The Unbearable Banishment: February 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

An open letter to God

Dear God. Or Jehovah. Or Jesus. Or Jupiter. Or Allah. Or Buddha. Or Zeus. Or Gwydion. Or Yahweh. Or Beelzebub (yeah, I'll go there). Or G_d. Or Thor.

Anyone. Whoever is out there listening.


NO MORE motherfucking SNOW! Enough already! I'm a beaten man, okay? Every weekend there's a fresh 8-12 inches of new snow dumped on our asses. You've beaten me. You've beaten us all. You've beaten the entire northeast corridor from Boston down to D.C. You set a record for snowfall. The most ever. Good for you. Well done. But that's enough. Okay?

More relaxing than it looks.

Guess what happened right after this was taken?

Drifts taller than a 3-year old.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Melancholy holiday

Atlantic City is a much sadder, slower place in the winter than it is in the summer. It makes me melancholy and blue. But it's the good kind of blue. It's not the kind of blue that drags you down. It's the kind of blue that makes you sit up straight and appreciate what you have. It's the kind of blue you get when you listen to B.B. King play his guitar or Billy Holiday sing. I like it just fine.

I certainly don't mind navigating the summer masses that choke the boardwalk. If crowds bothered me, I wouldn't have stayed in New York City all those years. But there's a certain sad allure to strolling on a cold, snowy, almost empty boardwalk.

The beaches are deserted and clean. The lines where sky meets water and water meets sand aren't broken by a gaggle of noisy tourists. By the end of August, the sand will be disrupted and large metal drums filled with trash will dot the shore. Occasionally, a treasure hunter with a metal detector will come into view.

He'll stop, bend down and dig furiously. His efforts will be rewarded with a bottle cap or a key.

Though chilly, the sun can be quite bright and sitting outside is comfortable. The broken, the lonely and those brought to their knees by their bad luck in the casinos claim a bench and stare out at the ocean.

The oul dogs wonder where it all went and what's left.

There's a colony of feral cats that live under the boardwalk. They've been there for as long as I can remember. Local volunteers have built shelters for them and drop off food in the winter time.

You can see them napping in the afternoon sunshine. Nobody bothers them.

They don't seem to have any fear of people. They will almost always jump up on your lap if you invite them. And, like us, they enjoy a good scratch in the right place.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Set the wayback machine to 1978

Mrs. Wife borrowed her mother’s fondue pot. Fondue was a fad back in the ‘70s but I don‘t think people bother so much anymore.

First, we skewered cubes of New York strip steak and fried them in peanut oil. For dessert we melted chocolate and dipped bananas, strawberries and marshmallows. (That’s my tall, cold glass of whole milk.) The dessert must have been too rich, or we ate too much, because it gave 8-Year Old Daughter and I a bit of a tummy ache.

* * *

Happy news for New Yorkers and those who like to visit: The experiment to close off sections of Broadway and turn them into pedestrian malls is going to be made permanent. The city set up chairs in what use to be the middle of Broadway and, weather permitting, you can spend all day and night just watching the world pass by. It’s fantastic!

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

This has not been a blessing for traffic, but merchants, tourists and residents love it, and that was enough for Mayor Bloomberg to make it permanent. That guy is the world’s only populist billionaire. Cynical old me keeps waiting for an out-of-control taxi to careen off into a crowd of tourists relaxing in lawn chairs but it hasn’t happened yet, thank God.

The pic above is from Times Square but my favorite spot is in Chelsea at the foot of the fabulous Flatiron Building. (Take a look at this pic from last year.) Given the choice between sitting before a pretty countryside or this, I’ll take the pavement and people-watching every time.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

They're going to need a miracle

The Broadway revival of The Miracle Worker that’s set to open next week would be a good night out if the show hadn't been staged so poorly.

