Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NYC Meetup : Monday Manhattan

On the Monday, most everyone had gone home. I had taken advantage of Han's really fantastic hospitality a bit too long, I thought, so an outing was called for. Yes. More walking. It was up to me and Bob to wander around Manhattan, the island that I think most people think about when you say "New York City" (well, what I think when people say "New York City" is that El Paso commercial, but that's neither here nor there). The financial district, Central Park, erstwhile meat-packing districts now the fashionable stalking grounds for high priced escorts with rod and tackle still in place, all the glories of NYC, in other words.

I wanted to see the crush of people, the endless sea of NYC that first got drilled into my head by, I think, "Crocodile Dundee". You know, where he has to climb a lamp post to get his bearing? I got a bit of it. I think. But, you know, it's just people. And they didn't walk at a blazingly fast speed that had me at half jog either. Maybe some of Hong Kong's walking speed made it's way to Vancouver, because I didn't really notice a huge uptick of speed. I had visions of being crushed underfoot by overpriced Italian pumps and Oxfords whose sheen could spear a small pidgeon at thirty meters.It might have been the words of warning from my overly cautious big brother, something along the lines of "NYC Will Crush You". But then, he always moves through the crowd like a particularly well-paid security detail for a retired President. Too much marital arts at an early does this to a mind.

We wandered around, Bob being a bit of an old hand at the NYC than I was (then, I think, pretty much anyone was more of an old hand at NYC than I was. I might have slightly edged out a 3-month old from Hungary in a Baby Bjorn, but just). I know I didn't want to see the same ol' same ol. Get pictures of landmarks that have several million shots of them on Flickr or what have you. I wanted to soak in as much as I could of the island, for the few hours we had. In my 30 dollar quickly disintegrating sandals.

I also had to get a knockoff bag for Mrs. Owl. It was a thing she vaguely requested, and me, being filled with the guilt that only young parents can feel when going on a vacation without the family, took it to be a Holy Quest. I was told there might be Bartering.

My family, as I've said many times, comes from South East Asia. Different parts, mom and dad, but that area nevertheless. A place where 'prices' are just 'where to start your haggling from', numbers that get attached to items by the store owner looking at you, and not so much the tag (which is non-existent in the first place). I had to go, get a bag, and haggle. There was all sorts of ancestral and family honour on the line here.

Now Bob comes from the Mid West. Bedrock of community and family values and picket fences and neighbours with lawn envy and very large Ford dealerships. I don't know. I'm going by, as you can see, Hollywood here. But I do know that Bob had a distaste for bartering. And so did I, or so I said. Or so I thought. One of those.

I have recollections of my dad bartering for things where he really shouldn't have, to the eternal burning embarassment to me. Say, aquarium supplies, or Little League fees.  I have recollections of my dad breaking down a shop owner (on one of our trips to previously mentioned SE Asian countries) until he paid some unimaginable fraction of a US dollar as opposed to the entire US dollar for, I dunno, a wild boar, a small bushel of pineapples? And then there is the story about the family van. Which is a story for another time.

In short, the act of bartering, as well as the very real uncomfortableness of it all is ingrained deep in me. Like, how I imagine college hoops is to other families, or quilting.

So we reach Canal Street. An area, where I'm assured, all sorts of kitschy NY things can be had, notably things involving a heart or questionable electronics or trashy knockoffs of Italian designers made in Taiwan. Ahhh, America.

It's a heady matrix of shops, really. The sidewalk is crammed right to the gills, quite a bit past it, over the eyes and dorsal fins. One is submerged in knock-off flotsam and crap that makes 'pleather' seem the stuff of Louis the XIV's court. And it's manned by many, many Chinese. Ah, Chinese! My life in Vancouver has prepared me for this! There are entire malls in Vancouver with not a single word of English is displayed and where I can be accosted by any number of merchants who insist on trying to talk to me in Cantonese while I beg off, trying to explain I'm only 1/4 Chinese and that quarter being Haka anyways, so, you can see, I'd never understand you anyways, and them, slowly comprehending, shaking their head in shame and disgust.


So the street is cram full of these store fronts. But these store fronts are just an ENTRY WAY to a long hallway jammed with MORE of the EXACT. Same. Shops.

There's a casual disinterest, as well as a undefinable hostility from the shop owners. A posture I know all too well. It's the thinnest veneer of emotion, just going through the motions. Everyone playing their part until they have a general idea of how far you are willing to go. It's almost rude, but, if you've seen it enough, it's not so bad. I take on the half broken English, short sentences, curt words.

"How much?"

