Saturday, December 31, 2005

No Top 10, but some suggestions

I considered doing a Best of 2005 list for movies or plays or both, but instead, I figured I'd just direct people to the sidebar listing of things I've recently enjoyed. I don't usually add things to the list that I don't like, so you can pretty much assume that if it's on there, I recommend it.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

'You! It could all be a dream!'

It's common to see that people have messed with existing overhead subway ads, but it's more rare to see that they've torn down whatever was there (presumably) and filled it with their own art.

Spotted on the 1 train tonight.

Downtown lights


City Hall Lights, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Undigested

1) Match Point, directed by Woody Allen. East Village movie theater. Top floor. Sold out. 7 p.m. Nihilistic as expected. No meaning allowed - meaning only allowed in the dream sequence - just luck, more luck for the men. Well-made, but not really too emotional. Fooled at least once into thinking that meaning would win out, but it doesn't. Lights up. A lost glove, unfound. Knitted hat and cell-phone earpiece found. Opera snippet credits missed. Too many different operas to remember. Missed the last showing of An American Tragedy at the Met to catch the opening night of the movie instead. Cheaper, shorter. The right choice?

2) Two missed text messages. One automated, one personal. One voice mail. Three unanswered call backs. Another voice mail. Plans to call tomorrow after 7 p.m., but not too late.

3) Several pages of Ulysses by Joyce. 1 train from 14th Street, uptown. L. Bloom. Indications of the date: June 16. Bloomsday. Reading a letter included in the text. Stream of consciousness more clear than usual in the graphs immediately following. Hopeful that the narrative will keep up and allow me to keep going without getting frustrated, fed up. Finishing the chapter, closing the book two stops early. Dashing through the tunnel, slightly out of breath, hoping the PBS program wasn't merely an hour. (It was two, actually.)

4) Second half of Imagining America: Icons of 20th-Century American Art on Thirteen. Warhol. Incorrigible in interviews, but evoking his art, his persona, his prescient views all the while. Now we see that, then he must've seen slightly weirder. McLuhan. "Medium is the message." Stuart Davis. Wojnarowicz. Dancing around the gay issue, apparently, like the Times said. Mentioning "Stonewall" as a codeword perhaps. One artist worrying that art will fuse entirely with entertainment, arguing that art causes you to look at how it was made, at where you stand in relation to it, whereas entertainment covers over the strings, aims to beguile totally, not to draw attention to its issues. Was Woody's film, very few laughs throughout, art or entertainment? More of one than the other? Lots of paintings in the scenes of the movie. But not much said about them at all. Perhaps they'd offer too much meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Or were they chosen more carefully than that. The Saatchi. The Tate Modern. Signifiers of taste and high class and the rich world that beguiles the main character or actual sites of art?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Quick review: Beauty of the Father

Saw Beauty of the Father tonight at Manhattan Theatre Club (City Center, Stage II). Currently in previews, opening mid-January. A very atmospheric piece, well staged and evocative of a timeless kind of Spanish seaside existence. Four modern-day characters and the lingering presence of the dead but still lively and witty Federico Garcia Lorca in a pristine white linen suit for that element of magical realism. Act I introduces them all wonderfully, and Act II opens promisingly, but somewhere along the way, the playwright (Pulitzer Prize-winning Nilo Cruz of Anna in the Tropics fame) seems to lose his way and the denoument felt like it rendered the climactic scene empty and pointless. The Lorca character manages to be somewhat of a saving grace, part philosopher, part comedian, but only to a degree. Perhaps if I knew Lorca's work better, I might be able to pick up on more of the resonances, but I also think the play could've stood on its own better. And while there were many opportunities for laughter throughout, it seemed the audience wasn't always ready to laugh or know when to do so.

Overheard on the way out: "Why don't they write about heterosexual relationships anymore?" Which was only partly appropriate, as the play takes up relationships that go both ways.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing Day

Just got back from another delightful meal at Il Sole, the relatively new-ish Italian place up on Dyckman, after a Christmas weekend with the families. Meanwhile, the apartment has received a minor makeover thanks to the addition of a few key early-birthday-present items and touch-ups, and it almost feels like new!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The end of the strike

As I was walking along Broadway on the Upper West Side this evening, full and glowing from a great let-the-Christmas-weekend-begin meal at Nice Matin, I heard a beautiful sound: The rumble of a subway train below, around 86th St. By morning, things should be back to normal. And the city will once again be pleasantly accessible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

MTA Strike: Day 2

Well, the strike is still a major pain, but today's commuting wasn't as bad as yesterday's or take as long.

