The Unbearable Banishment: October 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hath not a Jew eyes?

I'm usually pretty quick to dismiss the most recent efforts of guys like Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. At this point in their careers, they phone in their performances. They're the same character in every film. Even Clint Eastwood's angry old man routine is getting kind of stale.

On Thursday I saw Al Pacino play Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. I'm like everybody else. I get sucked into these shows because it's a thrill to see if a name-brand actor can deliver the goods on stage. Holy Mother of Jesus, this guy has it. I saw Pacino transform. He vanished into his role as Shylock and became a completely new, fully-formed human being—unrecognizable from anything he's done on film. It was a pretty impressive feat.

This is an emotionally complicated piece to sit through. You find yourself laughing at the comedic aspects but also watching in abject horror as Shylock is, quite unfairly, stripped of his business, his daughter and his faith by what are supposed to be the "good" Christians of Venice. (Every one of them a blatant anti-Semite, which I suppose was all the rage in 1597.) One of his punishments, none of which, it can be argued, he deserved, required that he abandon his Jewish faith and become a Christian. In one of the final scenes, a center section of the stage opens and a pool of calf-deep water rises. He is forcefully dunked three times and baptized by a priest, while his Jewish family looks on in horror.

After that we all had a good laugh at the lighthearted closing scene where Portia's husband is made to look foolish by her clever manipulations.

During the trial scene, dear Lily Rabe stood her ground and gave as good as she got. An excellent Portia. The play really was just the two of them, though. The other actors were fine, but I don't think Shakespeare fleshed out their characters very well. There was only so much they could do with the roles.

Edit: Have a look at this brief clip. This is how it's done.

Al Pacino in the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Merchant of Venice.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Somewhere over the rainbow

When I left work yesterday, there was a steady rain. I ducked and weaved between the raindrops and made it to rotten old Port Authority relatively unscathed. We came out of the Lincoln Tunnel on the Jersey side and it had stopped raining. We turned a corner and I saw this:

Boy, if this isn't a metaphor, then I don't know what is. It was vibrant and bright. The picture doesn't do it justice. By the time I got my camera out we had shifted position but when I first laid eyes on this, it came down directly onto Times Square. A direct hit!

This may be bad poetry, but Manhattan has always been the Emerald City to me. And in my world, Times Square is what lies at the end of the rainbow.

* * *

I had this friend, Klinger, who was one of the all-time great schemers. He had a million ideas for cutting corners and gaming the system.

My favorite grift was the one he pulled on the post office. He and his Chinese girlfriend, Fun, decided to throw a dinner party. This was long before the internet invaded our lives in any meaningful way, so they sent the invitations via the post office (which now seems quaint and unsophisticated).

He took all the invitations, addressed them to himself and put the invitees return address on the back. Then he deposited them in various Manhattan post offices and letter boxes, but didn't affix any stamps. Every single invitation was delivered with "RETURN TO SENDER FOR INSUFFICIENT POSTAGE" stamped in red on the front. Genius.

We both kind of liked the same girl in that special way, if you catch my meaning. An actress named Mimi. (I was a sucker for actresses in my youth.) Mimi took up with a successful artist who had a place out in the Hamptons. She would go there for the weekend and Klinger and I would sit in Manhattan and stew in our rejection. We'd spend the weekend insulting his talent and manhood and question Mimi's taste in men.

Klinger tried his hand at acting, writing, stand-up comedy, directing and promoting, all with limited success. He eventually broke up with Fun and moved to Los Angeles to try his luck there. I wonder what ever happened to that guy?

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's a thin line between artist and thief

I'm a big Roy Lichtenstein fan but the Morgan Library does him no favors in the Black and White Drawings 1961-1968 exhibit currently up through January 2nd. Pop art has always been criticized for not being "serious." In my mind, that's a load of horseshit. The works that Lichtenstein, Warhol, Damien Hirst, Red Grooms, et. al. have produced are fun to look at. Does it have to be deep all the time? Lighten up, snobs!

