The Unbearable Banishment: December 2010

Friday, December 31, 2010

New York City/New Years math

New York City + New Year's Eve = RUN AWAY!

Taken about :30 minutes ago near Times Square during my escape.

I spent New Year's Eve in Times Square exactly ONCE. There were four of us and it took me all of :15 minutes to get separated from my friends. I was pushed into a coral by the police and stood there by myself and froze my ass off. Nobody would talk to me because I looked like the lone loser who wandered into a party by himself. Midnight struck and while it was a pretty spectacular moment, I can't say it was worth the hassle. By 12:15 all of Times Square was deserted.

Happy New Year, everyone. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to hide under my bed from all the amateur drunks.

Incidentally, as a point of clarification, tomorrow is the first day of "twenty-eleven," not "two thousand eleven." When it was 1999, we didn't call it "one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine," did we?

Is it just me? You can tell me. I can take it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

That Goddamn Ethan Hawke

I saw The New Group’s production of Blood From a Stone. It’s billed as a dark comedy/drama about a dysfunctional family but let me tell you, it’s about 10 parts comedy to 90 parts drama. And "dysfunctional" is too gentle, too clinical a term, to describe the goings on.

It’s in previews and the word on the street is that, at a bit over three hours, it runs too long and they’re trying to pare it down before opening night. I have no idea what people are complaining about. It was so well acted and so compelling that I didn’t look at my watch once. It’s down to about 2:45 and it makes me wonder what I missed.

Comparisons to the horrible family in Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County are inevitable but this sort of thing goes back to Tennessee Williams and even further than that. This family is vintage blue collar bankrupt, living in a house that is, quite literally, falling apart. It's a different spin on an often-told story.

The entire cast is strong although as the insane ball of anger father, Gordon Clapp (of NYPD Blue) seemed like he was acting at times. Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent original cast) has exactly one scene but it’s so sexually charged that it impacts the rest of the story. As the scene opens, she’s sans clothes but the lights are so dim that you don’t see any of her goodies, which I’m a little upset about.

But that goddamn Ethan Hawke. That son-of-a-bitch is The Man. He was on stage for pretty much the entire 2:45 and he drove that bus just where it needed to go. He’s a master of dialog and reaction. During the intermission, I read the playbill and his credits include two Academy Award nominations, one of them as a writer. Also, he directed a play that was based on one of his two novels. Oh, and the ladies seem to like his look. (Edit: see first comment, for instance). Bastard. That guy makes me question my choices and feel like an underachiever.

* * *

This is the last play I'll see this year. 12 months. 41 plays. It could be worse. It could be whiskey and whores.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Waking up on Hoth

From Wikipedia:

In the fictional universe of Star Wars, Hoth is the sixth planet of a remote system of the same name. It is a world blanketed by snow and ice.

Hoth Schmoth. That place has nothing on New Jersey. We were hammered with a major blizzard last night. A state of emergency has been declared. The word is that New York City is also buried but I haven't been able to get there to confirm. I couldn't get to work and since I'm only a consultant—not a full time employee—I won't be paid for today. They'd better get this mess cleaned up. I don't want to miss another day of work. Also, I have tickets to an off-Broadway dark comedy/drama about a dysfunctional family starring Ethan Hawke and I don't want to eat the tickets.

Here are the drifts that were right outside our door. It's as though I moved to Colorado overnight, for cryin' out loud!

I had to dig us out. This photo has a soft blur to it because Mrs. Wife took it from the warm side of our windowed storm door. It's the most snow I've ever cleared in a single session. I popped my earbuds in, cued up Sandinista! by the Clash and got the job done. It was easy! It only took a four hours.

Daughter came out and "helped" me shovel but, of course, it didn't last long. Her heart was in the right place but what 9-year old can resist the swansong of a deep snow drift?

This is the halfway point. Hour two. It was an astonishing amount of work. My neighbor in that house across the street owns a snow plow but in the nine years we've lived here he has never once offered to help clear my driveway or lend it to me. One time when I was stuck in the city, Mrs. Wife had to shovel the driveway. She had our then year-old daughter wrapped up in her stroller in the garage. After he finished his driveway, did he offer to help her? Nay. He did not.

