Saturday, September 26, 2009

Only in New York: Bluegrass and Gilbert Gottfried

For days I've been lying about the Weehawken house again, but this morning leapt out of bed after having an invigorating dream about selling deli sandwiches from a cart. In the dream, at first I was just standing in front of the cart, mumbling things aloud off the menu posted on the side, stumbling along, nobody really paying attention to me. Finally, I just started yelling energetically, "Hot pastrami! Get your hot pastrami sandwiches right here! Try 'em! They're delicious!" And all of a sudden, there was a long line of people!

I woke up right after that, thinking immediately, "Time to get into the City!" And I did! (What's funny: after re-reading the below, much of what actually happened to me while I walked around sounds like I was still asleep and dreaming!)

I must've walked 10 miles today. First, to and halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge, then up past City Hall/Gracie Mansion, and then to Hester/Mulberry streets (which used to be the heart of the tenement district but is now lined with blocks and blocks of crowded, expensive cafes, and all the interesting tenements boringly yuppified). At one point, I stopped at a store to buy candles, and gave the clerk a $20. He had to call his manager so she could witness the fact that he was receiving CASH! At first, I thought he was trying to be funny, but no: He said that hardly anybody pays with cash any more, so it's store policy that there has to be a managerial witness to make sure the clerks don't pocket the money!

There were dozens of blocks of street fairs going on today, too, with tons of earrings and cool T's and things to look at. Here's something that put me in a GREAT mood: I was browsing at one earring stand, and 3 Puerto Rican teenaged girls a couple of feet away started whispering loudly to each other and staring at me. I kind of glanced over at them, then looked behind me to see who they were looking at. And then one of them took MY picture with her phone! I looked at her, surprised, and she asked me, "Are you somebody? I've seen you before." I laughed, and shook my head "No" and went back to looking at earrings...and then she took more pictures of me before I walked off! Who the heck did she think I was?? (My best claim to pseudo-fame remains: While I was on vacation in NYC in 2005 or so, I was standing in Columbus Circle trying to figure out directions and a 40-ish woman in a business suit came up to me and asked if I was Nicole Kidman!!! I stress the "woman in a business suit" part because, no, it wasn't some crazy homeless guy asking!) :) :)

After that ego boost, I kept heading North, stopping for a street vendor's gyro/rice/salad plate and settling down at a public cafe table near Madison Square Park. I was momentarily disgruntled when some idiot cheerily asked if he could share my tiny table. ("Sure." I wanted to point out to him that there were other empty tables really close by, but instead just started scarfing down my food so I could escape. Luckily, he got a phone-call so I didn't have to make conversation with him.) While eating, I could see a big crowd gathered at the park and hear music that sounded kind of like the Dixie Chicks. Curious, I ate even faster so I could go see what was going on over there...

Not the Dixie Chicks, but rather "Sierra Hull & Highway 111," a bluegrass/country group, playing a free show. (I'd never heard of them, but apparently Hull is some kind of bluegrass/mandolin wunderkind, which I learned after getting home and looking her up online.)

Their music reminded me of Austin and Texas music, and I started getting goosebumps (like the time a Tejano band in full regalia played for money on my subway car) and tapping my toe and bobbing my head... When I caught myself tapping and bobbing, I at first stopped myself self-consciously: "Gawd, everyone's gonna think I'm a hick!" But then I looked around me: the whole crowd of over 500 New Yorkers was full of toe tappers and head bobbers! Well-dressed middle-aged and old couples, young hipsters, Japanese and German and Icelandic tourists, 30-somethings with baby strollers whose toddlers were dancing around in front of the stage (just like at millions of outdoor Austin shows I'd gone to). I had to bite my lip several times to stop from getting teary, the vibe was so good! Hard to explain, but while I watched the show I was so full of love for New York and New Yorkers, loving them for getting into the good country music and enjoying themselves.

And then, the icing on the NYC cake: Standing just to my right, a 50-something unshaven gray-stubbled man and his younger blonde wife had two kids with them. The man was watching a baby in the stroller while the wife chased around their toddler, who kept dancing closer and closer to the stage... I was smiling at the toddler trying to escape and kept watching the parents to see what they'd do... Then I noticed that the man looked very familiar: short, VERY squinty eyes... He was wearing a baseball cap that had "Comedy Central" in small letters on the back. When I saw the "Comedy Central," it clicked: the comedian Gilbert Gottfried! Nooooooooooo. I looked secretly again and again. Oh, yes! I was standing next to Gilbert Gottfried, of all odd people, at a free outdoor bluegrass show in the heart of New York City. (And I was happy to see him with a family! Every time I've seen him on TV over the years, the thought has always crossed my mind: "Oh my god, he is so weird and annoying. Who would have sex with him?")

(Just to make sure it was really him, once I got home, I checked his Wikipedia page. Sure 'nuff, he has two kids, one born in 2007, one in 2009. Then I looked up his wife Dara Kravitz's photo --- see below. It was them! I had to do the same "research" the time I spotted Elvis Costello and wife Diana Krall walking a twin stroller around Union Square last year, after not believing who I'd just seen.)

What a wonderfully dream-like place, even when you're awake! :)

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