It’s really hot today. We were going to do something fun, like go over the Brooklyn bridge, but with it being over 90, with the heat advisory and the air quality advisory, we decided to just stay at home. I dragged our portable air conditioner out of the back of the closet and set it up, to take the edge off the heat. Now we’re watching a True Detective Marathon to catch up to the second season. It seems pretty good, so far.
Last Sunday, the weather wasn’t that bad, so after we visited FAO Schwarz for the last time, we sat in Central Park for a while, by that little pond (called “The Pond”) in the southeast corner by the Central Park Zoo, and had a mini-picnic. It was nice. There were a lot of people out there hanging out, relaxing. Smooth breeze, a lot of chatter, the sun shining on the water as it set. It was nice, sitting there, doing nothing for a while. I read for a bit. I picked up this book called Ready Player One, about a future where the world is suffering an energy crisis and most people retreat to an online 3D virtual simulation called the OASIS. I’m liking it so far.
After we’d sat for a while and it was starting to get dark, we packed up to leave. We walked across to the west side and exited by 70th street afterwards to catch the train. It was a really great way to spend a late afternoon and evening.
FAO Schwarz’s flagship store in New York City, on 5th Avenue near Central Park and the Apple Store, is closing on the 15th. We heard about it on the news, but you wouldn’t be able to tell otherwise. Their website doesn’t even mention that the store won’t be around anymore in a few days. There are no signs out front mentioning the fact. Nothing inside to show that they’re closing other than a lack of product and that the bottom floor is completely sealed off. I did talk to an employee that seemed depressed and annoyed with what was going on. I don’t blame her, considering she was basically losing her job. She said that display stands were being taken down right in front of customers and the floor sales people were trying to promote products that were sitting unceremoniously on plastic push carts.
I was hoping there would be sales to clear inventory, but that wasn’t the case. It’s as if they’re trying to keep up the facade that the store is temporarily embarrassed until they don’t open the doors again. The shelves were half empty, the store was dirty. The bathrooms were half flooded, quite literally. The air conditioning was nice, though, and walking past the mock toy soldiers at the front door, seeing the spinning FAO Schwartz sign above the troughs of candy, and the smell of sugar and baked treats was exciting. It reminded me of what I love about going to FAO. There are so many types of toys, so many different types of candy to look at and consider buying, and so many different and odd people to watch. The place is always packed with tourists and locals. Just being there and being part of the crowd is a fun experience, but we rarely walked out empty-handed.
I had been to FAO a few times as a kid and regularly as an adult, but usually just to pick up some candy or wander the aisles and see what sorts of toys were selling. I was disappointed when I heard the place was closing, but I mean, come on, when you’re selling 700 dollar stuffed dogs in 2015, what do you expect? One could argue that FAO was targeting a particular demographic, but most kids come from families that can’t afford a 700 dollar stuffed dog, and I’m pretty sure that even the ones that do would rather spend that 700 bucks on a PS4 or XBox 1, some accessories and some games. Making things even tougher, most games are bought as digital downloads now. Saves the trip of having to go up to the store. No travel fare, no gas money, no begging parents to give you rides. You just click a button and a while later you’re playing.
I’d rather have a video game than a 700 stuffed animal too. I’d also rather have a video game than 45 dollar doll house furniture. Walking into the top floor of FAO, thinking about business models and changing economies, I couldn’t help but look at the stuff they were selling and wonder what they were thinking. Are there really that many kids clambering to build model train sets these days? Isn’t there a 3D simulation for that now? I suppose toy stores are going the way of Blockbuster and Books-A-Million. Everything is going digital. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Things change, often for the better, and companies have to keep up with those changes to remain relevant. You can’t force people’s preferences to stay locked into a certain decade.
I suppose things won’t be the same anymore, not seeing FAO open when we walk by. I’m reminded of how much Union Square on 14th Street has changed since I was a teenager in the 90s. New York keeps changing. I’m already wondering where I’m going to get sacks of gummy candies from here on out.
