Huddled Masses

Breadline_image_1 Saturday, I went against my better judgment and decided to check out Taste of Chinatown. All my worst expectations were met and surpassed. Anything involving large groups of New Yorkers lining up gives me the shakes just imagining it. I never understand blog boosterism of commercial traumas like the Union Sq. Trader Joe's or the Shake Shack (neither of which I've ever set foot near). I do understand the rah rah of more community driven ventures like Taste of Chinatown because in theory they could potentially be fun (there was, and I’m sure still is, this hideous set up on the Willamette waterfront called The Fun Center with rides and food every year for the Rose Festival. Lots of teens, drunk folks, sailors, good times. I stayed far, far away, but it always struck me odd that there’s no succinct antonym for fun. It was hard to give this dreaded spectacle a nickname. You just have to say un-fun, and that’s not the same) But I know that's not going to happen.

I always wonder if there's something wrong with me that public events are like the bowels of hell opening up. Are those who dig these travesties (I unsurprisingly unearthed countless gushing blog posts on the topic, but it's not like I'm going to link to them because it just makes me look mean, which is totally untrue) recent transplants and they think pushy crowds are a charming part of the NYC experience? Gluttons for punishment? Or are they just really really out of touch and possibly not very smart? Like the same people who stand in the subway doors and/or gab loudly on cell phones, types who never get bothered because they’re obliviously doing all the bothering. Why on earth would you wait in line for over half an hour for a serving of Peking duck? Or cold soggy noodles? I mean, Chinatown is there all the time, you could just go into a restaurant and eat better food in a relatively more civilized setting. And yes, Peking duck costs more than $2, but you're also getting more than one pancake and slice of meat. I’m cheap and I’m a pig, but I’m not pathetic.

Anyway, I spent maybe an hour trying to get something decent to eat (I got some nice Indonesian kuih from Sanur and some curried meat buns from May May Bakery, but the food food was less than spectacular) before it started pouring. I did find time to get suffocated and almost trampled by crowds watching lion dancers (seriously, this bizarre mob scene developed where people were so crammed that no one could move in any direction and people started pushing and screaming. I was like someone's going to die, and it's not going to be me. I managed to eventually squeeze out with a few minor foot stompings and back shoves [not committed, but received] though my bag containing a Styrofoam carton of mediocre Malaysian noodles was a casualty, as it got knocked out of my hand during the melee. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have found myself wallet-less either).

There was no rhyme of reason to getting helped at the tables (at least the Peking duck folks lined up in an orderly fashion). Whoever shoved forward more aggressively got food first. I also observed the interesting Chinatown paradox where the same 4 ft. tall grannies with canes who drive you nuts on the sidewalks by moving at a snail's pace are the ones who move like greased lightening and are agile as hell when it comes to getting roast pork buns first. And I don't want to hear crap about Chinese culture and manners and differences. I've been to crowded wet markets and food stalls in a slew of Asian cities and people don't act like this. It's definitely the NYC factor.

By 2:30pm, it was clear that we needed to get fuck out of this city before someone got hurt. Spending the rest of the afternoon and evening in suburban New Jersey calmed the nerves a bit. I had a grand old time at Target, Old Navy and Home Depot, and had a classy dinner at Quizno's. It was all topped off with multiplex movie at Menlo Park Mall. Unfortunately, it was too late to shop and we only got to do a quick run through the Uniqlo before the film started.

It's too bad that Friends with Money killed my late afternoon garden state buzz. I had wanted to see Brick, but of course the nearest theater playing it was…BAM (for non-locals—that's an acronym for Brooklyn Academy of Music—I’m not going all Emeril on you), right near our apartment and that would defeat my purpose of seeing a movie in a big theater where no one sits next to you and invades your emotional and physical space. Friends with Money just happened to be the winner when up against The Benchwarmers, American Dreamz, The Sentinel and Ice Age: The Meltdown.

I can get so irritated with movies (though it's possible to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment) and by the pettiest things. But the pretty girl/fat guy pairing has moved beyond vague sitcom annoyance into insidious and pervasive territory. Perhaps it comes with age, but I can’t watch things anymore without getting caught up in the double standards (I was thinking about that scene in The Sopranos from two Sundays ago where Carmella rubs vitamin E on Tony’s scar, and he’s got this huge gut, duh. Could you even imagine a gender reversal on TV? A man smearing ointment on a fat woman’s stomach would never be construed as tender or caring because no one would be able to get past the gross out factor. Think naked Kathy Bates in About Schmidt).

If this was a movie about four male friends, and one was a poor fuck up, albeit hotter and younger than the rest (I'm still trying to figure out the context of how Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand and Jennifer Anniston would all have a history long before everyone had settled down, so to speak. One would guess college or high school, yet Jennifer Anniston is a good chunk younger [37] than the other three [Cusack 43, Keener 45, McDormand 48] so it rings completely untrue. I suppose the director wanted the flashier star to play the loser, but she already had that role in The Good Girl), played by a big star like say George Clooney, and he agrees to go out with an unemployed slobby fat chick because why not, his life is a mess. And you know what, the girl turns out to be pretty nice, and guess what–she's secretly loaded! Score. Uh, no.

Money wouldn't even be a strong enough lure to be seen in public with a dumpy obese gal with good intentions. You could take almost any movie and reverse the genders for a sure to sicken the audience effect. Despite liking Sideways, I couldn't help but try to imagine the Paul Giamatti/Virginia Madsen roles switched. A schlubby school teacher, failed writer, liar, borderline alcoholic, who steals from her mother is going to get a smart, handsome man who understands her? I don’t fucking think so. I have nothing against these actors, but can you even imagine female equivalents of Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman or William H. Macy? If so, please let me know the actresses you have in mind. Seriously.

11 thoughts on “Huddled Masses

  1. Camryn Manheim is the closest I can think of. Every time I used to see a preview for King of Queens (is that still on?) I used to get so enraged. As if Leah Remini would date that fat Kevin guy in real life. Come on! But, there are some real life celebrity couples that are like that, you know? Kelsey Grammar and his wife Chamille, William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, Jack Black and his wife… But then again, look at Jay Leno and his wife (or Hugh Jackman and his wife). She’s kind of big (not that he’s attractive by any means).

  2. Meredith: I think even Camryn Manheim has lost weight. She’s certainly not skinny, but now she looks kind of large instead of really large. I’m totally going to start a Fat Wife Watch for male celebrities. I know they’re out there.

    Foolano: I think the Taste of Chinatown has the potential to be good, but it’s just not there yet. I was surprised at the amount of locals (at least I’m guessing they were neighborhood residents). I’m not sure how well it was advertised. In a perfect world, NYC would have hawker-style food courts instead of ubiquitous pretzel and hot dog stands.

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