The cast is good and occasionally achieves greatness. Abigail Breslin gives a controlled performance as Helen Keller that could have gone way off the rails. I felt a genuine thrill in the climatic scene where she discovers language. Initially, I thought that Alison Pill was too young to play Annie Sullivan but she was fine, as were Matthew Modine and Jennifer Morrison.

But the staging is a mess. It’s at Circle in the Square and the seating is in the round. This is a play that begs for a traditional theater. The blocking is so poor that I found myself starring at the actor’s backs about 60% of the time. I’ve seen plays at Circle in the Square before, including the 6-hour Norman Conquests, which was masterful, so I know it can be done.

The set changes are accomplished by raising and lowering furniture pieces from the ceiling. Part of the set design includes door frames (with closed doors) that block the view for many patrons. The actors were rooted on their marks, so if you happen to be staring at the sides of their heads during a scene, too bad for you.

It pains me to see actors work so hard only to have their efforts undermined by the production itself.

Ah, well. That’s show biz. NEXT!


Monday, February 22, 2010

Hey Greeks! How do you do it?!

It has come to pass that certain industries in New York City are owned by certain ethnic groups. For instance, if you get a manicure, someone from Korea is going to do it. If you buy a diamond, it’s likely you’re going to buy it from someone who is Jewish. Most of the taxis drivers are from the Middle East. Investment bankers are almost always thieving parasites. (Ha. Little joke on that last one.)

If you eat in a diner, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be owned by a Greek family. I love Greek diners. Who doesn’t? They are home away from home on a plate. This beauty is located at 8th Avenue and 50th St.

What I find astonishing is the vast number of items on the menu. It boggles the mind! Here's the left side of the menu…

…and here's the right.

This doesn’t even include the daily special inserts. There must be 200 meals here! These are small New York restaurants with small kitchens. WHERE DO THEY KEEP ALL THIS FOOD!? Try to imagine stocking your pantry with enough items to prepare any one of these meals on a moment’s notice. One table can order veal parmesan, a full pancake breakfast, a Greek salad, fillet of sole and a bowl of matzo ball soup and it will all arrive at the same time piping hot. It’s an impossible task but they succeed. Go Greeks!

Familiarity breeds comfort and each restaurant has the same accoutrements*, giving it that I’ve eaten here before feeling. No NYC Greek diner is complete without the obligatory autographed 8 x 10 glossy of a celebrity (pizza parlors do this, too)…

...and the refreshing cocktail suggestion placemat.

There’s always a seat at the counter, a bottomless cup of coffee (unlike Starbucks) and they keep the daily newspapers on hand for you to read while you eat. I love ‘em.

* For Mr. Mapstew.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kung hay fat choy redux

Tomorrow marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebration. In New York City, it culminates in the Lunar New Year Parade & Festival in Chinatown. I usually attend but won't be able to, so I've decided to do the lazy thing and rerun last year's post for those who might have missed it.

Happy New Year!

* * *

Nurse H and I took a trip down to Chinatown to help our Chinese friends ring in the New Year. It’s 4707—the year of the Ox.

The Chinese New Year celebration lasts 15 days. You’re not supposed to say anything negative about anyone for 15 days. That’s quite a challenge, especially in a place as opinionated as New York City!

We strolled up and down Mott Street and watched the dragons parade. The dragons are followed by a team of percussionists. They dance at the entrance of each merchant. To ward off bad luck, the merchant ignites a firework that shoots a big wad of confetti into the air that frightens the dragon away. He then hands a red envelope filled with cash through the mouth of the dragon.

Sometimes, the dragons are invited into the restaurants to parade. I was in the middle of a big plate of beef chow fun and a dragon came in and tried to eat the proprietor.

Mott Street is closed to vehicular traffic and it becomes a big pedestrian mall. (That’s Nurse H in the blue hat.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The center prop bets are all sucker bets

I have been a bit down-in-the-dumps recently for some very good reasons. On Monday, the office was closed for President’s Day and Mrs. Wife forwarded the excellent suggestion that I blow off some steam by jumping in the car and driving down to Atlantic City for the day. I haven’t been there since my birthday last July and I love shooting craps. And she knows it. What a gal. What a pal.

