City of Gold

New York called and said, “Hey, this is New York. If we let you into our city for free, will you write a few columns about us? We could really use the publicity, as we fear many people out West have not heard of us.” I said, “Sure thing, New York. Glad to help.”

So I took my vacation days and headed for Manhattan. Polluted air, maddening traffic, embarrassing public officials — I wanted to get away from these things, so I left Provo and went to New York (or “The Big Apple,” as no one calls it).

New York is the city of dreams, the city of excitement, the city of people who stand on the street and want money. Some of these people are selling something, but some of them want money merely for standing there. I saw a guy who was standing motionless on a box, and he was painted gold from head to toe. People were throwing money in a cup in front of him, in exchange for his continuing to stand there, gold. I saw no reason to give him anything. I wasn’t the one who told him to paint himself gold.

So I didn’t hire the gold man’s standing-while-gold services, but I did employ a few taxi drivers. Two of their actual names were Shah Rajjid and Butt Sohain. Butt was from India. He drove with the aggressiveness of someone named Butt. (Another name I learned, from the nametag of a McDonald’s employee in Times Square: Kizzy.)

Shah, Butt, and their colleagues kept me safe throughout our journeys, no doubt helped by the recorded celebrity voices that remind you to fasten your seat belt when you first get in the car. One of the voices is that of Michael Buffer, best known as the guy who says, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” before professional wrestling matches. His recording said, “Let’s get ready to rumble … for safety!” I don’t know that I’m willing to “rumble” just for the privilege of wearing a seat belt. Fortunately, I was able to fasten mine without incident.

Speaking of fighting, one of the many plays I saw was “A Skull in Connemara,” written by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, whose plays always feature feuding siblings in rural Ireland and at least one act of unspeakable onstage violence. I knew I was in for a treat because the program had credits for both “fight choreography” and “flameproofing.” Any show that requires flameproofing is a good one, in my book.

Another thing that’s good in my book is old ladies who swear. I saw a Wednesday matinee of a Neil Simon play, and if you’re going to see a Wednesday matinee of a Neil Simon play, you’re going to be in an audience full of old Jewish ladies. Behind me were two in particular — they always travel in pairs — who commented on the temperature in the theater. One said, “I’m going to take off my jacket.” The other one said, “Yes, I am so [R-rated swear word] hot.”

And if “hot” is what you want, I suggest you check out the Chinese restaurant that has my favorite restaurant name of all time: China Fun. It’s actually not all that fun, but the food is definitely Chinese.

Speaking of food, if you want a cool place to have dessert, don’t trust my friend Peaches Jackson (names have been changed) to take you there. Peaches kept talking about this great place called Mozart Cafe, somewhere around 60th Street. Turns out it’s actually called Cafe Mozart, and it’s on 70th, which means we walked 10 blocks farther than we thought we would. And Mozart wasn’t even there.

But it reminds me of another restaurant experience I had, at a place called the Stardust Diner. The waiters and waitresses are singers, and they perform karaoke-enabled showtunes all evening. While having dinner one night, I heard a song from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which made me think of Utah, which made me start to miss everyone back here. I came home as soon as I could after that, though I did have to stop for a couple days to earn some more money. Thank goodness that gold paint is water-based.

This column ran a full month after my New York trip was over. I had intended it to run just after the one about catching a cab, but I wanted it to run on a Friday. (The Wednesday columns became obsolete in just two days, and this was one I felt deserved more attention.) But then I kept getting sidetracked on Fridays with other things, and I finally decided if I looked at this thing one more time, I was going to get sick of it. So I gave up and ran it on a Wednesday.

Some of my most favorite New York anecdotes either must be spoken aloud to be fully appreciated, or else involve indelicate matters such as a man urinating on the bathroom floor because he's not paying attention to what he's doing because he's reading the program for the play we're about to see. So they did not make it into this column.

The first paragraph, by the way, is a throwback to my Disneyland columns. Some readers, knowing I had used free media passes to get into the park, said that Disney had somehow bribed me into giving them free publicity, because for sure no one in Utah had ever heard of Disneyland before. What I said here, about New York calling me up, was a direct reference to that. Basically, I was telling those readers to shut up and leave me alone.