The Scratches Take Manhattan, Part 3

The Empire State Building

[Click here for Part 1  |  Click here for Part 2]

You know what’s cooler than standing on top of the Empire State Building? Standing on top of another building that affords you a great view of the Empire State Building. Thus, we opted for …

Step Seven (continued):the Top of the Rock. Not only is the view spectacular (as shown above), but, in keeping with the guiding principles of

The Official Daddy Scratches Guide to Family Fun in New York City … for Broke-Ass People!™,

tickets to the Top of the Rock for a family of four total anywhere from $6 to $176 less than those for the Empire State Building (depending on which of the four Empire State Building ticketing options you choose) … which means we’re well on our way to making up for those $10 bowls of ice cream!

Zan on Top of the Rock!

If he can make it here, he can make it anywhere.

Us on Top of the Rock

NYC Travel Tip: Did you bring an umbrella or extra layer that you no longer feel like lugging around? No problem! Just stow those unwanted items in the enormous bags underneath my eyes!

“But Jon, what if my kids get bored while standing on the roof of an enormous skyscraper with a spectacular view of the greatest city in the world?” Hey, listen: Today’s kids need constant stimulation … which is why the Top of the Rock observatory also features a room whose walls and ceiling are comprised of motion-sensitive banks of multi-colored lights! And you know what that means, right? NYC Dance Party! Hell yeah, y’all!

♪♫ Oppan Gangnam Style ♬♪

Gangnam Style Dance Party in NYC
NYC Dance Party 1
NYC Dance Party 2
NYC Dance Party 3
NYC Dance Party 4
NYC Dance Party 5
NYC Dance Party 6
NYC Dance Party 7

OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of our system, it’s time for …

Step Eight: Remember that Christmas tree I mentioned? It’s at the foot of Rockefeller Center, the building that houses the Top of the Rock. If you time things right (which we did), you can watch darkness fall on the city, see the buildings light up, and then check out the tree when you come back down to street level.


The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza
Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

The bad news:
Ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza does not fit into the Daddy Scratches’ Official Guide to Family Fun in New York City … for Broke-Ass People™ budget plan.
The good news:
The wait would have been insufferably long.
Plus, also: Ice skating? Meh.

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

Look! Bonus trees! Free of charge!

What the pictures above fail to capture is the unbelievable crowd crush in which one finds oneself when one visits Rockefeller Plaza on the first Sunday in December … which also is the first Sunday of the year to follow the annual Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony. The last time I was in a group this large and this tightly packed was during Woodstock ’94. (We will not pause here long enough to do any math that might make us realize how long ago that was and, therefore, how terrifyingly old we have grown.)

And because I promised to wrap things up in this entry, let us move swiftly through the remaining steps of our adventure, shall we?

Step Nine: Get the hell out of Rockefeller Plaza.

Step Ten: Grab a couple slices of pizza at some nasty-looking pizza joint because your exhausted-and-on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown youngest child has refused to eat at the several other places you’ve suggested, and this is not a battle you deem worthy of either your time or energy. (Translation: Let’s not screw up an otherwise delightful day, OK?)

Step Eleven: Decide to pretend you’re one of those people who can afford to take a cab.

Step Twelve: Abandon all hope, ye who attempt to hail a cab in Times Square during a prime theater-going hour on the first Sunday in December.

Step Thirteen: Stare death in the face a second time as you return to lower Manhattan via the subway. (Bonus points if, instead of taking an express train, you take the local, thereby increasing both the duration of your ride and the likelihood that disaster will strike.)

Step Fourteen: Board the ferry and head back to the mainland.

Horrible picture of the Statue of Liberty

Though the fog has lifted, my complete inability to take an in-focus, long-distance, nighttime shot through a plate-glass window on a swift-moving ferry remains.

My little lady with her little Lady Liberty

Consolation prize: A clear shot of my little lady with her
little Lady Liberty.

And thus concludes our Big Apple adventure, my friends. I hope you enjoyed yourselves. I know I sure did. In fact, all my smart-ass remarks aside, I can honestly say that this was one of the most fun and special days my family has ever had. As someone who didn’t see New York City until I was 25, and who subsequently fell in love with the place, it was an incredible experience to take my children for their first visit at ages 7 and 9.

The best part? They fell in love with it too … which guarantees that our first family adventure in NYC most definitely won’t be our last.

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The Scratches Take Manhattan, Part 2

New York City, Times Square

[Click here for Part 1.]