I texted this photo to a friend of mine who lives in a tony apartment in Tribeca. I wanted him to see what moving to the suburbs could lead to. He texted me back from the warmth of the Dominican Republic, having escaped the city just before JFK was shut down. He was en rout to a small island in the Mediterranean with his heartbreakingly beautiful/smart Dominican girlfriend.

I will conclude this post without further comment.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

NYC Christmas photo blast

I should have been posting these throughout the month but I got lazy. Here's a whole pack of holiday images from New York.

It's so easy to embrace Christmas in the city. There really are chestnuts roasting on an open fire! Turn a corner and you're hit with the scent of pine from trees and wreaths beings sold on the sidewalks (seven foot trees are +/- $70). The big tree at 30 Rock and the big star over 5th Avenue. The Cartier building wrapped like a pretty package. ALL the windows are dressed; not just the ones at Lord & Taylor. A lot of people (most?) think it's overkill and that it starts too early, but not me. I love it.

We still have these Salvation Army guys. This one was standing right in the middle of Times Square chaos playing Christmas carols on a baritone horn. You wouldn't expect to hear such a soft, warm sound rise above the cacophony. Comfort and joy!

Macy's: It's not just for Thanksgiving parades.

NOT a shopping mall Santa.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

Nothing says Feliz Navidad like a festive holiday street meat cart.

If you're coming to town and want to ice skate, forget Rockefeller Center. Get down to Battery Park. [Edit: This is Bryant Park. Not Battery Park. Some expert I turned out to be! THANKS, Sasho!] The rink there is larger, generally not a s crowded and the park is lined with stores selling fun holiday gifts. There's also a cool little restaurant/bar (the structure on the left side of the pic). I took Miss Daisyfae there and we had a fine time. That's the big public library behind the tree.

Streetlamps dressed with red bows and the Chrysler Building.

The Rockettes as ornaments. Step! Kick!

Truer words were never spoken.


Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Christmastime in the city

Here's my annual photo blast of the holiday windows at Lord & Taylor's flagship store on 39th and 5th. They've been dressing their windows with special Christmas displays since 1914. The work is done below street level on platforms that raise into place. Lord & Taylor employees are allowed into the basement to preview the displays prior to the public unveiling. It's nice that some prime retail window real estate isn't used for product placement during the holiday season.

This year, they had the peculiar idea of having people submit their favorite Christmas memories and turned a select few into window displays. A pretty cool idea if you're memory is chosen, but unless you're Charles Dickens, I don't give a fart how you spent Christmas in your youth.

The displays have a mostly contemporary look to them and are, for me, a bit of a disappointment as compared to displays of the past. I miss the detailed work and ambiance of the usual visions of Ye Olde Victorian Christmas. You can click on these to blow them up for a closer look.

Here's the left half of a carriage house that's right out of Architectural Digest.

Here's the right half that includes the living space.

If you look upstairs, there's a big 70s disco party in progress. Mirror ball and all! Remember when people use to remove the grill cloth from their stereo speakers to watch the woofers dance around? I looked closely for an authentic '70s era bong but didn't see one. Nor a lava lamp.

This is a brownstone exterior. It's the kind of home I would love to live in, so I swooned and my knees got weak when it came into view.

The left half swivels opens to reveal the house interior. These displays always seem to have a disproportionate number of white people in them!

Here's the left half of an apartment building with art deco flourishes on the façade. Downstairs is a 1950's kitchen with vintage appliances and a mom cooking dinner while wearing a dress. See what I mean? White people!

Here's the right half of the apartment building.

Here's a short film that shows a 50's family marveling at a wonderful new invention: television! Rabbit ears and all. The entire scene pivots to a contemporary family watching Rodolph on a big flatscreen TV. Finally! Integration takes root. Above them, Santa dive-bombs onto 5th Avenue.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh happy day!

Oh happy day
(Oh happy day)

Oh happy happy day

(Oh happy day)

When Jesus washed

(Oh when he washed)

When Jesus washed

He washed my sins away!

He taught me how

(He taught me)

Taught me how to watch

(How to watch)
He taught me how to watch

and fight and pray

(Fight and pray)

Yes, fight and pray

Oh happy day

(Oh happy day)


Good news! The December issue of The Undie Press just posted with my monthly column on collecting rare 20th Century Literature, Books You Cannot Read. This month, one of the best writers that England ever produced (IMHO). Thank you, my Limey friends!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Off-Broadway ticket giveaway! Just in time for the holidays!