When I mentioned that we went to see the Philippines Day Parade, I noted that the Israel Day Parade was on a different day this year. We did go see that too, but I didn’t say much about it because we didn’t stay that long. I like the idea of the Celebrate Israel parade because I like the idea of Israel as a country and what it’s trying to stand for. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the policies the country has, but then again I don’t agree with a lot of what the US does either. But I like the fundamental ideas of equality, freedom, and democracy that Israel is working towards. I won’t go into the rightness or wrongness of the establishment of the state within its current borders and boundaries, but denying that an Israeli nationality exists is just silly, and because my wife and I like and support Israel as a state, and for what it’s trying to do, we went to see the Celebrate Israel Parade last May 31st.
What I don’t like about the parade is how generally unexciting it is. On the one hand, it’s cool to see all of the Jewish community and religious groups, but generally the parade is just people walking down the street in matching T-shirts, usually holding a sign saying what group they’re representing. Maybe I’m numbed to the simple pleasure of that sort of thing, but in New York City, when there are LGBT parades, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the Macy’s Day Parade, floats and brass bands and actors and singers in attendance with accompanying conerts in the street, well, this one just sort of pales in comparison. There are plenty of valid reasons and justifications. It’s hard to live up to corporate-funded hype, but one can only stand in the sun watching people walk down the street for so long before it gets boring.
I’d say the most interesting part of the parade this year was the protest and the counter protest between 58th and 59th streets, on 5th avenue, flanking the parade route. The protesters sectioned off into a coral, created with crowd control barriers. One group was composed of the chassidic Jewish guys that think Israel and its creation is an affront to God. Basically, they think Israel should not have been re-established as a state until the moshiach (messiah) returns. They had signs with wording that pretended they spoke for authentic or true Judaism, as if they hold a monopoly on Jewish religion and everyone else is just a pretender. The lie was put to their claims as thousands of Jews marched by celebrating the existence of Israel. The other group was, I assume, a traditional orthodox (as opposed to modern orthodox) group that had signs condemning homosexuality and women wearing skirts that are shorter than 6 inches below the knee. The irony is that one of the women holding the sign with that wording had a skirt on that was too short according to her own standard.
As the marchers walked by, many would veer off towards that side of the road and read what was on the signs. Watching their reactions was incredibly interesting. Some cheered louder, some laughed and ignored the signs, some made angry comments or gestures towards the protesters. The chassidic guys mostly stood there praying or making a pointing down “shame shame” gesture. The other group of protesters mostly just stood there, holding their signs and smiling stupidly. When women in shorts came by, or the LGBT Jewish group came by, they cheered louder. Some of the LGBT group members, if I recall right, stopped and waved their own signs in front of the protesters. Some of the signs were really too much. The ones the protesters had. A lot of the marchers were children and I wondered what sort of effect those slogans and messages might have on them. I get that protest and free speech should be protected, but the combativeness and ugliness of it has to effect those kids in a negative way.
One of the chassidic protesters crossed the street to where regular viewers of the parade were standing. A group of angry Jewish women chased him away.
At one point, someone came and handed me some newspaper that at first looked innocuous, but on closer inspection was Christian propaganda that spoke about blood, fire, and death. It was wholly inappropriate. What sort of jerk shows up at someone’s celebration of their cultural, national and religious heritage and tries to denigrate it through proselytizing?
We stayed about an hour and then met up with two friends and walked over to Bloomingdale’s to have frozen yogurt in their cafe, 40 Carrots. I hadn’t been there in a few years, since I did seasonal employment at Bloomingdale’s in 2010. If you’ve never been, their frozen yogurt is amazing! If you’re in that part of town, it’s worth stopping there to get some.
Last year, we went to the 50th annual Celebrate Israel parade and it was only later that we found out that the Philippines Independence Day parade had been held at the same time, a few blocks away. We told ourselves that this year we would try to make it to both, which wouldn’t be as hard since they were held on different days this time. We almost did! Unfortunately, when we were getting ready for bed on Saturday night, “Man on Fire” with Denzel Washington started playing on the TV, and before we knew it, we were still up at 3 AM, drinking Stella Artois and eating Salt & Vinegar Kettle chips. So, we didn’t make it out of the house early enough to get downtown and see the parade. Maybe next year? There was a cultural festival after the parade, though, near Madison Square Park, so we checked that out.
