When I say it was bitterly cold, I'm not just talking about when you wake up shivering in the middle of the night because you accidentally kicked your blankets off. I'm not talking about sitting in the backseat of a car while the jackass in the front seat has the window open at dusk in October. I'm not even talking about sitting naked inside the fridge after a shower to see if your balls will literally turn blue after being shot down for sex for the umpteenth time. I'm saying that the polar bears who frequent my neighborhood were walking around hunched over, rubbing their biceps saying, "Damn, nigga, turn on the mothafuckin' heat!" I'm saying my nutsack was so far retracted inside my body, I was gargling my own semen.
But, what had to be done HAD to be done. Ever since I mentioned I was moving out here and Kon brought it up, I knew I had to experience the taste sensation. 30 burgers, individually boxed, then collectively boxed inside a bigger box with a handle, brought to us by the wonder of wonders that is White Castle. For a little over $17 after tax, I can only be talking about ... The Crave Case. Too much for one man! But for two strapping young gentlemen in the prime of their competitive eating lives, this would be a challenge for the ages.
Of course, this was no head-to-head competition. Oh no. Pride, however, was at stake. PRIDE, to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror; PRIDE, to walk around and stare down our fellow man; PRIDE, to be able to say that we, were INDEED, part of an elite supergroup of human beings and grizzly bears, who managed to eat 15 White Castles each in one sitting and live to tell the tale. PRIDE ... and constipation.
I had little sympathy for Kon when he told me that he'd eaten on the plane; he knew the inferno he was getting himself into. I did, however, have sympathy for myself, as I went ahead earlier that evening and ate a meal of Pork Fried Rice, thinking that it would, like Chinese food generally does, pass right through my system while at the same time expanding my stomach so it could handle the sudden influx of mushy hamburger goodness. Instead, it sat like a brick; and as we left my apartment around 11:30pm that initial evening, battling that aforementioned dastardly outside temperature, I remember thinking only one thing, "There's no way I'll be able to do this."
By the time we reached White Castle - nearly a half a mile away, uphill both ways - I couldn't feel my toes, the fronts of my legs were sheets of ice, my face was crumbling like the Sphinx, and my hands were all sweaty because these gloves I got from my dad are insane. Ergo, after picking up our Crave Case, we decided it would be in our best interests to jog back to the apartment as opposed to losing our toes (needless to say, I'd be rocking Double Socks from this point forward).
Funny thing about Self Confidence, it has a way of feeling less important as you see your Friendly Rival round the corner of Burger #11 with a burger-eating grin on his face. I massacred the first ten burgers before you could say Steve's A Tasty Piece Of Man Meat, but they sat there in my stomach like a bucket of cancer readying a raid on the lymph nodes. As I waited for Kon to catch up, things began to settle and I was sure then more than ever that my eating evening was over. Once Kon started pulling ahead, I told him I'd match him burger-for-burger. Ugh, what a DISASTER!
The last time I was confronted with an eating machine of this calibre, I was sitting in a 4-man booth at I-HOP with Matt W. Roarty on my right smirking like a buffoon and a plate full of All-You-Can-Eat pancakes giving me the evil eye on the table in front of me. But Kon, gentleman that he is, crossed the finish line with me at the same time. After that, I collapsed in a heap and slept for 72 straight hours. Not really, but we wouldn't go on to eat again until nearly 5pm the next day.
Somehow, we had to fill a weekend of four days with activities; it couldn't be all Binge Eating & Unsatisfactory Shits. As we boiled through what New York had to offer for a couple of sophisticated, regal gentlemen such as ourselves, a few things started to float to the top. Namely: museums and attractions. Already, we had Brighton Beach earmarked as a daytime destination, which could easily be saved for the weekend since it probably wouldn't be overwhelmingly crowded. Kon mentioned Wall Street, which got me to thinking about the Statue of Liberty, and lo and behold, I discovered this Friday morning that you can, indeed, go over and visit the green broad. That, however, would have to be saved for Monday, lest we wanted to be surrounded by a gaggle of slack-jawed tourists. The Metropolitan Museum of Art we'd try our hands at on the weekend and chance that we'd be able to get around. This was set aside in large part because the REAL museum we wanted to visit would HAVE to be seen today, Friday, a weekday, while most of the city was at work.
