Ceci n’est pas un Magritte

The retail Gods should have been well-pleased with our homage of yesterday. At least those deities who are responsible for sneakers. Today, we turned our attention to less prosaic activity and set out for MoMA at 53rd Street intent upon bearing witness to the Magritte exhibition and if by chance a few Warhols were to pop into our collective lines of sight – well we’d look at them too.

As any Crusade worth its religious zealotry does, we commenced our campaign with a visit to the Café and a couple of cakes with our superb coffee. I may have pointed out earlier that our party (now dwindled to two as number big son undertook his own mission to Barnes & Noble) was easily distracted by shiny things and whadya know – several shiny things managed to distract us from our goal. Firstly American Modern: Hopper to O’Keeffe, then Image of an Infinite Film and our plans all went to crap from there as we kept moving through Walker Evans American Photography, Cut ‘n’ Paste and a series of other rooms on the second floor.

20131030-230033.jpg Number big son had re-joined our crusade and we had to show him some of the wonders we had already seen, so getting off the second floor proved difficult and 3 hours had now passed. More coffee and a charge to 4th floor, wantonly dismissing whatever wonders the third floor held in an ungracious rush to the permanent collection and the modern masterpieces there. We had stumbled upon a gallery of John Cage treasures on 2, and here we found more sound and light and modern masterpieces – Warhol, Pollock, Lichtenstein, a bit of Dali, a dash of de Chirico – all the big names we wanted. Truly though, the film, sound and photography were highlights for me. And we never did see a Magritte.

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After six hours we headed down to smell the serenity of the Sculpture Courtyard and prepare to head on home. Of course, we had to exit through the gift shops – there are two and they are tasty.

MoMA day done for now. Upon reflection though, the day was won by the lady on the train who verbally laid into a fella who asked her for some change, after a heated exchange and a dozen bible quotations and a run down of the fact that she actually worked to get money, she yelled down the train after him, “a fool and his money are soon parted, Jackass. You wasting some of my precious air.” We joined the rest of car in staring resolutely at the interesting pattern on the floor.

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Sneakers schmeakers

…and it came to pass that this day would become known as the ‘Sneaker Day’. Now, it is also the 1st anniversary of Hurricane Sandy in NYC and there were many remembrance activities so, respectfully, we supported the business folk of the City, particularly those involved in footwear by setting off to visit the very large Adidas store Noho; the smaller Adidas store in Soho and a range of sneaker stores around and about. Sum total – three pairs. Two for number big son, the sneaker freaker, and one for me. Sneakers stowed in overly large bags, it was number big son’s turn again as we tracked down the recently moved location of Other Music, a quaint but remarkably well stocked store with a huge range of CDs, Vinyl and cassettes. I did the block a few times while he raided the crates.

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I should mention that Pip opted for a domestic day, which included sleeping in and travelling to the basement to test out the laundry card of no regret. It worked and we are clothed in clean things now thanks to her selfless efforts. Pip also managed to get in a stroll around the block on the Jewish side of our neighbourhood and brought back footage and pics of things quite strange to the Australian not living on Melbourne – I’ve never seen 5 year olds with payot. I may keep harping on, but I do find this culture fascinating.

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We headed off down Havermeyer to a restaurant called Zizi Limona for dinner – great wraps in the guides – promising middle eastern cuisine in a hipster setting. We were therefore unsurprised to find middle eastern cuisine in a hipster setting.

20131029-230248.jpg The food was not the fare we would have expected – salmon with eggplant cooked on a hot stone; Cowshuka – shakshuka with skirt steak, and; Five Hour Bureka – ox tail slow cooked in filo pastry. They served us the most smokiest hummus we’ve ever had and a delicious concoction of banana, caramel brulee and cream for dessert. All 100% yumtastic and set in a gorgeous room. I also got carried away in the hipster spirit of the place and went somewhere I’ve never been – the turkish coffee with date syrup AND cardamon. I felt a beard coming on during the walk home.

The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.

