Making memories, bumpkin-style
By definition, a bumpkin is “an awkward, simple, unsophisticated person from a rural area.”
I meet many New Yorkers who pull into Paradise Alley in Point Judith on their way to spend some slack time on Block Island. I always feel these people have a leg up on me; they’re quick on their feet for the most part. If you can live and make your nickels in New York City, then my hat is off to you because of the ten times I’ve visited that island it was always apparent to me that I’m a bumpkin who does his best to assimilate; however, I’m not cool, hip, nor collected. I’m gobsmacked and baffled with every turn of my head. The place is overwhelming — especially during the holidays.
I took my wife to the big city several years ago to see a singer at the Carlyle Hotel and do a holiday hang. John Tally, the main engineer at Block Island Ferry, gave me some directions and told me to not miss a particular exit. I Mapquested the directions, and drew circles and arrows on my printed map —and we still missed the exit. “Aw, gee,” said my wife looking at me with some prodigious concern. Somehow, we ended up tearing down the correct avenue in my truck and pulled right up to the front door. I had a fat stack of bills to duke all the hotel workers — a holiday move. More about this place later.
I’m the kind of bumpkin who is always looking up at gargoyles on buildings and not looking where I’m going. While Cindy was with our Scotty in Central Park, I was strolling aimlessly looking up and stopping to see the bizarre figures. I needed to use a restroom somewhere and wandered into the Whitney Museum. There was a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit going on and I had to haggle with a kid to let me just use the bathroom; then I scooted around to see a couple of Georgia’s paintings on the quick. I was going to flip the kid some thankful scoots from my fat stack, but I didn’t like his attitude. I may be a bumpkin, but I have manners. I flipped him some scoots anyway.
On a different foray into the city, I walked around Battery Park taking in the sights and watching some live street entertainment. I had been on a trip visiting a cousin who lived on East 59th Street. After watching some various buskers and dancers, I sat on a bench and watched boats ferrying folks out to the Statue of Liberty; rather than go out there and climb up the stairs in a long line, I got yammering with a kid selling bogus Rolex Oysters. The kid wanted five scoots for a watch, but I flipped him ten. He took the money and looked at me — smiling and shaking his head — like I was a, ahem, a clueless bumpkin who didn’t know he was getting hustled for a watch which would tick for about 15 minutes. (A few years ago, my wife bought some Rolex Oysters in Beijing; they lasted about a week. Just sayin’.)
That same day after walking downtown, still ogling water towers in the Village and more gargoyles, I got bumpkined — hard — when I hopped on a bus and asked a jaded Metro driver where Penn Station was. He just shook his head in disgust and indifference as I noticed we were driving right by said station. I thanked him even though he was rude.
While visiting another cousin who worked at NBC at the time, and had lived in the city for many years, he agreed to have lunch with me in Times Square. I think my cousin wanted to meet in a more uptown and hipper eatery, but it was my first trip to this mecca, so he acquiesced. I found this part of the city to be bizarre, weird, garish and not my style; however, I was thankful for my cousin’s time.
One of my all-time bumpkin experiences was walking into the fabled punk bar, CBGB’s, down in the Bowery. It was a cool place and I just happened to be walking by; I had no clue where I was. I said hello to a couple of tragically hip looking punk girls who were behind the bar, and proceeded to look at the pictures on the wall of Richard Hell, Patti Smith, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, The Sex Pistols, Sting, et. al. I liked the pictures and told the girls, “This place is like a museum.” That observation hung in awkward silence above our heads with the girls subtly letting each other know with their condescending eye drama that I was a clueless bumpkin; nevertheless, I was polite — thanked the punkettes — tipped my hat, and walked out to the street giggling to myself about how I was listening to many types of music and playing a guitar decades before they were even born. Kids.
That aforementioned Carlyle Christmas was bumpkin-esque on a grand scale. After hanging around the hotel for a few hours, my wife says, “Let’s go to Rockefeller Center!” I hailed a hack for us. As we approached the mob at Rockefeller Plaza, I said to my wife, “I ain’t doing this. We’re outta here. Too many people. ‘Cabbie, back to the hotel, please.’” Cindy talked me into going for a horse and buggy ride in Central Park. I could handle that — fewer people. After clip clopping in the park, we walked by a street artist who hustled us to sit for a drawing of us — major bumpkin stuff. I felt awkward being drawn as people walked by. Cindy had a blast. The pictures cost me 200 scoots, and I had to hit an ATM in the Plaza Hotel to get, ahem, cash, because my stack of scoots was now lean. We liked the drawing and I’m thankful for the memory.
Happy Thanksgiving from the McDonald-Houlihans!