The tents for the food stalls, advertisers, recruiters, and organizers were set up on Madison Avenue, next to the park. It was very, very tight. About half of the road was sectioned off by barricades, which I assume was meant for emergency vehicles, though I question the logic there. The restricted walking space was so packed with people that I’m surprised it didn’t cause an emergency of some sort. I was surprised by the number of people attending the fair in general. There were tour buses that looked to have been chartered by groups of Filpinos from nearby towns or cities. The lines were long for everything, including the port-a-potties on the northeast corner. There was a constant flow of people walking between the stalls and the park.
We showed up hungry and the smell of grilling barbecue was everywhere. I was more than a little annoyed, having to fight through that crowd and then stand in a huddle in front of the food vendors, trying to catch someone’s attention to place an order, only to find out there was apparently only one stick of chicken barbecue left at the fair. I guess it’s popular! Anyhow, I bought that, some pancit (a vegetable stir fry type of dry noodle dish) and a few pieces of turon (banana wrapped in a pastry dough and fried in brown sugar, I think). We managed to find a bench in the shade to sit on in the park and once we were full, we were able to relax and take in the sights.
Madison Square Park looks great! There’s some sort of art installation with hanging glass set up throughout the park that reflected the light and people. It isn’t really clear in the pictures I took. I think it was a little overcast at the time. The breeze was cool and it wasn’t too hot or humid. It’s been a really cool start to summer this year. Not that I’m complaining. I’m sure it’ll be too hot soon enough. There were plenty of people. Kids were playing, families were hanging out, the muffled sound of performers at the Filipino cultural fair was booming over loudspeakers on the street behind us. It was great. I kind of wish I had a book with me, so I could lean back and sit there for a few hours. But, then again, the park didn’t have a public bathroom (5 dirty port-a-potties don’t count) or my coffee pot. So, after wandering around for a while and doing some people watching, we headed home to relax.
There’s a Fairways grocery right next to this pier, so when we go there to shop we like to walk out on the pier and look around for a while. The view is amazing! The Fairways there is pretty cool too, by the way. They have a huge room that is completely refrigerated. It’s odd because it’s like walking down a normal grocery store aisle, but there’s yogurt and butter sitting on the shelf.
Anyway, there’s a great view of the New Jersey side of the river from the pier. The view of downtown isn’t as good as what you see from Riverbank State Park on 138th – 137th Street, and it’s certainly not as good as the view from the middle of the George Washington Bridge, but it’s nice. The breeze is nice, especially on the pier over the water, and there are shaded benches to sit down on.
While we were there we saw two guys boxing. Some people were reading. Others were just passing through, like us. One really interesting old man was putting together a homemade kite using disposable wooden chopsticks (like from take-out) and a plastic take-out bag with the smiley face on it. It seemed to be working for him; he just couldn’t catch the breeze before we left to go to Fairways.
I love how the city is installing these small parks all along the waterfront. Last year this section was closed off. You see, it’s part of the Hudson River Greenway, a long running and biking track that will eventually encircle the entire island of Manhattan and link up with bridge paths leading to other cycling and running trails in other boroughs. I also thought the historical information presented on plaques mounted on the railing of the northern pier was a nice touch. It gives a brief history of the area and how it was used as a market. I didn’t really understand the short phrases on what looked like chopped up road signs in the greenery right across the street from Fairways though. There’s not enough context.
I’d really like to get bicycles for myself and my wife so we can spend an afternoon cycling around Manhattan, literally. Maybe next year. Summer is drawing to a close. We didn’t do as much as we wanted, but we did enough and we had fun, relaxed, and recharged.
Classes start again on Thursday. My first class of the semester is Friday, and then there’s a long weekend.