One criticism is that pop art lacks originality. Well, they naysayers may have a point. Lichtenstein made a career out of reproducing already existing comic drawings and rechristening them as art. The Morgan takes some of his work and lays it side-by-side with the source material and do you know what? It's kind of disheartening! He really did just copy comic panels and call it art.

All pics clickable. Clandestinely take with my crappy cell phone camera. I got yelled at by security.

I still think he's a great artist and it hasn't robbed my of any enjoyment, but I wonder how the original artists who drew these covers feel? Can you imagine?! These drawing are worth hundreds of thousands and some of his paintings have sold for millions! That the source material a lousy 12 cent comic should be taken into consideration when evaluating the art but, honestly, it simply doesn't matter to me.

Having said that, I thought it was a great exhibit. Even though they're black and white drawings, they're fully realized pieces—not studies or works in progress.

* * *

In addition to the Lichtenstein exhibit, the Morgan also has a juicy Degas: Drawings and Sketchbooks exhibit through January 23rd. It's just 20 drawings and two sketchbooks, so it's easy to do both the Lichtenstein and Degas exhibits in just one visit.

It's worth your while to take a few minutes and click though the online exhibit of the drawings. They're so beautiful. There's a few haunting self portraits.

The exhibit includes prototype sketches of his little dancer sculpture.

That's a longtime favorite piece of 8-Year Old Daughter.

* * *

Random shot of the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and 5th Avenue. Thanks, Romans, for the cool columns!

Friday, October 22, 2010

No bullets in the chamber

I don't have a damn to write about. I think I might have writer's block. Perhaps something sufficiently entertaining/horrifying will occur over the weekend. Until then, here's a beach post from summer that's been languishing in drafts for a few months.

* * *

We visited Seaside Heights on a hot, sunny afternoon. We don't go there often because it's a bit of a drive for us and there are nice beaches much, much closer. But Seaside Heights has a kick ass boardwalk, so I nag Mrs. Wife into going a few times each season.

Here's the giant, Plexiglas Alfred E. Neuman statue that's mounted on the roof of a carnival game. He use to have something in his hand—I think a shovel or an ax—but it's long gone. I grew up on a steady diet of Mad Magazine and when I saw this for the first time I almost wept. Some little animals have thrown mud balls on his face. Bastards. It's like spitting on the Mona Lisa.

This game causes a TONS of controversy every summer. Shoot the Guido. You rent a paintball rifle and shoot at some guy who runs around dressed like a Mafia don. There's a large segment of the Italian/American community who deeply resent the term "Guido." They feel it's a derogatory racial term. Their argument is that this is no different than if the game was called Shoot the Kike or Shoot the Coon. I hate to sound like I don't have a sense of humor but I see their point. I'm Italian and am not bothered by the term Guido, but they make a pretty convincing case, don't you think?

Midway Steak is one of my favorite food kiosks. It's got all the major beach food groups: cheese steaks, Italian sausages, burgers, cheese fries, etc., etc. Urp.

That afternoon, we were lucky enough to stumble across a performance by the fabulous rock-a-billy hellcats, The Razorbacks. Good Christ almighty, they're great musicians. The guitarist/vocalist is astonishing. I honestly have no idea how anyone could NOT like rock-a-billy. They were playing one of the sports bars on the boardwalk. The music poured out onto the beach and I had to wander in for a listen.

Geeze, this post is making me miss summer a little bit. And it's only October! I'm screwed!

Me + 4-Year Old Daughter + New York Times

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to be rich 101

I designed another marketing piece that's intended for a high net worth/ultra high net worth audience. It's a conference invitation. The speakers include representatives from a company called The Institute for Preparing Heirs and another from The Wealth Legacy Group. They do exactly what their names imply; train heirs on how to handle the wealth they're in line to inherit.

