Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina blogs

These are some of the blogs I’ve been checking frequently for coverage of the flooding in New Orleans and the hurricane’s aftermath. (The Times-Picayune newspaper’s site)

Metroblogging New Orleans (A local moblog part of a network similar to Gothamist’s)

Brendan Loy (Tracking this thing very closely)

The Daily Nightly (Brian Williams’ recently launched newscast commentary)

A feeling that I get from reading all the coverage is that what’s happening in New Orleans is like the biggest shipwreck in U.S. history, but one in which the ship isn’t really sinking anymore, but where everyone still has to get out – and for some, not soon enough. The people calling out to be rescued in the darkened, flooded city come to mind as does the woman who was taking care of the man dying of lung cancer and eventually had to float his body down the street in search of help after he ran out of oxygen.

Will New Orleans ever be the same after this? Will certain parts of it even be inhabitable? After 9/11, the rescue period was brief, the clean-up effort took months, but on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, you could think forward to what would happen at ground zero. Not so this time. The rescue and recovery missions go on through tonight and for how long we don’t know. The clean-up is going to take months, even years. And hardest of all to imagine: What will the new New Orleans be like?

The WTC attacks were a vertical disaster – causing a city in the sky to vanish – but this is a horizontal one and the underlying material wreaking havoc here (water) is much harder to move from one place to another the way New York did with the rubble of the towers.

Also, this event has hit so much harder at people’s homes and livelihoods. Most 9/11 families, while experiencing unspeakable, hideous losses, at least had homes to return to, but so many of those in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast won’t, so many will be dealing with the loss of loved ones or neighbors as well as their homes.

Serendipity at the dentist

I went to a new dentist for a cleaning this morning and some strange things happened: The hygienist said I had nice, clean, orthodontically straightened teeth. It wasn’t painful. I didn’t have any cavities. The visit was over before I knew it. Strange, right?

Let me explain: My immediate past dentist was one of those Park Avenue dentists (well, really Madison Avenue, but same difference), the kind where mostly rich people who don’t need to bother with silly things like employer-subsidized dental insurance go. They offer top-notch service, mostly, but also high prices. I wouldn’t have gone normally, but there was an arrangement whereby I fronted the money and was then reimbursed (sometimes months later).

Now these people tore me apart – literally and figuratively. They would tell me how bad my teeth and gums looked and they’d dig in with their knife-like metal scrapers to prove it. They would chastise me: I’d been a bad, bad patient for not flossing enough, and at the end of it all, they’d line me up for some additional drilling at a later date, and I got to pay an exorbitant fee for the privilege.

So, I’ve since made a concerted effort to floss more. Not every day, but almost. And then I walk into this new dentists’ office, and lie down in the chair, and what do you know? Either my extra attention had all paid off splendidly or they were pulling a fast one on me. I kept thinking the latter. Like I was in a Sonicare commercial or some twisted candid-camera version of it.

I wanted to say, “Take another look! There has to be some hidden plaque you missed. Don’t you want to tell me I still have the tell-tale signs of gingivitis?” But I didn’t. I just set up another six-month cleaning and walked out the door without having to pay a cent. Of course, I better not get cocky now and put off flossing again like I once did. Now I’m a grade-A-plus patient again with a record to uphold.

Oh, the pressure …

Credits and debits: NYC edition

Living here is not always cheap. But there are small victories when things come free or cheap or at least cheaper than I had feared. We probably all pay through the nose in one way or another eventually, but it’s these minor ups and downs that seem to weigh on me or lift me up as the case may be.

Our team won first place at Trivia tonight, so we got the $25 off our collective bar tab. Having consumed two bottles of Rheingold – not my favorite beer, but seemingly always on special Tuesdays at the Baggot Inn – I saved a few bucks – in part thanks to my knowledge that the St. Louis Cardinals are currently the best team in baseball (.632!) and that this man is Warren Buffett (and this is his out-of-this-world holding company’s lame-o website and he wants to save you a bunch of money on your car insurance).

Then I found a castoff copy of the New York Times arts section, and it being Tuesday, I looked forward to doing a relatively easy crossword puzzle on the subway ride home. But in the meantime, Daryl, Jess, Phil, Sharon and I had some ice cream at Mary’s Dairy, or “Mary’s Diary,” according to the Zagat’s plaque. Some dollars were spent; some i-scream-goodness was had. We headed to the subway and I started hopping my way uptown along the A-C-E, after having missed one A train by seconds.

I took an E, then a C, then an A. At least I thought it was an A. But I was so engrossed in my crossword puzzle and bothered that it wasn’t letting itself be solved so easily that it didn’t register to me when I first looked up and saw the train stopping at 155th St. (There is such a station on both the A-C and the B-D lines.) Only when we reached 170th St. did I snap out of it, and realize: Doh, I’m lost in the Bronx.

This was the first time I ever got on the wrong train, the train that wasn’t going to take me home in the more-than-a-few months I’ve lived here. And it was late, and it was a part of the Bronx I didn’t know very well. I played with the idea of getting back on a D train going back to Manhattan, but as the wait dragged on, I just booked it out of the station, found an ATM, and eventually hailed a shady cab to take me home. Soon, I was out an unnecessary $15, but home safe and sound.

Finally tonight, I opened up my ConEd bill and – phew! – discovered that my August bill had not exceeded my July one, but was in fact $32 cheaper. Yes, $70 for a month of gas and electric is still a lot for a studio, but not with all the talk of record energy prices.

So the evening is done, and somehow, without actually doing the math, I feel like I ended up on top.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"The opportunities to make money overrode all objections."

The Times has a great piece that pulls back from the devastation of Katrina and takes the long view -- basically, that New Orleans was a city built against the will of nature in favor of the port industry that could thrive there near the mouth of the Mississippi.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Shaky info?

Once again a Wikipedia page is receiving updates live as Hurricane Katrina spins its way north, but this time, there's a big disclaimer on it: "Do not decide whether to leave your house, shelter, or vehicle based on Wikipedia information." The site instead tells people to listen to TV and radio bulletins.

"Willard inadvertently proves our point about the quality of public education by incorrectly using 'affect' for 'effect.'"

Here’s a side of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts that I can get behind: Apparently, he’s a notably exacting practitioner of the English language, whether in his own writing or that of his colleagues, according to this Times article.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

For some reason, I always find myself snapping photos of the Eldorado. It's so prominent and recognizable from inside the park. I like it. I wonder if it's as nice inside.

Unfortunate song titles

So I Googled "Katrina" a little while ago and here was my first hit: A site for the '80s band Katrina and the Waves. Remember what they sang? "Walking on Sunshine." Uh, yeah ... Talk about the absolute worst possible song right now.

But seriously, here's hoping that everyone stays high, dry and safe as this big hurricane by that name blows through. Among the many evacuees caught up in the mess were Cait and her family.

A guided, meditative walk through Central Park

Yesterday turned out to be a wonderful day to experience Janet Cardiff’s Her Long Black Hair in Central Park. I walked up to a kiosk on Central Park South and received a CD player, headphones and some photographs from the Public Art Fund interns at the booth. The art is free, but I had to leave a credit card as security. I went over to the starting point and pressed play. Immediately, I was immersed in a soundscape very similar to the one I’d just been listening to, waiting my turn at a headset, but richer and fuller. Several times I had to stop and look around to realize that there wasn’t a marching band parading through and an ambulance blaring by – it was just on the recording. Interspersed with the sounds is the artist’s voice. She talks to you, talks to herself, talks about the people she sees around her, whether imagined or real. She leads you on a walk through the park.

