Tuesday, February 28, 2006

R.I.P. Danny Perasa

I've always been sensitive to touching stories on the radio, especially when I'm just getting up in the morning, with my eyes closed, still partly asleep, but I'm convinced that the StoryCorps excerpts that NPR broadcasts, typically on Friday mornings, are specifically engineered to bring a tear to the eye. In a good way, of course. The editors do the hard work of listening to lots of people's interviews with one another and then finding one snippet that cuts right to the heart. One such story is especially worth noting: that of Danny and Annie Perasa. They've inspired so many people with their touching tale of love that they dedicated the flagship booth at Grand Central to the couple. Danny was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, but they managed to record what would be their final interview together earlier this month at home in Bay Ridge. The same day as their words were being broadcast (last Friday), Danny died. This morning they read some letters from people who were touched by the story, including one in which a man said Danny's words inspired him to try to work harder to avoid a separation from his wife. StoryCorps is an amazing project, and I'd love to get the chance to listen to more of the interviews.
Two in a Million: Danny and Annie Perasa [NPR]
Danny and Annie’s visits to StoryCorps ... [Mlik.org]

Monday, February 27, 2006

Another tunnel update

Miraculously, Tunnel Street was tidy again this morning. Just a week went by and clearly another maintenance crew had come through and cleaned it up again. If only all city services stayed on top of things this well. As an amusing aside, the photo from the Times story depicted the wrong tunnel (the shorter, MTA-owned one that leads to the A train, instead of the correct, city-owned 1 train passageway), and they had to run a correction.

You can still buy for less than $200k in Manhattan

From the Residential Sales feature in this Sunday's Times:

Two bedrooms, one bathroom in Fort Tryon Apartments, 259 Bennett Avenue at 192nd Street, Hudson Heights. 925sqft co-op in a postwar building; dining area, hardwood floors, east and north exposures, common gardens view; maintenance $819, 55% tax deductible; listed at $179,000, sold at asking price after four weeks on the market. Broker: Simone Song Properties.

Choosy beggar

A man accosts me outside of church, says he's trying to get something to eat. I like to keep a granola bar or energy bar in my bag when I think of it for just such occasions, since I'm not always in the mood to give out money on the street. I reach in and hand a bar to him. He looks at me like I've just assaulted him, asks: "What's this?" I tell him it's a trail mix bar (i.e., food — what he said he was looking for). He says, "I don't want this. I'm trying to get a meal. I haven't eaten all day." I tell him that's a start, and that's what I'm offering.

He's probably expecting money, not food, but I'm so taken aback that he won't just accept the food, which is perfectly fine, untouched and in its original wrapper. I ask him whether he wants it and he says no, so I take it back and walk away, wondering at how I feel like I'm the one who's just done something wrong.

If there's anybody out there who'd actually like a free bite of something to eat from a stranger, the bar is still in my bag.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

New York motel

New York Motel

Jonathan Schwartz, a fixture of the weekend

It may have once been described to me as "like being stuck at an old relative's house on a rainy afternoon," but I have to admit to loving Jonathan Schwartz's pair of weekend afternoon radio shows ("The Saturday Show" and "The Sunday Show"). The veteran radio personality spins American songbook fare, old pop standards, new and old jazz charts, as well as contemporary Broadway tunes, not to mention a whole hour of Sinatra at 1 pm. (Sometimes I'm in the mood, but sometimes I skip that hour.) If I've got nothing else going on from 12 to 4 either afternoon, I'm usually content to putter around the apartment and listen to WNYC (and learn of great new or new-to-me recordings).

Since it's simulcast on XM Satellite Radio, he always makes it a point of saying, "It's noon in the East, 9 am in the West," then announces whatever kind of day it is, weatherwise: "It's a beautiful, clear, cold, wintery day in New York." He can get a bit precious at times, like when he manages to refer to five different songs in the same afternoon as "the absolute greatest" this or "the absolute greatest" that. But these mannerisms are easily forgotten by the time he hits play, and listeners get to enjoy the music.

I'd have to rank his show up there as one of the things I really love about living in the city (although I guess if you have an XM receiver, you don't have to be here to appreciate it). You could think of it as the soundtrack to all those old movies that treat New York and the love that's associated with it as a third lead, as a dream, an ideal, a talisman, a place of the imagination.