This morning, I took a cab across the Harlem River to University Heights Metro-North station, where I paid only $4 and caught a train into Grand Central. From there I walked down the car-less Madison Avenue and over to Herald Square where I caught the PATH train, which would've had me into World Trade Center even sooner if the train hadn't gone in the wrong direction at one point. All in all, just under 2 hours.

Then tonight, I walked uptown to Soho, where I had to check something out, then walked over to the 9th St. PATH stop, where I eventually got on one of the most crowded train cars I've ever seen and head north to Herald Square again. I got out and walked for a bit, north and west, until I'd had enough and hailed a cab. Along the way, the cabbie - who was going by the zone fare system - picked up three other people, two of whom I chatted with. One woman who said only a third of her office was in today, and who said she hadn't done most of her Christmas shopping yet. She got out around 105th Street. The guy in the front seat got out at 116th.

The last guy to get out (up around 147th) said he worked for Meredith Corp. over across from the Chrysler Building. We were talking about how the strike was costing everyone more money than usual to commute and he mentioned his roommate was a drag performer - seriously! - who had to work downtown every night and was getting frustrated by having to take a cab there and back. His stack of money (paid under the table) was thus a little smaller each night. Ah, New York.

So I figure that commuting during two days of this strike has cost me upwards of $70 more than usual and about two to three times as much time as usual.

Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz, eat your hearts out

PlanetGordon writes about a kinda funny but kinda cute way of keeping your spirits up during the transit strike; that is, if you live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. Load Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on your iPod, then press play as you step onto the Brooklyn Bridge walkway headed into the city:
The jazz-era piece is just over sixteen minutes long and if you walk quickly enough, you can make it just past the second tower of the [bridge], halfway down the remaining walkway as it descends towards City Hall, before the music reaches its final crescendo. ... As I did the walk, somehow my eyes were directed by the music to see the things that fit each movement of the song. The traffic crawling across the bridge below the walkway. My first glimpse of the Empire State Building, which rises as if at the top of a hill in Midtown. A straight on view of the mathematically symetrical cables and brick towers of the bridge itself. I felt like I was living the opening scene of Woody Allen's Manhattan, only in vibrant color and surrounded by a cast of thousands.
Is this a great city or what?
Rhapsody in Transit Strike Blues [PlanetGordon, via Gothamist]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

MTA Strike: Day 1

Leave it to me - someone who bragged about my rather detailed plan for contingency commuting - to mess it all up somehow.

I leave my apartment and find an actual real live yellow taxi out on the street (instead of the ubiquitous livery cabs). I hail it and ask for the G.W. Bridge bus terminal. Along the way I see a woman waiting at a bus stop and decide to tell the cabbie to let her in. Turns out she's headed pretty far downtown as well. I tell her my plan, and she decides to join me instead of meandering her way downtown otherwise. Unfortunately, at the bus terminal, we missed one Hoboken bus, and - not recalling my N.J. geography too well - decide that we can get on a Hackensack bus that had just arrived, which I stupidly assume will get us nearly as close. I later realize that I was confusing Hackensack with Weehawken, which is actually rather close to Hoboken. Oops!

I felt really bad, but she seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing. So we got off on West Main Street in the town of Bogota (pronounced like Americans would, not like Colombians do, as I learn from a woman in the convenience store) and call a car to take us to Hoboken. Turns out it would be too expensive to do that, so the jaded but chatty and thoughtful driver drops us off at the Rutherford train station instead, where we catch a NJTransit train within a few minutes. Two stops later, we're finally in Hoboken, where we catch separate PATH trains and head back into Manhattan. So I spent more money that I'd like, but I made a new friend. And if I have to do it all again tomorrow, I'll get it right this time and more cheaply.

UPDATE: The ride home went as planned, except it took 2.5 hours! I'm officially tired of this strike.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hudson Heights update

Sometimes I wonder how long people around the area where I live have been referring to it as "Hudson Heights." Based on a quick search of the Times' archive, it appears the first reference was in the fall of 1998. So while it hasn't been around for ever, it certainly wasn't invented yesterday. And also based on the article, it would appear rents have gone up about 20% to 35% in six or so years.

More Light

Now you all have six more months to go out and see what a wonderful musical The Light in the Piazza is. No excuses. (And don't forget Sweeney Todd either!)

Piazza's Light to Shine Through July 2 ... [Playbill]

Hearst Grin


Hearst Grin, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

Some devious-looking grins from the gargoyles on the old, restored base of the new Hearst Tower on Eighth Avenue near Columbus Circle.

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Reading. Writing?