Hello, and welcome back to …

The Official Daddy Scratches Guide to Family Fun in New York City … for Broke-Ass People!™

Now then … where were we? Oh, right: The tighty-whities guy makes more than me. But that’s OK! Because we’re in Times Square! And we’re being frugal! So frugal, in fact (and I don’t know how I forgot to mention this in Part 1, but let’s assume it has less to do with forgetfulness and more to do with the human mind suppressing an unimaginable horror) that we actually packed lunch and — brace yourselves —



“No way!” says everyone.

“Yes way!” says me.

It’s true: My family and I consumed food and drink while riding aboard a New York City subway car … and in case you’ve ever wondered who planted the seeds of my germ phobia, that thud you just heard was my mother fainting. If whichever one of you is closest could please resuscitate her, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

(Also: When she comes to, please assure her that it was with wholly maniacal fastidiousness that I made sure both her grandchildren and I held our respective sandwiches using the plastic bags in which they were wrapped, and that at no time did any direct skin-to-sandwich contact occur.)

So let’s review: Free parking, free ferry ride, an affordable (and death-defying) subway picnic, and a mostly free sightseeing excursion in Times Square. Which brings us to:

Step Five: It’s high time we rewarded ourselves for being so responsible with our money … and what better way to do that than by acting completely irresponsible with our money, am I right? Of course I am.

Remember this place?

Sitting on the edge of our very own fiscal cliff.

Sitting on the edge of our very own fiscal cliff.

That’s us hanging out last January at a super-chic, super-expensive, sort-of-hidden gem that I found while we were celebrating my 42nd birthday. (I’m happy to report that we’ve almost paid off the remaining balance on those two margaritas that you see there on the table in front of us.)

You know where this is headed, right?

We decided to drop in again and class up the joint.

We decided to drop in again and class up the joint.

Living it up in New York City

After calling the bank to secure a second mortgage, we treated ourselves to some snacks.

Have you ever wondered what a $10, single-scoop bowl of ice cream tastes like? If so, I encourage you to ask my kids, because they both know.

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

You’re goddamn right they’re smiling.

But, hey, you’re not paying a premium for the food; you’re paying a premium for the location … and I was heartened by the fact that the kids were awestruck by the location (and very appreciative that we took them to such a special place).

With our batteries recharged and our bank accounts depleted, we’re ready for …

Step Six: Let’s get back on track with our budget, shall we? It’s time for a stroll through Midtown to do some more free people-watching and sightseeing. And, hey, while we’re at it, let’s shrink the kids!

Miniature Zan digs it.

Miniature Zan digs it.

Miniature Jayna is not impressed.

Miniature Jayna is not impressed.

Oh, did I forget to mention that it’s Christmastime? Yes, this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill maiden voyage to New York City. This is a holiday quest … a quest to …

See the Tree!

But wait! Before we see the tree, we have to cap off our walk with …

Step Seven: … a visit to the top of a skyscraper. Sure, it’s gonna cost a few bucks … but only a total douche would take someone on their first visit to New York City and not give them a bird’s eye view of the island. Are you a total douche? I didn’t think so.

Let’s continue.

You have two buildings to choose from: The Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, a.k.a. the Top of the Rock. Which one did we go with? You’ll have to wait and see.

(Yes, I’m actually stretching into three posts what I originally thought would be a single entry. Hang in there with me, OK?)

To be concluded in Part 3

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The Scratches Take Manhattan, Part 1

The Scratches Take Manhattan 2

Since moving to Pennsylvania more than two years ago, we’d been promising the kids that we’d take them for their first visit to New York City. Delusional dreamer that I am, I had long envisioned the occasion involving an expensive overnight stay, but since we so far have been humiliatingly unsuccessful at luring our financial ship to shore, we decided it was time to temper our grandiose desires and settle for a day trip.

And though we didn’t take the Acela up from Philly, cruise a limo to a Broadway show, dine like kings and queens at Nobu and spend the night in a suite at the Plaza, we did still manage to have one hell of a good time.

In the interest of helping those of you who, like myself, have chosen a thus-far less-than-lucrative career path, I offer you …

The Official Daddy Scratches Guide to Family Fun
in New York City … for Broke-Ass People!™

Step One: Park your car at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island, where all-day parking costs just $8 Monday through Saturday, and is — hold on to your hats — FREE on Sunday! (We didn’t know about the free-Sunday-parking thing, so already we’re up $8. This day is practically paying for itself.)

Step Two: Board the ferry and ride it across the bay to Manhattan for — dig this — FREE! I know, right? The fact that they offer this service free of charge, seven days per week, is mind-boggling to me. BONUS: You’ll cruise right past the Statue of Liberty … which is far more impressive on a day when the fog isn’t thicker than pea soup.

