NYC Archives

June 26, 2014

How not to do philanthropy

Chen's philanthropic fiasco in NYC

"Most Well-known and Beloved Chinese Role Model" and generously-minded rich person, Chen Guangbiao (above), demonstrated yesterday why the world needs philanthropic advisors. Chen took out an ad in the Times last week to invite 1,000 "poor and destitute" Americans to lunch, where they would also be given an alleged $300. Lunch and cash, sounds pretty good, right?

Well, the luncheon actually happened: it was at the Central Park Boathouse, featured tuxedoed servers, beef fillet, and magic tricks, and was served to about 200 homeless clients of New York Rescue Mission. The Rescue Mission agreed to bring some of its clients to the Boathouse only if Chen did not actually hand out cash--instead, Chen made a large donation to the organization to support their programs: education, shelter, career training, and counseling. You know, the kinds of things that actually lift people out of poverty and homelessness.

The lunch guests, not being idiots, were suspicious about the $300 they would allegedly receive. They soon started to think they'd been deceived. The Times' article describes how Chen's ostensibly generous act quickly devolved into a deceptive, humiliating fiasco:

Mr. Chen addressed the audience and then uncorked the news the crowd had been waiting for: "I will give $300 for every participant today."

The homeless men and women shot to their feet, whooping and applauding.

"No he won't," Michelle Tolson, the mission's director of public relations, said. "The police will shut him down."

Officials from the Rescue Mission quickly brokered a deal with Mr. Chen's assistants, allowing him to hand $300 to several chosen homeless clients in a symbolic gesture. The clients, however, would have to return the money. [Ed: Oh My God.]

A trolley loaded with $100 bills appeared on the dais, and the homeless delegates were led to the stage, where they posed for the television cameras. Mr. Chen moved into the last portion of the program, launching into an awkward karaoke version of "We Are the World." But as he sang, word began to spread around the room that there was, in fact, going to be no broader cash disbursement.

"Very deceptive," grumbled Dennis Durant, 58.

As the event ended, several of the guests rushed the dais. "Stop lying!" one yelled at Mr. Chen. "We're human beings!" another shouted.

The security guards formed a cocoon around Mr. Chen as angry guests, and dozens of reporters, pressed in.

Throwing money around in front of truly poor people, as though a few hundred bucks is going to mean you don't have to live on the streets anymore. It's insulting, delusional, and demoralizing.

Chen wants to bring his philanthropy to Africa next.

July 15, 2013

Spitzer changes his mind

Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, unlikely political candidates

Many thoughts spring to mind about Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer entering this year's NYC elections. Can a politician come back after resigning in shame? And do voters even care about embarrassing sex scandals? (In the case of Mark Sanford, I guess not.)

What's also springing to mind are the icky details and images we all have of these guys' gross, inappropriate, and/or illegal sex lives, unavoidably returning to our consciousness. I never wanted to think about, for example, black socks in relation to Eliot Spitzer again, for example, but there they are, rising from the dark corner where I had mostly repressed it. (Even if that detail turned out not to be true.)

I've also been thinking about a really good interview from Spitzer in Vanity Fair from 2009, just over a year after the scandal and resignation. In conversation with John Heilpern, he reveals a surprising level of sincerity and regret about his actions and how he betrayed his family and the public. When I first read it, I actually felt a little sorry for the guy:

"I make no excuses," he emphasized, staring at me earnestly. His contrition was palpable. He explained that he tried to do good as governor and before that as attorney general. "Then I sinned and created trauma."

"You knew the risks. Either you felt you were above the law or you had some kind of death wish."

His response was that neither was the case. "It's a story that has been repeated since our earliest days as a species. It's both obvious and not susceptible to an answer," he insisted. "Nonetheless, we are led down a certain path. It wasn't hubris or a death wish--but frailty, temptation, and common miscalculation."


"Do you think the scandal will ever go away?," I asked.

"No. My obituary's written," he replied with shocking finality. "And that is a very hard thing to live with." When he turned away, I could see he was in tears.

When asked if he'd ever return to politics, he said, "I've a hard time seeing politics as a career. I wouldn’t want to put my family through the agony." Well, his family's agony must be less of a concern these days, because I'm sure they've had a horrible week since he announced he was running for office again.

Spitzer's name recognition alone is probably what landed him at the top of a recent poll, though he does have certain qualities that would make him a perfect candidate for the job. He's not afraid to stand up to powerful corporate interests in protection of the public good, which these days is so unusual that it's automatically appealing. But he went about his vigilance against wrongdoing in a hyper-aggressive, asshole-ish kind of way, making the entire financial sector hate his guts. I half love this about him and half think it shows a stunning lack of judgment. When it turned out he was hiring hookers while fighting publicly against sex trafficking, the "asshole with bad judgment" characterization got a lot of extra points.

Given the uninspiring list of candidates we're looking at for major offices, Spitzer's immoral/criminal past alone might not be enough for him to lose the primary, but the entire financial sector gleefully mobilizing their resources to bring him down probably is. A Crain's article about corporate bigwigs responding to the Spitzer (and Weiner) candidacy shows a fascinating combination of nervousness and salivation. "This is very serious business," one business leader said last week. "The mayor is a very serious thing. Comptroller is very serious. And they have a big impact on the economy and quality of life. So the question is, do either of these guys deserve to do that, or would they be good at it?" "Neither one of these guys has any friends in the business they were in," said one business leader. "That's part of the reason they fell so hard," he happily recalled.

I doubt these guys could care less about the prostitution scandal, but they'll use it however they can to remind voters about those black socks.

March 13, 2013

Soda: sugar, water, and a ton of money

Beyonce's Pepsi campaign

There's a great article in the Times today, one of many they've done about the failed soda size limit law in NYC, about the relationship between the soda industry and civil rights groups that spoke out against the policy. It isn't exactly news that companies like Coke and Pepsi are big supporters of the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, National Council of La Raza, and the US Hispanic Leadership Institute, and in some cases have been for decades.

What's so great about today's article are the quotes from leaders at these organizations, and spokespeople from soda companies, expressing their shock and outrage that anyone could think that there's any connection between a company giving money to an organization, and that organization's public support of the company's political agenda.

Check this out:

  • "We never ask our foundation or community relations partners to engage in public policy issues on our behalf," said Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for PepsiCo. "The nature of these relationships is focused on diversity and inclusion."
  • Katelyn Jackson, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said in an e-mail, "The suggestion that our community philanthropic efforts are motivated by something other than good will is grossly inaccurate and ignores our history of true partnership for well over a century."
  • "We don't support soda taxes and things like that, any kind of grocery taxes, because we think they hurt our community more than helping," said Christina M. Martinez, spokeswoman for the US Hispanic Leadership Institute. "We have a great partnership with PepsiCo."
  • Coke and Pepsi have given over $10 million to La Raza, and executives from each company serve on La Raza's board. And guess who La Raza's anti-obesity program's sponsor is? Pepsi! "They are a company that produces some very healthy products," says their Senior VP for Programs.

I don't blame these organizations for taking corporate money--they have programs to run and are doing important work. But to suggest that there's no connection between the source of an organization's revenue and the policies they support or oppose is incredibly naive and delusional. My point is that soda companies have essentially bought themselves credibility by funding civil rights organizations that represent diverse communities, who then speak publicly in support of soda companies's political goals. These companies have been doing this forever, starting when Coke wanted to shed its image as a racist company back in the mid-20th century.

Of course, soda companies also spend a fortune on marketing, a financial bludgeon that overwhelms relatively tiny investments in research on the effects of soda on public health, and the budgets of nonprofits trying to educate people in their communities about what happens to you if you drink loads of soda.

Then there's Beyoncé. She's gotten a lot of flak for her $50 million deal with Pepsi, especially since she also served as a spokesperson/danceperson for Michelle Obama's Let's Move anti-obesity campaign. But let's be honest: Beyoncé has endorsed Pepsi for many years. And McDonald's. She obviously has no problem shilling for unhealthy crap. Maybe she wasn't a very wise choice for a White House campaign promoting healthy food.

But the point is, soda companies don't do this stuff by accident. Their product is basically sugar, water, and food coloring, so they have extensive profits to spend on making people want to drink their stuff, and co-opting the respectability of popular celebrities and admired civil rights groups.

I pretty much agree with Justice Tingling who ruled against the soda size limit. And I love his wonderful name. Bloomberg's proposal was capricious, legally nonsensical, and doomed to fail--there's no legal category of "sugary drinks" that includes things like soda, but not things like chocolate milk. Our government doesn't regulate sugar like it regulates tobacco and alcohol, and until it does, it's going to be hard for cities or states to make laws limiting public consumption of sugar. Until the ATF becomes the ATFS (maybe change it to FATS?) they might not get anywhere. It also might help if organizations that speak for disenfranchised people stopped pretending that money doesn't affect what they say and do.

March 5, 2013

Hands On a Hardbody

Hands On a Hardbody

One of my favorite documentaries of all time is 1997's Hands On a Hard Body, which tells the story of an East Texas car dealership's publicity stunt of giving away a tricked-out Nissan pickup truck to the contestant who can keep one hand on the truck the longest. It goes on for many days. These kinds of contests aren't unusual, at least in Texas, but this documentary is the best kind of human drama--the stakes are high, the competition is physically and psychologically agonizing, and the contestants represent a wonderful cross-section of real-life Americans that I don't think the world's best casting director could have improved.

So of course I had to see the new Broadway musical Hands On a Hardbody, which is in previews. When you look at this production, it looks pretty weird: the book is by Doug Wright, who is most famous for winning a Pulitzer Prize for I Am My Own Wife, about a transgendered woman in Nazi Germany. BUT: Wright is from East Texas, so there you go. The music is by Trey Anastasio from Phish. I was a little worried about how jam band noodlings would work in a Broadway musical, but the songs are very catchy and represent a great range of American music: rock, country, soul, and gospel. I think it's going to do well--reviews come out in a couple of weeks.

One of the best things about the musical is that it adapts the fragmentary documentary into a narrative structure, and ties the contestants together into a coherent group, all driven by one thing: economic desperation. These people don't just think it would be nice to have a fancy truck, they really, really need this truck. There are stories of unemployment, families falling apart, and how much it sucks to be poor and stuck in a crappy little town. It's like if you take the original documentary and filter it through A Chorus Line, you'd get this musical.

Steven Soderbergh recently said that he's hoping to direct some theater now that he's stepping back from movies. This is just the kind of thing I think he'd be great at, if he decides to go big and commercial instead of doing oblique little Off-Broadway stuff. Lately his movies have been all about money and what people will do to get it. We don't often see poor, desperate people in big Broadway musicals, but maybe this will inspire him.

My main hope for this musical is that it will finally bring a proper DVD release for the documentary. Right now, used VHS seems to be the only way to see it (DVDs are selling for over $100!) It doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere, either. But if the show's a hit, maybe more people will get to experience the original in all its glory.

NY Magazine has an interesting explanation of the onstage truck, which the cast members move all over the stage with remarkable ease. It's a 2001 Nissan with the engine removed, on invisible rolling casters. Cool.

January 23, 2013

Hell's Kitchen dancers, Hell's Kitchen pervs

Broadway Dance Center, and Private Eyes, on 45th St

There's an article today about a stretch of West 45th Street where a fascinating diversity of New Yorkers intersect. There's the Broadway Dance Center, a high-level school for aspiring young dancers that's been around for decades, and right across the street, there's a hotel for homeless people. Students and parents with kids at the school just learned that three sex offenders live (legally) at the hotel, including one guy who abused a 9 year-old, so now they're concerned. One 19 year-old student says, "We go home by ourselves every night at 11. It's dark and bad things could happen."

In addition to housing sex offenders, there have been violent incidents in the hotel, like a woman arrested for attacking a man with a knife a few weeks ago, who yelled "I'm the victim!" as she was led away. Residents of the hotel (and actually, anyone on the sidewalk) can see the Broadway Dance Center students dancing through large windows that face the street.

What this article doesn't mention, and the parents don't comment on, is the strip club immediately adjacent to the dance school, Private Eyes. You can see the sign in the photo above. I've long been amused by the variety of dance styles offered in one convenient midtown location.

All kinds of questions come to mind. Like: Do parents and students have any concerns about all the non-traditional forms of dance going on next door, while Broadway Dance Center students are walking home? Are parents worried about the Private Eyes patrons hanging around outside eyeing their 19 year-old daughters during ballet class? What about the Private Eyes dancers, many of whom are probably the same age as the students--is it dangerous for them to walk home after work past convicted rapists?

On a more practical level, do recruiters from Private Eyes visit the Dance Center to tell students about the job opportunities available to them after they finish Jazz, Tap, and Modern? Do Private Eyes dancers ever brush up their technique with a few Street Jazz Funk classes next door? Broadway Dance Center actually offers a class called Stiletto Heels, which seems like a perfect cross-over for students looking for an immediately lucrative career, right in the neighborhood.

One concerned mom with a daughter taking ballet says she doesn't like that the guys in the homeless hotel can watch her daughter during class. "The kids are all wearing tights, but they might as well be naked." She really said that, I swear.

November 6, 2012

Working Families Party, moving up in the world

Working Families Party NY State ballot

It's Election Day! And in New York State, that means millions of people are mourning the loss of the old draw-the-curtain, flip-the-thingies, pull-the-lever system that was so mechanically gratifying for all those years. Now we've got illegibly tiny fonts on a piece of paper and broken down scanners. We're bravely entering the world of mid-1990's office technology over here (assuming your polling place is lucky enough to have power.)

But one new development looks promising: the Working Families Party line has moved up, from the last column (E) to the next-to-last column (D)! Every year, more people have voted on the Working Families Party line, and all this voter action propelled the WFP to pole vault over the freaky old Independence Party and wedge itself in next to the creepy old Conservative Party. It's not the greatest neighborhood, but it's a nice progressive spot on an otherwise grim stretch of right-wingness.

Voting for Obama on the Working Families line counts just the same as a vote on the Democratic line, but it speaks more forcefully about wanting a president who sticks up for the interests of regular people.

Google has a helpful map service that finds your polling place, which is nice, but because of storm fallout, this year New York residents can vote ANYWHERE.

Cool! Could this vastly improved change of protocol convince the Board of Elections that we should all be able to go to a website, plug in our address, generate a ballot, and vote for our respective local candidates without having to go to a designated school cafeteria, wait in various lines for an hour while people flip through giant notebooks and figure out which other line we should be standing in, then enter your votes using a freaking scanner? Yeah, probably not.

June 20, 2012

Celebrity lovebirds

The Daily News is running my current favorite celebrity photo: Mary-Kate Olsen, her 42 year-old boyfriend (aka Nicolas Sarkozy's half-brother,) and his tween daughter, out together in the West Village:

Mary-Kate Olsen and Olivier Sarkozy

She owns her own fashion label; he's a managing director of politically terrifying private equity firm The Carlyle Group. And they're 16 years apart. But look at that cigarette-cellphone-sunglasses body language--it must be love!

May 31, 2012

Bad Love High School strikes again

Bad Love Teacher, Erin Sayar

The wholesome, glowing bride in this photo is Erin Sayar, a 36 year-old English teacher at James Madison High in Brooklyn. She was removed from her classroom in January for allegedly having sex with an 11th grade student she was supposed to be tutoring. The story is familiar to anyone who follows the non-stop deluge of disastrous teacher/student relationships that fit the Bad Love criteria: an adult in a position of power, a kid who doesn't know any better, lots of sex, and zero judgement.

The story goes that Sayar and the student started having sex both in her office during the tutoring sessions, where they also smoked the weed she kept in her filing cabinet, and in her SUV, where she pulled up in front of his house late one night last fall. In addition to the student's confession that the two of them had sex 8-12 times, he also identified tattoos "on intimate parts of Sayar’s body". And then there's all the texts. For some reason, teachers who have sex with their students are also ferociously enthusiastic texters--Sayar and the student sent 3,856 text messages in 17 days--over 200 a day!

Note to self: if you have 200+ text exchanges with someone every day, whatever it is you're doing with them, it's probably ill-advised and/or illegal.

Somehow, they got caught. Actually it wasn't the kid's mom who figured out what was going on, it was his girlfriend. In an interesting twist on the usual formula, the girlfriend saw her teenage boyfriend flirting with a teacher and got suspicious, so naturally, she hacked his Facebook account. There she found messages from him to his teacher: "I love you so much", and the one that just about breaks my heart: "I always loved you, since last year."

When the adult in these Bad Love situations declares their love for the teenager they're sleeping with, I pretty much assume that they're emotionally crippled delusional creeps. But when the kid tells his English teacher that he's always loved her, since last year, I just feel awful for that poor misguided lovelorn 16 year-old, whose romantic fantasy is a married mother with glaringly obvious mental problems. And I might feel a little bit worse for his girlfriend.

We should point out that James Madison High was also the site of some hot girl-on-girl teacher action in 2009, when a janitor stumbled upon two drunk language teachers, Cindy Mauro and Alini Brito, going at it after school in a classroom, which was the most excellent Bad Teacher story of the decade.

Man, my high school was SO LAME.

May 11, 2012

Who's Hotter?™: The accused well-dressed groper or the actual one?

Ladies: if you're going to be groped by a random dude on the street, would you prefer your assailant to be the man on the left, Karl Vanderwoude, who was wrongly charged with a series of assaults on women, or the man on the right, the dude in surveillance images from the Chambers St subway station who grabbed a woman's crotch on Centre St?

NYC well-dressed groper, accused and real

[more hot groper images here]

It took the NYPD three weeks to realize these two are not the same person, which in my view is pretty obvious if you share my awkward but undeniable views on the superior hotness of the real groper, the guy on the right. Sorry. Sue me. Anyone interested in a momentary, unsolicited, one-sided makeout session with a strikingly handsome fellow might get lucky if they hang out on downtown sidewalks, proffering their ass.

The not quite as handsome non-groper, Karl Vanderwoude, was arrested on a tip by someone who knew him well enough to provide the police with his phone number and the name of his roommate, but he was released earlier this week and all charges were dropped. After his name and photo were plastered all over the tabloids and local news as the "well-dressed" groper. The Post has been referring to him as the "gentleman groper", I guess because a good-looking white guy in nice clothes who grabs women's crotches on the street somehow still retains an air of respectability and decency.

Another strange aspect of the coverage of this story is a piece in today's Times which compares the misfortune of Mr. Vanderwoude and his false accusation to that of DSK and the botched police work around his charge of raping a hotel maid, noting that both men made the same much-photographed perp walk. "The ghost of DSK was hanging in the rafters," said Vanderwoude's lawyer. The Times comments, "The next wrongly accused person might not have an alibi backed up by video and e-mails. Is the Police Department making any inquiry to see what caused this wreck?"

Both examples represent high-profile NYPD failures on sex crime cases, but DSK's actual personal semen was all over a hotel room and the maid's clothes, while this poor guy was a completely innocent person paraded through the streets as a predatory ass-grabber based on faulty information. It's a bad comparison, and I'd be pissed. At least Vanderwoude wins any comparison with DSK, even if he lacks the beguilingly, distressing chiseled features of the actual groper.

April 18, 2012

Why we love eating crap

Junk food in grocery stores

It's become very fashionable to talk about the concept of "food deserts" as an explanation for why so many Americans, especially poor Americans, don't eat healthy food and are overweight. The thinking goes, if poor people had access to fresh produce and other healthy food, they would eat better, and be less fat. But they don't have access, so they eat Ding Dongs and pork rinds and whatever you can get at a liquor store snack rack.

Personally, I think this line of thinking is garbage, which is why I'm so psyched about an article in today's Times about the myth of the food desert and access/inaccess to healthy food as a predictor of weight problems. Two new studies basically debunk two big ideas that went into the "food desert" myth: that poor urban neighborhoods don't have grocery stores, and that living close to a grocery store makes it less likely that you'll be overweight.

Turns out there are just as many grocery stores in poor neighborhoods as in rich ones, and proximity to a grocery store has no bearing on thinness or fatness. The scientists involved didn't propose an explanation for this, but I have a few of my own. First, EVERYBODY LOVES TO EAT CRAP. Also, JUNK FOOD COMPANIES SPEND BILLIONS ON ADVERTISING.

It really bugs me when people in positions of power talk about how to change poor people's eating habits, as though poor people are powerless to make good decisions about what they want, and if a kind benefactor just paid for a bunch of green carts selling fruits and vegetables (like we have all over NYC now) poor people will gratefully enrich their diets with wholesome produce and stop having diabetes and heart disease.

Look at rich people, who supposedly have ample access to fruits and vegetables and pretty much anything else they want! Have you seen a menu at a fancy restaurant lately? With all the expensive and totally unhealthy pork belly hash and the duck fat tater tots and dates wrapped in bacon and peanut butter and, God help us, fried pizza?

The fact is, whether we have nice produce at our grocery stores or not, and whether we shop at Whole Foods or at a corner store, we as humans still love to eat greasy, fatty, sugary garbage. We can't help it. As Cintra Wilson once wrote, left to our own devices, people would consume nothing but bacon, cans of whipped cream, and Starburst.

The other problem is grocery stores themselves--even in rich neighborhoods in New York, I see anemic looking pink tomatoes and gnarly wilted lettuce and shriveled green beans all the time. Gristede's sucks whether it's in Washington Heights or the West Village. It's not like "nice neighborhood" or "grocery store" means "decent produce" in this city. And you can bet every store's shelves are well stocked with an impressive selection of Pringles™.

But changing people's behavior is a whole lot harder than just installing some green carts, if you're concerned about healthy eating. Plus it might mean looking critically at how rich people behave, which I seriously doubt is any better than poor people in terms of Cheetos™ consumption. Maybe the only thing that unites Americans now is potato chips.

April 2, 2012

Cindy Sherman at MoMA

Cindy Sherman photo

I went to see the huge Cindy Sherman exhibit at MoMA, which I think includes pretty much everything she ever did in the style she's famous for: Cindy Sherman dressed up as a character of her own invention, photographed by Cindy Sherman. People often write things about her photographs that include phrases like "the construction of identity", "nature of representation", and "artifice of photography" (those are all in the first sentence of the MoMA wall text at the exhibit. I might have even dropped something about "gender performance" or something obnoxious ripped off from Judith Butler in the conversation I had after leaving the museum.

But the truth is, no one can express that thing about humanity and the peculiar, funny, sad, insane ways we present ourselves to the world as well as Cindy Sherman can. That's why we're all are so crazy about her and her photos.

Cindy Sherman photo

Also. Note to self after seeing this exhibit: Do everything in your power to prevent people from looking at you and thinking, "That lady looks like a Cindy Sherman photograph." If I can pull that off, everything else in life should be OK.

Cindy Sherman photo

March 26, 2012

Cronenberg's Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis trailer

A mini-trailer is out for the David Cronenberg adaptation of Don DeLillo's book Cosmopolis. Last year's A Dangerous Method was Cronenberg's first time making a sorta-biopic period piece, and overall it was OK but a little disappointing. Cronenberg just doesn't do Protestant repression and propriety as well as he does fatalistic descent into uncontrollable chaos, savagery, and squishy sexual weirdness.

Thankfully, we've got all that delicious Cronenbergian perversity and mayhem packed into this new 30 second teaser trailer (that's in French, and not exactly SFW.) Cosmopolis is about a 28 year-old coolly-detached rich guy and his journey by limo down the entire length of 47th Street in Manhattan. Things don't go as planned, and it gets pretty surreal and horrific. It might not be DeLillo's greatest book (reviews were "mixed to negative") but it gave Cronenberg plenty of disturbing material to work with: riots, naked people, stabbings, freaky limo sex, and what appears to be Robert Pattinson shooting himself through the hand.

By the way, Cronenberg has been touting Pattinson's acting chops all year, and recently said he was a dream to work with on the (Toronto, obvs) set. "A ray of sunshine." So sweet! I believe him when he says Pattinson's got more to offer than Twilight would suggest.

Here's the trailer:

The rest of the cast includes Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, and Jay Baruchel--pretty great! We'll probably end up seeing most of these people get either naked or eaten by a giant rat.

March 15, 2012

Death of a Salesman. (Spoiler alert! He dies.)

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death of a Salesman

I'm going to be honest here. I think Death of a Salesman might be the worst Great American Play. Sure, it's sad and tragic, and we can all agree that the American Dream often fails to bring any happiness or satisfaction to people who chase it. But the story of Willy Loman is told with zero nuance or depth, and the themes are made obvious by the characters reciting them, repeatedly, in actual lines of dialogue. When a play has lines like, "Willy doesn't know who he is", "I get so lonely", and "The only thing you've got in this world is what you can sell," and they're repeated over and over, it seems like more of a reading comprehension exercise in a 9th grade English textbook than a great work of literature. This is what wins Pulitzers?

But for some reason, it's on Broadway, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. They do a pretty good job with limited material. The acting is mostly great, especially (of course) PSH at Willy Loman and Linda Emond, who plays his wife Linda. Willy Loman is a small man, but PSH has made a huge performance out of him. Linda Emond is more restrained than the other actors, and conveys the quiet desperation that I think is a good overall tone for a play this ham-handed.

The thing is, really high quality performances almost amplify the mediocrity of the script. I kept wishing I could see all these believable, compelling characters in a better play. The whole production seems to try to make up for the bad script by simply turning up the volume--there's a LOT of yelling, and lesser actors like Andrew Garfield fall into the trap of mistaking loud talking for acting.

But seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman on stage is a wonderful thing. Willy Loman is maybe the least cool character in literature, and PSH doesn't hold back with the unlikeable blowhard bravado, or with the disillusionment, self-loathing, and shame. He's amazing to watch, but he's so in control that sometimes I lost sight of how out of control Willy is. Maybe there's just no way to do a good job with a play this bad. The play opens tonight, so we'll see what the real critics think.

You know what would be nice? If Philip Seymour Hoffman got to do some more comedies. Remember how hilarious he is in The Big Lebowski showing Jeff Bridges around the house? Wow.

March 7, 2012

Sue Simmons and NBC

WNBC, New York's NBC affiliate, has announced that they won't be renewing the contract of their beloved 30 year news anchor Sue Simmons.

[Obligatory response to NBC:] The fuck are you doing?!

See one of my favorite TV clips, from a memorable news promo from 2008:

In a statement, the station said, "We have tremendous respect and admiration for Sue Simmons. For decades, Sue has been a critical part of New York's longest-tenured anchor team in the city and has more than earned her iconic status."

You know what goes a long way in earning iconic status? Swearing on the air. It's not just that she (accidentally) swore during a promo for the news, it's that she did it with such bravado and flair. No timid cursing for Sue Simmons! That incident, and her open, authentic style on the air, make her seem so funny and appealing. We'll miss her.

UPDATE: The Times has an adoring professional-obituary for Sue Simmons on today's front page!

February 15, 2012

Britney is indestructible

Britney in Chaotic

The Robot Linky feed isn't working today, so here are a few little things about politics and Factory Records and Britney Spears:

  • Over at the AV Club, Nathan Rabin continues his "My World of Flops" series with a look at the brief, unwatchable reality TV show that Britney Spears created during her ill-fated romance with Kevin Federline, "Chaotic". This "Flops" series is a continuation of Rabin's "My Year of Flops" in which he takes a fresh look at a movie (or TV show, or album) that was a commercial and critical failure, and considers why it flopped. Sometimes he finds heretofore unacknowledged value in the flops, which is not the case with his review of "Chaotic", possibly the worst TV show ever made.

    Rabin comes away hating Kevin Federline with such intensity and venomous rage it's almost worth reading just for that. But his analysis of the disaster that Britney was unwittingly getting herself into, in the form of a marriage and subsequent breakup that was so awful it made her literally insane and probably almost killed her, is the interesting part. If Britney could survive being married to someone as horrible and parasitic as Kevin Federline, he argues, she can survive anything.

    Here's an excerpt:

    [The show] captures the bizarre, counterintuitive power imbalance at the heart of Spears and Federline's relationship. Spears may be the world-famous, multi-millionaire sex symbol ogled and desired by tens of millions, but Federline is the one with all the power in the relationship. In "Chaotic", Spears looks to Federline for the approval, validation, and affection she gets constantly from the entire world, but he's able to control and manipulate her by strategically withholding them. In her mind, she's the lucky one. She's the one dating an older, wiser, more sophisticated man who's kind enough to let her experience the benefit of his wisdom.
  • In excavating the old bank that will be the site of his new restaurant in Manchester, Jamie Oliver stumbled on some Joy Division master tapes in a safety deposit box. [!?!?] Whoa! What's on them? Are there any new songs? Covers of "Louie, Louie"? Was it Factory Records founder Tony Wilson's safety deposit box? I worry we'll never get the follow-up this story deserves.
  • With the camps pretty much over, the Occupy movement is looking at one-day protests and actions, which I think is great--this has to be about something more than camping in public spaces. But a story today reports a planned event for February 29th: "Shut Down the Corporations Day". Um. I want to get behind this movement, but moronic non-strategies like this make it hard.
  • Kraftwerk is coming to MoMA! Ralf is going to do a series of 8 shows, one for each of their albums. Cool.
  • And if you didn't find Romney's insistence that he is "severely conservative" creepy enough, how about this: he mistreats dogs. Dogs Against Romney is doing two protests this week. If it takes stories about dog abuse for people to think twice about voting for Romney instead of his policy ideas, that's fine by me.

December 5, 2011

Shame and New York

Shame, Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender

You know how when you watch a Woody Allen movie set in New York, he always make the city look beautiful and sophisticated, but also personal and lived-in, and after the movie you might feel that, just by walking around the streets, this wonderful city belongs to you a little bit?

Well, Shame is like the exact opposite of that. Steve McQueen's new movie about a sex addict living in an expensively bland Manhattan makes New York look impersonal and bleak. His New York certainly doesn't belong to you, but you probably wouldn't want it to, anyway. A young Steve McQueen lived here for a while with his family, and briefly attended NYU ("hated it"), but seems to have retained none of the tenderness that other directors have for the city. Though he did find his childhood experience with the 1977 blackout "quite exciting. A lot of people were stealing."

"New Yorkers live and work in the sky," he said in an interview in Time Out. "You're always in the perspective of this metropolis, aren't you? Who are you, in the context of this city? It can make one feel very small. Maybe it's just too much."

That feeling of being lost in an overwhelming city fits with the movie, which isn't a complete success but is really good in some ways. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a quiet, handsome, corporate guy who is uncontrollably addicted to sex. You could watch an interesting double feature at the movies right now, with Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, trying (and failing) to understand and control the interplay of sex and mental illness in himself and his patients, and Michael Fassbender as a sex addict in Shame, not even really trying to understand or control his self-obliterating behavior. He's great in both, and a lot nakeder in the second one.

Anyway, Shame's New York is a place where hardly anyone has normal sexual or romantic interactions. The married people cheat, the emotionally open people are also suicidal disasters who always fall for the wrong person, and everyone else seems to regularly have sex with strangers in public or is in fact a sex addict. Only the prostitutes seem to be totally fine with themselves and their sex lives. It isn't beautiful or glamorous; one of the movie's recurring locations is the Standard Hotel, a hulking grey slab that looks simultaneously ugly and expensive. In one hotel room scene, a character looks out the window and comments on the "amazing view", which is not anything like amazing. It's a dingy industrial wasteland, like this:

Shame, in the Standard Hotel


Another reason the Standard might not use scenes from Shame in its marketing materials is the hilariously rude exchange between McQueen and a manager of the hotel's roof bar, Le Bain, that the Times captured in an interview with McQueen and Fassbender.

McQueen was rather annoyed when a loud crunching bass line began pumping through the bar's speakers. It was 4 p.m., and the place, the exclusive celebrity-friendly Le Bain, was nearly deserted.

"Excuse me?" Mr. McQueen bellowed. "Can you turn the music down?"

He was met by a manager, clearly unmoved. "I have people coming in," he said, talking over Mr. McQueen's protests.

The director stayed polite -- "Look, I don't want to fight with you," he said -- only to be met with a smirk. "I don't want to fight either," the manager said. "Whatever," Mr. McQueen said, waving him off, but the manager persisted. "What does that mean?" he asked, in a mocking tone. "What is 'whatever' about?"

It was a bizarre, aggressive moment, and Mr. McQueen seemed to sour after that. He had lost track of his earlier point, and, as the manager walked away, he uttered a quiet, vigorous expletive.

That's New York for you. Sex addicts, hookers, and bitchy bar managers.

August 26, 2011

Be prepared!

Hurricane Irene path

As the east coast prepares to get pounded by Hurricane Irene, I bet a lot of us in the Northeast are finding ourselves in the strange position of wondering what exactly we're supposed to do to prepare. Sure, we know how to drive in snow and that the best way to cope with a 100+ degree day is to go the movies, but we're not used to hurricanes. What if we actually get hit by hurricane-level wind and rain and really bad things start to happen?

It wasn't until this morning that I thought about the possibility of an evacuation of some parts of the city and greater region. I stood in the shower, listening to Bloomberg talk about possible evacuations on the radio, and realized that everywhere I thought of as a safe place to go in case of a bad storm was actually just further along the storm's likely path. Hmm. Where exactly would I go? Scranton?

I had an unsettling mental image of myself innocently wandering into Port Authority with a backpack and some vague notion of hopping on a Greyhound bus headed anywhere west, and being swept up in a chaotic horde of thousands of pissed off New Yorkers who don't have cars and all decided at around 6:30 on Saturday that the Lower East Side and Red Hook aren't the greatest places to be in a city where the streets flood on regular rainy days, fighting over standing space in the aisle of a Coach USA bus to Binghamton that's filled with screaming children and has an overflowing toilet in the back.

It's probably not going to happen that way. My guess is, it'll rain like hell and be windy and wild, the subways will flood and shut down, and maybe, worst case scenario, we'll lose power for a day or two.

So I'm preparing by ensuring I have plenty of the following things: clean underwear and cash. And some beer in the fridge.

In a piece on NPR this morning about how the big box stores are stocking up on essential items, I heard that the rest of America has a similarly cavalier attitude to their post-storm preparations. What's the single item that most people rush to Walmart to buy for a major storm? Batteries? Drinking water? Generators? Nope. Strawberry Pop-Tarts. That's true American grit.

Nate Silver calculates that, even if a Category 1 storm hits land 50 miles from Manhattan, the damage will be in the multi-billions of dollars, and if it's a direct hit, tens of billions. A weak Category 2 storm hitting Manhattan would cause damage worth half of the city's annual budget.

Gothamist has a map of the city's evacuation zones (the link to the city's map is reeeally slow today.) Don't go to the beach, and stay safe, everyone.

August 15, 2011

Why I don't go to the Bryant Park film series anymore

Bryant Park, Monday night film series

Back in the summer of 2001, I used to go to the Monday night Bryant Park film series every single week. I'd go by myself most weeks, rushing home from work to wolf down a quick dinner and run over to the park. Even though a lot of other people had arrived much, much earlier to stake out their spots (there were a lot of unemployed people in 2001) as long as I got there by about 6:20, I could get a decent, smallish space for myself, and relax for a while before the movie started. At that time, it was one of the few good free outdoor film series, and I saw some really great classic movies: Viva Las Vegas, The Wild One, You Can't Take it With You, The Philadelphia Story, Stalag 17.

As tough as it was in 2001 to snag a good spot if you had an office job, it got worse every year. More people started showing up each week, everyone started having cell phones and talking on them during the movie, and, like everyone who's lived in a city for a long time and found themselves inevitably sliding toward the crinkly end of the demographic spectrum, I got more and more irritated at all the 22 year-olds who loudly dominated on Monday nights in the park. I went less and less often, and now it's been a few years since I even thought about going.

Which I've just learned is a good thing. A recent Times article about this summer's series begins with a regular Bryant Park attendee who shows up each week at 5:00 PM with an entire suitcase that allegedly contains two dozen sheets, which he uses to countermand an absurdly gigantic swath of real estate for himself and his friends. "We make sure all of the sheets overlap so that no one can seize a patch of grass," he says.

Sure, he gets there early and has to wait in the park for hours before the movie starts, but this kind of land grab at a free public event sounds suspiciously like the behavior of a greedy asshole to me. Or, OK, I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he and his many friends just really love classic movies under the stars.

Then at the end of the article, the writer notes that not everyone at the park appears to be there to watch the movie: "Some checked their phones nonstop. Others fell asleep. A few ducked out early." Then there's a quote from the Bryant Park Conquistador himself: " 'It's not about the movie. It's about having a picnic in the park.' "

What?! Dude. If it's really about having a picnic in the park, couldn't you maybe pick any other park in New York City for your picnic? Or come to Bryant Park for your ridiculously expansive picnic on a Wednesday night? It's because of people like this guy that I'll be missing Dirty Harry next week.

Uh oh. I think I sounded like Glenn Beck for a second, there.

July 18, 2011

New Yorkers love women's soccer

US women's soccer fans in Germany

Despite the enthusiasm of its adoring fans (above), the US Women's Soccer team lost to Japan in yesterday's final in a really well-played but terribly unlucky match. But even if they didn't win, the ladies of US soccer got a lot of love from the sports fans. I watched the game in a crowded New Jersey beach bar, and there was as much table-pounding, high-fiving, and screaming at the TV screen as when professional men's sports are on. I defy anyone who thinks soccer is boring to watch the second half of that game and just try to refrain from pumping their fists in the air.

Also: I walked through Times Square this evening and tried to pass the W Hotel on 47th Street, but was blocked by about 15 cops who were trying (unsuccessfully) to check reporters' credentials, block rush hour traffic, and hold back swarms of people who were pushing up against inadequate barricades, all holding their phones in the air and trying to take pictures of what had to be some very important people standing outside the hotel.

Wait, that's Abby Wambach! There they were! The US Women's Soccer team in their warm-up suits, standing on the sidewalk, giving interviews, hugging teenage girls, and generally causing complete mayhem by their presence.

After being hustled across the street by some cops, who looked like they were in over their heads, I came upon two less mobbed non-Hope Solo players standing outside Starbucks, signing autographs for somewhat calmer fans. Stephanie Cox and another player who I've so far been unable to identify (possibly Lauren Cheney?) graciously posed for a picture and thanked me for watching.

US Soccer team in Times Square

Wooo! USA! Canada 2015!

June 7, 2011

Should have seen it coming, Weiner

Anthony Weiner comes clean

Today's coverage of Anthony Weiner's confession about his enthusiasm for online dirty chatting has quickly moved from reactions to yesterday's announcement to broader discussions of the issues the matter most to each media outlet. The Post has offered the most consistently explicit use of original source material, while the Times has provided analysis of the political fallout and the weird ongoing involvement of blogger and "perpetually sweating conservative trickster" Andrew Breitbart, who isn't really part of the story anymore.

But the most interesting related story I've seen is an unbelievably prophetic interview that the NY Times conducted with Weiner less than three weeks ago, which specifically addresses his fast and loose approach to Twitter. Even before we knew he was contacting his female followers with jockey bulge photos, he had a reputation for being candid and sometimes flippant in his tweets. So the Times asked him about the risks he was taking.

Here are some actual quotes from Anthony Weiner about his Twitter use:

"I know the risk. I've seen enough stories about the risk, and I've kind of kicked the line of the risk a couple of times."

"There's a certain amount of risk that you take. And I kind of forget them as I write them," meaning the Twitter posts, "but if I saw all of them lined up, I'm sure I could probably point to one or two and say, 'Oh that got a little bit close there.' But they're mostly pretty playful."

The interviewer asked him if he had any safeguards in place, like having a staff member read over his Twitter posts before he sent them out. "The answer is no. Maybe I should." He laughed and then added: "Point taken."

He then made a comment about the waitresses at Coffee Shop, where the interview was conducted, and how attractive they are. Watching one waitress walk by, he turned around "in an exaggerated pantomime" to eye her.

It's almost too on the nose. If the Anthony Weiner scandal was a movie, I'd criticize the interview scene as obvious, clumsy foreshadowing.

The scandal itself doesn't surprise me, I guess, but I am surprised that a politician as openly ambitious as Anthony Weiner would engage in such high-risk behavior that, if he got caught, would ultimately ruin his political aspirations. He did, and it did.

May 18, 2011

Some guys just have the knack

Officer Moreno, charged with rape     Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with rape

New York has a couple of high-profile alleged rapists in the news: Officer Kenneth Moreno, accused of raping a drunk woman in her apartment, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accused of attacking and raping a maid in his hotel room.

Let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that Moreno and Strauss-Kahn did in fact rape their respective victims. Both of these guys are opportunist rapists: I don't think either attack was premeditated, but when they realized they'd encountered vulnerable women they thought they could take advantage of, they went for it.

But one of these guys could teach the other a thing or two about how to commit rape if you want to get away with it:

First, pick a woman who is totally wasted. That makes it harder for her to defend herself, and makes it easier to discredit her in court. Officer Moreno is a real pro at this one, with the added bonus of being an alcoholic himself, so he could tell a story to the jury about how he empathized with his victim and spent those four visits to her apartment counseling her through her addiction, spooning in her bed, and singing "Livin' On a Prayer" to her.

Strauss-Kahn, on the other hand, selected a sober, able-bodied woman for his attack, and while he apparently was able to ejaculate somewhere during the assault (EWW EWW EWW), she eventually fought him off and got away.

Second, wear a condom. That way, there's less chance of physical evidence. Officer Moreno confessed to his victim, who was wearing a wire, that he used a condom when he raped her (and has subsequently gone through all kinds of bizarre logistical contortions to explain that one.) But he successfully avoided leaving any trace of his bodily fluids in the apartment or on his victim, while Strauss-Kahn's genetic material is being extracted from the Sofitel carpet and analyzed as we speak.

And we have the NY Post to thank for this additional piece of advice: you should wear a condom in case the woman you rape is HIV+.

We'll know in the next day or two if Officer Moreno gets away with it or not. I think it's going to be a lot harder to get to a guilty verdict for him than it will be for Strauss-Kahn, if he ever goes to trial. He may be a brilliant economist, but he's one sloppy rapist.

I hope they both get locked up forever.

April 11, 2011

Blank City

Blank City

There's a great new documentary playing at the IFC Center, Blank City, about the hyper-indie DIY filmmakers and musicians working in the East Village in the late '70's and early '80's. It's the "No Wave" movement: a bunch of people with no money, no training, barely any equipment, cheap rent, cheap drugs, and a lot of friends in bands with a lot of time on their hands. Here's the movie's website.

Out of this movement, we got Jim Jarmusch, Sonic Youth, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lydia Lunch, Charlie Ahearn (who did Wild Style about Fab 5 Freddy and the early hip-hop scene,) Susan Seidelman (who went on to do Desperately Seeking Susan,) and loads of other renegade filmmakers. My favorite title is They Eat Scum, by the depraved Nick Zedd.

It's really inspiring and fun to watch this breathless moment when so many artists were creating such wild and new stuff, and made me wish I could drop in on that time and place. Kind of like how I wanted to be in early-'70's LA after reading the debaucherous Wikipedia page for Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. A.O. Scott wrote an especially great review about the movie and the scene: "Technique, polish, professionalism -- all of these were suspect. What emerged in their absence, under various names, were films that were at once rough and sophisticated, cynical and passionate, jaded and hysterical. Kind of like New York itself."

A good companion piece to this movie is a collection of photos by Brooke Smith, better known as Catherine Martin from The Silence of the Lambs, documenting the hardcore scene in New York in the early '80's. It's wistfully cute seeing all those baby-faced kids in their torn Agnostic Front t-shirts. (tx, ADM!)

A few related documentaries: last year there was one about Basquiat, The Radiant Child, and a few years ago, one about composer and musician Arthur Russell, Wild Combination.

Blank City opens in other cities in May and June.

March 17, 2011

Arcadia back on Broadway

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Raul Esparza and Lia Williams

I went to see Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia last night, on the final night of previews before the critics review it tonight. I'd seen it once before during its first run in London in 1994, back when I was a hardcore theater nerd, and at that time it was the best, most perfect play I'd ever seen. It was complicated and cool, funny and touching, an unabashed adoration of poetry that also made math and quantum physics into something accessible and neat.

The revival production is pretty good, and there are some wonderful moments and a few stand-out performances, but it didn't have the same magical spark that it had for me back in 1994. A theme that unites the two parts of the play, one set in 1809 and one in the present day, is the second law of thermodynamics, the idea that the flow of heat and energy only moves in one direction. When you throw a ball through a window, even if you gather up all the glass and put the pieces back together, you can never regain the energy that was released when the glass shattered into pieces. It's gone.

In the physical world, this is the same thing as entropy: once the milk is in the coffee, you can't stir it back out again. Once you've had your mind blown by one production of Arcadia, you can't unblow your mind and walk into a theater in 2011 expecting the same thing to happen again.

Still, there's some great stuff in this play. Both literature and physics are held up as the things that make life meaningful, and dismissed as esoteric nonsense. Billy Crudup, an arrogant and unbalanced Byron scholar, says: "I can't think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars, big bang, black hole -- who gives a shit?" [you can listen to it on today's NPR story] There's a beautiful explanation of chaos theory by Raul Esparza (in the photo above), a stage actor I'd never seen before but who is totally phenomenal and great.

All this theatrical science reminds me a class my college offered that was popular among terrified English majors: Physics For Poets, a course that's been part of Patton Oswalt's routine. Hope Arcadia's on the syllabus.

