Growing up in Vermont, I never thought of New York City as a real place. Sure, I believed it existed. I never thought it was faked, like the moon landings or the JFK assassination or whatever (Conspiracy theorists: Welcome to the comments! Drive up my blog traffic!). But it was no more real to me than the land of Mordor (I have a blog. You knew I was a dork already). I viewed it as this enormous, foreign entity: A strange world filled with tall buildings and throngs of people, the financial capital of the world, and presumably the place where all things Cool originated. What's that? You think my haircut is silly? Well, this is how they wear their hair in New York. And we would all ooh and ah. This band? They're all the rage in New York. It was applicable in any circumstance, because the metropolis in question was a million miles away to us.
I now live in New York, and so far it is not living up to these pie-eyed childhood projections. At first I thought it must be some sort of problem with me. Perhaps I was not going to the right clubs* (Because I go clubbing so much). Or maybe I was witnessing cool things and failing to recognize them, like that homeless man urinating on a stockbroker's leg on the street corner (Actually, even I would recognize this as cool). By and large, the city seemed dirty and dingy to me, smelling faintly of urine and vomit. Why had all my childhood fantasies been so wrong? And that is when I found the answer: West Side Market.
*They have a saying down here: If you want to know which place used to be cool, follow the people from Jersey. And these people (General Jerseyites) are far more clued in than I am.
What West Side Market is is a grocery store. They specialize in high-end items, meaning you pay a bit more to buy your groceries from them, money which helps to fund their presumably-astronomical rent costs. When you enter this upper-class haven for the palate, you are instantly struck by the aroma of a cheese counter specializing in far more than the basic cheddar cheese most American are accustomed to (I walk directly past this counter until I reach the dairy section, where I can buy some actual cheddar. Don't get me wrong. I love a good sheep's-milk gruyere curdled with clam juice (Or whatever). But it's not quite the same). After the initial olfactory buffeting, one gradually grows accustomed to the surroundings. And that is when you realize you are listening to a veritable radio station that time forgot, playing that song you believed everyone else had forgotten from 1996 (This song is typically 'Ooh, Ah... Just a Little Bit' by Gina G). Now, I know that there is a certain sort of retro-cool that can be applied to many things out there. That is definitely not the case here. Within the last month of only occasional shopping at this store, I have heard My Own Worst Enemy, Flood (By Jars of Clay), The Freshmen, I Love You Always Forever, Finally (By Paula Abdul), Getting Jiggy With It, 6th Avenue Heartache (Twice!) and, of course, Tubthumping. And that is not the only thing. Beyond assaulting my personal eardrums, West Side Market is also blatantly flaunting one of the primary tenets all of humanity bases itself on.
At least one of you out there is a baseball fan. I know you will remember what I am talking about. You see, back in the mid- to late-1990s, there was a band named Creed. They were very popular, even though their primary means of artistic expression was to add Jesus and bombasticness to riffs and melodies Pearl Jam determined were not good enough for b-side material. Through some flaw in the system (Technically the whole thing is the fault of a band called The Wrens, but that's a story I can get into another time), they became enormously popular, even though the whole time it was suspected that all ten million of their records in print were sold at rural truck stops in Arkansas (How all ten million of these people came to be in Arkansas is only one of the troubling parts of this story). Then, in 2004 the Boston Red Sox made it to the World Series of baseball against the Saint Louis Cardinals. And, for some reason unbeknownst to anyone capable of rational thought (It's probably Joe Buck's fault), the Cardinals elected to have the singer of Creed perform 'God Bless America' during the seventh-inning stretch. This particular rendition of the song was the most horrific display of singing prowess (This word is a lie) since the wonderful day that 80,000+ people in the Orange Bowl simultaneously booed Ashlee Simpson (Probably for spelling her first name wrong). And the next day, in a display of unity rarely seen under the Bush administration, all the leaders of the world banded together and made a solemn pledge that from that day forward, everyone would pretend Creed had never happened.
Well, the deal is off. Risking international condemnation from a world which still views America with a wary eye as a new President takes office, West Side Market has gone ahead and played 'Higher' through the speakers of THEIR ENTIRE STORE. I know! I heard it! It was terrible! This is why the terrorists hate us. The next time someone looks you in the eye and says 'Death to America!' (Presumably this happens to you at regular intervals), you just look right back at them and say 'No. Just West Side Market. I'm just like you. I hate Creed.' And that's when they'll know that you're okay, and will let you live; allowing you to continue stumbling your way through this strange thing called life. And if you happen to stumble into any of the cool nightclubs on your journey, let me know where they are. Because it's not much fun being surrounded by residents of New Jersey.