"Thirty five dollar."


"How much you pay?"

"Too much."

"Ok. *pause* Thirty."

*sucking air through my teeth* "Ahh.."

*goes about fixing bags, pretending I'm not there*


"Twenty seven."

"Ahh. Twenty."

"No, no. Can't do."

*I pat his shoulder, nodding* "Ah, well" *start walking away*

*He pauses, then he gestures towards me* "Okokok 25"

At this point I push it too much and am at an impasse. A deal is made later on, for a bag that doesn't look quite like a ripoff of a $10,000 bag and more like an actual $200 bag. I don't haggle so much with this owner because I'm sure Bob has tired of the uncomfortable with my half English and comically abrasive tone.

It's an act of wild optimism to hope to turn a profit on items that your neighbour is also selling, nearly identical, about half a foot away from you. I'm not sure how they do it. Then I see a dozen tourists, possible from the Midwest, who actually pay whatever the shop owner says the price is. I can't help but feel that someone is being insulted in that exchange.

Although we avoided most landmarks, I did want to see one, the Chrysler Building. It may not be as iconic as the WTC site or the Wall St. Bull or the Empire State building, but dangit, I just thing it's so dang stylish. It looks like Ayn Rand novels read. Art Decoish. But you know, without the turgid prose, flimsy philosophy and cruel, cold, competent protagonists. It was great. And I've added to the Internet's current collection of 958 100 292 photos of that building. I'm a contributing member of society.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

NYC Meetup : Sunday

There are certain expectations I had of Brooklyn. The lurking spectre of crime (possibly backed up by Tommy Guns and speakeasys); taxis; high-strung Type-A personalities who's abrasive interpersonal style might be best described as a 'high-impact verbal assault' and which is undoubtably augmented by prescription and not-quite-prescription stimulants.

Now, nobody said it was accurate or based in any sort of reality, unless you count "Wall Street" as reality (you know the movie, the one where Michael Douglas plays a powerful and rich white man who's overconfidence leads to his own downfall?). Anyhoo, that's what I expected. At least a shadow of that.

Brooklyn nearly dissappointed me entirely.

On Sunday we idle around, waiting for one of the nerd-herd to move in a direction so we can all truculently follow. It's brunch at DuMont's Burger. There are about, oh, well, enough off us to take over 2/3rds of the seating. A hang-out for the urban hipsters and high-powered 80-hour work heroes who are trying best to fit in with their precisely in-style for the moment 'casual' clothes which quite likely cost more than a new set of Dunlops, is over-run by the terribly bright, effusively anti-fashion brigade of, well, us.

The server casually asks how we know each other. There is a very, very long pause. Like our cell has just been uncovered. Many of us are, or at least I am, thinking that there is no possible way we can explain our acquaintance without embarrassing her and us and completely stripping down any cool-factor the eatery has gained up to this point and will ever gain for the next 35 years. I think she just walks away. I'm pretty sure she suspects the worst.

Bruce decides he needs a new pair of shoes. A bold stance to take. We can clearly see that his current shoes are not : mouldering, on fire, actually gone and replaced by punctured blisters and hole-ridden socks. What's more, he wants to get gold sneakers (tennis-shoes? kicks? uhm, cross-trainers? what do people call them these days?). A desire for clothing and fashion. Bruce is a pioneer in the nerd community.

So a bunch of us take one of the many, many subways to another part of Brooklyn. Ah, I think, this is where I'll see the rampant crime: the burning cars, the fully automatic assault rifles brandished by grandmas and impromptu militias alike, the vicious, vicious dance-offs. As you can see from the above photo, Hollywood has lied to me, again.

It's quaint and laid-back and has little beach-heads of corporate America between your mom-and-pops and your boutiques manned by over-educated Liberal Arts majors. It's not Victoria quaint, but it's charming. I stop at another shop that's even quainter to get some overpriced toys that no doubt have been 'very popular in Europe' and 'carbon-neutral'. They should really re-name parts of Brooklyn to be more in line with tourists expectations. Like this area would make a marvellous Tea Tree Heights.

And we do more walking. Friday night had already killed any notion of taxis to me. You know, taxis door-to-door. It's shameful that I'm exhausted with walking. Walking, for crying out loud. I live in an area where there are bear warnings and coyote alerts. There are non-toxic-waste infused streams nearby. And yet the walking culture of Brooklyn has defeated me. No snarky cabbies, no cigar chomping, no bits of incoherent advice hidden behind an impenetrable NY accent. Again, Hollywood, are you all lies?

