A DAY OUT IN LITTLE FALLS
By ROBERT BIESELIN,
"A Day Out" is an occasional series from Robert Bieselin that tells you what it's really like to spend a few hours, a day or a night in a North Jersey town.
He was waiting for me outside of his apartment in Nyack, N.Y., at 1:48 p.m. on
Good Friday, pacing to and fro, all warm and hungry, having been told to dress in layers, as it may be chilly, and not to eat lunch, as we may have a hot dog eating contest.
Dan Jacobs - textbook parallel parker, Messianic Jew, and bassist in my pseudo-
imaginary band (Rob's Chicken and the Mint 400) – had with him $68 in cash, maroon plastic sunglasses from the mid-1990's and a black backpack that hung from his shoulder like a lumpy, drugged chimpanzee.
With Dan, there was always a bag - the only variable was the contents. Often it was a Frisbee. Occasionally, it was a tin of trailmix. On special occasions there were bottle rockets. This day, though, the mix was more eclectic.
He unzipped the nylon chimp and pulled out the items one at a time. "I brought a
deck of playing cards, a flask, oil pastels, the new Andrew Bird album, a light-up yo-yo, a Frisbee, a notepad and latex-free rubber gloves.
“Oh," he added, "and a bottle of Jameson [Irish whiskey]."
"You think we're going to use all of that?"
"That," he said, "is the challenge."
And so, our investigative journey to Little Falls became challenge-based.
The planning took place at the downtown location of The Fine Grind, an adorable
coffee bar abound in twists of comfort and luxury and plugged into an old canal-side building. There we sat in kingly arm chairs,sipping matte chai lattes (at a really nice waitress's recommendation) and discussed whether or not it was possible for a 160-pound man of 29 to eating a dozen all-beef hot dogs in one sitting.
"You think you can do it?" I asked, trying desperately to get him to join the
daunting "Dirty Dozen Club" at the nearby Big Daddy's Hot Dogs.
He sighed. He took a sip of his latte. He looked up at the pressed tin ceiling, then
down at stained wood floors. "I think I definitely can't, but I'll try."
It was a deal.
We shook on it.
I ate a bagel stick.
"This will be like the egg scene in 'Cool Hand Luke,'" I said.
"Yeah, except with more vomiting."
After a walk down the block, the movie reference switched.
Big Daddy's was closed.
Apparently, we were the only ones looking for hot dogs on a Friday in
Lent/Passover when Catholics can't eat meat and Jews can't have bread. (Had they been open, the plan was for him to eat the hot dogs and me to eat the buns, as I'm a vegetarian.)
"This is like the scene in 'National Lampoon's Vacation' when they get to Wallyworld."
We walked, dejectedly down to the Morris Canal behind Main Street where the
Passaic River-fed water rushed over a bluff, giving off a loud rush that enticed visitors and gave the town its name.
The next challenge presented itself. We needed to get down to the rocks.
Dan found a hole in the fence. I found a rope that connected the steel girder of the overpass to the lower rock ledge. The water found the falls and howled down.
"This feels like the beginning of 'Stand by Me'"
Dan filled up the flask with Irish whiskey ‘til it spilled over onto his sleeve.
I filled up a notepad with American poetry ‘til if spilled onto the back cover.
The river filled its torrents with taunts ‘til they spilled into our ears – a million
white-water voices whispering, "Who are you?" "How did you get here?" and "I knew you couldn't eat 12 hot dogs."
"The river's teasing you," I said.
"You're not even a river! You're just a stupid canal," Dan yelled at the water and
took a long swig from the flask. "Let's see what else we could eat."
We were driving for 10 minutes, back around, up and down town when we
stopped at the High School (closed for Good Friday) and played Frisbee on the front lawn. Then headed back west, where we saw it: "sushi buffet - all you can eat."
"That's it," Dan said. "Sushi eating contest."
We made our restrictions in the car. He could eat anything but shellfish. I could
only eat veggie rolls.
We shook on it.
We got out of the car, only to see a sign on the door of Mikado 23 that
it hadn't yet opened.
"STUPID WALLYWORLD," Dan yelled at the restaurant.
I coaxed him back to the car. We drove through the then rush hour traffic and
somehow ended up at the Entenmann's Outlet.
Five minutes later we were staring at the clock waiting for it to turn to 4:52 p.m.
I ate as fast as I could, shoveling chocolate chip cookie after chocolate chip
cookie into my mouth, then bathing the dense mess with cascading glugs of 2% milk.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Dan keeping pace in the cookie eating
Out of the corner of his eye, he later told me, he could see someone watching.
From her car, an older woman watched Dan and I, as we sat in my car pounding
through the two boxes.
Then I snorted.