Mostly, this play made me really want Tom Stoppard to write another one, already. He does a lot of rewrites and punch-ups of big Hollywood movie scripts, usually uncredited. I dug around a little, and Tom Stoppard contributed to the following movies, not necessarily what you'd expect from such an eggheady playwright:

Sleepy Hollow: he added Ichabod Crane's squeamishness, which is a lot of what made it funny.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Steven Spielberg brought him in at the last minute to rewrite the script (Stoppard also wrote the screenplay for Spielberg's Empire of the Sun.) Spielberg says "Tom is pretty much responsible for every line of dialogue."

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: George Lucas brought him in to redo dialogue (maybe not the greatest testament to Stoppard's chops.)

The Bourne Ultimatum: He did a draft of the script, but acknowledges that there's not a lot of his dialogue in the final version. Not much of anybody's dialogue, really.

UPDATE: Emily pointed out to me that Fermat's Last Theorem, which is a topic of heated discussion in Arcadia, also appears in The Girl Who Played With Fire. Higher math is very hot right now! I've seen a few mathematically-oriented discussions of the GWPWF treatment of it, which suggest that Stieg Larsson maybe didn't have the greatest understanding of math and what proving theorems is all about (in reality it's not at all like solving a puzzle, apparently.)

While Stoppard was writing Arcadia, a lot was going on in the real world regarding Fermat's Last Theorem: it was actually solved in 1994, while the play was still running. The 13 year-old probable genius, Thomasina, posits that the Theorem was a joke created by Fermat to drive future mathematicians nuts. That reference probably went over better when we all thought it was still unsolvable.

Here's a full list of references to the Theorem in literature.

March 6, 2011

The Book of Mormon is really, really nice

The Book of Mormon on Broadway

The "South Park" guys' musical, The Book of Mormon, is still in previews, but when this thing opens, it's going to be a gigantic hit. These guys know how to write songs that are breathtakingly vulgar, and as light and catchy as the best stuff Rodgers and Hart ever did. They're funny, they're shocking, and they have a chorus you'll be singing (very, very quietly) all week. People are going to be doing these songs at karaoke bars by this summer.

So is it offensive? I'd seen the "All About the Mormons?" episode of "South Park" [video] from a few years back that actually was pretty mean-spirited. So I was a little concerned that all that unfunny, mean "dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb" kind of stuff from that episode would work its way into the Broadway show, and I'd come out of it feeling like a jerk.

The show is like the opposite of that "South Park" episode. I don't know if they changed their approach in order to have a successful show that people would genuinely love, or if they realized that, as Parker said, "A show that just bashes Mormons for two hours wouldn't be fun."

Sure, there are some aspects of Mormon beliefs that are odd and questionable and easy to make fun of, but what religion doesn't have those? The play includes all that stuff, but it's good-natured and, as many early reports are calling it, sweet. A brave Mormon family who attended the first performance found Matt Stone afterwards to tell him they loved it.

So, OK, one Mormon family thought it was good--we'll see if what happens once Glenn Beck decides to see how it measures up to "Spider-Man".

It's obscene and vulgar and totally profane, but the core value of Mormonism that's referred to over and over again is that you should always be really nice to everyone. As the creators say, it's a pro-faith, traditional, big Broadway musical, with a singing, dancing Johnnie Cochran. By the end it's sincerely devout, in its way. If you want to see it, it's probably a good idea to get your tickets now before all the gushing reviews come out.

February 15, 2011

Boxing Scots, with Underworld

Beautiful Burnout, Frantic Assembly

An awesomely intense-sounding play is coming to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn later this month -- Beautiful Burnout, an import from the National Theatre of Scotland by production company Frantic Assembly. It's not every day you hear about a play where the actors spend months getting in shape, but this one's like that, and I'm psyched for it.

Another cool thing: the soundtrack is all Underworld. In the play's trailer, we hear "Kittens" from their album Beaucoup Fish, a pounding, energetic track that, according to me, is one of the greatest dance tracks ever blasted out of a set of speakers. Another video of the actors training features "Mo Move", the opening track from A Hundred Days Off. And the play's title is taken from a song of the same name from Oblivion With Bells.

Though this is definitely a play with a kick-ass soundtrack, and not a musical, the use of music by a single group makes me wonder what a full-on Underworld jukebox musical would be like. We've already gotten productions based on the music of Johnny Cash, ABBA, Queen, Billy Joel, and Green Day. It's only a matter of time before my generation demands an electronic jukebox musical to relive those wild, drug-fueled club days of the late '90s from $140 seats in orchestra center. Plus, Underworld's songs almost always include vocals.

So why not? Imagine the storyline: an innocent boy arrives in London, meets a sexy cowgirl waitress who's into swimming in the ocean and hard psychedelics. The two of them and a transvestite calling herself Dirty Numb Angel immerse themselves in the underground club scene, where they experience color-drenched hallucinations, transcendental confabs with Albert Einstein, and epic marathons of Bruce Lee movies, all awash in blistering techno. The audience joins in chants of "lager! lager! lager!" during the big finale, while being showered in thousands of pills.

Here's a great video about what the actors went through to get into shape for the play. I love hearing them talk about how they had to "jess keep pooshin' yehself" to "become a buhx-ah". The play was apparently inspired by Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, but the setting has clearly been moved to Glasgow.

February 6, 2011

The Clock: really cool video art

Christian Marclay's

I went to see Christian Marclay's video art exhibit, "The Clock" at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea. I find a lot of video art to be a ponderous, humorless, overly conceptual snore. Reading the blurb outside the screening room can be more interesting than actually watching it. But this piece is my favorite video art ever. I spent an hour and a half there on Friday night, and if I could have had a pizza delivered to the gallery, probably would have stayed all night.

The piece uses clips of movies that include a shot of a clock or watch or reference to the time, and it's constructed so that the time in the movie clip is the actual time in the real world. I watched it from 11:30 PM until about 1:15 AM, so as you might guess, saw a lot of clips of cops staking out buildings, people getting woken up by a ringing phone, people realizing they'd missed the last bus, and endless clunky 80's clock radios. And a phenomenally cool montage of clocks striking midnight, accompanied by the kinds of scary or explosive things that tend to happen in movies at the stroke of midnight.

The clips are also linked thematically. If someone picks up a ringing phone and says "Hello?", we'll cut to someone in a different movie asking to speak to Walter (there are a lot of ringing phones in "The Clock") or a series of clips of people slowing descending the stairs into a dark, scary basement. We come back to some movies over and over again as the characters watch the hours tick by. We see the same actors again and again--I caught three Steve McQueen movies in just an hour and a half, and Vincent Price appeared in a whole lot of movies with creepy old grandfather clocks in the background.

A lot of the talk about this piece is about the inescapability of time, and the audience's constant awareness of time passing, both in the movie clips and in real life. Movies use the passage of time to create tension or draw out a scene in ways that have become clichés. In the NY Times article about the exhibit, Roberta Smith says, "Moviemakers have developed endless devices to make us aware of time's passage in their films, and to hold us in thrall, or suspense, within that artificial time -- while we forget about the real kind outside the theater." But I see the piece as primarily an exploration and adoration of movies. Time provides the structure and the framework, but the medium is movies.

Trying to identify the movie clips is both fun and aggravating. It's a lot like listening to a Girl Talk album--you'll see a lot of stuff you sort of recognize, but 8 seconds later it's gone, and you'll have that tip-of-your-tongue feeling again and again that will drive you kind of nuts, but keep you wanting more.

Recognizing the movies in "The Clock" isn't necessary, but it sure is fun to watch the incredible variety of movies Marclay found and see some stuff you know. Even if you can't identify the movies, the range of time periods and styles is huge. In just a couple of minutes, he'll use Gone With the Wind, The Crow, The Awful Truth, Sid and Nancy, The Hudsucker Proxy, Gosford Park, Mildred Pierce, What Lies Beneath, Now, Voyager, and Lolita. Plus some TV: "ER", "The X-Files", and (of course!) "24". You get silent movies, foreign movies, action, horror, Woody Allen, and Beverly Hills Cop.

What about sex? Yep! Nudity? Oh, yes! No editing. Also, movies that aren't in English don't have subtitles--what you see is what you get.

My dream for when I'm enormously rich is that I'll buy a copy of "The Clock" and install it in my living room as an actual time-telling device. "What time is it?," I'll ask, look at my video art installation, see DJ Stevie Wayne announcing the next song on her late-night radio show in John Carpenter's The Fog, and go, "Oh, it's 12:35."

You can see part of "The Clock" during regular gallery hours, 10-6 Monday-Thursday, or see the entire thing from 10:00 AM on Friday until 6:00 PM on Saturday for the next two weekends. Note: there will probably be a line if you get there between 11:00 and 12:00 at night. Word seems to have gotten out that midnight is cool.

Here's a BBC TV news story about the exhibit which incorporates some of the piece and some of Marclay's other stuff.

January 27, 2011

Spidey: That's what $65 million looks like

Spider-Man on Broadway

I went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last night with our old friend and former contributor Emily. We found some discounted tickets, and figured it was our cultural duty to bear witness to the most ambitious, bloated, beleaguered, and expensive theatrical production in Broadway history.

While some theater critics are trying, with growing annoyance, to follow the preview convention and not review the show until it officially opens (at last report, on March 15--are the producers cursing their own show?) other people, like Glenn Beck, have happily shared their critiques. Unlike Glenn Beck, I think we'd all be better off skipping the show and keeping both our kidneys.

Beck says that the reason he liked the show, and others didn't, is that there's "too much action and flying around." Not quite. The only good parts of the show were the action and the flying around, and there wasn't anywhere near enough.

Here's how you'd make this show good: More Flying Around. Cut the first 45 minutes of exposition and talking. Get Peter Parker and Norman Osborn to transform into their superhero/supervillain alter-egos in the first 5 minutes. Then get to the scene where the main actors all fly through the air, literally using all the space in the theater in a way no other show I've ever seen has done. There's one fantastic moment when you in the audience feel like you're on top of the Chrysler Building looking down at the traffic below, and it's awesome.

Other than the flying around, which there isn't enough of, scenes were good if they looked like rock concerts. Specifically: a scene right out of Lady Gaga's last tour with a chorus of taut, sinewy soldier dancers wearing militaristic leg-warmers and hot pants. A scene of super-villains vamping down a runway with cool exploding costumes made out of armor and lizard skin and pretend bees, which Em thought looked just like a Misfits concert. And a scene of a mythical Spider-woman hovering ghost-like over a sleeping Peter Parker and whisper-singing a creepy, dreamy song, like something out of a Tori Amos video.

Another way to make the show good: More The Edge-Style Guitars. The music is forgettable and weak, except for a few song intros that had that big, arena-filling, shimmery, delay-heavy guitar sound that, considering it was written by U2, I though we'd hear more often. A brief piano-lounge rendition of "We'll Have Manhattan" by the Green Goblin got the biggest laugh of the night.

This show looks like what you get when you spend most of your $65 million budget on insurance.

November 10, 2010

The way NYC does business

Cathie Black, new NYC Chancellor

Yesterday when we heard that Joel Klein was resigning as Chancellor of New York City schools, I thought for one brief moment that maybe he was ousted so that controversial reformer superstar Michelle Rhee, who just resigned from the same job in DC, could come in. Michelle Rhee didn't make a lot of friends during her time in Washington, but she started the ball rolling in fixing one of the most horrifically mismanaged and unsuccessful public school systems in the country.

That didn't happen. Joel Klein is happily returning to the milky teat of corporate America at News Corp, which makes me totally re-evaluate everything I ever thought about that guy. Can I retract all the positive things I've said about him now? And Michelle Rhee is still floating around in the ether, writing about Klein's departure on her blog, and might one day wind up at some prominent rabble-rousing advocacy organization or become a full-time documentary film star.

We also found out about NYC's new Chancellor: Cathie "don't call me Cathy" Black. She just landed one of the hardest government jobs on the planet. Here's what we know about her:

  • She's a media executive who's never worked in education or for any kind of youth or public service organization.
  • She also has never attended a public school.
  • Her children go to private schools in Connecticut.
  • She's married to a major Republican donor.
  • And she gets pissed off when people misspell her name, although she herself changed it so that no one would spell it right.


But she's one fantastic corporate manager! I guess I should be used to this by now, but it's getting a little tiring seeing people who have been successful in the corporate world believe that they know how to solve the world's problems, and assume that running a company is the same as managing a gigantic public service system. Bloomberg believes that management is management, and has obvious biases favoring corporate experience over nonprofit or public sector experience.

He didn't have any governing experience when he ran for mayor, either, and he's had some pretty successful terms. But this overriding belief that the only people who know how to get things done are corporate executives, and that selling magazines is essentially the same as educating kids, really reeks of hubris.

In an interview in the Daily News about Black's new position, they asked her old boss at USA Today about her qualifications to be Chancellor: "Asked if not having a background in education might hinder her, Nueharth punted. 'I'm not qualified to make that judgment,' he said. 'I really don't know what the chancellor does.' "

I wonder if she does, either.

September 7, 2010

Electric Zoo fashion

Electric Zoo 2010

[photo from NY Times]

On Saturday I went to the gigantic all-day two-day dance music festival on Randall's Island, Electric Zoo. I expected my posse to be among the oldest people there (except for the DJs and Jon Pareles I think we were) so I was curious to see what the club kids would be wearing these days. My knowledge of rave culture is pretty out of date, so I wondered how much had changed since the mid-90's.

Nothing. Nothing had changed. Aside from the people in t-shirts and shorts that would have been dressed exactly the same way in any recent decade, the club kids looked just like club kids circa 1994. I saw face glitter. Stuffed animal backpacks. Rainbow tights. Glow sticks. Pacifiers. Freaking whistles around their necks that they would un-ironically blow! It was the same radioactive cartoon character look that everyone was wearing almost 20 years ago.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, a lot of the music at the event was a clear throwback to the early 90's. If you went to the Rush concert at Jones Beach in July, I would bet you would have seen a lot of acid-washed jeans, feathered hair, and single earring studs on display in that crowd. (They did all of the "Moving Pictures" album and I bet it was fantastic.)

I'm not judging: this is just the reality of concerts and events that refer to a specific time and place in cultural history. The rave-y dance music scene peaked over 15 years ago, and it seems like the fashion is still stuck back there.

Some of the newer-looking outfit innovations that I noticed were lots of people in pink or green or orange neon shirts or accessories or tights, which is actually a throwback to the early 80's, fun fur leg warmers, and also these weird tutu-length crinoline things, which girls would wear over their pants or tights (see photo above). I don't know what that's about.

One other observation: I know we all need to record every moment of our lives for blogs and Facebook, but many people who weren't experiencing some sort of transporting chemical enhancement seemed to spend the really great sets fiddling with their camera settings or taking pictures or video of a DJ on a distant stage. The kids who weren't doing any documenting were pogoing up and down, waving their hands (or their glow sticks) all over the place, shaking their hair around, grabbing their friends in an ecstatic hug and generally losing their minds. There's some oddly Zen-like lesson on living in the moment in there.

September 1, 2010

Heart! (on Fox News)

Nancy Wilson of Heart on Fox News

All summer, midtown has had two competing live music series on the morning shows: NBC's Today Show series, which has featured Lady Gaga, Carole King and James Taylor, and Maxwell, and Fox News' All American Summer series, which has included American Idol losers, Uncle Kracker, and Toby Keith. Rockefeller Center has been attracting massive crowds with fans often camping out on the street the night before, while the shows in front of the Fox building on 6th Ave have largely been made up of people who happened to be getting off the F train on their way to work.

But this morning, Fox scored a huge victory with Heart! Performing live! I turned onto 6th Ave and heard Nancy Wilson pounding out the riff from "Magic Man" and ran to the corner of 48th St. By far the best start to my day of the summer.

Here's the video, which includes an interview with the Wilson sisters about growing up in a Marines household (this is Fox News, after all) and the sexism they faced in the 70's and still see in music today. And they do "Magic Man" starting at 3:30. It rocks.

This performance reminds me that this is not really a family-friendly song. Those lyrics are hot! I'm a little surprised they got away with the magic man and his magic hands on "Fox & Friends", but I guess rock transcends the Culture Wars.

Also: the Wilsons like Lady Gaga and Taio Cruz's "Dynamite".

August 25, 2010

Movie trailer by anti-Muslim cab stabbing guy

Last night a "very drunk" 21 year-old guy was arrested for stabbing the driver of his cab after asking him if he was Muslim.

From the Times article:

After falling silent for a few minutes, the passenger began cursing and screaming, and then yelled, "Assalamu alaikum -- consider this a checkpoint!" and slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck, and then on the face from his nose to his upper lip, the alliance said. ("Assalamu alaikum" -- "peace be with you" -- is a traditional Muslim greeting.)

The assailant, Michael Enright, was an SVA film student who had recently been in Afghanistan shooting his documentary, Home of the Brave, about US soldiers.

The trailer is on YouTube:

It features young soldiers talking about what inspired them to enlist (9/11) and what it's like to be part of a tight-knight group of soldiers (they've got your back) and, actually, makes being a soldier in Afghanistan look pretty fun. There's basic training and motivational speeches in an auditorium, and also Christmas and birthday parties and playing with a friendly dog. Doesn't look like the film includes combat, probably because as a film student he wasn't allowed to see any action.

But clearly Hollywood has defined what we think war is supposed to look like, because there's a trailer for another movie called Home of the Brave that looks far grittier and more violent. This one is about Iraq, not Afghanistan, and it stars Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, and 50 Cent, but when you watch the trailer, the on-the-ground scenes look a lot more war-like than the documentary. It was directed by the guy who produced all the Rocky movies.

More bombs, fewer birthday cakes.

Anyway, it seems like Michael Enright was deeply attached to the US soldiers he met and other friends who were deployed, and somewhere along the way he went nuts. Interestingly, he was also a volunteer for Intersections International, a nonprofit that works to overcome racial and religious boundaries, in their veteran's dialogue program.

The cab driver is going to be OK.

August 18, 2010

Bed bugs and the end of the world

Bed bugs and movie theaters

Today's news that the AMC 25 movie theater on 42nd St is closed due to bed bug infestation is just one of many increasingly alarming reports of bed bugs that have been plaguing the city for the last few years.

It's bad enough that the Brooklyn DA's office, the city's counsel, and the Park Slope Pavilion movie theater all reported bugs lately, as well as 10% of apartments in New York City and "Broadway theaters, judges chambers, health clubs, stores, and movie theaters," according to exterminators.

But there are some months that I spend a major portion of my waking hours at the AMC 25. I'm a card-carrying MovieWatcher Club member. I saw Scott Pilgrim at a $6 matinee (best deal in town!) a mere 4 days ago. My world has been invaded.

No one is safe. You may have thought the world as we know it would end with nuclear warfare, or we'd run out of clean water, or a giant tsunami would flood the earth. But you would be wrong. Because the end of world is coming, and it's bed bugs.

When I first read the reports of the AMC 25 infestation, I thought, you know, in five years, the entire city is going to be totally overrun with bed bugs. They'll be everywhere. We're all going to be hypervigilant maniacs wrapping our bodies in garbage bags to go to restaurants and ride the subway.

Then I was like, hey, wait.

Now that the apocalypse is here, the best way to cope is by embracing reality, being proactive, and planning your 2010 Halloween costume.

Sexy Bed Bug! Bed Bug Zombie!

sexy bed bug

zombie bed bug

Gonna be a truly terrifying Halloween.

July 29, 2010

Heroin branding

Now and Laters, candy version

The Daily News reports that a big heroin and crack ring operating in a Bronx housing project just got busted. After a year of investigation cops arrested 6 dealers yesterday, but haven't gotten the leader of the operation yet.

There are a few colorful details about one of the dealers they picked up, Tyrell Blue, who liked to post pictures of himself holding a wad of cash with a "$100 billion" wrapper around it on his MySpace page (which sadly looks like it's been deleted.) The article includes another shot of Tyrell with his arms around two girls who look like they're 14 and whose moms might like them to put on a different shirt.

Anyway, the article also mentions some of the brand names the guys used for their products, a form of marketing that I never get tired of hearing about. These guys sold heroin named after a luxury clothing line: Gucci. A classic brand of Mexican motorcycles: Carabela. A generic tough-sounding name: Power. And a leading brand of taffy: Now and Later. Love that one.

A month ago, the Times did a story on an art exhibit called "Heroin Stamp Project", in which members of the Social Art Collective gathered empty heroin packets from all over the city and displayed 150 of them.

Some of the brands are standard bad-ass sounding names with an aura of danger, like the names you might come up with if you had to name a new men's perfume: White Fang, Notorious, Last Temptation. One sort of inexplicable brand is Daily News, that also used an image of a camera like the paper's logo. And some are surprisingly blunt about the deadly nature of the product inside the packet: Last Shot, Game Over, No Exit. One called Shooters, with two guns facing each other John Woo standoff style, is apparently intended as both a reference to shooting up and as a threat to another dealer who was trying to sell on his block.

A thread on drug site Bluelight has tons of crazy heroin brands from the last 20 years. Some highlights: G.I. Joe, Marlboro, Tuna, Nestle, FDR, Dog Food, EZ-Pass, Adult Content, and my favorite, Fleetwood Mac. More threads here--people can talk about this forever.

June 18, 2010

Maybe this Al Pacino is a decent actor

Al Pacino as Shylock

I went to see The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare in the Park last night, with Al Pacino as Shylock. I've heard it's been brutal trying to get tickets, and the show is still in previews (opens June 30), but I highly recommend it if you can go, it's one great production. It's like the best psychological thriller about contract law you've ever seen.

This is a tricky play--it often gets branded as anti-Semitic, what with every Christian character hurling non-stop abuse and hatred at Shylock and spitting the word "Jew" like it's a derogatory term. But it's really a play about anti-Semitism (and racism, and sexism) and this production shows all of that while staying true to the language and structure.

Characters are dressed in Victorian-era morning coats, and the set looks like a 19th century London trading company with a cool old ticker-tape machine and guys wearing visors. Shylock looks pretty much exactly like the old men who lumber along West 47th Street in the diamond district today, so I was glad they didn't go for anything too cartoonish. Pacino plays Shylock as a pragmatic, successful businessman who's sitting on an ocean of bitterness at being socially rejected from mainstream Christian society. He's not ashamed of who he is, he's just sick of living in an unfair, racist world.

It's not too hard to make Shylock a sympathetic character, but Pacino doesn't hold back on the anger and frustration that make him so bloodthirsty. The amazing thing is that he doesn't do any of the scenery chewing or hooah'ing that's made him into a caricature of himself in movies lately. Venice is basically an apartheid society, using its legal structure to keep people like Shylock down, so when he gets the chance to use the law to his advantage, he grabs on and won't let go. He wants that pound of flesh, not because he's a sadist killer, but because it's legally his.

But, of course, things don't go so well for old Shylock--the moral of the story seems to be Live by the contract, Die by the contract. Shakespeare structures the story as a rejection of rigid adherence to law and other pronouncements from on high that have little to do with people's actual lives, a theme that comes up in other plays like Measure For Measure.

The height of the action in the trial scene is really great and tense, with loads of moral ambiguity and really uncomfortable stuff about religious self-righteousness that makes Christians and Jews and pretty much everybody look like monsters. For a supposed romantic comedy, this is not at all a date play.

The play doesn't stress this too heavily, but the other big theme is how men unfairly control women's lives. Portia is the smartest person on the stage, but it's only when she's disguised as a man that anyone listens to her. She's played by Lily Rabe (daughter of Jill Clayburgh and David Rabe) and was clever and sassy without being self-righteous.

Al Pacino is the only huge star in the show, but there's also Law & Order's Jesse Martin and Mitch from "Modern Family" as the hilarious and campy comic relief.

June 15, 2010

Shinnecock tribe promises new world of casinos and cheap cigarettes

Smoking at the slot machines

Today the Bureau of Indian Affairs formally created a new tribe: the Shinnecock, who live on the east end of Long Island on a small reservation, but hadn't yet been federally recognized. An exciting day for native people! Tribal trustee Lance Gumbs said in an AP interview, "This is the most historic moment in Shinnecock history. Any discussion of a casino is a secondary thought."

Obviously, the rest of the article, and all the other press I've seen, is about a casino. Look, New York, it's the dawning of a brand new day! With a shiny new casino and as many tax-free cigarettes as you can cram into your car!

The Shinnecock people wanted to build a casino on their reservation right in the middle of the Hamptons in 2003. It was the resulting uproar from local rich people, not keen on the idea of the Hamptons being turned into a giant parking lot for the unwashed gambling addicts of Long Island, that led the tribe to seek federal recognition.

Now that they've got it, it seems that they're authorized to fill up their land with video slots, but they can't open a casino with table games. New York State and the federal government have to agree to the larger kind of casino, but if they do, the tribe could open it on any public trust land, not necessarily on their own reservation. Apparently they're considering Belmont Park, Nassau Coliseum, or maybe if we're extra lucky, somewhere within the 5 boroughs of New York City!

Let's build a casino in the middle of Gramercy Park.

June 10, 2010

Should I go to Rock the Bells?

Snoop Dogg on stage

The lineup for this year's Rock the Bells show just got announced, and they're doing things a little differently this year: all the big performers will be performing one of their classic albums in its entirety. Because of my ambivalence about big all-day outdoor music festivals, which has developed over the years into full-blown revulsion, I've never attended any of the Rock the Bells shows that have come to the east coast. But this year, I'm thinking about putting aside my aversion to standing around all day in a crowded field with no shade and $4 bottles of water for the chance to see some awesome performers. Maybe. At least this year it's at Governor's Island, which is a big step up from Jones Beach where it's been for the past 2 years.

Let's look at the lineup:

  • Snoop, doing "Doggystyle". Even with an impenetrable cloud of smoke around his head and swarms of Dogg Pound members wandering all over the place, this should still be great. Snoop has that combination of laid-back smoothness and tight precision that I love. He's the chillest rapper out there who enunciates. Plus: good old Michael McDonald sampling Warren G.
  • Tribe. Yes! Doing "Midnight Marauders". Huh? When you've got one of the greatest albums of all time, "The Low End Theory", under your belt, plus a fun debut album that didn't do as well commercially but is full of classics, why would you go with the OK but not as good third album? I love Tribe, but the album selection is a missed opportunity.
  • Wu-Tang Clan, doing "36 Chambers". Rock the Bells has always had strong Wu representation, and at first I thought I've got to see it. But when you think about it, ODB's gone, lots of the original members are more into doing their own projects these days, and it's entirely possible that only 2 or 3 original members will show up (Method Man and Raekwon, probably, hopefully RZA?) along with about 37 other random dudes who just hang around on stage. The year to see them was probably the first Rock the Bells in 2004 when ODB was still alive. This one could be transcendent and amazing or sort of a let-down.
  • Rakim doing "Paid in Full". Awesome.
  • KRS-One, Slick Rick, DJ Premier, all sound pretty good. Premier is allegedly doing a tribute to Gang Starr, which is ironic since right before Guru's death last year, he allegedly denounced Premier and said he didn't want him to be involved in any tributes. I guess it's Premier's show now. There are lots of smaller acts like Brother Ali and Clipse that look good.
  • Then there's a special performance by Lauryn Hill. Excuse me, "Empress" Hill. I don't know what she's doing here. It seems like she never recovered from the massive success of the "Miseducation" album, and remember her MTV Unplugged session from 2002 where she was completely unstable and started crying? Her behavior since then has been erratic and she seems to flake out of shows a lot of the time. It's a strike against the festival.

Just found out tickets are $99. To stand around all day and deal with long lines and sweaty 6' 3" guys who stand right in front of me in order to listen to a raspy Lauryn Hill while waiting for the good stuff.

Sitting on the couch and listening to "The Low End Theory" doesn't sound half bad.

June 7, 2010

Club security: has it come to this?

Water Taxi Beach, LIC

I headed out to Long Island City yesterday afternoon to see Tom Middleton and his party DJ house/mashup style and frolic in the early evening sun. I'd heard they have pretty extensive security there, but let me tell you my story. It's graphic.

At the main entrance, the security lady went through my knapsack, rummaging around and quickly checking out the wallet, lipgloss, tissues, and magazines. She shook out a pair of shorts and a tank top, then came to a pair of underpants I had in there from the previous day. "We've got a pair of panties here!" she said to another security guy. "More panties?" he said.

She fixated on my dirty undies at the bottom of my bag and sort of pawed at them. I was lost. "Is there something, um, wrong with...panties?" I asked, not sure if I should be trying to explain what I was doing with underwear in my bag or what. She said, "Well, a lot of girls have been spraying GHB onto a pair of panties and carrying them into the club in their purse. Then they sniff their panties and get a hit."

I reacted with an expression of speechless confusion and horror, which must have convinced the security lady of my innocence. She handed me my bag and let me inside with my non-GHB-enhanced panties, that I'm very confident no one would have any desire to sniff.

People! Is this what we've come to? Huffing our panties in clubs? Creating security alerts over a pair of embarrassingly non-sexy cotton underpants in a backpack?

It was a funny and ridiculous situation, but the absurdity of it reminded me of airport security and how the TSA adds new rules in response to whatever attempted terrorist act happened most recently. We have to take off our shoes and can bring on only travel sizes of liquids, not because anyone necessarily thinks travelers are hiding bombs in their flip-flops or Vitamin Water bottles, but in reaction to something Richard Reid did in 2001. You raise suspicion at a club if you have a pair of underwear in your bag because someone got busted smuggling drugs on her panties.

I have to believe these reactionary security measures are designed to create an illusion of security rather than to make us more secure. People who are determined to bring drugs into a club or a bomb onto a plane will just move on from shoes and bottles of liquids and underpants and find some other way that security workers don't screen. We've gotten ourselves into a Red Queen's race, where it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.

Keep your panties on, ladies.

March 30, 2010

The illusion of subway safety

NYPD Hercules force on the subway

After Monday's terrorist attacks on the Moscow metro, the New York papers reported that the NYPD was stepping up security on our own subway: "Deadly Moscow subway suicide bombing triggers security alert in New York".

Phew! Way to stop those Chechen separatists from attacking us.

While we probably don't need to worry about the Black Widows riding the A C E line, there are real threats on our own subway system: early Sunday morning, two guys were stabbed to death on the No. 2 train over a tossed Duane Reade bag that accidentally hit the killer.

As of today, the killer still hasn't been caught. The Times points out that the Christopher Street station, where the stabber got off the train, doesn't have any security cameras in it. And of the 4,000+ surveillance cameras installed in the subway system after 9/11, about half of them don't work.

The Daily News reports that the Christopher Street station didn't have an agent at the token booth that night, because it was closed last year due to budget cuts. So there's no good description of the killer; the Times says he is "described only as Hispanic."

In other MTA security news, the Daily News reports that the MTA has eliminated the cops stationed at the exit of the Midtown Tunnel and the towers at the Verrazano Bridge on weekends. Instead, the bridge and tunnel will be monitored by, you guessed it, surveillance cameras.

So today we've got cops from the NYPD Hercules unit with M16's riding the 6 train to provide the illusion of security against terrorists in Russia, while the guy who actually stabbed real people on our own subway is still out there.

A couple of great quotes from subway riders questioning yesterday's heavily armed cops:

"I think it's excessive," said Holly Celentang, 26, a rider from Queens. "I feel there should have been a bit more of a thought process before they did this. We can't lose our heads over something that happened in another country and make New York City look like we are at war."

Torey Deprisest, 23, who was vacationing from Ohio, said he was stunned at the show of force.

"I think it's ridiculous," Deprisest said. "The attack happened in a different country and had nothing to do with Americans. I'd be nervous seeing cops with machine guns on the train. It makes people afraid when they don't need to be."

February 17, 2010

Will we hate Duane Reade any less now that it's Walgreens?

Duane Reade and Walgreens

Today's news that Walgreens is buying Duane Reade for a billion dollars is sure to bring a lot of derision from a city of people forced to shop at Duane Reade, often on a daily basis, in spite of high prices, poor service, ridiculously convoluted store layouts, and their recent totally inflammatory decision to stop stocking Seventh Generation toilet paper.

But if Walgreens is going to be successful in its attempt to "harmonize" the cultures of the two chains, it had better learn about the realities of urban retail real estate, an area in which Duane Reade is the uncontested champion. Duane Reade is currently owned by a private equity firm who made the new logo and presumably launched the lucrative Delish™ snack line in an effort to spruce up the stores, but I believe that the most important strength Duane Reade has is its ability to locate its stores with such expert precision that most New Yorkers are actually physically unable to not shop there.

A few years ago, New York magazine had a surprisingly long and well-researched feature about Duane Reade's ability to turn the ugliest, worst-designed hole in the wall into successful retail space. It all comes down to one thing: foot traffic. Figure out where people walk on their routes to and from work, then put your store smack in the middle of it.

Then you can charge whatever you want, staff no more than two registers regardless of how busy it is, and place the saline solution in the back corner of the basement level, and people will still shop there. Let CVS have the nice expensive corner location with no aggravating second floor where the Cold-Eeze™ is. If it's on the wrong side of the block, you won't shop there, because New Yorkers will do anything to avoid crossing the street.

One other area of concern: while 85% of Duane Reade locations sell beer, exactly zero Walgreens stores do. Clearly another core competency that Walgreens might learn from its new acquisition.

February 16, 2010

Pizzacone: an abomination


There have been some notices recently about a new restaurant about to open in midtown called K! Pizzacone, which sells cone-shaped pizza. The pizzacone has actually already arrived in the greater NY area, by way of Brazil. Over the weekend, I went to a place in Astoria called Berry Lover, which sells frozen yogurt, gelato, and something called Cone Pizza.

In case you're interested in food trends and wonder what it's like to eat pizza in cone form, let me just tell you this. The pizzacone is a horror.

I'm not going to get too graphic here, but let me give you an idea. The Berry Lover Margherita Cone Pizza involves a hand-shaped piece of dough that is molded into a cone shape via a sort of hand-operated drill press. Then the cone is filled with a lot of shredded cheese and some sauce and placed in a cone pizza oven, a rotating rotisserie kind of machine that cooks the whole thing. Then they serve it wrapped in a little cardboard sleeve, like takeout coffee.

And it's absolutely terrible. The crust was crispy, but totally uniform and bland and way too similar to an actual ice cream cone. It was filled with low-grade, flavorless mozzarella that oozed out all over everything when I bit into it, and the cheese was edged with some pink liquid that I guess was the sauce. It tasted like like a hard, non-sweet ice cream cone filled with artificial-tomato-flavored caulk. It tasted nothing like pizza, or food.

The really counter-intuitive thing is that, as inflexible as the Italians are about which specific ingredients are permitted in pizza by a government-regulated pizza authority (e.g. buffalo mozzarella) and which ingredients are not (e.g. pineapple), it was actually an Italian company that created the pizzacone ("KonoPizza").

So much for high standards and allegiance to centuries of culinary tradition. It's like finding out your grandmother's homemade cookies were Chips Ahoy.

February 11, 2010

Aspies are expressing their emotions, and they're pissed

Darius McCollum, train lover

With the announcement of the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the industry standard for diagnosing mental problems, there's been talk that Asperger Syndrome will no longer be included as a separate diagnosis. The disorder was first introduced in the current version of the DSM, which was released in 1994, but now a lot of psychiatrists think it's part of the larger spectrum of autism disorders, and should just be grouped in as a mild form of autism.

So a lot of people with Asperger Syndrome, or "aspies" as they sometimes refer to themselves, don't like this at all. Aspies don't have the same language problems as people with more severe autism, but tend to get into obsessive behaviors and have similar problems with social interaction. And they want to maintain their distinct identity.

One of the psychiatrists who supports the change in the new DSM, Dr. Mina Dulcan, says their reaction to the change is just a symptom of being an aspie: "One of the characteristics of people with Asperger's is that they're very resistant to change."

But wait: the reason people with Asperger's want there to be a separate disorder called "Asperger's" is that they have Asperger's? Dr. Dulcan is arguing that there's no rational reason why someone might want their disorder to have its own name and diagnosis; if they think that way, it's just because they're mentally disabled.

She goes on to say that the change in the manual "makes scientific sense. I'm sorry if it hurts people's feelings."

Hm. It doesn't sound like she's really sorry. Sounds like she's being pretty insensitive, actually. Could it be that Dr. Dulcan is displaying lack of empathy for other people's feelings and incomprehension of emotional cues? Is Dr. Mina Dulcan herself a secret, self-hating aspie?!

Whatever she is, she's not very good at making her case.

Here are two of my favorite stories about people with Asperger Syndrome, both involving the subway: there's Darius McCollum (in the photo above) who has been arrested dozens of times for MTA-related crimes, usually impersonating an MTA employee or, a few times, stealing trains or buses. There was a great piece in Harper's about him in 2002, and a play called Boy Steals Train based on his life came out in 2003.

Then there's Francisco Hernandez, Jr., an 13 year-old boy with Asperger's who rode the subway for 11 days straight last year. He got on the D train in Brooklyn to avoid getting yelled at by his mom for not doing his homework, and just kept riding. From the Times article:

He says he subsisted on the little he could afford at subway newsstands: potato chips, croissants, jelly rolls, neatly folding the wrappers and saving them in the backpack. He drank bottled water. He used the bathroom in the Stillwell Avenue station in Coney Island. Otherwise, he says, he slipped into a kind of stupor, sleeping much of the time, his head on his book bag. "At some point I just stopped feeling anything," he recalled.

February 1, 2010

Doing art with Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim

Timo Sehgal at the Guggenheim

This weekend, a new exhibit opened at the Guggenheim by German conceptual artist Tino Sehgal. I saw the feature the Times did on him recently, and some of the details about his work (he never uses materials other than human beings, has no written contracts but sells his work to museums and, bizarrely, private collectors, he doesn't fly or use a cellphone) made him sound like some combination of exacting performance-art auteur and high-concept weirdo.

So I went to the show. There are other reviews out there (NY Times, WNYC) that describe in detail the experience of being at the exhibit, but I don't want to give away too much here. I didn't know what was going to happen when I went into it, and I think it's better that way. I'll just say that there is no art at all on the walls of the rotunda, and you experience the piece, called "This Progress", by walking up the long ramp of the museum where you encounter various people.

As the WNYC reviewer says (after making a Jersey Shore joke about the "situations" that the artist calls his pieces,) trying to talk about this exhibit is like "trying to reconstruct a particularly intense dinner party conversation: It was fascinating while it happened, but on the retelling can seem trite and pretentious." Interacting with the people that make up the exhibit was like being seated next to someone really friendly and interesting on a plane--you don't really know the person you're talking to and you'll almost definitely never talk to them again, but during the time you're together, you can get into some pretty cool stuff.

But what the exhibit really made me think of is those artists who surreptitiously install their own pieces in museum galleries, guerrilla-style--like Banksy or the guy at the Brooklyn Museum last year. If you can expose the arbitrary nature of what art gets into museums and what art doesn't just by hanging your painting in the Met for a few hours before it gets noticed and removed, couldn't you do the same thing in an experiential, interactive exhibit like this one?

I hope some enterprising young artists decide to go into one of those little recessed gallery areas in the Guggenheim rotunda and become another art installation by ironing some pants or jumping rope or eating Wheat Thins. You could easily circumvent the real installation by striking up a conversation with a museum-goer and talking about your cats or Boggle or one time you threw up in your brother's Darth Vader mask. It would probably be the easiest way to get your own art into a world-famous museum, and, actually, Tino Sehgal would probably love it.

Actually, the first time I started walking up the rotunda ramp, I somehow didn't get properly engaged in the interactive part of the exhibit, so my companion and I went all the way to the top with having an actual art experience, except for watching the people around us who seemed to be having a better time than we were. At the top, an older gentleman started talking to me, claiming he was a critic and not part of the exhibit. He urged me to go back to the beginning and try again, but then started talking about being open to life and experience and how one could find progress by being open to confusion, and I still can't figure out if he was part of the exhibit or just into dispensing advice in the form of rambling non-sequitur.

January 21, 2010

Gaga tears New York's face off

Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall, NYC

(photo by dionisioyang)

I had been concerned that Lady Gaga was going to cancel her show at Radio City Music Hall last night, since she was sick and had canceled her last four shows. But when I checked her Twitter page yesterday, I found this entry: "Can't wait 4 Monster Ball, ready to tear the face off my hometown 2nite."

It was on. And she did. My face = off.

What's so amazing about Lady Gaga is her ability to create such an eye-popping performance with costumes and sets that are truly dazzling, and to be doing it now, when we've all seen everything already. The stage was set with four gigantic video panels that for the best songs (productions, really) had beautiful lights and image effects that were trippily transporting in the same way that the best moments of Avatar were. The show looked like no expense was spared to make sure everyone's minds were blown, and judging from her on-stage comment that her managers ask her why she spent all her money on her show (answer: "Because my fans are sexy") it was indeed really, really expensive.

The best numbers featured Gaga hovering above the ground in a glowing light box platform thing, wearing a bodysuit covered in little lights, or antlers, or a gladiator leotard, or a dress made of thick layers of black feathers. (Or in one shocking-for-Gaga scene, pants.) Some of the numbers were of a more standard variety that I imagine Madonna's or Gwen Stefani's shows would be like, i.e. prancing around the stage in a red patent leather bikini with a bunch of studs (see photo).

But the best productions were James Cameron-level beautiful, or completely weird, like for "Paparazzi" where she wore an elaborate up-do that was connected to two big metal rings that were linked to a horizontal metal rod that two dancers moved around the stage, essentially pulling her along the floor in an elaborate sort of hair-bondage scene. Then for a brief interval it was just Gaga alone on stage at a piano, singing a fantastic bluesy, smoky, torch-song version of "Poker Face", and some other ballads.

The crowd had a lot more women and people in their 30's or older than I would have expected. I thought it was going to be a bunch of teenage girls, a lot of gay guys, and me. In reality, the crowd seemed to be mostly people over 25, almost 100% of whom were wearing some combination of feathers, leopard bodysuits, glitter, mirrors, and in one case, a full-body spacesuit covered with Christmas lights.

Somewhat disturbingly, there were some moms who apparently are not familiar with Lady Gaga's style, who brought their 10 year-old daughters dressed in wigs, high-heeled boots, and aviator sunglasses to listen to Gaga talk about blowjobs and dry-hump guys in spandex with fur covering their faces.

Anyway, another thing Gaga is good at is this: she appears to be totally genuine in her stage banter. She says a lot of stuff about following your dreams and being whoever you want to be and not letting anything hold you back, but she actually seems like she means it. When someone has made a career out of putting herself out there the way she has, I guess she knows what she's talking about when she says it's sometimes hard to be yourself, but really, it's the only way to go. I'm still not the biggest fan of all her music (except for "Bad Romance", which rules) but this was one stunner of a show that I think made everyone there want to be Gaga.

Reviews and pictures at the Daily News and the Post, good review from the Times.

November 2, 2009

Halloween highlights

Foam Monster

This year's Halloween Parade was certainly as wild as ever, but I arrived later than planned, so I stood around in the big crowded holding pen of costumed folk on 6th Ave until it started raining hard enough for one of my companion's white nylon costume to be compromised. And then bailed.

In the time I spent swarming around at the foot of the parade, Lady Gaga and Max from Where the Wild Things Are were by far the most represented, and there were (thankfully) very few unfunny political statement costumes. Here are a few highlights from the parade, and from the series of bars that I sought shelter in:

The blue foam monster in the top photo--anyone know what that is?

Lots more photos on Flickr.

October 23, 2009

Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me! at Carnegie Hall

Wait Wait's Peter Sagal and Carl Kassell

Public radio nerds descended on Carnegie Hall last night for this week's taping of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz show. It's one of the most popular shows on NPR, which makes sense: it's weirder than The Daily Show, and sometimes I think it's funnier in a loose, improvy sort of way.

I was lucky enough to go, and thought I'd share a few highlights. The live show ran for two and a half hours, and will get cut down to 45 minutes for Saturday's broadcast, so some of the really funny stuff is going to have to get cut:

  • For those of you wondering what the outgoing message that Carl Kasell records for your voicemail if you win, they played a sample. The winners get to script the message, and this one ended with Carl singing "What's New, Pussycat?" like a sonorous baritone Tom Jones.
  • The special guest for the "Not My Job" segment was Brian Williams, who's been on the show a few times. That guy is a riot. There was some immediate adversarial jabbing between host Peter Sagal and Williams over the mainstream media's Balloon Boy coverage: Williams said he was (conveniently) on vacation for the whole thing, and made some lame excuse for all the media attention like "people were concerned and really cared about that kid in the homemade UFO" or something, but Sagal went for integrity points by ripping TV news outlets. Well, NPR covered it, too, but at least they covered the media reaction, not the actual balloon.
  • Peter Sagal brought up the fight between the Obama administration and Fox News, which Williams thought was a bad fight to pick. Everyone has to work together in politics and news, he said. Making distinctions between network news and cable news is meaningless: he said the evening news is "like The Munsters." Heh. It was the weirdest comment of the night.
  • Then Brian Williams shared an anecdote from the 90's when he was a White House correspondent, about an unflattering piece he did on Bill Clinton. One night while Brian Williams was making dinner at home with his wife, he was in the process of pouring the pasta into the colander when Clinton called him, mad as hell, and started berating him mid-pasta pour. His point was that Presidents have always gone after individual reporters; his pissed-off Clinton impersonation was perfect.
  • Music Brian Williams is into lately: Deer Tick and The Republic Tigers and other stuff listed on his embarrassingly titled BriTunes page on MSNBC.
  • Williams was so funny and quick, I think everyone had to remind themselves that he has a day job as a news anchor. After he left the stage Paula Poundstone said, "What a waste of talent!"
  • Peter Sagal wrote a screenplay that ended up becoming Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.

