The Unbearable Banishment: September 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

More effective than Ambien at quadruple the price

I've seen lots of people fall asleep at the theater. It happens all the time. Sometimes, people eat a heavy meal before the show. Or they're not use to staying up so late. Or it's a 3+ hour Shakespearean marathon. Other times, the material is so weak that it can't hold your attention. You sitting in a nice, cozy, dark theater. You've had a long day. What's happening on stage isn't very interesting, so you might as well take a little nap. It's okay. Just don't snore. That rude!

But it's an entirely different story if you fall into such a deep slumber during the first act that you actually sleep through the intermission and continue to doze through the second act. That's when you've got a real problem on your hands.

Notice all the empty seats?

Such is the case with the Roundabout's production of The Language Archive currently in previews. The second act was actually pretty interesting. It had some nice, dreamy fragments that worked and a satisfactory conclusion. But by then, it didn't matter. It was too damn late. It's like a car that was driven over a cliff and on the way to the bottom of the ravine, the driver decides she'd like to turn around.

The first act was a lumbering grind. I mostly blame the playwright, Julia Cho. The dialogue is stilted and stiff. It didn't sound like people talking to one another. It sounded like actors reciting pre-rehearsed lines. There were a lot of false pauses. And it wasn't the fault of the poor actors.

At the same theater last season I saw Dana Ivey in The Glass Menagerie and it was the polar opposite of this. The dialogue flowed smoothly. It sounded like spontaneous, natural conversation.

And beat me over the head with a big metaphor bat. He studies languages but he can't talk to his wife. I get it. His lab assistant can't confess her feelings for him because she has a problem communicating. Yet, she works in a language lab. Oh, the irony! The old bickering couple have a secret language that can only be used when they're able to communicate with each other. I get it. Okay?

This thing is directed by Mark Brokaw, who knows his shit. Sometimes, the material just doesn't come together.


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Favorite spam email subject line of the week:

Naked pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow will give you iron, man.



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vegetarians: Do NOT Read This Post

Saturday brought, what is likely to be, the final blast of sunny, hot weather until next year. We gassed-up the Toyota and headed down the Jersey shore for the annual Seaside Heights Que by the Sea festival. It's the state barbecue championship, although you don't have to be from New Jersey to enter. There were vendors from all over the tri-state area. Awards were given for best chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket.

There were over a dozen award-winning booths just like this one. How does one decide?

The event is sponsored by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. I have no idea who that is. For all I know, it could be some guy in his garage with a certificate he printed himself. No matter. If a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event includes this...

...then count me in! 4-Year Old Daughter said, "Daddy, that's gross." I spoke to the chef and he said that that pig will turn for 12 hours. The meat they served that day was cooked the previous day and the guy above was served up the next day. Now THAT'S a reason to get out of bed in the morning!

Regular readers know that I'm nuts for ribs, but I decided to deviate slightly and get the brisket. I dribbled a little BBQ sauce and a little hot sauce on it. Not a lot. You don't want to mask the flavor of the meat. Baked beans on the side (of course). It was so good that I told Mrs. Wife I wanted to go back the next day for more. I wasn't kidding. I'd have done it. She put the kibosh on that idea. She's too sensible.

This is an industrial-strength smoker. The streets were lined with them and the fragrance of smoking meat permeated the air. It made me woozy. Someone should develop a perfume that smells like a barbecue festival. Men would find you irresistible. It'll work. Trust me.

When 8-Year Old Daughter heard that we were going to the barbecue festival, she shrieked with delight. She likes ribs just as much as I do. The apple never falls far from the tree. And just for the record, she said that as good as these were, they're weren't as good as Uncle J's ribs back in Cleveland. And she's right about that.

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Take a look at this blog. She posts one photo per day. No text. The consistency of the quality is pretty amazing.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Today's Guest Blogger: Mark Twain

I paid a visit to the Morgan Library for the Mark Twain: A Skeptic's Progress exhibit. There are manuscript pages from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi, as well as letters, notebooks, drawings and other stuff. When I go to manuscript exhibits I'm inevitably disappointed. I try to read them but the handwriting is always illegible and I get nowhere. The Morgan displays their handwritten manuscript for A Christmas Carol every holiday season and it's a mess.

Take a look at one of the display descriptions. Hang in there. It's shocking.