She tells you, Listen to my footsteps and try to match them. I never thought such an instruction would be so hard, but it’s such a rare thing for most of us to listen to someone else’s footsteps and fall into cadence with them. Several times throughout the audio walk I had to remind myself to stay with the artist’s pace, to not hurry or fall behind, because if you do keep with her, you’re rewarded by so many serendipitous moments. The park is always changing in some ways, but in others, it is amazingly predictable. As you walk past the bandshell, the artist tells you to watch for the skaters. And of course, she’s right: On a nice, clear day like Saturday, the skaters – who love that flat, wide-open surface, I imagine – were out in force. And later, she mentions an Asian couple and their entourage posing for wedding pictures, as they so often do around picturesque spots in the city, and there before me was a couple in real-time doing exactly what the artist said.

So part of Cardiff’s piece is about the layers of time and activity that fill a space. On any given walk, some of the things she speaks about will be part of your own experience, and some of them, you will have to imagine, like – for me, on a clear day – the scattering of rain showers she speaks about at certain points.

Something else she speaks about is the admonition against looking back and – especially in the viewer’s case – of pausing the audio track. Try as I might, I couldn’t press pause on the CD player, for fear that I’d break the mood somehow. The artist references Orpheus and Eurydice, the myth where turning back for even a moment has grave consequences. And twice during the walk, I wanted to stop and just experience the park, because it was a beautiful day and there was so much to see and smell and feel, but there was the artist’s voice, calm and hushed but insistent, telling me to move on, to keep walking. And those moments were a little sad because they illustrated in a physical way the march of time, the need to enjoy things as they come and realize too that they’re passing away: an old adage, so often spoken of, but here, a new way of knowing it.

The tour is available through Sept. 11.

The green plant life floating all over the surface of the Pond in Central Park is duckweed, not algae. Also known as "pond scum."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

One of the cool things about seeing workers tear up the streets -- especially downtown -- is peering into all the layers of history hidden just below the surface. Look at all that aged brick and worn-away metal and twisted old-fashioned pipes! And I'm going to assume those sand bags are recent additions, and not the vintage variety ... I snapped this at Cortlandt Street, just up from ground zero.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Someday soon, all this will be gone -- in theory, at least. Or should I say "deconstructed." According to the MTA website, this lovely little block of commerce at Broadway and Fulton will be replaced by the above-ground portion of the new Fulton Street Transit Center. "Deconstruction" is set to be contracted out this winter, and completed by winter 2007.

Will Sleepy's still have its "Grand Opening" sign up by the time it all gets torn down? Will it actually be torn down? With the back and forth that so many downtown city-related projects are experiencing these days, who knows if and when this will all be demolished.

Dates on the horizon

Sept. 11-12: Seu Jorge to perform at Bowery Ballroom
Sept. 13: Dar Williams' newest album, My Better Self, goes on sale
Sept. 29: Dar Williams to perform at Town Hall
Sept. 30: Capote to start in limited release
Oct. 3: Previews of the revival of Sweeney Todd to begin at the O'Neill
Oct. 4-8: Stacey Kent to perform at Birdland
Oct. 7: The new Wallace & Gromit movie to come out
Oct. 27: Suzanne Vega to perform at Carnegie Hall
Nov. 11: The movie version of Bee Season to be released

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Aristocats, I mean -crats

I wasn’t going to go see The Aristocrats the first time I heard about it, but I’ve read so many reviews and it was playing at the Regal Union Square where I could use a discount coupon I had and I was in the mood to laugh and see what all the fuss was about.

It is a funny movie, a funny documentary, but maybe not as funny as it should’ve been. There was a lot of dead moments, a lot of repetition. Yes, it’s basically about the same joke and all the variations that comedians today whom Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza could get in front of a camera actually told when put on the spot. But I think there was too much repetition of the set-up and the history and not enough of the analysis and the telling.

That said, it did have me laughing quite a bit. And I wasn’t really that offended after a while. There’s been wall-to-wall coverage of the thing, in every media outlet that will deign to talk about obscene language, so I knew what sort of categories of obscenity I was in for. But of course it’s not the punchline, it’s the build-up. It’s the journey, not the destination. Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show comes to mind: “I see you shiver with antici ... pation.”

The obscene words and descriptions start to lose their meaning very quickly, and the humor then lies in the execution of it all. One of my favorite techniques was when two comedians told the joke as if they were other celebrities: Kevin Pollak as Christopher Walken, which had most of the audience going crazy, and Mario Cantone as Liza Minnelli, which didn’t get as many laughs as it should have, but had me in stitches, perhaps because he doesn’t tell you who he’s aping, and you just have to figure it out from the accent and the singing and all the references to “Mother … Mother …”

Bob Saget is deliciously “blue,” running off midway into his marathon telling of the joke to actually perform before a live audience, and at one point, even suggests the filmmakers send a tape of it to “the kids” from “Full House.”

A guy who tells it with a deck of cards and a mime who does it wordlessly are other great examples that got a good reaction. Much is made of Gilbert Gottfried’s telling at a roast shortly after 9/11, but I laughed more at the version he did in an anonymous back room for Penn and Paul.

And Sarah Silverman does a subdued riff on the Aristocrats theme full of dramatic irony, where she gradually uncovers the punchline like it’s a dirty secret she’s afraid to admit out loud. As George Carlin points out, sometimes it’s less about shock than it is about surprise.

For all its crudity, the documentary has a lot to say about the art of comedy and what buttons different kinds of humor push and how stand-up and TV humor have developed. And it’s rare to see so many great funny people together in one space at one time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I have a problem. I can't seem to get rid of old magazines, especially issues of the New Yorker. Tonight, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and do some winnowing. But before they hit the trash heap, I thought I'd take a family portrait.

One-third hooked by the CD sampler in the mail

Besides those ubiquitous credit-card applications, the majority of my junk mail consists of charity solicitations, political fliers, and theater ads. Oh, yeah, and the occasional AOL disc that I promptly toss out. (When will they give up?) But today I got a CD of a different sort: a three-song sampler from In My Life, a new Broadway musical written by Joe Brooks, the guy who – I’ve learned – wrote that late-70s wedding classic “You Light Up My Life,” popularized by Debbie Boone and sung at an impossibly slow pace – perhaps to let all those newly married couples out there get their footing right on the dance floor. Not the most auspicious of beginnings, but still a name known in the business.

So regardless, I popped in the CD and gave a listen, since they took the effort to send along some free music. The first song (the title track) was just eh – not too bad, but pretty clich√© and not all that memorable. I didn’t make it through the second song, “I Am My Mother’s Son,” without skipping to the next track. Horrible! Made especially more so by the really bad twang on the guy’s voice. But the third track appealed to me. It’s called “Life Turns on a Dime.” The lyrics are just slightly better than “In My Life,” and the tempo of the song still seems unnecessarily slow, but it has a poppy Broadway feel and a nice orchestration and I think people might like it.

I’m not going to run out and buy tickets to this show, which begins in previews at the end of next month, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it – for the right price – if only for the potential of that one good song.

One other thing: The musical’s title immediately got me in the mindset of the Beatles’ song, “In My Life” – which is a classic and one of my favorites by them – especially with the new Lennon show on Broadway. Was that what they were going for, I wonder, or was it unintentional? And if it was unintentional couldn’t they have come up with something more unique?