Later in the day we all decide to walk again. This time, though, for a good cause. To Barcade. A bar, obviously, but that's filled with ridiculously difficult quarter eaters from yesteryear. Ghost N' Goblins, Arkanoid, 1943, Marble Madness, Joust, Robotron, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!.
It's a powerful mixture of alcohol, nostalgia, and societally acceptably nerdery. They even have a laughably inaccurate money changer. One is submitted to the painful ritual of re-feeding the same dollar bill seven times to a piece of technology made when calculators were the size of dictionaries. Confidently at first, sure, but then, meekly, angrily, and finally with a series of rituals which prove that the phenomenon of Cargo Cults isn't the province of Micronesian cultures with a taste for K-rations.

We all try our hand at Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! It's imperative that we all beat Glass Joe. The first opponent you fight, with a name that's perfectly crafted to wreak despair and humiliation upon any who cannot beat him. It's a character that has special meaning, since Ralph, who had hosted the fantastic BBQ, has never beaten him. This is when nerds try and keep their position in the (albeit pathetic) pecking order of video game prowess. While we may be thoughtful lot, we are not, as it turns out, terribly high-minded.

We all beat him, eventually. The night is done, we hike it back home. More walking.

The spectre of crime has been completely abolished, so to with the taxis. I figure if I have to walk it, I might as well take some pictures. Even if it's quite late and I'm really just inviting trouble by taking pictures like, well, a tourist.

I lift my camera to take this shot. It's all neony and low-budget and kinda under-grungy lived in business.

At the last possible moment, out of the corner of my eye, I see a woman walking the other way, right into the shot. I wait, because, well, I'm not interesting in shooting people I don't know. She says, or, er. Shouts? Whatever is the intensity level between a shout and saying something very loud, "Don't you fucking take my picture!".

Well, one out of three ain't bad, Brooklyn.

Friday, August 06, 2010

NYC Meetup : Saturday Get Togther

Saturday was recovery day. I think I felt nausea for its entirety. The type that makes you think hard about how much you really need that meal, or any meal, for, say, the rest of your life. My body was having its revenge one me for drinking like a 300 lb. Scandinavian who had replaced his liver with an industrial composting plant.

We kinda dazed through the day. Speaking low, trying to remember why we wrote down "Rainbow Ten, Rainbow Ten, The Circus Spins" on both wrists and why the PS3 is crammed with Cinnamon Toast Crunch. OK, maybe not that bad. Just all-0ut toxic trauma to every internal organ who thought it its duty stand in the way of high grade whiskey.

Naturally, for the evening, we have drinking, Rock Band, whatever PC games on the two desktops/three laptops available, and some sort of board game. When I say board game, I mean it in the geek sense, not the normal sense. Normal sense of a board game is a game with, a, well, a board, for one thing. It also has fairly easy to understand rules and is some variant of the ten Parker Brothers games we all grew up on. Games rife with memories of sibling treachery and misunderstood-rules-on-purpose cutthroat maneuvers to the win.

When geeks speak of board games, we're talking about games with cards, maybe not with a board at all. A lot of quick, accurate arithmetic is expected. There is often a working economy of some sort, community and political/socio ramifications for actions taken. There aren't rules, there are rule-sets, or more likely, rule BOOKS. Games like Dominion, or Settles of Catan, or Carcasonne, or any number of obscure types of entertainment wildly popular with people who think logic puzzles aren't fun until a graph of has been constructed. Preferably with Lego™.

Before the gathering a few of us go out to get more booze. This is always a treat for me since the US puts prices on booze that you might find on second rate lemonade in Canada. A 1.14L bottle of fancy whiskey, enough to power a Toureg in a ramble around upstate New York, $50. This is the sort of mind-blowing revelations I remember from traveling. "You pay HOW much to get blitzed?!" It is, as it was when I was 22, a recurring concern of mine.

The night goes off well. There's all the various distractions, plus, at intervals, different groups up on the roof, where its actually cool. The roof is always be slanting, not always the same direction and not for any reason I could make out, but it would slant. This would cause quite a few beverages to spill right in the middle of some mellow, nerdy talk, everyone would jump or as best as they could manage given their inebriation and someone would comment on how sloped the roof was and how hard it was to keep a drink from spilling. Then everyone would take their seats on the ground and put their drinks down.

There are comfortable, relaxed silences, punctuated by some story or anecdote. The topics were wide and varied: pyramids schemes that chipped away at ones already paltry faith in mankind; what makes a thing 'tactical; The South; sunburn; obscure comic artists; digital photography; and I'm sure many, many more.

