Moments Like Movies: New York, New York

I’d like to start off by letting you guys know that this is the very first guest post to MelanieKristy. After an e-mail request for her words on magic, my best friend Sarii (or Sarah, for all you more normal people) accepted my offer. There are some things in life that are hard to just understand, and there are some people in your life who you know will automatically understand. Sarii is one of those people who, when I thought that maybe I should have a few guest posts from other people I know who appreciate the magic of real life and the way that our love for fiction fits into reality, she was the first person I thought to ask because I knew that she gets it.

I have no qualms about admitting that, for the most part, I live in a fantasy world. As an only child whose mother was – at the time – married to someone most people didn’t want their children around, I spent most of my early childhood in the company of Disney princesses, superheroes, and approximately 30 Barbie dolls. That’s not to say that I didn’t have friends whose houses I often played at, and I also spent a great deal of my formative years with my grandmother (and sometimes cousins who were around my age), but suffice it to say that if I hadn’t quickly learned to immerse myself in the make-believe of movies and television and books, I would have been a very lonely little girl. I spent more time in Oz with Dorothy and under the sea with Princess Ariel than I did interacting with real people, at least before I started elementary school.

Perhaps it’s because of this that, to this day, I’m more likely to buy a satchel like the one Veronica Mars carried, headbands like Blair Waldorf’s, Charlie Kelly’s pajamas, or Turanga Leela’s complete space captain’s uniform than I am to show the slightest bit of interest in anything worn or owned by the people who portray those characters. Another good example of my continued dedication and attachment to fantasy is my car: I bought a convertible Beetle because Barbie has one, put a giant Batman emblem across the back window, and named it Elsa after one of Indiana Jones’s love interests; my previous cars were named Shadowfax and Sting (after Gandalf’s horse and Bilbo’s/Frodo’s sword), and Bessie Lou: The Wheels of Justice (a reference to Conan O’Brien and the Justice League of America, respectively). I will use any excuse whatsoever to combine my name with that of a beloved character – Sarii Potter, Sarlock Holmes, Scarlett O’Sarah, Sariadoc Brandybuck and Saragrin Took, and Princess Sariel, just to name a few. All but one of my five tattoos declares my love for a celebrity or fictional character, ranging from Elvis Presley to Sherlock Holmes.

More fundamentally, at the age of 26, I still believe with all my heart that the good guys will always win in the end, that the prince will always rescue the princess and keep her safe and love her forever, that somehow every person and every story will get a happy ending. No matter how much evidence life loves giving me to contradict every bit of that, my head will never get my heart to truly doubt those things. It’s a gift and a curse in pretty much all the ways you’d expect.

I love to travel and, as you can probably imagine, the older I get and the more say I have over the trips I take, the more my adventures have revolved around the things and people and places I’ve come to love from the stories I adore the most. I’ve been to Disney World four times and finally met Princess Ariel the summer I was 25 (and proceeded to cry like a baby); I went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter the first two days it was open and drank so much butterbeer in The Hog’s Head and ate so much candy from Honeydukes before riding the rollercoasters that I sincerely thought I was going to puke all over Hagrid’s hut; I’ve visited Boone Hall Plantation and discreetly rubbed my hands all over the green velvet portieres in the library, although it was Twelve Oaks in “Gone With The Wind” that was based on Boone Hall and Scarlett’s dress was made from the drapes at Tara; I’ve been all over Savannah looking for the bench from “Forrest Gump” and then flat refused to have anything to do with it once I learned it had been moved from the bus stop to some museum – sacrilege!; I’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard and burst into tears of excitement when the taxi drove past a certain beach on the way to Edgartown because that’s where Alex Kintner was killed in “Jaws”; I’ve been to Planet Hollywood in every major city I’ve ever visited just to admire the sacred relics of what may as well be my religion; one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life was traveling to Washington, DC to see the Ruby Red Slippers only to find out that the Smithsonian was closed for remodeling, but I was somewhat consoled by the death car from the movie “Bonnie & Clyde” and a giant dossier on Hannibal Lecter being displayed in the Museum of Crime & Punishment.

But nowhere I’ve ever been even comes close to the heartbreaking wonder and magic of New York City.

MelanieKristy (whom I’ve always called Mellii, because that’s what Scarlett O’Hara calls Melanie Wilkes) and I began planning our grand adventure in December of 2008, almost immediately after she came to visit me in South Carolina and we’d had an epic adventure to the southernmost point of Georgia – yet another trip based on our mutual infatuation with fiction, although this particular journey was to visit a plantation from a book we’d co-written ourselves. Following the equal-parts-tremendous-success-and-mind-numbing-failure of that excursion, we decided that what we really wanted our next trip together to be was a three-day, two-night pop culture bender in New York City. I admit that being from a small town in the Deep South I had my hesitations about throwing in my lot with the dirty double-crossing thieves, rapists, and murders that populate the Sodom and Gomorrah That Never Sleeps. Needless to say, this hesitation dissipated the second I glanced at my movie shelf and titles like “Enchanted,” “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” and “How to Marry a Millionaire” jumped out at me; it also helped when I remembered that I don’t live in the 1860’s, or in a pulpy detective novel.