I did a reading the other night in Brooklyn. It wasn't really that well attended - probably fewer than a dozen people - but it was still nice to be able to get up and read some writing. The host hadn't showed up 20 minutes after the anticipated start time, so we just "mutinied" and got the ball rolling without her. The other two readers and I hadn't met before and didn't know each other's writing at all, but we ended up presenting pieces that had some common threads, even though they were depicted in three entirely different voices.

Perhaps the experience will encourage me to get back on the fiction-writing horse. I've been doodling some notes in recent weeks, but they're mostly just sketches, no real attempts at character, etc. But still ... it's nice to just open up and let flow at times.

My contingency plan

So should this MTA strike really happen, I'm going to attempt to take a NJ Transit bus out to the Garden State and down to Hoboken, where I'll hop on the PATH train, head back into Manhattan, and get off at World Trade Center. Which is more of a plan than some people have. Too bad I can't work from home like lots of people will no doubt be doing.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Review: Dog Sees God

The question to which this show attempts to be the answer is: "What would happen to the Peanuts comic-strip gang if they actually grew up?" And before I get to how it answers that, it has to be noted that this show, playing at Century Center, off Union Square, is stocked full of recognizable if B-list young actors from movies and TV. A quick run-down:

· America Ferrera, from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Real Women Have Curves.
· Logan Marshall-Green, who played Trey from "The OC" and starred as the Shark in Swimming in the Shallows, also directed by the same guy as this show, Trip Cullman.
· Eddie Kaye Thomas, from the American Pie dynasty.
· Kelli Garner, from The Aviator and Thumbsucker.
· Ari Graynor, from the MTC's stage play Brooklyn Boy.
· Eliza Dushku, from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Bring It On.

The cast has obviously been assembled to draw in a demographic similar to the kind that goes to see their movies, but may not see much live theater. But a warning to parents (it was too late for the family in the front row - who knows what kind of conversations they had later that night): The Peanuts have taken a detour through South Park and countless other R-rated movies on their way to adolescence. The characters are a compendium of all the problems kids have today, if the shock headlines, the teen movies and parents' collective fears are to be believed. Many of them turn out rather cliched, but not totally devoid of comedic value. And what helps to save them from dropping into total stereotypes is the quasi-dramatic irony created by the tension between the audience's recollection of the younger Peanuts characters and their latter-day personas. "Mark" (aka Pigpen), for instance, has become OCD, constantly cleaning his hands and worrying about germs, and shuddering each time someone makes a joke about where swine live.

But if Charles Schulz's original characters at times felt like they transcended their schoolyard age with higher thoughts and deeper concerns (i.e., the philosophizing of adults), the cast here seems to have reverted to teenage mediocrity. They're still concerned with the meaning of life, the universe and everything (sparked especially by the death of Snoopy early on) - it just comes across as tired and bland: the stoner's constant epiphanies, the pair of ditzes' dismissal of all things not here, now and popular ...

Don't get me wrong, I laughed quite a bit, and enjoyed myself, if perhaps not as much as the creators had hoped. But when the plot takes a turn for the serious, there is little segue and we're not quite sure when to stop laughing at the cruelty as parody and start calling it for what it is. It would be different if this were truly a black comedy in which we might be expected to keep laughing right through, but that doesn't seem to be the playwright's intention. No, he's hoping for some redemptive tears. The sadness passes, and the end of the show brings it back to the beginning and reminds us of why many of us came to see the show in the first place: the Peanuts were a wonderful, if sometimes sentimental, part of our popular past.

So while the play is entertaining if uneven, it doesn't feel as timeless as the original. Perhaps the best way to watch Dog Meets God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead is to plan for the comic-strip equivalent of a tribute-band concert, and hope that your expectations will be exceeded.

Regular-price tickets are $65, but there is an all-$25 performance at 10pm on Fridays and a two-hours-before student rush for that same reduced price. Opening night was Thursday, and it's in an open run.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gotta love stories like this

 
I especially enjoy the little details at the end about her life.

Christmas spirit on the cheap

L. and I were walking around the Upper West Side the other night after a visit to Saigon Grill [my first time; food was excellent and cheap; and being a weekday, it wasn't too crowded] and Edgar's Cafe , when I got the urge to buy a Christmas tree. Now I won't be here for the holiday weekend, and I'm not expecting any visitors the next two weeks, but when you see all those happy people carrying trees around the neighborhood, it just gets you in the mood.
 
So I paused at one of the stands and asked for their smallest evergreen. They pointed me in the direction of a small two-foot-ish number. It was perfect. I offered $5. They suggested $6. I was sold. I carried it down onto the subway platform and sat down next to a woman who reminded me of Joan Cusack (but wasn't) who'd also been bitten by the Tannenbaum bug. She turned to me and said, "Ho. Ho. Ho." Hers was slightly larger and wrapped in the white netting they give you to bundle them up, and she was impressed that I got mine for so cheap. She wouldn't say how much she paid for hers. We chatted about decorating options for most of the way uptown on the 1.
 
