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One of the best things about my current location is its proximity to Central Park, so I wanted to hang out there for a bit on my Saturday off. Until today, I have only gone to watch the toy sailboat races, but when I arrived this afternoon, I heard loud music blaring in the distance. Thinking it was one of the free concerts I had been hearing about, I decided to go exploring.

It turned out to be a free exercise event, open to the public. A security guard told me I was free to check it out, and if I did, “your heart will love you for it.” When I actually got to the entrance, I wasn’t in the mood for jumping jacks, but I’m sure my heart was grateful for the long walk that followed, as I ventured off to tour what may now be my favorite place to get lost in the daytime.

I strolled past the statues and street performers (some playing saxophone, some on guitar), until I ended up on a bridge overlooking the rowboats on the lake. I stopped to snap a few pictures with my Blackberry, when I overheard a man describing the “Strawberry Fields” John Lennon memorial to his girlfriend. I had made a mental note to visit Strawberry Fields yesterday, after being reminded of its existence during the most recent episode of 30 Rock, when Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy was reminiscing about harassing hippies at the site with his now kidnapped wife. Donaghy had fondly described throwing things at drum circles, so when I heard a rhythm from afar, I decided to follow the sound, thinking it would surely lead me to my intended destination.

A map nearby seemed to indicate that I was going in the right direction, so I continued on, as I got closer to what I was completely convinced had to be a drum circle. Finally, I reached the other side of the lake- where I found one man with a bongo sitting on a bench. (I hope that was as amusingly anti-climactic for you all as it was for me.) I gave up on the Strawberry Fields search after another fifteen minutes of aimless wandering before I decided it was probably time to head back.

I stopped to ask for directions near the back of a large building, and got a very half-hearted gesture pointing south. I could see 5th Ave from where I was, so I figured it was best to head that way, and find out what street I was near. It turned out I was on 84th street, right in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a landmark I had wanted to visit since my arrival three weeks ago.

I had no plans of going into any of the exhibits. The “$20 suggested donation” admission fee was way out of my price range, but I still wanted to stop by. Maybe I would be able to find a postcard for my mom in the gift shop.

On my way up, I heard Motown style singing coming from the bottom of the steps at the museum’s entrance. A quintet, accompanied by a stand-up bassist, was performing a pretty spot on version of “My Girl,” so obviously, I had to sit down and listen. I stayed for one more song after The Temptations’ hit, that I couldn’t recognize because it was being drowned out by foot and street traffic noise, before heading into the museum’s store.

I never found any postcards, but did see some beautiful silk scarves being sold for between $60 and $85. Before leaving, I took a good minute to observe the one painting visible at the entrance, which I guessed must have been Renaissance era. I couldn’t even tell if the main figure in the painting was a soldier or an angel (or maybe something else entirely), but I still felt satisfied at the free viewing I was getting. Mostly I felt like the outing had been a major achievement because of the free live music I had witnessed outside.

Speaking of live music, I finally got to see some original performances this week, at the hip hop show mentioned in my previous post. Freestyle Monday at Union Square’s Bar 13 started around 1:00 a.m. on Monday night/Tuesday morning. I was invited by Prop Anon, a seven year frequenter of the nine year running event, whom I interviewed a while ago for Mideastunes.com. The place was fairly empty when I arrived, and Prop commented that it was a pretty slow night compared to previous Mondays. Though the crowd definitely reminded me of L.A., I enjoyed myself once the cypher got going.

Anyone who wanted to get on the microphone was able to. One middle-aged woman even grabbed the mic to announce she was having a great time, but her wallet was missing. A kid named Sean kept asking my if I was “gonna rhyme?” but I firmly replied, “Hell no!” The audience may have been super supportive, but as someone who’s never been much of a lyricist or performer (or even very knowledgeable about hip hop), I couldn’t imagine competing with the talent of people like Rabbi D or beatbox artist Kid Lucky, who will be at Bar 13 for NYC Standup! on May 16th at 8:00 p.m.

I’ll be honest-I had a hard time catching most of the lyrics being spat. But Osama Bin Laden’s death was definitely a huge theme of the night. The house band’s very talented soulful back up singer Mariella dedicated a song, in which she sang, “Check your soul, before you wreck your soul” to those chanting “USA! USA!” in the streets the night before. “The war ain’t over” also became a repeated line between freestylers. After a quick stop in the dubstep room, where Prop got on the mic, and I got to witness some “serious dancers,” we left the club to go hang out in the East Village. (Apparently, Freestyle Mondays originated in that part of town.)

I ended up getting a tour of the neighborhood from Prop Anon, who stuck his promo stickers on nearly every bit of empty wall space as we walked around. The highlight for me was passing by a bar called Niagra, which used to be a favorite spot of the late, great Joe Strummer. His face is painted on the side in a huge mural that bears his famous quote (and title of The Clash documentary) “The Future is Unwritten,” on the right, and “Know Your Rights” under his portrait.

Eventually we ended up on a block somewhere close to Avenue D, which Prop informed me had been the site of many squats in the 80s and 90s. (His album is titled “Squat the Condos,” so it’s a pretty big theme for him.) I started talking about how I had been squatting with my family in our own house up until three weeks ago, though it felt odd to call it that. I mean, I’m not sure what else you call it when you’re living in a house where the mortgage hasn’t been paid for so long, but we had been living so comfortably. We were still eating as if we could afford to be part of the middle class, and the word squatting doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a fridge full of groceries from Trader Joe’s. His comment on my situation was, “Maybe that’s the way it [squatting], should be.”

I will probably be back to Bar 13 at some point in the near future, especially since I recently learned from an acquaintance of mine, who knows a promoter at the club, that there is a reggae room on Wednesday nights. So until next time, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mama’s out there, and good vibes everyone!

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