One other tidbit: The wordless vocal and guitar intro that he uses to open each show is such a distinctive little riff, I wish I could get a copy of it. It's in the same vein as the theme to that '60s French film "A Man and a Woman," but slightly slower. A quick search (via Google, which Schwartz was actually just musing about last hour) turns up this page from the 'NYC site and this info:

"The identity of the opening theme, which has been employed for this purpose for over 30 years, has never been revealed either on or off the air," says Jonathan Schwartz [in typically dramatic fashion, yet no doubt also uttered with his trademark laid-back intimacy and perpetual breathy amazement at the world]. "I can say, however, that is from a private tape and has never been commercially issued."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Jukebox musicals

My first jukebox musical was Mamma Mia! I saw it in London, and never having been an ABBA fan growing up, it felt new and kind of fun. It remains one of the most successful in the genre that some might say it spawned. But the crowd of shows that have come after it haven't always offered reasons to cheer.

Still, when I had the chance to get cheap tickets to Ring of Fire, I took the opportunity because I've really come to enjoy Johnny Cash's music in the past few years. Realizing what a great influence he was on a whole boatload of musicians helped, but beyond that, the man sang, wrote, and popularized lots of good songs, even if you aren't a die-hard country fan. And in fact, certain times throughout his life, apparently, he rejected the idea that he should hew to the expectations of what a country singer should be, at least according to his daughter Rosanne Cash, who also shuns easy categorization.

Now I was under the impression that there was going to be some effort at creating a story around Cash's repetoire. I quickly realized that Ring is more of a revue with scenarios than a full-fledged musical the way Mamma Mia was. But once I resigned myself to the knowledge that there wasn't going to be anything more than a loose rise-and-fall (on the themes of love, fame, transgression, aging, faith, and redemption), I tried to take the show for what it was, and actually ended up enjoying it more than I expected, thanks to the great musicians and singers that make up the performers on stage. I have to give them extra credit for including the haunting arrangement of Trent Reznor's "Hurt" that Cash sang toward the end of his life. Other really well-done numbers included "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Man in Black." The audience seemed uniquely filled with Cash fans, and certain songs inspired almost instantaneous clapping along in time to the music.

So if you go with low expectations, and just want to hear some great versions of Johnny Cash songs, you might enjoy this musical (if you want to call it that).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dinner, readings

Ate dinner at Acqua (Amsterdam and W. 95th) for the first time. It was packed, but they sat me right away, even though I was eating alone. A nice low-to-mid-range Italian, with a specialty on Sardinian cooking. Fairly warm and inviting interior to make you forget you're on a pretty chilly block. I made the mistake of ordering Chardonnay on a whim, regretting it almost right away. But the pasta dish I got was not a disappointment: rigatoni in a wild mushroom meat sauce. I practically licked the plate, with some help from the interestingly seasoned crispy flatbread that came in the bread basket. I'd go back.

At Symphony Space, Jonathan Lethem didn't have much stage presence, reading rather stiltedly from his overly verbose notes. But luckily the always warm and inviting Isaiah Schaeffer made up for the guest host's chilliness. One medium-length story read by Malachy McCourt: "The Wood Duck" by Thurber. One too-brief and not punchy enough story read by Isaiah: "Dreamtigers" by Borges. And after intermission, a really long but overall satisfying story read by Maria Tucci: "The Dinosaurs" by Calvino. Which reminded me again how much I need to read Cosmicomics, after all I've heard about it (and from it).

All is dust: online edition

You might notice (see the link at the bottom of the page) that I hang on like a security blanket to the musings I wrote after moving to New York, but before I started this particular blog. That link used to take you to Diary-X, where I'd written for about a year before moving over to the full scroll-happy goodness of Blogger. Well, last night, a friend who first introduced me to Diary-X — which has always claimed it isn't a blogging service, but an online diary site instead — told me that the servers at Dx had crashed.

All the work is gone — for the moment at least. And instead we find an error page and a list of FAQs. There is a chance that the data will be recovered, but we won't know that until at least Friday, according to what I read somewhere. In the meantime, I'm left with the question: Should I have backed that up? Am I missing out on a glimpse into my early days as a New Yorker? Should I be sad? How much of what we write here is worth saving? I'm not going to pretend that there's any great literature here, but it gets you thinking about the digital world and backing things up and what should make the journey to hard copy and what's better left to the fickle winds of digital limbo.