    Mind-blowing trivia: both Roger Sterling and Betty Draper from Mad Men were in Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights!

Tune in Saturday for the show.

September 29, 2009

Strange crime

National Science Foundation

Some interesting crime stories today:

  • The National Science Foundation, which gives out billions a year in public funding for scientific research grants, has spent a lot of time on employee misconduct cases lately, including one senior executive who last year spent 331 days watching online porn. When he was busted, he claimed he was chatting with naked ladies online "to help provide a living to the young women from poor countries." How progressive of him. Investigators estimate that his time spent on porn cost taxpayers $13,800 to $58,000.
  • An Alabama minister chopped off a deputy's hand with a bush ax when police confronted him about a domestic violence call at his home. Rev. Curtis Watts was shot after he cut off the cop's hand, leaving his neighbors surprised: "He was a good Christian man. Something happened to him, but I don't know what," said James Crawford, 76.
  • NYPD has identified the guy who allegedly stabbed another guy in front of the 34th St post office in broad daylight on Sunday, after the two men bumped shoulders on the sidewalk. A tourist took some cellphone pictures of him. His name is Sirmone McCaulla, and he served in Kuwait. Surveillance video shows him stabbing the guy and walking away, as the NYT reports:

    ...but then he appears to have forgotten something. He returns to the location "at a relatively slow pace" and retrieves what the police believe is his cellphone, before proceeding north, continuing in the same direction he had been taking before the fatal meeting just moments before.

September 17, 2009

Store Fronts

Phil's Stationery

Yesterday I was out looking to buy some airmail stationery, which if you're like me, is something you haven't thought about since the time in your life when friends were studying abroad in college and you hadn't quite started using email as the sole means of communication with everyone you know. These days it's not so easy to find.

So I went into Phil's Stationery on East 47th, right smack in the middle of midtown and standing between a Chinese noodle shop and a nail salon, offering office supplies and "Zerox copies", according to the sign. It looks like the kind of place that would have functional, cheap, non-wedding-invitation-oriented stationery that hardly anyone has been interested in buying for at least ten years.

They did! The employee who helped me walked past a small display of day planners and toner cartridges and randomly piled stacks of paper, dug around among the dusty boxes, then rummaged through a huge, falling-over pile of stuff on a back shelf. He pulled out a crumpled pad of airmail stationery with the price $1.89 printed right on the front sheet, and a package of airmail envelopes (the kind with a red and blue pattern along the edges) that had already been opened and half used and was yellowing with age. An unseen manager in the basement shouted back and forth with the employee through an old dumbwaiter shaft that opened onto the sales floor, and they decided on a price of $1.50. "Perfect!," I said, and bought both from a seriously elderly woman with an impressively thick (Polish?) accent.

The whole process reminded me of a great exhibit I saw the other day at the Clic Gallery on Centre Street in Soho. The exhibit is a collection of photographs by James and Karla Murray called "Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York", and features lots of oldtime store fronts from all over the city for bakeries, discount stores, record stores, diners, and barber shops, all from before the era of printed awnings that identify most street-level businesses today. There are lots of places I see all the time in there, like the Film Center Cafe, Smith's Bar & Restaurant, and Clover Delicatessen, and some that are dearly missed, like McHale's. The show is up through this weekend, and there's a book available.

The artists mention in the intro of the book that almost 1/3 of the stores have closed since they photographed them. I'd be surprised if Phil's is still hanging on this time next year.

August 21, 2009

"Let's get one of Bambi holding the gun"

waitress with a rifle

  • Some cops in Midland, TX got in trouble for taking this week's best picture, above. Someone called the cops after seeing this young waitress holding a big rifle and hanging out in the parking lot outside a restaurant. When they arrived, it turned out the guys she was hanging out with were other cops, who had been in the restaurant when they invited the waitress out for a little photo shoot. Her name tag, The Smoking Gun points out, reads "Bambi". I love that she still has on her apron with straws and pens in it.
  • New study: "the typical adult video game player is overweight, introverted and may be a little bit depressed."
  • Tuesday night's wild storm knocked down 500 trees in Manhattan.
  • A lot of the big movie star vehicles this year haven't done so well, and studios are trying to compensate, in part by paying stars less. Land of the Lost, Pelham 1 2 3, Duplicity, Funny People all had big stars and did worse than expected. The movies that did well are Harry Potter, Transformers, and Up, none of which were really popular because of their stars.

    And don't forget about that relatively small budget South African movie with zero stars where half the dialogue is subtitled. District 9 was mostly pretty good (except for some terrible dialogue toward the end,) but what I especially like about it is that studios will notice, again, that when a movie is well made (and well marketed) it doesn't need a huge budget, a famous director, big actors, or a dumb plot that's spoon-fed to the audience to make money. I love when people turn out for good, atypical movies and make them hits.

August 13, 2009

The Bacchae, on and off-stage

Anthony Mackie in The Bacchae

Last night I saw a preview performance of The Bacchae, the non-Shakespeare play of this summer's Shakespeare in the Park season. If you're not familiar with this play, let me give you some of the more spectacular highlights. (The play is 2,500 years old, but, OK: spoiler alert.)

The Bacchae includes a posse of drunken, ecstatic, feral women who worship the god Dionysus. They're out there in the woods, orgiastically cavorting and shaking with ecstasy, tearing apart cows with their bare hands and suckling wolf cubs with their milk. There are also instances of these women rushing around and satisfying the lusts of men or something salacious like that. Then at one point, they pull a man in full drag down from a tree and eat him.

Those Greeks! They were some sick, sick, bloody-minded people! Euripides created all this stuff that would make for the greatest movie ever, and one show-stopper of a live theatrical experience. Unfortunately, because this is Greek tragedy, all the action happens off stage. Which is incredibly frustrating. What's the point of having people savagely ripped apart and eaten during wine-fueled orgies if the audience can't see it? With today's production values, Euripides could have been a Dario Argento-esque master of horror.

You're probably familiar with the crazy, blood-thirsty stuff the Bacchae get up to if you watch "True Blood", where I hear some Maenads have been making appearances. (Bacchae and maenads are both female followers of Dionysus.) Or that book The Secret History about a group of preppy kids whose Dionysian rituals lead to their downfall.

Anyway, I liked the play itself. The moral of the story is this: gods do what they want, and if you worship them or spite them, they can (and probably will) mess you up either way. And don't go out and get too wasted or you might accidentally kill your kids.

But I wanted more godlike bacchanalian mojo from Dionysus himself. He's played by Jonathan Groff, who was also in Hair last year and in Spring Awakening (and in those sexy posters.) He played his demigod character as a chilled-out, smug skater/hippie/greaser, wearing some unflattering jeans and a leather jacket. His hair was fittingly in Grecian ringlets. But I would have loved to see him go all-out Rock God, like an early 70's Robert Plant rockstar dynamo.

In last year's production of the play at Lincoln Center, Alan Cumming played Dionysus in drag, and looks like he gave a much more energetic performance:

Alan Cumming in The Bacchae

This production's Dionysus is all too happy to put the handsome Anthony Mackie (above) in drag before sending him off to the feral drunken ladies. Mackie is great in this role: he's transformed from a determined non-believer to a lovely, shyly glamorous drag queen in a purple dress and swishy strawberry blond wig. It's not every actor who would go on stage in a strappy dress and killer heels and walk around clearly enjoying his new prettiness. Considering that earlier this year, Mackie played both Tupac and a member of an Iraq bomb defusing squad this year, I'm very impressed.

In a recent interview in the Times, Mackie discusses the play and various costume changes, and sounds like he's really proud of this role: "I get to don some five-inch wedge stillettos and show girls how it really should be done." Snap!

August 11, 2009

Crime, movies, Pee Wee

Pee Wee Herman

  • Paul Reubens is bringing back his live show that began in 1980, The Pee-Wee Herman Show, to an LA theater this fall. Most of the original cast and crew will be back, which I hope specifically means Laurence Fishburne.
  • A completed documentary about some guys trying to find the reclusive John Hughes is going to be released. It seems that late last week, they were suddenly able to find a distributor. It's called Don't You Forget About Me, but could also be titled You Forgot All About Me Until My Untimely Death Hit the News.
  • A Brazilian crime show host is being investigated for generating stories for his TV show by ordering killings. I wonder if that's how "Cheaters" works too.
  • A man was found guilty of groping Minnie Mouse at Disney World. The costumed victim said she "had to do everything possible to keep his hands off her breasts."
  • It's real: Bob Dylan Christmas album
  • Upcoming Hank Williams biopic. He died when he was only 29. Who could play Hank? I like Channing Tatum, who's from Alabama like Hank, if he can lose some of the beefiness. Or James Franco (too crinkly?) or Paul Dano (too baby-faced?).
  • A map of drug use across the US, by state. Vermont and Rhode Island like their drugs, North Dakota prefers binge drinking.
  • A report about the Waterfront Commission of New York, which was created to fight waterfront corruption, finds that (surprise!) it's corrupt.

July 23, 2009

Stepping in for the Linky

Tony Hsieh at Zappos

Since the Robot Linky on the right has been down for a while now (system problems, hopefully resolved soon) I thought I'd put some interesting links up here through the day.

  • Amazon is acquiring Zappos. Nice move, as long as they keep everything exactly the same: Zappos is everything you could want in online shopping. The head, Tony Hsieh (above) will still be in charge.
  • Times has a good article on the young woman with a $23,148,855,308,184,500 negative balance on her Visa debit card this month. 12,000 other customers had similar crazy charges that rivaled the gross world product.
  • Manhattanites respond to news that they live in the state's thinnest county. The Times interviews representatives of the borough's "disparate subcultures of the skinny," (i.e. if you're well-off, you're probably thin) with everyone's height and weight included. Pretty fascinating, especially that 42% of the Manhattan population being overweight or obese now means that we're "skinny". All relative, I guess.
  • Maybe the Cambridge cop who arrested Henry Louis Gates, Jr. can claim that he's not racist just because he investigated a break-in call, but he cannot claim he's not racist because he once performed mouth-to-mouth on a black Celtic, in 1993.
  • It's now legal in Tennessee and Arizona (and 14 other states) to bring your concealed gun into a bar, though you're not supposed to drink if you're armed. Bar owners are complaining that they'll be responsible for refusing to serve "designated shooters." Times article includes a clip from Colbert.

June 15, 2009

School of Seven Bells, Rock and Roll

School of Seven Bells at Bowery Ballroom

[photos by tammylo]

I first saw the Deheza sisters when they were part of On! Air! Library! back at the now-defunct Rothko in October 2004. I liked them--dreamy, atmospheric programmed rock with some guitars, and beautiful vocal harmonies. They were better live than on their album (I think they only ever did one)--harder, louder, and I didn't mind the repetitive droning aspects of their music that got a little tedious when listening at home. On the album, some songs felt like they were 2-3 minutes too long, prompting one non-fan friend to make an ingenious play on their name: I! Hate! Them!

Anyway, they've since regrouped as School of Seven Bells, and have been touring like crazy for the last couple of years in support of their album Alpinisms. I got to see them Friday night at the Bowery Ballroom.

They've moved up in the world of New York venues, and they've really jumped ahead in their sound. Those same gorgeous harmonized voices from gorgeous twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra, on top of some searing guitars with tons of effects, tight keyboard melody lines, and some big big beats. They sound like the harder early Lush tunes (think "De-Luxe" and the louder version of "Thoughtforms") with some noodly MBV-style shredding. And then Orbital or Underworld's drums programmer doing some kick-ass electro-techno beats.

Their album doesn't always sound like it, but School of Seven Bells live are an abstract-rock party band, something less blowsy than dream pop. Dream Rock? They also had cool video at the show, including one visual effect that I still can't figure out, which involved a bright light creating a shadow of the band on a white backdrop, then smaller and smaller versions of that same shadow image moving in flashes up the screen. It was pretty wild.

Their first album is out on Ghostly International, the Michigan label that also has Matthew Dear and some other dancy stuff. The next one will be big, I bet.

Here are some more photos of the show from Time Out, and some videos, which are OK, but they're a lot better live.

April 27, 2009

Scary NY indeed

This morning I happened to be on the phone with someone who has spent decades as an airplane mechanic. He spotted the low flying 747, escorted by fighter planes, while we were on the phone. Mid-sentence he stopped and said "Oh My God." He confirmed what the audio above says: "that's not normal."

City room confirms that this was some kind of strange photo-op with an Air Force One lookalike and that “the photo op was approved and coordinated with everyone.”

Everyone, that is, except the people who were evacuated from most tall buildings in lower Manhattan.

April 16, 2009


Puppetry of the Penis auditions

Reuters gets into some pantless photojournalism today at the auditions for a show called Puppetry of the Penis, which they generously describe as "performance art" in the captions.

Here's the slideshow. None of these shots would necessarily get you fired from work for looking at them, but they might encourage you to test out genital elasticity in ways you're not comfortable exploring.

My favorite:

Puppetry of the Penis auditions

Puppetry of the Penis is a show that originated in Australia (surprise!) as guy performing a collection of dick stunts (or "genital origami") on stage. It ran in New York for a while back in 2002, and was either very hilarious or very horrifying, depending on how you feel about a penis contortion trick called "weed-snipper". It's going to be at Comix on 14th Street next Wednesday, and the producers auditioned some new members for the show earlier this week.

A lone woman showed up thinking it was an audition for an actual puppet show for puppeteers who work with puppets that aren't their dicks.

March 30, 2009

So that's why my friends in advertising are getting laid off

Empty billboards in Times Square

This austere, zen-like photo of empty billboards in the middle of Times Square is from Slate's Shoot the Recession series. This one is especially recognizable as I've been noticing the empty storefronts and dark signs around midtown lately. Could this signal the demise of the cleaned-up, corporate New Times Square? The last 42nd St peep show, Peep-O-Rama, closed in 2002; we could be due for a porny backslide.

The entire photostream is on Flickr, which includes some good shots of a boarded-up Bank of America window, a 50% Off sale at a liquor store (don't see that every day) and an Always Open store with both "Closed" and "For Lease" signs in the windows.

The Times now has a similar online photo submission thing called Picturing the Recession, so you can share your own financial desperation with the world.

March 17, 2009

Another holiday for non-New Yorkers

Leprechauns in Times Square

I experienced St. Patrick's Day a little more intimately than usual this year because my office is now located right in the eye of the parade storm. While walking around on 48th St and watching crowds of people celebrating the aspects of Irish culture that involve drinking in public before 10am, I realized that some of the most popular and well-known events that happen in New York City are attended almost exclusively by people who do not live in New York City.

There's New Year's Eve in Times Square, the tree lighting in Rockefeller Center, and the St. Patrick's Day parade down 5th Avenue. Today's parade is probably the least disruptive of the three--at least I can more or less continue my regular life while it's going on, and it has its charms, like the clusters of old guys standing around in kilts drinking beer and smoking cigars while sets of bagpipes are strapped to their torsos.

But mostly it's a bunch of drunk kids in "Who's Your Paddy?" t-shirts. Here are a few photos:

Girls on 5th Ave wearing said t-shirts

Girls at St Patrick's Day parade

Marching band in headdresses

Men in a marching band at St Patrick's Day parade

Dudes ignoring the parade to hang out near the port-a-potties instead

drinking on the street at St Patrick's Day parade

Hasidic man doing his best to ignore everything

Hasidic guy at St Patrick's Day parade

Deli that put a more direct message on its sidewalk sign than its usual list of breakfast specials

Beer sign at St Patrick's Day parade

After the parade was over, the crowds around Rockefeller Center thinned out. Because everyone had moved to the other part of New York that out-of-towners love, Times Square!

Irish pot leaf hat on 47th St

Green hat at St Patrick's Day parade

All 7 or 8 of the Irish bars I passed in Hell's Kitchen were packed, especially those with signs out front declaring they were "St. Patrick's Day Party Headquarters", sponsored by Heineken.

Which says everything you need to know about St. Patrick's Day in New York. Heineken: Yeah, it's Dutch, but it's close enough because the bottle is green.

March 9, 2009

Hell's Kitchen guy wants your kidney

Kidney ad

Amidst all the street flyers around Hell's Kitchen offering to paint your apartment, clip your dog's nails, teach you Russian, or fix your computer, one enterprising guy has printed up a series of small yellow flyers and posted them all over 9th Avenue. He wants a kidney. [see a larger image]

These optimistic flyers are absolutely everywhere in the neighborhood--outside every bodega, the bike shop, the liquor store, and the Mexican bakery. Only 3 or 4 days in the hospital, and you might even be compensated for your organ. Sweet! And completely illegal!

I sent the photo to the Post--I hope they follow up with this "very sick guy" to see if he gets any takers.

February 2, 2009

Who'dat?™: child actors, drug traffickers

Today's edition of Who'dat?™ is just about impossible, but you can go ahead and click on the photo below if you think you know who it is before I give it away.


But here's a hint: "Horses Are Pretty".

Yes! It's little Hallie Kate Eisenberg, who played temperamental indie director Christie in IFC's funny ads from the late 90's [watch examples, "You be quiet! No you be quiet!" and "Lili doesn't know her lines today"].

So the real news is here is that Hallie Kate Eisenberg is going to star in a new movie currently being filmed in NYC called Holy Rollers, and it sounds awesome.

The movie is based on a true story about a ring of drug traffickers who brought an insane amount of Ecstasy into the US in the late 90's. The twist: they were all Hasidic Jews. Sean Erez, an Israeli-Canadian in his early 30s, worked with a 17 year-old kid from Brooklyn, Shimon Levita, who recruited his teenage friends to make trips back and forth to Amsterdam carrying tens of thousands of pills at a time. The LA Times has a good pretty story on the case from around the time everyone was sentenced in 2001. Also the NY Times quotes Levita speaking to a New York judge during his sentencing: "I was raised in a real orthodox religious house," he said, hands clasped behind his back. "We didn't have no television and no radio. I didn't know what drugs were. But in nine months in jail, I learned what they can do."

Yesterday's Daily News had a good piece on the movie--they interview director Kevin Asch and actor/producer Danny Abeckaser, who got the idea for the movie while watching a documentary on the real smugglers on Discovery. The article covers a nightclub scene that was shot recently at Marquee, with a great photo of guys in yarmulkes and black suits walking through a crowd of dancing club kids.

The young smugglers are played by Jesse Eisenberg, the older brother in The Squid and the Whale, and Justin Bartha from National Treasure. Cast also features 16 year-old Hallie Kate Eisenberg, and, best of all, Q-Tip as an Ethiopian Jew named Ephraim.

Last year, the real Sean Erez was convicted, again, for trafficking cocaine in Toronto.

January 20, 2009

Inaugration day!

watching the inauguration

It really happened! In all the excitement of Obama's inauguration and the outrageously optimistic hopes we all have for the new day dawning in America, I almost forgot how great it would feel to watch Bush leaving the White House, for ever. Hallelujah.

Cushie was there in DC for the big events, so hopefully we'll get a recap from her, but for now, here are some highlights:

The text of Obama's address,

Sasha hamming it up:

Sasha at Inauguration

Rahm Emanual hamming it up:

Rahm Emanuel at Inauguration

Dick Cheney channeling Mr. Potter:

Dick Cheney at inauguration

A procession of Indian school children in Obama masks:

Indian children in Obama masks

and maybe the most relieved person in America today, George W. Bush.

Bush at the inauguration

That guy is so psyched to get the hell out of there.

Lots of parties are going on around town tonight. Listings at Gothamist, NY Mag.

Wherever you go, expect a lot of blue (and red?) cocktails, like these tasty ones served at Vnyl today:

red and blue drinks

November 25, 2008

New patron saint of Bad Love

Gina Salamino

Move over, Pamela Smart! Another ex-teacher has set the new standard for hitting the Bad Love jackpot: Gina Salamino, 37, a former 2nd grade teacher from Queens.

Salamino met her inappropriate love interest, Josh Walter, when he was 12 years old. When he hit 17, they started dating. Luckily for Salamino, in the intervening years Walter became a super-hot successful male model. Now he's 19, doing great as a Hugo Boss runway model, and lives with Salamino and their child. The dream can be yours!

Not only did Salamino get her teenage boy to engage in an actual, quasi-legitimate relationship with her (something most Bad Lovers never come close to achieving), Josh Walters is on the record declaring his affection for her, while sounding embarrassingly like a pretend rapper. From the Daily News story:

"I'm tapping that ass and there's nothing you can do about it," the teen responded, says the report from Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon.

In a written statement to investigators, Walter said he considered Salamino to be "my shorty."

The lesson for would-be seductresses of impressionable children everywhere is this: get them while they're young enough that they'll be bewildered and enchanted by your amorous attention. You don't have to make your move until they've reached puberty, but plant that seed when they're definitely too young to know what they're doing.

While the world is wondering what an attractive successful guy like Walter is doing with an older, less attractive elementary school teacher who got fired as a result of their relationship (she's suing to get her job back,) the answer comes straight from Walter himself. In a video of models talking about their personal lives, he talks about his new career (in a wonderfully thick accent): "It hasn't really changed me that much. I'm still the same person that I was. I'm just in magazines and books and shit."

In other words: he's not tempted by all the other women he's met traveling around the world and doing fashion shows. He's still the same old guy from Queens, living with a older, sort of dumpy 2nd grade teacher/Bad Love mastermind.

Eat your heart out, Debra LaFavre!

November 13, 2008

Gay big love rally

Rally outside Mormon church, NYC

Gay marriage supporters held a rally last night outside the Mormon temple in Midtown to protest the same-sex marriage ban in California. It might not totally be the Mormon church's fault that the proposition passed, but the church did rally its members to vote in support of the ban.

But there were some awesome signs! This photo captures two of the best ones, "I Heart My Gay Mormon Husband" (a retake of the memorable and endlessly useful line from Heathers, "I love my dead gay son!" [video]), and the one next to it, "Share The Big Love".

That second one is really clever for a few different reasons:

  • It frames marriage as an expression of love, not just a state-regulated contract
  • It promotes the 3rd season of HBO's Big Love, which will start in January
  • It points out the hypocrisy of Mormons making gay marriage illegal while those same people at one time engaged in polygamy, a form of marriage which is also illegal, and maybe stopped doing it largely due to legal pressure.

Maybe Mormons are jealous of the gains others have made in legalizing their non-traditional form of marriage?

November 10, 2008

Who'dat?™: Crazy celebrity brothers

Ralph Turturro

This is a tough one, so I'll just tell you who it is. If you subtract the beard, hair, and about 65 pounds from this guy, but kept the expressive eyebrows and sort of wild expression, you might be able to guess that this is John Turturro's brother.

According to the Post, Ralph Turturro has been causing all kinds of problems for his Hell's Kitchen neighbors on West 46th--they've called the cops on him 5 times since August:

John Turturro's troubled older brother has them living in fear -- threatening to kill them and his caretakers, screaming at all hours of the night, and leering at female residents.

"He's explosive," said Deborah Miller. She said she had to call the cops Aug. 30 because Ralph, who was locked out of his own place, was trying to get into her apartment around 1 a.m. "Get me a key, bitch!" he screamed.

The more famous Turturro's Wikipedia entry says that his older brother Ralph is a middle school art teacher, but the Post says he's an unemployed artist who has "caretakers" with him all the time, which I'm guessing means he lost that teaching job. Neighbors say they hear him screaming and throwing furniture around the apartment.

While the older Turturro [UPDATE: it turns out the artist is John Turturro's cousin, not his brother, and is not mentally ill] may have mental problems, his art isn't bad. I found a website that appears to be his featuring a lot of his abstract art. I'm no expert on this, but some of it looks really good (I like this one from 2002.) The "recent works" are from 2003 and earlier, so maybe his creativity has suffered lately. His artist's statement is an interesting take on abstraction, subjectivity, and discipline, so it seems like he had his shit together at one point.

In an interview from 2 years ago, Ralph Turturro says he comes from a family of artists, though "the rest of my family that aren't actors never talk to each other because of one emotional thing or another." Maybe that means he's still in touch with John and Aida who can help get him away from his neighbors.

UPDATE: It turns out the mentally ill Ralph Turturro, John's brother, is not the same person as Ralph Turturro the artist. The professional artist is John's cousin, and is not mentally ill. See the comments for more anecdotes from one of the neighbors dealing with the unwell Ralph's outbursts.

November 3, 2008

Halloween Parade pics

Blue stick figure guy, Halloween parade

[photo by Camarolf]

Halloween fell on a Friday this year, and it was a warm night, so the Village Halloween Parade was especially popular. Some sponsored floats pulled out at the last minute, which just made more room for the tens of thousands of marchers, and a reported 2 million spectators lining 6th Avenue.

Among all the demonic Sarah Palins, Jokers, and Joe the Plumbers, there were many inspired costumes. A few photographic highlights:

And one of my favorites: white pointy-headed guys covered in inflated rubber gloves. There is probably an underlying concept here that I'm not understanding, but I still love it.

rubber gloves guys, Halloween Parade

[photo by Efreet69]

Many more photos are up on Flickr.

October 13, 2008

NYC club security

Santos Party House

[photo of Santos Party House by down by the hipster]

A quick comparison of two clubs in New York.

Cielo: I went two Fridays ago to see Nick Warren. Arrived at 11:00, line is already stretching down the block. Bouncers use a handheld scanner to verify my driver's license while I'm still standing out on the street. Once inside the building, the barcode on my ticket is scanned by another handheld reader, and more bouncers examine every purse, wallet, pocket, Altoids box, and lipgloss applicator very closely. They look carefully between every bill in every wallet. Everything is taking forever. A female bouncer puts her hands actually inside of my underwear. They appear to have drug testing equipment and every so often some of the kids trying to get in are abruptly escorted out.

Once I regain some sense of personal boundaries and get inside, there are some regular club kids dancing, and also a whole lot of guys in striped shirts and ties getting Grey Goose bottle service. The bar is a chaotic, heaving nightmare. Nick Warren is OK, but overall it's a stressful downer. Maybe Cielo should just hire El Al's elite security staff to work the door more efficiently. I used to like this place, too (at least on weeknights.)

Santos Party House: I went here last Saturday to see Z-Trip. Walked down an empty Lafayette Street at 11:30, right through the door, paid in cash, and was on the dance floor about 15 seconds after approaching the club. Didn't even get carded. The crowd was mixed in every way, everyone's dancing, and there's good beer on tap for $7. No line at the bathroom. A fun, completely easy night.

Maybe it's just that Cielo has been around since 2002 and the owners have seen many clubs get raided, and Santos is new enough that it hasn't yet (it opened in the Spring.) But when getting inside a club feels like intake processing at a federal detention center, that is not a good club.

October 2, 2008

The South Bronx on the $700 Billion Bailout

James Jacobs talks to the NY Times

As always, the Times does a great job of going into neighborhoods and asking New Yorkers what they think about national political or economic events. They went to the Morrisania neighborhood in the Bronx and asked residents about the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. Responses are funny, and show a clear, and justifiably cynical understanding of what's going on:

On a chair outside Johnson’s Barbecue on Tinton Avenue in the Bronx, Keith McLean had thoroughly considered the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. "That’s for C.E.O.'s.," said Mr. McLean. "And I am a P-O-O-R."

The accompanying video captures the best bits, with one guy on camera and another guy shouting commentary off-camera:

"It’s corporate America doing what corporate America does," Mr. Jacobs said.

"Organized crime," Mr. McLean said.

"It's the new organized crime," Mr. Jacobs said.

"Ain’t nothing new about it," Mr. McLean said.

"We're not going to see none of that," Mr. Jacobs said. "Not one red cent."

One woman in the video is worried about her 401k and that the effects of bank failures will eventually trickle down to her. But the guys at the barbecue, who don't exactly raise concerns about their investments, had more to say about the aspect of the meltdown that affects them personally--the irresponsible lending that caused it in the first place.

"I was out of work there for a couple of years, and I ended up with three credit cards. American Express. Visa. I forget the other one. And the banks give all these loans to people knowing they can’t pay, but they get a commission."

These guys should open a financial advisory service. If they tell me I should put my savings in shoeboxes and hide it behind the couch cushions, I'm doing it.

September 22, 2008

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

[photo by 12th St David. they're all pretty fuzzy, but that's what you would expect, right?]

Here's who I thought would be at the My Bloody Valentine show tonight: guys I dated in college who live in the tri-state area, provided they could find a babysitter on a Monday night.

Here's who was actually there: Many iterations of the guys that you may have known in the early 90's at your college radio station who smoked weed and listened to MBV, and also a number of people who looked exactly like the untenured professors in my English department. Brown corduroy jackets and everything. Almost none of these people were dancing, and several, I swear to God, were gazing at their shoes. Plus maybe 3 or 4 girls.

This show was a sold-out sausagefest, but then again, I was pretty disdainful toward MBV all through college (indiepop fan), only later realizing that those dope-smoking radio DJs were onto something. And there we all were, 15 years later, packed into Roseland and bobbing our crinkly heads.

I was a little worried the music might be a self-indulgent, feedback-heavy Jazz Odyssey freakout, the kind of unstructured guitar-band reverb drone that is the reason why I don't go to Sonic Youth shows. But actually, My Bloody Valentine was incredibly tight. They rocked. Each song was clearly delineated as an individual song, with those beautiful, catchy pop melodies floating through swampy layers of guitar sludge. As my concert companion said, the band was a whole lot tighter than the Dandy Warhols, who he had seen a week or so earlier. (The Dandy Warhols are like 12 or 13 years old now, not much younger than MBV, which is weird.)

It's hard for a short person to see very much at crowded shows like this one, but when I caught glimpses of the band, they were keeping themselves mostly obscured in a hazy, saturated murk of lights. Pink, Loveless-cover colored lights. Kevin Shields appears to be turning into Robert Smith.

A tight set of catchy songs like this reminded me that My Bloody Valentine, with all their multitracked guitars and loops and fuzzed-out vocals, is ultimately a really disciplined rock band with some great hooks. They kept the set to songs that ran only about as long as they did on the albums, with no interminable solos or repetitive wanderings. Until the very end.

At the end, they changed direction completely and went into a eardrum-liquidating monotonous droning distortion loop that sounded like an airplane taking off. For 20 minutes. Or maybe longer--that's when I left. "That was the loudest thing I have ever heard," said the concert companion. I had to get out of there, but I was glad they had separated that element of their show from the more mainstream-rock part, because I only really want to hear actual songs, and my ears hurt. Still, an amazing show.

Here's the Times review of their show on Sunday at All Tomorrow's Parties up in the Catskills, with a good, quick history of the band. Here's their video for "Soon" from 1990.

August 19, 2008

NYC: Not like back home

Tourist taking a photo in Times Square

photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Today's Times asks tourists visiting New York from the US and around the world what aspects of the city surprise them the most. I don't know if it's because of how the question was asked, but most tourists took the opportunity to make little subtly bitchy comments about how day to day life in New York seems different from how things are where they're from. Because for many people, especially when they're far from home, "different" means "I hate it".

Actually, there are a few positive comments about the city from visitors, such as Michael McIsaac from London who loves our outstanding unlimited coffee refills, and Rhona Ciolek from California who marveled at our impressively gigantic piles of trashbags on curbs. An enthusiastic Spanish women notes, "There are a lot of men here that are really muscular!" And I completely agree with some valid complaints, like a Swede who points out that our waterfronts are in shambles.

But most things that surprise tourists seem to be things they don't much like. And some of their comments say more about their home countries than anything else.

So here you go: Helpful clues about what life is like in tourists' home countries, as revealed by their complaints:

Comment from a Spanish tourist: "In Spain we drink coffee in little cups."
Translation: Spanish cafes may be stingy.

Comment from a London tourist: "[New Yorkers] will not tolerate bad service."
Translation: British people suffer in silence.

Comment from a German tourist: "In the ladies' toilets you can see people's feet. Where I'm from we have full doors on the bathrooms."
Translation: It may be harder to solicit anonymous sex in public bathrooms in Germany, a la Larry Craig, but it's probably easier to actually have anonymous sex or engage in any other illicit activities.

Comment from a French tourist: "You are always served very quickly here, even in a nice restaurant. Here it's quicker, you don’t have time. In Paris you get a lot of time before your food comes."
Translation: French service is slow. Also, wow: this guy actually found a way to be snotty about New York restaurants having good service.

Comment from a Saudi tourist, looking at the lights of Times Square: "I thought it would be more realistic."
Translation: Saudis have interesting, sort of postmodern ideas about what reality is and what it should look like when it's actually in front of you in three-dimensional space.

July 30, 2008

Casual dining goes belly up

Bennigans closes

Continuing the downward trend of the "casual dining" industry, pretend-Irish chain restaurant Bennigan's has declared bankruptcy and is closing. So is a chain called Steak and Ale (these don't exist around here. I think I saw one in Atlanta once?) which is owned by the same parent company, Metromedia Restaurant Group.

The NY Times reported that the whole industry was in trouble last fall, due to rising costs, shrinking family budgets, and Americans realizing that paying $18 for mass-produced microwaved entrées is idiotic. Restaurants like this going out of business helps restore my faith in America.

Bennigan's hasn't had a presence in NYC for a few years now. Sometime in 2005, one opened on the corner of 8th Ave and 47th St, replacing an independent casual family restaurant that had been struggling there for years. It lasted about 10 months, then closed. Now the space is (you guessed it) a Duane Reade. In a troubled retail real estate market, all roads lead to Duane Reade.

Besides having a business model that asks customers to pay inflated prices for cheap food, the problem with the casual dining industry is that it's an outdated trend that has finally started to fall out of favor. Restaurant consultant Bob Goldin says, "All these bar and grill concepts are very, very similar. They have the same kind of menu, décor, appeal." Another restaurant consultant in Chicago says, "The stores got old and the concept got tired."

The Simpsons made its episode about chain restaurants back in 1995 (back when the show was still a cultural barometer) when Moe opened his short-lived family restaurant Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag in "Bart Sells His Soul."

Here's the clip. It's still funny. Especially Marge's wonder at the décor: "An alligator wearing sunglasses?! Now I've seen everything!"

Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag

July 22, 2008

American food trends: desserts vs. vegetables

Bite-size desserts vs. vegetable garden

dessert photo by pam3la

Local food, it's all the rage. It tastes better and it's better for the environment, so the thinking goes. The Times has an article today on growing demand for locally grown food, which has become so important to overworked rich people that they are having vegetable gardens installed in their urban backyards so that someone else can come over to grow and harvest food for them. Sort of like being a gentleman farmer in San Francisco. Those of more modest means are ordering locally-grown food online to have it delivered to their cubicles.

But even as grocery stores are putting big LOCAL stickers on the milk that has always been locally sourced, the local trend might not have that radical an impact on what regular people buy and eat. Organic food has been widely available for years, but still represents only 3% of total food sales.

Also, the Times reports that a recent survey of chain restaurant and big food company chefs found that locally grown produce is now the second biggest food trend in America.

Number one is bite-size desserts.

Hm. As food trends go, it looks like the Treats Truck is going to crush community supported agriculture every time.

July 14, 2008

(53rd + 3rd) = (hookers x 2 boroughs)

53rd and 3rd, Manhattan version

The Daily News has a story on a woman who was walking to the emergency room last fall to get some help with her asthma, while wearing a long winter coat, and got picked up by the cops for prostitution. It was 2:30 AM, and she was walking alone on 3rd Avenue near 53rd St, an area the Daily News says is popular with prostitutes. You may know the Ramones song "53rd & 3rd", a song by Dee Dee Ramone about hustling for drug money back in the '70's.

Except the woman who got arrested was at 53rd and 3rd in Brooklyn. She was going to Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park.

Amazing. Is there some kind of cross-borough predisposition for certain intersections to attract the same kinds of people? I wonder if some South Brooklyn hookers knew the reputation of Manhattan's 53rd and 3rd and decided to base their operations at their local intersection to solicit confused old-school punk fans.

It looks like the Manhattan 53rd and 3rd hasn't changed so much since the 70's: when a big prostitution ring was busted in March (not the Spitzer one, the other one), one of its brothels was at 229 E 53rd St, just a few doors down from 3rd Avenue.

All charges were dropped against the Brooklyn woman who was mistakenly arrested last fall, and she's issued a complaint against the cop who brought her in.

July 11, 2008

Today's Times

wooden rollercoaster

The Times has a lot of especially good stuff today:

  • A response from Rep. Charles Rangel about his 4 rent-stabilized apartments in a luxury building, which the Times exposed this morning. He fails to explain why he gets to have all 4 when one is the legal limit, and pretty much just comes right out and says that Harlem should be glad he still lives there.
  • A piece on the Bronx Zoo visitors trapped in a broken-down tram, and their newfound sympathy for the animals they were there to see: "I can understand what animals feel,” one woman said. "You have no say in what happens to you. You lose all control."
  • Amazingly in-depth piece on wooden roller coasters in Pennsylvania, which have a "different psychology of fear" than steel ones. (I agree--they're scarier.)
  • Positive comments from New Yorkers about the city's plan to use two lanes of Broadway between Times Square and 34 St as a pedestrian park. Opening in August!
  • New debate over who wrote the Serenity Prayer--a Protestant theologian? Aristotle? St. Francis?
  • Obama gets in trouble for saying Americans should learn other languages; McCain gets in trouble for saying Social Security is "a disgrace."
  • A court interpreter for Spanish-speakers wrote an essay saying that many immigrant defendants don't understand the charges brought against them or their legal rights.
  • A.O. Scott tries to avoid thrill-ride comparisons in his review of Journey to the Center of the Earth. He fails. But he does note that one of the coolest uses of 3-D in the movie is when Brendan Fraser spits into the sink while brushing his teeth.

July 9, 2008

Ice cream + booze

Whiskey ice cream

Governor Patterson signed a whole slew of bills into law today, which will bring a few changes to New York state: there will be a new casino in the Catskills, wine tastings can start at 10:00 AM on Sundays, and the same penalties for using brass knuckles now apply to plastic knuckles, too.

He also allowed wine-flavored ice cream to be made and sold in the state, to people over 21 who are interested in eating a gross-sounding dessert.

Wine ice cream is already being made by Mercer's and Glacé de Vino in flavors, or, excuse me, "varietals", like Peach White Zinfandel and Cherry Merlot.

But really, dairy plus wine? Ew. If you're going to add a frozen dessert to wine, I think sherbet would be better.

I have no problem with other kinds of booze in ice cream, though, like whiskey. I guess now is the time to trademark my signature dessert-drink college cafeteria recipe: the Frosty Wah™.

The Frosty Wah™ is made by sneaking a bottle of whiskey into a college cafeteria, or any setting in which you have access to a soft-serve ice cream dispenser, filling a glass about 2/3 of the way with vanilla soft-serve, then adding a bunch of whiskey. Stir and drink.

Actually, this is probably one of those disgusting drinks that you would only ever consider drinking if you are actually under 21. Like wine coolers.

But at least with the Frosty Wah™ you've got a reasonably high alcohol content. With this wine ice cream, you would need to eat two whole gallons of it to equal one glass of actual wine, according to Gothamist.

Some enterprising folks over at Ice Cream Ireland have developed a recipe for chocolate whiskey ice cream that sounds very delicious, though there's only a touch of whiskey per serving. Though if you use too much whiskey in ice cream it would probably mess up the freezing process.

So the next logical step is beer ice cream: here's a recipe for Guinness ice cream, and a NY Times article about a guy in Brooklyn who makes beer-infused ice cream, though it doesn't sound like it's literally ice cream made from beer. I'm happy with the traditional and delicious Guinness float.

July 2, 2008

James Brown's stuff, for sale at Christie's

James Brown's SEX jumpsuit

One result of the ongoing uncertainties and fighting over James Brown's estate is that many of his personal possessions are being auctioned off. Christie's has the full catalog online, and amidst the many jumpsuits, leather sofas, awards, original paintings, and "GFOS"-emblazoned accessories are many really personal letters and notes, and a few mementos from the darker years of his life.

Here are a few notable items up for sale.

Standard flamboyant celebrity clothing:

Some items I would love to bid on:

Really personal/cool/strange/sad stuff:

The auction is on July 17. Starting on July 12 you can go to Christie's and look at all this stuff in person.

July 1, 2008

My new favorite New Yorker: Randy Credico

The many faces of Randy Credico

The greatest guy in NYC* might be renegade drug-policy activist and stand-up comedian Randy Credico. Today's Times has a feature about him and his strategy of protesting small-time marijuana arrests. He sits on his stoop on Gay Street in the West Village, a quiet block where pot-smokers like to go, and warns people not to smoke there because the cops will likely bust them.

A pretty harmless campaign, and as Mr. Credico puts it, "Listen, I don’t want people committing crimes on my street and I tell them not to." But he also spent a night in the Tombs a few weeks ago after yelling at officers and telling them "that that they should be 'solving murders,' not making marijuana arrests."

He may claim that his warnings to pot smokers are just a crime-fighting strategy, but Credico is a much cooler and stranger guy that. He's the same one who randomly offered Shawn Kovell $25,000 for bail when she was arrested along with "preppy killer" Robert Chambers--one of my favorite stories from last year. She ended up turning down his offer for unclear reasons (she said she would have preferred rent money), but Credico's generosity seemed to stem from his desire to decriminalize drugs and get people in trouble like Shawn Kovell out of jail and into treatment.

Turns out the Times has been covering Credico's one-man crusade for some time now. Three years ago, they did another profile of him, which reveals the origins of his activism: trying to quit cocaine and happening to hear about the large number of black and Latino people in prison due to New York state's Rockefeller laws:

"I felt like I had dodged a bullet, because I'd violated those laws a million times but never came close to being arrested," he says. He was insulated, he claims, by his milieu: white, privileged and connected. "If I were black or Latino I'd be in prison right now. I feel like a lot of these guys are doing my time. Fighting these laws, which are unjust and racist, was a perfect platform for me: the antiwar movement is 0 for 50, you can't stop a war, but a movement to repeal the Rockefeller laws is something local. You can put a face on it."

When he's not on the comedy circuit, he works at the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, a legal aid service that fights the racially-based structure of our drug laws, and also hangs outside 100 Centre St taking pictures of judges in drug cases and undercover cops bringing in drug arrests--"Pretty easy to spot," he said. "The cops are usually white and the perps are almost always people of color." In his stand-up routine, he jokes that "Bloomberg" is Yiddish for "Giuliani".

There's also a great video of Credico in today's piece where we see him talking to cops, complaining about the drug laws, and smoking a big cigar.

*besides Christopher X. Brodeur, that is

June 26, 2008

Times Square, dirty and Dursty again

Kathleen Durst's missing person poster

Today the Times examines the recreation of 70's era Times Square on W. 38th St, for a movie called All Good Things. The movie is about (or at least "inspired by") the story of Robert Durst (crazy oldest son of the prominent real estate family) and his first wife Kathleen who, along with just about everybody else in Mr. Durst's life, is presumed to have died under very mysterious circumstances.

The movie is directed by Andrew Jarecki, who did the excellent documentary Capturing the Friedmans, another story about a cryptically messed-up family. Kirsten Dunst plays the long-lost and similarly-named Kathleen Durst, who vanished in 1982 after 10 years of marriage to Robert. Ryan Gosling also stars, and I'm guessing/hoping that he plays Durst. If you thought his delusional, tic-y loner in Lars and the Real Girl was a little unnerving, wait till you see him shaving his eyebrows and doing primal scream therapy.

You can read lots more about Robert Durst's epically strange and dangerous life in a very thorough bio. Highlights include Asperger's syndrome, witnessing his mother's suicide, almost certainly killing 3 people and dismembering 1, living as a not-very-convincing woman, and stealing a chicken salad sandwich.

The Times post goes into detail about how much Times Square has changed, and the regret that many New Yorkers feel for the transformation of the gross but thrilling area into a mall.

Earlier: Robert Durst is a free man, getting back into real estate

June 17, 2008

In honor of OTB


Last weekend our city saw a dramatic, last-minute state takeover of New York's Off-Track Betting industry, which saved it from getting shut down. Thank you, Governor!

In honor of city's 68 betting outlets and 1,500 employees, I decided to exercise my hard-won wagering liberties and head to my local OTB to play some ponies.

The short version: it was pretty fun. The other people there were helpful and friendly, if not exactly interested in making small-talk. I made a bunch of bets and came out ahead by $5.25, and the OTB was overall not as depressing a place to spend a half-hour as you might think.

