The Unbearable Banishment: August 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Schoolgirl outfits in Times Square

I was on my morning slog through the middle of Times Square and stumbled across this delicious scene.


My goodness gracious! At at 6:25 a.m., no less! I think they're a singing group. When the photographer stopped to adjust his camera, they practiced a few dance steps. That sure woke my ass up. Can anyone explain the proclivity in Japanese society for sexed-up schoolgirl outfits?


At the risk of sounding like a filthy, lonely old rotter, which I am not (I don't think), I'm going to publicly admit that I find this provocative to the 10th power. I felt creepy starring. But if you're going to stand in the epicenter of the Crossroads of the World dressed like that and practice dance moves that resemble a stripper grind, I can assure you that you're going to be starred at by lonely, old office drones on their way to work. Duly warned. I run across stuff like this all the time. New York: Expensive, but not boring.


* * *

My current gig has me in a 10th floor corner office on 6th Avenue in the 50's. My windows face north to Central Park and east to the Museum of Modern Art. I love midtown. Its where the action is, baby!

You'd think that being ten floors above the Avenue would offer some peace and quiet but you'd be mistaken. Sound waves bounce off the surrounding skyscrapers and travel upward. You can hear quite clearly what's going on at street level. Taxi cabs with horns blazing sound like they're passing just outside my window. This would make most people grind their molars but I consider it part of the symphony of the city.

I am only occasionally bothered by this one dude. A street musician. See him down there by the lamppost?


He's one of these guys who sets up a drum kit using plastic paint buckets, pieces of metal, an overturned soup pot and some bins from the post office. His drum sticks are two thick pieces of wood.


He's very, very talented. He's also relentless. He can play for HOURS. It looks like he makes a pretty good buck and, as far as I'm concerned, he earns it. He plays his ass off. But it sounds like the playing right OUTSIDE my WINDOW. We are thinking of taking up a collection to pay him to stop playing.

* * *
Recent article in the New York Times:
9/11’s Post-Traumatic Stress Still Haunts

At least 10,000 people in New York, like Dr. Margaret Dessau, have post-traumatic stress disorder, and while many were emergency responders, others were witnesses.
Really? You witnessed it and are still traumatized? The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up. Ten years and you're still not over it? There are people in this town who wear their suffering proudly like a thorny crown. They won't be denied their anguish. My apartment was less than a mile away so I speak from the position of someone who was a participant. It's time to liberate yourself, my poor, suffering fellow New Yorkers.

Hey, London! Berlin! Calling all cities who have been flattened by bombs! Were you still moping about ten years after the fact? I'll bet not.

Just watch how politicians distort and use the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 to rationalize their own radical nuttiness. It's going to be SICKENING.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Someone pushed the PANIC BUTTON

Here are a few of the extraordinary and, in my humble opinion, unnecessary actions that have been taken in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene:
  • The southern tip of Manhattan has been evacuated
  • The NYC transit system has been completely shut down
  • All Broadway and off-Broadway shows have been canceled [a first]
  • You can't drive on the Garden State Parkway south of Exit 98 and beach towns have been evacuated
  • The governor of New Jersey has HALTED GAMING in Atlantic City casinos [yet another first and the most offensive item on the list, as far as I'm concerned]
  • No gym. No movies. No groceries. No nothin'
You should have seen Port Authority yesterday afternoon. There was a mass exodus. It was like the set of a science fiction film where a plague is coursing through Manhattan. CB said that Manhattan is even more desolate today than it is on December 25th. At least you can go to a movie on Christmas Day. (Although, I told him he could probably still get some egg rolls delivered by a guy on a bicycle.)

I think it's all a lot of of sturm und drang. The storm seems to be weakening and will probably be a Category 1 by the time it gets here. A friend of mine has a Dominican girlfriend and she can't stop laughing. She said that back home, they don't even go indoors until it's a Category 4. If I'm lucky, the 8-10 inches of rain will drown the moles who have furrowed in my front yard.