There have been recent important amendments to the laws and rules surrounding the use of credit cards, particularly affecting those involved in laundry transactions – not laundering transactions, I could see the point in that. There must have been extraordinary amounts of fraud and misuse by people attempting to load credit onto their laundry cards, so much so that those infidels who dare to dirty their laundry and then have the hide to use a non-US credit card to try and pay in advance have been stopped in their tracks. We were stopped in our tracky dacs (so to speak – for those who know us surely realise that we have no such items of apparel). There is a laundry in the basement, of the kind so familiar to Australians who grew up on a steady diet of American TV, where a card with credit on it is required to activate the machines and dryers. Our kind host left detailed re-charging instructions which included the phrase, “US Credit Card…”, but neglected to advise how one might get around this little issue. She suggested a $10 re-charge was the minimum and would be adequate for the average tourist with the average amount of laundry.

Suffice to say, we could only get around the problem by using an automated system that required a minimum amount of $25 (which means we will need to stay and wash clothes for several more months), but this was far more appealing than the other option the laundry card guy recommended – visit a Walmart and buy a gift card. I have two major issues with that suggestion (and a host of minor ones). Onely, I said to Pip before we embarked on this trip to the US that I will not visit a Walmart. We were discussing the pros and cons of lamb v goat at the time, so it came as a surprise to her. My reasoning was that a company that makes profits in the billions should not have a large proportion of its staff eligible for food stamps – if that’s not true I apologise, but I read it on the electronic interweb so I feel it must be true. Twoly, it’s Walmart and I feel I’m better than that. Actually, I’m fairly hinky about anything that ends in mart. Washing will commence tomorrow. Wait, there are three major issues – as number big son pointed out, that’s some kind of gift card! Who gives the gift of laundry?

Feeling wrung out by the washing fracas (see what I did there…) we dressed in our remaining fresh clothes and aimed our direction finding apps in the direction of Battery Park. This involved navigating to a quaintly named station called Bowling Green, for reasons still not absolutely apparent to me. A short stroll through the squirrel infested Battery Park, stopping at the WWII Memorial and avoiding the teeming masses offering Statue of Liberty tours, cruises and helicopter flights and we made the Staten Island Ferry terminal, which we had been reliably tipped off would sail us (the ferry not the terminal) right by the Statue and afford us ample photographic opportunities gratis. I have mentioned earlier that our group harboured no desires to actually set foot on Liberty Island or to insert ourselves into the thing – happy we were with a photo opportunity and on to Staten Island which increases to our Burroughs count to four with the Bronx still outstanding. .

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It takes 25 minutes to travel from the bottom tip of Manhattan to the Island and there is a huge orange ferry every 15 minutes to half and hour depending on the time of the day. We only stayed long enough to have some lunch at Pop’s Sandwich Shop, which seemed to have a range of police themed sandwiches and rolls and a steady flow of NYPD badged clientele. Pip plumped for the Justice and Liberty burger, while I avoided the Hill Street Blues burger and took the proprietors heart-felt recommendation of a Smoked Bacon Cheddar Burger. He was right – I could feel my heart afterwards. Fine burgers, though number young son opted for a mere muffin and a kwafee.

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After returning to the Manhattan Island, we rode the 4 train right on up to Grand Central Station (riding trains we are now…) and visited the magnificent concourse so familiar to movie-goers and it was magnificent and it was familiar and it offered the greatest prize of all in New York City – public toilets. Five blocks east past the Chrysler Building to the UN building, just for a look really, then six blocks back to Park Avenue, then a fatal error – the decision to walk to Niketown, rather than catch a cab. Remember how our feet, knees and calves had been problematic a few days ago and how various remedies, salves and wadding had been applied? Niketown was 12 blocks north and two west and about three blocks in my blisters began complaining that I wasn’t treating them nice anymore. Niketown was a sneaker stop for number big son – a long time collector and walking advert for AirMax. We were fine advertisements for the athletic bona fides of the Nike store as we hobbled around its five floors smiling at the ridiculously friendly, athletic-looking staff just waiting to help us. They helped number big son into a pair of black and navy AirMaxs and they helped us into a bit of gear for number young son, but I really wanted them to help me to a cab back to Brooklyn. We were required to help ourselves to that cab, right outside Tiffany’s on Fifth Ave

