Brooklyn & NYC
March 11, 2005
Riddle of the EtherSphinx
What's thrilling to a child,
Useful to a teenager,
Romantic to a young lover, and
Tiresome to an adult?
Snow, dammit! Enough already.
March 09, 2005
His prices are INNN-SAAAAAAAANE!
If you grew up anywhere near New York and you have any memory of the 70s and early 80s, the title of this post surely lit some long-disused neurons.
Crazy Eddie was a legendary audio/video/electronics retailer famous for his "INN-SAAAAAANE!" TV and radio commericals, always done on the cheap and featuring the same manic spokesman. Recently I was reading one of my regular Internet bulletin boards, the New York Radio Message Board, when I happened on this fascinating thread where an insider discusses the rise and precipitous, felonious fall of "Crazy" Eddie Antal and his brain-searing commercials.
I highly recommend the NY Radio Message Board, by the way, for anyone with an interest in New York radio. It's mostly populated by pros, and it's chock full of inside dope about the business, art, technicalities, ratings and regulatory issues of radio programming. Air America is frequently discussed. (Success or failure? Basically, liberals say it's raking in the dough, conservatives say it's on fiscal life support. Liberals say its ratings are strong, conservatives say they're in the dumper. Much Talmudic dissection of dayparts and demographics is involved).
One of the interesting topics discussed a while back was: Since there are really no broad-based "Top 40" stations playing a wide variety of music any more, and there is no real "top 40" that everyone knows and shares, will there be any "oldies" stations in the future? Since everyone's listening to a different kind of music, how can there be? And, I would argue: Since radio has made itself irrelevant with a combination of cookie-cutter non-local programming, canned playlists dictated by conglomerates, and intolerable commercial loads, where will its future loyal listeners come from, the ones who stick around long enough for their favorite songs to become oldies?
The site, incidentally, began as a tribute to Musicradio77 WABC, which needs no introduction for those who remember it, and for which any introduction would be insufficient for those who never heard it. There are enough airchecks (recordings of shows) on the site to send anyone who remembers AM pop radio into a nostalgic reverie.
March 04, 2005
Mister, you're a better man than I
On Wednesday night, I was having dinner with the EtherHub at one of our usual haunts, the Westway Diner. There's a precinct very nearby, and it's not unusual to see groups of cops eating there. This particular evening, a group of 6 or 7 NYPD Emergency Services guys came in while we were eating and sat at a large table. We were sitting near the register, and as we were getting ready to leave a while later, I noticed a guy in a black leather trenchcoat walk up to pay his check. He said, quietly, "And those cops over there — their meal's on me." The guy at the register looked confused. After a bit of discussion, the cops' waiter whipped out a calculator and added up the bill, and it was duly handed to the register guy to process. The trenchcoated man was clearly trying to remain anonymous, but one of the staff went over to the cops and spilled the beans. The cops were clearly shocked; when their benefactor was pointed out to them, it was clear none of them recognized him. Nevertheless, one by one, the cops climbed out of the booth and walked over to thank the trenchcoated man.
"Hey, man, you didn't have to do that!" one of the cops said gratefully. "Aw, shut up," the trenchcoated man said affectionately, shaking the cop's hand.
Trenchcoat Dude, EtherHub and I left the diner at the same time. I gave Trenchcoat a thumbs-up and a smile. He smiled back shyly and said, "Thanks."
I don't know what Trenchcoat's backstory is, or what inspired him. All I know is: What a mensch.
And they say the big city is heartless.
February 28, 2005
Why I married the EtherHub.
Because he's the kind of person who would look out the window at the snow that's falling now, and say in a deadpan voice,
"Winter Wonderland, or Holly Jolly Hellhole?"
February 21, 2005
Sometimes I really hate living in Park Slope.
This New York Post story, cited by Wizbang, really burns my butt.
February 21, 2005 -- An American soldier overseas is fuming over letters he received from Brooklyn middle-school children accusing GIs of destroying mosques and killing civilians in Iraq.
Pfc. Rob Jacobs of New Jersey said he was initially ecstatic to get a package of letters from sixth-graders at JHS 51 in Park Slope last month at his base 10 miles from the North Korea border.
That changed when he opened the envelope and found missives strewn with politically charged rhetoric, vicious accusations and demoralizing predictions that only a handful of soldiers would leave the Iraq war alive.
"It's hard enough for soldiers to deal with being away from their families, they don't need to be getting letters like this," Jacobs, 20, said in a phone interview from his base at Camp Casey.
Most readers of this blog are probably not familiar with Park Slope, Brooklyn. In many ways, it's a lovely place to live, and on most days I'm happy I live here. But this is as close as you can get to Berkeley on the East Coast, and at times the seething Bush hatred on these lovely brownstoned streets has been so in-your-face that I feel like a spy in enemy territory. This story doesn't surprise me. The neighborhood is still festooned with huge "We the People Say NO to the Bush Agenda" banners, stencil renditions of Bush as Satan, hate-Bush window signs, bumper stickers, T-shirts, etc.
For an accurate snapshot of Park Slope's politics, savor this excerpt from an article titled "Liberal Brooklynites Bummed Out," printed in the November 6, 2004 Park Slope Paper. Please note that the article is not intended to be funny, but if you burst into a spasm of derisive hilarity, I won't hold it against you. Lord knows my sides were sore when I finished reading. Perhaps the laughter was more of a release than anything else — a release of the unrelenting tension I'd felt for so long. I couldn't bear to throw the article away; that's why I still have it here to quote from.