Having no idea how betting on horse races works, I completely relied on the guidance and patience of the staff at the OTB near my office. I learned a couple things from the very nice woman who got me set up: it's easiest to just tell the staff person at a betting window what races and horses you want to bet on rather than fill out a complicated lottery-ticket style card. You can bet on as many horses as you want in any given race, right up until about a minute before the race starts. There are television screens around the room that post details and odds for all the upcoming races at each of about 10 tracks.

screens at the OTB

About the atmosphere: I was the only woman in there, apart from 1 or 2 staff people. The rest of the 50 or 60 patrons represented a cross-section of male New Yorkers: all ages, races, nationalities, a few different languages, guys in baseball caps and jeans and guys in expensive-looking suits. Some were in and out in 10 minutes, some made themselves at home.

Between races, there was a lot of milling around, scrutiny of the Daily News racing charts, and conversations that went like this:

"I hate Delaware Park, it's just an awful track. I play that track, and if I had played the triple, I would have won $400. Instead I pick favorites who don't pay. Am I right?"

"Of course you're right. You're always right."

"Delaware sucks. It's a terrible track."

A nice Danny Glover look-alike who I sat next to compared picks with me, and we both won a bunch of cash on a horse non-ironically named Price of Freedom. He said he comes in there pretty regularly, but is also "trying to keep my marriage", so has to be careful. I asked him if he was glad the state kept all the parlors from closing, and he said he would have been relieved to see them close. No matter what had happened, you would still be able to bet online, he said, or call in bets, but the OTB outlets make it almost too easy to play too much.

Other guys were more openly enthusiastic that the outlets are still open, and one dude loudly thanked a teller at a window for making it through the negotiations and staying in business.

The OTB website has a lot of information about how to bet, how odds work (I have no idea what the mathematical basis is for this stuff, but if you're going to go to an OTB, just print out the odds page and bring it with you for reference) and the daily race schedules.

Betting on horses at an OTB reminded me a lot of playing craps at a casino: you can either figure out how to play the complicated way, like some of the serious players in there are doing, or just do it the simple way. You can make bets on sequences of horses or across a series of races, or you can play the easy way and just bet on a horse or two to win, then make some cash, then go to the nearest bar and feel secure in your fiscal responsibility because you are essentially drinking for free. Perfect!

UPDATE: It looks like the Daily News was at my local OTB yesterday, too. They interviewed a diverse bunch of players (including a retired Navy vet, a guy known as "Johnny Mac", and a preacher) who were generally not too excited about the 21% of their winnings that the state collects. I contributed $1 yesterday, part of the estimated additional $9 million the state will collect every year.

June 9, 2008

James Freys of the world not doing so well these days

Wildly successful writer and loathed memoir-fabulist James Frey has been having a rough few years. One thing he can be thankful for: he's not a child molester.

Another guy named James Frey got busted over the weekend for soliciting some kids in Washington Heights. First he offered a 9 year-old boy $5 to run away with his pants half way down. That same day he allegedly punched a girl in the face for refusing to give him her underpants. Ew.

The story ends well, though. He got caught when a group of teens, led by the older brother of the kid Frey offered $5 to, circled around Frey and cornered him until the police got there. "That's my brother. I didn't want anyone to hurt him," said 14 year-old big brother Jamel Hadley.

The Post has a good picture of the resourceful group of kids who captured the evil predatory James Frey:

Kids who captured James Frey

Sex offender James Frey was also arrested in 2005 for abuse. Here's his file in the state sex offender registry, which makes the other James Frey look like an eagle scout.

Media punching-bag James Frey has a good interview in this month's Vanity Fair. He seems like he's more or less doing OK. Janet Maslin seems to have forgiven him enough that she wrote her review of his new novel (we're all just coming right out and calling it fiction this time) Bright Shiny Morning in his old style of short, sharp sentences, which he thankfully seems to have left behind.

June 4, 2008

"Assassination" political art show shut down

Assassination art show getting papered over

The Democratic primary may be over, but it looks like we're still, on some level, freaking out about having a woman or a black man as our next president.

A Boston-based artist named Yazmany Arboleda was installing an art exhibit in a gallery today called "The Assassination of Hillary Clinton / The Assassination of Barack Obama". But don't worry, says the artist--he means the character assassination of the two candidates, as perpetrated by the media.

Well, the NYPD didn't care what kind of assassination he meant, and by 9:30 this morning had papered over the title on the gallery doorway. The artist, who just hit the free publicity jackpot, says he still plans to open the show on Thursday, but it sounds like it will run for only two days.

The NY Times post on the exhibit links to two websites that show its pieces, which mostly consist of doctored campaign photos, book jackets, and print ads about each of the candidates. The exhibit looks "edgy" to the point of being stomach-turning.

In case you're interested in learning more racist and sexist jokes and references about these two people, there's a whole bunch of them at the Obama exhibit site and the Clinton exhibit site. The artist says his exhibit is a "metaphorical"critique of the media, presumably the media's sexism and racism in how it covered the candidates during primary season. Critical analysis of sexism and racism is one thing, but when your art consists exclusively of cruel, belittling material, you could end up just looking like a jerk.

But it's not the content of the show that concerned the cops, or the Times, just the title. The cops took the artist in for questioning, then released him. The Times points out that the subject of assassination has come up in many cultural works, but--you know what's coming next--"in the post-9/11 context, recent comments touching on assassination during this political season — including references by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton — have hit a nerve, and have been followed by apologies."

Both candidates are protected by the Secret Service, and Obama has had Secret Service coverage for over a year, which is apparently the earliest that any candidate has been given protection.

June 2, 2008

Get saved with Slim Cessna's Auto Club

Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Mercury Lounge, June 1, 2008

[from a video by lzplksk]

Last night I went to see Slim Cessna's Auto Club at the Mercury Lounge with a friend who came from another city just to see them. From the little I knew about them, I was expecting a country-gospel influenced rock band, but their live show is more like a 1936 rockabilly pentecostal tent revival, the kind that has snake handling. It was fantastic.

You can walk into a Slim Cessna show and be Jewish or agnostic or a lapsed Catholic or whatever, but you're probably going to come out a member of the Church of God. It's as close to a religious experience as a lot of people in our generation are going to get on a typical day, at least at a rock show. The six members from Denver may look like the bad guys in a Flannery O'Connor story, but they seem like real sweethearts. The band has an album called "Always Say Please & Thank You", which I don't think they mean ironically.

They've got a lot of songs about damnation, but it seems like there are an equal number about Jesus and salvation, too. They're like a gospel band that is totally aware that you've got to do a lot of sinning before you can be redeemed.

The band includes all the standard rockabilly elements you would expect (upright bass, pedal steel guitar, banjo) but there are some surprises too, like a double-neck guitar with a Jesus and Mary hologram. They also yodel.

There are a bunch of pics on Flickr of last night's show and Friday's show in Greenpoint. A few good short videos are up there, too, which give you a little taste of their energetic fervor. Lots more on YouTube.

There are some free downloads available on the band website, and a list of the remaining tour dates for the next week or so.

Also: I was just thinking about Bo Diddley last night--Slim Cessna's rhythmic, reverb-y guitars and dark lyrics reminded me of him. Here's the Times obituary.

May 26, 2008

As if bedbugs on the subway weren't bad enough


Today, in its quest to make OCD into a contagious disease, the Times tells us about all the nasty diseases you can get by walking barefoot in city parks. And you don't even have to have cuts or scratches on your feet to catch hookworm or pseudomonas. "In the worst case, pseudomonas bacteria — which Dr. Militello says has a “very pungent, vinegary smell”— can be fatal if it gets into the lungs or bloodstream."

Photo by Smallestbones

May 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Brooklyn Bridge!

I love you, Brooklyn Bridge

Photo by SimplySchmoopie

The Brooklyn Bridge is 125! Older than all of our presidential candidates. The bridge cost 15.1 million dollars to build in the 1870s and 80s, which would be about $320 million in today's money. When the bridge first opened, pedestrians had to pay a penny to walk across (NYT, PDF). Here's the Times (PDF) piece on the opening ceremony, which totally disses the festivities saying:

The impressiveness of the pageant with which the bridge was opened lay in the appeal which it made to the imagination and in the numbers and behavior of the crowd. It certainly was not inherent in the pageant itself, which, as a spectacle was from from successful and differed little in its outward aspects from the ordinary Fourth of July "exercises."
You can celebrate with a bunch of fun events all weekend, including a screening of It Happened in Brooklyn, where Frank Sinatra relentlessly (and musically!) mocks Brooklyn. There's a great, brief, history of the bridge, written for the 100th anniversary, available from the Brooklyn Museum (PDF). Please go out and enjoy the bridge, and remember, it's not just for hipster T-shirts.


May 21, 2008

Anti Smoking Campaigns work, maybe

Nasty artery

So the smoking rate in NYC is actually going down, to 16.9%, the lowest rate in 50 years. Even smoky old Staten Island had a massive drop in smoking. Maybe the drop is caused by the seriously scary ads featuring amputees.

There's this lady, Marie, who seems to be on TV constantly with her missing fingers. There's also Skip, who had his right leg amputated but still smokes. Skip says:

"I don't tell anyone to quit smoking. I tell people the effect smoking does to me and people I've been in contact with."

I still think the nastiest anti-smoking ad is the British TV ad linked above, featuring gross fatty clogged arteries.

May 16, 2008

State motto bastardization

Williamsburg Edge NH state motto rip-off

This ad for a new luxury high-rise in Williamsburg has been floating around the local press for a while. This week it's in the Onion. It's the most egregious rip-off of New Hampshire's aggressively libertarian state motto I've ever seen, and it definitely makes me want to withhold my tax dollars that are probably subsidizing this steel and glass hunk of hideousness.

In an attempt to discourage the Williamsburg Edge developers from taking a hard-core, no-bullshit motto like "Live Free or Die" and using it as some kind of nonsensical hyperbole to promote their latest yuppie compound, might I suggest a few other state mottos they might use instead:

Paraphrase Ohio's motto: With Trust Funds, All Things Are Possible.

Or update the New Jersey state motto: Liberty and Prosperity (thanks, Dad!)

Better yet, use the original motto of the Republic of Texas: Remember Galapagos!

May 15, 2008

Our awesome justice system

jury duty

Jury duty is an aspect of public life that many people think about only in terms of what strategy will get them out of it. You can try claiming you don't believe in the justice system, saying you're racist, saying your brother-in-law is a cop--everybody has theories about what to say during voir dire so that you don't get picked for a case.

This is totally the wrong approach. The chances are low that you'll get to put away Uma Thurman's stalker, but there are still lots of good things about serving on a jury. Once you get past the boring part of sitting around waiting to get selected, it's sort of cool:

  • For today's TV-loving juror, court rooms have been turned into entertainment venues. Everything that happens in there really is just like what you see on "Law & Order" and "Judge Judy". You'll almost definitely get to hear "all rise" every time you enter or leave the room, lots of objections (often vehement), deal with crotchety old world-weary judges, and maybe even get a few tears from emotional witnesses.
  • If you're dealing with a civil case, you get the opportunity to feel like you're leveling the playing field of our unfair world just a little bit by making corporate America/greedy doctors/unscrupulous landlords/corrupt nail salon owners/your oppressor of choice pay up, big time. This is incredibly gratifying.
  • During deliberation, you get to re-enact your favorite scenes from 12 Angry Men and either coolly persuade dissenters to come over to your rational way of thinking, or play the insane crabby jackass who holds out and almost ruins the whole trial. Not that you would actually change the outcome of the verdict through manufactured drama, but for anyone who enjoys playing devil's advocate, it's kind of fun.
  • Getting a whole jury to agree on a dollar amount for a civil case award is tricky, but everyone loves throwing around other people's money. Why stop at 50 grand? Let's give 100! No, 200! It's like you're on Oprah's show where you compete to give away a million dollars, but you don't ever get eliminated and, as far as I can tell, you can pick whatever huge number you want.
  • And let's be honest here, you get a legitimate reason not to go to work for a few days. Some days the judge will probably release you hours earlier than you would ever be able to leave work, and you should feel no obligation to go into work or use this time productively at all. As long as you're not self-employed, it's not a bad deal.

So go ahead, send in that juror questionnaire! It's not as bad as you think.

April 23, 2008

Seamy underbelly of Hell's Kitchen returns to obscurity

Dead Guy Pay-O-Matic in Hell's Kitchen

The two long-time Hell's Kitchen residents who wheeled their dead friend to a 9th Avenue Pay-O-Matic [above] in January and tried to cash his social security check were cleared of forgery and larceny charges yesterday. There was no proof that the dead guy, Virgilio Cintron, was actually dead at the time they brought him out of the apartment, so the case was thrown out.

And so, after a brief moment in the spotlight, this reminder of what the neighborhood (and a lot of the city) was like decades ago recedes to the background. The neighborhood is increasingly made up of $15/glass wine bars and posh baby-clothes stores, but those exist right next door to the check cashing places that serve the surprisingly resilient non-yuppie segment of the Hell's Kitchen population.

During their period of fame, the two defendants, James O’Hare and David Daloia, shared a lot about their lives with the press. Back at the apartment yesterday, O'Hare said that at the time of Cintron's death, his landlord was trying to evict him. "Maybe I feel like I should have done more," he said. "I could have done more to help him with the medication. I loved the guy. I miss him."

Daloia said, "If the medical examiner couldn’t tell his time of death, and they are the professionals, then how could we?," which doesn't make much sense, considering that they were actually there with the body, tried (unsuccessfully) to pull some pants up onto him, and carried him downstairs onto the street where a crowd immediately noticed that the man in the computer chair was dead.

Daloia and O'Hare have also expressed their surprise at all the media attention. From the Daily News: "Daloia said he was still amazed by all the attention generated by their arrests. 'I thought Britney Spears took her pants down again,' he said outside court."

From Newsday: "Daloia can't understand all the fuss. 'I robbed banks that got less coverage than this.'"

April 16, 2008

Pope paraphernalia

The news media is up to its chasubles in photos of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Washington, DC and New York. So here are a few non-Ratzingerian shots of America's response:

Papal merchandising: bumper sticker and "Papa Ben" mug, which bestows upon Benedict a far catchier nickname than anything he probably had earlier in life (Joey Ratz is the best he could have hoped for):

Pope Benedict merchandise

Conceptual Pope/Mary/Jesus/hearts/flowers collage by a little girl in DC:

Pope collage

Meta-Pope: picture of a guy taking a picture of a cardboard Pope cutout in the Bronx:

Meta Pope photo

April 1, 2008

Crinkly music fans rejoice

Paul Simon rocks out

Tonight at BAM begin a month-long residency by Paul Simon. This seems a little surprising, since BAM usually goes for less mainstream performers (Fiona Shaw in Happy Days buried up to her shoulders in a mound of dirt, for example) and I tend to think of Paul Simon as an eggheady musical tourist that my parents enjoy listening to. A month-long BAM residency by someone like David Byrne, that I could see.

But Paul Simon? Paul Simon means swarms of aging Upper West Siders in batik kaftans and fake-exotic jewelry, getting down to "You Can Call Me Al".

Those people will be there, sure, but there will probably be a cool element there too--Pitchfork just reviewed a collection of live Simon and Garfunkel performances that was released by Starbucks. And they gave it a 7.9!

Also Jon Pareles at the NY Times (not exactly the most forward-thinking music critic, but still) wrote a long piece about Paul Simon with a sort of convincing argument that, for all his success and popularity among people like my parents, he's still an outsider in the music world.

I'm not sure that one of the world's most recognizable folksy singer-songwriters is still an outsider just because he keeps writing about being alienated and sullen, and Pareles does admit that his style is "smart, bourgeois, fussy wimp." But I'll admit I listened to that Concert in Central Park cassette a million times in high school, and for at least one of the BAM shows, Paul Simon will be joined by David Byrne, as well as actual African people. Remaining tickets start at $100! (Oh well.)

In other old rock star news, REM's new album "Accelerate" comes out today and they played a good set this morning at Rockefeller Center [video].

March 11, 2008

The more we learn, the duller it gets

Eliot Spitzer scandal

I was on the road yesterday, so got 100% of my information about the Spitzer scandal from text messages from friends who were at work. The first vague message I got--"Eliot Spitzer in prostitution ring"-- was by far the most interesting part of the story.

Whoa!, I thought. This is big news! Was he getting paid off to look the other way about something he uncovered in his Attorney General days? Why would someone as rich as he is need to make extra money by renting out girls, or getting hush money? Or, wait, is Eliot Spitzer involved in human trafficking? Maybe it's an international syndicate! Maybe he was trading Colombian children for guns for FARC!

Then I eventually got more specific text messages, and figured out that Spitzer was just some regular asshole who was going to hookers. Yawn. Sure, it's shameful, but receiving further confirmation that Eliot Spitzer is a self-righteous jerk who thinks he can get away with treating people like crap is hardly a surprise.

It also serves as a reminder to all us Democrats that we're not shielded from this kind of thing. Our elected officials can pose around all high and mighty about bringing ethics and morals to Washington/Albany/Spokane while secretly engaging in exactly the kind of behavior they claim to be fighting, just like the most family-values Republican can.

The Times offers an overview of the mess Spitzer had already made of his first year in office, as well as a psychological profile ("reckless"). And a good piece from Clyde Haberman on how building a career based on moralizing from on high means you've got an extra long way to fall when you screw up this bad.

However boring this scandal is, I guess he'll probably resign, because now he's "lost the respect" of New Yorkers--something he'd already been doing pretty well for the past year all on his own.

March 4, 2008

Putting the "Hell" in Hell's Kitchen

Bourbon Street bar in Hell's Kitchen

From the late '90's until about 2005, Hell's Kitchen was the up-and-coming neighborhood that had a bunch of good local restaurants, some ancient and appealingly crumbling bars, and the barber shop, wholesale greengrocer, and shoe repair shop that had been there since the LaGuardia administration.

Now, it seems like it's segued directly from up-and-coming to a horrific combination of yuppie-fied wine bars and mass-produced tourist garbage, with an overpriced baby clothes store or two thrown in.

For example: What's that new construction going up on West 46th?

Bourbon Street bar

It's Bourbon Street Bar and Grille, which looks like it's part of a college-town nightlife franchise that already has branches in places like Flint, Michigan and Schenectady.

There's already something called Bourbon St NYC on the UWS that looks pretty bad (though I can't entirely reject 50 cent Coors Light), but the logo is different, so I guess this is some other, pre-theater-oriented Bourbon Street.

The bright side: maybe Bourbon Street will bring a critical mass of recent grads to puke up turquoise fishbowls all over the Restaurant Row sidewalk, which will halt the flow of tourists that's been trickling farther west to 9th Avenue.

February 20, 2008

Big mess at Columbia

Protests at Columbia

Today the Columbia Spectator reported that the professor who found a noose on her office door last fall has been cited for plagiarism. The professor, Madonna Constantine (best name in the Ivy League), allegedly used the work of one of her colleagues and of two students without attribution.

There's no clear connection between the noose incident and the plagiarism thing, but Times readers wasted no time in slamming Prof. Constantine in a textbook example of an ad hominem argument:

I was very suspicious of Professor Constantine during the noose case. As an African-American woman and graduate of Columbia University, I had doubts about the validity of her claims. I had a sick feeling that she put the noose there herself. Of course that would far worse than plagiarism, but news that she would do something as dishonorable as using the work of her students makes me wonder.

Ugh. You can look at other reader comments for some really disgusting references to "lowering of standards" at elite universities and openly racist remarks about Prof. Constantine's education at a historically black university in New Orleans.

Plagiarism is a serious offense for an academic, but it has nothing to do with the noose situation, or race, or anything other than plagiarism.

Unfortunately, as soon as the allegations were made, Prof. Constantine started in with the crazy logic herself. She called the inquiry into her writings, which has been going on for a year and a half, a "witch hunt", and wrote to faculty and students:

"I am left to wonder whether a white faculty member would have been treated in such a publicly disrespectful and disparaging manner. As one of only two tenured Black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted."

What?! You're not helping yourself, Professor. Even if Columbia doesn't put much value in diversity in its faculty, that has nothing to do with whether or not you stole other people's work.

First, Columbia and NYPD should try harder to figure out who put the noose on her door--the investigation is still going on, apparently. Then if there is substantial evidence that the professor plagiarized others' work, she should get fired.

Ironically, Constantine's work focuses on how race influences people in educational and counseling settings.

There are loads of examples of plagiarism in academia, literature, and politics: Stephen Ambrose, Joe Biden, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mike Barnicle, Harvard undergrads.

February 14, 2008

Attention child therapists: future business alert!

Kids and posh decor don't go together

If you're a mental health professional who works with disturbed children, the NY Times published a helpful list of leads today to help you build your client base. It's in the form of an article about the pain parents suffer when having children forces them to alter their home design concepts, titled "Parent Shock: Children Are Not Décor".

Take down these names, find their contact information, wait a year or two, then contact the families when the kids stop eating, begin cutting themselves, or start sleeping with James Woods. These kids are going to need a LOT of therapy:

  • Debra Cherney and Hartley Bernstein, and kids Cole and Brooke:
    When the twins became mobile, the couple realized that they would need to create a designated play space in their prewar Park Avenue apartment. The room they sacrificed — the formal dining room — was tough.

    She felt the full impact when they put their 18th-century mahogany dining table and chair set in storage. "When I bought the table I was envisioning these beautiful, lovely dinners with fine china. Once you have kids and once you give up those things, it was like, 'Who was I kidding?' I remember thinking this room will look nice again — in about 18 years."

  • Kipp Cheng and Mark Jarecke, and son Beckett:
    "We spent years collecting meaningful, quality pieces. Basically each room was finally done, and then it all got blown apart."

    Among the most troubling matters was the fate of the Barcelona chairs... After much deliberation, they put three in the garage and wrapped the corners of the fourth in foam so it could stay in the living room. "It was just sad," he said.

  • Bob Stratton and Sandra McLean, and kids Vin and Fia:
    "They can play with a toy in the main living area, but it has to go away when they’re done. I’m very concerned with what’s in my visual space. When people come into the house, I very much do not want them being bombarded with toys."

    Ms. McLean instructed Fia and Vin not to eat on the couch, and told them half-jokingly not to "sit on it, stand near it or even look at it."

  • Jacqueline Brown and Gavin Friedman, and son Harrison:
    They were determined not to let Harrison "take control of the house," Ms. Brown said. They went ahead with putting in flat-front lacquered maple cabinets in the kitchen, even though they soon had to watch a professional babyproofer drill 300 holes in them for safety latches. (Ms. Brown still cringes.) And they held onto the molded-wood chairs, which were not an easy transition from the highchair. "They have a very sleek bottom," Ms. Brown explained. "He slides off it."

I bet children of wealthy interior design enthusiasts who grew up with furniture they weren't allowed to touch sometimes wonder if their parents really love them. Now they know!

Lots of sputtering indignation in the readers' comments.

February 13, 2008

The strange world of the Westminster Kennel Club

An afghan in a tracksuit at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Everyone's a little dog-crazy today with all the excitement over Uno, the absurdly cute Beagle that won Best In Show last night at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Here are our favorite things about the dog show, which is based on looking at lots of pictures of bizarrely-groomed dogs and reading 1.5 articles about it:

  • Afghan hounds in Florida-retiree tracksuits and sassy kerchiefs (this one is named Ike)
  • The wacky registered names that show dogs have in addition to their regular names that their owners call them. The registered names refer to the kennel club they were bred at and begin with "Ch", like Ch. Colsidex Seabreeze Perfect Fit, Ch. Fuzzy Farm Devil Made Me Do It, Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory, and Ch. Surrey Spice Girl (a miniature poodle, of course.)
  • The Times' coverage of the dog show, which is proudly located in the Sports section.

January 29, 2008

Brooklyn babies cut off

babies love beer

Having your kids around while you drink at home is your business, but a Brooklyn bar respectfully asks its patrons to restrict their drinking buddies to people 21 or older.

Union Hall, a bar and rock club, now has a No Strollers policy, which sort of surprisingly has a lot of Park Slope moms upset. Hmm... the kind of Park Slope mom that likes to bring her infant child to bars. I can't tell if that's sort of cool, flagrantly irresponsible, or, like most things related to Park Slope, just irritating.

Let's see: Strollers clogging up a bar, babies screaming, stay-at-home Park Slope moms taking up all the couches. OK, that's settled, it's irritating.

If it were just one mom stopping off for a beer toward the end of the day, baby in backpack, I doubt there would be a problem. But as Daily News reader toastedmuffin reports, "One day I went there for Happy Hour and the place was jammed solid with strollers, we could not even get around them to sit at an empty table. Furthermore, the amount of children in there polluted the normally relaxing atmosphere with crying and clutter."

These moms don't like the restriction. Union Hall motherpatron Renee Bar-or said, "Most people were pretty upset. I understand it, but it's pretty upsetting. It's pretty empty in here," while cradling her 5-month-old son, Jonah.

"Most people"? Is this woman saying that the majority of people who go to Union Hall bar are upset about the No Strollers policy because they can't bring their children into the bar? Lady: IT'S A BAR. What world are you living in? What does she expect to see when she walks into a bar? Changing tables and sippy cups?

I should also point out that Union Hall is not actually barring children, but rather asking that patrons not take up valuable drinking space with baby strollers. You want to bring your kid to the bar, carry them in your arms, park them on a bar stool and order them a milk. Or just bring them someplace more appropriate for your moms' afternoon book club, such as anywhere in Park Slope that is not a bar.

January 28, 2008

Oh my god! The Help Can Read!

Oh the joys of Metropolitan Diary. In today's installment....well, I think I have to quote the whole thing:


At a recent personnel committee meeting of our West Side co-op, the building’s super and the committee members were discussing whether an employee should be suspended for an apparent lie he had told about a misplaced package.

Knowing this employee quite well, I mentioned to the super that I did not think a suspension was necessary, since this employee had a very harsh superego and he had suffered enough with his own guilt over the weekend.

A few days later the super phoned and asked me if I, as a practicing psychoanalyst, could recommend something that he could read about the superego. I suggested Freud’s “Ego and the Id.”

“Oh no,” he said, “I need something simpler.” My response was: “You are one of the smartest supers in New York. I know you’ll understand it.”

So for Christmas I handed him an envelope with his usual cash bonus, accompanied by a gift-wrapped copy of Freud’s “Ego and the Id.”

A day later, I ran into the super in the lobby and he greeted me with a hug and a huge smile. He told me he was eager to begin reading Freud and discussing the id, ego and superego with me.

Louise Fay-Bergman

We don't find it all that surprising that the super is intelligent, and has interests outside of his job. To counteract Ms. Fay-Bergman's condescending attitude, please enjoy this picture of SEIU 32 BJ's Superintendent of the Year Charles Brown.

Superintendent of the year Charles Brown and Paul Gottsegen, Director of Management at Halstead Management, 2007 Building Service Workers of the Year Awards, 32 BJ.

January 23, 2008

A Hell's Kitchen Economics lesson

 Olde English 800

Today the Times covered Eliot Spitzer's proposal for increasing NY state revenues for the coming year, which is a strange blend of encouraging some problem behaviors for residents (thousands of video gambling machines installed at the racetracks) while trying to discourage other problems (raising taxes on malt liquor and, weirdly enough, illegal drugs.)

But the political is personal, and the Times is at its best when it captures the reactions of regular New Yorkers to otherwise dull legislative proposals.

So they went into businesses along 10th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood where people love their 40s, which nobody knows better than bodega workers.

"It's bad for the people," said Niff Alaradem 29, a clerk at Clinton Gourmet Market, at 46th Street and 10th Avenue. "You see so many alcoholic people, it's all they drink, Colt 45, Olde English, everything. They take one of these big bottles and it's dinner."

The Times asked some local residents what they thought about Spitzer's plan--specifically, his proposal to raise the tax on malt liquor from 11 cents to $2.54 per gallon. The responses they got perfectly illustrate a number of key economic concepts:

Regressive Tax: "It's messed up, it's wrong!" said Darryl, who looked as though he was in his 50s and was bundled up against the cold. "You got mostly poor people like me buying malt liquor."

Inelastic Demand: Roman Isre, 28, a barber at Erik’s Barber Shop on 10th Avenue, said he bought malt liquor once or twice a week. "That's bad!" Mr. Isre said when told about Mr. Spitzer’s proposals. Would he buy less malt liquor? Mr. Isre smiled. "Nah. You got to do what you got to do," he said. "It’s like gas. You drive the same mileage for $2 a gallon or $3.50 a gallon."

Cost-Benefit Analysis: A and A Market and Deli, at 45th Street and 10th Avenue, used to sell as many as 40 cases of malt liquor a week, but it became too bothersome to stock. "We have arguments here, very loud arguments," said Mustafa Saleh, 27, the deli’s manager. "They don't want to pay." When customers did pay, it was annoying, he said. "They paid in change," he said, "$2.50 in nickels, dimes and pennies; that’s the kind of money they have."

You can argue that raising the price of a 40 through taxes will encourage people to stop drinking so many of them, but my guess is that this population isn't likely to respond to higher prices by quitting drinking. If anything, they'll just switch to beer, which will continue to be taxed at a lower rate due to its lower alcohol content.

But they won't be happy about it! Darryl, the bundled-up 50 year-old, was asked why he bought malt liquor rather than beer: "Darryl looked quizzically at a reporter and replied, 'You get twice as much, and it’s got a bigger kick to it.'" Smart shopper.

December 3, 2007

How you can help with the national debt

National Debt Clock

AP tells us today that our national debt is growing by $1 million every minute. This rate is so fast that about a year from now, the debt clock pictured above that used to be on West 43rd St (it was moved recently to make way for fancy new green building One Bryant Park) won't even have enough digit spaces to express the whole number.

That's $10 trillion! $10,000,000,000,000.00! God bless America.

Since we're obviously a totally irresponsible bunch of financial reprobates, and considering that rising interest rates are only going to make things worse, this makes me wonder: What kind of idiot is still willing to lend us money?

According to AP, part of our debt is held by U.S. citizens who live here and read the paper every day and still think that buying government bonds is a good investment. But a lot of investors are foreign: 44% of our publicly held debt we owe to foreign governments and investors. Japan has the biggest share.

Former Congressional budget anaylst Stanley Collender is concerned. "The first day the Chinese or the Japanese or the Saudis say, 'we've bought enough of your paper,' then the debt — whatever level it is at that point — becomes unmanageable," he says.

Our individual debt allocations are already $30,000, so what the hell--we might as well be patriotic consumers and start buying as many products as possible directly from the countries that our government owes money to. Go ahead and stand in the huge, crazy line that forms outside the Nintendo store at Rockefeller Center at 7:30 AM every time they get a new shipment of Wii consoles in. It's good practice for the bread lines we'll all be standing in when we're old and Social Security is a distant memory.

And while you're at it, support our nation's fiscal philosophy and get some new credit cards. With a few more big credit limits, your salary is doubled!

November 29, 2007

NY's new unconvincing anti-domestic violence ad campaign

NY's anti-domestic violence campaign ad

OK, whatever, mom.

Sure, not slugging your girlfriend is probably the right thing to do, but it's such a drag!

Even teenage boys know that hitting girls is wrong and disrespectful, and illegal, but this approach makes domestic violence sound like something sort of fun and illicit, like filling up on Cheetos before dinner and blowing off Chemistry lab.

The TV ad for New York State's new domestic violence prevention ad campaign looks better.

NY domestic violence ad still

[download ads or read scripts]

The TV ad uses the same logic as those animated anti-pot smoking ads from earlier this year in which a stoner's girlfriend gets bored with him and goes off with a cute alien. Social scare tactics--that your friends and girls will think you're lame--are probably much more effective deterrents than moralistic scolding of "eat your vegetables" or "do your homework" or "dude, that weed is gonna blow your mind".

November 21, 2007

Eliot Spitzer reconsiders that whole "steamroller" thing

Eliot Spitzer reconsiders

It's been a rocky time for our governor, who swept into his first year of office promoting himself as a "fucking steamroller", guns blazing, ready to take on a mess of a state legislature and make some big changes.

Last week, a poll set his favorability rating at a crappy 41%, with only 25% of voters saying they would re-elect him. That's less than a year after winning almost 70% of the vote in an election in which many New Yorkers were relieved to finally have a Democrat running the state again. The two biggest stories about his governorship so far have been his proposal to offer driver's licenses to undocumented residents that nobody liked, and the "Troopergate" debacle.

It's been a total public relations disaster.

So he announced yesterday that single-swipe subway fares would hold steady at $2. This is being regarded by some media, including the Post of course, who calls Spitzer a tooth fairy, as pandering to grumpy voters in the face of fiscal experts who predict a major downturn in the region's economy in the near future, which will make fare increases necessary eventually.

Who knows? Maybe Spitzer is trying to change his public image and soften the pit-bull approach he's taken since the start of his term. But if he really is trying to get people to like him again, this approach isn't going to mean much to New Yorkers.

The Times interviewed several subway riders to ask them what they think about the single-ride price staying at $2. Considering only 7% of subway and bus riders actually pay $2 per ride according to the Straphangers Campaign, their responses aren't surprising:

"If they’re not hiking the $2 rates, there’s some way it will come out of our pocket," said Ellene Wundrok, a real estate broker from Flushing, Queens. "The tourists might benefit. They’re the ones that buy the $2 fares, not people who live in the city."

Joseph Rivera, 20, a graphic design student from Brooklyn, said that riders might react angrily once the authority announces what the increases in other types of fares will be. "This has the potential to backlash on him."

And this is hilarious: the Daily News jubilantly takes full credit for the non-increased $2 fare through its Halt the Hike campaign, and quotes chirpy reader Elsa Butler who gushes "The Daily News coverage has been fantastic!" I sure hope all those happy tourists getting a price break start picking up the Daily News down at the Publix!

I think actual New Yorkers understand that all the capital improvements the MTA plans to make over the next few years will require a big cash influx. A NYT editorial states that the MTA wants to bring in $580 million of new money in the next 2 years, so a fare increase for unlimited Metrocards may be unavoidable in that period. The MTA decides on its entire new fare plan on December 19.

But until then, we should use the Pizza Connection economic law to demand that midtown pizzerias stop charging $2.25 for a slice.

November 16, 2007

The coolest WGA benefit event yet +

Michael Cera

Guess who's hosting SNL tomorrow night? It's our favorite celebrity ever Michael Cera! With musical guest Yo La Tengo.

Oh, hang on. The writers are all on strike. But that doesn't matter if SNL is going to be happening live at Upright Citizens Brigade! Where $20 tickets will benefit a strike fund for the WGA!

Yeah, well, show's already very sold out.

Also sold out is what will probably be the greatest non-televised television moment of the year: an episode of "30 Rock", also live at UCB on Monday night. The UCB site says limited tickets will be available at the door, so start camping out on 26th St as soon as the SNL show is over!

Here's about as much good news as there is: people are selling their tickets to SNL at UCB for $750 on Craig's List. Fuck.

Cast members Tina Fey and Seth Meyers have been out on the picket lines.

UPDATE: Of course, SNL was awesome.

November 6, 2007

America's decline: our public works are ugly, lethal

NYC manhole cover

Above is a picture of your basic, ugly NYC manhole cover.

Now check out this array of beautifully-designed manhole covers from Japan that Wired linked to today:

Japan manhole covers

Each Japanese prefecture makes its own unique manhole covers, many of which are brightly colored and feature cute dancing crabs, frogs, and aliens.

Meanwhile in our own country, the most interesting things our manhole covers do are burn or electrocute people.

And in the larger world of American public works, if the city that you live in hasn't had a major road explode, a bridge collapse, a retaining wall crush rush-hour traffic, or run out of water, you should consider yourself lucky.

November 5, 2007

WGA Strikes!

WGA writers on strike at Rockefeller Center

The first picket lines for the Writers Guild of America strike went up this morning at Rockefeller Center, where about 30 writers peacefully gathered near the skating rink with signs and the giant inflatable rat. Many of the writers out there probably work for some popular shows, but of course, I have no idea who they are or what they look like.

With the exception of Tina Fey.

Tina Fey on the picket lines

The strike is the result of unsuccessful negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. So how does that work when one person is a writer but also an executive producer? Wouldn't that make someone like Tina Fey both union and management? Maybe. But she's a producer who's out there on the lines with the proletariat, because she's awesome.

The Times has a good piece on the vast disparities in income among the 12,000 WGA members. Almost half of the West coast members are unemployed, while writers for shows like "Grey's Anatomy" take home $5 million a year. The WGA site has a schedule of all the picket locations in the LA area.

November 1, 2007


Halloween Parade crowd

photo by dietrich

Is any crowd as enthusiastic as the crowd at the Village Halloween Parade? This year's parade was incredibly popular and crowded, but as always, lots of fun.

After years of self-delusion, I can finally admit that everybody in the entire world takes better pictures than I do. Here are some of the neatest, funniest, or freakiest costumes seen at the Village Halloween Parade last night:

A few themes that ran through this year's parade:

  • Last year there were a lot of MySpace page costumes, this year I saw a Facebook page costume, and no MySpace. This is probably a good sign for youth culture and the world in general.
  • Larry Craig, everywhere [NSFW]
  • Bald guys who realized this was the one chance they had to dress as Britney Spears
  • A TON of robots. Think I saw more robots than any other costume.

NY1's George Whipple was on the spot, in a military costume. Note to self: Optimize chances of meeting George Whipple by dressing as him for next year's parade.

[tx Jess]

October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

candy corn

[photo by Ladybug1016]

I've already peaked and crashed a few times today from eating tons of candy (my favorites this year have been Peeps Spooky Friends™ Halloween-themed candy. I usually don't like veering from the classic yellow peep design, but those little spiders are awesome.) And tonight is going to be costume construction, the parade (enter on the east side of 6th Ave only, according to the site), and femoral injections of high fructose corn syrup.

So I'll just pick a few of the best quotes from the Times feature on foodie types and their favorite scores from childhood Halloweens, and what they plan to give out this year. Note that while some of the notable food folks are going to make special, homemade, arguably healthy snacks to hand out, every single one of them lists commercial, mass-produced, gut-rotting corporate candy as what they most desired as children. How quickly they forget!

Anyway, some favorites:

"Butterfingers, or anything with that foam candy center. I would try to trade with my brother, but you know how it is: we both wanted chocolate and no one wanted those circus peanuts." Elizabeth Falkner, chef, Citizen Cake, San Francisco

"The emphasis was on quantity not quality, with only part of the actual take declared to the authorities. Candy bars were rare (this was before bite-size), and those houses were revisited an hour or so later." Steve DeVries, chocolatier, DeVries Chocolate, Denver

"I well remember my disgust whenever someone offered me a homemade brownie or, worst of all, an apple. Halloween is the high holy day of high fructose corn syrup. And if we can keep it to one or two such days, why not?" Michael Pollan, journalist and author, "The Omnivore’s Dilemma"

Personally I would love to get my hands on some gelatinous-bloody-tooth themed Kid's Brand Tooth Ache Candy. Delicious!

October 30, 2007

Maybe crime would pay if criminals weren't such morons

Firefighters arrested for firehouse arson

Lots of funny, sort of pathetic stories in the papers today about crimes gone wrong:

  • More details have surfaced about the two firefighters who apparently torched a firehouse over the weekend, whose movements were all captured on surveillance video in what the Times calls "hardly a well-planned caper." Richard Capece and Michael Izzo bought a gallon of gas at the BP gas station on 38th St and 10th Ave, using Capece's debit card, and carried it in their own gas can. The NY Times story notes, "they also took a blue cigarette lighter from the station without paying for it, but no theft charges have been filed."

    The Daily News reports that Capece "was all smiles" on the W. 38th St firehouse's surveillance video, which caught Izzo "holding a lighter against the gasoline-soaked door" 15 minutes after their gas purchase, then a minute later, running back to their car and driving away. Neither firefighter worked at the station they burned, and a FDNY source says they didn't appear drunk in the videos, so everyone is pretty much assuming they're just a couple of pranking idiots. Izzo "was not well-liked by [his first] firehouse, or by his current one for that matter," as the FDNY source told the Daily News. He was also recently charged with assault in NJ. No one was injured in the fire, which was quickly put out.

  • Alleged crime boss Michael Uvino got busted on tape for pistol-whipping and threatening two enemies who robbed his card game in Long Island. In his bail hearing yesterday, Uvino's lawyer claimed that all he was packing during the taped threat was a BB gun. Judge Jack Weinstein didn't buy it: "I've never heard of Mafia members carrying BB guns... Most people in New York, if they are going to brandish a gun, will brandish a real gun. Unless they're suicidal." On the tape, you can also hear a handgun being cocked, and Uvino complaining to his informant associate, "I was trying to hit him with that fucking chair... Catch him with the metal part across his neck. All I did was fucking hurt my wrists."
  • Two men charged with calling people while posing as Equifax employees and scamming them for their credit card numbers now claim that they were targeting Bangladeshi people. Because, they say, Bangladeshis are "the ones who brought down the towers." So now they'll likely be charged with grand larceny plus a hate crime, because "targeting any ethnic group - even mistakenly - exposes them to additional penalties," according to prosecutors.
  • And in another story of confusion over terrorism and ethnicity, Brooklyn jeweler Rimon Alkatri is on trial for framing five other jewelers for plotting a suicide bombing. He apparently called the police, mobilizing a $100,000 operation, when he heard one of them saying "Allah akbar" on the phone. The defense lawyer points out that this is a common expression among Arabic speakers (known as the takbir), not a call to arms, and also that all five of the supposed conspirators are either Christian or Jewish.

October 11, 2007

The governor and the strippers

Live Nude Girls Unite

Today we have news that dancers at Scores have filed a suit against the club for skimming from their tips, as well as other violations.

A few things you should know about this case:

1. The outcome of the case likely depends on whether the dancers achieve class action certification. If the class is certified, the company is likely to settle.

2. A key issue will be whether the girls have been misclassified as independent contractors. Governor Eliot has recently noticed that this misclassification is a major problem.

"Businesses can use misclassification to avoid complying with laws governing unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, social security, tax withholding, temporary disability insurance, minimum wage and overtime. "

I'm sure a reputable business like Scores would never do anything like that, though.
The Post reports that at least one dancer is buying the independent contractor argument:

Tamara Friedman, 29, a busty blond with an Eastern European accent, took the company line. "I don't think it's unfair," she said firmly. "We're independent contractors. If a girl doesn't like it, she can go somewhere else."

To counteract this defeatest attitude, I hope the women in the lawsuit have taken the time to watch Live Nude Girls Unite.

October 10, 2007

Watch your back, Six Flags!

Visit NYC

Today Bloomberg's global tourism campaign, This is New York City, launched its new ad [video]. As far as making New York look like a fun, safe, clean, non-snobby place for regular Americans to visit, it's a great ad. I love the Ella Fitzgerald soundtrack (a remix, but still) and the plug for "Avenue Q". And as a friend who watched it commented, on video you can't smell the urine! [NY Times on the launch].

But selfishly, I can't stand the way it makes New York look like an amusement park. All the animated versions of real-life icons (like the Flatiron building turned, mysteriously, into an animated wedge of cake, or the Bobblehead Yankees pitcher) seem to downplay New York as a big (potentially scary) city where real people actually live and go about their daily lives, and turn it into a cartoon.

And the posters that go along with the video (above)? "Just another day" in New York isn't daily life at all--it's Disney World!

I completely understand this campaign. If New York is going to attract 5 million more tourists every year by 2015, which is what Bloomberg wants to do, we're competing with Disney World and Busch Gardens. We have to make the city look appealing in the same way those places are appealing. These ads do a great job of that.

But for those of us who live and work here, it just means millions more tourists who wander around five-across on 7th Avenue at 5:45 PM, randomly stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to fuss with their cameras or say "Do we want Sbarro's or Olive Garden?" to each other. When tourists are successfully sold on New York as a tourist attraction just like Disney World, I think it subtly encourages them to treat sidewalks and subway entrances the same way they would treat the food court area at Six Flags, with little awareness that New York is a real city with regular people in it, not just other tourists.

If I decided to hang out with my friends in a cluster or set up my hot dog cart in the middle of some suburban person's driveway at 8:30 AM, blocking their car when they were trying to go to work, I don't think they'd like it.

OK. It's a good-looking video. And as my friend Trashrock, who lives in Washington, DC, points out, it's a whole lot better than the DC tourism promotion video.

Check this out [video]. It is ridiculous. Senators shaking hands? Laura Bush singing? Trent Lott? Oh my god. Did John McCain direct this thing? Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg, I love our Disney video now.

Robert Durst gets back into real estate

Robert Durst, mugshot

Today the Post reports that Robert Durst, ousted real estate mogul, slippery weasel of the criminal justice system and all-around lunatic, is shopping for an apartment on the Upper East Side. He's hired a broker and reportedly is considering a $3 million apartment in the Miraval, which is under construction on E 72nd. The Post makes the fair assumption that Durst is only looking at condos, since he probably wouldn't do so well with co-op boards.

But the main story here is that Robert Durst, probable killer of 3, is a free man: he's finished his probation in Texas (for a gun charge and tampering with evidence, i.e. cutting up his neighbor's body and dumping it in Galveston Bay) and apparently still has a whole lot of money, even after his lengthy murder trial of 2003 that somehow ended with acquittal.

Nothing new to report here, but here's a quick version of his incredible story: Robert Durst, member of a powerful NY real estate family, married 19 year-old Kathleen Durst, who disappeared in 1982. She has never been found, and pretty much everybody thinks he killed her. Especially since his close friend, Susan Berman, was shot in the head in 2000 right before she was scheduled to talk to the police with some information she had about Kathleen's disappearance. That murder is unsolved, too.

