The Unbearable Banishment: November 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dispatchs from the field

The holiday retail sales numbers are up slightly from last year and the stock market has recovered, but it looks like a full-blown economic recovery is still a long way off. Back in Ohio, the Dunkin' Donuts employees and the people cleaning the tables and floors at the mall food court all looked like older guys with families to support. These are traditionally entry level, low paying positions that are manned by kids. These guys looked defeated and sullen. Until unemployment reverses itself, they'll be no recovery.

* * *

I rarely give fashion tips but here's one that's money in the bank. Don't wear a black sweater to indoor glow in the dark miniature golf. The black light will make your dandruff glow and your shoulders will be covered with dozens and dozens of tiny, illuminated blue specs. So embarrassing.

* * *

I taught The Elder Daughter how to pump gas while in Ohio. She did everything from credit card swipe to returning the hose and replacing the cap (righty-tighty). Weird factoid: drivers in New Jersey are NOT PERMITTED to pump their own gas. It's against the law! The entire state is full serve. Consequently, kids in New Jersey grow up not knowing how to pump gas. It's a big shock to their systems when they go on their first road trip.

* * *

Best road kill of the long, four hour car ride through the hills and forests of Pennsylvania: A deer leg. Just the leg. I have no idea where the rest of him went. Best road kill of all time: A black bear.

* * *

This is my next tattoo.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Welcome to Ohio! (Caucasians only, please.)

Living on the East Coast, I tend to forget just how conservative people have become in the middle parts of the country. I'm in the lovely Buckeye State of Ohio for the holiday and some people out here are plenty pissed. This place has gone Red State in my absence. I pulled into the local Dunkin Donuts for a badly-needed coffee infusion and ran into this charming fella:

There's no ambiguity about where his sentiments lie. I think the majestic bald eagle imagery is particularly effective, don't you? He might have stolen that from Stephen Colbert. F- for originality.

On the other side of his pickup truck was this:

In case you weren't sure who he's referring to specifically, that bumper sticker—the one where he calls illegal aliens criminals—those are the colors of the Mexican flag. Got it? Lots of ANGER out here, folks. Lots of anger.

* * *

Only a rank amateur would dive into a Thanksgiving dinner without a proper battle plan. It takes careful preparation that begins a day or two beforehand with limiting the amount of food you eat. You have to get your guts in shape for the big event.

The execution of your strategy on the day of the meal is equally important. I prefer a two-pronged attack. The first wave of attack is always the traditional Thanksgiving food. Your plate is the battlefield.

Once you've won that battle and catch your breath, you're ready for the second wave. Target: the Italian delights.

The Italian portion of the meal is prepared a few days ahead of time. There's simply not enough time to prepare all that food in one morning. But there's an added benefit. It's a scientifically proven truth that if you make homemade marinara sauce, meatballs and neck bones and allow them to sit for a day or two, it actually becomes more flavorful and succulent. It's a fact!

The danger with that strategy is that having a big bowl of meatballs sitting around the house for two days leaves them vulnerable to early attacks from other armies. You have to draw a line in the sand.

Tonight: Leftover city, bitches.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hey! Droopy ass! Cheer up!

I’ve been feeling [with apologies to Anthony Burgess] all boo-hoo-hooey recently because I came razor-thin close, but didn’t get, a pretty good position in a big, fat, successful investment bank. I even took it out on the poor, old, feeble Pope in my last post.

I’m about to leave for The Great Buckeye State for the long Thanksgiving holiday and I didn't want to drag everybody down into my swamp so I took drastic evasive measures to improve my mood. [Note to overseas readers: Thanksgiving = the worst thing that ever happened to Native Americans.]

I like to visit Carnegie Hall two or three times a year. That place is one of the reasons to tolerate the filth, crowds and other sundry horrors that are inherent in New York City living. I sought healing at a piano recital. Evenings like that are a real joy to me in small doses. I always go alone because I don’t know anybody who would tolerate that crap, but I don’t mind one bit. It’s actually cathartic to sit in that cathedral by myself.