When I got home, I created a makeshift tree stand out of a disposable plastic food container filled with water, taped the base to my dresser, and strung a green ribbon from the top branches to one of my light sconces, and voila! My little Charlie-Brown tree was standing up and sturdy enough to decorate. Since I don't have any real ornaments, I improvised with more of the green ribbon as well as photographs, aluminum foil, construction paper, and cutouts from last year's Christmas cards. Within an hour, I had 10 passable ornaments to fill out my tree. I added some wrapped presents, a Christmas manger votive holder, some of this year's Christmas cards on the side, and the effect was complete! Now I kind of wish I had people coming over so they could see.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Transit strike?


About 97% of me wants the MTA and the transit union to avoid a strike Friday. But 3% of me is curious to see what it'll be like.

Spotted this sticker on the platform at West 4th St.

The Tao of Rich

This great Slate piece dissects the evolution of Times critic/columnist Frank Rich and hits on a feeling I've had ever since they moved him back to the op-ed pages. He lost his sense of fun. I used to look forward to reading his columns, when he played the "snarky, channel-surfing sociologist" but now his screeds are just dull, no matter how much you might agree with their arguments. I once heard some conservative pundit mention to a young acolyte how it was important to convey the sense of fun and satisfaction that could come from supporting conservative ideals in order to win people over. Perhaps Rich should remember that the same can be true for the liberal perspective, even when it seems the other side is running the country.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Time Warner Center stars

Rockefeller Center has its tree and the new shopping-mecca/media-company-HQ, the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, is attempting to start its own tradition with big bright stars hanging in the atrium. Click through for the full glitz.

Pink Art Bunny


Spotted pacing back and forth outside the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea on Saturday. Anyone know the story behind this?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

All-too-appropriate quote of the moment

"If you think of doing something in New York City, you can be certain that at least two thousand other people have that same thought. And of the two thousand who do, about one thousand will be standing in line waiting to do it." -E.L. Konigsburg

Friday, December 09, 2005

An UES coffee-shop rant - about some visitors, not the coffee

I love hanging out at the coffee shop and lounge DTUT - on Second Avenue near 85th - whenever I'm on the Upper East Side and have some time and some reading material. It's got a cozy backroom and good drinks (of the caffeinated and alcoholic variety) as well as delicious, though rich, snacks like s'mores-filled Rice Krispie treats and Snicker brownies. It's a popular place to hang out and spend a good hour or two. Therein lies its charm as well as its potential for problems.

As I was sitting down this evening with a mocha and the aforementioned brownie, I noticed one of the guys-from-behind-the-counter (known as baristas in other parts) kicking a group of kids out of the backroom. I later sat down on the couch that they vacated. I read the Times in peace for a while, and when a couple needed some space to put their fondue setup, I moved the coffee table over to accommodate them.

Eventually, a pack of about six or seven kids arrives - mostly guys with a couple of girls, youngish, probably high school - but the kind of kids who live in Manhattan and are thus prone to assume they are infinitely cooler and hipper than kids elsewhere. (I know a lot of us here suffer from this tendency once in a while - please forgive us.) Anyway, one guy sits down on the couch, and then another guy does - practically on top of me. Now I hadn't been taking up too much room, but this kid acted as if I didn't even exist. As if the couch had been empty 45 minutes ago, and he had no reason to believe that anyone had occupied it since. Thus: invisible me.

As if it weren't bad enough that he was sitting closer to me than most rush-hour 6-train riders do to each other, onto my bag he plops his own bag, which proceeds to slide onto my lap. I don't know whether this scruffy, uber-hip kid was on something or what, but he must've taken a good two or three seconds to realize what had happened - that he'd basically sat on top of me. I probably could've yelled at him, but I resisted and attempted to let the situation reveal itself to him.

He starts apologizing half-heartedly and I look back at my paper for a moment, before gathering my things to go. I tell the group, "I was done anyway, I'm going to go." Then Couch Boy says something like, "I feel like we're kicking you out." In my mind, I think, "That's exactly what you're doing." But I stay quiet for a moment, and then finally take my chance to say, in as cordial a manner as possible, "A little hint: Next time, ask before sitting down like that."

I'm sometimes accused of being inconsiderate (although not in that particular way), so I guess it's good for me to experience such crappy behavior now and then to make me realize how awful it is to be on the receiving end of things. But gosh, are manners dead?