All interior shots were surreptitiously taken with a cell phone. Casinos frown on this sort of thing. You will be ejected if caught taking pictures.

Lord, almighty, I love shooting craps. It makes me feel smart and cool (though it's not). I love a casino’s ambiance. (Ambiance: such a pretty word for such a trashy place.) Just look at this hideous architecture. It’s awfulness on a spectacular, grand scale. Yet, I feel so at home here.

And how about this elegant ceiling? I feel it has just the right amount of lights, mirrors and gold. It screams Donald Trump.

For decades, casinos have been successfully marketed as palaces of glamor and mystery, filled with young attractive people who will gladly sleep with you, if only you would ask. The reality is counterintuitive to what they’re selling, particularly if you visit on a Monday afternoon instead of a Friday or Saturday night.

On a Monday, most of the patrons are of the down-on-their-luck-playing-with-the-mortgage-payment variety. It’s like watching a horrible traffic accident that you can neither take your eyes off of nor prevent. When I’m feeling blue about my career or my finances or station in life, all I need to do is visit a casino and take a look around. I soon come to realize that I’m doing just FINE.

The best thing about gambling is the esprit de corps that arises between you and your fellow degenerates, particularly at a crap table. You either succeed together or fail together. We’re all friends. Of course, you don’t get to enjoy this singular sensation if you park your ass in front of a slot or video poker machine. Those things are just soulless, money-sucking robots.

Here is the latest abomination. It’s video roulette.

People sit in a circle in front of a video screen and place bets against an animated roulette wheel. Roulette is such a quiet, elegant game. I like the accouterments. The wheel. The sound the little white ball makes when it drops. The feel of the chips. Roulette is not as dull as blackjack nor as nerve wracking as craps. And as you sit at a roulette table and place your bets, you get to know the croupier and your fellow players. Cockamamie strategies are discussed. Drinks are drunk. Why would you deny yourself this pleasure in favor of a video screen?

Do you know what feels really bad? Losing money by gambling. When it happens, you feel like a fucking fool. But do you know what’s as good as a shot of pure adrenaline? Bellying up to a crap table just as a hot roll of the dice commences. I’ve participated in rolls that lasted over an hour. When it happens, you grab a shovel, back up a dump truck and start filling it up with chips.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Scarred inside and out

Laura Linney plays a photojournalist who is home convalescing from injuries incurred from a roadside bomb while covering the war. The injuries include permanent scarring on her face, but that’s just the visible damage. The real stuff is under her skin.

Eric Bogosian is her editor and friend who is suffering a midlife crisis. His girlfriend is a too chatty and much younger, but very likable, Alicia Silverstone.

All are excellent but the real firepower on stage is someone you’re probably not familiar with. Brian d’Arcy James is a tornado as Linney’s journalist boyfriend. Nurse H and I took in the excellent Time Stands Still by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies at the Manhattan Theater Club. [A terrible, forgettable title, though.]

James’ last appearance on Broadway was under cakes of make-up as Shrek in Shrek the Musical. I missed that but saw him in Conor McPherson’s Port Authority at the Atlantic Theater Company last year. Successfully navigating between these very different roles is not such an easy thing to do. And to hold his ground against Laura Linney isn’t a cakewalk, either.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hot Disney princess sexy-time

Disney has barely had time to recover from the last time I lambasted their Princesses.

[Truth be told, the stock is up about 50% since then. But I digress.]

How did they allow this to slip through the cracks?

Anyone with young daughters knows that no pediatric doctor or dentist worth his salt is without a healthy supply of Disney Princess stickers. Get a check up. Get a sticker. The kids love 'em. The stickers usually depict one of the Princesses in a demure, modest pose, sometimes surrounded by little bluebirds and bunnies.