In lieu of going anywhere, here's what'll go down in the Unbearable household:


That's right. A Little Rascals film festival. 10 DVDs, 88 episodes. You can't go wrong (except for the horribly racist parts). In one early episode, Spanky's father refers to Buckwheat and his younger sister as "the little Pickaninnies." Now, that's just wrong. It requires some sensitivity training for The Daughters. Some of it goes right over their heads, thank God. Does anybody remember "I wish Cotton was a monkey"?

I have no back-up plan for entertainment if the electricity goes out. Perhaps I'll break out my guitar. That always goes over really well.

A tip-o'-the hat and a thank-you to the nice people who have pinged me offline to check up. Glub-glub.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chay-Chay-Chain. Chain of Nudes.

Photographer David LaChapelle got his leg-up from Andy Warhol shooting for Interview Magazine. That lead to a whole slew of gigs shooting wealthy, famous celebrities.

His current (FREE) exhibit in the architectural landmark Lever House lobby is Chain of Life. It's a huge, playful, paper chain constructed from strips of photographs. The chain stretches and dips the length of the lobby. Quite an impressive feat!


It's hard to tell because of my shitty camera skills, but the color tone at the front of the chain (by the Park Avenue entrance) is dark. As it stretches through the lobby, the tone lightens considerably, giving it an effective dark-to-light blending.


The chain stretches down to the floor. It's hard to resist giving it a good tug!


Upon closer examination, you'll see that all of the photos are of nude bodies! [Go ahead. Click on them.]


The exhibit write-up speaks to "...humanity's need for one being to affect or connect to the next." I never get these write-ups. They always sound superficial to me. I enjoy art on a very visceral level. I'm shallow that way.


I consider sneaking this exhibit into a big, public space like Lever House a real coup! I've been back twice on my lunch hour; not because it's titillating (there are too many male genitalia for my taste) but because I can't imagine too many public spaces putting up with this sort of thing.


It's up through September 30. If you anywhere nearby it's worth a look. If you go, walk across the street, south a few blocks and have a look a the lobby and floral displays of the Waldorf-Astoria. Always a treat.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

I've always depended on the kindness of strangers

In the past 24-hours, since my last post, in addition to words of support both public and private, I've had no fewer than FOUR people (one in the UK, one in Australia and two in the U.S.) come forward and offer their copies of the Thunder Road chapbook in order to right the wrong perpetrated by the U.S. Post Office. In addition, I notified the Office of the U.S. Postal Inspector and the guy I spoke to (Me: "Where are you located?" Him: "All we're allowed to say is west of the Mississippi.") seems almost bizarrely enthusiastic about finding the book! As though it's his new reason for being!

It's enough to restore my faith in humankind. You people in the blogging ether are best. Thank you.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The dirty, rotten thieves in the U.S. Post Office

I was feeling all full of myself because the Thunder Road chapbook odyssey finally came to a successful conclusion. The books sold out. Demand is still strong. (I continue to get emails requesting a copy.) During the eight years it took to make them, I had a terrible falling out with a great friend but I am happy to report that we are communicating again and it feels like nothing ever happened! I just submitted a fat check to Ambitious about Autism, the designated charity, for $15,778.27. As you can imagine, they're thrilled.

Then I get this from one of my customers:

Unfortunately, it looks like someone purposely targeted your package, tampered with it, and switched the contents. The Post Office is taking responsibility for the damage to the package...


The generic apology affixed to the package says "Dear Postal Customer: We sincerely regret the damage...bla..bla...bla. Although every effort is made...bla...bla...bla. We hope you understand."


Once the damaged package arrived at its destination, here's what tumbled out:


Can you fucking believe this? Of course, I wouldn't want this to happen to anybody, but here's a note that accompanied the payment:

The book looks beautiful. My grandfather was a lithographer and ran a letterpress early on. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to see a chapbook 'in person.'

