Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Give me proof! I want proof!

Afraid it is another hiatus week since work is a flurry of work and also I must proofread a book in a week! So in the meantime, I suggest you check out Christian Bok, here and here. Based on my reading (in book form) of the first a few years ago, I think he is pretty great. Based on my internet reading of the latter a few days ago, I think he is probably even crazier than I had thought!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Down for maintenance

Operations temporarily suspended while your narrator eats a Cadbury creme egg.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

One egg, two egg, red egg, blue egg

In contemplating what tale to regale you with next, o readers, I realized that a special time of year is upon us. No, I don’t mean the rogue seder my family is having this evening to accommodate my sister's return to college by the point Passover actually starts. Though that is special (and specially breaking about 65 religious rules, no doubt) as well; I don’t think we have all been in the same place for Passover since I went to college. And I don’t mean Easter (which I just Freudianly mistyped as “Eater”) either, though I guess my subject is a bit closer to that venerated occasion. No, folks, I mean…

Cadbury eggs! I rarely eat just straight-up candy anymore, but I would eat one of these every day if I could. I can’t remember when I first had one, but they are my favorite candy in the world, in all their infinite variety—I don’t know if I prefer the classic crème, the melty-smooth caramel, or the tiny little speckled ones that come in a purple package. It is always very exciting when Cadbury season rolls around. The drugstores lose that insipid valentine candy and instead rows upon rows of chocolate eggs grow from their formerly-barren aisles.

An egg is a perfect form in which to enjoy filled chocolate. Candy bar? Not so much. But an egg, you can pick up, you can devour in a few satisfying bites, the ratio of inside to outside is perfection… ah. I know I am not alone in this sentiment; I have fond memories of my dear wife A.— and I greedily acquiring these wonders and eating them in the Science Center whenever spring rolled round. A.—, I hope you have an egg right now, wherever you are. Or, y'know, five.

I will add, at the risk of grossing out and alienating some of you (but hey, I will know who my true friends are after this), that the form of the sublime in Cadbury crème eggs has been perfected by one A Salt and Battery. At this British-style chipshop, they fry an egg in a deep fryer and it comes out all crispy on the outside and gooey and chocolatey on the inside and amazing on all sides. I have not had one in many a year, which is probably a good thing, as it costs about three dollars, is no doubt launching a collision course to give me a heart attack, and is devourable in about 30 seconds flat.

But! This year! Disaster has struck! I have been unable to locate any eggs. Yesterday, I finally and gloriously discovered some caramel ones (which the salesperson inexplicably discounted 25 cents apiece for me—thank you, wherever you are!), but I have not found any others except, at one point, a couple of beaten-about-looking orange crème eggs, which are Not The Same. People tell me the eggs are everywhere; perhaps I am just an unlucky individual. R.— even assures me they have them at the Duane Reade down the street. Guess I know where I’ll be going on my lunch break.

PS: Even if I do get one, apparently there is a conspiracy afoot. Watch and weep.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I’ll just trust my feet to find the sunset song

Sunday tutoring concluded, I meandered over to a restaurant I’d been meaning to try. I was hardly a trailblazer here: I learned of the place from an email from a fellow foodie friend, who read about it on a website that compiles “best of” foods from some other blogs…and I received my friend’s email several months ago, no less. Still, I felt I was staking out unknown territory: walk straight south from 826, and 5th Avenue bleeds into mysterious untapped landscapes. After leaving behind the gradually shading-off commercial opulence of Park Slope, you encounter about half a mile of Greenwood Cemetery, an MTA depot, a mysterious fence-shrouded lot, and finally the Hispanic portion of Sunset Park, to which I made my quest.

Exactly two miles out, I pushed open the door of Tacos Xochimilco and ordered a carnitas torta. It materialized in short order, at which point I stopped at a vendor with a friendly rainbow umbrella to pick up a hibiscus drink before doubling back to the hilly Sunset Park itself to eat. And how! This sandwich was definitely one of my top ten sandwiches ever, as I described it to my mother (prompting the inevitable, what are the other nine; a question for another day…)

A torta is always an experience, really. I got hooked when I tried one at Reading Terminal Market a couple years back; unfortunately, though the vendor still exists, it stopped serving tortas after my first lucky order. So I've developed the habit of looking for a replacement. Time Out NY wrote up a place in my neighborhood which is okay; I had a pretty good (and enormous) torta in SF…but nothing wonderful. ’til now! Somehow all Xochimilco’s ingredients combine into perfection: there’s the bread, barely containing the pork, slightly melted queso blanco, avocado, tomato, shredded lettuce, a healthy dose of jalapenos, onions, and beans that threaten to overwhelm the flimsy wrapping at any moment. I’d asked for it to be just a little bit spicy and it delivered just right. Though it’s a crazy-dense sandwich, it was gone before I knew it. Delicious.

