Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Year of the “Staycation”

We are in summer’s home stretch headed toward the fall, and this year the new popular vacation spot among the masses is nowhere, meaning wherever you would normally be when not vacationing. This year, the term “staycation” was often (over)used to describe the vacation plans of ordinary working New Yorkers. The increased numbers of unemployed, high fuel prices and the general sad state of the economy have conspired to put the kibosh on many travel plans this summer. This Labor Day weekend I have joined the staycationing masses.

New York City has not been as deathly hot as it is known to get in August. We’ve lucked out this summer, at least heat-wise. We seemed to get our bad heat wave early, in June, and we had warmer-than-normal June and July weather. Where they have not received a reprieve is New Orleans. My good friend Voodoo Rue is currently holed up in a filthy hotel in Grenada, Mississippi. Hurricane Gustav is expected to reach Louisiana by Monday. We can only hope the levies hold. If New Orleans survives this latest hurricane, it will be luck and the preparedness of its citizens, not the work of our leaders.

Today I met my friend Mike Moosehead and his wife Christine for lunch and a movie. We all wanted to see Tropic Thunder. Everyone I know who has seen the film has raved about it, and I was eager to see it.

Walking through Union Square before the film started, we weaved through the crowds at the Farmer’s Market. Onions, apples, bread and all other manner of fresh food was available for sale under small tends and canopies. Other vendors, such as painters and people selling homemade crafts, were there as well. In the middle of this buzzing commercial space was a lone author, Michael De’Shazer. He was selling his books from a small table and handing out flyers, which request help in pressuring the Oprah Winfrey Show to book him as a guest author. I wanted to stop and tell him that Oprah Winfrey is a vapid egomaniac and the product of a declining culture and that I would respect him much more as an author if he avoided Oprah’s show like the plague, but I did not think a discussion with this author would be fruitful. He’s selling books in the middle of Union Square, and is determined to move units, as they say in the world of commerce.

The film did not disappoint. Tropic Thunder is a classic comical farce and expertly pillories the movie industry and the action film genre. My only regret is that I could not resist the concession stand and the resulting popcorn and soda cost almost as much as my $12 movie ticket.

Once the film was over and I bade farewell to my friends, it was on to the nearby Strand bookstore for more reckless spending. Sure enough, I found an armful of bargains in the 48-cent sidewalk bins before I even set foot in the store. I spent roughly an hour in the Strand, but could have spent hours more. It helped me clutter two successive New York apartments with books. I walked out of there with 12 books for $43.08.

I returned to Union Square Park as I chatted with my brother via cell phone, all the while looking for some speck of bench to park myself on. Finding a small, out of the way corner of the park is not possible on summer weekends, but I found a place to sit on a bench between an elderly man eating potato chips and a Chinese man waiting for a phone call. I paged through one of my books, The Complete Encyclopedia of Pistols and Revolvers (only $10), as city life buzzed around me. The Chinese man got his call and began speaking with someone in Chinese. The old man finished his potato chips and moved on. Soon, it was time for me to start heading home. I made my way through the crowds of people without losing my temper and caught the trains I needed back to Inwood.

My “staycation” is well under way.

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