A gift for my readers landed in my inbox this week.

The producers of the new off-Broadway comedy Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage starring Eve Plumb gave me four tickets to give away! All you have to do is click over to their site and tell me the name of Ms. Plumb's co-star and they're yours! (The answer can be found in the Cast and Creative link. So easy.)

I'll send a voucher for four tickets to the first person who emails the answer to Four tickets = a $300 value! (The voucher expires March 1, 2011.)

If you're too slow on the draw but would still like to see the show, you can get special discounted $45 tickets from their site if you enter the code DATING when purchasing tickets.

Happy Holidays, bitches. Don't say I never gave you anything.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hut hut hut. And then, enter, stage right

Unlike Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, which got a lot of hype and a lot of press but, ultimately, wasn't very satisfying (for me, anyway), here's a play that isn't making a lot of noise but delivers the goods.

Mrs. Wife said, "Who are they trying to appeal to? Other than you, I don't anyone who likes both football and theater." And that's a good point. A few years ago they had the boneheaded idea of turning Nick Hornby'a High Fidelity into a musical. It was a disaster. Rob, the protagonist of High Fidelity, is the kind of guy who wouldn't be caught dead at a Broadway musical. Likewise, someone who watches the Green Bay Packers every Sunday isn't likely to attend theater. But they'd be missing out on a compelling story that would mean a lot to them.

The play is filled with great performances and it absolutely deserves to be seen. It has a little to do with football and a lot to do with the relationship between legendary ball-busting NFL coach Vince Lombardi and his wife, Marie. Marie is played by Judith Light of Who's The Boss fame and she nails her character's sad resignation. Likewise, Dan Lauria, storming about the stage, is a convincing Lombardi. The supporting cast does fine work, especially Keith Nobbs as a young journalist who inserts himself into their lives.

A clippy :90 minutes with no intermission. A great venue with every seat close to the action. The actors leave all their guts on the stage. What more do you want, for cryin' out loud?


Sunday, December 12, 2010

All I want for Christmas is a benign biopsy

Last August I bumped my forehead. At least, I *think* I bumped my forehead. I don't actually recall an incident whereby I bumped my head, but around that time a sore about 1 cm in diameter opened up on my forehead and it just wouldn't heal. I went to the gym and after a vigorous workout it would open up. A stream of hot water would hit it in the shower and it would open up. I'd scratch it in my sleep and it would open up. This has been going on for four months.

When I was in Cleveland for Thanksgiving, my sister gave me a homeopathic beeswax ointment which did a pretty good job reducing the size, but it still wouldn't go away completely.

Mrs. Wife finally put her foot down and insisted I see a dermatologist.

In walked this ravishingly cute, young Indian doctor. I glamored her with my witty barbs about the medical profession. We had a few laughs, some innocent flirtations and then she casually said, "Well, I'm going to take a biopsy but I can assure you that you have Basal cell cancer." She explained that, fortunately, this is fairly common, does not spread and is easily treated. But it is a type of skin cancer and not to be trifled with, so a biopsy must be performed.

I told her that I'm Italian and the sun is supposed to be good to us Mediterraneans. She said, "Ah! But you have blue eyes!" I had to admit that I also have my rotten father's Polish blood coursing through my veins. Thanks, Da.

She asked what SPF sunscreen I use when I go to the beach. I chuckled and said, "Sunscreen?" All the flirtyness got sucked out of the room. She got very serious, looked at me sternly and said, "From now on you're an SPF 30 man. Do you understand?" She slapped a band-aid on my forehead and walked out of the room. I sat there like an idiot for a few minutes until I realized I was dismissed.

Test results are in a week to ten days, but I don't think there's much to worry about.

Is there?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rub vigorously for good luck

The Time Warner Center is a huge shopping/ residential/ hotel/ entertainment complex located at the southwest corner of Central Park in Columbus Circle. It's where Midtown ends and the Upper West Side begins. Think of a shopping mall just steps away from Central Park. There's a Whole Foods inside.

It houses one of my favorite public artworks. On the main floor are two 12 foot statues of Adam and Eve by artist Fernando Botero. They're big, smooth, bulbous black monoliths.

Here's Eve. She has a very maternal look.

Here's Adam. He has a special interactive feature that I'm certain Botero and the property managers of the Time Warner Center never counted on. It seems that the thousands and thousands of tourists who stream through the center have decided that rubbing his uncircumcised penis is good luck. So many people have done it, that the patina glaze is rubbed off and the underlying gold is exposed.