Updike in the New Yorker

The new fiction by John Updike in this week's New Yorker is a good antidote for the usual complaint about stories without much of a plot or an ending (although such works do shine if done well). The story's called "My Father's Tears." Reading it last night, I was impressed at how it begins small and then spools out back and forth across years in a man's life without feeling like it's weighed down by those years. I could really imagine the author, 74 next month, telling the tale. I'm fond of his frequent references to Pennsylvania, even if the places that Updike often writes about are in a part of the state (geographically and symbolically) different from the one I know best. It got me thinking about "where the self I value is stored," as the narrator puts it during a passage about high-school class reunions.

Tunnel vision update

Walked down "Tunnel Street" for the first time since the Times ran that piece about it. It was about as spotless as a New York City tunnel could hope to be (not a peep, D.C. Metro), and there were crews painting the floor gray. (Why? Maybe because dirt doesn't look so bad on gray.) There was still graffiti on the walls, but overall, it felt like an improvement.

UPDATE 2: After a full day of use, there were less than half a dozen pieces of trash scattered along the route.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tunnel vision

The Times uncovers a big, glaring reason why the pedestrian tunnel from Broadway to the 191st Street 1 station is such an eyesore in general: It's owned by the city and not by the MTA, and the city doesn't know tunnels like the MTA does. It's even an official city street — how crazy is that? — the creatively named "Tunnel Street," built in 1913, two years after the subway station went in. I have to say I'm glad the tunnel exists, because it gives the micronabe ready access to a second train line (besides the A), but I'm also inclined to agree that it's high time the MTA took possession of the place and started cleaning it up right. No wonder the transit authority won't listen when you complain about the kids barrelling through the tunnel on their bicycles at high speed: not their problem until they reach the turnstiles.
A Passage Through Gloom Gives a Tunnel a Bad Name [NYT]

Monday, February 20, 2006

Elevator inscriptions, Latin edition

Spotted scrawled above the buttons today: "Lente, lente, currite noctis equi." Translation: Run slowly, slowly, horses of the night. It's from Ovid, apparently, and quoted famously by Marlowe in Doctor Faustus. Graffiti that makes you think — or Google, at least.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

PM cares about your health?

It's really hard to know what to make of the cigarette companies' attempts at promoting good health messages. What are we to think when we see Philip Morris telling us in a television spot that smoking is addictive, harmful and hard to quit? "Oh, yea! You finally caught on, ol' PM. Glad you realized what the rest of us know now — or what you knew a long time ago. You're so good to tell us the truth." While meanwhile this and other companies continue to make money off the very habits they're denouncing.

I highlight this commercial in particular, as opposed to the ones about preventing kids from smoking, because that behavior can lead to illegal activites in most places. But does this latest community/PR effort really make us feel any better about the firm? If they really cared about adults' health, wouldn't they just get out of the tobacco business altogether? Are there other companies with public relations campaigns that seem diametrically opposed to the success of their primary products?

Random thoughts, Sunday night

I've now run into someone four times on the subway in the past two months and she doesn't even live in the same neighborhood anymore. Went to a blog-heavy party in Union City last night. (Memorable quote: Don't your parents wonder why you have all these friends?) So cold outside, although not as bad when the wind's not blowing. PBS' Bleak House rocks my world: can't wait for the conclusion. Saw the Dickens exhibit at the Grolier Club on Saturday afternoon: so-so. Saturday brunch at Cafe Pertutti. Definitely want to see MoMA's new Munch exhibit, when (if?) the crowds die down.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Review: The Wooden Breeks

As a child, I remember being both horrified and captivated by the idea of a certain invention to guard against premature burial. Above ground, it was a bell on a pole connected to a wire. Below ground, the wire was inserted into a recently interred coffin. The idea being that if someone were actually still alive, they could tug on the wire from inside the coffin, ring the bell, and alert the gravediggers not to start laying any headstones just yet — that is, of course, if the victim didn't die of fright immediately after realizing they've been buried alive. All very creepy stuff, although I guess the fear of being buried alive is something that's haunted us for ages and why not use some of that Industrial Revolution ingenuity to solve the problem, right?

