Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ten Minute Tales from NYC

Time for another Take Ten For Writers exercise. This one's #57, chosen to honour Heinz's sauce. The challenge: creating the setting for a story. I picked option #10, "a major city." The tale has to start with "the weather.".

Given the time challenge, my brain zeroed in on one particular metropolis, one I always yearn to visit.!
The weather was the kind he liked for exploring the city by foot. Not too hot, not too cold, a touch of sun in the sky. The kind of weather ideal for a light jacket loaded with pockets to fill with notepads and wax-paper bags of freshly roasted almonds. 
The almonds. Every time he hit the sidewalks of Manhattan, he couldn't resist buying them from street vendors. It had become one of the many small rituals he took pleasure in whenever visiting the Big Apple. Grabbing an egg cream at a "spa" in the East Village. Browsing the Strand Bookstore in the morning, never learning he should leave it for last instead of hauling heavy tomes around all day. Builds muscles, he'd tell himself when soothing his aching body in the evening. 
Yet those aches were part of the experience. The feeling of having covered so much ground in a single day. OK, there was some cheating via the subway. But for the most part, he was satisfied if he could meander from Midtown to Harlem by foot. All the while, the music streaming in his brain created a soundtrack of songs about cities, generic or specific.
When we walked through Little Italy, I saw my reflection come right off your face...



True, PJ Harvey's "Good Fortune" could apply to any city with a Little Italy or Chinatown. Or any city where you're strolling at night through downtown neighbourhoods, preferably with somebody else. It frequently runs through my head during evening walks along Spadina Avenue or College Street late at night.

The rituals mentioned in my ten-minute tale are true:

  • Hot almonds from street vendors. There's something about the mix of the warmth of the little wax bag when they're handed to you and the soothingly sweet coating that greets your mouth. 
  • Egg creams in the East Village. Go to the southwest corner of 2nd Avenue and St. Mark's Place. Walk into the Gem Spa, which is a convenience store and not a place to pamper your body (though after a long walk, an egg cream will act as a restorative). Order at the cash. In a few minutes, you'll receive a paper cup filled with the goodness of milk, seltzer, and syrup. Walk back outside and enjoy. 
  • Strand Books. I should know by now, especially if I'm staying outside of Manhattan, that a trek to Strand should be saved before heading back to my hotel room to rest. It shouldn't be one of my first stops. Yet I can't resist heading there right off the bat. Good hauls mean achy muscles later on, but I could usually care less.

As for walking distances, I've never gone from Midtown to Harlem in one go, but I have strolled without the aid of buses or subways from Columbus Circle to Bowling Green.

Dammit, now I want to go to Manhattan. Hop in the car and decide which side of the Hudson I'll drive along on the way down. Book a room at the decent Super 8 I stayed at in Brooklyn on my last stopover. Spend enough time to finally stroll through Central Park, which I have only ventured into via bus to speed the trip over to the Museum of Natural History. Flip a coin over going to MOMA or the Met. Hope the waffle truck is still at Columbus Circle. Be the only person in the audience of a Fringe play who doesn't know anyone on stage. Try not to choke on my cheesecake while overhearing a Goodfella/Sopranos wannabe in the adjoining booth.

That's the problem when you write about settings. You want to go back to experience them before finishing the story, or uncover new tales.

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