In 2007, Disney released Enchanted starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey. Though intended for a young audience, it's a send-up of princess movies that's actually a hell of a lot of fun. It's big wet kiss to New York City, so it deserves a viewing for that alone.

In the opening sequence, Amy Adams' Princess Giselle is depicted as an animated figure. She is pushed into a well by her evil stepmother (a deliciously over-the-top Susan Sarandon) and ends up crawling out of a manhole in the middle of Times Square into the"real" world. Hijinks ensue.

Here's the sticker 3-Year Old Daughter just got from the dentist. It depicts the animated Amy Adams character.

Tell me the truth. I can take it. Am I being old and creepy? (I mean, more so than usual.) I don't think there's anything demure or modest about this pose. I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure I've seen poses similar to this in Playboy.

In fact, the last time I had a girl look at me like this, with her too tight dress cascading off her shoulders and a come-hither gaze, I got my world rocked. It's a cartoon, for cryin' out loud! What's my 3-year old suppose to make of this? I'm sure it must register something.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

1 bad dad + 1 ribald joke

I took 8-Year Old Daughter sledding. Our strategy to go early in the morning and avoid the crowds paid off. We had the entire hill to ourselves. The snow was packed and she was flying. I finally insisted that she hand over her sled and give me a turn. I went so fast that it gave me a genuine thrill.

A little boy, about 6-years old, arrived alone. He went up and down the hill all by himself. It made me a bit sad.

It came time to leave and we set out towards the car. We got to the parking lot and I saw a man sitting in a Chevy Expedition. The car was running. Inside was the little boy's father, watching dutifully from a distance in his roasty-toasty warm car. Apparently, he couldn't be bothered to stand in the cold with his son. I gave him my best "what is wrong with you" look. I think I struck a nerve because, much to my surprise, he got out of the truck and walked towards the hill to join his son.

In addition to a cell phone jammer, I wish I had a device that I could point at people and sterilize them.

* * *

[Edit: I just reread this joke and it really is in poor taste. All apologies to those offended.]

A man wearing a ski mask and holding a gun walks into a sperm bank. The woman working behind the counter says, "Sir! This is not a regular bank! This is a sperm bank!" The man holding the gun says, "Yes, I know! Pick up that bottle!" She picks it up. "Take off the cap!" She takes it off. "Now, drink it!" She drinks.

The man takes his ski mask off. It's her husband! He says,

"See? It's not so bad."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Drip, drip, drip

Three feet of snow in the past 10 days.
A $1,309.64 monthly healthcare bill.
We regret to inform you that
we are pursuing other candidates for this position.
The hot water heater is shot.

A musician I've admired since I was a teenager
someone who rarely tours
is coming to town.
Tickets are $150.

A dinner in Brooklyn with one of my oldest friends
the anticipation of which helped me survive the week
was canceled at the last minute
because they kept me at work late
and I moved to New Jersey eight years ago.

An incompetent hair stylist
(see below).
The ceiling fan in the bathroom started rattling.
A broken shoelace with no time left.

Nietzsche speaks of the death of 1,000 pinpricks.
I think I know what he's talking about.

Here comes my
nervous breakdown.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Frailty, thy name is Unbearable Banishment

You’d think that losing two jobs in the past 18 months would have provided a heaping helping of perspective, but you’d be wrong about that.

There was this guy, Steve, who use to cut my hair. Interesting cat. Worked on Wall Street, made a ton of money and then left to cut hair in a male-only salon. The male-only salon employs a gaggle of young, attractive girls, but I chose to forgo the flirting opportunity (a great sacrifice) and have Steve cut my hair because he is a virtuoso with a pair of scissors. A Grandmaster Artist with ninja skills (if ninjas cut hair). A perfectionist. Other stylists bow at his feet.