I’ll tell you one thing; the audiences at Carnegie Hall sure know how to behave themselves. You don’t hear a chair squeak, a candy wrapper crinkle or, best of all, a cell phone chime during the entire performance. Not like those pigs on Broadway.

A really odd thing happened. The lights dimmed, someone walked out onto stage and announced, “There is a change in the program. The [mumble-mumble] by Bach will not be performed. Instead, the [mumble-mumble] by Handel will be performed. What do you suppose that was all about? He wasn’t channeling Bach that night? I would have liked to hear the conversation in the dressing room. (Head in hands) "I simply kahnt perform that piece tonight." Artists are so temperamental. The Bach piece is what drew me to the evening in the first place but I, uncharacteristically, got over it right away.

If you close your eyes, and if you can fight off to powerful urge to fall asleep, the music really can transport you somewhere else. Somewhere not inside my head, which is just where I wanted to be. At the end of what was a really moving evening, I stood to leave. The elderly woman sitting next to me was starring off into the air. She suddenly snapped to and said, “Oh! Please forgive me! I was lost in the ecstasy!” They really do talk like that out here, folks.

The Rose Museum is a small room inside Carnegie Hall that contains memorabilia relating to the Hall’s history. There are lots of programs and tickets and news clippings. There’s the golden trowel that Andrew Carnegie used to lay the ceremonial cornerstone in 1890. Did you know that they almost demolished Carnegie Hall in 1962 to make room for a hideous red skyscraper? Probably the same jack-offs who tore down the original Penn Station to build Madison Square Garden

Here’s a program signed by The Beatles on February 12, 1964, just three days after their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. They played two :30 minute concerts that night. Don’t strain yourself, boys.

Take a look at what they did to poor Paul McCartney’s name! Ha!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

That Pope is one swell fella

The New York Times reported that the Pope has sanctioned the use of condoms to help stop the spread of AIDS. How about that Pope! What a MODERN GUY. Don't get him wrong; the Catlick church still condemns condoms (and all other methods of birth control) as SINFUL, but this is a tectonic shift in attitude. Just last year while en route to AIDS-plagued Africa, he said that condom use did not help prevent the spread of AIDS. Only abstinence and fidelity did. Go Pope!

Every time that guy opens his yap I pull further away. 98% of the Catholics I know are Chinese menu Catholics. That is to say, they'll pick and choose certain dictates to follow but they won't embrace Vatican laws and regulations as a whole. Even my dear old mother still took communion though as a twice-divorced woman it was against holy doctrine for her to do so.

I think that if every Catlick had to choose between following Vatican dogma to the letter of the law and leaving the church, there would be a stampede to the exits.

I feel kind of guilty picking on the Pope. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.

* * *

In my latest column for the UndiePress (Have you read it yet? It's genius!) I discuss the difference between a signed book, an inscribed book and an association copy. Here's a perfect example of a great association copy that's going to be auctioned at Bonhams in New York on December 9th.

FLEMING, IAN. 1908-1964.
The Spy Who Loved Me.
London: Jonathan Cape, [1962].

First edition, signed and inscribed by Fleming to Robert F. Kennedy on the front free endpaper. Provenance: the estate of Paul "Red" Fay [1918-2009], a close family friend of the Kennedy's and advisor to JFK.

Estimate: $10,000 - 15,000

Friday, November 19, 2010

I get knocked down

While I’ve been gainfully employed all year, it has been as a consultant. The hourly rate is quite generous, but when you factor in the out-of-pocket expense for medical insurance and not getting paid vacation or sick days, it’s not such a great deal. Plus, they can pull the plug on me at any moment.

Early last week, out of the clear blue heavens, within an hour of each other, I received phone calls from two separate headhunters asking if I was still looking for permanent work. Hell, yes, I am. Last Thursday I called in sick (*kak* *kak* I can’t make it in), put on my best suit and went on two interviews. Months of silence and all of a sudden, two in one day.

Here’s the view out of the conference room window of my first interview. That big green patch is Central Park. The offices are on the 57th floor of Rockefeller Center.