Without doing any additional web searches at this late hour, I don't know whether a) this device was ever actually made, b) it was ever actually used, or c) the bell ever rang because someone was tugging on it from six feet under.

But that seems hardly the point, for — real or imagined — the bell device is a powerful metaphor for the feeling of isolation in life and the need to communicate and connect with others. It stands at the center of a Dickensian play running at the Lucille Lortel Theatre called The Wooden Breeks. (Breeks, I've learned, is old Scottish slang for breeches or pants, and while I don't remember it being spoken in the play itself, you can see how the phrase might be a euphemism for a coffin.)

The play takes place during the latter part of the 19th century, first in a "real" Scottish town and then, for most of the remainder, in an imagined (still Scottish) town dubbed Brood. The play is told by a storyteller with the equally evocative name Bosch (Hieronymus, anyone?) who loved a woman who left him for a "brief but unavoidable errand" just after she agreed to marry him, never to return, leaving behind her son by another man. The storyteller begrudgingly spins Odyssean yarns to the boy about where his mother might've run off to, and the bulk of the play consists of one such "chapter" in which the man and the boy actually step into the frame of the tale — literally, thanks to the stage design.

This world of Brood is populated by a Gothic collection of characters: A man who's locked himself in a tower, content to learn of the outside world only from a collection of reference books deposited through his mailslot. A former pub mistress, played with charming pallor by Veanne Cox, who's still wearing widow's weeds nine years after the death of her daughter and won't open up the public house for the townspeople to drink. (Two people whom one might call "buried alive.") Also: A spindly gravedigger. A world-weary preacher. A painter and a laundress — a pair of lovers, Romantic in the capital-R, Berlioz sense as much as the modern one. Their costumes, too, are definitely worth noting: Most of them have implements of their trade literally attached to their outfits. A small shovel on the gravedigger's back, pages of manuscript woven into the preacher-cum-town-historian's cloak, the back of a chair — for sittings, perhaps — on the painter's back, a washboard positioned like a bodice on the laundress, and spigots on the bar matron's hat.

Into this poor and bleak town comes a saleswoman named Ms. Spoon who gently warns the people about premature burial and hawks the aforementioned bell device in the process. Besides the seduction of the sale, she also inadvertently woos some of the men in town. This woman is played by the same actress who was the storyteller's missing fiancee, and Bosch and the boy are forever debating whether this character in the story they've invented is actually the one's lover and the other's mother. The line between how much power each has over what's real and what's imagined seems intentionally blurry.

While much brooding about lost loves and missed opportunities and distances left uncrossed fills the play, it's also packed with a healthy bit of plot that I don't think I'd be able to retrace here. It took a while to get into the action, but after a while, it really started to pay off with some dazzling moments that play with the idea of reaching out, ringing our bells, worrying that no one is out there to hear them. (Kind of like the web at times, right?)

The acting may hew a little too close to caricature, but the writing manages to keep the characters complex and human. Since so much happens during the course of two and a half hours, I was left wondering if a repeat viewing would reveal a work that's richer or poorer than at first. Is all the hurrying around stage to distract us from the spareness of it all or would more become clear the second time around? I don't know, but it's nice to see a play that prompts that question in the first place. I certainly felt throughout the performance like the themes were rich and thought provoking. I just wonder whether it would've been better to have experienced them more in my heart than in my head.

Those criticisms aside, I'd definitely recommend the play, which officially opens Tuesday. The playwright is Glen Berger and the director is Trip Cullman, who also did Dog Meets God and Swimming in the Shallows recently.

(Seeing this play has made me excited to see the next installment of PBS's Bleak House miniseries this Sunday.)

Hank Stuever on Lloyd, Weir

Reading Hank Stuever reminds me that the Washington Post's Style section features some of the most well-written daily journ pieces out there. Two great ones this week on that John Cusack movie Say Anything (which I've never actually seen, but hear referenced all the time), as well as the style, flair and unabashed panache of young  Johnny Weir. This is some delicious writing, people.
 