Of course, I'm talking about The American Museum of Natural History.
Dinosaurs! Space! Animals! Indians! Blue Fucking Whales That We Didn't Get To See Because We'd Been There For So Fucking Long And Nothing About The Oceanography Portion Sounded Appealing At The Time! Actually, to be honest, the bulk of our time there was spent on the Fourth Floor Dinosaur portion and walking around the multi-level space area. Big Bang and all that. We actually couldn't give less of a shit about the Native Peoples sections - glorified mannequins if you ask me - and we breezed through the animal sections. After getting a late start on the day, leaving after noon, we chirped out of the museum around 4:30 or 5. Hunger had finally, somewhat, set in.
A couple of inconsistencies come directly to mind upon eating at the diner whose facade graced the TV screens of Seinfeld viewers. First of all, the inside looks NOTHING like that where Jerry and George shared so many meals. Sure, they've got some pictures of the Seinfeld cast and crew on the walls, but I get the feeling the people at Tom's Diner (not Monk's, as it's known as on the show) begrudgingly accept the fame they get. Which leads me to my second point, the service there SUCKED ASS! No hot hooterrific babes (instead, we got some dottering old man who never once returned to refill our soda/water glasses), no flexibilities on the order (Kon wanted to make his sandwich into a dinner-type meal and the dottering old man couldn't comprehend this concept as his disinterested half-gaze struggled to remain focused), and complete and utter contempt for the patron's enjoyment (had the dottering old man even once passed our way to ask how we were enjoying our meal, he would've seen that Kon's sandwich didn't have the right type of bread and my water glass had a crack on the bottom, causing it to leak all over the place). Twenty Dollars later (with but a $2.15 tip, and the dottering old man was lucky to get that!), we left with some pretty sweet pictures of the outside of the building.
My recent penchant for wine dictated my purchasing of the next box for The Commons. So, after our Meal About Nothing, we stopped by Trader Joe's down on 14th Street. Among the groceries Kon bought at the regular store (dried fruit, soy crisps, Airborne, laxatives for Super Shawn's cookies), I picked up a 12-pack case of Three Buck Chuck at the wine portion of the store. It's what we always get; Three Buck Chuck derives from the wine being manufactured by Charles Shaw and only costing $3 per bottle. Since we're a household of winos over here, the box of 12 is always mandatory.
As chance would have it, Jenny thought to buy a couple bottles of wine that night too. With Liz and Emily, the five of us tore through bottle after bottle like they were curing impotence. Eight bottles, when all was drunk and done. And it wasn't done, mind you, until well into the wee hours.
For most of the evening, the five of us sat around the dinner table. Emily made her supersecret homemade pizza - with a thick, yeasty wheat crust - and I had AH slice because I'd already started drinking. And, of course, I was utterly satisfied after my too-much-turkey & bacon club sandwich at Tom's Diner. I generally try to find a way to make some Drunk Dials when I'm drinking, and this night was no different. I gave my brother a ring and - would you look at THAT - he was actually NOT working! It's a miracle! So, I went in my room for what was apparently TOO long (around 30 minutes or so). Once this too-long threshold was breached, the roommates all ran in under Kon's malicious guidance and attacked me unprovoked, stripping me of my cell phone, tickling me into submission. I was powerless to prevent Emily from chatting with Josh, advising him to the fact that I was hereby denied further access to the telephone. Alas.
At one point, Jenny went into her room and went to sleep. Guitars were brought out, cigarettes were smoked by the window, Liz sang for us. Then later we all went and hung out in Emily's room. More singing, apparently. I started to forget things at this point. I do remember opening up my bedroom door and petting the weird neighbor's pit bull. This extremely excitable dog scratched the hell out of my right forearm. And, I believe, Emily and I tried to have a conversation, but I was drunk beyond the point of functioning thought, so I had her dictate the questions she wanted to ask me, promising dedicated, coherent thought within the week. "Blowin' In The Wind" was sung-along by the four of us; let's just say we caused quite the ruckus of noise for the entire building to hear.