Then he admitted to shooting and killing his neighbor, Morris Black, in 2001. Durst was living in Galveston, sometimes identifying as a deaf-mute woman named Dorothy Ciner, and sometimes as himself. He was on the run from the cops after the killing, and was caught in a Wegman's parking lot in Pennsylvania, when he was busted for shoplifting even though he had $500 in his pocket.

From Court TV's excellent bio:

"Surveillance cameras captured him taking a single Band-Aid from a box on the shelf, then going into the rest room and putting the Band-Aid over a shaving cut. Upon leaving the rest room, he wandered over to a refrigerated case and took a $5.49 chicken salad sandwich as well as a newspaper from the rack, hid them in his jacket, and walked out of the store... When Durst was apprehended he was wearing a woman's brown wig and a false blond mustache. Underneath the wig, his head was shaved clean like his eyebrows."

A new book about the case, Without A Trace, comes out early next year. It's by Marion Collins, who has written for the Post, the Daily News, and Star, so it will definitely include all the most lurid and sensational details.

October 5, 2007

Giuliani: a history lesson

Giuliani on his radio show

It is totally understandable for most Americans who live outside the NYC metropolitan area to think of Rudy Giuliani as a strong, no-nonsense leader who takes a tough stance on fighting terror and is experienced in managing complicated governments.

People who lived in NY while he was mayor know the truth: the guy is a belligerent, obnoxious jackass.

The NY Times has compiled a history of memorable moments on Giuliani's weekly radio call-in show, which is like a microcosm of his entire political career. For New Yorkers, it serves as a reminder of why Le Tigre called him "a fucking jerk", and as a wake-up call for everybody else.

A few choice excerpts:

When Joe from Manhattan called in 1998 to complain about the city government giving special parking privileges to a white-shoe law firm, Mayor Giuliani emitted an audible groan into the microphone. "Well, let me give you another view of that rather than the sort of Marxist class concept that you’re introducing," Mr. Giuliani said.

On Aug. 8, 1998, Marvin from Brooklyn complained that the mayor talked too much about the Yankees. (Mr. Giuliani opened summertime programs by examining the Yankees’ prospects and closed with: "Go Yankees!") Marvin got off the line but the mayor was not finished with him.

"Marvin, where’d you go? You go back into your hole, Marvin? Listen, I enjoy sports, Marvin — you think that makes me a bad person? Marvin, get a life."

When Bob from Manhattan asked in 1999 about a report linking a mayoral friend to ethical wrongdoing, Mr. Giuliani butted in.

"Why don’t you seek counseling somewhere, Bob? I think you could use some help. I can see the direction we’re going in — there are people so upset and so disturbed that they use radios for these sick little attacks on people," Mr. Giuliani said. "I hope you take this in the right spirit, Bob. You should go to a hospital. You should see a psychiatrist."

You know, I totally dislike this guy and think he would make a terrible President, but these old anecdotes? They're pretty funny. I read these, and I'm sort of grudgingly amazed at how outspoken and ballsy (and crass and offensive) Giuliani could be, in public, over the airwaves, to his own constituents. It's still a mystery to me how he got elected, twice, but these stories demonstrate one quality that will always appeal to many New Yorkers--the guy has no problem telling people when he thinks they're full of shit.

And now the very qualities that he had no problem sharing with the world pre-9/11 are the same ones that he's successfully (so far) toned down while campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

But it's only a matter of time before he shows his true colors and tells some elderly, ferret-owning voter that she's sick in the head and needs to get a life.

October 3, 2007

The best and worst person to steal from in NYC

Bloomberg is rich!

If you're thinking about who to rob in this town, you'd look for the person who has the most stuff for you to take, right? The gang on ABC's canceled Knights of Prosperity chose Mick Jagger because of his yogurt baths and climate-controlled hat closet.

And earlier this year, two guys from Jersey chose Michael Bloomberg because of his billions and billions of dollars. Much of it in convenient cash form!

However, just like Mick Jagger is difficult to steal from because of all his armed security guards and fingerprint-scanning access pads, Michael Bloomberg makes it tricky due to the many investment advisors, bankers, and police chiefs working for him. A prosecutor in charge of the case said that the thieves probably reasoned, bank-robber style, that they'd "go where the money is"; in this case, they also pretty much went where the entire city's prosecutorial power is.

23 year-old single parent Odalis Bostic forged two checks from Bloomberg's Bank of America account for a total of $420,000, and tried to deposit them into his own accounts at PNC and Sovereign under the name of his bogus company Landerman Development. Both of his banks were suspicious and reported him.

Bostic's bust is probably the only reason that another guy, Charles Nelson, got caught for an earlier theft. He took $10,000 from the Mayor's same account, put it in his own E*Trade account, and spent it mostly on cellphone bills, according to the Times. And this was back in May! He probably assumed he was in the clear until that greedy Bostic blew it for him.

So I guess the lesson here is: if you steal $10,000 or less from some rich person's bank account, they probably won't even notice.

September 25, 2007

Terrence Howard is in here somewhere

Fighting shoot in Hell's Kitchen

Yesterday afternoon I happened to see a film shoot going on in Ramon Aponte Park on 47th St in Hell's Kitchen. The trailers parked on 9th Avenue had the names "Luis" and "Dito" on the doors. I figure there's probably only one Dito in the movie world, and that's Dito Montiel, whose first movie, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, came out last year.

Sure enough, yesterday's movie shoot was for his next movie, Fighting, which stars Terrence Howard, Luis Guzman, and a guy named Channing Tatum, who also appeared in Guide, that Amanda Bynes movie where she pretends to be a boy, and Anne Hathaway's good-girl-image-incinerating, straight-to-video Havoc. Fighting seems to be about underground fight clubs.

Anyway, I saw Terrence Howard walking around inside the park waiting for the scene to start, but he was mostly obscured by the crew and all the equipment. I ran and picked up a pack of baby wipes to try to get onto the set by declaring "Mr. Howard needs me to get these to him right away!," but no dice. So I had to settle for the shot above.

You can see the tracks laid for some kind of dolly shot here.

September 24, 2007

MTA mind games

F Train express

For the last few months, bloggers, online petitioners and editorial writers have been tussling over whether adding an express train to Brooklyn's F subway line makes sense. While the MTA itself has recently claimed they want to be responsive to their riders and might consider adding express trains if their work on the above-ground part of the line doesn't happen as quickly as planned, it looks like they're trying some sneaky negotiating tactics to make the demands go away.

First they tried to suggest that riders were wrong to want an express train in the first place, since they would only save 4 minutes by skipping stops in Brooklyn. To test the actual time saved on another express/local line, the Post sent its staff to ride from 125th St to the Brooklyn Bridge on the express 4 train and on the local 6. The journeys took exactly the same amount of time--33 minutes.

Great news for the MTA! They might actually succeed in dissuading riders from wanting an express train if they can convince them that their service is so erratic and bad that express trains are just as slow as locals.

Today, NYC Transit's senior director of service planning pulls a great Jedi mind trick in response to these findings. She reasons to the Post: "There is a psychological benefit to bypassing stops."

See, even though express trains don't actually save you any time, the MTA is feeding its riders delicious sugar pills that keep them blissfully placated in a delusion of efficiency while they crawl along their beloved "express" track, slow but happy. Clever tactic--make riders feel like morons for wanting a service that you'll admit doesn't provide any real benefits, until they eventually stop asking for it.

August 31, 2007

Niche dating

Yesterday we noticed that the usual JDate billboard on the corner of Broadway and 47th had been replaced by a new ad for


JDate billboard


Black Singles billboard

Hm! Did JDate's lease on the space run out, and another dating service, eager to attract the attention of single tourists waiting in line at the Olive Garden who have some very culturally-specific dating preferences, snapped it up?

Or could the same company operate both services?

Yep, it's Spark Networks, a provider of online personals for, as they put it, "likeminded" singles to connect. Now that and Craig's List have been totally overrun by hookers and phone sex lines, this company covers the spectrum of identity politics in dating.

They've got religiously oriented sites, like JDate, Catholic Mingle, Christian Mingle, Baptist Singles Connection, Adventist Singles Connection and both the Mormon MySpace-y LDS Mingle and the somewhat more cut-to-the-chase LDS Singles.

You can screen your future sexual partners by race and ethnicity with sites for people of Asian, Greek, Italian, and Latino descent, and the all-American Interracial Singles. Some sites make some culture assumptions about the purpose of dating, like the Indian site called Indian Matrimonial Network which "facilitates Indian dating and marriage". There are sites for deaf people, college students, military personnel, old people, single parents, and people who want to get busy within the next 15 minutes. And of course, a site for people who admire big beautiful women (BBW Personals Plus).

With one company representing all these different kinds of people, how culturally sensitive can each site really be? It seems like they've tried in most cases to use language on each site that will appeal to each niche, with the Catholic dating service sort of confusingly described as "clean, safe, and fun" but not surprisingly with nothing in there about God, while Christian Mingle offers the chance to meet "singles that share your values and love for God in Christ." And the College Luv site's tagline-- "Sign up, Look up, Hook up!"-- shows an intimate understanding of its target demographic.

What about sites for gay people? This is interesting. There is no gay dating site on Spark Networks, and almost all the sites only include searches for heterosexual dating. The exceptions are College Luv (young people aren't as uptight maybe?), Hurry Date (because people who want to get laid ASAP are of all persuasions), American Singles (for people who are so bland they don't have any niche identity), and JDate! Good old non-homophobic JDate. The gay Christians out there can stick to the Minneapolis airport men's room, I guess.

August 17, 2007

The history of crime in Hell's Kitchen

Hell's Kitchen 9th Ave

The Times offers a new feature series today called Weekend Explorer, in which a reporter does a sort of walking tour of a neighborhood with a local long-time resident, and describes the layers of history they can still see.

The first in the series focuses on our beloved Hell's Kitchen. The piece starts with a history of the working-class 19th century era, with Irish and German immigrants working on the docks and in factories. But the really interesting stuff is all about the criminal history: the neighborhood was a center of gangs, speakeasies and murder for the 100 years or so from the post-Civil War era through the '80's.

A few especially wonderful excerpts:

The Hell’s Kitchen Gang, whom Herbert Asbury called "a collection of the most desperate ruffians in the city" in his 1927 book The Gangs of New York (inspiration for the Martin Scorsese film), fought constantly with the police and with rivals like the Gorillas, the Parlor Mob, and the Gophers. Members had names like Stumpy Malarkey, Goo Goo Knox, Happy Jack Mulraney, and One Lung Curran, who, when his girlfriend complained of the cold, walked out to the street, "blackjacked the first policeman he encountered," according to Asbury, and stole his coat.


Two generations of Irish gangsters, nicknamed the Westies by the police and the press, operated in the neighborhood into the late 1980s. Murder, theft, arson, extortion, gambling, loan-sharking, liquor, drugs, nightclubs — the Westies did it all.

Mr. Robbins [local resident] said macabre stories about the 596 Club [formerly at the corner of 10th Ave of 43rd St] still float around Hell’s Kitchen. Old-timers remember jars behind the bar that held the severed fingers of guys who had crossed the Westies. There’s the one about gangsters rolling a severed head down the bar.

"I’ve heard a lot of that kind of stuff," T. J. English, author of The Westies, said in a recent interview. "Normally you’d dismiss it as absurd, but since it was the Westies, who knows? That place was certainly the proverbial bucket of blood."

The whole article is full of great, detailed, and often violent old-time stories like these, as well as descriptions of the gentrification that has made the neighborhood safer, though a lot less colorful.

July 16, 2007

The ugliest cruise in New York

Newtown Creek cruise

Tourists have the Circle Line and harbor cruises. New Yorkers have tours of Newtown Creek.

Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment hosted their annual Newtown Creek tour, which for $50 takes passengers up our city's most polluted waterway, which separates Brooklyn and Queens. I love the Times photo of cruisers snapping photos of the scenery [full article].

It's not pretty, but it's a part of the city that can't be seen any other way, and it's valuable to be reminded of how blighted much of our natural environment is. Highlights of the cruise include oil storage facilities, abandoned chemical plants and barges, scrap metal fields, and abandoned cars.

metal heap, Newtown creek cruise

One of the least ugly sites you'd see is actually the Greenpoint Sewage Treatment Plant, as photographed by The Gowanus Lounge last year.

Greenpoint sewage treatment plant

In the 1950's, the Greenpoint Oil Spill leaked 17 million gallons of oil and gasoline (50% larger than Exxon Valdez!) into the creek and surrounding land; passengers on the creek tour detected "an oily smell" coming from the water.

Still, many New Yorkers are interested in seeing unfamiliar parts of the city. "It’s interesting to see in person. It’s a place that is even new to New Yorkers," said the tour coordinator. And optimistic passenger Allan Bentz-Letts said, "It looks ugly with all the scrap metal around, but think about what it could be with parks, cafes and a river walk."

July 9, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning

Bronx is Burning

Tonight at 10 is the premiere of ESPN's original miniseries The Bronx is Burning, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Mahler. It runs for 8 weeks, and will air on Tuesdays at 10 after this week.

It's going to be awesome. The book, whose subtitle is "1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City" is an incredibly thorough portrait of the nadir of New York City's troubled history. 1977 represented the culmination of poverty, poor governance, racial tensions, and general urban dysfunction; there were the Son of Sam murders, a nasty mayoral election, the blackout, and ongoing, slow recovery from the 1975 fiscal crisis. Outside the city, New York was seen as a national embarrassment: as the book says of the looting and mayhem that went on during the blackout, "America had expected the worst, and New York had not let it down."

But the real narrative of the book, and the focus of the miniseries, is the rise of the Yankees and Reggie Jackson, culminating in his famous 3 consecutive home runs in the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers. Not surprising that ESPN chose to devote the most time to the sports story, and as Mahler says in an interview in this week's Time Out, "Reggie's three home runs is as much a symbol of New York's resilience as its rebirth," though he says identifying it as the point at which the city's fortunes started to change would be an oversimplification.

But this is ESPN: the reviews suggest that the TV show has no problem with oversimplification. It emphasizes the Yankees story and maybe doesn't deal as much with all the other stuff going on in the city (Daily News review says they've "taken on several major, meaty stories at once, reducing them to their essences and intertwining them.") But it looks like we'll at least get to see Jimmy Breslin covering the Son of Sam murders. He's played by Michael Rispoli, who played Jackie Aprile on The Sopranos, and was also in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, which covers the same historical territory as this miniseries. No mention of hat-loving agitator and mayoral candidate Bella Abzug in the cast list, though, which is too bad, since she is at least as larger-than-life a character as Billy Martin.

Which brings us to the fantastic Yankees cast: John Turturro as Billy Martin, the Yankees' legendarily hot-tempered manager (Daily News reported he maybe got a little too Method during the shoot,) Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner, and Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson. Sunjata is also on Rescue Me, where he plays firefighter Franco Rivera. On Rescue Me, his character typically has a lot of lady troubles, and he plays his dramatic scenes with intensity as well as restraint, which is especially impressive considering how outrageously tragic the storylines of the show often are.

Now's his chance to lose the restraint and cut loose as the preening, egomaniacal Jackson, who always seemed at least as concerned about his image off the field as he was about his baseball games. I hope they recreate the interview he did for Sport magazine where he dropped the "I'm the straw that stirs the drink" bomb. In the Bronx is Burning book, Mahler writes that Jackson later said that interview was "the worst screwing he ever got from the press."

Anyway, Sunjata looks like he's heading into casting territory currently occupied by John Turturro and Tony Shalhoub, where he can convincingly play any number of ethnicities. Also interesting is that in 2002 John Turturro played Howard Cosell, whose quote inspired the title, in TNT's Monday Night Mayhem.

The Daily News has a good special section on the summer of 1977, and the Post has a great article on the chaos of the blackout, part of a five-day series of articles leading up to the 30th anniversary this Friday.

June 29, 2007

Joan Jett kicks ass

Joan Jett at River Rocks

[photo by classicgrrrl79]

Last night Joan Jett & the Blackhearts played River Rocks at Pier 54. Joan was as wiry and fiesty as ever, wearing a black vinyl top that probably would have fit her in 1980 when her first solo album came out.

And of course, they rocked. In addition to a handful of songs from her new album, Sinner, the band played literally every single Joan Jett & the Blackhearts song I have ever heard. Hearing all their hits together like that, I realized how many of their biggest songs were actually covers: "I Love Rock 'n Roll" (The Arrows), "Do You Wanna Touch Me" (Gary Glitter), "Light of Day" (Bruce Springsteen), "Crimson and Clover" (Tommy James).

But one of her best songs, "Bad Reputation", is one that she wrote. Though it was actually never released as a single, I suspect that "Bad Reputation" has had somewhat of a resurgence in popular culture recently because it's the track used in the opening credits of "Freaks and Geeks", the beloved but short-lived TV show from the '90's that I also bet has enjoyed newfound popularity because of the wild success of The 40 Year Old Virgin and more recently Knocked Up, which were created by the almost all the same people that did the TV show. I couldn't help thinking that the biggest reason that Joan Jett played "Bad Reputation" as the very first song of her set last night was, weirdly enough, Judd Apatow.

"Bad Reputation" was also used in a promo for TLC's "American Chopper" earlier this year.

June 26, 2007

If you take the 4, 5, or 6 to work, you are justified in hating your life

crowded subway

[photo by Cresny]

You are also entitled to throw regular hissyfits about your commute if you take the E, L, 2, 3, F, 7, or V.

Because all of those lines' cars are either full beyond reasonable capacity every day during rush hour, or those lines' tracks are filled to capacity with trains so that no more can be added during rush hour, or for some extra lucky New Yorkers, both.

In what the Times describes as "an unusually candid effort at self-examination for a habitually insular agency," NYC Transit released a study that reveals how much car and track capacity each line is running at, and how often each line runs on time. And they admit it: it ain't pretty. The MTA has concluded via carefully analyzed data that many subway trains are often crowded. (I know!) The east side lines are the worst, with the 4, 5, and 6 carrying over 100% capacity in passenger loads, and running trains at 100% of their 27 trains/hour track capacity. The L is at over 100% of its maximum passenger load too, but the article's graph suggests that a few more trains could be added to help disperse all those L riders.

I generally think of New York as having a pretty thoughtful approach to city planning, but in the case of development, traffic, and public transportation, the system is clearly on the verge of breaking down. Enormous development is still going on in the upper east side and in Williamsburg, and the subway lines that support those neighborhoods are already stretched beyond capacity. Yeah, yeah, the 2nd Avenue line is going to be breathtaking and will totally transform public transportation as we know it; I'll just say that there is no way I would ever move to any neighborhood accessible only by the 6 train between now and 2014.

Also Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal that assumes that people who opt not to drive into Manhattan will just ride the subway instead needs a major rethinking for drivers who would theoretically start riding any of the above lines.

Lines that have the emptiest cars on average and also, not surprisingly, most often run on time: B, C, D, G, J, M, Z, and W.

June 25, 2007

"Vaya con dios, brah. 18% gratuity included."

Johnny Utah's

This full-page ad in Time Out turns out to not be a joke. Johnny Utah's is the new restaurant opening in July at the Rockefeller Center Hotel on West 51st St.

Although Johnny Utah is the undercover FBI agent portrayed by Keanu Reeves in the landmark 1991 California-Buddhist-surfer-bank-robber heist-buddy movie Point Break, for the purposes of midtown fine dining, the name is meant to evoke the old American southwest. From the hotel website about their "urban cowboy experience": "It was a time in which food and drink dictated the mood and voracious appetite of outlaws, gunslingers, cattle barons, and muleskinners."

I'm not sure how those voracious muleskinners would have felt about the Lone Ranger tofu salad or the Coyote Ugly burger at Johnny Utah's. Actually, the "food of the vaqueros" selections on the menu suggest that by "old west", the managers of Johnny Utah's seem to mean "any part of American culture that isn't the northeast." They've got southern pulled pork, Mexican tequila, a "Wyoming grilled" steak sandwich, and a breakfast item called the "Buffalo Bill Granola Bowl", which even makes this city slicker wince.

Just a little background, in case you missed Point Break the last 35 times it was on TBS: Johnny Utah, non-cowboy, was a quarterback at Ohio State; an injury forced him out of football; he's an FBI agent who's a lot more bored with the straight and narrow life than he's willing to admit, and gets seduced by the free-spirited surfer lifestyle represented by the mystical and insane bank robber Patrick Swayze, aka Bodhi, with whom he develops a complex guru/father-figure-but-cooler relationship, and the two share many scenes of intense non-homosexual man-love and questionable acting.

The movie also features the greatest skydiving action sequence of all time, in which Johnny Utah jumps out of the plane without a parachute, catches Bodhi mid-air, then has to decide between letting go of his gun and pulling the ripcord of the parachute strapped to Bodhi, or holding onto his gun and falling to a sure death, because he can't do both and Bodhi WILL NOT PULL THAT RIPCORD.

But anyway, surfers aren't cowboys.

Related: IMDb's extensive collection of memorable quotes from Point Break. Wikipedia's Point Break page includes references to the movie, such as this one from Hot Fuzz: "Have you ever pointed your gun up in the air, shooting wildly shouting 'Aaaarrrggghhh' because you were friends with who you had to shoot?"

June 20, 2007

"Mayor to GOP: We're through"

Bloomberg in California

As the Daily News headline tells us, Bloomberg has finally ended all his capricious and opportunistic dancing back and forth among party affiliations and quit the Republican party once and for all. Yeah, no more aligning himself with a particular party when it helps raise funds or bring money to the city or generally serves his own political purposes.

Of course, this move to Independent status is just one more example of Bloomberg running roughshod over our country's two-party system and using whatever aspects of "Republican", "Democrat", or "Independent" are most convenient for him at the time. More and more voters say they're fed up with the two-party system and consider themselves independents, and whaddaya know, now that's what Bloomberg thinks, too.

But I don't care. I still think it's a good move. The two-party system is a disaster; it oversimplifies all the complicated issues that politicians face into an increasingly meaningless set of prescribed stances. Partisanship has degraded open and respectful political debate. And for the Republican party especially, there isn't even any clearly identifiable party line or philosophy anymore: there are the Giuliani-Schwarzenegger-those two senators from Maine-(and fomerly Bloomberg) Republicans, and there are the Bush-Cheney-McCain-most of the 2004 Congress Republicans. The notion of a "big tent" party is transforming into a big incoherent contradictory mess.

So good for Bloomberg. Yeah, he exploited the two-party system to his best advantage all these years, but it's a system that deserves to be exploited and ultimately dismantled. Becoming an Independent is a blatant strategy to court moderate voters who are frustrated with both parties, but these days, that's most people.

When he announced his new-found no-party status yesterday, he said, "We're here not to represent parties. We're here to represent the people and that's what we have to do every single day and that's the way we get judged." Every politician makes idealistic statements like that, but few get behind those words, probably because being unaffiliated with either of the two major parties is political suicide. As the NY Times says, he won't be saddled with the ideological burdens of the Republican party anymore, but he's also setting himself up for full-scale assault from two powerful political machines should he decide to run for president.

But still! Burn that mother down, Michael Bloomberg!

June 5, 2007

Celebrities of the MTA

In the 50th Street C/E subway station:

Robbie Williams, MTA Superintendent

Must be part of his post-rehab personal development plan.

Earlier: reports of Robbie Williams' staggering and not really credible daily intake of legal substances that prompted him to check into rehab--prescription anti-depressants, "36 super-strength double espresso coffees, 60 Silk Cut cigarettes and around 20 cans of energy drink Red Bull."

May 30, 2007

Immigrants in NYC

NYC locksmiths

The NYT has a great feature today on how the immigration legislation now in Congress, the first major new legislation in 40 years that might actually pass, will affect the social fabric of New York City.

Among urban areas with high populations of immigrants, New York has an especially high ratio of legal to illegal immigrants, and a large majority (72%) of those immigrants come to the city to be reunited with family. Since the new legislation would value education and marketable skills over family members already in the country, it will have an especially big impact on cities like New York.

A couple of the families interviewed for the article really show how much the city needs the highly motivated people who come here looking for a better life. Jamal Hussain, 26, is a Bangladesh-born owner of a deli at Delancey and Allen streets. He got loans from family members to open his business four years ago. He says, "'I’m a hard worker, motivated.' said Mr. Hussain, who has repaid the loans, married, had a baby, and bought a house in the Bronx. 'Kids are going to school, they’re being doctors, lawyers,' he added, citing a niece who is a graduate student in science at New York University. 'Bottom line, instead of bringing those people already educated from over there, we have the opportunity to be homegrown Ph.D.’s.'"

The article says that Mexicans have entered the top three biggest immigrant groups in the city, along with Dominicans and Chinese. But of course, New York's growing Mexican population tends to be viewed differently than in other, less diverse parts of the country: "In dense and diverse city neighborhoods, they generally have been absorbed as just one more immigrant group."

With so many different kinds of people coming to the city, New York even has its own, weirder, more high-brow version of coyotes, which the Times coincidentally also covered today. A guy named Ralph Cucciniello was charged with fraud for swindling illegal Irish immigrants out of $5,000 each for non-existent aid in getting legitimate papers through the Yale Immigration Law Clinic, which he made up.

He operated the fake law clinic from a desk at the Yale Law library, but has never been affiliated with the school apart from doing some volunteer research for a professor. Over the last two years, he got over 200 immigrants who wanted to be legal to give him millions of dollars, giving them nothing in return. Many of his victims won't talk to prosecutors for fear of getting deported; as one said, "Now I feel like my head has a flashing light on it screaming ‘I’m illegal’."

May 9, 2007

NYC's free condom campaign: public health threat

NYC condom campaign will get you knocked up

New York's Health Commissioner Thomas Friedman said yesterday that the city's NYC Condom campaign, launched on Valentine's Day, might be pulled if it doesn't get results. "If we find launching this brand didn't increase at all safe sex among the groups at highest risk, we may stop it entirely," he says.

Well, Dr. Friedman, let me tell you something about risk: an unscientific hands-on study has come to my attention that indicates a blood-chilling, knee-clenching 100% failure rate in those free NYC condoms, when used as directed. Those LifeStyles™ branded freebies are, unscientifically, unreliable. Condoms are products that consumers need to work, all the time. Like seatbelts.

Perhaps my study subjects aren't the only ones who have had trouble: the Post reports that "between March 15 and April 15, the city gave away 3.7 million of its transit-themed prophylactics. That's a sharp drop from the 5 million given away in the 30 days after the condoms' Valentine's Day debut."

Maybe the novelty wore off, maybe the bowl at McSwiggans was empty every time you checked (here's a full list of distributors), or maybe 1.3 million people who used a free NYC condom in that first month don't need to use birth control anymore, since they're now pregnant.

May 8, 2007

Long way down

This flyer was taped to a lamppost on 9th Avenue, advertising an upcoming show at local cruddy fake-Irish bar Mean Fiddler in a couple weeks.

Chris Barron flyer

Guy from the Spin Doctors, using his 1993 Rolling Stone cover to promote his latest tour. Flyer is taped up next to an ad for a man with a van, and a flyer for a craft fair at a middle school.

[tx Cushie]

May 7, 2007

NYC: raiding Hell's Kitchen

Poseidon Bakery pastry

The 34th Annual Ninth Avenue International Food Festival is almost two weeks away, but today's the day that I'm starting to drool over salacious photos of pastries from Poseidon Bakery in anticipation. It's coming up on May 19-20. One million people show up every year to walk through Hell's Kitchen, from 37th St to 57th St, and stuff their faces with roasted pig flesh, apricot strudel, and gator on a stick. Food photographer Roboppy has many photos of flaky baked Poseidon butteriness on Flickr, and Pop Stand has loads more past festival documentation.

Street fairs are traditionally a source of revenue for the neighborhood associations that sponsor them, and for the local nonprofits that the associations donate to. But the Post reveals today that the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival brought in almost $240,000 at last year's event, but only about $3,500 made it to local organizations. In 1989, $28,000 was donated.

But last year's relatively small donation doesn't appear to be entirely the festival organizers' fault. The 11-day San Gennaro Festival, which in 2005 was able to donate $212,000 of revenue from its street fair to local charities, only broke even in 2006. Expenses have gone way up, and the Ninth Avenue Festival pays more for things like insurance than San Gennaro does, which hardly makes sense since San Gennaro is 9 days longer. Ninth Avenue Association President (and, I think, owner of Poseidon Bakery) Lillian Fable complained that the $48,000 permit fee collected by the city doesn't allow for any surplus revenue to be donated.

Since the city probably isn't going to give up any of the $1.5 million it takes in every year from street festival permits, we can all try to do our part by eating at least 5 times as much gaucho-grilled meat than we did last year. Or if you're interested in donating more directly to local organizations, just write them a check. Hartley House, Fountain House, and Housing Conservation Coordinators are good ones.

April 27, 2007

Buy a remote round

buy your friend a drink

Wired features a web service called Buy Your Friend a Drink that lets you get a round for your friends without actually having to spend time with them.

Sounds like a great service for generous but absent friends, or for people who would have loved to attend their work colleague's birthday party if it were not being held at Calico Jack's on 42nd St (which unfortunately is one of the relatively few bars that is currently participating in this service) but still want to buy them a cocktail.

It's currently operating in New York. And Hoboken, which I guess makes sense, since what else is there to do in Hoboken but find novels ways to drink. Wired says they plan to expand the number of bars where you can redeem the drink credits that your friends buy for you, and also start up on the west coast. It sounds like the kind of neat and easy gift idea that I hope I would remember to give people (and sort of hope people would give me) but that I wonder how many people will actually think to use. But if you have to start hanging out at Senor Swanky's to get some free drinks from your suddenly altruistic and considerate friends, it's a small price to pay.

April 5, 2007

2nd Avenue subway fantasy plan

2nd Avenue subway map

Now that the MTA is really, truly going to build the 2nd Avenue subway extension, planners are starting to put together a list of totally realistic design elements, including:

  • roomy, brightly lit stations
  • wide platforms
  • air-conditioned stations in the summer
  • sliding mechanical doors at the edge of platforms that open up with the train's doors, like on the AirTrain at JFK
  • computerized train operation so that these doors will all line up
  • and, hey, while we're at it, how about free snowcones and pony rides, too

Sounds pretty nice! But how likely is it that any of these features will be included in the 2nd Avenue line that not everyone truly believes, deep down, is ever going to happen at all? The current subway system of course doesn't use computerized operation, so the whole system would in theory have to be overhauled. The Times says that the MTA has been thinking about developing a computerized system for the entire subway, but that it's "still a long-term goal."

Lawrence G. Reuter, president of NYC Transit until he resigned in February, also had his doubts about the mechanical doors/air-conditioned platforms/on-board Wii gaming stations, too. "It’s only going to apply in a few stations. What good is it going to do if you can’t adapt it to the rest of the system? I didn’t see any benefit, plus it’s going to cost extra money to maintain them."

April 2, 2007

New Yorkers Vote for the Worst

A few weeks ago, Howard Stern interviewed the founder of Vote for the Worst, a self-explanatory internet campaign intended to bring American Idol to new lows of mediocrity. Since then, site visits have skyrocketed. Vote for the Worst fever is spreading across the nation as frustrated television viewers call American Idol's hotlines in support of Sanjaya Malakar, a 17-year old performer who would resemble a young, Indian Michael Jackson if only he could carry a tune.

In fact, the Vote for the Worst campaign is so pervasive that even respected news outlets are are using it as a touchstone for actual political events. Take, for instance, this recent NY1 Snap Poll in response to Rudy Giuliani's announcement that if elected President, he'd have his wife Judi sit in on Cabinet meetings:

Judi Giuliani or Sanjaya

The winner?

New Yorkers Prefer Sanjaya to Judi Giuliani

Clearly, Sanjaya Malakar.

March 15, 2007

Tell It Like It Is

If there's one thing Americans can agree on, it's that punching old ladies in the face is a despicable act. Last weekend's assault on 101-year-old Rose Morat, who was punched repeatedly in the face and robbed of $33 on her way to church, has caused an uproar from concerned citizens, community groups, Queens residents, seniors, the police, legislators, the press - you name it. Even worse is the fact that this seems to be a habit. The mugger allegedly also beat and robbed an 85-year old woman, Solange Elizee, shortly afterward. Ms. Elizee lost $32 and her wedding band. The reward for the attacker is currently up around $18,000.

But the question remains - what kind of a person would do this? What kind of a person assaults old ladies in their homes for just a few dollars?

punching old ladies is bad

Also, apparently, the kind of person who wears a fur jacket and rides a pink bike.

March 13, 2007

Most irritating restaurant in NYC closed for health code violations

Coffee Shop closed

In what is surely the best unintended consequence of the KFC/Taco Bell rats video, Union Square restaurant Coffee Shop, that even the New York Times is savvy enough to call "once-hip", has been closed for scoring 120 points in Health Department violations.

The restaurant, where you've probably seen the outside seating area infested with vermin incredibly snotty looking scenester-types every time the temperature rises above 45 degrees, got closed last Wednesday, failed a follow-up inspection on Friday, and as of yesterday, was still closed. Heh.

And check out these quotes from the Times article. The writer obviously hates this restaurant as much as I do:

"People are pretty shocked," said Nicole Watts, who stood outside the restaurant yesterday afternoon wearing large sunglasses, a wool shawl and cowboy boots. She had made plans to meet a makeup artist there at 3 p.m. "It’s a meeting about the video we’re shooting for my jewelry line," she said.

"I’ve seen a lot of people walk up and read the signs in the window," Ms. Watts added. "People are pretty shocked."

Sean Thomas, tall, blond and ruddy, and wearing a colorful scarf tied jauntily around his neck, said he had gone to the Coffee Shop each time he visited from London, where he owns a clothing company called White Stuff (slogan: "Lovely Clothes for Lovely People"). "To be honest, I’ve had some good food here and I’ve had some bad food," he said. "I’ve had great margaritas here. It’s just a fun, stylish, sort of buzzy place."

[This next part is just genius] Mr. Thomas turned on his heel and left with his two female companions in search of another place to have lunch. Mike Bael, a squat man with frizzy hair in a ponytail, was standing nearby and said: "I’ve always found it to be an incredibly snobbish place. If you look like that guy, you get served fine. My wife and I always get stuck in the back near a bunch of loud families and have to wait forever to get our order taken. The food’s O.K. One time we looked around and all the people with scarves and British accents were in the front."

The health violations were all for improper refrigeration of food; no sign of rodent infestation. Just far too many tall, blond people with scarves and British accents.

March 9, 2007

Hey, America. Giuliani is sort of a jerk, remember?


The polls for the 2008 election are indicating that Giuliani has a good shot at getting the Republican nomination. Bush's continuing unpopularity is probably going to push the party back toward the center. And the disastrous mishandling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a huge bonus for Giuliani, who by comparison looked like a logistical and inspirational superman of a leader after 9/11.

But here's the thing. Most Americans that participate in polls aren't thinking very deeply about the 2008 election yet. When asked who they would vote for if they election were held today, their opinion of Giuliani is probably informed almost 100% by what they can remember seeing him say on TV from September 11-16, 2001. By the time the primaries come along, that positive image is going to be seven years old, the media will have had plenty of time to report on all the other stuff he's done, and my guess is that we'll all be reminded that Giuliani is actually a pretty unlikeable guy.

And that Rudy/Rudia drag incident from 1997 (see photo) might have been cute and whimsical in NYC, but as the National Standard (!) suggests, "When it comes to winning over GOP primary voters, if you can make it in New York, you can’t make it anywhere."

Today's papers offer a few reminders of how much this guy pissed people off when he was still Mayor. The International Association of Fire Fighters has written a letter to all members (representing 85% of firefighters nationwide) about his decision in November 2001 to limit the number of FDNY firefighters who could search for the remains of their colleagues to 25. They were mad as hell then, and they still are. An IAFF spokesman says, "The events of November 2001, we think, showed the true character of Rudy Giuliani, and we are going to make sure the firefighters of this country know that story." Makes playing the Hero of 9/11 angle pretty tough for old Rudy [see also The Onion's hilarious article from a few weeks ago, "Giuliani to Run for President of 9/11"].

The Times reminds us that Giuliani and NYPD weren't always so friendly, either. The nasty business between Giuliani and his former police commissioner Bill Bratton over who could claim responsibility for the crime reduction in the mid-90's led to Bratton's resignation, and it appears that the two men haven't talked since 1996. Until now. Giuliani is trying to make nice with Bratton, who is now the head of LAPD, I guess to try to shake his reputation for being a self-serving, paranoid, unreasonable jackass.

So he can enjoy the poll results now, but the days of looking like a hero just by wearing FDNY and NYPD baseball hats are over.

February 28, 2007

New York Times: The math club president in the cheerleaders' locker room +

New York Times does Penthouse

Frank Bruni's review of the steakhouse in the Penthouse Executive Club is surely rocketing its way up the Times' "Most Popular Articles" list. I hardly know what to say about this thing, except that it's totally bewildering, and very funny.

When the Times runs an article about a somewhat distasteful, low-brow topic like strip clubs, they often assume a posture of the amused outsider, observing the unwashed masses and their unrefined pursuits (like the article about other papers' journalists, who often *gasp* go out drinking together after work!) When their restaurant reviewer goes to a strip club to eat their legendarily delicious steaks, he does so only while stressing how out of place he feels, how much he is really, honestly there for the steak, and intentionally comes off like a dork pushing his wire-frame glasses back up his nose. Even in the part when the strippers pour a buttery nipple cocktail and Reddi-Wip down his throat.

My favorite part is his exchange with a woman who is I guess is his waitress or hostess, who sits down with him and his friends at their table.

She introduced herself. I wasn’t sure I’d heard her name correctly.

"Mahogany?" I said.

"Yes," she purred.

I was getting my bearings. "Mahogany," I asked, "do you know where you’re going to?"

She didn’t miss a beat, noting the reference, summoning the singer, and moving on to another of the dreamgirl’s hits. "I’m ... coming ... out!" she sang, waving her arms, wiggling her hips. Mahogany and I would get along just fine.

Haha! Funny, but maybe trying a little too hard to show how down with the strippers Frank Bruni can be, and how he totally doesn't objectify these women but actually views them as intelligent and very, very friendly human beings. He even chats with another stripper about her cellphone! Plus, did he mention he really loved the steak?

Funny article, if painfully self-conscious, like the Times was trying to publish something "fun" that might be found in New York magazine, but ended up with something more like what you'd read in Stuff. There's also an interactive slideshow that features equal parts steak and tits. Even though Bruni swears that he and his friends weren't interested in the human flesh on display, somebody on the payroll clearly picked up on it.

UPDATE: Of course, all this makes a lot more sense when you take into account that Frank Bruni is gay. Of course! A group of gay guys eating steak "ecstatically" at Penthouse Executive Club on Valentine's Day with the Times picking up the tab makes the whole story so much better. I can't believe I didn't pick up on this right away, but at least Mahogany seems like she did.

December 20, 2006

Drink Pom, live forever. On the toilet.

Pom Wonderful kills animals?

Activists Animal Rights Militia have alerted east coast supermarkets that they've contaminated bottles of Pom Wonderful will some nasty bug that will make those who drink it suffer "diarrhea, vomiting and headaches." Pom allegedly kills mice and rabbits in trials that test some of its health benefits claims.

Friends of Animals claims that Pom Wonderful has supported tests of its juice on brain injuries in mice, and, even better, on erectile dysfunction in rabbits. Those poor rabbits, being force-fed that refreshingly not-too-sweet pomegranate juice and then hippity-hopping it up with some sexy bunny slut-clinicians? Doesn't quite pull the heartstrings like the toilet bowl cleaner in the eye animal testing stories, does it?

Health officials think the contimination threat is a hoax, of the kind Animal Rights Militia has done many times before, but Food Emporium says they're checking their bottles of Pom. If you're concerned about animal testing, the erotic lives of rabbits, or getting butt-sick, you might want to avoid drinking it.

December 5, 2006

NYC's rat patrol and Edgar R. Butts

Rat extermination in New York

Sometimes I think the NY Times should stop doing analysis of the important events and developments happening all over the world, and just stick to investigation and detailed reporting of all the weird stuff that goes on right here in the city.

Today's article on the city's ongoing fight against rat infestation is the best example of this kind of local reporting. Pest complaints reached an all-time high last year, at 32,000. The city is trying to adopt more aggressive, preventive measures to fight rats, like keeping garbage inaccessible and clearing the debris where rats live, instead of just dumping loads of rat poison everywhere. A deputy for environmental health, who is named Edgar R. Butts and therefore might be my favorite of all the city's employees, said: “You can bring a trainload or boatload of rodenticide into the city. But as long as you have food and harborage, you’ll have rats.” I've seen a whole lot of "WARNING: Area Baited With Rodenticide" signs in the subway which never seem to be more recent than 2003, and the rats are starting to grow resistant to it anyway.

The article gives you an incredible amount of detail about the history of pest control in the city, the 19th century rat catchers (paid by the rat!), old federal CDC programs, the city council's "rat summits" in the Giuliani days. There are lots of anecdotes about the Bureau of Pest Control Services, which spends $8 million each year on rats, going to buildings where tenants have been complaining for months.

But my favorite part is when the intrepid Times reporter walks around the Bronx himself, and paints a vivid picture of the garbage that he sees, and apparently also rummages through: "Why the rats remain is no mystery, given the abundance of waste New Yorkers leave behind. In an alley next to an apartment building were two exposed trash cans. Inside one was an empty can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, with a residue of sauce."

We've all seen rats scurrying around in the subway or in vacant lots, but take a guess as to the percentage of rental units with rodent infestations. Guess. Ready to get grossed out? 28.7 percent!!! Ew! If you don't have rats drinking your beer and gnawing your toothbrush, you're lucky.

November 16, 2006

NYC is really, really big

US population map

[Time's visualization of US population density]

Most of us who live in New York probably only experience a few small bits of the city in our daily lives--our home neighborhood, work, favorite bar, Trader Joe's. It can be easy to forget how absolutely enormous this city really is, and how impressive it is that this whole operation functions as well as it does (notable exceptions: finding affordable housing, transit strikes, Ludlow St on Saturday nights, walking through Rockefeller Center anytime between now and New Year's Day.)

Last night at an event held by Robin Hood, Mayor Bloomberg threw out a few statistics that reminded me of the giganticness of our city:

  • The projected increase in New York's population over the next 10 years will be larger than the population of Pittsburgh (pop. 335,000)
  • The number of students in the NYC public school system (1.1 million) is more than the population of Detroit (887,000)
  • The number of people that will live in the new affordable housing units slated to be built is more than the population of Atlanta (471,000).
  • NYC's annual budget ($53 billion in 2007) is bigger than every US state budget except for New York, California, and Texas.

Plus, over 300,000 people work for the city.

Then when I think about how most of us all take showers at about the same time as everybody else every morning, my head really starts to spin.

November 3, 2006

Surprising suicide: Adrienne Shelly +

Adrienne Shelly

The Post reports that actress Adrienne Shelly was found dead in the Village apartment she used as an office on Wednesday, having apparently hanged herself from the shower curtain rod. Shelly was the star of two early Hal Hartley movies, The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, in the late '80's and early '90's, though her career never quite took off the way you might have expected.

Shelly did write and direct some movies, including 1999's I'll Take You There starring Ally Sheedy, and Waitress, which has yet to be released, but stars Nathan Fillion from "Firefly" and Keri Russell. Family members thought she was basically a happy person who wasn't on any medication. The Post reports an interview from 1996 in which she said things like "I might not live another seven years" [full text of interview].

In the same interview she quoted something her father said when he turned away agents who wanted to cast her when she was still very young: "I will not have my daughter jumping out of a window when she's 30." He was off by 10 years--Shelly was 40--but it seems his concern wasn't too far off base.

Those two Hal Hartley movies she starred in aren't the greatest movies ever made (there's a sort of hokey scene at the end of Trust where she tries to convince Martin Donovan that "respect plus admiration plus trust equals love") but she clearly had some real talent, especially for Hartley's style of deadpan comedy. Shelly was in her early 20's in these movies, though she plays a high school girl in each.

Cops are saying it looks like a suicide, though they are investigating a few suspicious elements of the case.

UPDATE: It wasn't a suicide after all. A construction worker in her office building got into an argument with her about noise, killed her, then arranged her body to look like a suicide. Horrible.

November 1, 2006

Halloween Parade


Last night's Village Halloween Parade was as insanely popular and wild as ever. I didn't get to the staging area at Broome and 6th Avenue until about 7:45, and for much of this back-end of the parade, it felt like there were more people marching in the parade than watching from the sidelines. As well it should be--what other major parade can you march in just by showing up?

We posted some photos on Flickr:

See lots of other photos on Gothamist, and parade set-up shots from earlier in the evening.

And did anyone else happen to catch George Whipple on NY1, who Emily suspects was drunk, interviewing Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS? We love you, George Whipple! He's briefly included in the NY1 video clip of the parade, which is really good.

Also: a day late, Rockefeller Plaza is dressed up as a cranberry bog. Publicity stunt for Ocean Spray or public health service for New Yorkers prone to UTIs?