Does that blow your mind just a little bit, as it does mine? That there are companies whose sole purpose it is to train people how to be rich? Don't get me wrong; I think it's a fantastic idea. Without proper guidance, an heir could piss away the wealth that previous generations built up on stupid shit like $600 shoes and $150,000 automobiles. But it's a concept that's so foreign to me and so far out of my ken, that learning of their existence was a shock. The feeling is no different than if I had just found out there are support groups for space aliens who are stranded on earth.

I spent a goodly chunk of my life worrying about money. (Still do, although less so.) I didn't grow up dirt poor but we always seemed to be broke. I'm pretty sure my dad died penniless, although I don't know for certain. [He left when I was 16 and I never heard from him again. Believe me, I was better off for it.] After my mother passed away and her estate settled, there was about $63 left.

Can you imagine gliding through life never, ever worrying about money? Yeah, yeah, money doesn't buy happiness. I know. It took me years to learn that hard lesson. I had to meet a series of wealthy, miserable New Yorkers to be finally be convinced of it. But it sure can sure ward off a lot angst, don't you think?

* * *

This is as close as I ever want to get to a stroke. Wings is about to open at the Second Stage Theater. In it, a woman awakens from a stroke. The first half of the play is seen through her addled, broken mind. It's a visual and auditory hallucination. Although the audience can understand her clear, rational thoughts, her medical team cannot. Their dialog, in turn, is babbled nonsense. The script must have been murder to memorize.

It's a contrivance that could have gone horribly wrong but it holds together remarkably well. Broadway veteran Jan Maxwell is on stage the entire time and produces real tears when the script calls for it. That's not easy, folks! The running time is a swift :65 minutes and that's fine with me. It's a pretty dark stuff but a compelling night out.

Actress Patricia Clarkson sat a few seats down from me. I try to play it cool but, all these years later, I still like spotting the celebs.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Avoid contact with eyes

This is my little corner of the medicine cabinet. If you share a bathroom with a wife + two daughters, it's all you're allocated. Take a look at the two bottles in the center. Can you tell which is the Murine ear drops and which is the Bausch & Lomb Advanced Eye Relief?

Of course you can't. They're identical. I suppose if you were to grab the eye drops and put them in your ear, it would only result in a squishy, ineffective cleaning. But if you were to accidentally grab the ear drops and put them in your eyes, as I did, you'd have a real problem on your hands.

We were in a hurry leaving for the neighborhood Halloween party. The kids were downstairs in their costumes, ready to go. I finished getting dressed and quicklybecause starring at monitors day and night is starting to make my eyes throb constantlyI grabbed the eye drops, walked to the bedroom (I, being a multi-tasker) and popped a few in my eyes. Except it wasn't the eye drops. It was the ear drops.

It burned. And burned. And burned. Tears started streaming down my face. I rushed to the sink and feverishly started to flush my eyes out with water. Meanwhile, everyone is getting quite impatient with me because they don't want to be late to the festivities and I'm taking so long. I tried calling out for Mrs. Wife but the words were choked in my throat.

Eventually the burning subsided. I straightened up and looked at myself in the mirror. My face was soaked and where my eyes are normally white, it was red. I looked like a vampire after a good meal. Everything looked kind of wavy.

Why in God's name would they make the bottles so similar? Obviously, I'm at fault, but manufactures should protect people like me from myself. When my vision cleared I read the warnings and, sure enough, it said to avoid contact with eyes and flush with water if you can't manage to do that. At least I got the remedy part right.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I have fantastic news!

Guess what, everyone? The October issue of the Undie Press, featuring my monthly column, Books You Cannot Read, just posted. This month, I give the business to Charles Bukowski.

And I'll bet you thought it was going to be just another dull Saturday night, didn't you?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cleaning out the closet

Here are a few odds and ends that can't stand on their own as a proper post but are too good to trash.

* * *

If you're out for a lunchtime walkabout on a sunny day (as I was) and you head west on Spring Street, right where Soho blends into Chinatown, you might (as I did) be drawn to the sound of a table saw intermittently being turned on and off in short bursts. "A table saw outdoors in the middle of fashionable Soho?" you'll ask yourself.

