Sunday, 15 August 2010

The hands-on approach and the laws of Serendipity

Today is Saturday. Still sitting pretty in the Big Apple. Treated myself to a  "Hallucination Deep Tissue" 90 minute massage at H Spa on 34th Street and as the song goes "I'm feeling goooood..."

Like all the best things in life, it was completely unpremeditated. I was actually looking for a post office. In this land of plenty, in this town of late night opening hours, they have a rather quixotic approach to their post offices: they just don't have any.

What's the matter? Don't these people write? Are they all on Facebook? I walked over one hundred blocks today and zilch, nada, zip. I vaguely remembered one in the Meat Packing district but couldn't find it. Nor did I see any of the mobile post office units that used to line 5th Avenue in Midtown.

Why did I need a post office? Because I had diligently purchased some postcards of NY to send back to friends and family and I wanted to avoid the usual I'll-just-mail-them-from-London trick - which always runs the risk of people thinking that maybe you didn't go on a trip afterall and that you're just pretending. (Worrying about what people might think is a Middle Class trait - I've tried to replace it with the "I don't give a damn" attitude of the Aristocrat but for now the Bourgeoise in me won't allow it. It's a work in progress.)

At Union Square I asked a traffic cop for directions to the nearest post office. She looked rather bewildered. (Why on earth would anyone be looking for a post office? Why indeed...) "Well 34th street is the closest... (we were at 14th street), but that's really far!" I reassured her that my intention had been to walk to Central Park (which starts around 58th Street), thanked her profusely (I always overdo the politeness with NY cops, I don't want to get arrested) and made my way uptown in search of the elusive post office.

Turning onto 34th Street,  a sign caught my eye. It was for H Spa, at Club H Fitness. I walked in, checked their Spa menu, spotted a 90 minute deep tissue massage and asked if I could make an appointment for - well - now. I figured if the Universe meant for me to have the massage, they would accommodate me right then and there. Summer (for that was her name) checked her computer, booked me in and - before I knew it - I was wrapped in a towel and sitting in the steam room. 20 minutes of aromatic bliss with steam billowing around me. Then a shower. Then a walk down to the treatment room, dressed in an oversized terrycloth lined robe to await my massage. With Andrew. He pummeled and stretched and poked every inch of available tissue. I must have grown at least 2 inches taller. Then before I knew it it was over. I got dressed, paid for the treatment (which was more painful than any of the poking of my pressure points - especially with tax and tip added onto the total)  and retreated to their outdoor terrace to lounge about in my newly relaxed body. For the girls out there, it was like I'd had an all body Brazilian blow dry. (No, it's nothing to do with waxing the nether regions, it's a hair relaxant treatment that leaves your hair permanently straight - like a perm but in reverse.)

You'd think this was the highlight of my day. You'd be wrong.

As I left Club H, rather reluctantly, I wanted to get my money's worth... could have done a free yoga class at 6 but didn't have my gear with me... I started walking home, up 3rd Avenue.

Guess what I found around 50th street? That's right, a post office! It was closed of course (shuts at 4 o'clock on Saturdays. Just thought I'd mention it - you never know when that kind of information might come in handy) but... and here's the beauty of it... they had an automated post office annexe and it was open! I played with the touch screen for a while in a mindless fumbly Bill Bryson sort of a way and finally managed to purchase 6 stamps worth 98 cents each to mail my postcards to Europe.

Then just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any better, they did...

As part of the Dukan diet, consolidation phase part 1, I can enjoy a celebration meal once a week. This meal does not have to adhere to any of the diet's restrictions. I can have what I want as long as the portions are reasonable and I don't have second helpings.

I fancied a hamburger and chips.

There's a place not far from where I'm staying called Serendipity 3. It's on 60th and 3rd Avenue. They're best known as a surreal grotto of ice cream sundaes and for their ridiculous policy of keeping people waiting for anywhere between 1 and 3 hours before they can get a table... even though once you're inside, the place is pretty much only half full.

For the second time today, I put myself in the hands of the universe: if I could get a table right away, I'd have a cheeseburger with French fries and a banana split. I walked in. "Can I have a look at the menu please?" "Are you on the list?" (Honestly, it's not like it's the hippest club in NY, it's a place where mothers who lunch take their daughters and posses of elderly women come for the gastronomic equivalent of a quickie with the gardener in the potting shed) "No. I just want to have a look at the menu." "OK." "I'm on my own." "Oh, in that case you can have a table right away, no waiting."

And this is how I found myself sitting in the grotto of ice cream sundays, next to a rather kindly man. All this acting malarkey has improved my social skills no end and so we had quite a pleasant chat about waiting times and the yummy desserts until his girlfriend came back from the bathroom. She glanced at him as she sat down and then got that look on her face. You know the look: "hands off bitch, he's taken." Honestly, I was just making conversation, he was kindly but really not my type. Not anyone's type really. Just a nice sunny personality. So I desisted from making polite chit chat and promptly ordered my celebration meal. My waiter - now that's a different story - he didn't have a such a sunny personality, seemed rather fed up if you ask me, but none of that mattered because if Cleopatra had a brother (she did actually, had several - I just googled it - one of them was called Ptolemy), then my waiter would play him. That's all I'm saying.

I had to wait for my meal for quite a while. Got me rather restless... don't like things standing between me and my food but put the time to good use by doing some people watching. There was a stunning couple (it turns out they were Haitian) who looked as though they had stepped out of the pages of a glossy upmarket magazine. There were 3 generations of Upper East Side women: grandmother, mother, and child (I guess about 6) accompanied by a 4th woman who turned out to be the mother in law. She was rotund and chirpy. The child and its relations were skinny, neurotic and they drove Cleopatra's brother to distraction with their off the menu requests and substitutions.

I had 3 enormous glasses of ice tea whilst I waited for my meal. Testy doesn't begin to describe it. I think word got back to the kitchen that the brunette in the hairband on table 3 was about to go nuclear because my cheeseburger suddenly materialised. Yum. And then my banana split arrived. Double Yum.

The couple (no, not the beautiful one, the mousey one with the kindly boyfriend) had finished their meal and got up to leave. They were taking pictures of the place and of each other. I took pity on them and offered to take their picture. It turned out pretty well. And she was delighted. All was forgiven. Lucky she didn't see her boyfriend turn back with a big grin and wave goodbye.

I ate my banana split with commendable restraint. Taking pauses. It's a bit of a shock to the system let me tell you when you've been pretty much living on salad leaves and turkey slices. But I perservered and polished it off.

I left Cleopatra's brother a decent tip and emerged full of renewed optimism and love for my fellow man onto 60th Street. I love this town.

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