Should I call you or nudge you?
Emily walked into my room and asked if we wanted to go to breakfast at 11am. We all talked about going to breakfast the night prior, but set the date for Sunday. Ergo, I politely declined while Kon rolled over in agony on the army cot he borrowed from Emily. Had I been granted a few minutes to gather my thoughts and wits, my answer might've been different, but as it stood, I had a headache that would wait for no Aspirin.
Likewise, the wine shits would not be denied their swift and total release from my bum. This is where I sat - on the toilet - while I heard puking noises from just outside the bathroom door. And then a meek and feeble knock on the door. Sometime between Pancakes @ Bill's Restaurant and Sitting @ Commons Bedroom, Emily's stomach made a turn for the worse. I frantically wiped and couldn't have felt more sorry for the nauseated lady who had to follow my punishing performance on the Porcelain Throne.
Eventually, Kon and I managed to gather ourselves and stagger out of the house to the thumping of loud jungle rhythms from the savages living below (our Super and his wife's Jay-Z albums). Brighton Beach was calling our names, but not as loudly as the M-Train.
Every so often, the L-Train - the life force for most trips into Manhattan - is shut down on the weekend for Routine Maintenance. Oh, I'm sorry, I meant to say Routine Bullshit. Only the L-Train suffers this crap and it's the bane of my existence. Well, to be fair, many things are the bane of my existence, but when I'm stuck waiting for a fucking M-train to show up, I can't seem to think of anything more worthy of bitching about.
So, we took the M to Myrtle, where it forced us to transfer to a J-train. The J took us to Chinatown in the lower east side of Manhattan where we had to transfer to the B-train that would more-quickly take us directly to Brighton Beach. Before that, however, Kon had to pee, so we went in search of a dining establishment in Chinatown. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. For an entire block they had nothing but lighting stores. Then, anything dealing with "food" was either too small to hold a bathroom or too much of a fresh fish market likewise lacking in bodily waste removal capabilities. FINALLY we found a Vietnamese restaurant; Kon ordered AH spring roll to go and they looked at him like he'd gone loony. Four was the minimum, so four it was. After the detour, we were forced to take a D-train because the B was apparently ALSO on the fritz for the weekend. A quick transfer to the Q, a million stops and two full hours all-told later, and we were there. The end of the line. Brighton Beach.
When you go to a place that's known as The Russian District, you have some preconceived notions of what you think you'll see once you get there. I expected more signs in Russian than I did and I expected less actual Russians than I did. I've been in places where the language is predominantly non-English, but in these circumstances my skin color generally lets the cat out of the bag as far as proficiency in the Native Tongue. Chinatowns and Costa Rica and all that. But, in Brighton Beach, they just kind of assume that everyone walking around there speaks Russian. It's actually a little flattering to be approached by someone speaking Russian until I realize that I have absolutely no way of communicating with these people aside from a blank stare and a shoulder-shrugging "I don't know." Ergo, Kon was my guide and my translator.
Brighton Beach Avenue is the main drag of the area. They've got nothing but shops here, a few restaurants, and a couple of American type businesses (Duane Reade, Cingular, Walgreens). And, yeah, a lot of the signs were written in Russian, but there was a surprising number (at least to me) of signs in English. We walked up and down, we browsed, we ate potato Piroshkis (a flat-bread dumpling with filling inside; aside from potato, you're looking at cabbage, peas, meat, whathaveyou) for a dollar each, we got some delicious candy, and we looked all around for a decent sit-down restaurant.
Primorski Restaurant. I-Have-Absolutely-Nothing-Remotely-Negat
I Love The Taste Of Dead Baby Cows!