Cellphone annoyances

I guess this new security system they’re planning for the subways will in theory improve the safety down there, but it’ll also allow people to use their cellphones on the platforms and inside the stations. Which strikes me as annoying. There are only a few public places where you won’t hear people yammering on to some distant friend or relative: the airplane, the subway, the store where they expressly ban it. But now we might lose one of those too. I can see how it might be helpful in an emergency, but 99% of calls will be just like the ones that happen above ground and not really life-or-death. I love the convenience of cellphones, but isn’t it nice to sometimes be unreachable, to be in transit?

Speaking of cellphones on the plane, during my flight down to Florida on Friday night, this guy who was sitting next to me – much older and should have known better – couldn’t get it through his head that when they tell you to turn off and not use your cellphones on the plane, they mean it. Throughout much of the flight, he would whip out his phone and start composing elaborate text messages to someone. I caught a few glimpses and they were not your average practical logistics messages. They were little love notes or more like relationship discussions in brief little snippets. Couldn’t it wait until he actually sees this person? (Maybe he was even flying down to see her or him, as he later mentioned to me that he’d been doing the Newark to Jacksonville flight several weekends now.)

The stewardess would walk by and he’d quickly hide the cellphone underneath his tray table. He did this like five times, like a little kid hiding from his mom. Twice the stewardess saw him texting and told him to stop. On the third time, he finally relented and put it away for good, turning his attention instead to his third mini-bottle of wine. This was the same guy who, when the stewardess asked over the PA if anyone had change for a $100, raised his hand and lifted out a pile of 20s.

Sometimes they ask if there’s a doctor on the plane and sometimes they ask if there are any high rollers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tuesday night, waiting for the subway.

Free Ned, free Brodeur, free the free reading

The event at KGB Bar tonight was a reading hosted by YA author and general man-about-town Ned Vizzini. Jess expounded upon her nascent theory of nicemodernism, and a few other writers read, including one Nick Antosca and Ned himself. But winner of the One of These Things Is Not Like The Other Award of the evening was rebellious but honest-to-goodness New York City mayoral candidate Christopher X. Brodeur.

He didn’t so much read as spout and spew. He seemed to be going for the anything-for-a-laugh approach of highlighting his disgust with the current political system, lambasting Giuliani, the cops, Rikers Island, and “Lord Bloomberg,” then mixing it up with some silly “political” song titles and song lyrics – without the music. I wish I could remember half of what he said, but he was more about the delivery than the content.

Eventually, though, he devolved into a dubious comparison of how Rosa Parks was the ONLY black person who didn’t sit in the back of the bus and how NO Jews spoke out when they were being lined up to die in Nazi Germany… And before he could even get to his point (something about fighting for your rights), which turned out to be pretty paltry in comparison to things like the civil rights movement and the Holocaust, audience members started challenging him, yelling out to him that Rosa Parks was hardly alone in standing up to segregation and that no, there were many Jews who resisted during WWII and that whatever he was about to say couldn’t possibly be as important as those two historical moments.

And they were basically right, because he finally launched into how the MTA is maintaining a dangerous subway system because of all the dead ends and locked doors in the underground stations, and … and … aren’t all those stations going to be a death trap in the event of a dirty bomb attack, and … and … But someone suggested that the bomb would likely kill before anyone could find any exit, blocked or otherwise, and CXB and some buddy of his in the audience begged to differ.

Ned finally realized it was time to say goodbye to His Honor, Mayor Brodeur, to save him from himself and the audience’s wrath, and later, summed it up by saying something to the effect of: “Did you feel that tension in the room a moment ago? There are people who pay good money to feel the way you just did.”

A closely placed source – at least two degrees of separation from the horse’s mouth – had told me that Brodeur was planning on moving to L.A., which would probably put a crimp on his plans to be a mayor on this coast. I didn’t stick around to ask him if it was true.

Another NYC-is-too-small moment

Headed to KGB Bar tonight, I recognized a gray-haired woman standing outside the New York Theater Workshop, holding up a sign that said, "I need a ticket." Where had I seen her before? I realized immediately: She was the annoying woman on my recent tour of the Cloisters, fanning herself with a Margarita Lopez promotional item. And what show was she trying to get into tonight? The Five Lesbian Brothers' Oedipus at Palm Springs. Coincidence?

"A foreshortening of cosmological, geological and biological time"

The Times' Verlyn Klinkenborg -- is that a great name or what? -- encapsulates the visceral magnitude of evolution in a great, heartfelt opinion piece. A key quotation: "Accepting the fact of evolution does not necessarily mean discarding a personal faith in God. But accepting intelligent design means discarding science."

Now, for the good news

Tired of reading only gloom and doom on your favorite internet news sites? Looking for an alternative filled with stories that – with any luck – will brighten your day and reawaken your faith in humankind? Perhaps is the antidote. I first heard about this site from the last episode of “On the Media.” It is just what it sounds like: A collection of the more upbeat, positive and smile-producing stories of the day. Launched last month, it’s a mixture of wire copy – including a lot from UPI, the waning step-cousin of AP and Reuters – as well as dispatches from “citizen journalists.” But “happy” doesn’t necessarily mean nothing related to war, as one story about an Al-Qaida terrorist being killed proves. As founder Byron Reese – the CEO of PageWise, a little-known online content provider – explained to Bob Garfield, even though this is about someone’s death, it’s a death that he and his staff thought most readers of the site would be happy about. Other recent headlines include: “Apology for Czechoslovakian invasion,” “NYC remembers compassion,” and “Greenspan portraits going like hotcakes.” The bread-and-butter of this site appears to be those near-miss stories: One child survives a fall, another escapes a lightning strike … There’s even a category called “Heroes.” Oh, and if you’re tired of all this sugary sweetness, you can always return to your regular diet of “Unhappy News” by clicking on the links to CNN or BBC on the left-hand side.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Regularly scheduled D103 signing off

Master-blogger and good friend Daryl, an inspiration for many neophytes in the ‘sphere, shocked his readership today by revealing that he’ll be throwing in the towel. No more daily posts from We’ll miss his daily presence, but it’ll be an excuse to hang out and hear his stories in person more often. (What a concept!) Check out the outpouring of love and bewilderment that were offered via comments.

Sense of place

Transition days make me sit up and notice. Not necessarily big transitions, like life transitions, but physical ones – days when I wake up in one landscape and fall asleep in another one. Travel days: Yesterday was one of them.

I woke up in a big sparkling two-bedroom condo with a roofed-in balcony and a dining room and a washer-dryer combo on the hot, hot sun-soaked First Coast. Surrounded by clean and new gated complexes of condos with palm trees and pools. Connected by wide roads, empty enough most of the time to jaywalk easily if you’re daring enough to go anywhere without a car. Dotted with pristine office parks and shiny new upscale outdoor shopping malls. That was basically my first impression of Southside Jacksonville.

And then I went to bed late Sunday night in New York. And not even any thoroughly gentrified part but (dare I say it?) gritty Washington Heights, which can be dirty, have uneven pavement and occasionally offer unpleasant smells. Don’t get me wrong: I love New York and on the whole would prefer to be here most of the time. But the difference in scenery and feeling was palpable.

Something that I felt about the area, though, was a kind of emptiness. Please don’t take this the wrong way. There are things about that area and that lifestyle that are very attractive to me. And it may just be a snooty snap judgment that I would come to regret over time, if I spent more of it down there. But I kept looking around and feeling like: What was it like here before? What was here before all the new things arrived? Was it all just forest and marsh? (Are there even marshes in that part of the state?) Basically, I didn’t know – that’s why I keep coming back to my disclaimer.