I even wrote an e-mail to Stuever with compliments, and he got back to me personally within minutes: "Thanks for the note. The Lloyd piece is sort of my return to the writing life -- I've been mainly editing in Style since last spring, after my turn at the Michael Jackson trial. (Which would drive anyone to a break.) But now I'm back ... if you have any ideas for stories you want to share, feel free."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Underground Professor

I encountered the self-proclaimed "Underground Professor" this morning on the subway. He greeted us on the downtown 4 train at Fulton Street, saying, "Hello America," and then proceeded to remind us that there's still an "illegal, immoral war" going on in Iraq. Troops are still there and still dying. Fair enough. Then, as we neared the next stop, he told us that this war was "brought to you by Wall Street," just as the recorded voice of the subway informed us that we'd arrived at, yup, Wall Street. The professor then digressed a bit to tell us that this neighborhood was a "high-crime area." "Be careful as you're walking around the streets up there," he said. "Keep an eye on your savings accounts." I kept expecting actual anti-war, anti-corporate fodder from him for us to think about, but it wasn't forthcoming, at least not by the time we reached Bowling Green. I couldn't help smiling at the novelty (if not the delivery) of his spiel.
 
It was certainly a change from, say, the young people selling chocolate bars, who all miraculously seem to have memorized variations on the same speech, forever assuring us, their potential customers, that they're "selling candy ... not for no basketball team." They're "keeping it real," trying to put some money in their pockets, and stay off the streets: Ignoring, of course, the fact that it's illegal to sell anything on the subway, and thus, while they may be staying "off the streets" in the actual sense, they're not doing so metaphorically.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine for one

Cut flowers wrapped in paper everywhere today. In office lobbies, standing like soldiers at a lineup. In the arms of messengers, headed one way or another. In the arms of those doing the giving. Or later, in the arms of those who received them.

I got a cheap ticket to Birdland (site plays "The Lullaby of Birdland") tonight. My first time at the famous jazz institution, born on 52nd Street, now on 44th. It was a special early set at 7 (most nights the music's at 9 and 11) featuring the original Annie on Broadway (1977), Andrea McArdle, who grew up and managed to make a full career out of singing. I'm not a huge fan of that musical, but hearing her vocalize that quintessential version of "Tomorrow" was still a treat, since it's the one out of which most imitations and parodies (good or bad) grew. She also played Eponine in Les Miz, and her version of "I Dreamed a Dream" this evening was definitely goosebump-worthy. Other than that, most of the songs she sang were passable but nothing to write home about. The one other worth mention was a slowed-down single voice version of "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" by Sondheim from Company.

The whole eating dinner and drinking while watching the performance was also something new for me, and even though I was by myself, it still seemed a bit distracting to have the waitress stop by so frequently. I guess I'm just used to focusing on one or the other. The food was tasty (I had a BBQ pork sandwich and sweet potato fries) if a bit pricey, and they sat me right in front of the stage, although off to the side a bit.

When McArdle first came out of the green room, she attempted to step up onto the stage right in front of my table, but realized there wasn't enough room and then dashed around to the center, and lost her shoes and a fake lash in the process. Her between-song patter ended up being thrown off for about half of the set because of repeated frustration at her heels not staying on, so maybe she just got off to a bad start and wasn't hitting on all cylinders tonight.

I'll have to make a return visit to Birdland to see a jazzier performance.

J/k!

Kottke links to an interesting Wired piece today about how unsuccessful we can be at interpreting whether someone is being serious or facetious in an e-mail or other online message. E-communications are now deeply embedded in most daily lives, and yet we continue to struggle with this issue. E-mail and chat and blogging can be a lot of fun, and a chance to flex your wit in a text-based environment, especially helpful for those who aren't always so quick with a funny comment or topic of conversation in person. But e-miscommunication is still too frequent for my liking and makes getting to know people online a problem at times. If you strike a totally straightforward approach, you can seem stiff and stodgy, but if you attempt jokes and they don't work, you can look even stupider because there's less of an indication that you're failing to get your point or humor across.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Countries I've visited


I'd like to think I'm off to a respectable start, although it seems a bit unfair to get all of Canada and the U.S. in two fell swoops, never having been to, say, California or Saskatchewan, let alone Alaska.
Visited Countries [douweosinga.com]

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blizzard, Part 2

Snow in Fort Tryon Park
So this turns out to be not just any snow, but a record-breaking one: Two feet, 2.9 inches measured in Central Park from a single storm. Pretty impressive, and already many sidewalks are cleared. I was out walking around since 1 p.m. today and it was still going strong for several hours before it died down before sunset. More snow photos at my Flickr.