It's so tender and juicy and the juices just dribble down my chin and you don't even need a knife to cut it it just flakes right off with your fork like some heavenly golden Flan Of Torture! Man, thinking about that delectable delight makes me want to shake an infant right now. Ahhhhh.
The Primorski Restaurant was a classy Russian establishment. Lots of chandeliers, lots of long tables exquisitely adorned with candles and tablecloths and salad forks; there was a dance floor and a stage area for the nightly live music they provide; all the employees were real Russians as opposed to Latinos or some other colorful, cheaper source of workers. We're pretty sure - but not entirely positive - that this place had strong Russian Mob ties. Mostly, it was just the feeling we got and the notions we harbored about the neighborhood; but it suddenly came alive while I was in the front room next to the Coat Check and the bathroom. Kon was doing his business while I waited by the front door, where some guy walked in and asked something about using the downstairs bathroom. I didn't quite understand why, because there was a bathroom right here, but even funnier was the fact that the guy spoke English. The gruff, scary restaurant owner gargled a declining reply of, "No, something happened down there." Something happened??? I kept picturing a shoddy mop-up job by some low-level wiseguys after a hit went horribly awry in the basement or something. And so it was, nothing more was ever said on the subject again.
After linner (sunch), we walked around a little bit more, checked out the actual beach part one block over, got some pictures of the water, and bought some ingredients for our Russian Night dinner the following evening. We'd made this pledge to the roommates on Friday morning, so we bought some Piroshkis and some Russian beer and champagne. Well, mostly Russian; this night took a quick and decisive turn towards Soviet Night thanks to the ambiguous nature of the products we purchased.
We hopped back on the Q after the sun had set and the groceries were bought and ninety minutes later we were back in the apartment, memories of Brighton Beach dancing in our heads.
We actually didn't get drunk at all this night because we were so tired and slightly hungover from the night before. Nevertheless, there were a couple places that had to be hit up before Kon left town, and who knew when we'd find the time on Sunday? Ergo, first thing's first, get on that FUCKING M-Train.
Jimmy's Corner Bar is going to forever be a staple. Anyone who comes to visit me, that's where I'm taking them first. Although, I kinda wish they had better (or more than four) beers there, you still can't beat $4 for a glass of Samuel Adams. Plus, it's never that crowded, it's close to Times Square, AND they've got some groovy jazz music on the juke. No celebrity sightings, though. We just stayed for one beer because there were other places to go and other people to see.
First, the place: The Black Sheep. The reason for this place was manyfold. First, the Yuengling beer, which they don't really have anywhere else that I've seen. Second, because it's the bar I watch Seahawks games in every week. And third because the bartender remembers me and she's pretty hot for a 40 year old. I had a couple beers here because they're so good! But, Kon only had the one because he was feeling like quite the nancy. The bartender (Toni) and I exchanged condolences over our respective football teams being knocked out of the playoffs (she's a Patriots fan) and then Kon and I skedaddled.
The people: Alexis, and her friends. At The Mercury Bar, which was just a couple blocks south of The Black Sheep. Christ, where to begin? Overcrowded, oversweaty, overloud, overdouchey. The drinks were probably insanely expensive but I wouldn't know because I didn't have a giant tank-sized drill with which to bore through the throng of yuppies in my midst to even GET to the fucking bar! Still, it was an excuse to knock out a couple birds with one stone: say hi to Alexis and see the music video to "The Humpty Dance" by Digital Underground. Look, I'm not gonna get into it much, everyone knows how I feel about these kinds of places. I don't wear nearly enough cologne or product in my hair to feel remotely at ease with people who frequent these places.
We shagged ass a little after 2am I think and made it home somehow sometime before sunrise. God I hate yuppies.
Sometime around 10:30am we woke up and slowly made our ways to Wild Cowboy Bill's Restaurant for breakfast. Each and Every Five of Us. We especially enjoy this place because they're cheap, but more importantly is the fact that they make the best pancakes I've ever had. The bacon and ham isn't much to look at, thin and flimsy and undercooked, but hot damn those flap jacks are kickin'! And, it's like 5 bucks for a meal after tip and coffee. You can't beat it.