Overall, I had fun, ate some delicious meals, tried some wonderful wines, got a tan and some sunburn, and really enjoyed visiting with my friends, and I think that feeling of emptiness is more wrapped up with my own issues surrounding suburbia and sprawl and development and the places people call home. I grew up in the suburbs, officially, but we were a five-minute drive from the city limits and a big-city neighborhood that I really thought of as part of my hometown, even though geographically, it wasn’t. And even so, the suburbs I grew up in were denser than the new exurbs and edge cities and latter-day developments that are becoming the neighborhoods of much of America. And these places obviously mean something to people and provide them with an enviable quality of life. But it just doesn’t always appeal to me – at least not right now. It’s strange, but as much as I’d like to have a big apartment and a nice car and more ease of traveling, I prefer the dirt and scruffiness and – more importantly – the history and architecture and culture of this city if I had to choose between them. Perhaps these feelings will change if I were to get married and have kids. Or maybe I have just learned to love the town I’m in – warts and all – and I’ve happened to end up here, so I enjoy it for what it is.

The iTunes for short stories

Just as iTunes has reawakened the practice of buying individual 3- to 5-minute songs, a new offering from -- Amazon Shorts -- might help to spark interest in short fiction. I'm a huge fan of short stories, but as the WSJ Marketplace article mentioned, they've never really caught on as much as novels -- or magazines and newspapers -- in the U.S. But I kind of hope that short-fiction ventures like this make a go of it. I haven't tried it out yet, but the deal is: You pay 49 cents for the text of a short story in whatever form you please and it's yours to keep. No digital copy protection, from what I can tell. So you can read the story and send it to your friends if you'd like, I guess.

Want the money? Sign your name

For the second time in recent memory, I caused unnecessary paperwork and delay because of my forgetfulness. First, it was my taxes. Now, it was an FSA reimbursement form. Both times I get this big envelope and open to find a letter saying they had a problem processing my forms. What ever could be the problem, I wonder. Doh! I forgot to sign and date my name on the line at the bottom. Simple as that. Autograph the sucker and send it back ...

The Friendship Fountain and the Main Street Bridge, complete with new LEDs illuminating the towers, in downtown Jacksonville.

Night map

Flying home tonight up the clear, moonlit East Coast, I looked out my window and tried to imagine what I was looking at – literally, figuratively – constellations or axons in the brain or microchips in a vast digital geography. Without a detailed map nearby, I was lost for most of the way in terms of actual geography, in terms of particular states or cities or towns or highways. In the distance, mid-flight, I saw silent lighting flashes every few seconds. But the storms – or was it just heat lightning? – were so far away and the foreground was clear and variably pinpricked in orange and white. The landscape alternated between distinctly lit grids with development radiating out and long, thin roads connecting smaller communities in neural-like webs. As we flew, the moon was rising and picking out waterways, shining a spotlight down across rivers and bays.

Finally I saw an especially large grid system and wracked my brain for what it could be, estimating how far we’d flown from Florida and how much more we had to go. It was Philadelphia, and it took me another moment to figure out which river was which. But soon I could see the two towers of Liberty Place, the cluster of Center City, the spine of Broad Street, the two highly lit pockets of Temple University, and then later, the octopus of Franklin Mills. Having oriented myself, I kept hoping to see the Manhattan skyline come into focus in the distance, but we started circling for a different angle of approach and I lost our bearings until we were nearly landing in Newark and I could see the towers of Midtown through the windows on the opposite side of the plane.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Word, words and more words

I’ve started using Blogger for Word to write posts when I’m home, and it works like a charm so far. I found that when composing longer posts on the web-based drafting box for Blogger, the browser would sometimes start getting slower and not displaying characters as quickly as I was typing them. B4W is an improvement, because I’m typing offline. But it’s still sometimes necessary to tweak the HTML on the post after it’s gone up, because bolding and italicization don’t always go through.

Speaking of typing quickly, I was wondering the other day: How fast do we type these days? Well, there are programs on the web that can test your words per minute and adjusted WPM (factoring in accuracy) scores. When you get bored with solitaire, check out Typing Master. Some people on the site were apparently pulling net WPM scores of 135 this week, which is a heck of a lot faster than my 80. Still, it’s kind of fun and you can choose what kind of text you’d like to type: from storybook to business-y.

There of course was once a time when typing was a skill you learned if you were going into a particular line of work, like secretary or reporter; now, most of us must type, no matter the job. And optimal typing has changed since the advent of the computer and word-processor keyboards, too, because we no longer have to bang our fingers into those keys as hard as people did decades ago. Unfortunately, this has also led to a growth in RSI and CTS. I always have to remind myself: Take breaks, shake out those fingers, etc.

This evening, I’m flying down to Florida for the weekend to visit Margaret and Rene√©. There may be another post or two before Monday, but probably not. Now, off to pack.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Puff, pao, frisk, strum, thump, rap

Three of us were waiting in the restroom line at the new “specialty bakery” Puff & Pao on Christopher Street, when we realized the occupant in front of us – who turned out to be an employee of the place – was talking to a friend on her cell phone: so loud that we could clearly hear a lot of what she was saying and telling this other person all about how she was wasted (last night? this weekend?) and ended up getting frisked by a plain-clothes police officer who was asking her to lift up her shirt. I didn’t get all the details: She was either drunk or high or looking to get high and the popo was looking for drugs or looking for something else and either the cop wasn’t really a cop or she thought he wasn’t for a moment. But then she remarks to her friend: “Don’t they have murders or rapes to be stopping instead of frisking a white girl?”

Meanwhile outside, we’re cracking up at her. Eventually, we heard the water running and knew she was finally wrapping up. If she knew we’d been listening in the whole time, she didn’t let on as much, as she slipped out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. Later, the other guy who’d been waiting for the bathroom sees the employee and says to her as he’s leaving, “Those random searches are pretty bad, aren’t they?” I didn’t get to see her reaction.

Then, on the A train home, no less than three amateur (begging-for-money) musical acts chose my car to entertain. First, a sad-looking guy with a tale of laid-off, daughter-to-feed woe sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” and accompanied himself with guitar and harmonica. Just after the Dylan fan finished up and left, two men and a kid got on with their big conga drums, sat down on stools, and started beating out a rhythm in synch. Finally, a few stops later, a rapper wannabe and his buddy stepped on. By this time, I’d had enough, so I slipped on my iPod for the rest of the ride. What was funny: The second act seemed to be the one that got the most people to reach into their pockets. Were they the best? Or better than the first act? Or had people who’d missed the first guy felt generosity swell up inside them by the time the drummers arrived? Was it because there was a young kid involved? Three people as opposed to one or two?

Review: Aimee Bender's Willful Creatures

Aimee Bender writes modern-day fairy tales for an adult audience. That may not be what she sets out to do, but that’s how her best short stories read to me. Her latest volume, Willful Creatures, came out Tuesday. (I got an advance copy and read it while I was down the beach.) And it is just as good as her debut, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, if perhaps a bit darker. I love how she tells stripped down tales with only the barest of premises. You usually get the premise right from the first sentence, and these often include worlds like our own except for one magical or surreal element: a boy is born with keys for nine of his ten fingers (“The Leading Man”), a couple of pumpkin-head people decide to get married and have babies (“Ironhead”), a man buys from the pet store a little man to keep in a cage (“End of the Line”), a mysterious roadside store sells fruit and words -- not in the poetry or prose sense, but real, live physical words as if from a twisted Sesame Street (“Fruit and Words”). Even when there aren’t any outwardly surreal motifs, there is an off-kilter quality to her narratives. At times, her stories are a little creepy or obscene in a uniquely deadpan way (“Motherf***er”). But Bender can usually turn that initial feeling of revulsion into one of thoughtfulness or tenderness by the end.