The book meant a lot to this person and all they got for their money was a Disney DVD. I am in a terrible bind because it is completely sold out. There are no more copies. I reject the assertation that my part of the transaction is complete and it's the post office's responsibility. Sending the money back is unsatisfactory to me. I want this person to own a book.

Dear Post Office: I do not understand, nor do I accept your apology. Call me cynical, but do you know what I think happened? I think the package accidentally tore open, as stated in your templated apology, and one of your shitheel employees saw a beautiful hand-made book fall out and decided to steal it. Chalk up another one for mankind. It never fails to disappoint.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Roots

You'll never guess where this sunny, sandy shore is.


The water was warm and calm. The sun gleamed off the surface. It was early in the morning. Mrs. Wife and I had the entire beach to ourselves. It was a nice, quiet hour. But we weren't on the New Jersey shore, as you might suspect. This, believe it or not, was Lake Erie. (Huntington Beach, to be specific.)


For the uninitiated, thanks to Cleveland's heavy industry, Lake Erie spent decades as a feted, polluted mess. At one time, the Cuyahoga River, which feeds into Lake Erie at downtown Cleveland, was so rank that the waste floating on the surface ignited and caught fire. To this day, Cleveland has never been able to shake the "river that burned" albatross around its neck.

When I grew up here [mumble-mumble] years ago, spending the morning strolling along the shore of Lake Erie was unthinkable. It was that bad. Thanks to a fed up community and a government that had a shred of dignity, things were cleaned up. Mrs. Wife and I took our shoes off and waded in the water. Here I am knee-deep in Lake Erie. Look how clear it is! This is pretty mind-blowing stuff to people like myself who grew up here.

An astonishing turn of events. And people complain about government regulation. Do you suppose this ever would have happened if it hadn't been legislated?

* * *

My brother and I broke away from the family festivities to take a drive around the near West Side where our family roots are buried. We went by the alcohol treatment center at St. Malachi on W. 25th and Detroit where our step father, and many like him, got through the DTs.

This is St. Michael the Archangel Church on Scranton Road. It was built by German and Polish immigrants in the 1800s. My mother went to its school and was married there. My sister was married there. Now, it's a predominantly Latino parish.



A few blocks away is Buhrer Avenue, where my mother, three uncles, grandmother and grandfather lived. Six people lived in this modest house. It's a lot smaller inside than it looks! We drove by slowly, like we were casing the place out, and I had sudden rush of memories. I dropped my grandfather's gold pocket watch down a crack in a window sill and it fell into the house's foundation. It's probably still there. He never got angry about it. My grandfather, a gardener, showed me how grasshoppers spit.


The neighborhood looked better than I thought it would. I assumed, because I buy into racial stereotypes without realizing it, that the houses would be a wreck. But they were fairly well maintained.

* * *

They closed one block of East 9th Street for a film shoot. Nobody shoots in Cleveland! East 9th Street is THE major north/south thoroughfare that runs through the center of downtown, and it's a major disruption, but this is for the big Marvel Comics flagship movie The Avengers, due out next spring.

In it, Ironman, The Hulk, Sgt. Fury, Thor and Captain America team up to fight..I don't know who. Maybe the Republican presidential candidates. Cleveland was remade to look like New York City. I can't get away from that place!

A crushed NYC taxi cab.

Someone said this scene involves a fight with The Hulk and Sgt. Fury. Nobody could confirm. Samuel L. Jackson was in town. He was spotted at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.


The most unsettling special effect was NOT the fake destruction or false fronts built onto the surrounding buildings. The most unsettling effect was seeing a lot of NYPD cruisers on East 9th Street in Cleveland. Very confusing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm a sell out / Nasty

I've been away from reading/commenting on blogs because last week some nice guy out in L.A. bought a copy of the Thunder Road chapbook I made and was so smitten with the book and the story behind it, that he did a great write-up for Backstreets.com, the all-Bruce Springsteen, all-the-time fan website. He even skewed one of Nick Hornby's book titles for the article headline and linked Springsteen's cameo from the film adaptation of Hornby's High Fidelity. Oh, that's clever!