Right afterward, we all went our separate ways - unable to coax anyone else into going into the city with us. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was calling our names. After my experience at the Brooklyn Art Museum the weekend before, I was wary of going to another museum on a weekend day, but we chanced it, Kon reasoning that it's bigger and probably better equipped to handle large crowds. As things turned out, he was right.
I think we were here for three hours, but it was all such a blur. I just remember being super thirsty, fatigued, and overwhelmed at the sheer size of this place. There is WAY too much to see there in the simple three hours we allotted ourselves, but the highlights included the Roman and Greek statues, the Armory Section, and the Egyptian Artifacts. Oh, and a SHITLOAD of paintings. I'm definitely going back in the very near future (especially now that I know it's donation-based, so you don't have to pay the full $20 they ask) and taking it slowly, a section at a time. It's got to be really easy to get lost in there though. I just remember having no idea where we were or where we were going.
We probably would've been there a little longer, but we had to get back. There was dinner to prepare.
Don't let anyone tell you that Russians don't know cuisine. And if there was any wavering over whether or not my roommates would approve of Kon's existence in life, this meal surely pushed him over into the, "Yeah, he's all right" side of things. So, we had the Piroshkis that we bought for a dollar each the day before (three cabbage, two peas, two meat I believe). It was broached that we might try to pass these off as something we made ourselves, but of course I caved and revealed the secret after intense pressure and scrutiny from my roommates (Jack Bauer doesn't even know this torture). To go with, we made that coleslaw-like salad with the vinegar and oil (shredded cabbage and carrots) and some mashed potatoes. They WERE gonna be twice-baked potatoes, but we ruined the potato shells trying to dig out the innards. Still, we mixed 'em with cabbage, onion, chives, sour cream, salt, pepper, butter, diced garlic, and mushrooms. I'm not a huge mashed potatoes guy, but these were OK. If it were me, I would've used a lot less sour cream.
The Soviet Champagne was awesome, and the beer wasn't too shabby either. There was also this Jewish bread that had raisins (apparently, everyone but me hates raisins in this world, who knew?). Oh, and candy and these small cherry turnover type pastries. It was quite the to-do, the girls enjoyed it immensely. We sat around drinking the beer, talking about things Russian, this and that. It was nice.
What with the heavy drinking on Friday night, everyone was taking it pretty easy on the liquor. A little beer here and there, small glass of the bubbly, and bygones were bygones. All, that is, except for yours truly, who dug into the bottle of wine pretty hard. I probably would've been best served to just polish off the half a bottle and take a break for an hour or so. Had I done that, the alcohol already in my system would've taken over and I would've been Jim Dandy. Instead, I opened up a fresh bottle. And drank it all.
You can't tell me I have a drinking problem; almost every drop that hit my mouth went down the chute with no problems whatsoever. Didn't spill a bit. No, really what I've got is a belligerence problem, and my roommates got a firsthand look at the sheer force of my persona.
I don't think I'm an argumentative person by nature, but I do tend to get quite defensive when I'm drunk. Defensive and fearless. Fearless in the sense that I don't care what I say or who I may offend; in fact, without stepping over any lines that might cause permanent scarring for relationships I find dear, I go out in search of that offensive remark, mindful to maintain my status of up to but not crossing that line. Emphasis on the "relationships I find dear" part, because if I'm sick of you, I'll tell you how I feel about you when I'm drunk. If you ever find me apologizing to you after a drunken argument, then you know we're probably better than square.
As it turns out, I didn't offend Liz when I was defending the quality of "I Heart Huckabees" and I called her Pretentious (which, I happen to find the fact that I said that HILARIOUS), so that's good. But, it does give cause to a topic I'm going to save for another day this week: What is it about myself that I'm repressing to make it so my personality changes so drastically between being sober and being drunk (I've gone off on this topic before, but never - I don't think - bringing in the repression aspect into play).
