America: A tourist guide? Fuggedaboutit

As the world commemorates the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, ex-local Tim Wilson shares advice for New York newbies.
New York City.
New York City.

Listen Bud, we don't have much time so let's keep this short: Skip the Empire State, okay? Oh sure, it's the Empire State Building, iconic and all that garbage, in the middle of what's known as the Empire State. But the voyage up the top is a massive time suck. And in this burg, bub, time is money. You do just as well, much more speedily, at Top Of The Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza), which is the Rockefeller Centre. While you're there you can take a tour of NBC if you're so inclined, or rip up to Trump Tower at 725 Fifth Ave.

Get a selfie at Trump, write something funny on Facie about The Don. I met him there for an interview one time. You know what? He was charming. Oh sure, boastful. Obsessed with success, and all the stuff we hold our noses about. Well, some do. Others love him. Big guy too. Physically imposing. Knows how to use it. Typical New York real estate tycoon. But good fun. And his hair is real. I've looked into it. Had to, right?

After Trump tower, smuggle yourself into Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Ave, bergdorfgoodman.com), which is where the rich New Yorkers shop.

The people-watching is primo.

Our clock is ticking so let's keep moving. Museums, right, culture? Miss the Museum of Modern Art; most of it's incomprehensible savagery. Gas the Guggenheim too, it's a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed palace that says "Art is Dead, Architecture Rules". Plus it's stuffed with nicotine-stained Europeans, mostly. The queues! Unbelievable in the high season (spring and autumn). You don't got the time for the Metropolitan Museum. Head to the Frick (1 E 70th St) on the Upper East Side.

But wait, why the hurry already? Take some time out on Park at 740. The building's iconic. Most desirable address in New York. It costs buckets of duckets to get even a duplex (two-floor apartment) there, and the names of the inhabitants, whew! Kennedys and the like. Hedge-fund gazillionaires. You know what's more money than time in New York? Money.

Tim Wilson.
Tim Wilson.


Okay, that's an adapted line from my book The Straight Banana, which has a chapter set at 740 Park. It describes how, at the height of a terror plot, the hero has the night of his life there. The book's about terror, paranoia, addiction, wealth, status, fear, ambition, shame and transvestitism; all the stuff that makes New York tick. And it has Donald Trump in it. And a grotesque reality TV star. They're not the same person, BTW.
How does it end? With a bang. Like the New York fireworks on the fourth of July, which you should see, if you can get there then, and you don't mind armpit-melting humidity.

Okay, so you taxi-ed to the Frick, right? How about the Frick! Old masters the way you like them. Paintings that look like they were painted, rather than expelled from a 2-year-old's butt. I saw a Constable there that blew my mind once; it was like the ship was sailing out of the frame to murder me, and me alone. Also, the Frick used to be the home to Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist. You can imagine him munching his breakfast of poor people, while looking out to Central Park, wondering why he's not happier.

Get on the subway and head to 103rd. My old neighbourhood, Spanish Harlem. Walk to 106th, and pop into St Cecilia's church between Lexington and Park. There are Catholic churches every 10 blocks in Spanish Harlem, but this is the one for me. It's not because of the Romanesque architecture, or because it was built in 1883; I became Catholic here. Did my first confession here too in middle age, and cried like a baby. That's what forgiveness is like; it melts you like July humidity.

But New York isn't forgiving; that's for sure. It's late. Your feet hurt. You're hungry. Get back on the Six line at 103rd, and head down to 86th Street. Snag a bagel at Tal's Bagels (333 E. 86th St). Have the salmon and cream cheese with onions and capers. Get a drink too because you'll be thirsty after all that salt. But not there. The coffee's rubbish. Grab a papaya juice at Papaya King on 179 E 86th . Don't get the hot dogs. You've eaten enough already, and - frankly - they're not great.

Step outside Papaya King and breathe the atmosphere. You've done a tiny slice of New York. Probably an afternoon's worth, but no doubt you slept late the night before. They say New York never sleeps. That's a lie. All the bars close at 4am. But by then only scumbags and druggies are out.

Look, pal; pat yourself on the back. You didn't wander around in Times Square like some mook. You missed some of the touristy crap. You showed self-respect. The Upper East Side is cool in a kooky kind of way. Lots of old people. Just enjoy your papaya. Don't let anyone judge you and say Gray's Papaya is better. That's a West side thing. Some say the West is best, but that don't mean the East ain't a feast.

Tim Wilson works on Seven Sharp, and co-hosts The Two on Newstalk ZB. His new novel The Straight Banana, a comedy about a terror plot in New York, is out now (Victoria University Press, RRP$30).

- Spy.co.nz

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