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I loves you, Porgy

So, of all the things that can happen to you while visiting New York, one of the big ones is to see a hip hop crew perform in your subway car. This happened yesterday and I admit to being completely remiss in not reporting it yesterday, but you know, life in the Big Apple… The J train pulled out of Essex St and simultaneously and at the same time, five young guys in through the door between carriages with caps at jaunty angles and trousers slung low. “Good afternoon, ladies n’ gentlemen and welcome to our show.” They cleared out the open section between the doors and those standing there obliged, then started up their music while three of them sat in single file on the floor down between the seats. The music was loud and one of them began swingin’ an’ flippin’ off the poles and armrests, while the others urged him on. They each took their turn on the pole and on the floor and juggling their 5 panels from head to foot and back again. There were spins; there was walkin’ on air. There was a lot of shit to cram into the few minutes over the Williamsburg Bridge, but they did their stuff, rapped their story and ended with, “…well d’as our show”. Plenty of money was proffered into their hats as we pulled up at our station and they were gone.

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Cool as this seemingly was, us poor Brisbane folks needed to take our cues from the local folk – remember the golden rule of not engaging anyone on the subway. After staring straight ahead and straining to activate peripheral vision till headaches had begun, it seemed our fellow travellers were all smiles and gawking. Phones were clicking and filming. The crew performing wore wide smiles and were extremely polite, so we relaxed and smiled and stopped the sore throat routine and came close to the point of yelling out, “Yeah – d’as wot I’m talkin’ ’bout!”, but not quite. Still, we felt very New Yorky.

We set sail this morning to more markets, this time the New Amsterdam Market at the South St Seaport in lower Manhattan, down the businessy end. J train to Chambers St and a brisk walk across the on ramps to the Brooklyn Bridge, passing by actual squirrels in a park and ducking down to the river to the Seaport. Breakfast was the first order of this day and I had read about and, for some unknown reason, was the only one of our foraging party keen to seek out Squire’s Diner. It’s a Diner, people! It had booths and a menu and wide as something really wide. Strangely, it appeared before us in the bottom of an apartment complex and I managed to convince the diner-dissing duo to give it a go. We got a booth, as you do and ordered kwafee with milk, as you also do. The menu had a ‘From the Griddle’ section, from which number big son and I chose the pancakes with butter and maple, but to the apparent amazement of our waiter, no bacon. Pip went the eggs benedict – served with hash and non-Canadian bacon, as you don’t often do. I was very satisfied with the solid thunk of the syrup jar being delivered to the table and the mugs of pour-over coffee were fresh, flavourful and entirely bearable for the full Diner experience. That’s ‘Diner’ done. Tick.

The South St Seaport and more particularly the New Amsterdam Market was the former home of the New York Fish Market till it moved out to Jersey somewhere. The New Amsterdam Market had fish, but it also had a boatload mighty slick artisanal food stalls ranging from savoury yoghurt to heirloom apples; from bespoke printers to mushroom hunters who had possibly gathered a bunch of orange fungus.

20131027-232508.jpg A great little find! We saw a tuna butchery demo, but missed the spear fishing demo (possibly luckily) and tasted handmade sauces, syrups and savouries. We also purchased, on the advice of an older than me guy wearing a Breaking Bad sweatshirt, some fillets (pronounced in New York as ‘fillays’) of a fish unknown to us, called Porgy. Three fillays for 6 bucks, not bad, eh? We then walked the fish back to Vesey St, where had to collect passes to the 9/11 Memorial, before walking 6 blocks down Church to the monument. Another crew of wise-cracking, hip-hoppers (this time in fetching, matching orange camo outfits) delivered a comedy show to about a hundred Sunday trippers. I was impressed that they managed to work the money collection into the show to prevent everyone just walking at the end. It was all jolly japery on the way to monument.