Still, I like the coffee shop enough that I don't plan on boycotting or anything. I'll just keep a keener eye out for roving packs of kids who think it's their living room - and theirs alone.

Cute but kinda sad at the same time


I haven't seen this myself, but apparently there's a family who takes their disabled dog on walks around Hudson Heights on that little rolling table.
WaHI Loves Its Woofs [FishDrinkWater]

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A small business called Penn State Fabricators

Don't want to disparage my alma mater, but that name is pretty funny.
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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lennon shot: 25 years later



After a dinner out at Bianca on Bleecker and a free drink at the Wired Store tonight, I headed up to West 72nd Street and the park to see if I could get anywhere close to Strawberry Fields. It was 25 years ago tonight that John Lennon was shot outside the Dakota. It was a slightly surreal experience, seeing all those people milling about at the edge of Central Park in the dark. The only official commemoration I read about was a candlelight vigil and moments of silence around the time when he was shot before he died. But I didn't stick around to see any of that. Different groups of people were singing Beatles songs and John Lennon's own later ones. There were bouquets and other mementos attached to the black fence around the apartment building, but I couldn't get anywhere near the Imagine mosaic at the center of Strawberry Fields.

There was a line a few blocks long in which you had to wait before you could file past the spot as if you were filing past the body of the man lying in honor somewhere. And there were cops, lots and lots of them everywhere, even a police helicopter hovering above. It was an interesting sight to see, and yet strangely empty and artificial. A day, a round number of years. This guy obviously meant a lot to many people and still touches people's lives with his music and his various messages, and I guess people want to commemorate what many see as his martyrdom, but it was cold and there was little to see, except for perhaps all the other people who'd arrived, many speaking different languages, to see what there was to see.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

10+ days to go 100 miles

My parents sent me an early St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) gift in late November, the weekend after Thanksgiving. My dad dropped it off at a UPS drop-off point that just happened to share space with an intercity bus station. In this day and age, you can track your package down to each transfer point and its associated time. But this little package fell off the radar screen for days. Neither the senders nor I could find it listed online.
 
Then early one morning, it reappeared -- in the form of a 6 a.m. phone call. My father was not overjoyed to be awoken by a stranger's early-morning call, but after the guy on the other end of the line explained his reason for calling, my parents hoped for the best. Turns out it was a third-shift bus-company employee who'd discovered the package -- in Secaucus, N.J. -- and was calling to say he'd do us all a favor and put it back into the UPS system. Our best guess is that the package somehow got mixed up with the bus-based package express system, and thus ended up in this man's hands instead of in mine.
 
But today, the package finally made it to me, none the worse for wear, although an early St. Nick's Day present had now become a slightly belated one.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Very NYSE Christmas


A Very NYSE Christmas, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

Holiday wreath at the stock exchange on Wall Street.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Behold, the Nile River


Well, its New York City stand-in, at least.

I took a highlights-of-the-collection tour at the Met Museum Sunday afternoon, and learned that the Temple of Dendur was given by Egypt as a gift to the people of the United States as a thank-you for American money spent on the Aswan High Dam a few decades ago. That big room in the Met that houses the reconstructed temple was built specifically. The temple was moved because it would've been submerged under water once the dam was finished. That indoor pool of water helps to represent the distance the temple originally stood from the Nile. And since it was a gift to the people, the museum built the big room with windows looking out onto Central Park so that if you don't want to pay the museum admission, you can still see the temple that's rightfully yours (and yours and yours and yours). New York originally beat out a bid by the District of Columbia, which would've put it along one of Washington's real rivers, the Potomac.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Some accumulation

Woke up to the first snowfall of the season this morning. Even though I expected it, it was still strange to come home late last night with barely a hint of snow in the air, and then wake up to white on the nearby hill and the trees and the street below.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

225th Street 1 Station


225th Street 1 Station, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

'A Nazi Past ... an Overlooked Death'

I read a rather unusual NYT obit yesterday, which turned out to be a gripping little tale. Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan lived several different lives, but her most vicious one was as a brutal Nazi camp warden. And she showed a knack for shaking off her past and movin on - I don't mean to commend her for this, merely to point it out - so much so that while she died in 1999, her first American newspaper obit isn't appearing until now. But apparently it was a Wikipedia entry as well as former NYT editor Joseph Lelyveld's book that tipped the Gray Lady off to a missing link in its record of the past. The woman even had a New York connection, having lived here for several years, before being extradited back to Europe. A great read, especially the ending, which is almost cinematic.
A Nazi Past, a Queens Home Life, an Overlooked Death [NYT]
Hermine Braunsteiner [Wikipedia]