Both interviews could not have gone any better. Both are great companies. On Tuesday, company #1 phoned and said that all hirings have been frozen until after the first of the year. Company #2 phoned yesterday and they went with another candidate. I have a colleague who works at Company #2 and he called to say they interviewed “dozens” of people and it was between me and another guy. Cold comfort.

Two years of this shit! I’m sick of it. I’m not interested in a winning lottery ticket. I just want a solid position with benefits. It that so much?

Yesterday, I received this email from one of these stupid, useless job posting sights I registered with:

Afghanistan Jobs - Plumber, HVAC, Carpenter HOT HOT HOT!

Has it come to that?

After the first interview I had some time to kill so I walked across the street to Christie's. They were in the middle of an auction; Post War and Contemporary Art (morning session). If you ever get a chance to attend one of these I highly recommend it. They’re open to the public and very exciting!

While I was standing there with my resumes, polished dress shoes, portfolio, hopeful intent and mournful look on my face, I watched someone pay $675,000 (est. $300,000 - $500,000) for one of Albers’ Homage to the Square and $480,000 (est. $150,000 - $200,000) for Warhol’s Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box which is, unbelievably, shockingly, a goddamn cardboard box that once held cans of tomato juice. I could support my family for years on $480,000. What happens when you acquire great wealth? Do you take leave of your senses or become mentally incapacitated?

I just got angry all over again while typing this out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For your pleasure

Here's my column for the November issue of the UndiePress. This time, my book-collecting brush with celebrity. Forget what I've written in the past. This is, without a doubt, my BEST. COLUMN. EVER.

I know I've insinuated that before but I really mean it this time.

* * *

Favorite headline from today's business section:

Greece Beats Ireland for Worst Deficit in Europe

You go, Greece! You're #1! I'm no economist, but perhaps tax-dodging shouldn't be part of your national culture. I'm just saying.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mercurial sexy murals

I had occasion to walk through Rockefeller Center last week. I was there for an interview. The center is filled with a series of beautiful murals that were commissioned by the Rockefellers in the '30s during construction. The most notorious was a work done by Diego Rivera. In the sketches he submitted for approval, Rivera forgot to mention that he was going to include scenes from the Communist May Day celebrations and a portrait of Lenin. A small detail. When Nelson Rockefeller discovered what he did, the work was promptly covered up.

My favorite murals are not in the main building, 30 Rock, (although those are pretty great and worth checking out). One block south at 48th and Rockefeller Plaza are murals that are so sexually charged that I can't believe they weren't covered over along with old Lenin.

(I've loaded these pics larger than normal so you can click on them and give them a good look if you're interested.)

This mural is on the south wall. I don't know what the hell it this. Progress? It's a small touch but I like how the movement of the plane propellers are depicted as thin circles (as on the next mural, as well).

What's really kind of wonderfully bizarre is how these women's bodies are depicted. The breasts are clearly very bad implants. They're also too angled and toned. Even their faces are tight.

This mural is on the west wall. It depicts the history of transportation. I think. Again, I'm not even sure.

I can't get past the reclining woman in the upper right corner. Clearly, she is in the throws of ecstasy. And so submissive! Fantastic.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sweet. Dangerous.

This post is pure daddy blog drivel. It's the type of thing I pass over if I'm behind in my Google Reader. I provide it for my distant siblings who live hundreds of miles away and don't get to see their nieces very often. Feel free to read on and comment, but you've been warned.

* * *

The Daughters are a classic exercise in extremes. 8-Year Old is sensitive. Almost too much so. She'll apologize for things that have nothing to do with her. She picks up after her sister to avoid seeing her disciplined. She worries. Her heart will be broken 1,000 times.

On the other hand, 4-Year Old is utterly remorseless. She'll commit the same wrong over and over again. She'll apologize, but with a big smile on her face that makes you question her sincerity. Sometimes, she lies. She'll break hearts without regret.

How do I get their temperaments to meet in the middle? Is there a magic pill?

Weekend afternoons with 8-Year Old Daughter have given way to afternoons with 4-Year Old Daughter. She likes to visit the botanical garden near our home. The land was once owned by Vito Genovese, one of New York’s crime family bosses. New Jersey busted his ass, took his property (beautiful gardens and rolling hills) and turned it into public domain.