There were long queues due to the airport-style security checks and screenings and a convoluted pathway way to corral visitors through to what is really a large park. There are two spectacular fountains that cover the footprint of each tower and the names of those who died are cut into the brass around the top of the fountains. There was no sensation of mourning or sadness, but there was a lot of “can’t imagine what it must have been like on that day”. I didn’t know what to think really. There was poignancy in the names around the rim listed under their Fire unit or flight number and the black fountains really evoke a sense of awe, but as all the new building goes on around it and the freeway rushes by below it, there wasn’t any sense of emotion for me – I guess it’s really there for the huge percentage of New Yorkers who lost friends, family and colleagues.

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We then took the fish to visit St Paul’s Chapel on the way home and saw George Washington’s pew. The fish really liked that. We then caved on the confusing issue of why the J train that bought us to Chambers St could not be caught there and retreated to a cab home. A cabbie who somehow managed, hand on horn, to get up 50mph through the tiny streets of Soho and then to roar over the bridge to our place. Pip got a one litre can on Asahi and a bottle of wine and we headed up to the roof to enjoy the sunset, before activating Number Big Son in his tour role as travelling fish chef to see what he could do with the Porgy. In all honesty I feel I can now say, “I loves you Porgy”.

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Well curl my moustache and pass me the beer cheese.

Still recovering from blistered feet, buggered knees and the general side-effects of three days worth of 7 hours walking, we grit our collective choppers and soldier on as we must. Number big son made the return voyage to 5 Pointz and discovered hitherto undiscovered (by us yesterday) sides to the graffiti monolith. Pip and I made good on our plans to venture back to Williamsburg’s foodish market – Smorgasburg, down by the river, close to Greenpoint. In order to reach the market, we could have walked, though in truth it would have meant me limping, about 20 minutes up Bedford Avenue and down to the venue, or we could follow a rather circuitous subway trip that would have had us on M train to Union Square, then onto the L train back to Bedford Avenue. Trains only meant I had to limp 100m or so to the station. Trains also meant that after we had waited about a half hour for the M train and heard an announcement reminding us that the M train wouldn’t be coming till Monday morning, we leapt onto a J train, and then hiked through Essex St station to the Q train, and then through Union Square station to the L train, before reaching Williamsburg about an hour after we left home.

I’m sure this excursion made my feet last an extra few steps later in the day. Williamsburg on a Saturday is all middle-aged men, wearing black, with black-rimmed glasses, sneakers, and yoga mats under their arms, and hipsters of course, and tourists. Hundreds of ’em. It’s a scene, baby. We shouldered our way through the bearded masses and headed down to East River Park, stopping only to take coffee and brioche at a lovely tiny café called, Bakeri. Latte cups down, it was off to the Smorgasburg.

This was an artisanal food event to behold, not hugely large, but well-stocked with all manner of foody funk. From the ever-so-everywhere handmade ice-cream sandwich, through Kentucky Beer Cheese, fruit sodas, deep-fried anchovies (who could resist a stall called ‘Bon Chovie’ – not me!), baked Flintstone-style turkey legs, and so much more…

20131026-235528.jpg We sampled much, purchased some and took coffee from a stall with a line up of 8 drip filters and headed up the road to Artists & Fleas, the Williamsburg and Chelsea Market where a range of vintage clothes and stuff and hand-made t shirts and records and jewellery and everything were crammed into a not very big shed with not very much space between the rows of stalls – a jolly good browsing-old time was had by all.

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Our team had returned to three by this stage – number big son had returned from the Isle of Long – and we headed back up to the main drag to seek out new record stores, lunches and to boldly go to places we had not been before. We struck out on the record stores – too indie. We also struck out on the lunch – too crowdy. So we boldly hailed a cab and made for another market across the bridge on the Lower East Side at Hester St. We struck out here too – too pissweak. The cab was a win though – the driver was way cool and way New York-ish from Staten Island with a plan to install coffee distribution points along the Williamsburg Bridge. In search of further record stores, we headed back down Orchard but failed to get much beyond a small bar called, Dudley’s. A cool little place that, once we were in and seated at the bar, turned out to be Australian complete with flat whites and James Boag’s on the menu. Honest, it was totally an accident!

