This video (which, by the way, was posted on youtube by the user iLOVEMileytoDEATH, which is terrifying) comes from the 1990s Disney movie called “Newsies.” I watched this movie as a kid over and over again, I knew all the songs by heart, and I always dreamed of playing the role “Jack.” The movie is about newsboys in New York City, an under-appreciated and under-organized group of street toughs who end up unionizing in order to fight the Fat Cats, led by Joseph Pulitzer. It’s a helluva movie with great songs.
This specific song from Newsies, “King of New York,” comes after the Newboys get some publicity for their union organizing, and they celebrate seeing their name in the newspaper in the only way that seems appropriate to celebrate in a Disney movie: by singing and dancing. I particularly like the lines:
Look at me
Ain’t I pretty?
It’s my city
I’m the King of New York!
This movie was probably my first introduction to left-leaning politics, as it is unabashedly pro-union, pro-underdog, pro-the-little-man, pro-the-have-nots. (Ironic, when you really think about it, considering it comes from Disney.) Pulitzer is the villain, the newsboys are valiant, and the only adult in the movie you trust is the one who is sympathetic to the newsies (played by Bill Pullman.) (And while we’re in parenthesis talking about actors, let me point out that other stars in this movie are the very young Christian Bale, the Italian guy from Doogie Howser, the boy-actor who played Josh, who overnight grows into Tom Hanks, from Big, the dude who played the newer member of the Mighty Ducks’ “Bash Brothers” in D2, and several guys I remember recognizing from the SNICK show Roundhouse.)
Since first seeing Newsies, if not even possibly a tiny bit because of Newsies, I’ve always had fairly liberal political leanings, if not at times radical thoughts that are only reasonable in the fantasy bubble existence that is college. I still tend to side with the underdog, and to in general put status, wealth, and fame relatively low on my priority list.
This past week, my wife and I have been visiting New York City after what has been a very challenging three months. We are here to celebrate Christmas with our families, and we have had a wonderful time. Our experience has been off our typically beaten path in that it has been very luxurious. I’ll get into the details in a minute, but before doing so I have to wax philosophically on the nature of luxury, if only for a few lines. There have been times in my life when I have felt quite guilty about self-indulgence. I didn’t like to treat myself to nice things because frankly so many billions of people didn’t have it as (materially) good as I did, and so who the hell was I to deserve fancy goodies. In general, I still feel this way, and try to minimize waste and extravagance.
However, this trip to New York City has reminded me that there is in fact a time and a place for everything, even very, very nice things. Everyone deserves a little pampering every now and then, especially in the wake of trauma. I don’t think un-scarred, 21 year-old Mark would have approved at all, but that was the Mark who hadn’t suffered like I have, and who wouldn’t appreciate a fancy pick-me-up the way I do now.
In short, my message is pretty simple: if you’re feeling a bit battered and bruised, there is nothing wrong with using a nice t-bone steak to put on your black eye, even when you know that there are hungry people who would want to eat that t-bone steak. So here is a quick chronicling of the metaphorical t-bone steak I have applied to my metaphorical black eye over this past week, as the King of New York:
-First off, I’ve been staying at my brother’s apartment, which is a penthouse on Park Avenue with a view of the Empire State Building. His building is 26 stories (I think) and so the view from his windows and patio are incredible. The place is gorgeous, and while he was here the first few days, he took off for Tokyo and has let my wife and I enjoy the apartment to ourselves for the latter half of our stay. It’s really nice.
-My in-laws took us to Smith and Wollensky one day for lunch, which is one of the most historic steak houses in New York City. As my brother-in-law described it, it’s a place for a “power lunch,” meaning that the men in the place (who comprised almost 90% of the customers) are Big Wig Wall Street Fat Cats who come to enjoy a steak and close a multi-million if not -billion dollar business deal over lunch. And literally, the place serves more or less just steak: big pieces of really good red meat on a plate, without much garnish or flair. We ate well, with lots of important financial conversations happening at the tables around us.
-My brother’s really good friend works at the Pierre Hotel, one of New York’s finest hotels situated in the southeast corner of Central Park. According to this friend, there’s a movie line from somewhere that says “The Plaza is nice, but the real money stays at the Pierre.” Well, this friend got us a complimentary room with complimentary, unlimited room service included, so I spent an evening and a morning prancing around in a terra cota robe with the Pierre Hotel logo emblazoned on the lapel in one of the nicest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. There is no experience like the experience of having a complete stranger wheel a table of delicious breakfast food right up to your bed, where you can just sit up and eat, and so I’ll leave my description at that.
-The whole week crescendoed to a dinner at Eleven Madison Park, where my brother-in-law works as a server. To clarify, Eleven Madison Park was recently awarded a 4-star distinction by the New York Times food critic Frank Bruni, which puts it as only one of 7 or 8 other restaurants in the world with such a distinction, but the only 4-star restaurant whose Frank Bruni review doesn’t include at least one criticism, no matter how minor. According to him, it’s an almost perfect restaurant, and we got to eat there, sitting at the best table in the restaurant, on a Saturday night. The meal was exquisite, lasted three hours, and among the many tasty delicacies we enjoyed were sea urchin cappucino, and a soda palate cleanser that looked like ice cream, but turned out to be a strange frozen ball of soda that had literally been frozen by dry ice and came out steaming, and as you hit it with your spoon it shattered into little pieces which dissolved in your mouth like you were eating really fancy pop rocks. Amazing.
In general, it has been an awesome week, one filled with luxuries that I would not have appreciated so greatly had it not been for the acuity of the difficulty of these past few months. Suffering does in deed afford you some perspective, and for this fleeting week, that perspective translated quite simply: when life gives you a gold spoon, use it to eat something delicious.