The piece is so compelling and so well-written that it resulted in a tsunami of orders. I'm a one-man fulfillment center so I've spent the last five or six nights hold-up in my basement packing and shipping books. Here's the article. Just scroll down a bit. The books are now sold-out, which was never a guarantee, so thanks, Jon. I've also had to spend time refunding money that keeps pouring in. People are disappointed. Additionally, I was contacted by a DJ from E Street Radio on Sirius Satellite who was going to play Thunder Road and then do a story on the book to try and move copies, but that's no longer necessary. I'd also like to publically thank Mrs. Wife for taking all 200 packages to the post office for me. Do you think that was easy?

Backstreets.com is a huge, influential website. They linked my blog post that tells the story of how the book was made and my stats went through the roof. My usual puny 50-70 hits per day ballooned to about 300 per day since last week. Many orders included congratulations and messages of admiration which, for an egomaniac like me, couldn't be more satisfying. I keep re-reading them over and over. It's like pushing a lever and getting a peanut M&M.

* * *

Last week, Mrs. Wife impulse-purchased a pair of deeply discounted tickets to see Janet Jackson. I'm not a huge Janet Jackson fan but it certainly beat the hell out of another fruitless scroll through Netflix. It was an outdoor venue and the concert sold so poorly that everyone who had a lawn seat was given a seat inside the pavilion. The back parking lot, where we usually get stuck, was completely empty. Not one car! Hence, the discounted tix, I suppose.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that about 70% of the concert was lip-synced. But I don't fault Ms. Jackson. The show is so intensely choreographed that I decided it's not meant to be a concert of just singing. It's about the dancing and visuals, too. And you can't put on that kind of show and still sing live. It's just not possible! Especially at 45 years old.

Her want to please the audience seemed genuine to me. To turn around and say, oh, for shame, she lip-syncs, would be in poor form and belittle her efforts. She was working her ass off. What more do you want? So I will grant her a pass, where many others would cry foul.

There was a mini-tribute to Michael Jackson, which left me unexpectedly sad. A photo montage that featured the two of them since their childhood was played on a screen behind her while she sang. It dawned on me that although he was an oddity, he was also her brother. And he died tragically. She lost her big bother, whom she obviously loved. Do you have siblings? Can you imagine watching one of them die in the manner he did? I was so blue.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Music in the streets of Crazytown

The city is littered with outdoor festivals and events throughout the summer. It's all free, so bring your cheap ass to Manhattan and be entertained for nothing!

I was feeling a little blue so I went to the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival to see if anything there could cheer me up. Boy, did it ever! I saw the Raya Brass Band. They're five young guys from Brooklyn who play music of the Balkans. Good, Eastern European stomp. Just like the stuff my Polish dad used to play on Sunday mornings.

You might have to watch this clip twice to take it all in. First, watch the old dude on the right in the blue tee-shirt and hat dance the crazy spastic-twist. No rhythm whatsoever. He just wants to steal attention from the band and make it all about him. Typical crazy New Yorker. Then, about midway through, watch the old Balkan women dance into the frame. And notice the old perv looking them over. The poor band.

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The dancing becomes TOO FRANTIC and the po-lice have to step in to restore order. I kept waiting for fists to fly. Meanwhile, the band never stops playing! Seasoned pros. As you can imagine, I walked away from all this feeling much better about life.

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God bless Lincoln Center for providing this festival for the city. Laurie Anderson is doing a free show on the 10th but I'll be away. If you're around you should go. Unless it's raining. Nothing will kill an outdoor concert quicker than rain.

* * *

Last summer, 88 decorated pianos were placed throughout the city streets and plazas. People could just walk up and start playing. The event was so popular that they brought it back this year. Sadly, someone actually stole one of the pianos that was out in Queens. Bastards! They're chained to cinder blocks but that didn't stop the thieves.

Here, at the piano in Times Square, a woman bangs out a ragtime number. I've always heard that ragtime is particularly difficult to play. Is that true?

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