The stories exist in a world in which both reader and characters don’t fully comprehend what’s going on, but must – as readers almost always do – take what knowledge and information is granted to them – on the page or in life – and make with it what they will. Even when God himself – or at least the inexplicably cruel God of the Book of Job – enters the scene to restrict the creative impulses of a hopeful man, one by one, there is no further explanation (“Job’s Jobs”). And so it is that I read the stories as a child might read tales of the brothers Grimm. Except that now we're grown up and realize that life doesn’t always make sense but that it can nonetheless offer much beauty and fascination in its ups and downs. In one of my favorites of the bunch, the boy with key-fingers grows up himself and gradually discovers the disparate locks that his hands fit into. And when he finds and unlocks the ninth lock, a feeling of sadness – romantic melancholy, perhaps – overcomes him, because all the mysteries of his fingertips are suddenly solved, and a part of his life dies away. (This story reminded me of JSF's Extremely Loud, as if it were written better, much briefer, and less pretentious.)

After reading this book, I’d like to set it aside and go back to her first volume and read those stories over again. And then later on, return to this new one and read them a second time as well. The stories are brief by most standards, but they cried out to be read with spaces between them, not all at once. I’d read one, finish it, and then close the book, and wait for a while before opening it again to read the next one. And I didn’t have to use a bookmark because I just remembered which story was the last one and which was my next.

Where are they now?

While I was home recently, I came across some old T-shirts from camps I attended, some of which had the names of campers printed on them. I jotted the names down and out of curiosity Googled some of them when I got a chance. Of course, some of them have pretty common names, so it’s hard to tell, but out of those for whom I have a reasonable certainty, here’s what I found:

One is or was living in New York with a college roommate, running races, doing publicity for a well-known British-based book publisher, and attending events at a private club-slash-library on Gramercy Park called The Accompanied Library.

One is or was teaching introductory English classes at Ohio State University, still using a nickname from camp days.

One is widely published and writing for a national magazine. She won a Marshall Scholarship recently and is or will be studying English at Oxford.

One is writing and hosting well-publicized open mikes of poetry and spoken word all around the country.

One is or was teaching dance at an arts school in Philadelphia – although this could be somebody else with the same name.

One graduated from college having won a writing prize worth more than $60,000.

One performed in an off-Broadway show two years ago.

One is or was living on the Upper West Side, getting a degree in ethnomusicology, writing reviews of a capella recordings, and directing a high school choir in New Jersey.

Secrets -- or "secrets" -- on view

Have you discovered PostSecret? The Times mentioned it a few months ago, and it's one of the most popular blogs out there, even though it's not really a blog in the truest sense. It is however posted via Blogger, so it gets ranked on Technorati's Top 100 Blogs list (currently at #7). Basically, people send personalized and creatively decorated postcards with secrets -- or "secrets" -- on them to an address in Germantown, Maryland, and the webmaster posts photos of them on the site. There is no way to really verify if most of these statements are true, but you get the sense that a lot of them are, from the care and time that people put into them. Either that or you have a lot of creative people with extra time on their hands and overactive imaginations. They run the gamut from horrifying and troublesome to cute and revealing. In their brevity and directness, some are especially devestating. Some of them are best NOT read where others can see over your shoulder (i.e., some would be rated PG-13 or R). Because PostSecret has attracted people who are sometimes in dire straits, the site promotes a suicide-prevention hotline, which was sort of creepy to me at first, but later I felt that it was a good thing to include here. The site is updated every Sunday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The little penguins that could

I'm one of the few penguin-loving people NOT to have seen the penguin movie yet. But here are some fun facts: With about $40 million collected, March of the Penguins is already the second highest grossing documentary in U.S. history -- according to Box Office Mojo -- smack in the middle of Michael Moore's two biggest: Fahrenheit and Bowling. It's also probably the most widely distributed documentary ever in terms of cinema screens. I should get around to seeing it soon.

One of the dumbest and falsest statements in recent memory

"Philadelphians occasionally refer to their city -- somewhat deprecatingly -- as the "sixth borough" of New York ..." -Jessica Pressler, NYT, 8/14/05

Both of the cities in that statement are near and dear to my heart, for different reasons, but I have never before heard them linked in that way. It's such a presumptuous and out-of-touch thing to assert. They are two separate legit cities, each with their own histories and characteristics. I know New Yorkers are often accused of conceiving of the world in very NYC-centric ways, but this is just too much. This is so bad that the Times should print a correction. Something like:

"An article in the Sunday Styles section about ex-New Yorkers moving to and commuting from Philadelphia contained an erroneous statement. Few if any known Philadelphians -- deprecatingly or otherwise -- have referred to their city as the 'sixth borough' of New York. It was a statement likely conceived almost entirely by the author of the article. The Times regrets allowing this nut graph to get into the paper."

For more slamming of the piece, check out the Inquirer's blog, Blinq.

Blue Target, Red Wal-Mart

I had mixed feelings when discovering that this week's issue of the New Yorker is sponsored entirely by one advertiser: Target. (Yes, that's right, all the ads are NYC-themed cartoons sans captions, featuring the bull's-eye logo.) On the one hand, I like Target. I like shopping there from time to time. And there's a store about 15 minutes away from me via the red-and-white-themed 1 train. But on the other hand, I hate being bombarded by a mass of commercial messages. Yes, advertising is everywhere. But I feel sort of annoyed whenever there is too much of a single brand touting itself. (Like all those Chase credit-card ads on CNBC for a while.) So the net initial reaction I have to this Target campaign is negative. I guess, however, that the store's ad people are hoping that in the long run, this will just cement their image. And who am I kidding, I will probably still shop there.
On a related note, isn't it funny how Wal-Mart and Target -- both big-box discount retailers -- create such different images for themselves? And yet their color schemes seem to belie their bases. Wal-Mart, based in the red state of Arkansas, seems to be more popular among red staters, and yet it has a blue logo; while Target, based in the late Sen.  Paul Wellstone's Minnesota, screams blue state with its urban, cosmopolitan aspirations, and yet the bull's-eye is red. And while they have a lot in common at the most basic level, there are lots of people -- including me, I'll admit -- who feel justified in shopping at one and mostly avoiding the other, because the labor practices and other business practices of the one seem so much more egregious. (I realize these are broad generalizations, but isn't it interesting?)

Back on the horse

This morning I began my umpteenth attempt at getting a regular exercise routine going. While lots of people my age have already found a way to work exercise into their lives, I continue to be lazy about it and hope that just not having a car and walking everywhere around the city will cut it. Some have recommended that I join a club, because I'd be more likely to go if I felt guilty about wasting the money if I didn't. But I counter: No, I'd just be annoyed at the extra expense. I have, after all, a beautiful park nearby and a medium-sized exercise machine taking up a valuable corner of my three-room apartment. So we'll see if this new routine -- waking up sooner and actually doing useful things while the rest of the world is already headed off to work -- works.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

His sandcastle

At the beach, certain dads I noticed this weekend were singularly focused on digging their children the biggest possible holes in the sand with sturdy industrial-strength shovels: The tide comes in, the water fills up the holes, and the kids can swim around in them, as the fathers stand back and appreciate their handiwork. Except that sometimes -- as with youth sports -- it's more about the dads than the kids.

One such father was about waist-deep this morning, shoveling away in a sand fort, when his daughter goes running over to her mother crying, "Mommy! Daddy got sand in my eye." To which the father yells back, sounding more kid than authority figure, "I said I was sorry," as the mom reaches for her towel and water bottle and starts doing the parental thing of cleaning out the little girl's eye. Later, the father says to the daughter something like, "Are you ready to come back and not whine?"