Taking the Staten Island Ferry to NYC

If you squint real hard and use your imagination, you can almost
see Lady Liberty in the background … after you’ve finished admiring my children’s painfully forced-looking smiles, that is.

Step Three: Can’t afford those expensive tickets to a full-scale Broadway production? Not to worry: Upon disembarking from the ferry, you can treat the family to a magical performance by two shirtless dudes covered in prison tattoos!

My son volunteered to help street performers near the South Street ferry terminal in NYC

Wanna kick things up a notch? Allow the shirtless, prison-tattoo dudes to use your first-born child in their act!

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

Me: “Hey, you guys, I bet they don’t let kids get on stage at ‘The Lion King’! See? This is EVEN BETTER!”

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

Me: “Honey, relax! What could possibly go wrong? I mean, obviously, these guys are professionals. If they weren’t, they’d be, like, performing in the street outside a ferry terminal in lower Manhattan! Oh, wait …”

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

Airborne street performer: “I’m sorry your parents don’t love you.”

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

Me: “Nice job, Zan! Now let’s go find some fire jugglers for Jayna!”

Step three: Cabs are for sissies (and also for people who can afford to take a cab). Suck it up and ride the subway! Sure, you might get pushed onto the tracks by a mentally disturbed stranger … but that risk just adds to the excitement of your urban adventure!

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

Pro tip: Act casual and your kids will never know
that their lives are in danger.

Step four: Two words: Times Square, where sightseeing and people-watching is still free … mostly. (OK, that was more than two words.)

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

You’ll have great fun pointing out all the shows to which
you won’t be taking them and all the stores in which
you won’t be buying them things!

Kids' first visit to NYC, 12.02.2012

SPENDING ALERT: Lovable characters like the ones shown above line the streets of Midtown Manhattan … and by “Lovable characters” I mean “Enterprising pan-handlers who’ve secured professional-quality costumes guaranteed to lure in many children, the unsuspecting parents of whom will be expected to grease the outstretched hands of said characters after said characters have posed for a photo with said children.” (For the record: This was not a surprise to me. I mention it here as a public service. Speaking of which: It’s entirely possible that a goodly number of the folks dressed in these get-ups are registered sex offenders. You’re welcome.)

At the opposite end of the spectrum from potential pedophiles who conceal themselves in costumes, we have, of course, Times Square mainstay The Naked Cowboy:

naked cowboy

Confession: I didn’t photograph The Naked Cowboy.
This guy (who I don’t know) did … but I needed a shot of him to set up the rest of this post, so I borrowed this one.
So thank you, Guy I Don’t Know.

Zan, upon seeing The Naked Cowboy for the first time:

“He must not have gone to college!”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that a dude whose full-time job is to stand outside in his underwear makes more than me. Don’t believe me? According to his official website (yes, the underwear guy has an official website), he’ll preside over your wedding in Times Square for the modest price of $499 … but, you know … yay college!

Still, my questionable career choices notwithstanding, we are nonetheless living it up in the Big Apple …and we’ve barely spent a dime! Don’t worry, though: In Part 2, I’ll show you how to really blow your budget all to hell … and have a great time doing it!

Stay tuned!

To be continued in Part 2

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This entire thing is in my stomach right now


The tomato sauce counts as a vegetable, right?

File under “Irony” …

Right after lunch, I got this email from my doc:

Your labs from yesterday are excellent. As expected, your HDL (good) cholesterol is even higher [than last year], and the remainder of your numbers are healthy.

Please have someone carve that on my tombstone this weekend. Thanks.

I’m gonna miss you guys.

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For those of ye who doubt that old people can still party, allow me to tender myself as Exhibit A in the case of The Man Who Rocked His 43rd Birthday … by Going to the Doctor and Getting His Annual Physical!

Visiting the doc isn’t the only thing I did to celebrate my big day, though. I also toasted myself with some special birthday shots. Yeah, first I got a flu shot … and then I got a Combined Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis Vaccine. That kinda sucked, so I made up for it by tying off and sticking a needle in my arm. (Well, actually, the lab tech did that … when she took a vial of my blood.)

But still: I’m a wild man … as evidenced by this evening’s impending pizza party.

Today’s physical comes on the heels of yesterday’s dentist visit for a long overdue cleaning/checkup, and last week’s annual vision exam. You see, I need to make sure all this shit is in good working order … because I plan to get my money’s worth out of this mortal coil during the second half.

Game on.

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