Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sister Wendy explains it all

Sister Wendy. She was on PBS several years back. A nun stalking the great works of Art, gliding through the halls of great museums in her nun's habit like a listless Whistler's Mother.

Sister Wendy Beckett. A consecrated virgin, an expert on Art, an unfortunate last name for a nun.

So, like, Greg and I have started watching the series Sister Wendy made for PBS, and it's a nice, appealing show: the nun going on and on about the heaving breasts of this work, or the phallic symbols in that work, or the Titian reds or the Seurat dots... the Marc Chagall interpretation of America, the Joan Mitchell interpretation of a city landscape.

Sister Wendy says this about Hopper's Nighthawks: "I've never actually been in a college dorm, but I'm told there was a period when every college dorm in America had stuck up on the wall a poster of Hopper's Nighthawks."

Sister Wendy says this about Wood's American Gothic: "She doesn't look at us. She looks away, as if, though her face expresses the impassivity... she wants more. And although her dress is absolutely form-disguising, how pathetically she has tried, the braid around the pinafore, and the cameo. Which shows the head of a beautiful woman with free-flowing hair."

Sister Wendy. She knows Art, and is Art herself, a consecrated virgin, in a habit, who has never entered a college dorm, and who scrutinizes the clothing of the woman in American Gothic, calling the clothes "pathetic" and "form-disguising." I like Sister Wendy. But I wonder if she is a scholar of Art because she enjoys it, or because she pretends she's not a nun while discussing it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

If this isn't nice

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, ''If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.''

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ''If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.''

That’s one favor I’ve asked of you.

That's a quote by Kurt Vonnegut. If that's not a nice, true quote, I don't know what is.

Yesterday, after Greg got in from work (and was properly greeted by Waffles), we strapped the dog into his leash and harness, and took him across the street to the park. It had just rained. The air was thick, but cool, although the sun occasionally pushed through the dense purple clouds and raised the temperature up several degrees. Breathing felt like drowning.

Waffles, a Dachshund, is not a fan of rain. Or maybe he's okay with rain, but he's not fond of sloshing through puddles or pouncing through wet grass. Usually, when he sees the slick sidewalk outside our building's door, he stops dead in the doorway, plants his paws, refuses to take a step. Yesterday, though, he trotted right out, and padded between us as we took him up the steps of Isham Park. Waffles, when he's in a good mood, walks with his ears flopped forward, his tail straight out, and he bounces.

So that's how he walked. We steered him into the grass, and let him off his leash. Since it was just after the rain, there were few people in the park. One young woman stood a good deal away from us, one hand shielding her eyes from the dull white glare of post-rain NY, the other on her hip, and she watched her tiny Pomeranian diving through the uncut park grass.

"Oh," Greg said. "There's Butterfly. He had pneumonia last week."

"Looks fine now," I said, watching as the dog disappeared into the tall grass, then shot back up, landed, disappeared again, over and over. From here, I could see why the dog was named Butterfly: huge ears.

Since we got a dog, Greg and I have entered into the dog-owner's community of Inwood. We see the same people each time we walk our dog, and have casual conversations while our dogs sniff each other's butts, play around. Waffles bit a dog last week, though, a Lab named Trouble twice Waffles' size, so Greg and I are lately cautious about our dog's temperament around other dogs.

Greg began running around the park, Waffles shooting past him, then turning and running straight for him. Waffles is a quick runner, and a rainbow formed around him from all the drops of fallen rain he shook out of the grass. The sun would come out, and Waffles would run in no particular direction, and then he'd glow in technicolor.

At full speed, he hit a hole and flipped ass over tits, so to speak. A perfect, rigid flip, like a stick being thrown. He landed on his feet and continued chasing Greg around. I was wearing flip-flops. Whenever I tried to run, my feet slipped and my flip-flops slid over to the top of my feet, so I gave up.