September 19, 2006

Coup in Thailand

Coup in Thailand

Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra spoke yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York, and discussed his country's sometimes rocky experiences with democracy. He also answered questions about the recent violence involving Muslim separatists in the south, and personal charges of corruption.

Apparently he finds it useful to compare the government he leads to a baby, because he used two different baby metaphors to describe the young democracy:

"I, for one, haven’t seen a child learning to walk without bumping his bottom constantly. As adults, we must learn to live with the pain and the pangs of democracy, lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

But when the cat's away... the tanks come in. A military group calling themselves the Council of Administrative Reform seized power tonight, surrounding government buildings with tanks, and have suspended the constitution and declared martial law. It's the first coup in Thailand in 15 years.

Good timing on the part of the military, waiting until the controversial leader is out of the country to take over. Must have been like taking candy from a baby.

September 12, 2006

New York Primary Election: 100% lovable loser ticket

election day!

Today is primary day in New York, and the big races are so completely dominated by one candidate that the papers may as well just run their election coverage stories right now.

For Senate: Hillary Clinton is so busy running to the center in preparation for 2008 that she's starting to piss off a lot of New York liberals who don't like her blatant pandering to middle America, and are still mad that she voted for the war. And really, what is so great about Hillary? Especially when there's a candidate like Jonathan Tasini, who wants out of the war, wants to give Medicare to everyone, allow all workers to join unions and get pensions, and make civil and marriage rights universal. He made a helpful PDF of where he and Hillary stand on the main issues. Poll shows him at 9%.

For Governor: Eliot Spitzer, world famous Attorney General, is the leading Democrat. Tom Suozzi is the energetic underdog, recently featured on Gawker, who offer their best wishes: "May you lose by less than 40 points." (disclosure: Suozzi is related to one of us.) The latest poll shows Suozzi has support from 12% of voters.

Then there's whoever's going to replace Eliot Spitzer as Attorney General. Andrew Cuomo has the party endorsement and is in the lead, though the New York Times and the Daily News both endorsed Mark Green, who has emerged after losing the mayoral election to Bloomberg in 2001. There's also Sean Patrick Maloney, the true underdog in this race, whose big issues are human rights protection, cleaning up the corrupt state government, and making gay marriage legal. Latest poll puts him at 7%.

Since the real election on November 7 is pretty much going to be a formality this year, today is the real decider. We love an underdog, and urge you to get out there and make your contribute to some solid single digit election results. [tx Cushie for the headline]

September 5, 2006

West Indian Day Carnival

West Indian Day festival

(photo by George K on Flickr)

Yesterday's annual West Indian-American Day Carnival along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn brought huge crowds, tons of curried goat, rice and peas, and ginger beer, and enough elaborate costumes to keep the lucrative sequin, feather, bead, and face paint industries in the black for another year.

The parade is New York's biggest cultural event of the year (bigger than the Macy's Thanksgiving parade)--over 3 million people usually attend. It was my first time, and as a friend said, this parade puts all other city street festivals to shame. The costumes are amazing, but the sheer number of people is what really sets it apart. In between the endless formations of women in bikinis and headdresses were lots of tractor-trailers with scaffolding built up to hold several levels of hundreds of partiers and stacks of speakers with chest-cavity-rattling bass, and these trucks were surrounded by thousands of people waving flags and singing and dancing. The Jamaican and the Haitian trucks both looked like they were surrounded by the city's entire population from their respective countries. Great picture of an enthusiastic Jamaican crowd.

See tons of photos on Flickr.

The Daily News coverage focused on the positive, featuring quotes from excited people who came from all over to watch the parade. "I love it," said Michelle Stebila, a 28-year-old waitress from Raleigh, N.C., who was visiting the parade - and Big Apple - for the first time. "Now I want to move here. I love the vibe that is here."

But the Post's article includes a disturbingly long rundown of everybody who got shot or stabbed before and during parade celebrations.

Courtney Clementson, 23, was shot around 3 a.m. and Jordian Brooks, 11, was struck in the thigh by a stray bullet. Earlier, a 17-year-old boy was shot in the arm and another man was hit by a stray bullet.

At 4 p.m., a man in his 20s was stabbed in the neck at Nostrand Avenue and Eastern Parkway. Five minutes later, a man was shot in the leg on Troy Avenue. At 6 p.m., a 15-year-old was stabbed after he intervened in a dispute between his brother and the suspect.

There were cops absolutely everywhere at the parade, but I guess in all the excitement a lot of attacks happen anyway.

August 27, 2006

Talib Kweli Puts on a Show

talib kweli

Note: Most of the links in this post go to pages with auto-playing soundtracks. Turn down your speakers if you're at work, etc.

On Saturday, Talib Kweli performed for free at City Hall Park as part of the J&R Music Festival.

Talib has the potential to be one of the best MCs ever, so his name alone was enough to get me down there, but his long-time friend and collaborator, Jean Grae, was slated to appear, too, which turned this into a don't-miss event.

What made the show really remarkable, though, was the slew of unannounced guests who took the stage. The special appearances began with DJ Hi-Tek (Talib's collaborator on the excellent Reflection Eternal project), continued with the Phil Da Agony, Ras Kass, and some other underground stars, but then got crazy when and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas took the stage. let loose with an extended freestyle, supplying his own reverb effects while Taboo stared at us menacingly [video]. But even B.E.P. had to step aside for the final guest, Common, whose arrival in his trademark earth tones and green slouch cap spontaneously taught the underground hip-hop heads in the crowd to be multi-orgasmic. Thank God Mos Def didn't show up...people would have started engaging in carnal acts with each other right there.

I took a bunch of pictures and shot some murky video, so if you're interested...

Here's a video slideshow. (The backing track is "Eternalists", from Kweli and Hi-Tek's Reflection Eternal.)

Here's some other stuff:

August 9, 2006

Redevelopment for the Masses

world leaders on governors island

Ever since Governors Island re-opened, I keep meaning to go out there some weekend and look around. But since only a small portion of the island is even open to the public, and it's conveniently open um, almost never, I just haven't gotten around to it.

But it's one thing to go look at historic military buildings - and quite another to visit the Nickelodeon Family Suites themed resort complex!

When New York state bought the island from the federal government for $1 in 2003, they agreed that 40 acres would remain parkland, 20 acres would be used for education and 30 acres would be used for public benefit. Now the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp. is determining how those areas will be redeveloped. Nickelodeon is one of 10 finalists whose proposals to redevelop the education/public part of the island are under consideration - but please. You really think the GIPEC is going to go with CUNY's lame "CUNY University Village" and "Leadership Park" or a camp for teenage substance abusers?

That's what I thought. And since the feds expressly forbid building casinos on the island - I'll see you on the Historic Jimmy Neutron NickToons Blast!

July 30, 2006

May you be in heaven half an hour...

Tomorrow morning Sidney Lumet's new movie Before the Devil Knows You're Dead will be shooting in Hell's Kitchen, on 45th between 9th and 10th Aves. Looks like the trailers are going to be on 46th.

The movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as thieving brothers, and also features Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei. The plot summary on IMDb suggests that a heist-gone-wrong is at the center of the movie.

We're totally guessing here, but we bet that one of the brothers is the younger, more foolhardy one whose love for his wife gets in the way of the job, and one is the older, more controlling one who might have a dangerous, maniacal streak seething just below the surface.

Hopefully Sidney Lumet is back on form for this movie, after this year's Find Me Guilty: Vin Diesel With Hair!, which was probably pretty good, but I don't think many people saw.

July 10, 2006

Hookers in Hell's Kitchen

hookers in hell's kitchen

The New York Post has never been our city's most sensitive newspaper, but we can usually count on them to make the rich and entitled of New York look like jerks and take them down a few notches. But in today's "Hooker Hell" piece, it seems that it's perfectly OK to take a self-important attitude, as long as you're condemning prostitutes.

The stroller-pushing yuppies that have been moving to Hell's Kitchen in droves are shocked to find some hookers walking around early in the morning: "I walk out of my building in the morning to see these girls with their asses hanging out," said Kimberly Solop, 34, who shares a $3,000-a-month two-bedroom on West 48th with her husband and their 2-year-old son. "I don't want him growing up looking at that. It's a lot of money to be paying to have this activity going on."

So, Kimberly, your rent is too high, so you don't want any nasty whores on your sidewalks? Or maybe, like a resident of the fancy Clinton West condos on W. 47th St, you're frightened that these savage prostitutes are threatening your personal safety: "I'm scared," said a resident too afraid to provide his name. "I have two kids, and I live on the first floor, and I don't want anything coming through the window."

Like what, a stiletto heel? People, I understand that hookers hanging out outside your apartment at night can be noisy, but they're certainly no worse than the entire population of Jersey City that gets drunk in the bars on 9th Avenue every weekend, and they're less likely to puke on your stoop.

While they're complaining about prostitution in the neighborhood, residents might consider that many of our city's prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, homeless, live in extreme poverty, get harassed and assaulted by police and their clients, and have only minimum-wage jobs to consider as an alternative to working on the street. Prostitutes may have been part of Giuliani's "quality of life" problems, but I wish the residents of Hell's Kitchen remembered what these women's lives are like before deciding that their expensive rent should mean that they don't have to look at poor, vulnerable people.

Read more on the realities of prostitution in NYC on the Urban Justice Center's website.

June 26, 2006

Busta's ex reveals the bitch in him

Busta Rhymes and his ex at high school prom

This photo from Long Island's Uniondale High School prom in 1991 could almost be a Who'Dat?™: Before They Were Stars edition, but that hair and Woo-Ha grin give it away. Today's NY Post includes a sort of backhanded celebration of this weekend's Gay Pride festivities in the form of a lengthy sympathetic interview with Busta Rhymes' estranged ex-girlfriend with whom he's had a nasty custody battle over the last four years. The ex, Joanne Wood, claims that Busta has been so vicious to her in the press and in front of their kids because after their 10 year relationship ended, she started living with a female partner.

The article clearly takes Wood's side in the case, and gives her plenty of space to vent about the abuse that Busta has dished out since their breakup. "His ego is definitely hurt," she said. "If he's being emotional, then let him just be emotional - that's like the bitch in him. If you want to be emotional, I don't have a problem with that, but he's wearing his emotions on his sleeve." She claims that Busta has openly called her all kinds of horrible names to their three sons, T'Ziah, T'Khi, and Trillian, who repeat Busta's cruel words to her--most creatively, a "man-bitch lesbian".

The custody fight ended in December with Busta winning, though he has a criminal record involving illegal guns and assault which the Post helpfully summarizes in a sidebar. Wood and her lawyer claim that the court decision in Busta's favor makes irrelevant references to her "lifestyle" and her "lover", suggesting that the court believes her homosexuality makes her an unfit parent, though no case of neglect or abuse of the children is cited. The decision also refers to an occasion in which one of the kids walked in on her and her partner having sex in the bedroom, but as she and her lawyer point out, "Where else should they have sex?" The kids are now living with Busta's mom while their legal guardian is out on tour supporting his new album "The Big Bang". Wood can see them twice a week and every other weekend.

Could this be the most pro-gay rights piece the Post has ever published? Well, maybe. Or maybe they're still just pissed that Busta won't give up the goods on the shooting of his bodyguard earlier this year that he likely witnessed.

June 5, 2006

World Cup: yes, Americans watch it too

Fans at Novecento

How about if this year, we forget about all those lazy sports journalists and commentators out there who every 4 years come out with the same old "why don't Americans care about soccer?" routine that is increasingly tedious and inaccurate.

Thankfully, New York media isn't falling into that trap. The Post has a feature on where you can watch World Cup matches, which start this Friday, with a good list of names and addresses. Little Brazil (46th St between 5th and 7th Aves) is going to have a lot of options, including Ipanema and Brazil Brazil. Hallo Berlin, the friendly German beer and sausage hall on 10th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen is going to be serving sausage breakfast sandwiches, and has gotten 3 more TVs installed.

And you've probably already seen groups of really hammered English guys smoking outside Nevada Smith's on Sunday afternoons year-round: they'll be there when the bar opens at 7:00 AM this weekend. The 11th Street bar (11th between A and B) and Baker Street Pub (First Avenue and 63rd) will also likely be popular with England fans. Novecento on Broadway in SoHo is for Argentina fans. Or go to pretty much any bar or restaurant in Astoria, and you'll probably find people watching.

You should watch the games at the ESPN Zone in Times Square only if you want to be surrounded by the kind of people who constantly ask "why don't Americans care about soccer?"

The Daily News has a great piece on the Trinidad and Tobago Soca Warriors, who are in the World Cup for the first time ever this year; much of the Caribbean population of Brooklyn is beside itself with excitement. Caribbean businesses around Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Fort Greene will definitely be showing the games, and probably hosting giant Carnival-like parties for the next month.

And the NY Times offers a helpful rundown of the 10 teams that stand a decent chance of winning. It's a useful summary of how the teams have been doing lately, and offers updates on Wayne Rooney and Francesco Totti's broken limbs.

Meanwhile, in Poland they're celebrating by putting miniature soccer pitches in their urinals.

May 31, 2006

Sweet Cherry: the immovable object of strip clubs

Sweet Cherry topless bar

The NY Times has an unbelievably extensive article today on a Brooklyn strip club, Sweet Cherry, that has been under attack by city council, local residents, and state politicians for years, yet refuses to close. Back in the '90's with the introduction of Giuliani's new "zoning laws" (aka rampage of sanitized Disneyfication,) a lot of strip clubs, topless bars, and porn shops closed down. Apart from a stretch of 8th Avenue in the 40's, most of the city's smut has been banished to industrial areas like 11th Avenue, and Long Island City in Queens.

But the intrepid Sweet Cherry just won't quit, despite an impressive criminal history. The Times says,

Sweet Cherry is a great champion, brazen and near untouchable. The authorities have documented an in-house narcotics trade, pronounced the club a brothel and charged the manager with rape. (He has pleaded not guilty.) Once, patrons repeatedly stabbed an off-duty police officer, who lost partial use of his right hand. Once, a manager of bouncers for Sweet Cherry was shot dead in his apartment.

But despite two civil actions by the Police Department, voluminous criminal charges and neighborhood protests, the club has been closed for a total of just six days this year. Eleven days after its latest reopening, two dancers were charged with breaking a beer bottle over somebody's head.

The bar is in compliance with zoning laws, so the city has tried to go after it for all its other, very plentiful violations. And failed every time. Now that some small-scale industry and more families are moving into the area, they're stepping up their consistently ineffective efforts.

The article is a great read, with exhaustive details on the many drug busts that have happened at the bar, the employment and possible harrassment of underage dancers, the off-duty cop who mowed down three people after leaving another strip club on the same street, and the dancers such as "Diamond, whose real name was Jennifer, and Chastity, whose real name was Chastity."

There's also an interesting map of the still-standing strip clubs, topless bars, and peep shows in the city that have also resisted closure. Still a few hanging on in Times Square/Hell's Kitchen. My favorites are Wiggles and Goldfingers in Queens.

May 8, 2006

Smoking Ban? Not in Astoria

Egyptian Cafe hookahs

New York City's Department of Health claims that three years into the smoking ban in all workplaces, there is 99% compliance citywide. Sure, you probably know a couple of bars that wait until after the time of night when inspectors usually check them out, then put out a few ashtrays. Unless you live in Astoria, Queens, where the "smoking ban" is taken about as seriously as Guilani's campaign against ferrets.

The Post reports today that "nine of the city's 12 worst violators were watering holes and eateries in Astoria that cater to smoke-happy Greek, Slavic and other European ethnics and Middle Easterners." Reporters from the Post went into Croatian bar Cafe Scorpio at Broadway and 36th Street, which with 11 violations of the smoking ban last year is the city's worst offender. They found pretty much everybody in the whole place smoking. The manager said, "My clientele are all smokers. It's a European crowd," during an interview in which a patron handed him a pack of cigarettes. At Cafe Valentino, also on Broadway, just about everybody was smoking, including the bartender, who offered the Post reporter an ashtray.

OK, so Europeans like their cigarettes. But what about the part of Astoria around Steinway Street, where the businesses are more Middle Eastern than Central European? In the multicultural wonderland of New York, people from all over the world can come together around their shared love of illicit smoking. The hookah cafes along Steinway, like the popular Al Sukaria Egyptian Cafe, are full of men smoking water pipes and drinking coffee, and there are so many of them that I had always assumed it was legal to smoke in those places. The smoking ban doesn't apply to establishments that derive a certain portion of their revenue from tobacco sales, though this exemption originally only applied to businesses that also serve alcohol. This mostly meant pretentious, expensive "cigar bars" in Manhattan, like Circa Tabac.

Since the clientele of Astoria's hookah cafes is mostly Muslim and therefore doesn't drink, the city later agreed to a cultural exemption from the alcohol rule. Even though Al Sukaria is supposed to fall under this exemption, the cafe still got hit with 10 smoking violations from the city last year. Like the Croatians and Greeks in other parts of Astoria, patrons at this cafe also claim a cultural right to smoke: "This is our culture. In America people meet in the home. In our culture we meet in a cafe."

It remains to be seen if the city will actually shut a business down for repeated smoking violations. Fines range from $200 to $2,000, and clearly some bars would rather pay up than enforce the law. Back when the ban started, some people suggested that a better solution might be to have a designated class of bar that could buy a smoking license, so that customers (and presumably employees) could choose which kind of bar to go to. Bloomberg would never admit it, but maybe that's what we've ended up with. The city's goal of protecting the health of all workers is admirable, but they probably really don't want to get into a battle of cultural sensitivity with largely immigrant populations in Queens. As long as business owners keep supporting their smoking patrons by paying the city fines, looks like the Euro kids can keep lighting up their Dunhills.

April 22, 2006

Thank Heaven

Since I consider myself something of a snack specialist, I thought that the best place to learn about cutting-edge snack innovations would be at the recent snack food manufacturers' trade show, SNAXPO™.

I was wrong. Screw conferences. You want to study snacks? Wait until a 7-Eleven opens on your street.

Now, I grew up with a choice between Store 24 and Cumberland Farms, in an area where convenience stores could only be successful by a) selling gasoline or b) supplying a parking lot for teenagers to hang out in and pay homeless men to buy wine coolers for them. So when the 7-Eleven opened on 42nd Street, I thought, how could a store that gives away free coffee with every breakfast sandwich possibly succeed in an enormous retail space in one of the highest-rent areas in Manhattan?

After I returned from SNAXPO™, still unable to bend my fingers due to salt consumption, I decided to investigate for myself. And that is when I realized that 7-Eleven is SNACK NIRVANA. For one thing, not only does the store stock the most creative brand extensions around, it also employs some of New York's most knowledgeable and aggressive salespeople.

Emily: What is this....some new kind of Tic-Tac? Tic-Tac BOLD™?
Clerk: Yes! They're very good!
Emily: Hm...they look neat - but I don't really like Tic-Tacs.
Clerk: Oh, these are much better than regular Tic-Tac.
Emily: Really?
Clerk: Oh yes! Much better! But we still have the old kind, too.
Emily: Ok, I'll take one of each. And those Chile Picante Corn Nuts.

Besides Tic-Tac BOLD™, which comes in a pleasing squeezable container updated for the 21st century, my 7-Eleven is currently featuring:

Seven flavors and shapes of Cheez-its™, including Fiesta Cheddar Nacho™ and Twisterz Cheddar and More Cheddar™ (don't bother; they're really just regular Cheez-its™ with a coating of Kraft Mac and Cheese powder)

so many cheezits

A wide assortment of my favorite candy ever, Laffy Taffy™, in bold flavors such as "Sparkle Jerry Cherry", which is not only approximately two feet long, but ALSO has a sparkly sugar coating

so much laffy taffy

and Heineken Mini-Kegs for $19.99.

the bounty of 7-Eleven

But 7-Eleven's boldest, most daring product - I dare say, even more creative than Burger King's Chicken Fries, which are designed to fit in your car's cupholder - is almost too much to comprehend.

"Why waste all this space on our hot dog roller grill," 7-Eleven marketing executives must have said to themselves, "When we could appeal to people who want hot, cylindrical foods other than hot dogs? And what do Americans love more than hot dogs? Pizza!"

And so, the 7-Eleven Twista™ was born. (Not, of course, to be confused with the Cheez-it Twisterz™ mentioned above)

the greatest snack food in the universe

While the Twista™ and its roller-grill companion snack the Taquito still appear to be in the pilot phase, I applaud 7-Eleven's ingenuity. I can only hope that these are but the first of many snack foods, like the Chicken Fry, that are tailored with our unique American cultural tastes* and habits** in mind.

*By which I mean, salt and fat
**By which I mean, laziness and gluttony

April 7, 2006

PR Rule Number 1

When promoting your new show, make sure you send releases to ALL of the Post's gossip columnists.

Cindy Adams, 04/06/06:

"For two years, National Geographic has secretly worked on a project dealing with religious history. Their deep pockets financed an architectural dig in biblical desert land. Its ultimate was to yield a scriptural trove and, in fact, has unearthed what they will soon proclaim are ancient scrolls.....These scrolls have painstakingly been translated by a group of scholars, and the revelation is that they deal exclusively with Judas...For more, for answers, questions, facts, widening of this information, you are directed to spokespersons at National Geographic."

Liz Smith, 04/06/06:

"On Sunday, the National Geographic Channel airs "The Gospel of Judas," which purports to show us the authentic carbon-dated manuscript of a book definitely left out of the New Testament. This gives a new view of the villain who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Judas Iscariot is given a makeover as the deus ex machina behind the Crucifixion, necessary for the Resurrection and the beginning of Chistianity. I've seen these documentaries, and they are absolutely marvelous!"

March 21, 2006

Elephants on 34th Street

Last night was the annual arrival of the big animals for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth™. The elephants and some zebras and horses walked through the Midtown tunnel and along 34th St. to Madison Square Garden. It was a cold night out there for animals native to Africa.

Here's a shot that a spectator took near the corner of 34th and 3rd [click for larger image]. No images of screaming PETA protestors, unfortunately.

Elephants on 34th St

March 10, 2006

Tasteful Coverage from the New York Post

Oh, New York Post! What would we do without you? It makes my heart proud that when, say, a Restaurateur-to-the-stars is charged with domestic abuse, you'll handle the story with.....class. And sensitivity.

Tasteful new york post cartoon

March 8, 2006

The Wonder Girls Society exposed. Literally. +

Well, let's hope this isn't too mean...

Recently, a non-profit group calling itself The Wonder Girls Society began publicizing itself on the internet and through some upcoming events here in NYC. After a cursory look at their website, we happened upon an "images" directory and learned a little bit more about them than we intended to. But more on that later in the post. For now, let's see how the WSG describes itself.

From its My Space profile:

The Wonder Girls Society is an exclusive, members-only network for goal-driven, ambitious young women who want to accomplish all their goals in life. We are a non-profit organization that believe all life goals are equally important, whether it is involves your personal or professional life, career or leisure, work or play, as long as it is positive, memorable and brings a sense of contentment. The Wonder Girls Society provide services, programs, tools other available resources, to assist, stimulate, challenge and inspire our members in accomplishing all of their goals.

Sounds pretty good so far, right? Maybe you're not wild about the "exclusive" part, but other than that it kind of sounds like a Bust magazine readers circle. Let's see what their official website says:

We are a group of young, beautiful, confident and multi-talented girls with many ambitions in life! Not your ordinary 'girl-next-door' type, we strive to become more than that!

But don't blame us for being so driven, we refuse to live a "normal" life. We want to be the girls that can say "been there, done that" to every lawful -- and some unlawful (without having to break our morals and values) -- experiences you can possibly think of because we believe that challenging ourselves physically, mentally, psychologically and socially is not only good for the health, it's also good for the soul! [source]

Ok, the "beautiful" thing is a little off-putting and ambiguous, and the "morals and values" part seems a little faux-prissy. But let's see what else they say...

OUR PROGRAMS & SERVICES. [...] Women empowerment - Women in general have come a long way, however, gender discrimination and sexism still exist. We are about advocating woman’s rights and creating or supporting policies for women. We promote empowerment by providing inspirational tools and classes that strengthen and educate women to stand up for their rights. [source]

Terrific! But what's the connection between empowerment and the "beauty" you mentioned before?

By definition, a Wonder Girl is a young woman abundant in beauty, style, poise, confidence, ambition, and intelligence; she is an almost-perfect, almost-flawless female that carries all positive qualities; she is the girl with almost-superpower qualities. She is a Wonder Girl.

Hmm. I'm not sure if I measure up. How do I know if I'm right for the Wonder Girls? [Female readers may want to fasten their seatbelts of rage for this next part. -Ed.]

…you are a girly-girl, maintaining your natural beauty and femininity through various “girly” activities such as manicures and pedicures, waxing, haircuts and the works! You love to go shopping and trying on new clothes--you luxuriate in designer shoes as they are your weakness! Your favorite color is within the spectrum of red and purple, have at least a pair of pink pajamas, and will only drink alcoholic beverages that look pretty and served in a martini glass. [source]


So let me get this straight. I have to be abundant in beauty and be "almost-flawless" just to get in? And I have to get waxed? How exactly is this empowering me again? You don't need to be Gloria Steinem to know that pretty much everytime the word "empowerment" is used in the same context as "beauty," you're not going to get empowered. You're going to get exploited.

And, of course, that's when we happened across this images directory on their website that somebody forgot to properly lock down. In it -- surprise! -- we discovered that these wonder girls who are all about "empowering" and "inspiring" women and smashing gender inequalities and sexism and so on are apparently making money by modeling with most of their clothes off for men's magazines.

So here you go: Introducing the members of the Wonder Girls Society who, don't forget, are here to empower all you ladies, without breaking their morals or values in the process...[Update (3/20): We received an anonymous email from someone identifying herself as a WGS member vaguely threatening legal action over these pictures. After a bit of back and forth, we received a courteous email from the WGS claiming copyright and asking us to remove the images hosted on our server. Since the main point of this post can be made even without the pictures, this seems fair enough, so we've complied with their request.]

There are a lot more pictures in the images directory on their site. Many of them are named like "michellejohnson.jpg" or whatever. Due to the amateur quality of those photos, we are assuming that those pictures were submitted by "applicants" and were being reviewed by the other members (or perhaps the only member) of the society. There was something kind of sad about seeing all those pictures and thinking about women sending them in, hoping to get "accepted" into this "exclusive" group of women. These same women could have just as easily gone down to the local community center or settlement house and volunteered. Why go through the rigamarole of getting "accepted"? We'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions on that one.

Wonder Girls, we appreciate some of what you're trying to do, but empowering women isn't the same thing as using your appearance to get what you want. All the emphasis on beauty on your website makes it sound like you believe otherwise. Also, why have an "exclusive" acceptance process at all? Why do you have to be a "girly-girl" to help other women? Why do you have to be a girly-girl to find fulfillment in life?

February 26, 2006

Free Christopher X. Brodeur!

vote brodeur

Christopher X. Brodeur, eternally outspoken New York figure and sometime mayoral candidate, was convicted of harassment last week and was immediately remanded pending his sentencing. As you read this, he's in the holding cells in The Tombs downtown, and will likely get sentenced to Rikers.

But, in our opinion, it doesn't seem to be serving anyone to have CXB in jail now or later. He may seem crazy to many, and he may harass people, but it's not going to do anybody any good to have him in prison. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is often not capable of providing justice in cases like Christopher's, but we're hoping the judge in his case will find a fair solution.

Last week, we received an email from his fiancee, and we're asking you to review the situation, decide whether you think CXB deserves to be in jail, and send a note to the judge in the case if you think other arrangements should be made.

Here's Jessica, his fiancee:


Chris is in jail. Please help if you can. More details below. If you can use letter head, even better. [...]

Thank you,

Political activist and notorious gadfly/performance jokester Christopher X. Brodeur (aka Touching You, known for his involvement in The Liquid Tapedeck and Mr. Brooke Shields of Haunted Pussy) has been found guilty on 21 counts of various levels of harrassment. All of the specifics of the case are not available, but some details are:

** His charges of harrassment and aggravated harrassment (regarding annoying and sometimes seemingly aggressive calls he made to his landlord who illegally kicked him out of his home of 15 years) is a misdemeanor charge. Though Christopher has no prior record of violent crime and has obeyed every restraining order ever placed against him, he was remanded immediately, which means he was taken to jail on the spot once he received a guilty verdict. Many people in his position would be let go until the next court date to get sentenced. Even though his sentencing date was set for March 8th, he was refused bail (though there was already bail on this case) and taken immediately to jail to be subject to now a THIRD psychological evaluation. This is not a 730 remand psychiatric evaluation, this is a judge-ordered psychiatric evaluation to determine how to "best sentence Christopher". Each of the 21 counts holds a maximum sentence of 1 year, so essentially, he is looking at 21 years in jail. [[Ed. Update: Jess says from what she understands, Chris can only get a sentence of a year or two.]] He *probably* won't get that many years, but he technically could. It's likely he will get sentenced a few years, though, with probation to follow. A FEW YEARS in JAIL!!?? For SPEAKING???????????? It would be a very sad thing to see that happen.

WE ARE ASKING ANYONE who has been touched or affected by Christopher's thousands of various art, musical and political projects over his 15 years in NYC to please consider doing one or more of the following things, #s 1 and 2 being the MOST important, 1 being the MOST important of all.

1. Please write Judge Neil Ross a postcard or letter explaining that you know Christopher to be a harmless and beneficial artist, musician and politician if you find this to be true. If you have a project involving Christopher coming up, such as a show where he was scheduled to perform or work, please mention it. If you voted for him when he ran for mayor, please mention that. If you respect him or his work in any capacity, please mention that. Please mention that you do not know Christopher to be a violent person if that is your experience, and anything relating to that. Note that Christopher has been a Lower East Side resident and artist creating positive and imaginative art for the past 15 years, if you know this to be true. Please ask that Christopher be given probation or community service instead of having to do jail time. Mention that many violent criminals don't have to do jail time. Mention that you don't want YOUR tax dollars being spent imprisoning artists. Please do not insult the judge or the courts, even though it might be tempting. If you will write a letter or postcard, please do it ASAP and send it to:

Judge Neil Ross
c/o 100 Center St.
NY, NY 10007

On any piece of mail sent to the judge, please write on it somewhere, RE: CHRISTOPHER X. BRODEUR or something to that effect. Please ask three friends to do the same. List this on your blog and forward it to anyone you know who cares about free speech. This will only take a moment and only costs one stamp. Please do this if you can.

2. PLEASE come to Christopher's court date on March 8th. It is important that the judge and court see that Christopher is a member of a community of artists and activists and he is appreciated and loved. Yes, you might have to get up early, and be in criminal court at 100 Center St. at 9:45 am. If you can't get there that early, just come a little later.

3. If you know a lawyer, a powerful person with activism or free speech interests, a group of people who somehow want to get involved in this cause or are a friend of Christopher's, please forward this message, put it on your website, print it out, copy it and leave it on bus seats. Please help keep freedom alive. This may seem small and insignificant, but it is part of a much larger liberty that we all MUST hold dear and protect, or we will LOSE it. If you know Christopher, you know him to SPEAK his mind. This is a right we have, but we are losing that right more and more every day. Remember, he is in JAIL (currently he is in the TOMBS, to be transported to RIKER'S ISLAND(!!!) possibly for MANY YEARS, because of WORDS HE SAID.

4. Visit if you are not familiar with Christopher X. Brodeur.

THANK YOU dearly.

It doesn't take much to help him out, folks. Please send a note to the judge.

February 17, 2006

Fighting Grime+

In the spirit of community activism, today we are launching a new social movement: The Amy's Robot Subway Vomit Campaign™.

MTA Service: NYC Transit Subway
Category: Complaint
Date/Time of Event: 02/13/2006 06:00 PM
Location of Event: 42nd Street A/C/E Downtown Platform

Customer (Emily) - 02/14/2006 03:06 PM

Dear MTA -

I'm writing because of an ongoing station maintenance issue. On Friday, February 3, a large pile of puke appeared on the northernmost staircase leading to the A/C/E downtown platform at the 42nd Street subway station. When I entered the station around 6:00 pm and was almost shoved directly into the pile by passengers exiting the downtown C train, it appeared quite fresh.

I assumed this issue had been addressed by a cleaner, but last Friday, February 10, the same pile of vomit was still there. It was clearly the existing pile of Feb. 3, as it was now quite crusty. That evening, I called the city's 311 number and was transferred to an MTA voicemail, where I left a message about the vomit.

However, yesterday, February 13, I saw that the vomit (now indelibly dried to the staircase) is still there. While I understand that TWU members are still without a contract, and that resources are tight, I am pleading with you to please have this situation remedied. It is a danger to myself and other riders to have to "hurl" ourselves, so to speak, into the middle of such a crowded staircase to avoid being covered to the ankles in puke.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Subject: Vomit on northernmost platform staircase
Response (MTA) - 02/15/2006 11:41 AM

This is in response to your recent e-mail message to MTA New York City Transit regarding the condition of a staircase at the 42nd Street station on the A/C/E lines.

Plesae note that the safety of our customers is our highest priority. Supervision conducts regular inspections of all areas of our stations, including platforms, stairways and tracks, to ensure proper conditions. Stations are routinely cleaned, and cleaners are instructed to remove litter, empty trash receptacles and disinfect unsanitary areas upon detection. In addition, stations are cleaned on a regular cycle by mobile wash teams using high pressure and hot water to thoroughly steam clean and sanitize the stairways, platforms and other areas. They are also instructed to take corrective measures when rodent infestation is detected. Accordingly, supervision will also investigate your concerns regarding cleanliness of this station and take the necessary measures to correct the
conditions you reported.

For the future, we ask that you contact our Department of Subways' Division of Service Delivery at (718) 243-3222, or write to the Division of Service Delivery, Complaints and Correspondence, 130 Livingston Plaza, Room 6008B, Brooklyn, NY 11201, regarding this type of issue.

MTA Service: NYC Transit Subway
Category: Complaint

Customer (Emily) - 02/17/2006 09:15 AM

Thank you for your reply. While I realize that I made an error in reporting the vomit (it turns out to be the third staircase, not the first - the one next to the handicapped ramp), as of last night, the vomit is still there. However, if your "mobile wash teams" are in fact circulating, I imagine they would have reached both of these staircases by now.

I appreciate that you would rather receive this information via phone or standard mail, but my previous phone message did not seem to have an effect, and a letter would add another several days toward remedying a situation that has now continued for almost two weeks. Instead, I have chosen to take a picture of the vomit every day that it remains and post it online at until this situation is resolved. I ask you again to please remedy this situation soon.

Amy's Robot Subway Vomit Campaign: Day 1
(Picture Taken Thurs, February 16 - 13 days after vomit first appeared)

Subway Vomit Campaign

Amy's Robot Subway Vomit Campaign: Day 5, morning

Subject: Continued Vomit on Stairs
Response (MTA) - 02/21/2006 10:03 AM

This is in response to your recent e-mail message to MTA New York City Transit informing us that vomit still remains on the Third stairwell of the 42nd street station on the A/C/E lines.

Once again, please note that the safety of our customers is our highest priority. With regard to your second e-mail message, we have forwarded your concerns regarding this matter to supervision in the appropriate operating department for their investigation.

As stated in your previous e-mail message, Supervision conducts regular inspections of all areas of our stations, including platforms, stairways and tracks, to ensure proper conditions. Stations are routinely cleaned, and cleaners are instructed to remove litter, empty trash receptacles and disinfect unsanitary areas upon detection. In addition, stations are cleaned on a regular cycle by mobile wash teams using high pressure and hot water to thoroughly steam clean and sanitize the stairways, platforms and other areas. They are also instructed to take corrective measures when rodent infestation is detected. We have forwarded your concerns to supervision in the appropriate operating department for their investigation.

Amy's Robot Subway Vomit Campaign: Day 5, evening - VICTORY!
Tuesday, February 21, 6:00 pm

Finally, success! A mere 18 days after it appeared, the puke has been cleaned.

Of course, judging from the smell it was powerwashed off with urine - but we'll stick to one campaign at a time.

Subway Vomit Campaign success

February 16, 2006

Just what every family wants at their son's funeral: Colin Farrell.

In a new low of cheap exploitation of real grief and loss, a film crew from upcoming Colin Farrell movie about the NYPD, Pride and Glory, showed up at Monday's funeral of NYPD officer Eric Hernandez in White Plains and filmed the procession at St. Bernard's Church. Hernandez is the 24 year-old cop who was shot while off-duty by a fellow cop who didn't know who he was, after being beaten by a group of men at a White Castle.

Hernandez was allegedly scheduled to be an extra in the movie, and when the producers learned of his death, they wanted to get some footage of the funeral to use as a guide in creating a police funeral scene in the movie. But they didn't think to mention their plans to the family until afterwards.

"I didn't even know who Colin Farrell was. I don't know how I feel about this," said Eric's father Efrain Hernandez, who says he didn't give permission for Colin Farrell to attend the funeral or for a camera crew to film. His mother and aunt called the filming exploitative.

One the upside, the film producers are paying for Hernandez's headstone. And they're going to do a little tribute to him at the end of the movie, which I guess now he could appear in after all, though posthumously. How sentimental.

January 19, 2006

When Helpful Signs Raise More Questions Than They Answer

On my way to purchase some two cent stamps at the neighborhood post office today, I encountered this puzzling sign on the front door:

Federal Holidays New York style

Since I am so easily confused, my first thoughts were:

1) Damn, November 11th - that was months ago! Doesn't anyone check this stuff?

2) Ve....ver.....Vertan's Day? Like.....Michael Vartan? Michael Vartan Day? Yeah, he's hot - I could get behind that.......

3) But that seems kind of weird, to have a Federal holiday for a Canadian.

4) And besides, how do you celebrate? Send a card to Jennifer Garner?

5) I wonder if they have any two cent stamps left.

January 16, 2006

And how will New Yorkers be honoring the work of Dr. King this weekend?

Celebrating Dr. King

January 9, 2006

Robot-on-the-Spot: Robots in Brooklyn!

If you're walking down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn - look out! You may see some robots on the loose.

Robots in brooklyn
More robots in brooklyn

The robots are part of a display by Bennett Robot Works (aka artist Gordon Bennett) called "40 Robots" - a collection crafted from found industrial materials like used car parts, cameras, radios, and fire alarms. It looks like they've been up there since October, but I just noticed them a few weeks ago.

At first I was intrigued, then charmed. Now I stop and visit with my robot friends every time I walk past. My favorite is Detecto, but I am also partial to Captain.

The best thing about these robots is that they are for sale, and I imagine they make excellent gifts! In fact, you probably wouldn't even have to wait until someone's birthday. You could probably get one for me them right now, and they would be totally happy, I bet.

December 29, 2005

New York Times covers the drunken antics of NYC's unwashed "journalists"

In what might be the least relevant, most arrogant bit of fake reporting ever, the Times today has an article called "Beer by the Barrel, Stories by the Scoop", about how some journalists for other (read: lesser) New York daily papers sometimes like to leave work, go to a bar, drink, and, get this--talk to other journalists about work.

"At the crime scene, reporters compete ruthlessly for exclusive information, hunting and hoarding the juiciest quotation, the grittiest fact and the bloodiest narrative - anything to land a story on the front page. But after deadline, many of them head to a bar, declare a truce and order enough beer to douse the daily dose of horror. An eavesdropper can sample the next day's headlines, along with details too gory to print."

Too gory for your delicate sensibilities, elite NY Times readers! The rest of the article suggests that these ragtag hacks are just a bunch of bloodthirsty boozehounds who swap the most salacious details about recent murders, crimes, and hit-and-runs for their own sick pleasure. They refer to a Daily News reporter talking to his colleagues: "You have not adequately covered a homicide, he tells rookies, if your shoes are not wet with the victim's blood."

Well, my word! Rest assured that the Times reporter was at the 11th Street bar with these reprehensible sleaze-peddlers only to give Times readers a glimpse into the gritty, dangerous world of papers that cost under $1.

And what do these irresponsible drunks do after they're done guzzling liquor and obsessing over the victims of sex crimes? They "spilled out into the street for a noisy 4 a.m. snowball fight", no doubt violating noise ordinances.

December 21, 2005

Most Curious Transit Strike Marketing Tie-In

Luxury transit strike gifts

I'd think the more obvious product would be the NYC Taxi-shaped cookie basket.

December 20, 2005

Union 101

Let me start by saying, I have been inconvenienced by this transit strike - and I'm one of the lucky people. Many other New Yorkers lost wages and jobs because they couldn't get to work. Others couldn't get to vital doctor's appointments or missed flights or couldn't get a babysitter, and most everyone had their lives interrupted and made much more difficult by the transport workers decision to walk off the job. Which is...the point of a strike, right?

TWU has shown New York City that unions still have power. Union membership in this country has been steadily decreasing for fifty years and is now at an all-time low. And TWU had to make a very unpopular decision this week. The decision came at a considerable cost to the Union (which was just slapped with a $1 million fine per day even though they only have a total of $3 million in assets), to their workers (who can be fined 2 days pay for every day they are out) and to their public image (holy crap, have you heard what people are saying?). Our city's cops, firefighters, and teachers have all just negotiated contracts with major givebacks. But the decision to strike came down to TWU because - well, frankly, someone had to do it.

I've been amazed by the bloodthirsty reaction of New Yorkers. People are bitching about how transit workers make plenty of money (because the figures quoted are generally those of higher-paid positions, like conductors.) People are screaming about how transit workers can retire at 55, and about how they don't have to pay for health care. People are so, so, angry at TWU. Our own mayor called them "selfish thugs," and said that they "disgrace the noble concept of public service."

If our other public employees - those same cops, firefighters and teachers - settled, why should the transit workers get more?

The answer is that they shouldn't. People across the country are losing their retirement and health benefits. 46 million Americans don't have health insurance. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation - which protects the few that do still have pensions - is going bankrupt. People have depended for too long on employers to provide for them. That's why people are so angry at TWU. When people argue, "why should they have what I don't have," they're absolutely right. You, too, should have health and pension benefits.

The sticking point on TWU's contract negotiation is not over wage increases. Union leaders never thought they'd get away with their proposed 24% increase over the life of the contract. The issue that caused negotiations to break down was whether new hires - employees who haven't even started working yet - should have fewer benefits and higher costs than existing workers.

Over the weekend, I watched a lot of reporters look incredulous over TWU's demands - especially when it got down to the pension benefits. "The question is," they said, "Will the transit workers accept increases for themselves, or unreasonably and stubbornly insist on the same benefits for future workers?" People. Come ON. That's Union 101! The whole point of unions is solidarity - you're not just fighting for your own sake, but to ensure that generations of future workers have the same protections.

Like I said, I have been inconvenienced by this strike. I also think that TWU's pre-Toussaint leadership mismanaged their assets into the ground, and I think Roger Toussaint is a hothead, and I certainly take issue with some of TWU's tactics. But I also applaud them for standing up when no other union in the city would and demanding rights for the next workers who come along. Transit workers keep this city running 24 hours a day. They crawl through tunnels with rats. They clean up your puke from the subway platform. They say good morning to you on the bus even if you didn't say it first. And I respect that they are demonstrating how important they are to this city. Shame on you, Michael Bloomberg. You should be shaking your finger at the MTA instead.

NYC Transit Strike: Celebrity Watch

NYC transit strike

There are plenty of sources out there for you to read about the transit strike, how New Yorkers are getting to work, and differing opinions on the validity of the strike--for example those who think workers have the right to inconvenience everyone in the city to demand fair compensation vs. Ed Koch on NPR this morning saying we should "crush the union".

So we're not going to go into all that. What we're interested in is how celebrities are affected by today's strike.

Helpfully, Reuters reports on the status of film and TV shoots scheduled for today, and how the stars are coping, particularly when shooting is planned in outer borough studios.

Jessica Alba and Hayden Christiansen are reportedly "very understanding" of some logistical difficulties in organizing their pickup vans for today's shoot at Kaufman Studios in Astoria for the upcoming film Awake. At least they don't have to stay at a Comfort Inn near the studio, where much of the crew will stay during the strike.

Also shooting today at Kaufman is "Conviction", a new series by Dick Wolf that will start on NBC in 2006, starring Stephanie March, the former ADA from "Law & Order: SVU", Eric Balfour, who was Milo on "24" and Eddie on "The O.C.", and that girl who was the con-artist prostitute on "Rescue Me".

A dippy-sounding new musical called Across the Universe by Julie Taymor of The Lion King fame is shooting in Brooklyn's Steiner Studios today. The young cast features Evan Rachel Wood, and others named Martin Luther and T.V. Carpio. The producer says, "It's a musical with a lot of dancers, so they'd meet at different van pickup points in Manhattan and maybe Queens, walking 10 or 20 blocks max. In a time of crisis, everyone has to bend." Wrap up warm, Martin Luther.

Of course, even if some productions have already wrapped, the cast may still be affected by the strike. Ira & Abby: A Divorce Comedy is the latest movie by Jennifer Westfeldt, the one from Kissing Jessica Stein, and stars her, Judith Light, Frances Conroy, and Fred Willard. Though the movie finished the shoot a few hours before the strike started, producers say tonight's wrap party in the Flatiron area may be compromised.