Follow the sound, and you'll come across a Chinaman standing on the sidewalk next to some large canvas bags filled with coconuts and a table saw perched precariously on top of a metal garbage can. He'll take a coconut out of the bag, saw the top off, drain the milk into a pail and stack the coconuts in a nice, neat pyramid.

I think I saw this in a dream sequence of a David Lynch film once except the coconuts were being decapitated by a midget. Walk around New York long enough and sooner or later you'll stumble across something of this ilk.

* * *

I finally succumbed to worldwide societal pressure and read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 250 pages of back story and droll finance and then, out of nowhere, a terrible rape. I don't see what all the fuss is about. I feel like I missed something. I have no plans to read the other two books.

* * *

Here's who I sit closest to at work, on my right and directly behind me, respectively:

I feel like I work in central casting for Bond villains.

* * *
I saw this in my grocer's freezer:

That's disgusting, right? I don't want to see the words "chocolate" and "taco" in such close proximity to one another. True, you can't beat a good mole sauce, but not on tacos for chrissakes!

* * *

Q: What do you call a man who wears a Bluetooth and takes calls while at the gym bench pressing about 175 pounds?

A: Nothing. You bite your tongue and keep your fucking mouth shut.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Here's a little one. They're nice, too.

I meant an art exhibit, of course. What were you thinking?

The big museums are a good place to charge your batteries but you have to pay attention to the dozens (hundreds?) of smaller galleries that dot the city. There's lots of satisfying work being produced that doesn't make it into the mainstream. Plus, these smaller exhibits are less of a time commitment and, hence, less exhausting. I saw this one on my lunch hour! It beat the hell out of another baloney sandwich at my desk.

In the tiny Bridge Gallery on Orchard Street just south of Delancy, the folks at SOFTlab installed It was a site specific installation constructed from pieces of photo glossy ink jet printed paper. The largest portal of the piece faces the street. You feel the vortex suck you in as you walk by.

Each small piece of paper is precisely color coordinated so that once constructed, it produces a smooth blend from one shade to the next.

According to SOFTlab, there are over 4,000 pieces of paper used. As you walk around the piece, you can stick your head in the various portals and get different views of the color schemes.

Guess how the piece is held together? Binder clips! The anomaly is that the first thing you see when you walk in the gallery is how the piece is constructed. Normally, such mechanics are hidden from the viewer. The chaotic texture of the exterior is in stark contrast to the smooth interior.

The piece is suspended from the ceiling by barely visible wires, giving it a floaty, weightless feeling. How cool is that?

Thanks to JZ for pointing me in this direction. And he doesn't even live here!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An uncharacteristically bilious post but I couldn't stop myself

Tim and Nina Zagat are New York's premier pretentious idiots. New Yorkers who are pretentious asswipes are so devoid of any self awareness that they don't realize they sound like pretentious asswipes.

Every Sunday, the New York Times runs a short feature called Sunday Routine. In it, someone tells how they spend their Sunday. The subjects are always fabulously successful and their day usually involves a summer house or a tony restaurant where brunches are preceded by a long wait in line unless you know the owner, which they usually do.

Today's Sunday Routine featured Tim and Nina Zagat, founders of the wildly successful Zagat restaurant and leisure guides. Basically, they get other people to rate restaurants for them and then publish the results without compensating any of the contributors. Clever. They were interviewed at their weekend getaway home.

It starts off innocently enough. Up at 7:00 to check e-mails and the weather. Then they begin to speak that special language that you only hear in certain segments of New York society.

She: "We have local farms that have eggs, and I like to get these just wonderful local eggs."

He: "They taste better than any of the ones you get in a big store."

Don't you wish you didn't have to buy your eggs in a big store?

He: "If she does breakfast for friends...there will be wonderful eggs. Wonderful muffins, local muffins."

Her: "It's lovely to be at prepare things that are fresh and exciting."