But he was a bit of an eccentric. The end results were amazing but the process was always an ordeal. For instance, he would ask me to describe, in minute detail, my worst heartbreak ever. He kept a spiral notebook on his station that was filled with song lyrics that were meaningful to him. Occasionally, he would stop in the middle of a haircut, open a page and ask me to read a set of lyrics, insisting that I read them out loud. He had written them down with a blunt pencil and his handwriting was barely legible so stumbling through was a long, uncomfortable process. And it was always that horrid lite rock that I despise. Air Supply. Dan Fogelberg. John Denver. Firefall. That music is an insult to musicians.

You are the woman that I've always dreamed of
I knew it from the start
I saw your face and that's the last I've seen of my heart

By the end of the haircut I wanted to fucking kill myself, but the results were astonishing. And I know what you’re thinking. No, he wasn’t gay. Living in New York City all those years gave me finely-honed gaydar and I would have know.

Steve was heavily into botox. His face was like a blown-up balloon. His cheeks looked like they’d explode if you touched them with a pin. He use to regale me with tales of his sexual conquests during his Wall Street years, referring to his penis as “Steve.”

Eventually, his eccentricities got him fired. Too many customers complained about his bedside manor and now he‘s gone.

One of salon hotties has been cutting my hair and it’s been a total a disaster. She’s terrible x100. A complete incompetent. The extent of her talent seems to be pushing her breasts into my shoulder. What am I going to do? Do you have any idea how long it takes to brainwash someone into rendering a proper haircut?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Recipe for a bad-ass snow storm

8-Year Old Daughter got the following recipe from a friend in her class. It's what you need to do in order to turn modest snowstorm into a school-closing blizzard. These tasks must be performed just before bedtime.
  • Flush three scoops of ice cream down the toilet (preferably vanilla)
  • Hide a spoon under your pillow
  • Place a penny on your window sill
  • Wear your pajamas inside out
  • Throw an ice cube out your window
Well, it worked. We got our blizzard. This, despite the fact that Mrs. Wife wouldn't allow her to flush any ice cream down the commode. Additionally, she refused to wear her pj's inside out because it would hide the print and her ice cube landed in the rain gutter. Unfortunately, the storm arrived over the weekend so there was no school closing to enjoy. Perhaps the missing ingredients mucked with the timing.

Mr. Mapstew, here are a few pics that will make your daughter's Irish heart sing.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I met my old lover on the street last night

I went into the city for the first time since being commissioned for a freelance project in New Jersey over three weeks ago. I hadn't been away from New York for that length of time since I was in my 20's. Take it from me pallies, that was a long time ago.

I was worried that something might have changed. That suddenly, New York and I weren't an item anymore. I was afraid of long, awkward silences and uncomfortable truths that might be revealed. Working close to home has its charms. It affords some important things that cannot be had when I work in the city. Sometimes, shiny toys lose their luster when you don't play with them for a while. From a distance, you begin to wonder what you ever saw in them in the first place. Sometimes, you have a change of heart.

I timidly walked out of the subway at 50th Street and Broadway.

It was like seeing an old friend you've been worried sick about. Hello, 7th Avenue! Did you miss me! (Yes, she did.) My feet missed the sidewalks. My senses missed the disharmony. It was the first time I noticed how odd the mounted NYPD look strolling up an Avenue.

* * *

I saw David Mamet's Race. Full disclosure: I think Mamet is a great writer and am predisposed to liking his stuff before the house lights dim. I sat next to a black couple and I suppose the fact that I squirmed in my seat over the racial issues that were addressed is an indication of how expertly constructed the dramatic arc of the story was. And it was surprisingly funny. The entire cast is killer, especially James Spader.

Race is at the Barrymore, which was built in 1928 and has a rich past. At the same theater in 1992, I saw Jessica Lange struggle (and fail) to play Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She couldn't keep up with Alec Baldwin's Stanley Kowalski. He wiped the stage with her. In 1948, on the exact same floorboards, the play was premiered with Marlon Brando as Kowalski. I love history stuff like that.