Here, she confronts the half man/half demon-beast scarecrow. She asked me to pick her up so she could touch his pointy teeth and see what they feel like. This is the type of thing that would have given 8-Year Old nightmares when she was her age.

Near the entrance is a topiary caterpillar. I point it out to her. She walks up…

…and, of course, puts her head in its mouth. I could get all metaphorical about her disregard for danger but that would just cause me to lose sleep at night.

We always bring a bit of bread so she can feed the goldfish in the pond. It’s a constant struggle to keep her from fall in. Imagine me bringing her home covered in pond muck! Boy, would I be in the dog house!

Our afternoons end as they always have. As they always will. At the diner.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Two one man

It is said that one of the greatest human fears is speaking in public. Imagine, if you will, walking onto a stage and the only thing standing between you and utter humiliation are your words and this:

That's the extent of the staging for St. Nicholas, the one-man show at the Irish Repertory Studio Theater (the smallest theater in Manhattan). Man, I love the Irish Rep. If I had some extra money, I'd give it to them. One-man shows are such a crap shoot. The potential for catastrophe is pretty high and I always feel awful when it doesn't work out. And while this show didn't quite achieve greatness, it was a pleasant night out.

St. Nicholas was written by Irish fireball Connor McPherson. It's the story of a drunken, washed-up theater critic (a bit of payback, Mr. McPherson?) who becomes involved with a beautiful young actress. It comes to pass that the actress belongs to a sect of vampires. The vampires give him a new vocation: fetching food for them. There's a seemingly endless supply of supple, young club kids who are eager to party.

I was seated in the front row and I always find sitting in the front row to be too much of an intrusion into the performance. I prefer some distance between the stage and I. I become too self conscious about keeping my feet off the stage and trying to look lively for the actors. I always try to get lost in a performance but it's impossible for me if the performance is right in my lap.

* * *

The other one-man show I just saw was Long Story Short by Collin Quinn, which is about to open on Broadway at the Helen Hayes (the smallest Broadway house).

They're making a big deal out of the fact that it's directed by Jerry Seinfeld. I'm always suspicious of stand-up comics who do one man shows because often times, it's nothing more than their stand up act with a pricier ticket. But I was willing to gamble on this because I'm a big fan of Herr Quinn. It's a great premise. Quinn discusses the demise of the various empires throughout civilization. Yes, we're next.

He came out and seemed hesitant and unsure of the material. This show ran for several weeks Off Broadway, so his performance should have been a lot smoother than it was. I think he actually might have lost his place on one or two occasions. But I laughed and I guess that's what it's all about.

Polish it up, Colin.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Death in Manhattan x 2

I was walking up Varick Street at 7:00 a.m. and came across this sad sight.

Some shitheel took out a tree with his/her sloppy driving. It was a direct hit. It looks like they drove their car right onto the sidewalk and up the trunk of the tree. They stripped the bark clean off for added insult. I can only hope the car was damaged beyond repair.

For some reason, my heart always breaks a little bit when I see a tree taken down. Who doesn't love trees!? I especially enjoyed J.R.R. Tolkien's treatment of them. At this point, Manhattan is almost solid concrete. Trees are a scarce commodity. This is one of the distinguishing characteristics that makes London a nicer city than New York. London is much greener and feels more like a collection of homey neighborhoods.

* * *

Here's a rather plain but still attractive building on 8th Avenue and 15th Street across from the the truly gorgeous Apple store. It has some clean lines and I like the crown work. The brick façade is nice and warm. The awning is a nice touch. Unfortunately, it has been murdered by some shitheel architect.

We're all out of horizontal space in New York so a popular work-around is to utilize the vertical space. There are lots of older buildings that have had structures added to the top of them. It can sometimes work with the existing aesthetics but what happened here is an abomination.

An ugly, festering, cancerous carbuncle has been jammed onto the top of the original building. It doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with the original design. But what the hell. I'm sure they're making a fortune off the rentals and in New York, too often, that's what it's all about.