20131026-235715.jpg My feet rested and our determination to find Other Music completely shot (mostly by beers at 4pm) we made for the Essex Street Market and a butcher for steaks to cook at home and cheese to eat before steaks and wine to drink with cheese – a natural progression. Facetimed some of those we had left behind and planned out tomorrow’s investigations.

We will breakfast on the really lower east side; visit the New Amsterdam Markets, then head off to the 9-11 Memorial. To enable this hike-fest, I have this very evening visited the drugstore and purchased various salves and wadding for my feet.

It’s queue for Katz.

We thunk it about time to plunge into New York proper – enough with the hipsters already – time for Katz’s Deli on the lower east side. Naturally to prepare for this foray we started with a healthy sleep-in and rose at the crack of 10. A quick coffee and while we were at it, a quick but small egg and bacon just to keep the tummies in optimum working order. The quick coffee and breakfasty snack would also sustain us for our ‘via’ destination which was 5 Pointz on Long Island, the graffiti epicentre of the known western world.

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5 Pointz is in imminent danger of destruction and replacement with some kind of condominium development which will doubtless have all the sterile appeal of some kind of condominium development. But until then, it’s a disused and crumbling factory that serves as a monumental graffiti exhibition, where permits are required and only issued to those who provide portfolios deemed worthy and correctly completed applications. It’s also dubbed the Institute of Higher Burning and guides roam the site explaining the imagery and recurring motifs of each artist’s work. Number big son had been the main driver of this excursion, but we’re glad to have seen it. The street outside is also, I found interesting, the street food carts cemetary, although more correctly, the street food carts repair shop, where the battered and past-their-prime carts are dragged and renewed. There are hundreds of them. Food carts and spray paints done, we prepared to scale the pinnacle of pastrami; that sacred mount of corned beef; that birthplace of the holy Reuben sandwich – Katz’s Delicatessen. We had time to sit in quiet contemplation during our twenty minute version of the Camino del Santiago, except we rode the M train instead of hiking the through French and Spanish mountains carrying a gourd and a clam, but it’s always the journey, isn’t it? After a small number of u-turns and uncertainty about which way along Essex we needed to hike, we made the summit and the queue to Katz’s. There were about a hundred in the queue and the buzz along the line was that no one had seen this kind of queue here before – the hapless restauraturs whose empty joints are adjacent to Katz’s kept wandering out to see if anyone knew what was going on, or why there were TV crews in Katz’s – not a clue they said.

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The queue moved quickly and the kindly man mountain on the door issued us with three tickets and a warning not to lose them, lest we would need to pay $50 to exit. Then we were asked if we wanted table service or the less appealing option of somehow ordering at the counter and then waiting to see if a table in the free-seating area became available. No choice – table service it was. Soon enough a waitress led us through a sea of tables groaning under the weight of 6 inch thick corned beef sangas and sat us down. The place seats about 350 among walls completely covered with pictures of celebrities, former presidents, sports stars and Misses America, and the vibe is vibrant, to say the least. Our table received a cheesesteak, a turkey sandwich which featured about a half kilo of turkey meat and little else, and a cheese burger with a side of fries, before kwafee and cheesecake. The cheesecake was based upon the solid premise that if one was going to eat a piece of New York baked cheesecake, then the Katz’s Deli New York baked cheesecake would probably be the one that the aforementioned one might eat. The tummies we had so meticulously primed were now barely operating and the street offered sweet respite from the foody onslaught.

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Our course now set, if set is the word, for a record store in Soho. Our mapping systems seem to have difficulty in New York, with the blue dot of indication of your current position not being particularly reliable in pinpointing your current position or heading. Needless to say, several more headings off in the wrong direction and about an hour walking, fortunately through some of the more arty gallery-ish parts of Soho, we arrived at the record store, or more accurately at the construction site that used to be the record store. Back to the Essex St station and onto our M train for the trip over the Williamsburg bridge to the first stop in Brooklyn – our stop, Marcy Ave. Blistered feet, buggered knees and aching calves rested, Pip and I headed off to Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, and more partucularly to a Vietnamese restaurant called, An Nhau for some much needed vegetables and healing Pho. This was followed by more self-administered healing with eclairs and creme brulee up the street at Fabiane’s

All healed and ready for bed now. Tomorrow is a journey to a food market called, Smorgasburg.