What was neat to watch was one particular fellow geek, let's call him, er, Asterix. He either took some sort of Toastmasters For Amusing Anecdotes or (as I suspect) paid an actor to take his place at the meetup. Animated is a poor adjective. But getting there. Jack-wired on sweet rock-fudge and Jolt-cola dreams and crashing through the sonic funboundary to arise an electrical mizzen of quizzical buzz-zap would be closer. Performing, in the best meaning of the world. There was shape to his stories,and perfect nuanced actions, presence, counter-point. To top it all his topics were wide and varied and looked like they might make the basis for a script coming out of the indie-film scene in Stuttgart. Informative and funny and slightly strange and quietly scandalous.

Downstairs, in Han's apartment, where all the games playing is going on, Rock Band is in full swing. Taters, who strikes me as the sort who might enjoy 3rd rate Karaoke (no dig on him, I do too), has his time at the mic usurped by his girlfriend who had just finished a marathon set of Pat Benatar. As the night wears, and as alcohol brings down that seemingly invincible wall called Self-Inhibition, the mic in Rock Band becomes a battleground for all the hams (again, I am one too). It's only for the hammiest. And for those who really like The Cult.

I try a few. They don't go off horribly. Not that anyone is listening, because Rock Band is only a performance for the people playing it. A sad, eternal fact. The liquor that I've consumed has taken down the last barrier, and I, filled with the hubris of some cock-sure self that is repeatedly beaten down by experience, select Roxanne, by the Police. This goes as well as you can imagine, if you are imagining a defeathered turkey in a knife fight with an adolescent duck while both are being forcibly stuffed into a Cuisinart. Luckily I find catastrophic failure exhilarating.

At the end of the night some of get the idea to make another trip to the Crocodile Lounge. Memory is poor or judgment is poorer or we just really felt like some pizza. We make it in time, but as we file past the bouncer, a mountain of a man, I can't help but notice he is giving exaggerated, Why Am I Put Upon So shrugs as he counts each one of us. He was the most depressed bouncer I had ever seen.

I felt bad, to put him through so much so I could get a pizza. The day long nausea had pretty much killed my appetite.

NYC Meetup : Brooklyn Death March

Is it always the case that, while inebriated past any measure of personal safety, and when ensconced in a group of like minded individuals, sound decisions become as likely as Uwe Bolle winning the Palme d'Or? Maybe the fact it was 2:30 AM didn't help our rational brain functions. Maybe the fact that the place we were heading after the first bar promised a free wood fired personal pizza with every beer purchase, maybe... no, wait, it was the last thing.

The Alligator Lounge is about a mile from Han's place, where I'm staying. Which is a bit of a walk for a group of inebriated shut-ins who find walking to Gamestop to get their pre-order... uhm, taxing. A mile. There's one problem, we're still 3 miles to Han's.

I shouldn't complain. I'm from BC. Land of Greenpeace and hippies and hikers and orienteerers. Outdoorsy. But those generalities are just that, an average. Somebody has to be the outlier. To top it all, I'm lucky to have on my feet the cheapest sandals I could find, barring footwear that leaves permanent stains and those that fall apart from direct sunlight. My feet can handle impact stress about as well as a dry mound of talcum.

Good thing I'm drunk.

Stumbling, it seems, doesn't count as walking. And, overwhelmed with braincell-killing ethanol and higher cerebrum smothering heat (even at 2:30), my brain could only process two things 1) the ever increasing challenge of walking upright 2) the exact moment when I was going to skip a few steps in the digestion process and reverse the direction. Nerve-shattering tendon-grinding pain is a far away memory.

We get there, and receive the bright-eyed cheerful staff welcome reserved only for large groups who stumble into a bar 15 minutes from closing. It's 3:45am. We have marched for, well. It was longer than what normal math and your sober understanding of time would indicate. It goes without saying that they had run out of pizza. Put airquotes around any part of that previous sentence, you'd probably be right.

At some point during the March of Death, our general bonhomie and chit-chat was swallowed up by the grim determination to get to wherever the hell we were going (at this point many of us, or at least I, had forgotten). One foot in front of the other. Try not to yak on one another's shoes. Remember you're doing this to have fun.

Berg mentions a story about some SAS march, somewhere dangerous. Let's say Antarctica (no, I don't know why the British Government is interested in killing penguins with outrageously trained military types moving in a two by two formation). Anyhoo, the story goes that people get left behind, but the group is too strained and near death to care or worry.They'd just look behind them periodically, and poof, that one guy with the 100 yard stare and personalized side-arm with hand-made hollow points was gone.