It is still slightly strange to approach the city by bus and realize that I am coming home.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A river in the sea

SEA ISLE CITY -- It was our third day out in the surf, and the waves were noticeably bigger.

It was deceiving at first because the water was pooling in the shallows for a few dozen yards out from the lifeguard stand. But then my dad and I got out farther and started enjoying riding the swells. But then we started feeling the tug. Even when I dove under the ones that had already crashed, I felt myself lifted and tossed around more than usual by the back of the wave.

Riding waves can be exciting, but the moment you start feeling out of control is when it gets scary. It started feeling like we were being tugged out into the ocean. We tried to let the waves push us to shore, but they'd send us a bit forward and then drag us back twice as far.

Eventually, we realized we need to swim hard. And I realized how out of shape I was. I swam and swam, and felt like I was staying in the same place. A lifeguard came out to tell us what we could already feel: It was time to come in. Eventually, I swam hard enough to get to where I could wade in, the water around my waist.

Later, the lifeguard told my dad how he could see from his perch the rip current running like a river out to sea. Only later did I think of those signs that are posted at most beach entrances here -- the ones that tell you how to get out of the current. You're supposed to swim parallel to the shore, either left or right, and then curve in toward the sand and the shallows. We probably could've avoided a few seconds of panic, if I'd just stopped to realize what was happening. But when you're in it all, you just forget.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The latest in dumb combinations: Riding a bicycle while talking on a cell phone, going against traffic on a narrow street.

After being around water all summer in the city, it's great to get out and actually have fun in some of it about 100 miles south.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I'm leaving Friday night for a four-day weekend down the shore -- in another "island city": Sea Isle City, N.J. -- so the posts might not be very frequent or just might not be at all until late Tuesday. We'll see. In the meantime, enjoy one of the last weekends of the summer!

I say New School, you say The New School

One of the city's institutions of higher education is rebranding itself. Just look at the redesigned website. What's its new name? Well, it's very much like the old one: The New School (a university). Previous iterations include New School University and the New School of Social Research.

According to this Times article, the powers that be were bothered by the fact that people persisted in calling it "the New School." I say it's much ado about nothing. The two main words of the title have always been there; why worry that people will shorten it, no matter what other words you add? It all seems a bit silly, but branding is very serious business these days, and college is very much a business. Even stranger is the university's renaming of its colleges (a.k.a. academic divisions) to match the new/old brand. Like: "Parsons The New School for Design." (Shouldn't there be a comma or something in there? Talk about weird grammar.) Or: "Mannes College The New School of Music."

The rest of the Times article elaborates on schools that have made more substantive changes to their names like Trenton State College becoming The College of New Jersey (gotta capitalize that letter T so you get TCNJ right) and Beaver College becoming Arcadia University.

Growing up near Beaver, outside Philly, I never laughed at the name until about the time they were going to change the identity. To me, it was the place I took that computer class once (back in the stone age of computers) and where we used to go to see the festival of Christmas trees, but never the punchline of a mildly dirty joke.

It's sort of like how it feels strange to break down the name of this city into its component parts -- New + York -- because the original or old or other communities of York seem so removed from here, such as York in south-central Pennsylvania, or Yorkshire's York in England. I just don't think of the name that way on a regular basis.

The Straphangers report card

The Straphangers Campaign has released their latest report card on the city's subways. It uses a funny little ranking system where the price of a ride represents a scale. So if a subway line were 100% sensational, for instance, it would be ranked $2. But no line is perfect on a 101-year-old system, so the closest we get is the 6 train, which gets a $1.35.

What about the two lines of Washington Heights? The 1 and former 9 trains get a better score than the A train: $1.25 versus 85 cents. According to the survey, the IRT West Side Line (a.k.a. the Seventh Avenue), which was actually one of the system's first routes, arrives very frequently, breaks down less than average, and has clean cars (I dispute that, but OK ...). About the only drawback is the on-car announcements aren't always audible. For the A train -- the IND Eighth Avenue -- the best the survey has to say is you're more likely to get a seat. In terms of frequency, mechanical failures and announcements, it doesn't score so well. This may be the rankings overall, but when faced with the choice from where I live, I have to consider which tunnel I want to walk through to get to the subway.

Both stations nearest to me (for the 1 and the A) are inside cliffs at street level with Broadway. They are two of the (if not the) deepest in the system, because they have other neighborhoods above them. But the pedestrian tunnel to the 1 train is much longer and more annoying because bicyclists insist on riding through it at high speed (despite a big sign at the entrance saying otherwise). The A train tunnel is not as bad. So there's a trade-off: If the 1 tunnel were the shorter one, I'd probably take the 1 much more often, but as a result, I alternate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A friend, a nugget of wisdom, and two scoops

I took the train to picturesque New Brunswick this evening to visit a college friend whom I haven't seen since graduation. We met in a freshman seminar under the umbrella of library studies, and now -- lo and behold -- she is a proud guardian of knowledge and promoter of reading by profession. (At least two out of the nine of us in that class actually went on to graduate studies in the topic.) She was wearing a necklace with tiny writing on it, and I waited until I was about to leave before asking what it said. She replied, much to my amusement: "You can never go down the drain. -Mr. Rogers."

When life gets tough, these are good words to keep in mind, whether you are 2 or 22 or 82. It reminded me of how I cried shamelessly when Mr. Rogers died, and also when I watched a few moments of an episode or two afterward. His TV show was meant for the youngest of the young -- the kids who just barely know how to speak -- but the innocent, honest and forthright way that he explained the world just got to me. It's easy to think that the world we live in as adults and the one he described on "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" were different, but they're not. At their most basic, these two worlds are the same; it's just too easy to forget this fact until -- I imagine -- you have a recently minted human being on your hands who needs to be molded and comforted and taught how to do basic things and how to internalize basic truths. He had his detractors -- and yes, sometimes the Land of Make Believe was a little hokey -- but I think he was one of television's greatest educators.

Besides all that, we also had a pair of delicious blend-in ice cream cups from a Central Jersey institution -- in my mind, at least -- Thomas Sweet's, before I hopped back on the train to come home.

Goat Watch: I find this too funny

Caren, who was back as a veteran host of Trivia the other night, has promised to pay her 13-year-old half-sister $20 (CASH!) if she can find out -- by summer's end -- the name of some random goat lurking in the neighborhood. Read this for slight elaboration.

Books on my to-read list

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Turn of the Century by Kurt Andersen
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems
Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan
Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn
Comments are welcome.

"It's hard to think of another president who lived in such meta-insulation."

Maureen Dowd has returned to the NYT Op-Ed page from her hiatus, summing up the latest on the Bush-Iraq situation for all those who might've been tuning it out this summer. Head over and check her out before the Times starts charging for this stuff sometime next month.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Petit, still a master of balance

I was both happy and sad to read this NYT article about a recent performance by Philippe Petit in Washington Square Park. Happy to know he's still practicing his art; sad to know I missed it. I've been captivated by his famous tightrope walk between the Twin Towers 31 years ago this month since I first learned about it in the final episode of Ric Burns' documentary New York, the one called "The Center of the World" about the WTC. Later, I read with great interest Petit's own exhaustive illustrated account of the preparation and execution of his famous illegal stunt, which now feels like so much more than a mere stunt, in the 2002 book To Reach the Clouds.

By his vision, he humanized the towers for all those who knew of or learned of his feat. He took their natural movements -- for all tall buildings move with the wind, lest they snap -- and taught them to dance. He took two monolithic business-like objects and turned them into a stage for play.