Fred Willard: you are one of my favorite people ever, and if you need a place to stay after the party tonight, I'm sure we can work something out.

Audio and Video of Call to Strike

roger toussaint

For posterity's sake, perhaps you'd like a digital copy of TWU President Roger Toussaint calling for the general strike.

So, yeah, you can download it for your iPod, but now that there's no subway, where are you going to listen to it?

ps. If somebody could mirror these and post the location in the comments, we'd appreciate it.

These files should play on anything that can handle mpeg4 files. Download the latest version of Quicktime if you are having trouble playing them.

December 16, 2005

NYT webmasters take a shot at cop killers

They've done this before, but whoever it is that comes up with the URLs for decided to take an easy shot at Lillo Brancato Jr and his thug friend who killed the cop in the Bronx the other day. The URL for a story about the pair:

mooks url

For those of you who didn't grow up watching Lillo Brancato Jr movies, a mook is defined by the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang as "an ineffectual, foolish, or contemptible person." The word figures prominently in Mean Streets, which stars Robert De Niro, Brancato's co-star in A Bronx Tale.

November 30, 2005

Rockefeller Center Tree

Rockefeller Center Tree

The Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center is one of my least favorite aspects of the holiday season. It draws swarms of tourists who all gather in the middle of the sidewalk and stand there looking up at it, totally blocking the path of people trying to get somewhere and generally messing up my commute for a solid month.

Tonight's scheduled lighting of the tree feels even more incongruous and inappropriate because early this afternoon it was 63 degrees outside.

Tune in tonight on NBC if you want to see Earth, Wind & Fire and the always relevant Rod Stewart rocking out at the lighting event.

November 14, 2005

Looking for Wes Anderson

Hey, Wes Anderson! What's happening, dude? Just in case you didn't see one of these flyers posted around the West Village this weekend, we thought we'd put a photo of one up to make sure you could get in touch with Sarah.

Wes Anderson, please email Sarah

Hopefully she's trying to return the stuffed javelina head she borrowed from you, not just trying to send you a vocal audition for the role of Mrs. Fox.

November 8, 2005

NYC Mayoral Election Voter Guide

election day

It's election day! And while a non-Presidential, non-midterm election is difficult to get excited about, there are a few races that are worth some attention, such as the Virginia and New Jersey governor elections. The residents of these states might shed some light on how recent public displeasure with the administration plays out in the polls.

And then there's the most useless waste of an election in recent history: the vote for New York Mayor. Let's take a look at the candidates:

Michael Bloomberg, Republican: Decisive leader, decent manager, questionable politician. Brought the goddamn RNC to New York. Tried to make all establishments open past 1:00 AM get a new heavily bureaucratic "nightlife license". Sort of a dipshit.

Freddy Ferrer, Democrat: As far as anyone can tell, has not accomplished anything of note in his whole political history. Has been essentially unemployed since losing the 2001 primary election. Completely unable to inspire any sustained enthusiasm in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic. This is the best we can do?

And the others you've never heard of:

Seth Blum, Education: High school math teacher interested in improving NYC public schools. And is against rodent infestation. OK great, dude, but there are more issues in this city than schools.

Anthony Gronowicz, Green: CUNY professor. Wants cleaner energy sources and mass transit, rent regulation, and some nice sounding neighborhood food co-ops. Looks like a nice enough guy, maybe not so in touch with regular people.

Audrey Silk, Libertarian: Retired police officer. Like your typical libertarian, wants to repeal the smoking ban, lower taxes, and deregulate zoning and everything in any way related to business. Doesn't seem to have the first clue about how regular people live their lives in this city.

Jimmy McMillan, Rent is Too Damn High: Vietnam vet, nutcase, tries to be more than a one-issue candidate, yet works "the rent is too damn high" into every sentence in all of his campaign materials. Last time he ran for Mayor he got tied to a tree and doused in gasoline; is a karate expert; apparently hates Jews.

It's a sad state of affairs. I can't in good faith endorse any of these candidates, so the best I can offer is to write in Christopher X. Brodeur, who sadly didn't make it past the primary, and is probably still in trouble for threatening to kill a journalist at the Observer.

October 13, 2005

Stormtroopers in Times Square

Stormtroopers in Times Square

Sadly, this is a Reuters photo, not a Robot-on-the-Spot (though I must have narrowly missed these stormtroopers in Times Square this morning.) These poor guys who had to walk through today's miserable wind and rain while dressed as stormtroopers are promoting the release of new LucasArts video game Star Wars Battlefront II, and the DigitalLife electronics/entertainment event at the Javits Center this weekend.

DigitalLife will feature the as yet unreleased new Xbox 360 that you can play some games on, and celebrity appearances by Wayne Brady, Redman, and Carmen Electra.

September 13, 2005

It's Primary Day!

New Yorkers, don't forget to vote! If you don't know who the hell is running in your district (and really, who does), the Campaign Finance Board has a very helpful website with information on all your candidates.

And for your enjoyment, here's a little bit of political New York trivia: Representative Major Owens, from my own congressional district, is the father of Geoffrey Owens, better known as Elvin on The Cosby Show.

A Primary Day Endorsement


At the polls this morning, many of you may have faced the same problems I did in the "Democratic/Mayor" category. Ferrer is too eager to please everyone. Gifford Miller is guilty of wild fiscal mismanagement. Anthony Weiner wears a Kabbalah bracelet. Virginia Fields is reluctant to make waves. Who to vote for?

In fact, there's only one Democratic candidate who is not afraid to speak out loudly for change, to introduce controversial initiatives, and to demand more public bathrooms. One who leaves "profanity-laced messages" for Daily News reporters, and was arrested in January for harassing Mayor Bloomberg's press office.

That is why we are officially endorsing Christopher X. Brodeur for mayor. Yes, he may be overly emotional. Yes, he may need to be medicated. But only Christopher X. Brodeur embodies the total rage against inept city management that we feel a New York City mayor needs.

At a time when mayoral candidates are lucky to have ideas about one or two issues, Brodeur has proposed 100. He is ready to attack quality of life issues such as installing roof patios on all buildings (#21), making the DMV open on Saturdays (#63) and ensuring that all bathroom doors open out, and not in (#36). But he is also equally committed to larger reform, including making it illegal for politicians or the media to lie (in particular, he singles out the Village Voice for advertising sold-out shows), eliminating fiscal waste, and punishing school bullies.

Sadly, like all true idealists, even Brodeur is getting frustrated with our increasingly screwed up local government. In a recent voicemail for the Daily News, he concluded, "I'm not going to win. Thank God I'm not going to win. I don't want to clean up your city. I want to get the [expletive deleted] out of this city. I want to be free."

We can only hope that Brodeur is just voicing the same frustration we're all feeling. After all, he's been vibrating at the same fever pitch of self-righteous anger for over 10 years now. But even if he'll never be mayor, New York City needs a Christopher X. Brodeur to fight the good fight. Don't let him leave us. When you go to the polls today, vote Brodeur!

August 31, 2005

Robot-on-the-Spot: Kool Keith/Ultramagnetic MC's Reunion

Last night, Amy and I endured an incredibly long wait and some terrible opening acts and witnessed something neither of us thought we would live to see: the live, on-stage reunion of Kool Keith and his Ultramagnetic ex-cohorts, most notably Ced Gee. Can you even believe it.

Sure they only did about six songs (about one song per hour of waiting, it turned out), and the old-school C-list all-stars that crowded on stage with them obscured some of the best views, but it was clear that Keith was happy to be back performing in New York, even if the small crowd wasn't exactly hopping and he didn't always seem to notice that Ced was up there with him.

Keith's on-stage banter was easily as entertaining as his musical performance, and if you've ever wondered if he's as crazy -- like, clinically -- as people always say he is, his disjointed and sporadic but somehow peppy rambling left no doubt. You never had a sense of what he was going to say next, as when everyone else on stage was talking about how O.G. they were and how fake everyone else is, and Keith comes out with, "Those motherfuckers go home over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey and pet their white poodles." 10 second pause. "They pet their white poodles."

You get the impression that as much as Ced and their manager and everybody else would love to get back in the studio and cut another record with Keith, he would be impossible to work with. Keith is the pilot of his own spaceship, and we were just lucky to be there as he flew past.

Photos of varying quality
Video of Keith performing Blue Flowers*

*Crappy Nokia format. Sorry. Quicktime should play it. Transcode it and send it back to us, if you want.

August 24, 2005

Google Talk and Eva Moskowitz

Since I still can't decide which of the Democratic mayoral candidates to vote for in the primary next month, I'm focusing instead on the Manhattan Borough President race. And, as a tie-in to the launch of Google Talk, here is the first Google Talk conversation between ADM and Amy, which regards one of the candidates.

ADM: hello???
Amy: what do you want.
ADM: what do you mean what do i want. i'm writing to see if it [Google Talk] worked or not.
Amy: I know. I was being wry. It worked! Thanks.
ADM: ok bye
Amy: Did you see the Eva Moskowitz for Borough President flyer in the mail? You can see straight down her shirt in one of the pictures. I mean, come on, Eva! Button it up.
ADM: that's like the christmas card episode of seinfeld.
Amy: I know. It's not as bad as a nipple, but you can see that hollow middle-aged woman inter-breast cavity thing. It's sort of gross.
ADM: it's not as good as a nipple either.
Amy: ok bye
ADM: ok bye

Here is the flyer photo of Eva Moskowitz that maybe isn't the one I would have selected if I were running for public office.

But I still like her; here's her campaign site.

August 18, 2005

Teany stabbing


How's this for a depressing way to die?

Say you're a 40 year-old guy with a number of drug arrests in your history, and you get stabbed by some insane homeless guy on Rivington Street, stagger around unnoticed by anyone except for a staff person at Teany, the tea shop and cafe owned by Moby that serves the most delicious fake-turkey club sandwich in the city, who sees you and calls an ambulance. You collapse on the sidewalk as people walk over you, listening to their iPods. The Teany employee is shocked by the sight of a bleeding man right there in the Lower East Side: "This neighborhood is so pretentious the last thing you would expect is somebody running down the street bleeding."

While the ambulance is on its way and while the scene is being cleaned up, Teany customers are upset that they can't get into the shop. An employee said, "I asked the cops to tape the front of the restaurant because people were like, 'Can we get lattes?' We're like, 'No, you can't get anything.' People in New York just don't care."

So then you're brought to Bellevue, where you die. Newspaper reporters try to find someone to comment on your life, and it's your super (of the building where you live with your mother) who says, "He was a nice kid, but he started using drugs at about 16 or 17. After that he's been crazy. It was a matter of time before somebody killed him."

So far, the only person to say something nice about this guy is Moby, who said on his blog that he is saddened by this random act of violence.

Daily News piece, NY Post piece, Newsday piece, Moby's blog entry.

August 12, 2005


Eisenstadt's photo

In commemoration of V-J Day and the famous Eisenstadt photograph of the random sailor and nurse macking in Times Square, this Sunday there will be a kiss-in for anyone who wants to make out for America.

There is also a sort of creepy-looking statue recreation of the photograph in Times Square until Sunday.

So come out to Times Square and scare all the tourists who have yet to see any actual New Yorkers on their vacation to the big city. As Agent 0019 said, it's just too bad that this event isn't coinciding with Fleet Week (hello, sailor!)

Fleet Week!

Hopefully many men will choose to dress as sailors for the kiss-in, and maybe there will be a few sassy nurse's outfits too. Actually, this could easily turn into a very fetishy event.

August 8, 2005

Smackfest smackdown

As a part of his ongoing bust-up of the corrupt music industry, Eliot Spitzer has today reached a settlement with NY radio station Hot 97 , in which the radio station has agreed to stop its "Smackfest" promotion, in which female listeners competitively slapped each other and were awarded prizes. Hot 97 will also pay a fine of $240,000. Attorney General's office press release is here.

The payola case against Sony BMG and other big record companies was perhaps a clearer crime than the Smackfest, because the Smackfest participants were willing adults who voluntarily agreed to slap and be slapped so that they might have a chance to win up to $5,000 or score some Usher tickets. But NY State has laws against promoting combative sports (pretty much any sport where people beat the crap out of each other other than boxing and martial arts,) and City Council member John C. Liu said that Hot 97 had "broken the public trust by profiting from hate and violence."

So now the station has to promote anti-domestic violence campaigns and give a part of its settlement to Safe Horizon, much like Sony BMG has to give its $10 million settlement to music education nonprofits.

Of course, Hot 97 has gotten in trouble lately for other hijinks, such as their infamous ode to poor taste, "Tsunami Song" that used the tune of "We Are the World" and a lot of cruel racial slurs to jeer at the people killed in December's tsunami.

Sure, it's nice to see morning-show radio hosts, generally some of the more vulgar and offensive people in media, get the shaft, and pay-to-play policies in the music industry are unfair. But these days Spitzer's office seems awfully bent on going after the big splashy cases that regular people (i.e. voters) will respond to. Almost seems like it's all a part of somebody's election campaign or something.

July 26, 2005

Spitzer takes down Sony+

Eliot Spitzer, the enthusiastic New York State Attorney General who makes all your big-business-busting dreams come true, has won the first settlement against the music industry for paying radio stations to play their songs. Sony BMG Music Entertainment is paying the state $10 million, and there are three other big companies that have also been under investigation who have yet to reach agreements. The money is going to be given away to New York State music education nonprofits.

Radio programmers sure were raking in the payola. Many of those "listener contests" you hear about on stations were shams that existed only to provide cover for expensive trips and electronic merchandise that were given to programmers and radio staff. And, of course, programmers were just bribed outright. The best part of the story is the inclusion of entertaining payola-engineering emails among record execs in the Attorney General's Office press release. Some examples:

"Two weeks ago, it cost us over 4000.00 to get Franz [Ferdinand] on WKSE. That is what the four trips to Miami and hotel cost . . . At the end of the day, [David] Universal added GC [Good Charlotte] and Gretchen Wilson and hit Alex up for another grand and they settled for $750.00. So almost $5000.00 in two weeks for overnight airplay. He told me that Tommy really wanted him to do it so he cut the deal."

"WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET AUDIOSLAVE ON WKSS THIS WEEK?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen." [Maybe try getting them to release a decent single. -Amy]


Looks like a lot of "independent music promoters" out there are going to start having to buy their own iPods. Sorry fellas.

Of course, this kind of case is technically supposed to be handled by the FCC, but since the L.A. Times reports that the FCC has "imposed only one fine in a payola case in the last decade"--of $8,000--I'm happy to leave it to our boy Spitzer. - Amy

But honestly - doesn't it make you feel a little better about the world to know that listeners aren't actually requesting Good Charlotte? - Emily

July 21, 2005

NY's response to London bombings: everyone's a suspect

Mayor Bloomberg announced this morning that police are going to start doing random searches of the bags and backpacks of people entering subway stations, presumably in response to the second and unsuccessful series of bombings in London. Passengers who don't want to be searched can apparently exercise their constitutional right not to use public transportation; Police Commissioner Kelly says would-be riders can "turn around and leave," and also notes that his officers will not engage in any kind of racial profiling.

I don't think Bloomberg is an idiot, and this announcement is probably an attempt to do something proactive in the face of repeated attacks on London. Better to make a half-assed gesture that will make New Yorkers feel like progress is being made in their security.

But, as The Economist would say, this is wrong. The notion that one can secure a subway system at all, short of installing scanners and x-ray machines like we use in airports at every subway entrance, is a total illusion. New Yorkers are well aware that we don't live in a safe world, and everybody has more or less come to believe that we were never as safe as we might have thought.

Putting more police officers on the subway so that they can stop potential bombings isn't the best use of the officers' time. Cops are good at patrolling neighborhoods and stopping muggings and assaults. They are probably less good at stopping suicide bombers from achieving the one mission that matters more to them than anything.

Bloomberg concedes that his plan for random searches is "a little bit" intrusive. Actually, it's a violation of freedom and privacy and shows delusional thinking about the nature of security. Wrong wrong wrong.

June 28, 2005

Dead Marlon's Stuff

Marlon Brando's store cards

Today ADM and I visited Christie's, to check out the items from Marlon Brando's personal property that are being auctioned tomorrow. Most of the items were the same regular, everyday items that you or I might own. Look! There's Marlon Brando's bongos! His garden furniture set! His VHS copy of Less Than Zero! His Price Club card!

There were, however, a number of items that were legitimately valuable, such as vast correspondence from lots of famous people. A letter from Hunter S. Thompson requesting an interview, and urging Brando to read Hell's Angels, since he appears in it. A letter from Mario Puzo asking Brando to consider starring in the film adaptation of The Godfather--he (oddly) says that Brando is the only actor who could bring the "quiet force and irony" needed for the character. The black velvet jersey he wore in Superman. A vast library, many volumes containing cryptic but funny margin notes.

Also up for auction are Brando's two white Lexuses. One is expected to go for a mere $4,000! ADM and I hope to buy both of them, and drive around in a mini-caravan, basking in Marlon's residual loopy celebrity. Here is a photo of one of them.

Many lots are expected to go for around $300. So go get your collection of James Baldwin hardcovers formerly owned by Marlon Brando tomorrow at noon!

June 14, 2005

NYC Reacts (Similarly) to the Jackson Verdict

ny post jackson headline

nydn jackson headline

June 8, 2005

OTB goes upscale

OTB goes upscale

The lowest rung on the ladder of gambling, at least in New York, is without a doubt the OTB. Anyone who has one in their neighborhood is familiar with the haggard old guys who hang out in there, the empty bottles of Wild Irish Rose on the sidewalk outside, and the sad traffic between the OTBs and the check cashing places that are often, conveniently, right next door (a great example of synergy in local business!)

But now the OTB has decided its image needs some work. We need a new, glamorous, sexy OTB! An OTB for sophisticated, urbane New Yorkers! An OTB that can attract those paragons of reputability, women! Gambling is still gambling, no matter where you do it, but OTB wants to keep its traditional, toothless patrons and its newer, beautiful, wealthier patrons very much apart.

The Daily News reports that last night the gaming agency held a fashion show in Chelsea, invited a lot of sleek pretty people, and tried to reinvent itself in anticipation of the Belmont Stakes and other high-profile gambling events. There are now 13 restaurants that are OTB locations, and presumably they will not smell like urine and whiskey.

However, shaking the traditional image might be difficult for OTB, even with the new push. Sal Zaffarese, who played the ponies yesterday while enjoying a beer and a plate of fried calamari at a restaurant that offers betting services, was interviewed by the Daily News.

"Women might not know that this is a nice place, a safe place," he said. "It's not like the parlors, with the $2 bums hanging out all day."

So, I guess gambling is nice and safe as long as you bet high.

June 2, 2005

New Yorkers Will Do Anything to Avoid Crossing the Street

This week's New York magazine examines the curious success of Duane Reade drugstores. Despite the chain's surly staff, alarmingly high prices, and low-rent atmosphere, over 300,000 gullible New Yorkers purchase something at a Duane Reade (most likely birth control) every week.

As it turns out, that low-rent part is the genius of Duane Reade's business strategy. The company focuses solely on foot traffic when considering locations, and not on the physical layout of the space. The model is based on the assumption that New Yorkers, much like ants, will do anything to avoid straying from their pre-set commuting routes. In fact, Duane Reade's research shows that a store can be made or broken simply by locating it on the wrong side of an apartment building.

As someone who has waited in line behind 30 tourists buying Empire State Building-shaped pens at the 34th Street Duane Reade rather than walking a block further for my Sunkist Fruit Gems™, I must sadly admit that this assumption is correct.

By leasing "odd, unlovable, but well-located holes" in high-traffic areas, Duane Reade is able to pay significantly below-market rates for real estate that no one else wants. Since 200 of the stores have leases through 2008, those rates fall even lower below-market every day. And since the company contains costs by paying minimum wage to a largely part-time staff, Duane Reade could sublet their retail spaces and make a killing even if no one ever bought another tampon there again.

As fascinating and devious as this is, I must point out one glaring factual error:

"The one thing [New Yorkers] are sensitive to is long lines, so Duane Reade doesn’t starve its stores of employees. To keep rushed shoppers moving, most stores have six cashiers at the front, compared with three at suburban stores."

Are you kidding me? Six cash registers, maybe - but six cashiers? I challenge any of our readers to tell me when they've seen more than two cashiers actually working at the same Duane Reade store at the same time. Please note, standing around looking sullen while not actually ringing up customers does not count.

May 26, 2005

ABC Characters Maybe Not Learning Important Lessons from Real Life

Anyone who paid attention to the Lower East Side murder of Nicole Dufresne earlier this year knows what you're not supposed to say to someone with a gun. So how to explain not one, but two ABC characters making the same error in judgment in their respective season finales?

Desperate Housewives, 5/22/05
Susan to Zack: "What are you going to do, shoot me?"

Lost, 5/25/05
Michael to Sawyer: "What are you going to do, shoot me?"

At least Michael has the excuse of being trapped on a tropical island all season. Susan - I know you're self-absorbed, but surely they have newspapers in Fairview.

May 5, 2005

New York Businesses Defiant in the Face of Explosion

How are New Yorkers coping with the aftermath of this morning's "novelty grenade"* explosion on Third Avenue?

It's business as usual for our brave working men and women. Amy's Robot's Midtown East Correspondent sends in this memo she received when she was finally able to enter her office building:

As you are aware, xxx Third Avenue and [Company] is open for business. Please note the following:

Until determined otherwise all arrivals/departures need to go thru the 52nd street entrance of our building (between Lex and 3rd Avenue).

ID (building or DCI) is required.

There continues to be an on-going Police/FBI investigation in our immediate area which will include investigators searching the building's window surfaces for evidence. Please do not be alarmed if you see men on scaffolding outside your windows.

Please continue to check the NY emergency hotline for updates. We ask that you follow the instructions provided in these messages.

Pizza is being provided at 1p

* Seriously, doesn't this sound like something one would buy at Spencer Gifts?

April 25, 2005

Out Hud at Bowery Ballroom

Since I've become a crinkly-faced old bag, I don't go to rock shows anywhere near as often as I did when I was in my energetic mid-20's. But I did go to the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night to see Out Hud, a band from Brooklyn that has been getting loads of positive press about their recent second album Let Us Never Speak of It Again.

Despite their unfortunate name, really stupid song titles, and a deeply hideous album cover, Out Hud is a fantastic band with big thumping beats, butt-slamming bass, two female singers (one of whom is the gorgeous and beguiling Phyllis Forbes [center of this picture] who I am a little in love with,) lots of noodly prog-rocky keyboards, and a cello. Their music is very funky, but crisp and tight too, sort of like if your favorite New Order songs were being covered by Chic.

But their best quality is that they are one of those bands who appear to be having so much fun playing their music that you wish you could be a member too. A few other bands share this quality, and since I'm talking about it, I'm going to make a short list of the bands that most look like they are having super-human fun when they perform their music. Note that this is not a ranking in terms of quality of music, and it's based on my totally subjective observation of their onstage cavorting either at shows or in videos.

1. The B-52's
Their music is not my favorite, but listen to "Butterbean" or "Junebug", and you know beyond any doubt that the members of The B-52's are having much more fun in their lives than you are.

2. Scissor Sisters
The music of Scissor Sisters, and their whole concept, gets old pretty fast. Sure, I love hearing "Take Your Mama" piped in at CVS as much as anyone, but it's not like I'm going to listen to their album while I'm cleaning the bathroom. Regardless, the charm of the band is their flamboyant and campy excitement about their music. Watching them perform, you can't help but love them, despite everything.

3. 1984-era Van Halen
This is based entirely on the videos for "Panama", "Hot for Teacher", and "Jump".

4. Out Hud
At one point during the show the whole band was jumping up and down and generally looking like their lives are filled with a euphoric joy, the likes of which you may never experience. Unfortunately, it looks the New York show was the last one of this tour, so hopefully you can catch them the next time around.

5. Orbital
Their bobbing heads with those little flashlight hats that they wear at shows, coupled with the frequent pumping of their fists in the air, gets the Hartnoll brothers on the list, especially when you consider that they are pushing 40.

You can add to the list in the comments.

April 21, 2005

Important Alternative Soda

This is not actually news, but is part of our ongoing effort to raise awareness of exciting and delicious snack items.

Many Americans may have never tried Kola Champagne Soda, which seems to be a popular flavor in Jamaica, and possibly also Puerto Rico. I had never heard of it, but I've long been interested in regional sodas, and last night I bought a can of Good O Kola Champagne Soda at a bodega on the corner of 105th and 2nd, and it is an exceptionally fine drink.

It tastes like cream soda mixed with Moxie. Also, the can design is simple and very pleasing. No production information on the can, but it is distrubuted through Good O Beverages in the Bronx.

Good O Kola Champagne Soda

[click on photo for larger image]

You can order it from a store called Georgia Harvest--a 2 liter bottle of it for $1.09.

In searching for more information about this soda, I came upon a very impressive online store in Texas that sells over a hundred interesting sodas. The Kentucky Nip Cherry Julep Soda sounds especially delightful, and does apparently taste like mint!

Of course, my all-time favorite regional soda is produced by Squamscot Beverages in New Hampshire, and is called Yup, which I first purchased at Marelli's Fruit and Real Estate convenience store in Newmarket.

April 20, 2005

Rejoice, Opus Dei!

New Pope in Times Square

Our friend Norman K. pointed out a quote in one of the NY Times analysis pieces on the selection of Ratzinger as the new Pope, in which a priest from Oklahoma City who was watching the events yesterday in St. Peter's Square said of him, "He'll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics. He's going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children."

Perhaps not the best choice of metaphors. Norman K. says, "Yes. The Germans have always been quite good at putting people on trains. And the last time it happened, I believe the Catholic church signed off on it. Not an auspicious metaphor for a Pope who was a member of Hitler youth. As a coworker of mine said yesterday, this Pope is a great choice for atheists, since he'll kill the church in Europe and North America."

It is a telling move when the church selects as its new leader someone who will appeal to the growing body of politically and socially conservative people in wealthy countries. I can only assume that the church has written off young or progressive Catholics who had already become disillusioned with the church, but this move will certainly push even more people away. It might be a good strategy for the next few years, as the world moves toward conservatism, but the next generation of Catholics will just keep getting smaller.

Another Times article takes a biographical view of Ratzinger, and refers to a biography by John L. Allen, Jr., who wrote about how Ratzinger's early experience with the Nazis helped form his (totally creepy) ideas about the role of the church. The biography says, "Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism. In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes."

It's basically the opposite of liberation theology, which was central to Latin America's revolutions.

Meanwhile, German New Yorkers were celebrating yesterday, but many admitted it was largely for reasons of national pride, rather than admiration of Ratzinger. Peter Bleeser, a German priest at a parish in Westchester who knew Ratzinger in Munich says, "I'm happy it's a German, but I'm not very conservative and he is. He's an excellent theologian, very intelligent, but he's a strong conservative. Not much is going to change under him."

April 19, 2005

The latest on Wal-Mart in NYC

unions hate Wal-Mart

After Wal-Mart's plans to open a store in Queens got shut down by caterwauling unions, residents, and city officials, the company has set its sights on the next logical market: Staten Island. Staten Island occupies cultural territory more closely aligned with New Jersey than with the other four boroughs of New York, so I can see how this might make sense. A developer is considering two locations in Staten Island: Richmond Valley and Mariners Harbor.

However, they're still encountering some resistance. The United Food and Commercial Workers are fighting the proposed store, and designed a billboard in protest. The billboard was to feature a giant fire-breathing Godzilla next to the Verrazano Bridge, with a caption reading "The Wal-Monster will destroy Staten Island businesses and devastate our quality of life."

Of course, that billboard is never going to see the light of day, because guess who owns the billboard the union has already contracted to rent? Clear Channel! Those champions of free expression. It's no big surprise that Clear Channel would be on the side of Wal-Mart in this case, but it's their rationale for not allowing the union's billboard that will make you crazy. They somehow found a way to co-opt 9/11 as an excuse to censor a billboard. Says a executive from Clear Channel Outdoor, "Are we perhaps oversensitive on this? Maybe. When it comes to images of violence in New York City after 9/11, we feel we have to be very careful."

So the union dropped some of the more violent language from the tagline, changing it to "The Wal-Monster will diminish Staten Island businesses and impede our quality of life." Clear Channel still rejected it.

With big-media friends like Clear Channel, Wal-Mart doesn't even have to get directly involved with those dirty protesters and unions. It's probably only a matter of time before they open their first NYC store.

April 7, 2005

The metaphysical properties of Chapstick

chapstick of the spirit world

Fans of movie trailers for psychological thrillers, especially those that completely fail to portray these thrillers as the taut edge-of-your-seaters that they wish they were, certainly remember the best and funniest non-scary, non-taut trailer ever: the one for The Mothman Prophecies. [Watch the trailer here.]

This movie featured Richard Gere driving around in the dark on country roads, terrorized by some disembodied mothman/evil force/whatever that was somehow connected to the death of his wife. The trailer goes along OK, until one snippet of Richard Gere on the phone with this mothman thing, which whispers to him in a creepy, hissy voice that it was watching him. "What's in my hand, then?" Richard Gere asks, opening his hand to reveal a tube of Chapstick to the camera.

"Chaaaaapstiiick," the mothman thing hisses through the phone.

Richard Gere recoils in horror.

Calling people up on the phone and hissing "Chaaaapstiiick" at them became my favorite new game. Trying to imbue a tube of Chapstick with other-worldly menace is just a bad idea for a movie, and a ridiculous idea for a trailer.

Anyway, the good old Daily News today brings us a story about Steve Jacobs, who works in a Brooklyn nursing home, who says his life was saved by a blessed tube of Chapstick. Two guys with guns (actually one of the guns was a BB gun, for reasons the article does not explain) were shooting each other outside the nursing home, and a bullet flew threw a window and would have blasted right into poor Steve, had he not at that very moment bent over to pick up his Chapstick from the ground.

"I was very fortunate," the doctor's assistant said. "God was with me, no question."

It appears that both God and evil disembodied mothman phantoms can work in many mysterious ways, but both seem to prefer using Chapstick as their vehicle for earthly intercessions.

April 4, 2005

No one likes to do it

Don't worry, it's not just you. No one is having sex.

At a recent gathering of hot young women, ages 24-26, living the single life in Manhattan, the New York Times hosted a discussion of sex and dating. In the resulting article, the featured women are so averse to sex, serious relationships, dating, and pretty much anything other than maybe kissing acquaintances in a bar, that I can't imagine how anyone in this city is ever going to get any action ever again.

"It's not that people aren't dating," explained Jessica Rozler, co-author of The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up (if by "living it up" you mean "going on a date or two then running home to worry if people think you're a slut.") She continues, "It's that there's this weird gray area. People still want to be in relationships, but they don't want to be settling."

OK, so single women in New York like to date lots of men and maybe aren't so into having serious boyfriends. Yet, these women also seem to shun having sex outside of relationships: "Most girls don't have one-night stands," one discussion participant said. "They might have one or two in their life."

"A lot of girls are not having casual sex," explained Andrea Lavinthal, the book's other co-author and (not surprisingly) an editor at Cosmopolitan, a magazine mostly notable for its advice on trapping rich men into marrying you.

So there's no casual sex, no serious relationships; the most these ladies seem to want is a few low-key dates here and there. Their alarming self-restraint is also well illustrated by their definition of the phrase "hooking up": "Most women at the club expounded happily on what a hookup meant for them. 'Late-night grinding on the dance floor, maybe a little groping' was one version, said Kate Kilgore, who is in public relations at Victoria's Secret Beauty. The few men who spoke up seemed to find the elastic nature of the term somewhat tiresome. 'There are so many definitions,' said Corey Zolcinski, a commercial real estate representative and disc jockey. 'Some people think that it means meeting for a drink.'"

I don't know about you, but when I was 24, "hooking up" to me did not mean meeting for a drink.

So what's the story with these people? Are those of us in the late-20's/early-30's generation just a bunch of licentious tramps in comparison to these Doris Days in their early 20's? And what about the recent trend among teenagers of having "friends with benefits", pretty much meaning random sex with casual acquaintances, often met online? ADM points out that the analog to teenagers' "friends with benefits" seems to be "boyfriends without benefits" among these early-20's people. It all sounds very bad.

In a piece about the sexually messed-up country of Japan in today's Guardian, we learn that there is a growing problem among Japanese married couples in which they don't have sex, ever. Like, not even one time. The Japanese birthrate hit an all-time low of 1.29 in 2003, and there are more and more women who complain that they have never had sex with their husbands, or do it less than once per year. Marriage rates are also falling, and the government is understandbly worried about what this will mean for the country's population in a few years.

[Note: I think we can all assume, as the article does, that Japanese men in these kinds of relationships are still having loads of sex with hookers. It's just the wives that get nothing.]

Unsatisfied with this deal, these women are starting to patronize a new kind of clinic in the suburbs of Tokyo, which offers frustrated wives a catalog of men for them to fuck. The guy who runs the clinic (I guess I should say "clinic", because it's really some sort of dating service) says, "The women who come to see me love their husbands and aren't looking for a divorce. The problem is that their husbands lose interest in sex or don't want sex from the start." After a counseling session, the ladies browse through photographs of 45 men, mostly professionals in their 40s, and pick one to go on dates with and then make regular appointments in hotel rooms.

"Mr Kim dismissed charges that his service was little more than a male prostitution ring. 'The men volunteer and pay half the hotel and restaurant bills, so legally there is absolutely nothing wrong with it,' he said."

I'm glad these Japanese women are finally getting some action, but it's a scary prospect for the chaste young ladies in New York: even after they get married and actually decide to put out, they still might not be getting any.

March 2, 2005

If you live in a 6th floor walk-up, be sure to tip extra

It's hardly a new trend, but the Times today has a good piece on the cultural phenomenon that truly sets New York apart from just about anywhere else in the country: the ubiquity of delivery. In order to stay competitive, just about every restaurant and deli in the entire city has to offer free neighborhood delivery. This includes Chinese food and pizza, like it does in any town, but here it also includes the vast spectrum of every different international cuisine you can think of, an increasing number of upscale restaurants, McDonald's, many liquor stores, corner delis, and of course personal services like laundries. Delis that offer delivery are especially specific to New York: if you want a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes, you don't have to walk down to one of the several bodegas on your block; they'll come right to your door. Unfortunately, the article does not go anywhere near the other sector of this industry especially common in New York: the drug delivery service.

The article states that take-out food is a growing trend nationwide, but look: when you have to get in your car, drive a few miles, find a parking space, and go into the Applebee's to pick up your bag of shitty fries and microwaved deep-fried gristle with anemic tomatoes as garnish, it's just not in the same category as the magnificence of fast delivery of real food to one's very doorstep. I maintain that there is a fundamental cultural difference between the two, but even if you lump take-out and delivery together, in 2004 "about 49 percent of restaurant meals sold in the New York area were takeout, as opposed to 38 percent in other places."

One theory about the growth of delivery and take-out is that more women working outside the home means fewer people with the time to cook dinner for themselves. Perhaps. Disgraceful laziness, paranoid aversion to interacting with the outside world, and the addictive luxurious joy derived from getting other people to do relatively simple tasks that normal adults are capable of doing for themselves are my personal theories/excuses. But I'll speak only for myself.

The Times also offers some general observations on the foods that travel well (eggplant parmesan, which I can personally vouch for, and standard Middle Eastern spreads) and those that don't (fries, grilled cheese, anything involving melted cheese.) Also a neighborhood guide to some of the best delivery to be had, which we bring you as a helpful resource for people who live here, and as a source of envy for those who don't.

February 25, 2005

TiVo: the new monkey on your back +

antennae or devil horns?

New York may still be the city that never sleeps (thank you Bloomberg for rejecting that bullshit 1 am nightlife closing time proposal) but lately, New Yorkers who stay up all night are alone in their tiny little apartments, watching TV. Yes, TiVo and other DVRs have turned a city of energetic go-getters into drooling sloths. Or rather, they've been turned into guilt-ridden freaks who feel bad about not spending even more of their time watching TV. The Post profiles these once active New Yorkers who lately vacillate between catching up on their shows in 8-hour viewing marathons and stressing over all the TV they're still not able to watch.

There has been a glut of articles written on the phenomenon of Too Much Media these days--there are more books, magazines, movies, TV shows, advertisements, cultural trends, websites, albums, news programs and celebrity scandals than anyone could possibly digest. And despite our best efforts to keep track of it all, say by buying a TiVo to record all those worthwhile shows you miss every week, we end up feeling even more behind when we still can't keep up with the onslaught with technological help.

The Post article says, "People who thought [their DVR] would give them more free time are struggling to watch every show on their lists - so they can delete them and start piling up new ones." One stressed-out guy says of his huge list of recorded shows, "The list is like a set of tasks I have to complete, or I feel like a failure. I spend all day making lists, just to go home to another list!" Considering the TiVo taglines like "You've got a life. TiVo gets it" and "Do More. Miss Nothing", the increased sense of obligation and stress that its customers are experiencing results from a misjudgement of the product; in order to miss nothing, TiVo users have to basically do nothing but watch TV.

In our desire to watch TV more efficiently, we end up watching so much we have time for little else. One sad DVR owner describes how he and his girlfriend spent their nights: "We used to come home from work, and she'd have her shows programmed, and I'd have mine, so we'd take turns watching each others' shows, and eventually one of us would get tired and go to bed." The couple has since split up. "It's crazy, because I don't watch much TV normally," he said.

Since 2/3 of Amy's Robot uses DVRs (and would probably have written better posts about this issue than the 1/3 who doesn't own one,) and because a rep from Time Warner Cable says their DVRs are still "flying out the door," we can expect to see more and more New Yorkers engaging in the TV marathons that some of us have experienced first hand. TV stations' fondness for programming back-to-back reruns of shows like Law & Order, Melrose Place, and, oddly, The Munsters only enables TiVo owners to spend even more time plowing through the hours of shows lovingly recorded for them. We've known people to have over 90 episodes of Law & Order on their TiVo hard drive at once.

Of course, even before the days of the DVR, some of us still engaged in guilt-driven accumulation of media that we knew we would probably never get to. I recently renewed my subscription to Harper's magazine for a foolishly optimistic two more years, even though I have a growing stack of unread issues already, and have yet to read more than one issue from 2004. I think we all collectively, as a culture, have to put some effort into letting some of this stuff go, and easing up on all this obsessive media collecting.

It's OK. You can just delete those Malcolm in the Middle episodes. The new ones aren't as funny, anyway. -Amy

In my experience, the feeling of failure that accompanies not watching all your shows goes away after a while, as does the desire to record stuff just for the sake of recording it. On the other hand, if you really like your shows -- be it Malcolm in the Middle (which is hilarious by the way...who knew?) or The Munsters -- then happiness is a full Tivo (or, nearly full, anyway). Tivo enables me to give shows a try without thinking about it or putting effort (heh) into it, shows that I would have never though to sit down and actually watch at a pre-determined time and so would never have seen without it.

These "I feel like a failure b/c I can't keep up with Tivo" stories have been coming out for a while now, and there's always a fresh set of despair-filled consumers who are a couple of months into their new DVR-driven life, always with a ready-made quote. Eventually, though, these people will enter the second stage of their relationship with Tivo, the guilt-free one, and will forget the stresses of the early days. -ADM

February 22, 2005

Dead people more interesting if beautiful, educated, sez Post

Consecutive stories in today's Post. Good thing they got this information into the lead:

A brilliant and beautiful pre-med student, who kindly stopped to help a car-crash victim on the Long Island Expressway, was struck and killed by another driver during yesterday's pounding snowstorm.

A beautiful blond college student from Connecticut was found dead yesterday in the Queens apartment of a friend she had been visiting for the weekend.

February 14, 2005

Everybody hates No Child Left Behind

NY Times headline: "New US Secretary Showing Flexibility on 'No Child' Act"

"Oh alright, I guess it's OK if we leave some children behind. Especially those poor, stupid ones."

OK, really what the headline refers to is some policy elements of NCLB that the new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling, is realizing are totally unworkable. For example, 4,000 veteran North Dakota elementary teachers were declared unqualified through NCLB standards, and after they protested, Secretary Spelling said they were qualified after all. She also agreed to ignore the part of the act stating that students in low-performing schools can transfer to better ones in the case of New York City, where this is physically impossible due to overcrowding. Of course, this prevents NYC students from taking part in what was supposed to be a major benefit of NCLB for families who can't afford private school. For now, the concerns of overcrowded high-quality public schools have won out.

Back to the article: "Ms. Spellings said that she intended to balance states' rights to control schools with the federal government's responsibility to reduce the achievement gap between suburban white and urban minority students. 'That's the most important thing I'm going to do, to thread the needle of that balance,' she said. The president, she said, wants her to 'get with the states and the Congress and work the problem.'"

"Thread the needle of that balance"? What does that mean? Maybe the Secretary was reduced to nonsensical metaphors because the issues of class and race in public education are far too complicated to be solved by obsessively testing middle schoolers.

Interestingly, it's the state that voted the most for Bush last year, Utah, that's especially unhappy with NCLB. Maybe that's because many traditional Republicans value local government more than seemingly ineffective federal programs, and they're not too keen on the burdensome requirements that NCLB has placed on public education, which is supposedly a state-operated service. So they're trying to pass a law for state governance of public education.

"Top educators are all demanding more freedom from the federal law's dictates. The legislature is considering a bill that would require Utah's superintendent of public instruction to give state educational goals priority over the federal law. The superintendent, Patti Harrington, urged lawmakers to pass it and predicted in an interview that they would. 'We don't have much regard for No Child Left Behind in Utah,' Ms. Harrington said. 'For rigor, yes, for achievement, yes, but this law just gets in our way.' She called the law's accountability system 'convoluted,' its method for defining highly-qualified teachers 'faulty,' and its requirement that disabled children be tested at their grade level rather than at their ability level 'ludicrous.'"

February 11, 2005

"Public Enemy Number 1" Comes to New York

Wal-Mart happy face
Oh ho! It looks like the working man's friend, Wal-Mart, is looking into opening its first New York City location in 2008. And New Yorkers couldn't be more enthusiastic:

Wal-Mart builds communities!
Says Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, "Wal-Mart has blazed a path of economic and social destruction in towns throughout the U.S."

Wal-Mart creates jobs!
Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, adds that "Wal-Mart has come to represent the lowest common denominator in the treatment of working people."

Wal-Mart brings people together!
Richard Lipsky, spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, says, "There will never be a more diverse and comprehensive coalition than this effort against Wal-Mart...It will include small-business people, labor people, environmental groups, women's groups, immigrant groups and community groups."

Interestingly, this news comes just after Wal-Mart announced it will close a Canadian store close to unionizing, citing "unreasonable demands" from labor organizers that would make the store unprofitable to operate. And I'm sure it would. As this interesting* New Yorker piece points out, Wal-Mart is stuck: its own business model makes it impossible to pay fair wages, because the low pricing allows such a small profit margin (according to the article, an average of 4 cents on every dollar of sales).

But here's another curious thing. Why are the same New Yorkers who courted Target so vehemently opposing Wal-Mart? After all, they're both big-box stores that sell products at discount prices, affecting local retailers in their communities. Target might have a hipper ad campaign and cooler opening parties, but are the differences betwen the two real or perceived? Sure, Target promotes corporate giving, but Wal-Mart also operates community programs, just as Target also employs a staff of largely part-time, non-union workers. Can we really be won over so easily by cheap designer clothing? Will labor and community leaders** look the other way, as long as it means access to cute kitchen accessories?

* Interesting, but ultimately incorrect: Surowiecki concludes that as big-box stores and manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble/Gillette continue to grow, economic power lies with the consumer - which is a theory I can't subscribe to.
**Disclaimer: I'm as guilty as anyone on this, I love me some Target.

February 10, 2005

The Gates go up

Since every single blessed one of the NYC-oriented blogs will feature wads of nearly identical photos of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude The Gates Central Park project starting this weekend, we thought we'd provide some shots that were emailed to our office of the people who were working in this morning's drizzle to set it all up.

Public art: it's hard work. But it already looks cooler than I would have expected, considering the simplicity of the project. But contemporary art shows us that if you just have a whole lot of the same thing, even if it's just some orange metal and fabric, it looks good.

February 3, 2005

Oh my god, the service industry is sooo hard!

The Times profiles a disturbing trend in confessional-style web forums: bitching waiters. Another recent article in Time Out about all the horrible tortures that restaurant patrons inflict on the waitstaff also suggests that waiters are reaching a breaking point. I certainly agree that any job in the service industry involves special challenges and a lot of frustration with rude, impatient, and ungrateful customers, and I think that good waiters should be very well-paid.

However. The tone of the Time Out piece was basically this: You people who come into our restaurants are so thoughtless and uncivilized that you should be thankful that we even deign to bring you your goddamned herb-crusted tilapia, so here are some things you should do to make our lives as waiters easier and less stressful. Then they include some suggestions like "Don't ask for substitutions on menu items" and my personal favorite, "Don't make a reservation and then not show up." Yeah, maybe if the time of one's reservation bore any relation to the time at which one actually gets seated at many Manhattan restaurants, patrons might take them more seriously.

A chef who likes to complain about his job on one of these complaining waiter sites says, "I don't think civilians really have any idea how the staff really feels: namely, that they just can't wait to turn the table, get their tip and see the back of you. Let's be honest."