Clickable. If you must.

People are constantly having their photos taken while yanking Adam's flaccid anteater. There's an art dealer who occasionally applies a touch-up, but it never lasts. Do you know what I love most? Management approves! They have no intention of removing Adam. It has become a destination when visiting the city. America is such a puritanical country that I thought the reaction would be the opposite.

I'll bet you won't find that in the guidebooks. Snap.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ruminations while waiting in line

A friend was joining me for a play (Review to appear later. Perhaps.) and I had the following thoughts rattling around inside my dome while waiting in front of the theater.

* * *

The play we saw was in a small theater inside the same complex where the mega-monster-hit Wicked is playing. Wicked is a big magnet for out-of-towners. (That’s not a put-down. Mrs. Wife and I saw it when it opened and it’s a fine show.) Many tourists who were there to see Wicked were wandering into the lobby of our tiny theater looking for the Wicked box office. I was playing helpful New Yorker and sending them off in the right direction.

Do you know what makes me nuts? Tourists who walk around town in the middle of winter with deep tans. I see it all the time! Do you know what that means, don‘t you? That means they JUST GOT BACK from a vacation and here they are in New York City vacationing SOME MORE. I realize this is all born from envy and I don’t resent them or anything, but it does make me crazy.

The theater was right across from The Palm restaurant. The Palm is a chain of steakhouses here in the U.S. I ate there once but my dinner was so insanely expensive that I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. Fine food and the fine dining experience is wasted on me. I have no appreciation for it whatsoever.

Speaking of fine dining, Elaine Kaufman just passed away. She was the owner/impresario of a famous restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan called Elaine’s. It was given a nod in the Billy Joel 1978 hit ditty Big Shot.

They were all impressed with your Halston dress
And the people that you knew at Elaine’s

Ms. Kaufman would stand at the entrance of her restaurant and judge people who wanted to eat there. Some got in. Most didn’t. And if you were granted a table, it could be near the kitchen in the section of the restaurant snidely referred to as Siberia. So even if you’re in. You’re not in.

I can’t stand New York snobs. I hate when people are treated shabbily because they don’t have enough money or power. People like Elaine Kaufman make me sick. Good riddance.

Have a swell time in hell, Elaine. Hope you got a good table.

Here’s the elegant Ms. Kaufman throwing a garbage can lid at a paparazzi in 1978.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A shelter from the cold with benefits

I had a few hours to kill after work and wandered into the New York Public Library; the big branch on 42nd Street and Madison Avenue. They were open until 8:00 p.m. that evening and I needed a place to get out of the cold. If you go to the third floor, you'll find a huge reading room with high, carved wood ceilings and big windows that let light pour in. The long oak tables have electrical outlets built right into the tabletops so you can plug in. Plus, there's a Gutenberg bible on permanent display in a glass case at the entrance to the reading room. You don't stumble across that ever day!

These photos of the main entrance off of 42nd Street make it look like a mausoleum or a crypt. It's the fault of my camera; it's not poor lighting or design. It looks more grand in person.

The city is getting all dolled up for the Christmas season. I love this time of year and, believe me, it has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. The town looks great and people really do seem lighter.

The sign carved into the stone at the balcony, right at the tip of the Christmas tree, says Astor Cort. In the 19th century, the Astors were the wealthiest family in America and they financed this library, along with other public works. The Waldorf-Astoria, Astoria, Queens and Astor Place in the East Village are among the dozens of places that bear their name. The reward for all that philanthropic work was to lose John Jacob Astor IV on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

I stumbled upon a fantastic photography exhibit that's worth your time x 100 if you're in the neighborhood. I didn't even know it was going on! NYC: a surprise around every corner. Recollection: Thirty Years of Photography at the New York Public Library is up through January 2nd. I thought it would be a pedestrian collection of pics but I was wrong. All the heavies are represented: Robert Capa, Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Weegee and tons more. So fun. And it's FREE! FREE! FREE!

Penny Diane Wolin. "That’s His Mother, He Never Married;" from the series The Jews of Wyoming. Gelatin silver print, 1985. © Penny Diane Wolin.

Amy Arbus. "Ann Magnuson on Park Avenue." Gelatin silver print, 1981. © Amy Arbus.