Are they for real with that wonderful crap? Have you ever eaten a wonderful muffin? Are you a shiny, happy person?* This is why some people hate New Yorkers and I can't say I blame them. How would you like to be cornered in a party by these two? Given the choice, I'd rather listen to an ex-convict tell me his life story. It'd be a hell of a lot more interesting than these two wonderful dullards.

* I use to like REM's Shiny Happy People until I heard Alice Cooper make fun of it in an interview. He said, "Are you a shiny, happy person? I'm not." And he's right! It sucks!

* * *

Best zinger from this past weekend's batch of movie reviews. This, in reference to the preposterous sudden change from cad to caring father by the character played by Josh Duhamel in the apparently awful Life as We Know It starring the apparently insane Katherine Heigl.

Mr. Duhamel is so good-looking that female viewers may give his character the benefit of the doubt, simply out of wishful thinking.

Stephen Holden

Best zinger EVER from a move review. This, from A.O. Scott's review of Mike Myers' The Love Guru:

“The Love Guru” is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Random NYC pix

This was taken in Times Square. I was walking through on my way to work. I thought the reflections made the windows look like tiny little paintings. It was a lot more impressive in person.

A stormy morning outside the Fox News studios during their breast cancer awareness promotion. Even the planters were wrapped in pink! [Fun fact: the "planters" are actually concrete barricades that prevent someone from driving a truck loaded with explosives into the studios. It's true!]

This beautiful bird bath is outside the church where my meditation classes are held. This is where I go to learn how not to suffer. Would that be an irony?

* * *
I spent the week designing and assembling the 2011 benefits book for the employees of a large investment bank. As a consultant, I don't have any benefits. Do you know what their health plan includes? Foot care. Foot care! I have to write a fat check each month for, what amounts to, catastrophic coverage for my family and they get fucking FOOT CARE!

Also, alternative medicine, vision, dental, prescription, life insurance, accident plan, disability plan, legal assistance plan, long-term and retirement medical coverage. And that's just the health plan. Don't get me started on profit sharing, 401(k) company matching contributions and deep discounts on shares of stock.

Sign me up.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Double feature

In an effort to clear the backlog of theater posts, I thought I'd double-up.

* * *

I caught performance artist/musician/raconteur Laurie Anderson's latest show, Delusion at the Brooklyn Academy of Music before it closed this past weekend. I like her work and have seen her a few times. If you want to watch something really fun, find a copy of her 1986 film Home of the Brave.

I went with J, who is a big Laurie Anderson fan. We both enjoyed the show but as we were walking out of the theater into a cool, autumnal Brooklyn night, J made a very astute observation. It was entertaining, but it was pretty much the same stuff that Anderson has been doing for years and years. The material was fresh, but the delivery vehicle was the same. It was a lot of voice modulated story-telling and poetry, some multimedia presentations and an amplified electric violin that's run through a processor. Don't get me wrong; it's all great stuff, be we've seen it before.

Actually, I suppose you could say the same thing about the Rolling Stones. Or Jack Nicholson. Or Charles Dickens. Or. Or. Or.

* * *

I'm not a huge George Bernard Shaw fan but I quite liked the revival of Mrs. Warren's Profession at the Roundabout. Women had it rough in 1893. Your choices were boiled down to either marrying someone wealthy, even if they were hideous and you didn't love them or, as Mrs. Warren did, open a string of classy whorehouses in Europe. The show was deemed obscene when it first opened (of course) but since then people have come to see the truth in it.

Mrs. Warren is played by Broadway veteran and 24 alumni Cherry Jones. (She played the President on 24.) It's a perfect tough broad performance that is suited to her temperament. I'd love to see Meryl Streep in it someday. The role of the combative daughter is played by Sally Hawkins, who was so adorable in Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky. I'm not sure if young Miss Hawkins has a lot of stage experience but I, along with a few people I spoke to who saw the show, thought she was able to stand toe-to-toe with Jones which, I can assure you, is no small feat. The reviews came out this week and as hard as the actors worked, they were mixed. That's show biz.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

As close as I’ll ever get to Cuba

Over the summer I, along with several of my colleagues, were relocated from our tony Rockefeller Center digs in Midtown Manhattan down to Soho. All the girls squealed with delight because now they can visit shoe boutiques on their lunch hour, but I thought it was a downgrade. Midtown is where the action is, baby, and I miss it. The street meat in Soho is practically nonexistent. What I've found so far is drab and mushy.