"Following the Equator (1897) is Twain’s recounting and fictional reworking of his “round-the-world” lecture tour, most of which was spent in and en route to Australasia, the South Seas, South Africa and India. He was already a severe critic of British and European imperialist and colonialist policies, but seeing their consequences firsthand only intensified his anger and conviction that Western ideals of human progress were a sham. He was especially enraged by whites’ hypocritical use of religious and “civilizing” rhetoric in the brutal exploitation of native peoples.

Still, as fiercely as Twain condemned Christianity and the West (the deleted passages regarding white rule are harsher than those published), he was equally unsparing in his evaluation of other cultures and religions. He regarded all religions and societies as systems of superstition and control ingeniously disguised as theology, ritual, and political ideology, the better to ease and exploit humanity’s fear of death and the unknown."

Wow! That's pretty accusatory stuff! I happen to agree with Twain. (Hope that doesn't cost me any readers.) The book is full of illustrations. Take a look at this beauty:

This is how Twain saw the introduction of European society to Aboriginal Australia. On the platter, the "savage" is offered Law, Opium, Disease, Whiskey, Tobacco and Religion. There's also a whip and a pair of shackles. Twain equates religion to, among other things, opium. Now, where have I heard that before? Who knew that Twain was such a Lefty?

The exhibit is open through January 2nd.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mahster Thespian

This isn't the first show I've seen this season but it damn sure is the funniest. The revival of David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre is still in previews. I'm not sure how the critics are going to treat it but I had a great time.

Patrick Stewart is a pretty amazing actor. In addition to his big, fun paydays as Captain Picard and Professor Xavier (the same character, really), he's an accomplished Shakespearean stage actor. I saw him a few years ago in London in Antony and Cleopatra, which was good, and two years ago as Macbeth in New York, which was great. I thought he was too old to play Macbeth but he pulled it off.

Here, he plays an old windbag of an actor who has spent far too much time backstage and not enough time with civilians. Overly dramatic and sensitive to criticism, he takes himself and his craft far too seriously. His young colleague, played by T.R. Knight from Grey's Anatomy, suffers his tantrums, hurt feelings and long, long, looooonng soliloquies about the theater and life, but develops a real affection for him. Some of the scenes are only a few lines long, but they're perfectly placed little comedic bombs.

On the surface, Mamet seems to be making fun of actors. But the play is actually a love letter and a big wet kiss to the profession. It's got a beautiful ending. As he walks off the stage, Patrick Stewart, in character, repeatedly, and with great hammy flourishes, wishes a good night to the imaginary audience he's been playing to. Finally, just as he's about to disappear into the wing, he turns to the audience, breaks character and quietly says, "Good night." It's an unexpected, effective fourth wall moment.

Written in 1977, this is one of Mamet's earliest plays. Do you know how Woody Alan's early stuff is a lot funnier than his later stuff? That goes for Mamet, too.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumn in New York

Today is the first day of autumn. I tried living in a part of the country that doesn't have a change of seasons (unless you consider hot and really fucking hot to be seasons) and I just couldn't do it. I need to swap my wardrobe out. I like my sweaters and coats and my scarves that are right out of a Dickens novel. Here comes thick stews and tossing The Daughters into a pile of raked leaves, all-day pots of hot coffee and Sunday football.

It was a sweltering, punishing summer to be in New York City but it was a good summer for the New Jersey shore. Hot with little rain to ruin the weekends. But that's all over now. These guys are going to have to find something else to do with their time.

We had some brutal storms. There were a few hurricanes that pass by too far out to sea to do any damage, but in their wake they left deadly riptides. There were a few drownings this summer. Just imagine. You go to the beach to cool off for an afternoon and end up being pulled out to sea. If you're ever caught in a riptide, you should swim parallel along shore until you're out of it, and then back in to land. Too many try and swim directly in. If you get into a fistfight with a riptide, the riptide will kick your ass.

Mrs. Wife knows her way around the Jersey shore. She know how to avoid the Garden State Parkway traffic snarls by taking local roads and knows which beaches are the least populated with out-of-towners. (They're snidely referred to as Bennies. I have no idea what it means.)

This place will close in a few weeks. For me, there are two things that signal the true end of summer; when Lighthouse closes for the season, and the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. Once the last sausage and pepper truck rolls out of town, get out your gloves.

But that's not a bad thing at all. I posted this video last year around this time. It's Billie Holiday's rendition of Autumn in New York. I have no idea who put this together but it's simply beautiful. When I watch it, it makes me all goopy inside for New York.

Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds

In canyons of steel

They're making me feel
I'm home

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

8 From Limerick

My pal, Mapstew, threw these questions over the pond some time ago but life got in the way and I haven’t had an opportunity to answer them until just now. Sorry for the delay, sir.

1. Why did you start blogging?

For the money. And the chicks.

2. If you could travel anywhere in the world, with no restrictions on cost, where would it be, and why?

My gut answer was London because I love that town. But Mrs. Wife and I could use a friggin’ break so I’m going to say one of the Caribbean islands. Have you ever been down there? It’s other-worldly. The color palate is like nothing you’ve ever seen before in nature.

3. Did you have a teacher in school that had a great influence on your life? If so, what?

No. Not one. I floated through high school like a wisp of steam. That was the extent of my formal education. There was a Lieutenant Commander in the Coast Guard named Kent Mathews who was the only person who ever showed what can be considered a fatherly interest in me. Not even my own Da could be bothered.

4. If you could spend the day with a famous person, who would it be, and what would you do?

I’d like to go to Central Park on a balmy summer afternoon and sit on one of the big rocks by the 59th Street entrance and have a chat with Jesus Christ. I’d ask him, “Are you really the son of God?” I’d ask if he really did rise from the dead and if so, why didn’t he show himself to the masses? It would have made things a hell of a lot easier for a lot of people. Then I’d ask him to perform one miracle; get someone to pay me to write so I can stop this goddamn daily commuting. Oops. Sorry, JC.

5. Toilet paperover or under?

Over. And, yes, it matters to me. So much so that I change it when it’s under.

6. Name one thing in your life that you would do over if possible.

I think I’d relive the six years I spent in the Coast Guard. It was, pound-for-pound, the most satisfying job I‘ve ever had. It was a blast! I couldn’t believe they were paying me! I was on a search and rescue team for a bit and had a hand in saving some lives. More than once! You can’t imagine the god-like feeling you get when you pull someone out of the ocean who would have died if you hadn‘t showed up. The look of gratitude on their face can’t be described.

7. Tell us about your pets, if any.

We have a fish named Dennis. Mrs. Wife and I pray nightly for his longevity because The Daughters have gotten it into their heads that once Dennis dies, we’re getting a cat. I think they want to work their way up the evolutionary ladder.

8. Do you live in a small town or a large town?

C’mon. Are you kidding? I’m in THE large town.

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If Oprah Winfrey married Deepak Chopra, she’d be Oprah Chopra.


Sunday, September 19, 2010


Have you ever noticed that after you've survived a bit of a crisis, food tastes better, colors are more vibrant and the air is more fragrant?

After a recent bout of unpleasantness, I blew off some steam on Friday night at the very masculine Hudson Bar and Books. It's a scotch/cigar bar in the West Village. The wood is dark, the top of the bar is gold tin and the books are stained with cigar smoke. There's always a James Bond movie playing on the TV in the corner. [This evening's selection: Dr. No. Dynamite fashions. Ursula Andress emerges from the Caribbean. ]

If you fight and hang in there long enough, eventually you'll get a bit of a repose and, if you're lucky, someone will bring you a nice tumbler of 15-year old Balvenie on a silver tray with a little ice on the side. This is the moment you exhale and realize that the world has not, as expected, collapsed. And take it from me, pallies, the second round goes down even smoother.

My friend just returned from Spain and smuggled a few illegal Cuban cigars into the country. [The U.S. still has a trade embargo with Cuba, believe it or not.] I'm not a big cigar smoker—a few a year perhaps—but smoking a COHIBA from Habana felt dangerous and fit in with the evening theme of unwinding. The smoke was kind of harsh and my voice was several octaves deeper the next morning.

Afterwards, I took my somewhat tipsy ass for a walk. I walked from Hudson and Horatio, up 8th Avenue, all the way to Port Authority to catch my transport back to New Jersey—a distance of about 42 blocks. It was a glorious night. Just a tinge cool. Everyone was out and about. New York did what it always does for me—provided its own rolling sideshow. The big parade of humanity. When I got to 8th and 14th, I plugged my iPod in and listened to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I know that's kind of square but it worked so well that I listened to it twice.

I passed young couples who were arguing in the middle of the sidewalk right next to couples on first dates who clearly wanted to dispense with the formalities and get to main event. I walked over subway sidewalk grates that blew hot air up at me as A trains whizzed passed underneath. I've always heard that you shouldn't walk on a subway grate because it could collapse under your weight. Not only has it never happened to me in 20+ years, I've never seen it happen to anyone else.