And, oh, the view from that park. I have never been somewhere so scenic. The dimming of the day in mist: Look! The river, New Jersey, Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Williamsburg Bank Tower, the Manhattan skyline, the bridges—everything. I couldn’t believe that the long grasping arm of gentrification hadn’t interceded (other than through interlopers such as your faithful narrator); instead, it’s street vendors, little restaurants, old-school hardware store signs, kids running around the park setting off bottle rockets, chasing each other’s bikes, swinging on swings too little for them (how I wished one had been free for me). I don’t know if the park (and the neighborhood) was named for times such as this evening—but surely it must have been.

As the sky darkened, I made my way uphill to Seventh Avenue to sneak a shortcut home through Brooklyn’s triangulation (magically, if you hit it right, 36th Street deadends into 20th or so, a source of constant surprise). On the park’s far side, I spotted the Pizza on the Park Café. Oh, that accent aigu. The sign of gentrification after all.

Friday, March 19, 2010

PS W'burg

This seems apropos, given what I wrote yesterday. Oh, hipsters and hipster-sociologists.

And, PS to a much older post, this is pretty sweet. Who wouldn't like a Shostakovich marching band, besides maybe people in Soviet Russia. Hmm.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I went down by the seawall

Yesterday’s work prompted a haze of dissatisfaction that’s only subsiding now. Can just about make out my hand in front of my face if I squint. File’s almost tucked away again, Xeroxes made, exemptions dealt with, letter typed up. Sometimes I just have a gnawing sense that I *don’t wanna.* Maybe it’s brought on by homework, or scheduling an appointment, or a particular work assignment, whatever. The file that’s been dogging me this week is like that. In all respects, it is extremely unpleasant—graphic subject matter; sad characters on all sides; bulk of material, some of it confusing—and I found myself just wanting to avoid it. Today I stumbled out of bed somehow and resolved to accomplish it, and I basically have.

Before I could get here, though, there was yesterday evening. Cradled in my personal haze, I found myself hopping the train yesterday evening, arcing out over the Williamsburg Bridge on the (still-somehow-exotic-to-me) J train to pay homage to one of my favorite places, a tiny strange park. It requires a bit of walking, since it’s right on the water, and it’s pretty small, but you round the appropriate corner and all of a sudden: there it is, a little oasis. For all that I feel the place is secretive and secluded, there were tons of people out yesterday. Perhaps they, like me, feel the weather casting out its imperative, feel drawn to the sun dipping its inevitable way down the sky. There were old people and young people, couples strumming guitars and children shrieking underfoot. (I never said these people were my favorite people.) A couple of girls sat in earnest talk out on the rocks as a small boy wailed about not being allowed out there. When you’re eighteen, his beleaguered mother replied.

Me, I sat down on the edge of the wall with my book, angled uptown to avoid the sharp splash of sun in my eyes, drank up the scenery. There is, just like the J train, something fascinating to me about that stretch of coast. I’m so familiar with the view from Manhattan out to Brooklyn and Queens, and with the stretch of park and promenade in more-southern Brooklyn. But the space sandwiched between the Williamsburg Bridge and, I suppose, the 59th Street one far to the east, electrifies me. I can see my parents’ tall building if I look right, and the Empire State, Con Edison, Chrysler, my favorite MetLife. The horizon breaks so low over here, renders my tired old landmarks expansive. Manhattan is a suddenly alien object to me (believe me, this doesn’t happen just anywhere). It looks so, well, industrial, with all the factory towers and housing projects across the river. And the water sparkles and the sun over the Williamsburg is beautiful if you shield your eyes with Death and Life.

And, related to all those city principles, no doubt, I feel so ambivalent about W’burg itself. Even since the last time I’d wandered around, a mysterious town seems to have sprouted on its westernmost edges; tiny boutiques, food shops, a new and lovely bookstore, a chocolate factory hang out their flags on empty back streets broken only by a racing cyclist or the tones of a Hassidic man engaging some skate rats in conversation. There is something so summery about the place that both draws and repels me. It pushes you toward visions of wandering out all night in the endless light, feet stroking the concrete, sitting on stoops, wearing your craziest hat and your brightest sundress while you sip some microbrew and graffiti up a wall someplace. It really is different from the rest of the city, despite seemingly-endless gentrification or what-you-will. It’s its own sort of Eden, I guess, but I don’t think I’m one of the gardeners.

