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Chad R MacDonald’s West Side Story involves acting, magic tricks, balloon sculpture, robocalls — and the Hell’s Kitchen Rangers. “The history of this neighborhood is palpable, pulsing perceptively all around, at all times of the day, like a heartbeat,” says the web content consultant.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
My heart lived in New York City long before my body caught up to it. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up but I knew where I wanted to live — New York City. Got my chance to move here from rural Nova Scotia in 1993, when I won a full scholarship to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy on the Upper West Side. From there, I regularly found myself in Hell’s Kitchen, with the bars and restaurants of this neighborhood becoming regular fixtures in my life.
Ended up having to leave NYC in the very last days of the 90s to return to Canada, and I missed it every day. New York gets in your blood, but it keeps your heart. You need to return to it like you need to breathe. I was never so happy as I was when I returned to New York, and to my heart, for good.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
Playing with toys. Seriously. I was a toy demonstrator at FAO Schwarz when it was on 58th and 5th. Devil Sticks, Roomerangs and Marvel action figures, from the prototype of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when their cartoons ruled the airwaves. From there I was FAO’s own costumed superhero Infoman, a children’s entertainer, performing magic and wearing silly costumes all over the boroughs, to a table hopping entertainer in Mars 2112 and Comedy Nation, from the sadly now also defunct Caroline’s Comedy Club.
During all this I had a very low-key acting career, the highlight of which was meeting the woman I’d eventually marry. If you don’t blink, you’ll spot me in 90s flicks like Eraser, Payback, Sabrina, and I’m also on a GI Joe box! These days I’m in web content. I’ve had articles published on a wide range of subjects from a wide range of outlets, and I’ve built up considerable social media assets which have helped tremendously in my advocacy work. I currently work at a consulting firm.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Prior to the lockdown, as a member of the PTA for PS 51 I’d record a robocall every week or so — upcoming events, special announcements, stuff like that. But when the lockdown happened, robocalls were bumped up to every school night, as a more complex in-person schedule required reminders about who would be in school the next day. Also, announcements needed to be made about where and when to pick up meals, and whatever else the school needed the community to know.
To keep things light, I’d add a Bad Dad Joke after the announcements and then do a huge fake laugh about it, think Mork from Ork, “AR arararararar!” So my favorite New York minute is whenever anyone stops to tell me a Bad Dad Joke and we both go “AR arararararar” afterwards. That and when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
Honestly, it started with comic books. Daredevil lived here and protected the neighborhood. His stories were the best ones on the rack in the early to mid-eighties, and they inspired a profound interest in Hell’s Kitchen. From there, I devoured everything I could find about Hell’s Kitchen. The Mullen Brothers, street hockey, Mickey Spillane, the Westies, everything from the bad old days as well as the good old days.
When I finally arrived in New York as a young man, Hell’s Kitchen was the first neighborhood I came to see. It was beyond thrilling. The history of this neighborhood is palpable, pulsing perceptively all around, at all times of the day, like a heartbeat. It’s simply invigorating.
Last summer I was rereading The Westies by TJ English in Hell’s Kitchen Park. I looked up to enjoy the day and noticed the street signs above me were for W48th and 10th, same as on the cover of the book. That made my heart glow.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I can actually perform magic. Used to do it for a living. But besides that, I’m also pretty sure I invented a lot of the balloon sculpture designs you see these days. You see, I once worked a two hour kid’s party where there were supposed to be dozens of children attending. What usually happened in cases like that was you did a magic show, some small facepaint designs and you gave each kid a balloon animal. That’ll usually fill your time.
However, only three kids showed up to this thing. The magic show and face painting only took up about 40 minutes, leaving me with just balloon twisting to entertain three kids with for the next hour and twenty minutes. So we began trying to see what I *could* make. That afternoon I figured out how to make Daffy Duck, the Pink Panther, and Disney’s Pluto. From there I continued exploring what could be done, and came up with designs for Tweety Bird, Homer Simpson, Superman, Spiderman, and any number of superheroes and cartoon characters.
I used to sit on a bench outside the Central Park Zoo on free afternoons, twisting balloons and making bank! From there I got picked up by the late, lamented Comedy Nation, as the late lamented Caroline’s Comedy Club joined in on the late, lamented theme restaurant craze. When it closed I went to the late, lamented Mars 2112.
My point is, those designs got seen by lots of people. I can’t prove it all comes back to my designs, of course. I never thought to trademark them or anything like that, but many other entertainers were directly taught or inspired by the stuff I came up with. So the next time you see The Little Mermaid made out of balloons, you just might have me to thank for it.
What else should we know about you?
Don’t let my Resting Mean Face fool you if you see me on the streets, I’m actually quite friendly.
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Chad’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
The Train Playground (Mathews-Palmer Playground) — 445 W45th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Showing my bias, as the Hell’s Kitchen Rangers play there. The “Train Playground” is my son Liam’s absolute favorite. He’s obsessed with trains, so the big play structure shaped like a train that used to be there, and the refurbished ones that are there now, have always drawn him to the place. It’s a valuable part of our social lives.
