At the time that sounded fantastic. Luck is my religion and if it takes a glob of snot-colored pigeon diarrhea oozing down my radius to get it, well I'll take a gallon. Unfortunately, 24 hours later Chuck and I would be uvula deep in microwaved hot dogs on an un-budgeted natural disaster flight out of New York City, cutting our vacation three days short.
Bird shit became, simply, bird shit.
We got to New York mid-afternoon Wednesday and settled into a 42-day-old hotel in the Gowanus, a Brooklyn neighborhood known for the septic stink of its namesake canal. We were about two blocks from restaurants, boutiques, markets and fruit stands. From the roof lounge of the hotel, the Manhattan skyline looked like a back drop for senior portraits.
We had dinner and then went for a walk toward Prospect Park. Wandered through Greenlight Bookstore because one time Gary Shteyngart read there, and then crashed early in our hotel room, a clean space that was at least 80 percent bed with an industrial window view.
The next morning we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, site of the Great Cloverfield Battle of 2008. Dorkily enough, this was exhilarating. The views, the enormity of it all. The tourists dodging joggers and bikers. To our left and in the distance were stacks of skyscrapers. In a few minutes we would just be two specks dropped into the middle of this massive ego graveyard.
And then we were in the thick of it with loose plans. We budgeted the next few hours as "Manhattan Day," pinging from thing to thing. Walk past this. Stare at that. Shop here. Maybe catch some live music, or maybe not. Eat food out of a cart. Check. Onion bagel with cream cheese.
We crawled up out of the subway to a burst of rain. Took shelter under an awning at the Hotel Chelsea. Then made for Madison Square Park to check out "Echo," a temporary art installation by Jaume Plensa. This 44-foot tall structure is the face of a girl done in white marble. Elongated head and soft facial indentations. It seemed like if you touched it, it would be warm and smooth. It is peaceful. Lovely.
Then it really started to pour so we skittered under some trees and then it poured harder so we climbed into a dog park where it was hard to tell if were tip toeing through small yellow-tinged pools of urine or water. But there was an umbrella in there, so we waited.
Buses filled with tourists in matching rain ponchos sitting in the upper deck kept driving past and every single time we laughed at the sight.
We ate lunch at Prune, a small restaurant in Nolita and the sort-of star of the book "Blood, Bones and Butter," a food memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton that I read in the spring. Then we shopped for items to work toward completing my transformation from a person who "wears clothes," to someone who "sports costumes."
We stopped into a bookstore to use the bathroom and I learned a fascinating cultural trend: When you use a public restroom that requires a quarter payment, you always hold the door for the next person so they can pee for free. That's just how it is.
That night we met up with my friend Nora Gabora and her son at an Italian bar slash restaurant between our neighborhoods. We've known each other for more than 20 years, but hadn't seen each other in a decade. In that time she's lived in lots of places, gotten married and pushed out this kid who is 100 percent personality. "Draw Spiderman," he told Chuck. "Now draw Spiderman's pants." And then he would giggle like gangbusters at the final product.
Nora remembers everything I've forgotten about high school: How Princess Linda and I sat in the balcony at her confirmation because we had come to spy on a confirmation sponsor with a bubble butt and a way with the 3-point line; The time Nora and I went to see that same confirmation sponsor as a sort of intervention to leave Princess Linda alone unless he really liked her. This was great fun.
Back at the hotel, Chuck began expressing misgivings about the rest of our trip. In his eyes Hurricane Irene was going to end with one of us getting beaned in the head with a flying brick. In my mind we had front row seats for a hurricane party. We could sit at the window with the industrial view and watch flood water swallow utility vehicles, domesticated pets swirling in the bonus tornados all while eating onion bagels and sipping from a shared can of Coke.
"It's not like we're going to be able to do anything fun," he said the next morning as we read transcripts of the mayor's catastrophe speech and news updates and weather reports.
The airports were scheduled to close.
The power could go out for weeks.
Public transportation would be temporarily stalled.
We started looking for alternate flights home. Our original plan had been to leave Monday and we had a layover in North Carolina. Our airline still had that flight scheduled to run as planned. And even though North Carolina was getting hammered, that airline's only options out involved that same route home. Eventually we got a flight on a different airline, leaving that evening.
We made a break for some last ditch fun in the streets of Brooklyn on what was supposed to be our Coney Island Day. "I'm going to eat like three different things that come from a cow," Chuck said when we settled into a rock 'n' roll grill a few blocks from our hotel. Then we did something akin to Supermarket Sweep through neighborhood shops.
I sent JCrew an email: "I just hate fucked a bunch of bookstores."
Everyone in every store was talking about the hurricane.
Restaurants had chalked "Hurricane Specials" onto menu boards.
A gas station had about 30 cars vying for room at the pumps.
A man was selling a sump pump in the streets.
When it came time to pack, I started to feel sick to my stomach. I didn't want to leave. Not even in the face of a natural disaster. I wanted to see things I'd never seen before -- including a hurricane. This was our vacation, our reprieve from the real world. We had spent a lot of money to only get one full day in New York. There were still things to do, see and eat. No offense to my little town that I love, but I had no desire to set foot in Duluth, where everything non-vacation exists. I couldn't even look at Facebook. The innocuous status updates from Duluth friends were lemon juice in the lesions of my pleasure center.
We were leaving because in situations like this, I defer to the more responsible person in our relationship. The one who doesn't want either of us to succumb to a traumatic brain injury. The one who gambles on it being worse. The one who remembers that I can't swim.
I was a sullen weepy mess the entire way to the airport and missed out on seeing a prostitute at work and livestock in a pen in the median. I imagined that if this was the first half of a grrl power movie, I would stand at the security check point, shake his hand and say: "Hasta la pasta. I'm staying. Godspeed, good fellow." And then I would walk away, stick a snorkel into my face and deal with the repercussions later. Or not at all. Unfortunately, I'm burdened by being in love with someone who considers keeping us both alive to be a priority. God.
I have a short attention span for any sort of dour mood. So by the time they started handing out snack-sized packs of plain potato chips and shriveled hotdogs in shriveled microwave buns, I was over it. Mostly.
We got back to Duluth at about 2 a.m. Saturday morning. From then on we've tried to maintain the vacation vibe, keep that fun balloon in the air. We've:
Had brunch at Pizza Luce.
Browsed at Electric Fetus.
Gone on a hunt for a copy of "Sophie's Choice" at used bookstores.
Gone out for sushi.
Been Old Country Buffet'ed by mosquitoes.
And now that "Last day of summer vacation, wow the pleats in my new plaid skirt are super stiff and these new yellow socks are cutting off my circulation" feeling.