In the park, there's a rock rising out of the grass about a foot, a mound. The neighborhood witch casts spells here on this rock, which I guess makes it an altar. Sometimes there's rose petals scattered on the rock, sometimes herbs. Always the butt ends of cigars. She casts her spells, and smokes cigars, and does no harm that I know of. Maybe she gave Butterfly pneumonia, or maybe she cured him.

Greg tired long before Waffles. Greg and I stood in one place and watched our dog shooting back and forth across the park, dive-bombing pigeons, barking at squirrels. A few weeks ago, he managed to tree a squirrel, and often returns to that same tree to bark at it, making sure the squirrel stays good and treed. He bounces on his front paws when he barks, and his tail stands up like a flag pole. His ears flop over his eyes. Cute.

We put him on his leash, and walked back down the stairs. The stairs are long and secluded, and lead down to Broadway. People do a lot of drugs along these stairs. They also sit quietly, drinking a beer, and that's what Frank, an old Irish guy, was doing as we walked past. Frank was sitting on the stairs, drinking a Bud from a paper bag, and his dog, Lucky--a white mutt--was tethered to him. Lucky and Waffles like each other, so we stopped, chatted with Frank a while, and let Waffles and Lucky do their thing.

"Helluva storm earlier," Frank told us. "Trees down on the back row." He gestured with his beer to the general area where trees had been blown down by the winds. "Watched'em falling from my living room window. Damndest thing."

And then we were out of the park, Waffles leading us across Broadway. We took him to the pet store around the corner from us, bought him a chew toy and some doggie breath mints. The mints smell worse than his mouth, frankly, and have words like 'Bow-wow' and 'Ruff!' written on the tiny minty bones. "Talking bones," I read aloud from the mint container.

"Yeah. People get nuts with dog stuff," Greg said.

Then we went back to our apartment.

If that's not nice, I don't know what is.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Oh hai!

Since I never write on this blog thing, I thought I'd not write on someone else's blog for a while.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Lonliness of the Long-Distance Uptown Commuter

Sunday nite the ceiling of the 181st Street 1-train station collapsed.

Here's a picture of the station, pre-collapse. (The picture, btw, is from
It's actually a beautiful station (ill-kept obviously--the fucking ceiling fell in), and this picture doesn't do it justice.

Going to work this AM wasn't so bad--I took a cab. What sucked was returning home at the end of the day.

Here's what you should probably know to appreciate this entry: The 168th Street station offers a connection between the 1 train and the A train. On a typical, non-collapsed-ceiling day, I wouldn't bother going over to the A. However, on this collapsed-ceiling day, I had no choice. To get to the A, you must exit the 1 train, walk along the platform to a set of stairs leading to an overpass above the tracks, cross the overpass, walk along a short hallway to a bank of elevators, take one elevator (or two, if you're an insane hobo with split personalities) up to the next level, walk along another hallway and then down another set of steps to the A train platform. Not ideal, but this process usually only takes a few minutes. Today, it took me nearly 30 minutes just to get to the overpass.

Here's what happened: We pulled into 168, and a garbled announcement said, "Due to the ceiling collapse at 181st, there are NO uptown trains beyond right here. You people want to go on, you got to transfer to the A, or walk your happy asses up to the free shuttle bus making all local stops."

No one in my car was surprised. We all knew this was our fate. So we wandered out onto the platform.

The station was hot. Stifling. And it smelled like armpits roasting on an open fire. Rather than handing out free breathmints, I honestly think stores in NYC should consider handing out free samples of deodorant.

There was a cute youngish guy in an Oxford shirt, with a brief case. I zeroed in on him, and decided to keep pace with him--not because I thought we'd have a fling, but because, in crowds, I always tend to pick out one person to gauge my progress; if he falls behind and out of sight, I'm probably being an asshole by pushing through the crowd too aggressively, and if he shoots ahead, I'm probably being too meek in getting thru, but if we remain more or less together, then I'm being civil yet insistent.

