Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New York Trip--(Part 2)

After the beach we went to Cedar Point County Park, which is also in East Hampton. This is a completely different sort of place from the usual attractions in that city. It is mainly a big campground with 1950s-ish facilities: charcoal pits, overgrown baseball fields with rusting backstops, playgrounds, metallic-flavored water fountains, picnic tables, etc. The picture below is the office where you check in. They show family movies, I presume outside, on Saturday night, which the ladies at the desk invited us to come back for; our stay in the area did not extend to that day however.

The park is situated on the north shore of the south fork of Long Island, on what I suppose would be called an inlet. The effect is of a large lake, as land is visible all around, including one decent-sized town with a large marina directly across, possibly Sag Harbor or part of Shelter Island, but I was not certain. It is a genuinely pleasant spot, and still the nearly exclusive domain of some remnant of a class that is middling in every way, a rarity in that part of the world. New York State, I understand, is famous for the quality of its parks among aficiondos of that sort of thing. While they show some signs of age--though that is no strike against them with me--the ones I have seen seem to be well designed to appeal to and accomodate city people who are looking for a taste of nature without desiring a struggle with it, which is about the level I am currently at. Garbage cans, snack and soda machines, restrooms (often 1930s-50s vintage, with radiators, bubble-shaped soap dispensers, paneled doors on the toilet stalls, checked tiled floors, etc), and trails devoid of roots and stones and poison ivy are plentiful and placed at strategic intervals. You won't find any of this at a state park in Vermont or New Hampshire; there you are expected to bring your own drinks, carry all your trash out with you, tire yourself out with exercise and relieve yourself in the overgrowth off the trail. It is still not quite up to the level of hiking or bicycling in the Czech Republic or other parts of Europe, where two to three hours of such activity, and sometimes even one, inevitably leads you to a tavern, but it is near enough at least to arouse the association.

We got dinner one night from a fried-clam stand on the Montauk Highway (Route 27). This was not the famous place known as "Lunch" which is listed in all the guidebooks, but the next one to the east of it, on the opposite side of the road. I thought my children would cause the least offense at a place like this, but there were actually rather severe warnings posted all around the counter and picnic area that children must be seated, etc, at all times. We got the food (which was on the very high end of the deep-fried seafood category, that is to say, it was good) to go, but of course the two older boys wanted to get out and check out the scene. The wait/counterstaff seemed to be mostly Irish. They did not smile at the children. They seemed socially a pretty cool and desirable crew to me, but they were evidently not cool and desirable enough to the people they wanted to be cool and desirable to, which always makes people very impatient at having to deal with the likes of me. The gentleman taking orders at the register was listening to a blues recording that sounded like it was important and something I should know about, and if I were a successful practitioner of some art or science myself and able to look the capable portion of humanity in the eye, perhaps I would have asked him what it was, but under the circumstances I declined to do so. I could not help imagining that he must have gotten with one of the waitresses, especially the sour-faced one who was maybe ten pounds above the general ideal. Neither would have been able to bring themselves to admit love for the other; I thought that they probably listened to this music or some kind of classic jazz when they were about their erotic business, changing to whatever is the current hip equivalent to ska in the (late) morning when they made coffee and brushed their teeth and covered their flesh and all those things that lovers of convenience do. But this was really going too far...
On the last day, before we went home, we dropped into the colossus on the Hudson itself for about 3 hours and visited the very celebrated Museum of Natural History. This was my children's 1st experience of any kind in that great city outside the car, and I, who had once figured on spending long stretches of my life in it in carrying out my literary functions, especially in my 20s and 30s, before retiring to the area where I actually live now sometime deep in middle age, had not been in town at all myself for nearly seven years. (Good Grief!) The extreme shortness of the visit was more a function of my desire to break this streak and also give the children some tangible impression of New York, however fleeting and comparatively insubstantial, because they are getting to the point in their fledgling engagements with learning where they have begun to encounter it, or have the idea of it alluded to, and I thought it might be of some utility to their understanding to know it as a place they had been to.