This seemed patently ridiculous to me. I mean, you're walking in a group. Surely you'd sense it, no? It's not like the SAS move in large, anonymous groups.

Yes, this is my round-about way of saying that we lost someone. We lost three people, actually. The SAS have nothing on us.

So we have a drink. Again. Not me, because my body has decided to take this downtime to shut everything down. Higher brain functions. Lower brain functions. Any brain functions. If my breath wasn't so flammable I woulda been the "I Love You Man" guy.

We pull up stakes and hike over to a diner, because nothing staves off nausea like a large stack of Insta-Quik Nearly-Flour-Based Pancake Substitute (I worked at Denny's. I know.). I head to the bathroom, and every sweat gland decides it's a good time to work overdrive. I'd had this before. When I was 19 and thought if you don't feel anything from a shot of Southern Comfort after 30 seconds, why not have another. It is, I later found out (as I had suspected), basically the early stages of alcohol poisoning.

I stumble out and sit with my friends. Just trying not to embarrass myself while looking like I had just gone a little crazy with a spray bottle. It wasn't so much a sheen as a uncomfortable torrent. Zesty, one of the younger, more sardonic types given to the sort of humour that'd make Rickle's proud (an American thing, I think), snickers at this point. Oh, people with high amounts of perfectly functioning alcohol dehydrogenase in their European livers can die in a fire. I'm feeling too sick and near death to offer up any defense. Which would had been feeble even if I was sober (Canadian thing, I think).

So Prime sees how near death I am, and, forgoing hunger, he pulls me up and tells me he's walking me home. Some of us get a move on.

It's a tough walk. The streets are relatively empty but for some reason Zesty bumps into a dude with dreadlocks, poor posture, and a likely sickening trust fund. He looks Zesty up and down and says, "Hey man, it's all cool, I mean, we could be friends, probably". It was the most passive aggressive burn I had ever seen. It seems even the hippies here are American.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

NYC Meetup : Friday Night Amazon

Names have been changed because that's what people on the internet do.
So after the BBQ at Ralph's we all head out. For more drinking, apparently, because having a long drawn out scotch 'tasting' apparently is not enough trauma for the liver.

We nerds are a pretty humble, quiet lot. Mostly. He kinda follow where everyone else is going in hopes of not being left behind (which, in so doing, would bring back so many third round picks of dodgeball in which stood on the line, shuffling, unchosen, along with the exchange student from Estonia and the guy who had an unsettling fascination with abattoirs). I'm not sure any of us knew where we were going. We are not cut for leadership, I don't think. But we are more or less thoughtful, and knew that it was time to leave Ralph to clean up our embarassingly small mess (nerds use coasters); you can only impose on a host for so long. Excepting LAN party.

So we head out to a bar. It was like a hallway that someone had doubled as a liquor cabinet. Then advertised. It was late. My liver was down and out, blood alcohol was running rampant and wildly, and, if we were the more... outspoken sort, I'm sure someone would had been shotgunning beers.

Rowdy for us, of course, is sitting in a circle and frantically trying to find a topic of conversation. Into our group of four of us -- all kinda huddled together like dehydrated cockatoos around a saltlick -- barges... no... crashes in a tall, Amazonian black woman with more confidence than I have after enabling God Mode in Doom.

She was this bright light of unfettered social enthusiasm. She had to be. How does one just kinda walk into a group and start talking? I'm not sure. But she did. And after about three pleasantries, she turned to one of the group, we'll call him, uhm, Brad. She turns to Brad and says, "You're cute".

Just like that.

There is blood in the water, ladies and gentlemen. Now, I don't fear for my life because I have a wedding ring and look like a female body builder who has long since given up the sport but not the eating habits. Brad has a quiet sardonicness which, I think, some people might mistake for a cool, intense interest.

Aha! I think, there's no way this Amazon can keep it up. I mean, we are so meekly returning her ground strokes of conversation she wouldn't be amiss if she mistook us for a highly unorthodox, poorly dressed, lesser known Amish sect. But she drives on.

Out of nowhere, Dotty, one of ours, or so I thought, instantly becomes this woman's wingman. I think there are references to movie stars he may or may not look like. Brad has taken a very quiet, "if I don't make any sudden moves I might make it out of here with my boxers intact" posture. The Amazon takes on some pretense to touch his face. I take some pretense to leave for another group of us.

At some point, the woman gets too greedy, perhaps, and tries to flirt with another from our herd. Brad takes this as a cue to shrug his shoulders up, turn 180, and walk to us.

NYC is dangerous.