California Seething: Albany Dreaming [Dunkin The Donuts]
the rantings of a non-driving theatre professional living in altogether the wrong city.
Much like a giant turd, California is best appreciated when evacuated. In that spirit I decided to enhance my appreciation of the Golden State by spending some time in my hometown (by default) of Albany, NY. Albany, recently named “America’s Awesomest City” by “Places That Suck Magazine” is the capital of New York State. Also known as “Sacramento East”, Albany is a fairly small, rather dull and predominantly grey town, which serves less as an urban center than as a curious form of punishment for people who win elections. This makes it the perfect destination for anyone looking to feel homesick for somewhere else (Buffalo and Troy excluded.)
Of course, my perspective on Albany may have been a little skewed on this trip since I spent most of the time in my grandparents’ Assisted Living facility, the Jewey Jew Jewelstien Residence for Jews Who Like Jews and The Occasional Goy Who Wandered In To Ask Directions and Was Never Heard From Again (Poor Schmuck), or as Jesse Jackson calls it, Hymietown. As I discussed in my last post, this was supposed to infuse me with a sense of youthful vigor and vitality- which, I suppose it did, in the sense that it made me feel as though I was young and fit to run at top speed back to LA while screaming at the top of my lungs.
What I didn’t realize was that Jewey Jewelstien Residence (aka Casa Altacocker) is just like college without the classes (that is to say, exactly like college) except the short term memory loss is caused by senility, “hooking up” involves dialysis, the staff actually brings you drugs, and graduation is a far more somber affair. At first glance, this would seem like a good thing, since I spent my college years (aka the Clinton administration) in Albany in a joyous, vomit encrusted haze. Unfortunately, it’s a lot less fun being the only outsider at the party, much like being the only sober kid at the in playwriting class (I imagine).
The worst part of the Residence, by far, is the dining room politics. Most if us, unless we join a Kibbutz, go to prison, or flee to a nunnery, pretty much leave dining room politics behind after leaving the dorms. In prison, of course, things are quite simple- just find the biggest guy and kick his ass (same with nunnery.) At the Residence, though things are more complicated. There are seven people at my grandparents’ table, including the Big Yid On Campus (still has his Cadillac, hair and most of his teeth), the Ultra-Orthodox British goth-chick who keeps kissing my grandmother and may be a LUG (Lesbian Until Gout), and a token goy (“such a nice man – not Jewish, you know” – whispered to me often in hushed tones reserved for the most baffling of paradoxes). Over low-sodium potato soup and microscopic medallions of kosher veal (the cow is raised in a very small cage and continually reminded how good she’s got it) eyes are rolled, snide comments are whispered (loudly) and epic dramas played out. Of course, it doesn’t help that, much like Greek tragedy, all 3 meals must take place between sunrise and sunset, and as a result one is always preparing for, eating, returning from or complaining about a meal.
Any disruption to the carefully constructed dining room Eco-System leads, of course, to chaos. I was told in hushed tones of the terrible time when the Cossacks who run the dining room replaced the high-quality Wellington Oyster Crackers with low grade Krispy brand, leading to a residents’ revolt of French proportions. Only the restoration of their beloved Wellington brand crackers restored harmony in the dining hall. While all is well for now, though, I was warned to be eternally vigilant “they throw us a bone, then they take something else away”. Today, Wellington Oyster Crackers, tomorrow Manischewitz Borscht, after that- well, let’s just say it’s gonna get a hell of a lot easier to believe it’s not Butter.
As a result my days in Albany looked a lot like this:
10:00 AM – Call my grandmother to let her know I’ll be over in about an hour.
10:12 AM- Jump out of the shower to take a panicked phone call from my grandmother explaining why I’m not there yet.
10:27 AM- Call cab to go to Jewelstien Residence. Taxis in Albany don’t actually use a meter to determine charges. Instead, they bend you over and see how deeply they can ass-rape you before you squeal like a little piggy. As a result, no two cab rides ever cost the same.
10:53 AM- Arrive at Residence seven minutes ahead of schedule. Convince grandmother not to call police to report me missing.
10:59 AM- Receive complete report of breakfast.
11:01 AM- Begin preparing for lunch.
11:45 AM- Proceed to dining hall. Explain to staff that we would like a place setting added for me. Work with dining hall manager, waiters and a team of architects to determine how the entire building can be demolished and rebuilt in order to accomplish this.
12:00 PM (sharp)- Eat lunch- kosher seafood salad (I love me some Krabb) on rye, Manischewitz borscht, Wellington oyster crackers, pudding.
1:00 PM- Return to apartment.
1:12 PM- Begin making dinner plans.
5:00 PM (sharp)- Eat dinner- kosher seafood salad on rye, Borscht, chips, oyster crackers, non-dairy pudding (dinner is fleishig)
6:10 PM- Depart Residence. Call cab. Grease up.
6:34 PM- Return to house where I am staying. Call grandmother to let her know I am ok.
6:59 PM- Explain to police when they come to the door that I am ok and my grandmother didn’t need to call.
All of this may paint a picture of a fairly unpleasant trip, however, there was one thing that made it all worth while. Something so magnificent that it cannot be found on the West Coast and that it therefore makes up for all the madness of a trip home. I speak, of course, of Dunkin’ Donuts.
When I arrived in Albany late Wednesday night, I was tired, jet lagged and miserable. Worst of all, I hadn’t gotten a chance to eat during my luxurious 6 minute layover in Chicago, and since United changed their motto from “fly the friendly skies” to “fuck y’all” there was no food to be found on the plane. As a result, I was starving. Since it was after 9 pm, and only a total psycho-loony would fly that late to Albany, everything in the airport was closed. I became increasingly despondent until I finally saw it. Like a beacon of grease and sugar, it called to me. As I approached, surely feeling the elation that my ancestors once felt when catching their first glimpse of Lady Liberty, I became quite emotional. After all, Dunkin’ Donuts has always been there for me. When I cut classes in high school, it was there. When I craved sustenance and caffeine after marathon sessions of Dungeons and Dragons, it was there. And when I staggered in stoned and giggling at 4 am with only a plastic bag full of pennies to my name, it was there. I slurped my coffee, devoured my autumnal blob of cholesterol, frosting and orange sprinkles and muttered a silent prayer of thanks to the Time to Make the Donuts Guy. Like a Jew kissing the runway in Tel Aviv after a long absence, I was home.
So, there you have it. A bizarre and borderline crappy trip redeemed by Dunkin’ Donuts. That, and the fact that I really love my grandparents and am grateful that they are alive and well and that I had the opportunity to spend some time with them, and got to visit with old friends and family. Now, if you excuse me, I need to call my grandmother to let her know I’m ok and then call the FBI and let them know they can call off the manhunt. Hopefully, I can catch her before dinner.
featured image credit: pedrosimoes7