorus as “the hardest working chorus in the gods’ almighty world,” a statement I’m willing to corroborate. By nature of being 6’7”, ensemble member (Worker) Tim Hughes stands out, towering over the rest. His dancing and effortless skill throw him into the spotlight though, with a body that moves like butter in the land of the living, and a perfected mechanical gridlock in the underworld.
Reeve Carney (as Orpheus), Eva Noblezada (as Eurydice), André De Shields (as Hermes), and Gray herself (as Persephone) each give inspired, deeply moving performances that I can't praise high enough (believe me, I’m sitting at my laptop trying). I could go into detail here, but I haven’t the word count.
And then there's Patrick Page. That voice was crafted by the gods themselves for this man to play Hades. “Chant” and “Chant (Reprise)” are particularly stunning performances of his - on the soundtrack, sure, but especially in person. Live, his overbearing presence above the Workers and Orpheus is palpable in both - a masterclass in commanding the stage. The brick patterned tattoo sleeve is a nice touch, too.
I had the good fortune of catching Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway in 2016 (featuring Josh Groban as Pierre and Denée Benton as Natasha), at the helm of which was Chavkin, with Gray among the leading cast (as Hélène). As far as innovative, stunning works of truly original theatre goes, Chavkin's Hadestown takes the cake - I'm still reeling. Brava, indeed.
Let me take a step back for a moment and change gears before I talk about what I did Friday, my last day in town.
René Magritte is my favorite artist. As a kid, I was drawn to The Lovers II for its macabre depiction of the couple embraced, faces covered by sheets (once, I even duplicated it to the best of my ability, pencil on paper). The lore has it that Magritte's mother took her own life by throwing herself from a bridge into the River Sambre (which is true), and that his paintings The Lovers and The Lovers II are inspired by the memory of his mother pulled from the river with her dress over her face (which is the [generally disproven] lore).
Left to right, top row and then bottom, the above images are The Lovers II, The Treachery of Images, Man in a Bowler Hat, The Listening Room, and Homesickness. (via renemagritte.org).
Before coming home to Houston, I linked up with an absolutely stunning artist in New York, Miko, at Red Baron Ink on Friday afternoon, from 2:45PM to 8:30PM. I'm pleased as punch to say that my most expensive souvenir from this trip did not require any additional storage on my Spirit Airlines return flight (but you know Spirit would have charged if they could).
May I add that for any of my Houstonian readers, there are several original Magrittes at The Menil Collection.
I commissioned the original concept and design from Chelsea V. Oldham. Tattoo by Miko.
Actual tattoo appears as an armband.
Happy to be back in the H. Back to the grind, I guess.
See ya on the streets,
I love live theatre as an art form and as a means for nourishing my soul. I would love to pay full price, if for no other reason than to support the arts. Unfortunately, I don't have a ton of expendable income. And if we're talking Broadway as opposed to a company closer to home, getting to New York can be expensive in and of itself.
So, are you planning to see Broadway on a budget? Spent all your money getting to New York, and now you can't afford the experience? Well, let me introduce you to Broadway for Broke People. Broadway tickets regularly exceed $100+, $200+, and sometimes $300+ per ticket. Via B4BP, I saw both shows listed above for prices between $39-49 per ticket. B4BP gives you the breakdown on rush tickets, standing room tickets, and digital and in-person lotteries. It's all totally legal means for purchasing tickets (no scalpers or anything like that). I couldn't sing its praises enough!
Thank you to my partner for introducing me to it.
A philosophy I have - and that I'll impart onto you - is: I would rather find ways to purchase cheaper tickets and still support the art form than to have to forego the experience altogether.