I deteriorated pretty quickly into full-blown drunkenness, but since I'd just spent the better part of a half hour defending my movie, I had to make Kon watch "I Heart Huckabees." Of course, I didn't make it past the first hour, so we turned off the movie and hit the sack, as we had one final big day tomorrow morning.
The rest of the night I couldn't play back for you if I tried. I'm told (by Kon) that he heard vomiting noises - in fact, the room smelled of the stuff - but there were no vomit stains on my clothes or bed. That means I was on my back, puked, and swallowed it back down again. He dragged my drunken fool self over to the bathroom and I did my business - somehow all without waking up Jenny, through whose room we staggered. After all that, it was a long night of snoring.
We awoke with The Jenny as she scooted off to work 'round 9am Monday morning. I rifled through a few glasses of iced tea and soon we managed to get out of the apartment. The L was finally running again, so the trip into Manhattan didn't take fifty thousand hours.
Kon and I made this our Statue of Liberty day because what kind of moron in his right mind would want to go and take a ferry ride to Liberty Island on a Monday morning in the middle of winter? Bitch had to be 10 below out there with the wind piercing our bodies like lightning bolts. I used one of those gigantic gray winter socks dad bought me as a scarf, but it only slightly muffled the pissing and the moaning coming out of my mouth all fucking day. I had no cash and hadn't seen an ATM on our way down there, so I was fucking starving. I would've whipped twenty slaves for a fucking hot dog! All was appeased when we finally finished with the island hopping and I got a couple pepperoni slices in my belly.
But wait! What about the trip?
Tickets cost $11.50 and they were good for Liberty Island AND Ellis Island. Yeah, so the island where they checked in all the immigrants is NOT the same island as the statue. Ferries ran every 45 minutes or so, so we did the whole thing in just a couple hours. You can't go up into the statue, but you can go up to the top of the pedestal, so we did that. It was cool, I guess, but I really wish it was possible to go all the way up. I mean, for fuck's sake I don't see why we can't! Kon and I walked through not one but TWO security clearances where we had to take everything out of our pockets, as well as take off our jackets and belts. The second security clearance place sprayed us with something, saying they were "Checking For Chemicals." I have a feeling our children will now come out retarded because of this possible radiation they annihilated us with. Nevertheless, we got some pictures.
Back on the boat, over to Ellis Island. Now THIS place was pretty sweet. I had no idea they turned the whole thing into a museum; you really need to spend more than 45 minutes in there to get the full effect. Three floors inside the building, not to mention the names of all of those who passed through immigration on a metal wall outside. We took a picture of some potential Taylors, but I have no idea how my family got over here. Kon might have found a grandfather or a great grandfather or something; he's gonna check things out with his dad. They have these computers there with all the names in a database. Again, I'm not on a first-name basis with any of the Taylors who might've come through here. There were various other 3-D graphs of population spurts by decade and by region of the world where they came from. Pretty fucking sweet.
We had to make sure to catch the next ferry because of the time crunch. On the way out of the city, we walked down Wall Street, taking pictures of the New York Stock Exchange and this giant statue of George Washington. Since 9/11, you can't actually go IN the NYSE to see all the wierdos waving their white pieces of paper everywhere, and I didn't think security would believe that "We're here to visit our dad."
That about wraps 'er all up. We got back to the apartment with plenty of time, bought some Chinese food from the place next door, and left early enough to ensure that he was at the airport two hours ahead of schedule.
Steven A. Taylor and Konstantin Y. Zak couldn't have made it to the Howard Beach stop any quicker if they tried. They caught the L-train right as it pulled into the station, transferred to the A-train right as it pulled into the station, and ended up with an extra half hour. The snow from the night before didn't create anything in the way of a disturbance for takeoffs, so Konstantin had no problems. Thirty minutes after they arrived together, Steven took the escalator down to the subway terminal just as Konstantin walked down the corridor to the Air Train that would take him to JFK International; a lifetime of doings transpired in those four days and they were properly fatigued for it.