It's a game, really. And so Cute Oxford Guy was my playmate and point of reference while making my way to the stairs leading up to the overpass to the elevators going up to the A train.

I was listening to an interview with a documentary filmmaker while all this was going on. Her documentary was on "Up with People," and I was delighted to hear her call those chipper bastards 'cultists'. Turns out Glenn Close is the most famous alum of "Up with People." As I looked at the overpass, about four yards away and above me, I imagined the hundreds of slouching bodies trudging across it to the elevators suddenly bursting into a cheerful but forgettable song, then the weight of their cheerful forgettableness causing the overpass to collapse onto the tracks. How many people could that overpass take? 181st had collapsed--would the strain put on 168 cause the station to crumble as well?

Cute Oxford Guy had a transparent bandaid on his neck, just behind his right ear. Here's the thing about transparent bandaids: If you are bleeding heavily when you put one on, it's fucking disgusting because the cotton square over the wound absorbs your blood, spreads the blood out in an irregular pattern, like a Pollack painting made of body fluids. The bandaid is transparent, kids, but the blood remains visible, splotchy and gross.

Cute Oxford Guy and I were matching step for step going into the bottle-neck of the stairs leading from the platform to the overpass. The closer we got to the stairs, the closer we were pushed together. The tighter things got. Elbows were used. Curses were thrown. An enormous woman with a large bag decided to take the stairs at full-throttle, and used her bag as a battering ram, saying, "Fuck this. I'm getting the hell out of here."

She didn't get very far very fast. She encountered a compressed wall of flesh. The flesh looked like the Great Wall of China, going off into the distance, up hills and across meadows and into obscurity.

A guy behind me cursed in Spanish, then swooned. He was sweating through his t-shirt. One of his companions caught him before he fell, then lifted his arm over a shoulder to steady him, and together they soldiered on, one supporting the other. A blond chick with a hair-bun and thick glasses pulled out a book and calmly read Dostoevsky as she nudged forward. And Cute Oxford Guy, to my secret disappointment, pulled out his cell phone to check reception, even though we were nearly a half-mile underground. Idiot.

Inch by inch in the suffocating , fragrant heat, we made our way to the stairs, then up them, then onto the overpass. Beneath us was nothing except a plummet to the train tracks. On the overpass, there was an indie concert feel to the crossing as we all tried to match the beat of our steps to one another's, and sweated, and were closed in, and were in vague mortal danger because of the restricted space. Each of us depended on the other to keep sane and safe. One nut-job could cause chaos. One outburst, and there'd be a mosh-pit.

Across from the uptown-train platform at the opposite end of the overpass was the downtown-train platform, which was choked with hundreds of optimistic people waiting for a downtown train. Solid people, just like our overpass. These people were on a different path, obviously, but they were a part of us. Stairs led down from either side of the overpass into the claustrophobic hell that was the downtown platform.

Our path was across the overpass and into a hall leading to the elevators. And the elevators would occasionally open, and a stream of people would push their way out of the elevators, into our escaping mass trying to get in, and these people were salmon against the stream, and because the downtowners could not see the downtown platform, they were still under the impression that they had a chance to catch the next downtown train. Which they did not. And we uptowners didn't bother to tell them because we were too busy pushing toward the open elevators.

So the closer we uptowners all got to those elevators, the more dangerous it got. The elevator doors would open, and 30 or so downtowners would rush out of the elevators, push through the uptown crowd as if their asses were on fire, force themselves along the short hall to the downtown platform, and realize holy fuck there was no way to shove themselves onto the downtown platform. So they'd stand in the hall or at the terminus of the overpass, blocking our way to the elevators leading up to the A train and the shuttle bus. Tempers flared. Space was violated. Worlds collided.