And he lost it - he made a sound like a rapidly deflating balloon and shot cookies
out of his mouth and milk out of his nose simultaneously.
Now I was laughing, drooling.
And the other woman, she was laughing and shaking her head.
The river, er, canal was probably laughing too.
(In case you were wondering, I won the cookie eating contest. And Dan was
handed an additional defeat later when he realized that cookies weren't kosher for Passover.)
We weren't hungry, but we went to dinner anyway, stopping off for sushi at Mizu, a newish Japanese spot.
And that was a bad idea.
Over rolls and cocktails we lamented the cookie-eating contest in an empty dining room lit by glass walls of cycling colors.
Green. Blue. Red.
Burning. Blinding. Infuriating.
Compounding the pain of the lights was the pain lent by an over-attentive staff
that "makes you fell like you're eating under guard," as Dan put it.
Hovering. Smothering. Fawning.
We needed fresh air. Steady, white light. Privacy.
"Oh my god. This place is driving me insane," I said.
"It's like the scene in '2001 A Space Odyssey,' when the old man is eating alone in the white room at the end," I said.
"Yeah," Dan added, "if it was shown simultaneously with the previous scenes
where he's speeding through the color tunnels of time."
After driving around for 45 minutes looking for an antique store, (one of my other challenges was to find an old sword in Little Falls), we popped into The Fine Grind's other newer/hipper location for some more caffeine and a final round of planning over a game of cards.
"I'm tired too," I said.
"This is like the scene in the movie when everyone's tired."
"That's the best you can do?"
"Yeah, I'm tired," he repeated, pulling a rubber glove from his bag.
"What are you doing with that?"
"This," he said, before inflating it and repeatedly smacking me in the head.
"This is about to be like that scene in the movie when I kick you in the groin."
381 Main, a ridiculous free-standing bar/lounge (at, you guessed it, 381 Main St.)
was our penultimate stop. The challenge there soon became trying to stay for more than 15 minutes.
"This is like the 80's scenes in mob movies, when everything gets glam and
cheesy," Dan said as soon as we walked into the all-white spot with white chaise lounges, mini-TV's built into the railings and fake platinum record plaques hanging everywhere.
He had a vodka and pineapple juice. I had a specialty cocktail called the "Gummy
Bear Juice," a sweet, syrupy concoction that was good, but not worth $10. We were watching two knuckleheads pretend to wrestle by the bar when I noticed the pulsing lights, almost identical to the ones at Mizu.
They lapped the room: Green. Blue. Red. - less prominent, but just as lame.
"What's the deal with Little Falls and those lights?" Dan asked.
"What's the deal with all the white plastic?"
"I feel like I'm tripping on acid inside a Storm Trooper helmet."
For contrast's sake, we ended the night at Great Notch Inn, a roadside landmark
known for a lively crowd and live music with no cover.
It was entirely dissimilar to 381 Main - and for that we loved it.
The crowd - full and fun - was friendly. (No one wrestled.)
The bluesy band - Enzo and the Bakers - was young but pretty proficient. The lights were steady; one color.
The beer - Great Notch's own Harley Barley Brew - was hoppy, like a light IPA,
and tasty. (And it wasn't $10.)
We stayed, unchallenged, for about an hour, seemingly finding the best the small
town had to offer.
"This feel like a scene 'Roadhouse,'" he said as he walked out onto the front
"Have you ever seen 'Roadhouse?"
"Yeah, I can tell."
"What'd you think of Little Falls?" I asked Dan as we backed out of the unpaved
"It was fun - but weird."
"Yeah. That about sums it up."
It was quiet for the next 5 minutes.
We just drove and listened to the new Andrew Bird album.
And then, in a shot, he popped up from his slouch and went digging in his bag.
"Are we still in Little Falls?"
"Yeah, we have to make a U-turn to get back on Route 3. Why?"
"Pullover. We have to use the pastels and the yo-yo."
After the turn-around, I pulled off into the parking lot of Six Brothers Diner.
We sat on the hood of my car.
He sipped from the flask and sketched the scene - a grey-black highway freckled with streaks of steely movement; shallow shadowy puddles donned in hazy halos lent by the cloud-wrapped moon.
He unveiled the piece beneath headlights of passing cars which pushed a
jaundiced flush over the finished page. We critiqued it as green and gold rolls of a flashing yo-yo imparted upon it a schizophrenic Mizu-like mood. It was a dark and light and pretty and challenging - a roadside masterpiece sketched by a whiskey-buzzed Rembrandt in maroon plastic sunglasses from the mid-1990's.
"We completed the challenge," he said, putting everything back into the twisted
remains of the lumpy chimpanzee. "This is the end of the movie."
"Nice," I said. "Now can you clean up the milk and cookies you spit all over my