My favorite moment from his walk was when Petit stopped in the middle of the wire and lay down and stared up at a bird flying nearby. Just hearing that he actually lay down in the sky is amazing enough, but then I turned a page of the book and there he is in a photograph taken from one of the towers, so impossibly high above the city and yet so at peace. All the horrible pictures of these buildings and their people that were to come years later, they cannot be erased. But if I were to imagine the absolute opposite of all that horror, it might look something like that: one man, quiet and resting, held up by the work of many other men and women, enjoying a moment of sublime alignment.

In praise of reference books

I recently received a copy of the AIA Guide to New York City. For anyone who finds themselves looking up at buildings around town, and asking, "What's the deal with that one?" -- and I do -- this is about the best you can do in hard copy. Weighing in at more than 1,000 pages, this tome -- and it really isn't a stretch to call it that -- covers hundreds of notable buildings around the five boroughs. Now, it has its limitations, of course: There are some structures that are interesting but aren't in there, and there is rarely more than a paragraph or two about each one. But it's a good place to start, and then perhaps expand your curiosity back onto the internet.

The other funny thing about the book is its occasional insistence on speaking about planned buildings as if they will be up without a hitch and according to plan. Anyone who's been reading the headlines about ground zero, at the least, would know that this is a big assumption to make. The latest addition is dated 2000, which is fine for the vast majority of entries -- and the intact World Trade Center pages are no problem, either -- but the assumption that, say, the original plans for the Moynihan Station were going to be built just fine in the first years of the 21st century was obviously wrong. If you didn't know the backstory on that particular work, for instance, you might be confused why the authors are describing a building that doesn't exist -- or maybe in a few years -- a renovation that is largely different from the one completed.

Still, this one quirk doesn't ruin an otherwise amazingly satisfying guide.

Monday, August 08, 2005

File under unique restrooms

Not only does LAND Thai Kitchen -- 450 Amsterdam, north of 81st Street -- boast a delicious $8 pad thai and a $3 Thai iced coffee served in a native-looking bowl, but the U.W.S. restaurant's bathroom sink is quite a piece of art as well.

The knob is pretty traditional-looking, but it's attached to the right side of the wall. Turn the knob and water starts to enter a big clear tube that runs from wall to wall. As the water reaches the middle of the tube, it dribbles out small holes at the bottom. That's where you place your hands to wash. The excess water then falls into another clear cylinder, positioned open-side up, and eventually hits a layer of smooth flat pebbles on the floor. I imagine there's a hidden drain at the bottom -- this being in the heart of the city and all -- but the visual effect is of water coming out of a spring and then seeping back into the earth.

The evolution of a magazine

Hmm: Where is Time getting its cover stories? Pictured, at top, is this week's front cover, and at bottom, last week's back page ad for the History Channel.

Life among the nicely compensated

So, according to the Census Bureau, people who work in Manhattan, N.Y., make, on average, the highest salary of any large county in the nation: $73,000! I'd just like to say I'm proud to be one of those pulling down the average. Now if only we knew the median instead of the mean, maybe we who ride the subways more often than the black Town Cars might be more accurately represented.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Archipenko in a new space

New York's Ukrainian Museum reopened this year in a sparkling new building on East 6th Street. While my memory is a bit fuzzy, I think the last time I saw this collection was in 1998 on a class trip, and I remember being slightly embarrassed by the tiny space afforded the museum back then. It's still no Met, but there's more room to breathe now.

On display at the moment are works by Kyiv-born sculptor Alexander Archipenko, who spent time in Paris and upstate New York, and died in 1964. The collection is pretty exhaustive, showing the artist's different styles and media. Many of his pieces reminded me a lot of those by his more well-known contemporary Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi -- the geometric forms, the minimal features, the sense of sleek movement through space. Compare, for instance, Archipenko's Torso in Space -- a design he returned to again and again in 2-D as well as 3-D works -- to Brancusi's Bird in Space.

There are also echoes of cubism and Modigliani. And I especially liked how he worked with positive and negative space in constructing some human-form pieces where the thing in the title was evoked not by the sculptor's material but by the empty space inside it.

Besides the two floors of Archipenko's work, there was a lower-level display of pysanky, the finely detailed Ukrainian Easter eggs. But other than that, the rest of the permanent collection appeared to be in storage. The guy at the desk said more of the traditional textiles would be on display in the next exhibit this fall. I sort of wished there had been more to see, but I'm glad I stopped in.

If Warhol knew blogs

"In the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people."

I wish I knew to whom I should give credit for this pithy twist on Andy Warhol's heavily overexposed quip, but I can only say with certainty that I didn't make it up. Still, I keep hearing it referenced when people are talking about blogs and find it all too apt. On a daily basis, that's just about how many people read this site. Sometimes, I get more -- once in a blue moon, many more -- but if 15 of you out there -- whoever you are -- check in regularly, and it would appear that way from my hit counter, then I smile and continue typing away.

So: Thank you.

Economics on Rivington

Is the Economist more appealing to liberals or conservatives? Or is it unfair to characterize it that way, drawing its readers instead from a wider range of viewpoints?

I always thought it swung pretty far right, but I was told otherwise last night when I asked a fellow patron of Moby's cafe Teany whether she really agreed with the magazine's general worldview. Now I'm not saying that the place is by definition a liberal hangout or anything, but it is the Lower East Side after all, and I was sort of surprised when she pulled out a copy and started reading it.

Turns out, she worked for the World Bank and thus she said the very international focus of the magazine appeals to her. I asked her how it was there since Paul Wolfowitz took over as president, and she said he's been a good listener, and hasn't quite steered the place down any rabbit holes yet. I asked her why the "World" Bank is based in D.C., and she told me that if another country were to donate more money to the cause, there's a good chance the HQ might be moved there, and she said Japan was nipping at the U.S.'s heels.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A good tour, slightly spoiled

I went to a gallery talk at noon today in the Cloisters, and I really enjoyed the tour -- it was on women, literacy and devotion in medieval art -- but there was an older woman there who, just by her body language, distracted some of us on the tour. She arrived late and hurried her way into the first room where the guide was talking to us. She practically elbowed her way past me to stand right next to the guide. She plopped down her tote bag, took out her water bottle, drank from it, put it down, then without notice, walked over to the other gallery, leaving her bag behind with us, and then returned as if nothing had happened. Then she took out a hand fan with a big picture of this political candidate on one side, and started fanning herself, practically whacking the tour guide in the face with it. Now it was hot in that room, I'll grant her, but it was the way she was doing it, like she was sitting on the porch of some plantation somewhere in a big hoop skirt. When this woman had first arrived, I half expected her to chime in as the unannounced co-tour-guide or something. But no, she was just a visitor like the rest of us, who just happened to have a knack for making her presence known.

Throughout the rest of the tour, she would talk to the tour guide during each walk from one room to the next. Then, when we arrived at the last piece, a modest-sized wall-mounted triptych of the Annunciation, she stood smack dab in front of it. Two other similarly gray-haired ladies tried to whisper to her that she was blocking the art, but she didn't seem to react. She also didn't pay much mind to the young man in a wheelchair, whose view she was also obstructing. At one point, I looked over at him and shared an eye-rolling moment.

Friday, August 05, 2005

An NYU ad rant

Speaking of advertising, have you seen those ads on the subway and elsewhere for New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies? Setting aside for the moment all the bad things I've heard about NYU (overpriced, lacking in quality and rigorous content, just pay them for a certificate, etc.), I still think one of those ads is a bit off-key. The copy reads: "The class lasted two hours, the post-class discussion lasted three cappuccinos. ... That's why I go to NYU." Now I get what they're trying to go for -- the idea that the learning doesn't stop once you leave the classroom.