The large woman with the large bag snapped first because a thin woman with a stroller--but no baby--wanted to go downtown, and heard a train rumbling in, and did what New Yorkers are trained to do: she bolted. Despite the China Wall of smelly sweaty flesh coming at her across the overpass, the thin woman with the stroller decided to run to the already stuffed downtown platform to catch the train she could not possibly squeeze herself, or her stroller, onto. And when she bolted, she smashed into the large lady with the large purse. The large lady with the large purse said, "Oh hell no," and began striking out, immediately and indiscriminately, with her large purse.

This caused Cute Oxford Guy to go into hero mode. He lunged forward, splitting the swooning guy from his support companion, to tackle the large lady, but missed and landed on the stroller lady. The blond chick took this opportunity to work out some aggression, and bopped the Cute Oxford Guy on the top of his head as he lunged. Since she had thick glasses, you can imagine how thick her book was. The smack of her book dropped Cute Oxford Guy like a ton of subway-ceiling bricks.

I turned off my iPod, so I could hear things a bit better.

Down the hall, another elevator opened, and more downtowners took a gasp before plunging into the sweaty group of uptowners trying to get on the elevator.

The large lady with the large purse decided the woman with the stroller was the least of her worries, and began pummeling Cute Oxford Guy, who was on the ground. His neck wound was bleeding again, and the transparent bandaid was even less transparent than it had been. The red cotton square couldn't absorb all the blood. Meanwhile, all of us were shuffling forward to the hall, to the elevators, to freedom.

And sweating. All of us, sweating.

I got grazed by the swinging purse a few times, and someone elbowed me in the ribs, then apologized, then stomped on my foot. An elderly man leaned over the overpass wall and looked down at the tracks below, as if considering his options--flight or fight. Cute Oxford Guy stood, and the woman with the childless stroller pushed on, fiercely, her legs straining against the relentless flow of the uptowners. When she got far enough out of the elevator hall to see the downtown platform clogged with people, she said, "Well fuck this shit! Goddammit," and turned to join us on our quest to the elevators, where she had just come from. The blond with the book whistled a few notes from "Anatevka," laughed to herself, continued reading.

In the end, we all made it out alive. I don't know how. But I'll always be haunted by what happened that day, in the 168th Street station of the 1 train. And I'll never forget the smells, the heat, dread, the controlled anger. I'll never forget Oxford Guy, and his many wounds; I'll never forget Swooning Guy, nor his companion/savior supporting him; and I'll never forget Large Lady with the Knock-off Louis Vuitton bag, swinging it around and around her head, beating back the savagery of the Woman with the Childless Stroller.

And Blond Chick, hair in a bun, armed with Russian literature. I'll remember her most of all.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Playing for change

Here's the original youtube video:

And the Colbert Report performance:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Playing for Change - Stand by Me
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMeryl Streep

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sarah Palin: Cliche and Desired

At this point, writing a Sarah Palin piece is lazy cliche. If you dislike her, she’s an easy target for ridicule, a sort of supernova Dan Quayle or Britney Spears. If you like her, she’s something to rally around, like a bonfire or a book-burning.

I feel bad for her because the party that created her didn't prepare her, or even understand what they created. She no longer has a political party--instead, she has a cadre of supporters on Facebook and Twitter. Sad. She was getting Republican speaker invites but now she's only getting friend invites.

I feel for Sarah Palin because she doesn't realize how over her political life is. She still thinks she has influence because her friends on Facebook and her followers on Twitter tell her how important she is--which makes her an average American rather than a dynamic leader. I mean, jesus, everyone's important on the Internets, amirite?

Better: Palin is like Sean Young’s Rachel, in Blade Runner, a Replicant Republican, obliviously toeing the line without knowing there is a line. Rachel is urged to take a test proving her humanity. Her manufacturer encourages her to take the test, and she consents because she doesn't realize she's manufactured, and she fails the test, and she's not told about her failure because, meh, she's better off not knowing. Let her think she passed.