Blizzard



Soon I'll no doubt go back to wishing for spring to come, but for a few moments, late tonight/early this morning, during a walk through the falling snow, it was quiet and beautiful and I loved it.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Question of the moment

Wear boots preemptively or brave the first flakes with regular shoes?

One of the joys of the new New York

Coming home from a night out at a bar and not smelling like smoke.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Throttling at Netflix

Here's a really informative and well-done AP piece about Netflix's admitted practice of throttling high-volume users of its DVDs-by-post service. Renters with a frequent turnover, who cost Netflix more money in to-and-from postage each month, often find that it takes longer for popular movies to arrive in their mailboxes. The company apparently gives preference to more infrequent renters. I can't really blame them as a company for instituting this practice, because it still seems like a good deal even for those with ravenous movie-watching (or DVD-copying) appetites. An extra few days here and there doesn't really ruin the cost benefit and convenience as far as I can tell, although I don't ever see myself as being flagged as a high-volume renter, since I'm prone to leaving one of those red and white envelopes sitting around my apartment for as much as a week. I have the $10-a-month (one-at-a-time) plan, and while I may not get 5 or 6 rentals per month, I still think of it as a nice convenience, especially since I like to see films that aren't always highly Blockbuster-able. For those with a higher movie metabolism, I'd imagine the key to avoid being throttled by Netflix would be to mix it up a bit and not be so aggressive in turning around every DVD you get ASAP.

More cute than you can handle

I've been seeing references to Cute Overload all over the place, but I hadn't checked out the site until today. I dare you to head over there and try, try, not to giggle and squeal and smile at the cuteness. I couldn't, and I'm not even much of an animal person! Sample categories: "Birds," "Bunnies," "Cribs," and the ever popular "Cute or Sad?"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Adam Rapp

Saw the play Red Light Winter the other night at the Barrow Street Theater, which recently scored successes with Orson's Shadow and Bug. The play was the first I've seen by Adam Rapp, whose star is apparently rising: Not only has he joined the writing team for Showtime's "The L Word," but his first big movie (writer/director) is coming out in limited release next week: Winter Passing, starring the ever lovely Zooey Deschanel and a crotchety-looking Ed Harris, not to mention Will Farrell. (Will be interesting to see what kind of character they've cast him as, and whether it works.)
 
But back to the play: It had a well-received, and much cheaper, run in Chicago, before moving here with cast intact. Kind of reminded me of Manuscript, which played at the Daryl Roth last year, in that it involves a girl, two Ivy League guy friends, the general motif of writing, and a lot of funny intellectual banter. And while Red Light does strain belief at times, it seems more plausible in the end, even when the emerging-playwright character discusses the Amsterdam-based events of the first act during the second as he's writing about them in his squalid East Village apartment. The admission by this character -- a nerdy guy sans glasses, perpetually cowering in the shadow of his alpha-male "friend" -- that he doesn't know how to end the play he's writing comes true in a way, for the ending is not entirely satisfying. But it's one of those endings that, if successful, proves whether you've actually come to care about the trio during the course of the action (with the requisite emphasis on action), and also provides fodder for more post-curtain discussion. Too bad I saw it by myself.
 
Still, the best thing I've seen since Sweeney Todd. Official opening is tonight.

UPDATE: Isherwood's review is in. He's generally positive and waxes poetic about the central playwright character for most of the piece, before admitting the show's faults toward the end. Still, I've read much worse.

A modern koan, sort of

Why is it that I continue to log onto Instant Messenger (via iChat) with any sort of regularity when the vast majority of people on my list are ones I don't really talk to all that much anymore?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A small holiday rant

I usually try to keep my whining to a minimum here, but I'm going to make a small observation that isn't very groundbreaking, but feels very apt right about now: The hardest time to be single is from about Black Friday through Valentine's Day. Throw a birthday into the mix of things and you've got yet another chance for the world around you to remind you of your failure at finding someone to, well, buy stuff for (and from whom to receive stuff in return). Because that's what it comes down to, at least in terms of the advertising world. So yes, Feb. 14 is not the happiest day for singles, but the same might be said for the past few months as well. It seems to me that there are fewer reminders of coupledom or the lack thereof during the warmer months, when there's less burrowing and cocooning and acquiring pressure.