Fun fact: To the right is the Old Holmstead Steak House. At 140 years, it's one of the oldest steak houses in Manhattan. I had a Kobe beef burger there once and it was kind of gross. The meat was almost raw.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The way other people live

Regular readers know that the current recession has kicked me in the plums pretty hard. For the past 22 months, I've worked as a consultant at about a half dozen investment banks, none of whom are in any mood to hire on staff.

Back in 2009, I went through a 3-month period of unemployment. Since then, I've had scattered 2-3 week outages of work. I actually consider myself fortunate because I know some folks who have weathered this recession a lot worse than I have, so I'm not complaining. Much.

But what happened during those work stoppages is something I didn't expect. I tasted what life is like when I'm not obligated to sit in an office all day, every day. And the sweet flavor has lingered in the windmills of my mind. We were never in any financial distress during my unemployment because Mrs. Wife and I live frugally (her more so than I) and that helped keep panic at bay. I was able to enjoy the hell out of being unemployed. It's like the time I was given a complimentary upgrade into first class on a flight. Worst thing that ever happened to me! All it did was show me how barbaric coach is.

There's a lot of life going on during the day outside my Manhattan window. And seeing The Daughters and Mrs. Wife in the evening is what it's all about, isn't it? But that kind of lifestyle takes money. Lots of money. I'm just regular.

I went for a walk at lunch yesterday. It's been sunny and cool all week. I wound my way through the Village and as I passed the Greenwich Village Bistro on Carmine Street, I heard music. I poked my head inside and stumbled onto this scene.

These three old rattlesnakesone on a beaten upright piano, one playing a trumpet (with a mute) and one playing a trombonewere pumping out New Orleans jazz tunes. At 1:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday! They were masters of their craft. This is why I love this town so much. You can go out for a walk and it'll show you a magic trick. Presto!

I took a seat at the copper top bar and ordered some split pea soup. The barmaid called me "hon" and chatted me up. There were only two other tables of customers. It was virtually empty.

There was one other person sitting at the bar. A round, soft, black guy who was working on a music score. At one point he yelled over to the musicians, "I'm gonna sing one, okay?" The piano player started a mid-tempo chug, the trombone came in, then the trumpet, and the guy sitting next to me sang in a silky-smooth voice, a song about missing New Orleans. I almost wept into my soup.

There was a guy sitting at a table typing away on his Mac. How did he do it? How did he maneuver through life so that he is able to spend his afternoons like this? [Interesting factoid: The waitress in this pic is the piano player's granddaughter. What a joy it must be for both of them!]

I think it's too late for me. Do you know they just opened an Edward Hopper exhibit at the Whitney? I love Edward Hopper! He's a Raymond Carver short story on canvas. What am I doing sitting in an office all day? For the past nine years I've spent close to four hours a day commuting. There doesn't seem to be any end in sight. I don't live in some Kafkaesque abject nightmare. I'm not suicidal. But life could, and should, be so much sweeter. Don't you think?

This is the LAST thing I would have expected unemployment to teach me.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm your top prime cut of meat, I'm your choice*

Today, millions of Americans will visit their local polling stations and vote. This is a critically important mid-term election that will shift the balance of power in Congress.

For the first time in my life, I won't be voting. About six weeks ago, I absent-mindedly got a ticket to the theater tonight. I left for work at 5:30 a.m. and won't be home until about 11:00 p.m. The polls weren't open that early in the morning and they'll have long closed by the time I get home.

The tragedy is not that I won't be voting. The tragedy is that I truly, truly, don't care. It doesn't bother me in the least. I always hated politically apathetic people who didn't exercise their right to vote. In other parts of the world, people either can't vote or are, quite literally, shot at when they try.

But I have been drained dry of any enthusiasm for our political process. On Wednesday morning, a bunch of worthless bums will have been thrown out of office, only to be replaced by a different set of worthless bums. I have no faith that any of the clowns running for office will change Washington in a meaningful, positive way.

I'd rather go out and see a play.

I'm no better than Nero. Shame on me, for allowing them to get under my skin.

* 10 bonus points
to anyone who can tell me where this great post title is from without Googling it? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?