Rudy’s Bar & Grill — 627 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
Love it or hate it, Rudy’s is an institution now. It’s not only the crown jewel of NYC dive bars, I’d argue it’s the crown jewel of dive bars worldwide. No other watering hole gets such an eclectic mix of local regulars mixing with a stream of visitors from all over the world on a daily basis. These days, Rudy’s has gone from the last place we’d end up at after a night of carousing in the old days, to the last place I knew back then that’s still standing. While my bar hopping days are now behind me, I still walk our dog by Rudy’s most every night, and chatting with Joe and the other staff and regulars outside is always a highlight of the day. And you still can’t beat their prices!
Tulcingo Del Valle — 665 10th Avenue (bw W46/47th St)
Tulcingo Del Valle has such glorious, glorious food! It makes me so so happy and this is what I like about it! The only criticism I have is that I have a very hard time trying new dishes, as I keep ordering the same ones again and again and again. Chorizo burrito, baby! Can’t get enough!
Hell’s Kitchen Playground — 10th Avenue (bw W47/48th St)
Another haunt of the Hell’s Kitchen Rangers, this is a superb playground with great basketball/soccer/handball/whatever courts. The annual Halloween Party and Costume Parade is a can’t-miss event! Our family happens to be three-time costume award winning champs!
Art of Fades — 699 10th Avenue (bw W47/48th St)
Over the lockdown, I chose to let my hair grow out to the longest it’s ever been. When it was time to get it cut, I only wanted Nick from the Art of Fades to do it. Nick has cut our hair for years now, and the shop is adorned with amazing decor, such as a signed Mark Messier Rangers jersey!
Domus — 413 W44th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Have anyone in your life who is difficult to shop for? Do you simply have no idea what to get someone for a gift? Go to Domus. They have the item or items you didn’t know you needed. Need examples? Sure! My wife isn’t into traditional jewelry like gold or silver, but yet still likes to wear jewelry. Domus to the rescue with their vegetable ivory selections! As another example, a friend of mine is well-known actor Rizwan Manji. What do you get for him? Domus to the rescue again, here’s a Schitt’s Creek coloring book that has his character in it! What makes Domus really special is that they feel like they’re your own little secret while at the same time being *the* place for savvy Kitcheners to shop. Hard act to pull off, but they do so effortlessly!
DeWitt Clinton Park — W52 Street To W54 Street., 11 Avenue To 12 Avenue
During the early days of the lockdown, when we couldn’t go anywhere or see anyone, DeWitt Clinton Park was crucial to preserving our sanity. Liam was sad as he wanted to join Little League, but they were all shut down. One day, walking past DeWitt Clinton, I saw it was deserted. So I started taking Liam there to play baseball. Then it occurred to me that you *have* to socially distance from others in order to play baseball in the first place. That’s how the Hell’s Kitchen Rangers became the Hell’s Kitchen Yankees. Without those days of kids and parents playing baseball on a deserted field, the lockdown would have been much tougher than it was. DeWitt Clinton has since filled up with people again, and to see it now, bustling with activity, does the heart good. And this isn’t even mentioning the superior water features and playground.
Dalton’s — 611 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
Best place in town to see the game. Which game? Any game! Plenty of TVs, always tuned into sports, wide selection of draft, good food and the staff always remembers you. They’re also family-friendly, Liam has come with me there to watch a big game a few times now.
Scruffy Duffy’s — 639 10th Avenue (bw W45/46th St)
Back in the 90s, when it was on 8th Avenue, Scruffy Duffy’s was our regular place. Loved the wings, loved playing pool, and loved the ambiance. When it disappeared, it was a very sad time. So it’s amazing that it’s reopened. Sure, it’s a new location, but the wings and ambiance are the same. It’s old news now, of course, that Scruffy’s is back, but I still get a tingle of excitement every time I see it.
Zillions Pizza — 360 W42nd Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Time to talk about a rookie, now. Like most New Yorkers, we’re hard to impress with pizza, but Zillions got it right with us. Perfect crust, with just the right amount of crispiness, some nice savory sauce and soooo cheeeeeeesy! We ordered a pie for pickup and on the way over they called us back to let us know we were getting two pies as they had a “buy one, get one free” special going on for pickup orders. That extra mile from them was greatly appreciated!
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Just want to thank this amazing neighborhood for what it’s done for us. Via the Buy Nothing Facebook group, people from Hell’s Kitchen got us hockey sticks, nets, and equipment to play street hockey. There would be no Hell’s Kitchen Rangers without Hell’s Kitchen’s residents. Feel free to come join us to play or just to chat when the weather’s nice, every Saturday morning about 11am in Mathews-Palmer Playground, the Train Playground!
You can follow Chad on Instagram @chadrmacdonald. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.
Loved reading your article. So very proud of you and your accomplishments. Sending lots of love and good vibes.
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