* * *

I walked into the subway to catch a downtown train. Someone was playing a trumpet. I threw $1 into his case. Subway stations have perfect acoustics for horn instruments. There's just enough echo. He was so talented. A great musician. He played a rich, soulful rendition of Erroll Garner's Misty and then a version of Johnny Mercer's Laura that broke my stupid, stupid heart. And I felt at home again.

And you see Laura
On a train that is passing through.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Cell phone interruptus

No, I’m on the train right now. Did you see the weather report for the pageant? I need to be careful! I don’t want to be a sunburned beauty queen!


Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Hello? I don’t know it just went dead. I'll DIE if I can't use my ph...


Hello? HELLO?!

She had an iPhone. The service for AT&T is so lousy that they live on the threshold of dropping a call normally. It doesn’t take much to push them over the edge. It's so easy that it takes all the sport out of it. It’s like tripping an old lady who's using a walker.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon

Casa de Unbearable was ground zero for a water main break. The brown, muddy, Mississippi regurgitated up through a crack in the pavement. Thank bog it wasn't raw sewage. Just the stuff we drink. The police arrived, traffic was blocked off and many panicked phone calls were made to New Jersey American Water.

The neighbors all came out of their houses to watch the approaching disaster. It flowed over our curb and, with frightening speed, flooded our front yard. Mrs. Wife threw the girls in the car and raced them over to her parent's house and stayed there. I stayed behind, although there was nothing to do but wait.

The water slowly crept up our driveway. The race was on. Could the water company get to us and turn off the water before it started to flood inside our house? It was exciting. In the bad way.

It only took about :20 minutes for the water to work its way up and kiss our garage door. It was just two short paces away from our front door. Just beyond our front door is our carpeted family room.

My rare books cases are located a half-flight up. They're not insured. I can't afford the required appraisal. I was wondering how I was going to singlehandedly move a few hundred books to the third level. I imagined the pristine white pages all stained a brackish brown. I have a first edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with an India ink illustration of Hunter S. Thompson drawn by Ralph Steadman on the first free endpaper. It's beautiful. One drop of water would send the ink running down the page. My first edition of On The Road? Pulp.

On the cusp of Armageddon a miracle occurred. The water found its saturation point at the base of my house. It stopped flowing up my front yard and changed direction. It flowed down the street to find other books to destroy. Not one single drop of water entered our house.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tim Burton at MoMA

The cool and hip thing to say is, "Oh, I NEVER listen to the critics! I go my own way!" But the fact of the matter (for me, anyway) is that I have very limited time and funds and on those rare occasions when I am at liberty to see a show or an exhibit, I do some homework beforehand so I don't squander the opportunity, and that homework includes scouring the reviews. That's why when the Tim Burton exhibit currently at MoMA got a weak review in the New York Times back in November, I demoted it to my B list of things to see.

Well, I had my "doh!" moment when I approached the exhibit. Critics can sometimes be humorless idiots and that is certainly the case here. The exhibit is a blast. Initially, I was puzzled over why MoMA would mount a retrospective of a movie director but Burton is an imaginative designer and makes good use of the floor space.

Photo credit: Marilyn K. Yee/The New York Times

As you can imagine, it has broad appeal and the crowds are pretty thick. (That's probably one of the reasons why the Times critic—sniff-sniff—didn't like it.) If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth a visit, although you should probably get a timed-ticked from the museum, especially if you're going on a weekend.

Tim Burton/20th Century Fox

[Edit for comment: I didn't take my girls to this show. 3-Year Old is too young for ANY museum and 8-Year Old would have been creeped out by it. As you can imagine, some of this stuff is actually quite frightening and 8-Year Old has a delicate sensibility. I think it would have given her some serious nightmares. At bedtime, the Edward Scissorhands costume would have marched out of her closet and the Catwoman costume from under her bed.]