Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Story Continues...

Roosevelt Island is like a dip into the Truman Show. A still-aired floating piece of suburbia is fenced by the towering skyscrapers and scurrying life of upper Manhattan. Streets lined with oddly organized structures are strolled at a mid-American tempo light years from the pace across the river. More than just the unremarkable simplicity of the place stood out to me. Something eerie and plastic seemed to hide the island's true face, like a sea creature lurking just beneath the surface of the Hudson. Peaceful, bizarre, and distinctly distant from my typical city environment, it was enough to inspire talks of taking in some different sights this Summer. My friend Conor who accompanied me into this Twilight Zone suggested I come home with him to Boston as the next stop on my adventurous path. The plan was in motion, friends were gathered, and a few weeks later, we set sail to Boston.

Lying outside the city of Boston is the most quintessentially American neighborhood I have ever encountered. Wood paneled houses sit atop green rolling hills on streets canopied by leafy trees and a sense of history. Immaculately clean lawns and gardens are speckled by the shade of the ancient trees, and I honestly wouldn't have been surprised to see apple pie on the windowsill under the American flag. The insincerity of most suburbs must have to do in part with their cheap attempt at imitation of a neighborhood like this. A park perched high on a hill revealed a layered clearing of hills for miles until the city of Boston poked through the cradle of foliage. Exhausting the daytime entertainment in my friend's hometown, it was on to the city. Boston itself was charming and clean, a red bricked and well preserved piece of American city. Wholesomeness only gets you so far, and as much as I enjoyed the pristine environment, I missed the wild unpredictability and unbridled raw energy one feels in New York. I looked in vein for a drunken man in a peacock costume or the spontaneous invitation to a BBQ on a rooftop in the projects. Finishing up our time in Massachusetts, we were led through the dark maze of houses until the neighborhood disappeared into forest paths, and the paths disappeared into a cave of trees. Finally we emerged onto campfire, and enjoyed out last night away from NYC.

Classy Jazz festivals on Governor's Island provide a chance to dress up and mingle with like minded Jazz enthusiast.

Summer is when the city opens its jaws and swallows you into the belly of free festivities uniquely available in the brief sliver of nice weather. The Brooklyn Bridge 50 yards behind me, the shimmering lights over lower Manhattan to the right, and the statue of liberty just beyond the screen, the city queued up Ghostbusters on the outdoor movie. It was not a bad way to see this cult classic for the first time. I returned to Brooklyn Bridge Park a few days later to kayak in the East river and enjoy the stunning sights of NYC from the water. The scale of the city never ceases to shrink me.
Purchased last Winter Break, my six flags season pass works at any park around the country for the next year. It took little convincing to aim a car full of my friends at the nearby Six Flags great adventure park. Leaving the city behind we embrace New Jersey state line. It lives up to its cheesy reputation with reflective metallic diners that resemble a regurgitation of some 1950's space series. Laughably tasteless, our choice of restaurant allows us some fun at the predictable quality of interstate side cuisine. Crossing into the cornfields and rustic rural features of Pennsylvania, we concluded a great day of rides that helped us forget we weren’t children anymore. Our hospitable friend Nicole lodges us for the night as we rejuvenate for the trains back home.

Blasts from the past show up to NYC in the form of two former high school teachers. The reunion of Frisco High School faculty and alumni included myself, my friend Marly who attends Marymount Manhattan, and briefly, Hannah. Historically inclined, the bar tour encompasses several of the most significant spots in the city’s cultural lifetime. A surreal clash of my old and new worlds dissolved student-teacher lines into friendship. Exciting and unusual, the night left me with amazement at my former teacher’s stamina, and a new found respect for the partying abilities of the people I once deemed old enough to call “Mr.” and “Mrs.”

My friend and fellow RA, Liam, assistant coordinated Pratt’s Pre-College program. Besides the substantial payment and satisfactory managerial power given to the position, there is the remaining theme park account. Students in the Pre-College program are chaperoned through a number of NYC’s attractions, including Coney Island’s freshly built Luna Park. Luckily for us, high school students visiting the city for the first time fancy themselves far too cool to take advantage of the activities already purchased by their parent’s money. Scattering back to their respective homes, the kids left behind a great deal of Luna Park credits. Thus, we felt charged with the task of keeping this cash from going to waste. Friends were gathered; A few hours and roughly 700 dollars later, we headed to the beach to enjoy Coney Island’s weekly Friday night fireworks. Rides, souvenirs, drinks, food, and games were topped of by the indulgent glee of hot, bright flashes of light and sound. Exploding over the night-darkened ocean, the smoky remains drifted in eerie waves from the beach towards the neon amusement park. Clouds of smoke slithered through the century old structures creating an image of haunting beauty. The camera phone picture does little justice to the ghostly atmosphere, but I thought I’d show it anyway. After all this, Liam still had around 600 remaining to spend. I’ll be applying for this job next year…

RA training brought a new generation of friends and experiences. Receiving the disappointing news that this year’s camp lacked a lake, I had low expectations for our retreat. What I found instead was a forest ripped from mythology. Slender, rain darkened trees rose from the carpet of moss and disappeared in the thick fog a few layers beyond. Speckled with warm shades of newts, the forest floor was alive with friendly creatures and vibrant vegetation. New friends and old grew closer as we journeyed the quiet majesty of the rainy wilderness. Mysterious, serpentine paths revealed valleys and peaks, stair-casing waterfalls and long forgotten clearings. Oh, and I guess we did some learning too.
Back to school means back to sorting the influx of house party invitations. It means accompanying hoards of art school kids to Brooklyn rooftops to shake the foundations of brownstone buildings into wee hours of the morning. I’ll attend until the weather gets cold and the work picks up; then its back to our caves to hide from the elements as we hammer out our artwork in dimly lit interiors.

Catching wind of the spiciest curry in all the five boroughs, we set off to face the challenge. Ten of us boarded the subway, eight competitors and two spectators, anxiety building as we neared the legendary phaal dish. The price for failure had ranged from tabletop vomiting, to nose bleeds and ambulance calls. Victory over the flaming meteorite of meat and sauce would earn you a certificate of recognition, a spot on the mostly vacant wall of fame, and eternal glory as a “curry monster.” Equipping ourselves with mango lassis, naan, and all the determination we would muster, we were given a verbal disclaimer and 30minutes to complete the dish. Exploding in skin dissolving heat, the looks around the table went from excited to grave. Tears of pain and laughter, raised voices and the most fun kind of excruciating pain characterized the next half hour. Despite the spice-induced numbness the spread from my mouth down through my hands, I found my downfall was the massive portions of food. I shouldn’t have eaten that huge burrito for lunch a few short hours prior… Stubbornly exploring all possible strategies, I finally had to throw in the towel when I learned I would be disqualified if I attempted to vomit and continue eating. Although I am not personally a curry monster, I witnessed five of my friend’s induction into the phaal challenge hall of fame.
I conclude this entry, which has been long in the making, from my friends Long Island vacation home. As I write to you now, I peer out bay windows, past a balconied wooden porch, down a tangled, infinite mixture of flora bursting from a steep hill, and into the peace of the Long Island Sound 200 or so yards beyond. Saturday afternoon, we loaded a car to capacity, and headed out to enjoy the long weekend. The last few days have been filled with the grey-blue peace of a sophisticated northeastern beach.

I stand ready and eager to face the challenges of the next year. Life has proven action packed, difficult, and fulfilling. I’m having the time of my life, but keep in mind: If you are reading this, chances are I miss you dearly.