The company I’m consulting for has a few offices in the city, including one still in Rockefeller Center. I’ve become a bit of a mercenary. I am sometimes sent to a hot spot to help out with the workload. I’ve been back at Rockefeller Center for the past week and it feels like home to me.

I celebrated my good fortune with a visit to Margon, a Cuban cafeteria-style joint on 46th Street. It’s tiny. If you’re not looking for it, you’ll pass by. The Cubanos are pretty popular but I’m not a fan. I go on Thursday or Friday for the ox tail.

Is ox tail actually from an ox or is that just the name of it? Who the hell raises ox? And I’ve never heard of ox meat for dinner. Are they raised simply for their delicious tails and to pull carts? I’ve never seen an ox. Do they even have tails? God, they’re good. That’s a plate of black beans, rice and fried plantains on the side. I glamor the girl behind the counter, so she always pours a little of the ox tail gravy on my rice and beans.

It’s pretty narrow and cramped. The crowd is a mix of laborers and suits. During peak lunch hours, you may end up eating with a total stranger if there are no other seats available. If you don’t like having your personal space violated or if you’re squeamish about eating off of plastic plates and trays, you’re probably in the wrong city, anyway. The food is scrumptious and that’s enough to keep me coming back.

In this one small section of 46th Street, within steps of each other, you can get an Irish meal at O’Brian’s, a Cuban meal at Margon, and an Indian meal at Minar. You can get a haircut, your nails done, a waxing, and your eyebrows threaded. You can also sell your excess gold for cash. You can go to St. Andrews, a Scottish bar/restaurant with a large LARGE selection of scotch whiskey. It’s the only place in town where you can order haggis. Again, this is all within about 10 paces of each other. Multiply that times 1,000. That’s New York City.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Around the town via my cell phone camera

Here are a few random photos take with my crappy cell phone camera. (Hence, the poor quality.) Hopefully, they'll pass muster on the strength of the content and composition.

Coming out of the Times Square subway station into the blue night light.

In the DeKalb Avenue subway station in downtown Brooklyn. He had a long braid of hair that he looped up into a perfect cylinder.

In the balcony overlooking the main entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of my favorite spots in the city. Below is the big parade of humanity and above are archways within archways. I like the flare of light from the window.

The next two were taken by 4-Year Old Daughter. I'm sure they're just an accident, as she is to young to know anything about texture and light, but I think they're great!

These are window blinds.

A lamp!

* * *
Happy birthday to Mrs. Wife! You're not older, you're...actually that's a bunch of baloney. You're exactly one year older. But you're still a hell of a lot younger than I am, so you'll get little sympathy from me on that account!

* * *

Last night we went to a wedding in deepest, darkest New Jersey. We were almost at the Pennsylvania border! A beautiful venue, a beautiful wedding. Guess who I saw there? The guy who was charged with the unpleasant task of laying me off from Morgan Stanley in 2008. What are the odds?! Astonishing! That was real comfortable.

I don't bear any animosity or ill will towards him. He was just the messenger. But it was still an odd sensation, especially after the third glass of wine. The fact is that the last time I saw this guy, I lost my job and it was the beginning of a long, dark period.

He's nice enough but he's one of the dullest people I've ever met. It's like trying to talk to a block of concrete. It doesn't jibe with his chosen profession as a personnel manager. His wife was up dancing with some girls the entire night while he sat at the table, more often than not, alone. She was astonishingly cute and vibrant. I wonder how that happened?

Actually, people probably look at the astonishing cute and vibrant Mrs. Wife and wonder the same thing.