But how about the coffee element in that equation? Do you know anyone who drinks three cappuccinos in a row? Like: Order one. Down that one. Tell the waitress to "keep 'em comin'." Down the second one when it arrives, and then decide, you know, I could really go for a third cappuccino. So rinse out that milk frother again, because two just weren't enough for me.

It's one thing to have a bottomless cup of regular old diner coffee, where the server just tops up your cup a few times. But cappuccino? Three of them? That just says to me weird people go to NYU -- or out-of-touch people write their copy.

Or maybe I just don't hang around with enough Starbucks fiends.

We're walking, we're walking

Unless I've just never noticed them before, it appears that the interminable passageway under 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues has sprouted new billboards: Something to look at while you're dodging the hordes of people pacing through. Adding to the feeling that it's a windowless airport transfer where the A/C has died is the first advertiser in the new cases: Continental Airlines. Now, if only they could install some moving walkways, I'd be OK with the whole terminal-like appearance.

Pricey fill-ups? Walk on by

I stopped into the local gas station convenience store -- which I have to say always feels a bit weird and out of place sitting there all suburban-like on Broadway -- and bought an ice cream last night. Of course, I couldn't help but notice that the price of top-grade gasoline is nearing $3: It was $2.86 last night. Absolutely insane! There was a time not that many years ago when our local station back home was selling regular unleaded for less than $1. I know I'm probably paying for it otherwise, and obviously friends and family are hit by this, but I have to admit I feel a little relieved that I don't have a car and therefore don't have to pay these exorbitant prices. Of course, my rent is probably pretty high by national standards, but at least that hasn't changed since the day I moved in.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hair of the dog and the barman

Had some whiskey sours and margaritas tonight at a basic but appealing bar on the Lower East Side called The Magician, not far from the hulking as well as not very attractive from the outside Hotel on Rivington, or H.O.R. if you like.

Two funny things about the bar: It was happy hour, so mixed drinks were supposed to be $3 a piece. But the one bartender who was on didn't seem to be in a good mood -- maybe the other bartender called off sick, or something -- so it was like $3 was more of a suggestion than a rule. One time, he charged $2.50 a drink, the next $4. Still, cheap for here. The other thing was the barman's mustache: It was like a big arc, stretching from the left side of his jaw, across his lip, to the other side of his jaw -- just one line. Like something out of Gangs of New York. I don't know, maybe that's hip these days, I let my subscription to Facial Hair magazine lapse a few months ago.

Please feed the Googlers

Google today announced a "worldwide search" for two executive chefs to serve up exotic, gourmet and even vegan food options at the company's tony HQ in California. The lucky winners will be providing one of the many perks offered to employees: free meals!
Here are some perks: "a staff MD, dry cleaning pickup and delivery, onsite car wash and oil change, gym, personal trainers, tuition reimbursement, proximity parking for pregnant employees, nursing rooms for mothers, and more."
When will more companies get on board with all this?
(Perhaps when more companies have shares of their stock trading at about triple the price it was less than a year ago.)

Movies I want to see, in no particular order

March of the Penguins, Kings and Queen, Batman Begins, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Mad Hot Ballroom, Heights, The World, Lila Says, My Summer of Love, Look at Me, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ...

Granted, some of these (fairly recent) movies have all but disappeared from theaters by now -- or otherwise there's one theater in the tri-state area that's playing them -- so I guess I have to wait for the DVD. This whole trend of rushing to the home audience in the movie biz is annoying to me, because even though, yes, it's expensive to see stuff on the big screen, I enjoy it and would like to have the chance to do so more than a month after the initial release.
Seeing a good movie in the theater for me is almost always more satisfying than seeing a good movie at home.

Maybe she just got lost looking for the bathroom

"Police: Woman tries to open door during flight" [AP via CNN]

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I've lived in this apartment for more than a year now, and never noticed this funny little sign attached to the fire escape. It reads: "Notice: Any one placing any encum-brance on this balcony will be fined ten dollars." It probably dates back to the first half of the 20th century when $10 was more of a threat (more than $100 in today's money) and words like "encumbrance" were more commonly used.

SALA and Smeal shots

Penn State Live (the university's PR site) has two great collections of photos by photog-about-campus Greg Grieco of the new School of Arts and Landscape Architecture and Smeal College of Business buildings at University Park.

What's the capital of New York State?

According to this Times article, you'd think it was New York City, not Albany, the way a lot of state-level politicians act these days.
This would be a harder trick to pull in Pennsylvania, I'd imagine, even with the former mayor of Philadelphia as governor these days, since you have the counterbalances of Pittsburgh at one end and Philly at the other. But still, it would be interesting to see a comparison of the states in these terms.
Is Gov. Rendell prone to long Philly stays?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On turf-covered Pier 46 along the Hudson River, Saturday evening.

The voice calling from the desert-like platform

The A train pulled into 125th Street. The doors opened, and a man began to bellow the words of John 3:16 into my car, as if he were warning of suspicious unattended packages instead of what I imagine he was hoping to do: Infuse the car and its occupants with whatever divine hope possible. "For God so loved ..." No part of his body, save his voice, actually entered the train car, but when the doors were about to close again, he added on a quick "... which means God loves you ... " to the end of the actual verse. The doors snapped shut on his "you," and we were off to the next station.

Normally, I think about how I appreciate their message but dislike their method, but tonight, I thought about how infrequently I actually see and hear subway preachers here. Even during the comparatively few times I rode public transit in Philadelphia, I saw more of their kind. Compared with all the subway beggars and drummers and tumblers and vendors and free-stress-test-granting Scientologists, there just aren't as many people bellowing the word of God. Maybe I'm not on the right lines or riding at the right times. Either way, it's a funny thing when even an unwanted intrusion like that can make me look up from my book and feel its refreshing novelty.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Three recent annoyances

1. Between last year and this year, my July electric bill doubled. (It even skyrocketed compared with this June.)

2. I got home from the store to find one of those anti-shoplifting tags on a pair of shorts. (Why didn't they take it off when I bought them? And why do you need to stick one on a $6 piece of clothing?)

3. No matter how well I think I've applied the sunblock before my first day at the beach, the sneaky sun will find a few patches that I missed and burn them real good. (So much for hoping for a little color.)

Where the livin' is relatively cheap

Hudson Heights, a latter-day invented name (that's rapidly becoming more popular) for the neighborhood near my apartment, is the setting for one of those Sunday Times real estate stories about "The Hunt" (for a home). Yes, a two-bedroom can be had for $410,000: cheap by Manhattan standards. As for the neighborhood itself? It's not quite Inwood, not really Washington Heights, near the Cloisters and the Mother Cabrini Shrine, and also boasts one of uptown's few Starbucks locations.

Or as one site puts it subtly: "The name came to be ... to differentiate our neck of the woods from the part where all that drug dealing and drive-by shooting was going on."

Only funny to some

My sister and I were in the Metropolitan Museum of Art satellite store at Rockefeller Center the other day, when a couple walked up to the cashier and asked which door led to the actual museum. When the attendant told them the museum wasn't actually there, they seemed very disappointed. Where is it, they asked. 81st Street and Fifth Avenue: Is that close, they wanted to know. I found it pretty funny, but my sister assured me that it's a mistake she might've made if she hadn't known otherwise. The website that usually revels in such mistakes is Overheard in NY, such as this string of posts from July 20, or the one where two visitors are actually standing on top of the Empire State Building and one points to another tall building in the distance and says, "What's that?" and the other replies, "The Empire State Building, silly."