I feel for Sarah Palin, and I shouldn't because every pro for her is a con for me. Every time she opens her mouth, I'm convinced a spotted owl drops dead, mid-flight. Every political point she makes leaves me gasping for breath. Panic attack. And her sentences, such as they are, when spoken from mouths like hers, they can be the type of sentences such as all sentences might be afraid of because, also, those are words coming out the mouth of a person considered viable for leadership in this great real America of ours. Also.

Still. I feel for her. She took a test without understanding the implications of the test, and without recognition of failure. Like Rachel, she lacks true self-awareness. Like Rachel, she's both dead and vitally alive. Determined, but doomed.

And, you know, a blog cliche.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tonight's Special: Cake and death

A new restaurant opened up in the neighborhood where I work.

The proprietor and chef of this new eating establishment is an energetic, hard-working guy in his late forties. Charles. Not his real name, but close enough. Charles has paid his dues, and recently convinced a group of backers to finance his dream: his own restaurant. He named the place after his son, put up signs stating he’d be open by last November, and began renovations.

Renovations took longer than Charles intended (contractors, permits, licenses, inspections). Five months later, as the neighborhood was emptying out for the summer, Charles finally opened.

I’d meet Charles on the street and ask how things were going. “The bar is doing great,” he’d say. “But no one’s buying any food.”

Whenever I see him, Charles is dressed in a chef’s uniform. The white uniform is always streaked with dried marinara and obscure stains from his eclectic menu. Charles smokes a lot. In May, the smells of sauces and fresh beef were on his clothes. By mid-June the smell of tobacco was overpowering. And always this: "Everyone in this neighborhood is in the fucking Hamptons. They're going to fucking Europe. I don't know how I'll make it." And his uniform smelling less like food, more like tobacco.

When Ed McMahon died, Charles got an idea, and this idea has become a theme.

The day after McMahon died, the restaurant’s windows were covered with pictures of the man, advertising a “New and Tasty Sidekick Tribute Dish!” I have no idea what the sidekick dish was, but it was called The Hi-Oh! Special, and probably involved cheese.

I saw Charles the day after the Hi-Oh! Special’s introduction, and asked, “So, how’d the McMahon thing go?”

Charles took a step back from me and threw out his arms. “That much better!” he said. “Still a lot of people at the bar, but they ate food!” And yes, his uniform smelled more like his eclectic menu than it smelled like Camel Lights.

The next day, when I saw him again, I asked, “Still picking up?”

“No,” he said. “But Farrah Fawcett just died so we’ve got a new special up. Two angel food cake cups with whip cream and a strawberry on each.”


“It isn’t getting much interest,” Charles said, shrugging. I told him Greg and I were dropping by later for dinner, and assured him that we’d order the Farrah for dessert.

Except we didn’t order it. Didn’t have time. I beat Greg to the restaurant, and opened up my laptop to check the news while waiting on Greg to meander down. And the news was this: Michael Jackson, dead. Charles had come out of the kitchen to say hello to me, took one look at my monitor, and dashed away. Almost immediately, the restaurant was blaring Michael Jackson tunes, and a new special had been put up: free black and white cookies with purchase of any meal.

The next day, I mentioned to Charles that Walter Cronkite was near death. Charles pulled out a cell phone, pressed a button, then began yelling at his manager. “Someone just told me Walter Cronkite’s about to die,” he said. “This is the stuff you should be up on. We’ve got to plan ahead.”

Before Cronkite croaked, though, there were Karl Malden specials, Billy Mays specials. No way the manager was up on those deaths--who could be? When Gidget, the chihuahua famous for Taco Bell ads, sniffed the great fire hydrant in the sky, Charles offered a buffalo-wing special with each Corona sold (he told me the tiny chicken nibblers looked like roasted chihuahua, then laughed a raspy, nicotine-laced laugh).

Things slowed for Charles, then Cronkite’s predicted death came to pass, and he introduced a Cronkite croque monsieur (tastefully spelled “croak anchor”), and business picked up again. Then things died down, and John Hughes dropped dead.