Waiting for the subway back into Manhattan, I’m accosted by the onrush of passengers disembarking from the L. The thing that strikes me most about them is their youth; I know I am not so old that I can’t fit among them, but they make me uncomfortably aware of mortality in a way no other neighborhood does. I try to imagine walking out on Bedford Avenue twenty years hence, and I can’t do it. There is a sort of tyranny of the young at work here; I have the sense I’d be ostracized at 45—not intentionally, but those bright young things would shove me aside. It’s a little like how I imagine the beautiful people you hear about in California, only these folks aren’t beautiful exactly, so much as extremely, summer-ily alive.

And I can’t begrudge them that, can I, even curmudgeonly, fileburdened me. They’re having such a good time. I watch the accordionist on the platform for a while. He smiles and nods as an older man drops some change into his—you guessed it—coffeecan tip jar. The waltz plays as I board the train. Maybe there’s hope after all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baby, you can't drive my car

Call it too much reading about the villainy of Robert Moses*, but I am even more down on cars than usual. Cars are lame! I am sitting here at my desk merrily reading my friendly neighborhood blog, only to discover that the fourth accident in about as many weeks has happened on my corner. I am beginning to think it is a black hole where cars go to collide. I too was almost accidented once; those cars speeding down B will stop for no car, and certainly no man.

And cars are not only my immediate local problem. Seems to me they are responsible for many woes that plague our society (as well as, specifically, me). It’s best not to get me started, for instance, about the frustrations that have lately been created for and by the MTA, regarding service cuts and fare hikes and all that delicious stuff. Many people advocate putting tolls on the East River bridges or implementing a congestion pricing procedure in order to raise revenue for 24-HOUR PUBLIC TRANSIT used by MILLIONS OF PEOPLE. But are we allowed to do this to our precious drivers? Nooo! Heaven forbid.

And how about the health benefits that one may derive from not having a car? I read a study recently that said that only some horrifically small percentage of Americans actually walks anywhere. I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for basically all of that percentage fraction, ’cause I hardly ever met a walk I didn’t like. Someone told me about an exercise group that drives to malls to walk around them, for God’s sake! What is up with that.

And of course there are the more global concerns about what cars do to the environment, and the price of oil, and and and! Perhaps there are other alternatives to oil, but I don't know how I feel about that! Meanwhile when I go home tonight I will probably get run over by that stupid SUV driver who can’t be bothered to read a stop sign. It was nice knowing y’all.

(Full (and obvious to probably all of you) disclosure: I can’t drive. I am not morally opposed to learning how or anything, but during the times when I might’ve learned I was, y’know, having a job or immobilized by knee surgery or stricken by some other inconvenient life event. And, okay, I would like to pilot something other than a golf cart, and I get that it is a “life skill” that is good to have (though I have yet to experience any real-life situation where this was the case). Also, my sister has been gunning to get her own car ever since she learned how to drive at the ripe old age of 16 or whatever. So I know any vote of mine for a grand carless-world scheme will be canceled out. Grumble.)

O, tell me, driving public (as surely 99.3% of you are): What is so great about cars? Do you really need one? Should I learn to drive one? Will you buy me a nice one?

*Seriously, RM: Who wants to speed through Manhattan to get from New Jersey to Long Island, or vice versa? Aren’t you missing the point here? I know that you are dead and cannot answer me. But that’s no excuse!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Operations suspended for the week, ladies and gents. The excrement, as my eleventh-grade history teacher once said (to the laughter of no one but me), has hit the ventilation. Today at work feels like a midterm, as I have had to execute every single type of task that I have ever worked on (plus a couple of new ones for good measure). It's not even three yet. Speaking of three, I am proofreading THREE BOOKS right now. That's right. See ya on the flipside.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


You guys! A couple of weeks ago I saw 4 concerts in a row and I said I would write about them. Life has intervened in the meantime, but now you can hear about my concertgoing exploits. If I wrote in depth about each one, I think it would be sufficiently lengthy to bore the non-musical yet somehow still fail to offer real insight to the musical. So, I condense the first three and offer somewhat more extended thoughts on the fourth, which was the most interesting for reasons you will find out, if you continue to read!