James De Sana. "David Byrne." Gelatin silver print, ca. 1980. © James De Sana.

Arnold Genthe. "Edna St. Vincent Millay." Gelatin silver print, 1913.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Daisy does Manhattan

Guess who blew into town for a few hours? Straight from the Trailer Park! Mizz Daisyfae was passing through Manhattan en route to a business trip on Long Island and I thought it would be appropriate to show her a few of the sights. I assumed that after dealing with the horrid LaGuardia airport, she might require a drink or two. What?! It's medicine to calm the nerves!

I had a pretty grand scheme. I thought she should take in the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Whitney and see at play in the evening. (She is, under her skin, an actor.) But a biblical rainstorm saturated the area so instead of landing at around 1:30 as scheduled, she didn't get into town until 6:00. Poor thing! She had to settle for the abbreviated tour. Fortunately, by the time she got to town, the clouds parted and the rain stopped.

She showed up none the worse for wear at our appointed meeting spot at Grand Central Station. It was rush hour and the place was as busy as...well...Grand Central Station. I pointed out the restored ceiling mural, took her down 42nd Street so we could gawk at the beautifully illuminated Chrysler Building and headed for Bryant Park.

The ice skating rink is up and running. Thank you, Citibank! At the north end of the rink is a fun little restaurant/pub called Celsius. There's indoor seating on a second level but on the ground level you can take a table outside right next to the rink. The War of the Worlds-type devices hovering above the tables are heating elements that keep you roasty-toasty warm. You feel like a french fry under the lamp at McDonalds. They're very effective.

The menu includes several hot drinks that are all infused with the spirit of Christmas, if you know what I mean. Daisy had two cups of Christmas cheer to my one. She's fast! We watched people fall on their asses and slam into the boards. It's like drinks and a show. I had a bowl of chili that was way, way better than you could expect from a restaurant that only exists for two months out of the year.

Daisy and I sat and kvetched about all of you. The rink was surprisingly empty when we got there! I think the afternoon storms kept people away. By the time we left, it was pretty full of holiday revelers.

We took a little stroll up 5th Avenue to Rockefeller Center. The tree is lit and, again, the crowds were kept to a minimum by the mid-day tempest.

Miss Fay takes in the big Rockefeller Center tree, skating rink and statue of Prometheus.

I took her from 30 Rock, past the neon façade of Radio City Music Hall and down through Times Square. I showed her the ball that drops on New Years Eve and she said, "It's smaller than I thought it would be!" Boy, if I had a nickle every time I heard that. Ba-dum-bump. I'm here all week.

I accompanied her on a downtown subway to Penn Station, got her ticket for the Long Island Railroad and chucked her on a train. Not bad for three hours.

C'mon! Who's next!? Step right up.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bloody, bloody mess

They just announced that one of the many great hopes for Broadway this season, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is set to close in a few weeks. This is an excellent lesson in how much sway and power critics have and, in some cases, don't have.

There's an unusual bumper crop of new musicals this season. There are 11 new musicals that have already opened or are set to open. I tend to NOT see many musicals. If I have a little coin in my pocket for a cheap ticket, I'll usually opt for a play. But I did see this last month.

It came with a good pedigree. It was born downtown at The Public Theater, which can get kind of avant garde-y at times. I liked the premise; President Andrew Jackson is played as an emo punk rocker. The songs are all rough-edge loud numbers that, supposedly, could have fit into Rent (which I never saw). All this noise is going on while Jackson wipes out the entire Native American population. Excellent fun. I thought I had nothing to lose!

The critics fell all over themselves with praise. The Public is a small theater so, naturally, a ticket was impossible to come by. The producers saw sugar plum dollar signs dancing in front of their eyes and they moved it uptown to a Broadway house. They re-reviewed it when it reopened on Broadway and there was more gushing from the critics about the lead and the score and how it was going to pull the kids into the theater.

Well, guess what? It was really boring. The songs were pretty snappy but there were long stretches—especially after Jackson takes office—where not a hell of a lot happens. Again, someone behind me fell fast asleep and started snoring LOUDLY.

So stuff it, Ben Brantley of the New York Times. It's closing on January 2nd. And although I'll never get that evening back, you owe me the cost of the ticket, you dickhead.

I loved the ad campaign. Look at that imagery and tag line on the poster! Fantastic. It didn't help.