The special tonight at Charles’ restaurant is the Breakfast Club: an omelet with bacon strips, served on a ciabatta roll. And sausage on the side, if you ask for a side of Abe Froman.

Didn't see Charles today, but I’m glad for him. The summer of random celebrity deaths may just keep him in business til the natives return in the fall.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Twas the night before Obamamas...

Tomorrow is President Obama's birthday. Perhaps. After a few days of wading through the theories and suppositions, the lengthy screeds and YouTube vids, the lines and lines of furious comment-typing put forth by the so-called Birthers, I'm not entirely sure if Obama was born, or if he was harvested in a field. Barack Obama. Broccoli Rabe. It's all the same.

After listening to Orly Taitz (Tay-EETZ, I've just now learned, is the proper pronunciation for this wonderful woman's last name) on MSNBC earlier today, I've got a confession: I believe her. No one with such passion can be completely wrong. No one receiving such attention from the responsible media can be, in fact, bat-shit insane. Remember Britney Spears a year ago? All the attention she got? Like Britney, Orly is demonstrably sane.

And the media know Orly's right; the media trust her. Why else would they waste time talking to her?

In the past few days, Orly Taitz, doctor/lawyer/realtor, has been a featured guest on all major 24 hour news channels, on NPR talk shows, on The Colbert Report, and mentioned in several hundreds of news articles. She is clearly an expert at something besides realty, dentistry, law and taekwondo, and her issue--Barack Obama's fictitious birth on an obscure island in America's forgotten state of Hawaii--most certainly demands our nation's full attention.

Here, on Obamamas Eve, it is important to get the word out: Orly is right. Without question. How can someone who spends so much time in front of cameras, someone cited in hundreds of news articles, someone who so sanely and calmly presents her well-considered point of view be flat-out wrong?

Before you answer that rhetorical question (a mere rhetorical flourish, to be sure) take into advisement this fact: Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate exists. It is in her possession. It is no mere forged document; it is a tangible piece of paper, photographed and emailed to her by anonymous sources, lacking only the birth-doctor's signature and a few (easily explained) discrepancies with what you and I call "reality."

Certainly, the document has been discredited. That's what they want you to think: the document is clearly as fake as Obama's winning smile. But Orly knows better, and she's saying she knows better, constantly and with such persistent media coverage she might as well be the reanimated corpse of Michael Jackson.

Perhaps if the nation would listen to Dr. Taitz, our economy'd improve. Perhaps we'd have health care (not that evil socialized thing NObama's pushing, but proper health care from insurance companies which do the proper capitalist thing by putting money ahead of peoples' lives). Perhaps--just perhaps--if Dr. Taitz's voice were even more present in the media (her own 30 minute show, perhaps? No--full hour!), everything wrong with our nation would be set right. Maybe this is why the media are paying her such respect. Rather than discuss issues of "importance," it's best to let Dr. Taitz talk and talk and talk, because she, and not rational discourse, is the way to our national salvation.

We're through the looking-glass, people. We must stop being children, full of fanciful dreams and half-hearted intentions, and become the adults Orly Taitz wants us to be. No longer assume you have a government. Instead, be brave. Come with me. Come over to the side of the Birthers. There is no longer a United States. There is only a loose gathering of like-minded individuals, a mob, if you will, capable of ruling ourselves. If not for the media, the brave Dr. Taitz would be limited to the lunacy of the Internet, a strident voice of unreason and bitter defeat. But because the media give her an unending amount of air time and spilled ink, she has relevance. We have relevance. Together through Orly and the compliant media, we are able to spread the word: Obama is not real.

How can you deny Dr. Orly Taitz? Watch how she expertly presents her case--our case!

On this, Obamamas Eve, let the truth ring from the mountain tops. NObama is not president! We're free at last! Free at last! Great Orly Taitz, we're free at last!

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