We spent almost nine months planning every second of this trip, and more than two years later I still have every specially-labeled email we exchanged in the process. It probably goes without saying at this point, but to Mellii’s credit and in defense of her sanity, I was the one to plan everything out to the last detail, minute by minute, so there wouldn’t be a single thing we wanted to do that we’d end up having to miss. If you’ve ever been to New York, you’re laughing at me right now and I fully forgive you for that, as I now know as well as anyone that it’s only a fool who truly believes they’re going to get more than three or four things done in NYC on any given day. However, I’m still so proud of us that there were very few things we planned to do but didn’t get around to: pancakes in an Alice In Wonderland-themed restaurant, cupcakes from a bakery featured on Sex & The City, the Statue of Liberty, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex that was then featuring special tributes to Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and John Lennon.

I wish it was possible to describe the way I felt on the hours-long bus ride from Boston to New York. It was early in the morning and we aren’t morning people, but we were both wide awake and giggling about everything, completely immersed in our own private jokes and the endless possibilities in all the magic we were about to share, the kind of excitement you only ever feel when setting off on a grand adventure with your best friend in the entire world. The 120-something song playlist I made for the journey was full of songs about New York, or from movies or television shows based in New York, and “Bright Lights” by Matchbox 20 was playing when I caught my first glimpse of that infamous skyline. It literally stopped my heart for a moment, experiencing true love at first sight for the first time.

After searching Chinatown for a cab (coming across a funeral procession at one point, made all the more awkward by my absentminded swearing as I tried to maneuver my ridiculously oversized suitcase down the crowded sidewalk), we were whisked away into the very heart of Manhattan. Our erratically-driven-by-a-very-angry-foreigner taxi may as well have been the pumpkin-turned-carriage from Cinderella because every moment of that hectic drive was a fairytale for me, that fantasy made all the more tangible by the fact that we were headed towards The New York Palace. The previous April we had booked the least expensive room in that particular hotel for one reason: on Gossip Girl, which we both watched at the time, it was owned by Chuck Bass.

This seems as good a time as any to mention that I would do everything to Ed Westwick.

By some miracle, we were told at check-in that our room had been given away and we were receiving a free upgrade to one of the rooms in the Tower (as in, a room that would normally cost upwards of $1,200 a night), and that’s about the time that it becomes difficult for me to look back on my memories of New York with any sort of certainty that they’re real, or that they aren’t borrowed remembrances from a movie. A bellhop took our bags, and the exclusive concierge for guests of the Tower called the Brooklyn pizzeria where we had been planning to eat lunch to ensure we had the proper directions and wouldn’t have a wait once we arrived. As it turned out, Gerard Butler and Jennifer Anniston were filming a scene for “The Bounty Hunter” there at the time, so we decided to wander around the city until we found somewhere else to eat. Just roaming around what was to be our neighborhood for the next three days, we happened across NBC’s Rainbow Room, the original Saks 5th Avenue, Trump Towers, the Playboy headquarters, Radio City Music Hall, the Bergdorf Goodman from the original “Arthur” (which I did not go in for fear I’d shoplift a tie, Liza-style, and spend the rest of my vacation in jail), and Grand Central Station. To top it all off, we ended up eating at a bistro set up outside of Rockefeller Center, right in front of the famous fountain with the golden statue of Prometheus.

The only thing that kept me from being so overwhelmed that I dropped dead was a strange amalgamation of feelings: of detachment because none of that could possibly be real, and of destiny because there was nowhere else in the world more perfect for someone like me. It was as if someone had taken my perfect idea of New York City from all the movies and television shows I’d built my life around and somehow created a real live version of it for me as some sort of lab experiment, to see just what brand of crazy I would go.

The rest of our stay was a whirlwind of pop culture magic that I still can’t wrap my mind around. We visited Barbie and the piano from “Big” in FAO Schwartz (we didn’t dance on it because they have people do that in groups, which was too inauthentic), we paid our respects to John Lennon at the Dakota and Strawberry Fields, we had drinks in one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, ate at the diner featured in every single episode of Seinfeld, and spent more time than I’m comfortable admitting running all over the various boroughs doing Gossip Girl-related things, up to and including my getting drunk at Ed Westwick’s favorite bar and trying to climb the tiny tree outside his apartment building until Mellii pointed out that there was a cop watching me.

I ended the night laying on the wide windowsill of our hotel room with the curtains wide open, reading select scenes of The Great Gatsby out loud, replacing the name “Gatsby” with “Westwick,” and ordering $30 room service pizza.

The most exciting, delicious, classy pizza of all times and clearly worth the price.

By far, though, the most amazing, fantastical thing we did during our visit was on our last morning there, when we got croissants and coffees and stood on the sidewalk of 5th Ave eating breakfast at Tiffany’s. To be honest, I had originally wanted to do this purely for the picture-taking opportunities it presented and to be able to tell people I had eaten breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it ended up being symbolic of everything New York City means to me and the feeling that I had been searching for all my life: that you really can be anybody you want to be, even if that person is Holly Golightly. That just because something is fiction doesn’t mean you can’t make it real. That the good guys will always win in the end, that the prince will always rescue the princess and keep her safe and love her forever, that somehow every person and every story will get a happy ending.

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