Uptown Dad Shows Son Wilderness of LES: How Hip! How Edgy!

Author: Ken Krimstein Page: 5

PQ: ‘But one thing: What are records?’

I wanted an afternoon of bonding with my 11-year-old son, but I also wanted an afternoon-so, in a fit of inspiration, I figured that he and one of his friends were finally old enough to cruise the Lower East Side with me (we live on the Upper West). It was a Saturday-dark, oily, rainy. Perfect weather for Zach’s introduction to some true New York grit. And grit that might open his eyes to life beyond PlayStation and Disney. With this in mind, we grabbed a couple of stunted umbrellas and headed out for my first real grown-up father-son outing.

I discovered that a Japanese animated film about environmental matters and exploding stuff was playing at a hip multiplex (who knew?) in a renovated synagogue on the corner of Houston and 1st Avenue. Perfect. We picked up my son’s friend Jake, who immediately whipped out his new PSP-a handheld device created by the devil himself to allow children to carry the complete firepower of their PlayStation with them anywhere. For 127 blocks, I worried that one of the hooded teens lurking nearby on the No. 6 train would lift the device and I’d owe Jake’s parents five or six hundred bucks.

We approached the ticket window. A fuzzy boy/man who was Steve Buscemi’s doppelgänger squinted at me. “Three for Steamboy,” I said.

“Thirty-six dollars,” he said back. This sure wasn’t the penny-ante, hardscrabble Lower East Side of old.

“But, but,” I said, waiting for my racing pulse to slow, “see, I’ve got two kids!” I pointed down to the scrambling scamps to my right.

“Oh, yeah-uh, they’re short. Twenty-three bucks.”

We still had an hour and a half to kill before showtime. Food. Food was the answer.

“O.K., guys, you wanna go to Katz’s Deli?”

“Do they have sushi?” Zach asked.

“No, not sushi-a real deli. Salami. Pastrami. Knishes.” There was no response. “Hot dogs?” I said. “They have the best hot dogs in the world.”

“Better than Gray’s Papaya?” Jake said. “I don’t think so.”

As we entered, Jake said, “Oh, I used to go here all the time with my pre-school class.”

“I just reached the fifth level,” Zach responded, never looking up.

We got our meal ticket and fell into line behind an all-girls marching band from Arkansas. Blond, pink-sweatsuited farm girls were ordering up kasha and kishke and derma like old pros. About 25 minutes later, I piloted three hot dogs to our sticky table.

“Look, guys, look how cool this place is! It’s been here forever, you just take whatever you want at the counter and pay at the end-look, ‘Send a salami to your boy in the Army’! Movies have been shot here!”

“Oh,” they said, faces buried in pixels.

“After lunch, I thought we’d just cruise around-you know, check out some record stores, guitar stores. What do you guys think?”

“What are records?” Jake replied.

Our first stop was a trip-hop/hip-hop record store. Actual LP’s lined the walls. There were two turntables at the front counter.

“Guys, this is a turntable,” I announced. It was then that I noticed a) the lyrics to the trip-hop screed blaring from the speakers involved a word describing a physical act that would’ve been bleeped out of any media we allowed in our apartment and b) the boys were paying attention to it. I marshaled them out the door before the climax, but not before they had put their fingers all over one of the turntables, causing the stringy-haired proprietor to glare at me.

“Who wants hot chocolate?” I asked.

“These stores around here are all weird, like my aunt’s art gallery in Nantucket,” Jake said. A guy who looked like Bryan Ferry after a bender came in, whispered something to the owner and took a demitasse of espresso out into the rain. What passed for hot chocolate had so little chocolate and so much steamed milk in it that I was amazed Jake drank it at all. But they were getting bored.

On the way back to the “hip-t-plex,” our umbrellas turned into gnarled pieces of vinyl and bent metal. The rain stung like icy BB’s. The concession stand only served Dutch candy bars and 12 different kinds of herbal tea. A couple of Droste bars placated the boys, but just barely. We climbed the wrought-iron staircase to a waiting room facing the gigantic windows that once must have been the shul’s stained glass.

Watching the rain pound Houston Street, I prayed that at least the kids would enjoy the movie.

The trailers weren’t like anything the boys had ever seen. There was a decidedly freaky short, sponsored by a Belgian beer, about girls who take drugs, think they’re being visited by the Virgin Mary and eventually die. (All that in two minutes!) After which, not completely disappointed, Zach turned to me: “That’s it, Dad? It was short.”

“No, that was just a short subject. The movie’s coming.” It started.

“Chinese writing,” Jake said.

“Weird.”

The movie was in Japanese! With subtitles. This was a little more than I bargained for. “It’s Japanese, guys-this is a Japanese movie.”

“That’s cool,” Jake said. “Some of my pirated PSP games are, too.”

“Yeah,” said Zach. “Dad, can watching this count for my reading time today?”

The film built from explosion to crescendo, and I could see they were happy and enjoying it. But finally, just as all the bad guys were about to obliterate 19th-century London, Zach grabbed my arm. “I got to go.”

“What?”

“I got to go now-really!”

“Can’t you hold it?”

“No.”

Happily, when we got back to our seats, the mayhem was still unspooling. Then there was a delicious last moment of dénouement as all the loose ends were wrapping up. My cell phone rang. My wife.

“I’m on the East Side; it’s still pouring. I can get you guys.”

“Shhhh,” I said, “I’ll call you back.” I hung up on her. The boy and the girl were just reconciling after saving the world!

After the movie, when I called my wife back and apologized, she said tersely: “O.K., but the sitter’s coming at 6 and we’ve got the auction.”

We slogged back to the subway. I was late, soaked, furious, not quite sure exactly how the movie resolved, and rushing to something I’d just realized I was already a half-hour late for. And then Zach turned to me. “Thanks, Dad, really-that was cool.” And it was.