So: is it spring yet?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Christopher Street stop

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay dancing with the painter (and Pennsylvania boy) John Sloan. Notice her candle: It "burns at both ends. It will not last the night..."

Fun facts of the day

On this day in 1964, the British Invasion began (think: the Beatles arrive), and in 1812, Charles Dickens was born. More at the Writer's Almanac.

'Brokeback to the Future'

If you've seen Brokeback Mountain and know Back to the Future, you have to watch this trailer remix at YouTube. One of the funnier Brokeback parodies I've seen. [Via Englishman in New York]

UPDATE: I spoke too soon. We have a late-breaking entry: "Broke Mac Mountain." Not as creative, but still kinda funny.

'The city'

This weekend, I got caught doing something that out-of-towners complain about from time to time. While having a conversation at a party in the D.C. metro area, I mentioned "the city" (and meant New York City, of course), but did so enough out of context that the guy I was talking to called me out on it. Not in a mean way, but in a look-at-what-you-New-Yorkers-do sort of way.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Eternal flame


Saw friends in Northern Virginia this weekend. Went to the International Spy Museum on Saturday and Arlington National Cemetery the day before. The weather was heartbreakingly warm Friday, perfect for walking among the rows and rows of white tombstones and thinking of spring.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Weekend

Off to our nation's capital. No posts til next week.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Review: Almost, Maine

I saw Almost, Maine tonight at the Daryl Roth on Union Square, a theater that — after scoring a huge hit with that bit of flying trapeze theatrics, De La Guarda — has somewhat languished recently with misses like Manuscript, which end up closing sooner than expected. The current show, unfortunately, is going to fall into that latter category. After the show, a cast member announced that it's going to close on Feb. 12 instead of Feb. 26 as expected.

The show is one of those loose anthologies of little vingettes on the universal theme of love that are supposed to add up to more than the sum of their parts and rarely do. Even when they fall short of that mark, they can be satisfying. After the Night and the Music, for instance, which ran last year at the Biltmore, managed to provide entertainment and depth in respectable quantities. Almost, however, doesn't even deserve the faint praise of its title.

Each segment, the audience realizes, ends up turning on one of those devices of making physical the metaphorical that can be so magical in the right hands (say, Aimee Bender's short stories), but just devolve into a series of groaners in this case. By the time a missing shoe magically falls out of the sky between a feuding pair of marrieds, I'd had enough. Yes, the playwright, John Cariani (who's apparently a "Law and Order" regular, not that I'd know that without help), has enough restraint in that scene to keep tacit what everyone's thinking ("Oop, guess they were waiting for the other shoe to drop"), but the same can't be said for most of the other vignettes. Probably the worst was a Brokeback-esque scene of two bowling-'n-drinking buddies literally falling (for each other), where one actually says to the other, I think I just fell in love with you. It was almost embarassing to see them have to utter the lines as if they were some sort of revelation.

On top of this, it seemed like the woman in almost every scene came off as the jerk, the insensitive one, the stubborn one, the dumb one, whereas the men in the play seem universally downtrodden and put-upon, painfully sensitive, the martyr, the soft-spoken but patient one, etc. (I couldn't help thinking of Garrison Keillor's famous turn of phrase about inhabitants in another small fictional snow-covered town, Lake Wobegon — except that the men of Almost aren't particularly good looking, and while some of the women might be strong, it wouldn't be a compliment.) In short, the men are almost always right, and the women are wrong. Is this Cariani's revenge against women? Does he really think that's the way it is? Was he even conscious of how skewed he's made this world of upstate Maine? It's hard to expect that kind of depth when the surface of the play is so dope-slap obvious.

I really wanted to like it more. The cast includes Todd Cerveris, Michael's brother, who played in the recent revival of Twentieth Century and The Booth Variations, as well as Miriam Shor, who was Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Remembering what a great performance she gave as a guy in that awesome film (alas, I never saw the original show live), it was painful to see her play a rough-and-tumble just-one-of-the-guys tomboy on a snowmobile, who also happens to be a never-been-kissed emotionally closeted dimwit. What she could do with better writing ...