My first concert, at Carnegie Hall, was put on by a young musicians' orchestra ("young" meaning 18-30 or so, rather than a youth orchestra) as well as some more illustrious soloists including Joshua Bell. I really enjoyed their rendition of Shostakovich's 6th Symphony, even though I am skeptical of jolly Shostakovich. They ended with a rousing Bolero, which always entertains, and played Bach's Double Violin Concerto. I wish I could get into listening to Bach more. I enjoy playing (my paltry bit of) him on the piano because of how patterned and mathematical it feels, but largely fail to replicate this satisfaction in my listening habits.

The next concert involved the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and its graceful rendition of the Brahms Violin Concerto and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (thanks to C— for suggesting the latter). It was all in all a lovely contrast to what feels like all-power all-the-time from Alan Gilbert and the NY Phil (which I do also like).

The third was back to the Phil (though with David Robertson, not Gilbert) and Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand. Which was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, one-armed brother of the more-famous philosopher, and which was totally awesome. It was followed by some dances by Ginastera which were much fun.

Then Sunday I dragged myself out of bed for a surprisingly well-attended (to narcoleptic me) morning piano performance by David Greilsammer. Who did this crazy-awesome thing inspired by John Adams's China Gates. He got to thinking about pieces of music as "gates" through which to see other pieces: What can we learn from these new juxtapositions? What new meaning does a piece up close to another allow us to hear? The whole idea puts me in mind of a surreal Pictures at an Exhibition, though Greilsammer never mentions that in his program notes.

The juxtapositions themselves are crazy; the pianist played part of, say, a Ligeti piece, followed by a snatch of Mozart, then part of Satie, an arrangement he's made of Monteverdi, Janacek...up to the centerpiece, China Gates, of course, and then back out: another section of the Janacek concerto, another related Monteverdi song, and so on. The whole time, he comes to the end of a piece and strips the relevant sheet music away, amassing piles on either side of him, gates of a sort, a surprisingly showy gesture in what otherwise, somehow, feels like an understated performance.

I wish I could play piano like that, the opening of China Gates so delicate compared to any lesson-book piece I can muddle through, or even the pounding way I usually experience it through headphones. It was beautiful while it lasted. Now I'm back to playing my tunes for bears to dance to.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Deep inside of a parallel universe

I'm not much good at watching TV. Sure, I had phases where I was absorbed by My Little Pony (though, alas, not until after my grandfather retired from his job at Hasbro) and Care Bears; and later I was enthralled by the charms of Rugrats and Doug (left-handed, just like me!). But after that middle-school spree, I was pretty much done with television. Movies, too. I often like them when I see them but I am particular; my sister is endlessly vexed by my refusal to sit down in front of a movie when I won't have time to see the whole thing, or, worse, when I have missed even the slightest blink of opening credits.

I don't think my attention span, or my learning style, or my something, is compatible with movies. It's compatible with books, of course. I am (in case you did not notice) all about text. One thing I can really get into is foreign movies and TV shows. They've got words right there, on the bottom of the screen! It is much easier for me to follow that way. I have made it through movies in various languages, to say nothing of the somewhat-extensive amount of anime I absorbed back at the start of college. And, hey, foreign TV is a great language-learning tool. I can now say "little brother," "what's wrong," "thank you," and "alchemist," thereby rendering me totally conversant in Japanese! Though nowadays, that education has faded from my hoirzon. I can occasionally get into watching sports--tennis, baseball--but only sometimes.

Other than that, I am not much for that peculiar box. (And what a small peculiar box I grew up with--a classmate visiting a few years ago asked me if it was a toy. Nope.) R-- told me he is often embarrassed to ask people to catsit because there is no TV; I doubt I would've noticed if he didn't mention it.

The reason I am musing disjointedly about all this is that once again I walked to the subway past lampposts festooned with movie-shoot notifications. Apparently a show called Boardwalk Empire is going to be filming on my street this week. I always knew I lived in New Jersey. That and upstate and in various other suburbs, according to the welter of shoots that have sprung up nearby since I moved in. What with that and working where I do (and they are always filming L&O here), I feel like I live in one universe parallel to countless other, fictional worlds. There is something fascinating about these worlds, even if I never make it to most of their onscreen portrayals. When I lived with my parents, one day the crew of Revolutionary Road transformed the nearby park into a vision of the past--period costumes, period cars, realism only slightly marred by the surrounding tables full of bagels and croissants and orange juice. And those bright set lights are so mysterious on walks home from the train. What do they see? Clearly they've glimpsed some sort of potential beneath my neighborhood that I have not imagined.

How about you dudes? Do you like TV? A lot? Can you summon at least a modicum of understanding for oddball me? What are they filming in your backyard?

PS: Taking a break from writing this, I loaded up googlereader and look what I found. Clearly I am right on the pulse of breaking neighborhood news!