Puerto Rico o el busto

Explore the local neighbourhood we said, so up the road and under the Williamsburg Bridge, down the rabbit-hole and into Hipster-land we slid. You know how I remarked yesterday about the Jewish gents in their black uniforms and hats – well today we passed many of their spouses, also dressed in similar black with white shirts and also dressed much the same as each other – it’s fascinating. I knew about the Rekelech and the Homburg for the blokes, but not the women’s equivalent.

Anyway, back to hipsterville – Bedford Avenue, Williamsberg, which I have subsequently discovered is a bit like a teenage version of Greenwich Village. Lots of cafés – lots of restaurants – lots of vintage clothes shops and lots of beautiful folk going about their daily café business. We waded through and visited the extraordinary Bedford Cheese shop which seemed to stock the rest of the cheeses from France (those that weren’t already imported and for sale in Dean and Deluca’s from yesterday) as well as a large and enticing range of cheese accoutrement, crackers and other delicacies. I don’t know what the French are eating for cheese, but there can’t be much left over – this shop stocked over 600 types with 250 varieties on hand at any given moment. We left the stinky shop and wheeled into a wee café called ‘Vittoria‘ and discovered that although Pip was fairly sure her coffee was the one called an Americano – it wasn’t. It may not come as a surprise that I continue to opt for the latte in most circumstances.

We headed down a side avenue toward the East River Park into a freezing head-wind and passed closed clubs and an open DJ supply store which drew number big son like a moth to a flame.

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Pip and I were kept amused by the Williamsburg equivalent of sneakers thrown over the power lines – a largish stuffed rabbit on a noose and a Barbie connected to, what I might delicately describe as a large black aide au sexe – strange habits. We pushed on to the park – looked at yet another view of the skyline and pushed back to Bedford Avenue and the subway to Bushwick, for to see a man about a simcard.

20131024-230155.jpgGraham Avenue at Bushwick is Puerto Rican territory – very little English spoken in the street and more churros stands than in Barcelona, also, as it happens, a lot of mango in ziplock bags and men trying to sell lighters. We found our phone store and obtained a simcard pausing only to watch with horrified/amused staff as a very slim chap in a hooded tracksuit with large headphones (with an aerial attached) burst into the shop and did some very poor falsetto rapping to the tune in his headphones that only he could hear. Of course we all pretended not to notice until he left and the staff in the store fell about in hysterics. No one mentioned it.

We left Little Puerto Rico by train to the Bowery which landed us on the edge of Chinatown which stretched to the border of the tiny postcard principality of Little Italy. Little Italy is, by all reports, a shadow of its former self. A tourist attraction stretching almost a block and centred on a Mulberry St filled with as many Italian restaurant clichés as you’d care to mention.

20131024-230617.jpg I’d call it a cross between a shorter Lygon St and those italian restaurants we used to go to that had chianti bottles on the table, but without the chianti bottles on the tables. Still we were hungry by then and a couple a pizzas did the job, despite the fact that we were seated under the creepiest painting I’ve seen in a while. It was ciao piccolo italia then and a stroll up through Soho to the Village, resisting the urge to visit another Apple Store, but succumbing to visiting the Kid Robot shop and Dave’s Quality Meats (one funky sneaker shop). A quick stop for cortados at a café/boutiquey kind of place and then a slight detour to an Adidas store for number big son to purchase a heavily discounted jacket, before finding ourselves in the Village… and what a very pleasant Village it is. Sadly, time was not with us, so we will return to properly investigate.

More subway home and I think, after a second day en pomme, I’m ready to call it – we can safely say that coffee, despite the long perpetuated myth is definitely not an issue here. Baristas are the new superstars in the hipper parts of this city and, naturally, those are the parts we will frequent, because, you know, we’re cool. Right?