I had never been to the Natural History Museum myself. It has become something of an iconic site of New York childhood due to the homage paid it by the many New York children who grew up to write books and make movies and be generally sophisticated and important. The Catcher in the Rye is probably the most famous example, and even Malcolm X was shown hanging out in the African mammal gallery in the movie that was made about him. I would not be wholly astonished to discover that Lou Reed made a positive allusion to it somewhere. My children are probably a little young to be struck with any such kind of deep impression, and of course they are not New York City children anyway, but it is fun at least to pretend one is having some kind of exciting and meaningful experience, though I fear I do a very poor job of imitating the sort of people who do have such experiences. It was interesting that the children's favorite things in the museum were actually the old classics: the dinosaur skeletons (or the models/casts of them), the elephants, the models of various (American) Indian dwellings. Of the two older boys, one's style of museum-going is to race through the rooms as quickly as he can in order to make sure he is not missing anything and ask a lot of questions seemingly unrelated to what he is seeing (Is 92 minutes longer than an hour and a half?), while the other (the younger, actually) is more inclined to be attracted to the objects in front of him and make them subjects of his musings.

Theodore Roosevelt was apparently the guiding spirit of the building of this museum, which I had not known, and besides the over the top equestrian statue of the President dressed in armor and accompanied by an Indian on foot at his right hand (I am guessing there will never be such a monument of our present leader erected in New York) which stands in front of the museum, there are four stirring quotes of his on such topics as Manliness, Duty, Patriotism, and so forth, engraved on the walls in the main concourse which instantly arouse in one a sense of personal elevation quite apart from any intellectual analysis of the words themselves. This was my favorite part of the museum, though this concourse, as well as the rest of the place, was crammed with people (in the books the sensitive types are always depicted as wandering through the galleries alone, immersed in thought).

My least favorite part was the line for tickets--there is no fee, only "donations", though you have to declare to the ticket dispensers what you are donating, and I at was least informed that giving nothing is not permitted, though this seems a misuse of the word donation. I have been told by real New Yorkers and other reasonably cultivated people that all of the big museums in that city which have this donation policy have enough money to keep operating until my great-great-grandchildren's lifetimes and that the whole racket is an inside joke at the expense of the suburban boobies and earnest halfwits who fall for it. However true this may be, I have yet to find anyone who is going to let me pass myself off as exempt from donating on the grounds that I am in any way above the vulgar masses. While normally when I go to the bank, the grocery store, etc, I am the kind of creep who chooses what line to get in according to which one has the best-looking girl working at the end of it, on this occasion I was hoping, as I made my way through the maze to get to the ticket counter, that I would get one of the numerous unattractive or overweight people for this dreaded confrontation over the donation; but no, it was my fate to be directed to Miss New York 2007 herself, a swarthy, palpably hostile beauty, of a vaguely Latin though otherwise largely indeterminate ethnic origin. I appealed to her for guidance and she coolly informed me that the suggested donation for my party was $47. This seemed to me an absurd suggestion. Surely no one of sense is going to pay $47 for anything if he does not have to, quite apart from my determination not to appear too unsavvy to the great city people. I said, without adequate force however, that I wished to pay nothing. You have to pay something, I was told. I gave a very small donation--it was at the end of my trip, and I had not had much money to throw around to begin with--which I could not do with the effect of haughtiness, grandeur, whatever, that I was looking for. But really I couldn't have won, I don't think, short of sardonically throwing a $100 bill on the counter and telling them to keep the change, because they had pegged me for a bourgeois, and no spirit of finer stuff. If I had given 47, or 30, or 20, they'd have sneered at me, and I'd have sneered at myself as a sucker and been unable to have any fun from that point on, but being a skinflint without any justification--uncool provincial tourists devoid of sex appeal, the attitude is, should not expect to be allowed to do anything in New York without incurring some appropriate expense--I merely branded myself as pathetic. But I felt all right, I really did. I really believe now, as I slowly and imperceptibly grow ever so slightly mad, that there is some part of the melange of facts and ideas which constitutes New York, that I possess a real understanding of, which the cool people and the greatest artists and intellects are powerless to shatter utterly. I am eager to go back.

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