OK look, bitching waitstaff: first of all, the only reason that waiter jobs and the restaurant industry exist in the first place is that people are willing to pay $15 for a plate of penne with pesto, as long as somebody else makes it and brings it to them and does the dishes afterwards. When people are paying you to serve them, then you more or less have to do what they want--it's the nature of the industry. Some customers are rude and surly, but if you're a waiter, you still have to serve them. Sorry. It's your job. (Though customers should think carefully about being rude to people who have access to their food. As one waiter says, customers generally forget how vulnerable they are to the good will of servers. "I can never understand why anyone would be even the slightest bit rude to someone who is about to touch your food.")

One of the bitchy waiter sites that I do admire, however, is, which features a list exposing really bad tippers. The waiter-patron social contract centers on waiters serving patrons, and patrons paying for service. Waiters don't have much of an excuse to complain about the nature of their jobs, but if you want to be a stingy jerk, make your own dinner.

January 27, 2005

Commie-baiting makes a comeback

Now, I'm a girl who lives to call corporate 800 numbers and write letters to the editor, but my efforts pale beside those of Patricia Goldstein, who recently embarked on a personal crusade against a New York City weekly, The Riverdale Review.

Disturbed by the paper's editorial policies, Goldstein wrote in a few months ago accusing The Review of catering to "Jewish Bolsheviks" and "red-diaper doper babies." Publisher Andrew Wolf felt "compelled to respond," so he printed the letter, eliciting a sea of which Goldstein responded which more people responded...and suddenly, you've got Goldstein praising McCarthy and crowing about "pinching the Bolsheviks in their tuchis," and poor Wolf wishing "the whole thing would just go away."

Does Goldstein have a point? Probably. Her main complaint was that The Review had become boring. Is she also a total nutter? Well, as letter-writer Stuart Eber says after meeting her in person, "On a personal level, she's nice enough...But at one point she pulled out of her purse a list of people who were Communists and had infiltrated the State Department. That was sort of strange."

I'm much more interested to see how the whole chicken-killing controversy pans out, frankly.

December 30, 2004

New Year's Eve in Times Square: Hell on Earth?

Times Square New Year's Eve

The throngs of tourists that have spent the last week clogging midtown, standing in line to get into the American Girl Store or to look at the damn tree in Rockefeller Center, and all shoving to get through a single set of subway doors at the 49th Street station (it's a long train with many doors, people!) are getting ready to converge on what might be the most anxiety-provoking place in the universe at midnight on New Year's Eve: Times Square. Get ready for a night of repeated frisking!

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the traditional Times Square overcrowding, the Post published a list of 100 interesting facts about the history of the event. A few notable ones:

1. Before Times Square, New Yorkers rang in the new year at Trinity Church by shaking tin cans with bricks inside them.

3. Until 1995, the ball was lowered manually, by six men and a guy with a stopwatch.

18. In 1943 and '44, there was no ball, for fear it could prompt an enemy strike.

21. The ball wasn't always a ball. For five years in the '80s — the height of the "I love NY" campaign — it was an apple.

22. It was the same ball — with a green stem pasted on the top. It turned back into a ball in 1987. [Remember, NY in the 1980's wasn't doing so hot]

24. The actual symbol of a ball dropping to signal the passage of time dates back to 1833 when a time-ball was installed atop England's Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

31. In the late '90s, someone suggested the crowd dance to "YMCA" to entertain themselves. Police said no. [Too bad--this might have been the biggest collectively gay moment in our nation's history]

32. In the 1990s, various corporate logos were suggested in place of the ball.

33. They included a giant Bayer Aspirin bottle and a Pepsi can. [This year's suggestions include a White Castle slider, Tara Reid's breast implants, and Al Goldstein.]

43. Public drinking was prohibited at the celebration after Mayor Giuliani took office.

44. New Year's cleanups got easier after that.

47. In 1996, the first guest invited to flip the switch was Oseola McCarty, a poor, Mississippi laundress who donated her entire life savings — $150,000 — to a scholarship fund.

59. In 1980, the ball went dark from 11:58 to 11:59 p.m., to honor hostages in Iran.

60. This year, more than 2,000 pounds of multicolored, fire-proof confetti will drop from six rooftops.

61. Confetti Master Treb Heining supervises six volunteers to drop it. [Treb Heining might have the best job title ever]

65. This year's special guest: Secretary of State Colin Powell. [Powell, as Low Culture points out, already has some experience with dropping the ball]

72. Ten to 15 minutes after the ball drops, 38 sanitation workers start picking up every drop of confetti.

74. Viewership of the televised event seems to increase during times of crisis.

84. The crowd at that first post-9/11 New Year's Eve was the most polite ever.

85. The most raucous revelers were in the early '70s. [A few anecdotes related to these revelers would have made for a much more interesting list, Post writers]

94. Recent celebrations generated about 57 tons of litter per night.

And a few observations of our own:

1. If you are in the midtown area and want to escape before the real craziness starts, get on the subway before 4 pm, or you'll never get out of there.

2. Warmer weather means more drunk people out on the street longer. This year, New Year's Eve is expected to be a very mild night. Expect a lot of puke mixed in with the confetti, sanitation workers.

December 16, 2004

The .38: now that's a gun


Excellent piece in the Times today about the NYPD gun of yesteryear, the .38, also known as a six-shooter. Common models still carried by older NYPD officers include the Smith & Wesson Model 10 or the Ruger Police Service Six. The article notes these guns are now "more commonly seen on T. J. Hooker reruns or film noir than on the streets of New York."

These revolvers were NYPD standard issue until 1993, when semi-automatics were brought in to arm cops with the same guns that criminals had. After that year, rookies were given the new guns, while existing officers could keep their old revolvers if they wanted to. These days the older guns tend to be carried by old-timers, cops who have been around the block a few times, and now they serve as an identification with an earlier era: a time "when guns were guns, and cops were cops," as a 41 year-old officer says. Even Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly still carries his Colt Detective Special revolver, strapped to his left ankle, according to the article.

As the Times writer says, the cops who carry their old .38s are the guys who married their high school sweethearts. Here are a few of their comments on why they keep the old guns:

"They say, 'What are you, an old-timer?'" said Officer Mark Steinhauer, 41. "My answer to them is, 'It worked for John Wayne.'"

Officer Melita joined in 1986 and patrolled in Harlem for 18 years. He believes his gun shows younger officers that he was at work when times were different in New York. "That's how you can tell who's been on the job awhile," he said. "Back when it was, you know, wild."

November 22, 2004

Why the rest of the world thinks New Yorkers are nuts

People who live in New York often enjoy traveling to other parts of the world, going into bars or local businesses, and squealing with delight over how cheap everything is. Yes, there are many parts of our nation in which it is considered normal for a beer to cost well under $6. It is possible to live in this city and be thrifty, but sometimes it feels like our hyper-inflated economy coupled with a lot of alarmingly self-indulgent people are eroding our ability to distinguish a fair price from an absurd joke.

The case that best illustrates this point is the phenomenon of the overpriced New York haircut. Few other industries offer such radically varying prices for, ultimately, the same service. Having grown up getting my hair cut by my mother as I sat on a stool in the bathtub, I can tell you that the first time I considered paying more for a haircut than I would for a nice meal was a minor trauma. I still feel a twinge of guilt about what I agree to pay every 3-4 months for a service that many people competently do for themselves at home. However, the Sunday Times tells us that some women are so thoroughly complicit with nonsensical pricing theory that they actually believe that if they pay ten times more than what most normal people would consider to be an already high price for a haircut, that they will in fact look ten times better.

Which brings us to The $800 Haircut. The hairdressers that charge this kind of price who were interviewed for the article go through some impressive rationalizations for their fees, usually by comparing their prices favorably to the price of designer shoes. Some old-fashioned types suggest that there just might be an element of the hairdressers' egos reflected in their prices, and call the over-$500 guys "pretentious." (So what do they call hairdressers who charge only $350? "Refreshingly down-to-earth"? "Folksy"? "Communist"?)

There are some people within this world of expensive barbers who see through the insanity. One relatively sensible stylist who works at Bergdorf Goodman, although he also calls his $400 price "bargain basement", recognizes that regular, non-famous people who eagerly seek out these high-priced hairdressers and wait patiently for appointments with them are probably trying to attain some celebrity contact high. They're seeking the "magic thing" of fame and wealth, he says. "And I don't think what they are looking for can be found in a pair of scissors." Wise words.

November 19, 2004

NY's humongous new museum


OK everybody, ready to stand in line for 5 hours to eventually get inside the new Museum of Modern Art and get swept by the herds of unwashed masses through gallery after gallery, waiting in that shuffling line of people as it slowly winds past the paintings, looking at all those catatonically bored children who would rather be doing anything else, whose parents are trying to get them to do some free image association with a Motherwell abstract? Then get ready! Because tomorrow's reopening of MoMA is free free FREE! Which is a great deal, as long as your time has absolutely no value.

On other days, it will cost $20 to get in; that $75 annual membership fee is looking better all the time isn't it? With a membership, entrance to the museum is always free, and so are the movies. Friday nights from 4-8 are also always free (thanks Target.)

Here is some local writing about the opening. The Daily News wonders if we can scrap that silly Liebeskind WTC plan and go with Taniguchi instead: his simple and airy design is already making people giddy. And the Times offers an explosive frenzy of coverage. The guarded review likes the new layout (though calls it a "chilly box") but also recalls what has always been the main problem with MoMA--the fact that it still is a stuffy elitist conventional place, especially for an international leader in forward-thinking art.

The Times also includes logistical details about the new museum's offerings, including the new restaurants and bars planned to open soon.

I assume that P.S. 1 and the Noguchi Museum and all those other destinations in Long Island City that benefited from MoMA's temporary relocation to Queens for the past 2 years are getting a little worried about their attendance rates for next year.

November 17, 2004

Worst Bank Robbers Ever

There are many weird and often funny crime stories in the news every day here in the big, bad city that we don't comment on, but every once in a while, we like to report on one that stands out as particularly inventive, disgusting, or asinine.

So today let's focus on asinine. Yesterday a couple spent some time driving slowly around the Upper East Side, casing banks to rob. Somebody noticed them, and the cops were alerted. So now they're trolling along First Avenue, with the cops watching them, and they decide to stop and hold up the Fourth Federal Savings Bank at 72nd St. The guy runs in, with no gun, and slips the teller a note asking for cash. He gets a whole $795 out of it.

Then the police watch as he jumps in the car being driven by his girlfriend, and the robbers speed off, only to hit one of the unmarked cop cars that has been trailing them all day. Then they turn the wrong way down 85th Street (which is a one-way street,) I guess to get onto the FDR, and in doing so, run into two more cars. At this point, they stop and are surrounded by cops.

So they get arrested for bank robbery. AND it turns out that the car they were driving was stolen. AND AND AND the guy also had two crack pipes on him, so they also get drug charges. And obviously they don't get to keep their amazing $795 jackpot. Unbelievable.

November 16, 2004

Chengwin loves you. Chunk hates you.


I go out of town for a couple of days, and totally miss the annual Chunk vs. Chengwin Homecoming Quarter-Mile Marathon Fight. This important event involves big swarms of people converging on Houston Street, walking into Soho, then watching the archrivals Chunk, the evil chicken-skunk, and Chengwin, the loveable chicken-penguin, have a smackdown. Cheerleaders, football players, and people dressed as giant goalposts show their support.

This occurred on Saturday. And some pictures are only going up now. Sorry, OK? Don't ask me to change things I can't control.

[tx Agent 0019, who luckily was there]

Note the many cellphones and cameras in the crowd, recording every moment.

November 15, 2004

Real Life, ripped from a Law & Order script

Interesting story in the Times today about a woman who served as head juror on a murder trial 12 years ago, who has now contacted the defense lawyers to help them overturn the guilty verdict that she helped deliver. The case involves two men (now serving 25 to life) who were convicted of shooting a club bouncer in 1990; there have been three separate city investigations since then, and new evidence suggesting their innocence has surfaced within the past couple of years. The defendants' law firm has more details about the history of the case and its media coverage. This summer, the head juror happened to see a TV show about the many investigations of the murder, and realized it was the case she had sat on. On the show, she learned of some evidence that was not included during the trial, and she now says she is "sure they are innocent."

The story is reminiscent of a great Law & Order episode in which a female head juror at a murder trial falls under the spell of the defendant, a handsome and intense man who chooses to represent himself in court, who shoots long, smoldering looks at her throughout the trial. (This prompts the judge to scold the defendant, saying "This is a courtroom, not a singles bar.") After the trial ends with a hung jury, the juror approaches McCoy and admits that her deliberation was unduly influenced by the defendant and his flirtation. She offers to help overturn her jury's (non)decision. The TV version of the story is more exciting, of course (especially when the evil seductive defendant sneaks into the head juror's apartment to try to strangle her after she admits her misjudgement to McCoy, and she stabs him in the neck with a pair of kitchen shears,) but still, some interesting parallels.

November 12, 2004

Subway message board hijinks

It's a pretty slow news day, apparently, so the Daily News gives us a whimsical story about this crazy city we live in, about the electronic message board in the West 4th subway station yesterday, which for several hours displayed the message "PRETTY GIRLS DON'T RIDE THE SUBWAY". While anyone who lives here can tell you that this is totally inaccurate, it's still more interesting than the usual "WATCH FOR PICKPOCKETS" or "THANK YOU FOR RIDING WITH MTA" or the popular "ENTER MESSAGE" display, when something gets screwed up.

Subway riders' responses are also good. Sassy Lucia Morales, a social worker from East New York, Brooklyn, says "That's horrible. I'm pretty, and I take the subway every day." And sensible actress Katharyn Bond knows the real value of public transportation that runs all night: "Pretty women take the subway so we can go spend money on more important things - like alcohol."

Perhaps the message board would have been more helpful if it had read, "PRETTY GIRLS RIDE THE SUBWAY... AND THEY'RE DRUNK!"

If you had access to a subway station message board, what would you write? Post it in the comments. If it's funny.

November 8, 2004

New York has a manufacturing industry too+


The vast majority of the Northeast's manufacturing industries that moved our nation out of an agrarian-based economy and into a factory-and-pollution-based economy have long since been lost to the Midwest and the South. In the early 20th century, it just became cheaper to run a factory in Mississippi than in Lowell, Mass. (Though these same regions that once benefited from northern manufacturing job losses are now bitching and moaning about their jobs being sent to China. Crybaby sons of mill workers!) Anyway, you might be interested to know that manufacturing is still listed as the fourth largest economic sector in Brooklyn. One of the companies providing manufacturing jobs is surely one of the very best places to work in the world: Joyva, our nation's largest producer of unfathomably delicious halvah. The company also makes other sesame-based foods like tahini and crunchy candy.

Richard Radutzky, a third-generation member of the company's founding family, who came over from Ukraine, expounds on the love that New Yorkers have for halvah and his company's importance to the city: "There seem to be transplanted Brooklynites all over the world," he said. "And when they see halvah, there is a sense of familiarity and of coming home and of nostalgia and tradition that's not just talk. It's something tangible." I'll say it is. Keep our manufacturing industry strong, Joyva!

And don't forget New York's other favorite exports - Streit's Matzo, Brooklyn Brewery beer, Rheingold, and Neighborhoodies.

November 1, 2004

Halloween Parade


We're big fans of the Village Halloween Parade, despite the increasing corporate presence, but this year we finally learned our lesson after battling through crowds of onlookers and standing on our tiptoes to try to see over all their heads to catch a quick glimpse of the weirdos parading down the street. The best place to see the parade is from within. Plus, despite concerns that we would revert to the frightening police state that this city turned into during the RNC, anyone who wants to join the parade is still free to do so, just by showing up. You don't even have to get fingerprinted or tattooed with a bar code. Here are a few pictures of some notable costumes:

[tx Agent 0019]

Speaking of Lynndie, here's a site dedicated to the latest prank photograph craze, "Doing a Lynndie".

Vote on the Working Families Party line

A public service announcement for all you New York State readers out there. When you go to vote tomorrow, you'll notice that next to the Democratic Party row, the Republican row, the Conservative row, and the Independence row, there is Row E: the Working Families Party row. You can vote for Kerry/Edwards on this row, as well as for Chuck Schumer for Senator. Voting on the WFP row counts just as much as if you voted for these same candidates on the Democratic row, but it also sends a message about progressive political values. It shows your support for the issues that the WFP fights for: living wage jobs, affordable housing, universal health care, better public education, and other social and economic justice issues.

The reason that you can vote for the same candidate on more than one party line is because New York State uses fusion voting, in which a candidates can be the nominee of more than one political party. This method allows voters to show support for other parties, without the "wasted vote" problem in tight election years. So if you vote for Kerry on the WFP line, your vote still counts just as much as if you voted for him on the Democratic line, but it also helps build support and power for third parties with progressive agendas. Take a look at the WFP's issues and their history and strategy, and if these ideas appeal to you, consider showing your support when you vote tomorrow.

October 19, 2004

Hillary at Chelsea-Clinton

hillary at chelsea

We've been waiting for this moment since we first noticed the Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center, the funniest unintentional ex-First Family reference in NYC, while walking along 10th Avenue in 2000. The clinic is named for the two neighborhoods it serves, Chelsea and Clinton (the real estate broker's name for Hell's Kitchen), but it still makes us snicker every time we see it. Finally, Senator Hillary made a visit to her daughter's almost eponymous health center to slam Bush for not securing enough of the flu vaccine (press release about her speech here) and NY1 captured the moment.

October 13, 2004

Chintzy 9/11 Profiteering

Maybe you've been as horrified as I was over the past couple of months to see TV ads on some of your lesser cable channels for "Freedom Tower" commemorative silver "dollars" with "real silver" from Ground Zero. The actual ad copy reads, “Today, history is being made. For the first time ever, a legally authorized government issue silver dollar has been struck to commemorate the World Trade Center and the new Freedom Tower being erected in its place ... Most importantly, each coin has been created using .999 pure silver recovered from ground zero!” Puke.

Well, good old Eliot Spitzer is pretty pissed off too. He's gotten a court order to stop sales of these "dollars," which are actually pretend currency authorized by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the North Pacific. The court order will be in effect pending a civil suit he has brought against the company. Besides being skeptical about the authenticity of the silver that was allegedly recovered from Ground Zero, Spitzer is also appalled at the company's "shameless attempt to profit from a national tragedy." These ads also made me lose just a tiny little bit more of my faith in humanity, but I'm glad we have people like Eliot Spitzer to stop people from displaying their bad taste with such recklessness by spending money on this kind of crap, or even on another commemorative "silver eagle dollar" that features "an aerial view of the devastation suffered on 9/11 with the legend 'We will never forget'". Now they'll have to settle for a NY State "A-Rod" Quarter for $9.95.

October 12, 2004

High-class hookers in NY

A totally surreal article appears in today's Times about the operations of an expensive prostitution service. The woman who runs the agency, single-handedly, is a Korean woman who goes by Mae Lee, who was adopted by Americans at age 6, grew up in an idyllic small town in Maine, then started running off to Boston to take lots of drugs when she was 13. At 19, she was managing a prostitution service using smuggled Thai women who were likely not in control of their movements.

Now Mae Lee has a fleet of 8 women who fly in from their hometowns for 5-day stints of whoring in New York. Here are some bizarre and creepy details about her business: she never writes down the email address or phone number of any clients, though each new client is required to provide their employer, work phone, home phone, and home address, which are all verified (she explains that this is how she weeds out undercover cops.) Hours of operation begin at 9 AM and end well before 9 PM, Monday to Friday only (these people want to hire a hooker at 9 in the morning?) She "runs a Christmas toy drive for needy children, tapping the generosity of her regulars." This one makes my skin crawl: one of her company's most popular services is "the girlfriend experience," described as "a slower-paced, affection-filled encounter that closely resembles a date. Her 10-page employment contract, signed by each woman, instructs them to cuddle, sprinkle flower petals on the pillow and never rush or make anyone feel rushed." Mae Lee snorts amyl nitrate while on the phone with clients.

So yes, prostitution in America is just as soulless and debased as you probably thought it was, even if transactions are conducted at the Hilton with wealthy businessmen. The writer of the article generally takes this madame and her business at face value, letting the anecdotes act as their own commentary, but the occassional wry remark indicates her true feelings. Like this one, about the effects on clientele of an employee not showing up to work that day: "The disappearance of Rachel meant that seven men that day would have their hourlong sessions canceled, turning their putative business meetings into aching voids of unrequited need." Poor babies!

By the way, Rachel who didn't show up for work did not get her thumbs broken as she might have by a more conventional pimp, but her boyfriend did get a call from an angry Mae Lee informing him that his girlfriend is a hooker. And her parents are going to be sent a CD-ROM of her promotional pictures. Vicious stuff.

September 27, 2004

Political Contributions, sorted by address

The Post offers analysis of the gigantic heaps of cash that Americans are pouring into political parties and candidates' campaigns this year. According to, Manhattan alone has contributed $36 million, which is three times more than any other U.S. city, and that's just one borough.

The most interesting stuff is the breakdown of contributions by street address. Some notables include the residents of 146 Central Park West, better knows as the San Remo apartments. Steven Spielberg, Steve Martin, Demi Moore, and Bono (who bought Steve Jobs' old apartment) all live there. They all contributed over $230,000 to Democratic organizations. Just behind them are the tenants of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, who gave $212,000 to Democratic causes, and a mere $68,000 to the Republicans. This is the building in which in 1934 Diego Rivera famously painted a mural which was later destroyed by his unsatisfied patron, Nelson Rockefeller. Currently housed in the building are NBC, the financiers and philanthropists at Lazard, Freres & Co. (Managing Director Felix Rohatyn's foundation gives generously to many social and educational causes), as well as the Rockefeller family members' offices--they've also been known to give away a lot of money over the years.

The address that gave the most to Republican organizations is 767 Fifth Avenue, giving a total of $113,000. This building is called the General Motors Building, and used to be the home of FAO Schwartz before it went out of business. Working in this building are some investors, some lawyers, fancy makeup producers (though the Lauder family all seem to give to Democrats,) and one super-rich Republican corporate raider. As often happens, it's the big money at the top who throw off the rest of the building's contributors, who gave a larger number of smaller contributions to Democrats.

September 26, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: The World Cheesecake Eating Championship

cheesecake contest winner Eric Booker

Forget Takeru Kobayashi and his lame hot dog eating record. The real champions are the ones who spend a hot Sunday afternoon shoving cheesecake into their faces at Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue Festival. As fans of both competitive and amateur eating, Amy's Robot congratulates 2004 World Cheesecake eating champion, Eric "Badlands" Booker, who ate over one and a half cheesecakes (that's seven pounds of sweet dairy goodness) in six minutes. Eric, who in his spare time is an amateur rapper and conductor on the 7 train line, also took the cannoli title last week at the San Gennaro feast, eating 16.5 cannoli in six minutes.

Competitive eating has enjoyed quite the renaissance lately, thanks to the tireless work of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. With a keen understanding of the gluttony that makes our country great, the IFOCE is making an effort to standardize rules and regulations in this fast-growing sport. The organization is also dedicated to making competitive eating as safe as possible, believing that "speed eating is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older and only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present."

Of course, even that emergency medical technician can't always prevent the occasional accident. People, I'm here to tell you that you haven't lived until you've seen a a grown man eat cheesecake with his fingers

cheesecake contest goldstein

and then barf it down the front of his shirt.

cheesecake contest loser

If you're still interested in competitive eating, you should certainly subscribe to "Gurgitator", the IFOCE's newsletter, which will keep you up to date on all the latest competitions and rankings. And gentlemen looking for romance - the IFOCE's second highest ranking eater is the lovely and tiny Sonya Thomas. I'd suggest visiting your bank's loan officer before taking her to dinner, because this 105-pound cutie just might eat 11 pounds of cheesecake, 5 pounds of chicken wings, 65 hardboiled eggs, 23 pulled pork sandwiches, and 43 soft tacos. Sexy!

Update: Ordering information for our hero Badlands Booker's competitive-eating themed hip-hop album, "Hungry and Focused" is here. You can also listen to clips from the album.

September 14, 2004

Psychological Controls on the Subway ++

In 1975, Dr. Stanley Milgram's mother-in-law complained to him that no one had offered her a seat on the subway. "It occurred to me," he said in a later interview, "What would have happened had she asked for a seat?"'

That conversation sparked a fascinating experiment, where Dr. Milgram sent his first-year graduate students into the subway to ask riders to give up their seats. As it turned out, when asked 'Excuse me, may I have your seat?' an astonishing 68% of riders offered them. And when two reporters repeated the experiment a few weeks ago, 13 out of 15 riders gave up their seats when asked.

But even more interesting was the effect on the students themselves. Such a bold violation of subway etiquette made the students so anxious that some of them became physically ill. As one former student recalls:

"I really did feel sick to my stomach...Afterwards, I thought, 'I wonder if that wasn't helpful because the person must have thought: "This person looks sick. She needs the seat."

Even Dr. Milgram himself was not immune from the overwhelming guilt of taking a seat that didn't belong to him:

"I was overwhelmed by the need to behave in a way that would justify my request'My head sank between my knees, and I could feel my face blanching. I was not role-playing. I actually felt as if I were going to perish."

As it turns out, there are laws of the subway that we are psychologically conditioned to obey. If students today were sent to ask the homeless guy on the F train to please, please, stop it with the off-key singing, would they be able to? -Emily

I can't help but wonder if this study of human behavior would have caused all that emotional anguish if it had been conducted by students at the business school who had a few years of sales and marketing experience, rather than those poor little timid psych grad students. -Amy
Well, one would assume that the two reporters who recreated the experiment would have no trouble, since their careers involve asking strangers aggressive, uncomfortable questions in the name of journalism. But in fact, they had the same severe physical reaction as the students of 1975. - Emily

When is a Democrat not a Democrat? +

New Yorkers, have you voted today? It's Primary Day in our fair state, and there's nothing like the total mismanagement and corruption in the New York State government to really get your blood pumping. Although many incumbents are running unopposed, there are several open New York State Senate seats this year ' a rarity, since there are no term limits. But if you figure you'll just vote the straight Democratic ticket in November, you might find yourself tricked. This year's race in the Republican-controlled Senate is particularly head-scratching due to the fact that several Democratic candidates are not actually Democrats.

Here are some highlights from New York City races:

Assemblyman Stephen B. Kaufman (D and R) vs. Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein (just D). The winner of this race replaces Guy J. Velella (R), who is currently in prison for taking bribes.

Kaufman is running in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, trying to improve the chances of filling this seat with a Republican. Eliot Spitzer and Alan Hevesi are pissed about what they call Kaufman's 'negative and illegally funded campaign tactics.' [Update: Klein won, 57% to 35%. Kaufman also lost the Republican primary, but won the Conservative Party slot, so it will be a 3-way election in November.]

State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. (D) vs. former State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. (D)

Espada announced a few years ago he was switching to the Republican party, but never actually did. He's made it clear that, should he win, he will sit with the Republicans. [Update: Diaz won]

East Harlem/Bronx
Olga A. Mendez (R/I) vs. City Councilman Jos' Marco Serrano (D), former Assemblyman, Nelson Antonio Denis (D); and retired schoolteacher Agustin Alamo Estrada (D)

Mendez recently changed parties after 26 years in the State Senate, claiming that the Democrats were doing nothing for her constituency. [Update: Serrano won, so he'll face Mendez in November.]

Bonus Suspected Republican: former City Councilman Noach Dear, Brooklyn, who is running against State Senator Kevin S. Parker (D). Dear vehemently denies it. [Update:Dear lost in a close battle, and was also fined $45K for improper fundraising.]

Confused? Yes, that's just what the Republicans are hoping. Here's to not funding public education and missing the budget deadline for another 20 years!

September 3, 2004

After the Convention

This morning felt somewhat anti-climactic after a week of growling at delegates in white sneakers, walking blocks out of my way to get to work (note to self: next place of employment should ideally not be located at the nexus of several hotels where the President and cabinet members always stay when they come to NYC), and screaming at the television. There was also a brief moment of panic when I attempted to cross 9th Avenue by myself this morning, without the comforting presence of five cops telling me what to do.

The biggest surprise of last night's events was how totally content-free it all was. Bush delivered one of the blandest, most meaningless speeches of his career that probably didn't make any logical sense to even his supporters. The protesters on 8th Avenue shouted and held up signs, but the rally speaker on the mic when I was there spoke mainly about the struggles the protest organizations have gone through in trying to get city permits. No mention of the more than 1,825 people who have been arrested since Sunday, many of whom were held illegally without a lawyer or phone access, and some of whom were not even protesting. And little mention of George Bush.

Hopefully we'll soon get some significant writing and outcry about the treatment of arrested protesters--so far, the most comprehensive piece appears to be the Washington Post one linked to earlier. A sputtering, outraged story should come out next week in the Village Voice. Until then, note that about 2/3 of the arrested protesters were from out of state. We at the Robot are impressed at the commitment of these demonstrators to go out of their way, get arrested, and suffer through terrible conditions and illegally extended detention. Hope you can make it back to New York some time when it isn't a police state.

Blame Bloomberg

This great article in the Washington Post covers all the important issues related to the prolonged and illegal detention of the protesters -- and non-protesters -- this week. They were finally freed last night after a judge placed the City in contempt-of-court for not releasing them after his previous order yesterday afternoon.

A police official quoted in the article has the gall to blame the protesters themselves for the length of their detention, calling them "pampered." Pampered for expecting police to comply with the LAW of the state of New York and release or arraign them within 24 hours? Pampered for being a teenage girl and expecting not to be kept in a pen with grown men overnight? Pampered for not expecting to be arrested on your way home from work and then being held for 2 days?

Conspicuously absent from the article is a response from Mayor Bloomberg or any of his city hall staffers. Bloomberg was all over the tv last week "welcoming" protesters and telling everyone how we all had a right, blah blah blah. It's been clear since before the convention even began, however, that this was merely lip service. Bloomberg put the satisfaction of the national Republican party ahead of his own constituents, and the 1,700 people arrested this week suffered for it, involuntarily sacrificing their civil rights for his benefit.

Bloomberg owes the detainees and the city an apology, which will never come. It's especially ironic that the contempt fines could end up costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars -- because Bloomberg, a renowned fiscal conservative -- was too pig-headed to order the police to release everyone earlier in the week. And I suppose it'll cost the city -- meaning taxpayers like us -- a lot more if the protesters (justifiably) decide to sue. Democrats like me who have cut Bloomberg some slack because he was a life-long Democrat before running for mayor will have to reconsider and hold him accountable for this in next year's election.

Which leads me to my next point. WHERE THE HELL WAS GIFFORD MILLER?? The 34-year-old speaker of the city council goes out of his way to nitpick Bloomberg all the time, usually in front of a million cameras, and has made it clear he plans to challenge Bloomberg for mayor, and yet this week, while his own core constituency is being locked up illegally, he's been absolutely invisible. Reports have abounded all week about the detentions and wrongful arrests, and a call for action from Miller -- or even a behind-the-scenes push -- earlier in the week might have saved those people several nights in jail. But Giff's been nowhere to be found, causing me to wonder whether he -- like all other establishment Dems -- has caught a case of Liberalitis and is afraid to stand up for people's civil rights because he's afraid he'll look soft on crime and terrorism.

Dubious? While he should have been advocating for the release of the protesters, guess what he was issuing press releases about. That's right! Issues that concern rich potential donors! On Wednesday, the ole Giff Miller publicity machine turned out this gem: "SPEAKER MILLER SHOWS SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES BEING STIFLED BY THE RNC" [pdf] Businesses! I can't wait for him to dig that one out at the Chamber of Commerce's fundraising galas next spring!

Now that the convention's over, it seems probable that Giff will try to score some easy political points by standing up and demanding an investigation into how all these detainees were "lost" in the system, but that's just more lip service. Instead, I would like to demand an investigation into how Giff Miller's political integrity got lost this week.

Andre 3000 Supports the RNC Protesters, Sort Of

Andre 3000, sharply dressed as ever, unexpectedly showed up at 100 Centre Street yesterday to see about one of his interns who had been detained with the other protesters. Here are two screenshots from NY1.

andre 3000

andre 3000

He says on camera, "I think there's so much going on, that they don't really know what to do." In typical NY1 fashion, the clip is so tightly edited you don't have much of an idea who he means by "they."

Later, though, Andre was on the floor of the RNC signing autographs. More on Andre at the RNC in the WP [2nd item].

September 2, 2004

Creative Response to the Republicans

During yesterday's Unemployment Line protest, this city bus traveling downtown on Broadway went by. This is such a skillful movie poster alteration job, I almost didn't notice it.

[tx Agent 0019]

September 1, 2004

Robot On The Spot: Unemployment Line

An early morning protest at 8:13 today targeted increasing unemployment and decreased funding for job training programs. The event was organized by People for the American Way, and included thousands of people standing in a symbolic unemployment line for about three miles, stretching from Wall Street to near Madison Square Garden. Passing bus and cab drivers who had driven along the whole stretch of the line claimed it looked really cool, and we were glad to participate in a protest whose primary activity was not yelling at the police. Photos will come soon, but in the meantime, here's AP coverage.

August 31, 2004

RNC Day One: White, Straight America Gets Hoodwinked

You would think, judging from the speeches delivered at last night's Republican National Convention events, that one issue and one issue only faces America: terrorism. Here is a complete list of the topics addressed last night: September 11th, the War on Terror, and how John Kerry changes his mind a lot. Remember the DNC, and how the speakers there covered the war, the economy, health care, education, civil rights, race and class issues, and on and on? If I were sitting out there in the sea of white, straight, vanilla Republican delegates, I might get a little bored of hearing essentially the same message over and over again for three hours every night.

Let's look at McCain's speech. He talked about Iraq and the war on terror. Well honestly, what else could he talk about without drawing attention to his many divergences from the Bush platform? Could he talk about the economy? The environment? His military record? Stem cell research? Gay rights? The tax cuts? No way. He did, however, deliver some quotes that sounded like some kind of new hippie Republicanism that was all about love as a military value, a "love that is invincible" that will vanquish our enemies. During McCain's speech about how America is bringing the love and freedom of Democracy to those evil, backward Arabs, I couldn't help but think of a recent poll in Latin American countries in which more and more people in some countries say that Democracy hasn't worked out for them, and they might prefer an authoritarian government. But what do they know?

And now let's look at Giuliani, who proved once and for all that, even though people were glad to have him around after September 11th, he is still a gigantic asshole. He had a few problems getting the crowd on his side with his strong pro-New York attitude. Rudy, I've got some news for you: many Republicans hate New York and New Yorkers. Remember? When you open your speech with "Welcome to the capital of the world," and nobody cheers (well, actually, I cheered at home, but this was the only part of his speech that I liked) you might want to remember who you're talking to.

The strongest part of Giuliani's speech was probably when he characterized Bush as an unshakable leader who sticks to his beliefs even when they prove to be unpopular. This does seem to be something that people admire about Bush, but maybe Giuliani wasn't exactly the best person to wax on about this. Let's look at some of the unpopular beliefs that Giuliani held on to, even though they made him look like an insane jerk: jaywalking, dancing in bars, squeegees, Chris Ofili, and ferrets. You know, sometimes clinging to your beliefs and disregarding all other views just shows the world that you are a moron.

Another thing that Republican delegates seem to like is chanting. McCain looked like he was going to start telling the delegates to just shut UP already when they went on and on with the "Four More Years!" stuff. McCain, I am so sorry that your party is full of such embarrassing dorks, but you've done this to yourself. Even Dick Cheney looked irrate and disdainful during the second bout of chanting, even though these chants were inspired by Giuliani's praise of him as Vice President. But the saddest moment of all was Giuliani attempting to jump start his own round of chanting, this time by shaking his fist and saying "New York! New York!" until about 8 other people joined in.

Here's the first of Michael Moore's columns for USA Today. He notes that the delegates he talks to generally support socially progressive causes, and wonders how the Republican party has attracted so many supporters who do not share the party's views. Maybe that's why the party has invited so many in-name-only Republicans like Giuliani, Bloomberg, McCain, and Schwarzenegger to speak at their convention.

August 30, 2004

RNC Update: The State of the City

The population of New York has undergone a critical shift this week: a lot of delegates and media people are here, even more protesters are here, but it would appear that the added population of these visitors is outweighed by the number of New Yorkers who have left the city. The sidewalks in midtown were nearly empty this morning, a lot of restaurants and shops were closed, and there were far fewer cars on the street than on a usual weekday. The usually packed outdoor set of The Today Show at Rockefeller Plaza had only a few dozen tourists screaming at the cameras. So where is everybody? Where are the thronging masses of anarchists breaking windows and drinking the blood of patriots' babies? Perhaps the Republicans are all safely ensconsed in the militarized zone around Madison Square Garden, and all the protesters are still in their sleeping bags on the floors of host apartments in Forest Hills. One older gentleman strolling along 48th Street was wearing a t-shirt featuring a cartoon Uncle Sam holding up his two middle fingers, which were drawn to look like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, with a caption reading WE WON'T FORGET!, but he was probably just a regular mental New Yorker.

However, the few cars that are on the street are being herded by five helpful cops at each intersection, all of whom are directing traffic simultaneously. Drivers are looking a little confused about which cop's directions they should follow, but certainly aren't having any trouble with traffic.

As I passed my neighborhood firehouse this morning, I noticed that all the trucks were in the garage with the motors off, but their flashing lights were all on. The firefighters were sitting around drinking coffee. I guess that giving the apperance of alertness and preparedness is what really matters here.

Since all the protests thus far have been so sedate and uneventful, it looks like the real action will be on TV. Last night Mark Shields interviewed the sour-pussed Robert Novak on CNN, during which Shields called the Republicans "a bunch of cross-dressers" trying to play both sides by bringing out pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights speakers like Giuliani, Bloomberg, and Pataki. Novak retaliated by calling the Democrats "Stepford Wives" for following their party platform so rigidly. Meow! Perhaps more fur will fly among televised news anchors than on the streets.

August 27, 2004

Who's scarier, Cops or Anarchists?

In these days leading up to the RNC, the press is vigorously covering the few examples of creative nonviolent protest that have led to arrests, and simultaneously reporting the NYPD's references to violent anarchists that they expect to attack the city. Police chief Raymond Kelly said, "Protest organizers have an obligation to condemn the vandalism and disruption advocated by the minority. The organizers could perform a public service by telling the extremists to stay away. Instead, they obfuscate on this point."

He suggests that it is the responsibility of protest organizers to exclude potentially violent people from their events. Organizations like and United for Peace and Justice have said all along that their events will be nonviolent, and that they don't know of any organized groups that are planning a violent protest.

Now let's look at the measures taken by the NYPD against nonviolent organizers of the past few days. The activists who hung the Truth/Bush arrows sign from the Plaza Hotel were charged with first-degree assault, because one of the cops who climbed up to detain them fell through a cracked skylight and cut his leg. The spokesman for the group said one of the activists had warned the sergeant not to go on the skylight because it was cracked, but claimed the cop ignored the warning. "The last thing we wanted to have happen is anyone to get hurt," he said.

The next few days will tell, but so far, it's hard to tell why we should be afraid of protesters.

August 26, 2004

Who is George Pataki?


Interesting study in the Times today about George Pataki, the governor who tries hard to be everyone's friend. Are you a Democrat, as the majority of New Yorkers are? Well, Pataki is pro-gay rights, pro-union, and pro-choice! Are you a Republican? Well that's funny, because Pataki technically is one too! (although much of the Bush crowd appears suspicious of his loyalties.) Do you like Mario Cuomo, as everybody in New York and the Democratic political arena seems to? In his upcoming speech at the RNC in which he will introduce Bush, Pataki is recreating the Cuomo Moment. At the 1984 Democratic Convention, Cuomo delivered the keynote address, and it has been canonized as a speech for the ages - read the full text here.

But there's one other notable thing about Cuomo--he never ran for President, and Pataki beat him in the 1994 election. About his talent for delivering a great speech, Cuomo says, "It ruined me," with a bit of melancholy. "And so from that day on they would say. 'Oh, yeah, he gives speeches.' They wouldn't necessarily say it in a carping way, but that's all."

Pataki may not be the great speaker that Cuomo is, but it appears that Americans put little value on a good speech. As long as Pataki talks about security and war and America being under attack a lot, the Republicans will probably love him anyway.

Did someone tell Vince Gallo about the Osama sidewalk graffiti campaign?

And is there any way he didn't carve this into the wet cement himself?

[photo taken at Mulberry and Houston by our intrepid SoHo Correspondent]

August 25, 2004

Maybe I should rethink this "staying in NY for the RNC" thing

Even though almost everybody I work with and know in New York has long ago made plans to be somewhere else next week, I have held firm. "If I leave town during the convention, I'm letting the Republicans win!", I thought. And besides, I am curious about what kind of mayhem will ensue. But today, I'm starting to feel uneasy. Last night I was walking down my street, which is a full 14 blocks north of Madison Square Garden, and saw these signs posted absolutely everywhere. No stopping at all, or your car will be towed. The thing is, the block I was on is a typical block in the Times Square area, filled with gigantic hotels and Broadway theaters. You know, places that might tend to have a lot of non-suspect cars stopped in front of them at all hours of the day and night. Can the NYPD seriously expect the entirety of Times Square traffic to not stop in front of the hundreds of things that bring people to Times Square in the first place? For a whole week? And where are they going to store all those towed cars?

It seems they have already thought of that one, but in terms of people storage. One of the piers in Chelsea will be opened for storage of arrested protesters. Well, that solves the problem of how to arrest hundreds and hundreds of people at a time, and not bog down the offices at 100 Center Street! I'll just quote directly from the article for the rest of this post, since the original language is far more unnerving and scary than anything I could come up with:

"Cops fear some protesters might hang around after the convention to disrupt other events, like the U.S. Open, so the pen will remain open indefinitely (!!! -Ed.), the source said. They'll be frisked, searched and have their property confiscated at the temporary lockup.

But, unlike regular detainees who are taken to a precinct, they won't be fingerprinted or processed until they're bussed to Central Booking at 100 Center Street in Manhattan.

Central Booking is opening an extra-large process center on the fifth floor to brace for the additional duties. The DA's office is also planning for an influx of arrests, with extra judges, court officers, corrections' officers and legal aid scheduled.

The massive three-story pier, almost a block long, can hold about 1,000 detainees, the source said. If it fills, the NYPD will bring them to other boroughs, starting with Brooklyn."

Further Osama Speculation

It appears that those frequenting downtown Manhattan also have strong viewpoints about the political affiliations of Osama bin Laden, in addition to the stencil-graffiti-politicos in Brooklyn that we covered earlier. This photo, taken on Prince Street by our SoHo correspondent, demonstrates more metaphoric speculation on Osama's voting plans, conflating his supposed preferred candidate with his actual identity.

bush stencil

August 23, 2004

Political Turf Wars

A silent war has been raging in my neighborhood over the question on everyone's mind: just who is Osama bin Laden supporting in November? Last week, the words "Osama Votes Kerry" appeared spraypainted on area sidewalks. I barely had time to think "whahuh?" before another pundit intervened to alter the message slightly:

"Well, that's clearer," I thought. Until the next morning, when the original activist returned, this time with the hot pink spraypaint of fury!

Would the Kerry supporter retaliate? That very evening, I came home to:

Not only that, the paint was still wet! I had missed the Kerry bandit by mere minutes.

Over the weekend, the turf war expanded considerably - where once there was one message per block, now there are two or three. I'm personally fascinated to see where how this battle will end. Will it continue until the sidewalks of Brooklyn glow pink even in the dead of night?

Oh Osama, which way will you go? Will it be Bush/Cheney? Or Kerry/Edwards?

Presidential hopefuls, forget the vetarans, the youth, the undecided voter - real Americans know it's Osama's vote that really counts.

August 22, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: Meow Mix Cafe

The good thing about carrying your digital camera around is that if you should happen to pass by the newly-opened Meow Mix Cafe, you can get your picture taken with Mr. Meow.

Now, I'll admit, when I heard about this new restaurant where doting cat owners can bring their feline friends to dine (but only if the cats are on leashes, a helpful staffer informed me), my first thought was, "That's the lamest thing I've ever heard."

It turns out my first impression was not entirely correct. The cafe isn't just an opportunity for cat-fetishists to dress their pets in bonnets and take them out for kitty tea parties. It's actually just a temporary store selling Meow Mix products with a few tables in the back. Lunch for you and your cat requires only a $2 donation, and all those proceeds are donated to the ASPCA.

Meow Mix always comes through with a good marketing gimmick, from their soul-destroying trademark jingle to the premiere of Meow TV on the Oxygen network last year to, most delightfully, CEO Richard Thompson's stunt in the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village apartment complex this past February. The complex's owner, MetLife, had offered a $150 reward to any employee who turned in illegal cat owners in an effort to boot rent-controlled tenants out and convert their homes into luxury housing. Thompson responded by parking the Meow-Mix Mobile(tm) in Stuyvesant Oval, giving away free cat food, and offering $160 to workers who refused to give up cat owners.

So Meow Mix, you go open your kitty cafes wherever you wish. I'm a sucker for a socially responsible business.

August 17, 2004