Is everyone aware that Manhattan is having a bedbug problem? It's true! They're everywhere. There are special trained beagles who can sniff out the little devils. Bed bug beagles! What a smart business opportunity.

I passed the Tello steakhouse on 8th and 20th Street. Its clever neon sign out front has a blinking "M" that implores you to "EAT" "MEAT."

At 27th Street I passed a man in a wheelchair walking his three-legged dog. He (the dog) was missing his right front leg. Two tough sons-of-bitches.

At the other end of my trip home were two beautiful daughters safely snug in their beds and a wife who, once again, didn't bail out on me when things went sour for a while. Between the three of them and New York City, I can't see that I have much to complain about.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Elephant Stepped on my Guitar

That’s my all-time favorite metaphor for something really bad happened. An elephant stepped on my guitar. Isn’t that just beautifully descriptive? Well, an elephant stepped on my guitar and it wasn't your run-of-the-mill-I-dropped-my-phone-in-the-pool-again thing. I didn’t feel much like writing. Or reading blogs. Or sleeping. Or eating.

But in the midst of the strum und drang, a couple of really nice things happened. First, I received a few “are you okay?” emails from some of you. Others posted a “where the fuck are you” comment. (Not those exact words, perhaps, but that’s the spirit of the messages.) Thank you all for your concern. It’s meaningful to me and I’ll never forget it.

Here’s another really nice thing that happened to me over the last two weeks while the walls were on fire. Last June, I was contacted by the editor of an online literary publication in Chicago. He is a regular reader here. His site has been around for a few years and it was due for a retooling. As part of the relaunch, he asked me if I was interested in writing a monthly column on rare books. First I said yes and then I went through the “I’m not smart enough, good enough, etc., etc.” guilt trip that I usually lay on myself. Then I grew some hair on my sack, sat down and banged out a column. It was easy! The damn thing practically wrote itself! The site just relaunched. It's the world famous Undie Press and my column is called Books You Cannot Read.

I’m from Ohio. We frown on any type of self-congratulatory behavior. We consider it undignified and déclassé. We believe in modesty. But I'm going to go out on a dangerous limb and say that I'm really pleased with my first attempt. I invite to you hop over and have a look. It’s a quick read and it’s a pretty good show, if you don’t mind my saying so. Plus, you’ll get to see my real name. How‘s that for incentive, bitches? No stalking, please.

I’m WAY behind on my theater posts. The season is well underway. Thank you all, again. I wish I could find the right words.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Bar That Time Forgot

I've written about this dump before. When I visit my family in Cleveland, I always make a point to stop in for a few beers at The Suburban Inn on Bagley Road. It's a cinder block building in a parking lot right next to a Shell gas station. "Bar" is too nice a name for it. "Bar" implies warmth and hospitality. Like on Cheers. If you're in an establishment that only serves the kind of vodka that will give you a pounding headache and the floor is sticky and the air smells like stale beer, what would you call that? Purgatory? I like it.

When you open the door you're hit with a massive billow of cigarette smoke—it's like walking into a gas chamberand a warning. The State of Ohio has outlawed smoking in bars but the proprietors of the Suburban Inn don't give a damn what the State of Ohio says. A hand lettered sign cautions:

The Suburban Inn neither condones nor encourages smoking in this bar. It is your decision. You may be cited and fined by the State of Ohio.

I always thought the sign was a joke amongst the employees. The Law couldn't possibly give a shit about a dive like The Suburban Inn? Could they? On the contrary. I read in an Ohio newspaper that the The Suburban Inn has amassed a whopping $49,000 in fines for smoking violations that they steadfastly refuse to pay. The most in Ohio! You go girl!

The law doesn't know the half of it. Do you guys know what these are? They're called pull tabs.

Pull tab front

Pull tab back

It's (brace yourself) gambling. The Suburban Inn keeps a big plastic jug full of these things under the bar. They cost $1 each. You rip the three tabs open and you might win a little money. Take it from me, you usually don't. Gambling is illegal in Ohio; even more illegal than smoking in a bar. They'd REALLY be fucked if they were caught with these things. When you lose, you put it on the bar and they're swept up almost immediately. They don't want the bar littered with pull tabs in case The Man walks in. There's a special garbage pail they're thrown into that's emptied quite frequently.

Good thing The Man doesn't read my blog, eh?