The announcement came over the loudspeakers at the Park Slope Food Co-op shortly before noon: Sen. John Kerry was conceding. People looked at each other, stricken over the soymilk and organic vegetables.
Pilates instructor Rachel Priebe ran weeping from the store.
"I'm heartbroken," said Priebe, 30, sobbing gently as she loaded her bicycle on a Brooklyn sidewalk. "The rest of the country must be pretty out of touch with reality."
"I'm devastated," writer Emma Starr said as she left the nation's largest member-owned and -operated food co-op. "I have proposed that we should have two distinct nations. Why should we be forced to live together under the rule of an evil dictator?"
That pretty much sums up the average Sloper. It's shamefully easy to laugh at these people's pain, because they made Park Slope such an aggressively hate-filled, rageful, oppressive place for such a long time leading up to the election. (And Emma Starr, my dear, if you want two nations, you leave. I was born and raised in New York. This is my home. I ain't leavin'.)
Back to Wizbang's citation: The article about JHS 51 brought up some issues for me. EtherHub and I have been talking about having children, but we have serious questions about where we could send them to school. We're atheists, but not militant ones; EtherHub was raised Catholic in Brooklyn, and I would gladly consider Catholic school. However, the Catholic archdiocese apparently doesn't think Catholic schools are important, because they're closing a bunch of them. (What the hell, right? It's not as if there are all that many Catholics in Brooklyn. It ain't like it's "da borough of choiches," or nothin'.)
Public schools are obviously out of the question, even "good" ones like JHS 51. The story cited at the top of this post sums up the reason why. Private schools in this neighborhood have tuitions that would put most private colleges to shame. Besides, I went to a "good" private school in Manhattan, and didn't get much of an education. Oh, no, wait -- I learned that drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol are so wonderful that there's really no need to acknowledge the existence of anyone who doesn't enjoy indulging (like me). I learned that a girl isn't worth anything without a boyfriend, and sex is required. Meh. I'm not sure I'd want my kids learning that. And that was back in the early 80s; hard to imagine what it's like in private school now. I wouldn't expect a school to teach my kids values, of course. I'd just expect them not to spend each day tearing down the values I tried to teach the previous night.
Is home schooling the only alternative? I'll do it if I have to, but how sad that someone whose values are as truly middle-of-the-road as mine would have to shun all local schools for their radicalism.
Anyone out there faced a similar problem? I'd love to know how you handled it.
January 26, 2005
Ohm, Ohm in the Bronx.
Where the Yanks and the criminals play...
Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I shouldn't bash the Bronx. It's a misunderstood borough.
Part of the problem is it's name, I think. It's impossible to say melodiously. And it's aggressively strange. Why always "The" Bronx?* Why the X? Such a forbidding letter.
For out-of-towners, its reputation was tarnished by flims like "Fort Apache, The Bronx." Starting in the 70s, "South Bronx" became a handy synonym and summary of urban decay. Again, I blame the name. If the Bronx had been called Fern Valley, no amount of bad PR would have made its name synonymous with crime, hopelessness, and burned-out buildings.
The Bronx has a bad reputation among New Yorkers, too, but for a different reason: It's impossible to drive through. Try to drive upstate, and you'll find yourself lost in the South Bronx, on Bruckner Boulevard. I think every New Yorker has a lost-on-Bruckner-Boulevard story, and believe me, of all the streets in New York, this is one of the ones you'd least like to get stuck on.
I've taken a few road trips to the Bronx, just to wander around. Frankly, one of the reasons the borough has an image problem is that some of the nicer parts aren't very accessible by public transportation. A few years ago the EtherHubby and I did some exploring up there and took some photos. First we checked out the Irish neighborhoods, so full of recent immigrants that in some places an American accent was an anomaly. After stocking up on scones and soda bread, we wandered around for a while. Looking at a map, I spotted two unusually named streets.
Of course, we had to take a long detour just to see this mythical place, the intersection of Ohm and Ampere. What would it look like? Would it glow? Would it hum? Would our hair stand on end? Would the houses look like vacuum tubes, occupied by bustling clipboard-toting scientists in thick glasses and white side-button lab coats? Would the streetlights have van de Graaf generators in place of bulbs?
As it turned out, no. The intersection was in a quiet suburban section of town near Pelham Bay Park and only a few blocks from the Hudson. Some of the houses in the neighborhood had chickens in the yards. Nary a lab-coated scientist to be seen.
|But there was a great photo op. And this is one of my favorite photos. Here's a cropped version.||And here's the full photo. Click to enlarge it.|
*Because much of the land was once owned by Dutch settlers named Bronck. The Broncks', get it? "Let's go visit the Broncks."
January 22, 2005
Snow rhyme or reason.
Okay, it's snowing in Brooklyn. It's snowing quite heavily, and it's very cold. Right.
But such things are far from unknown in New York. We have a big snowstorm at least once or twice a year. Some winters we've had several.
So what explains the behavior of people who flock to the corner supermarket and stock up on food as if it were their last chance to eat before the apocalypse? The Donner Party, in their wildest fever dreams of abundance, would have shown more self-restraint.
I went to our small local grocery to buy a quart of milk, and the tiny place was crammed to paralysis with neighborhood families, mostly quite plump. They were wild-eyed, grabbing things I had a feeling they never would have dreamt of buying if it weren't snowing -- buckets of cottage cheese, enough frozen shrimp to cater a wedding reception, canned tomato paste by the half-dozen -- and their pushing carts choked the aisles.
I quickly realized that the supermarket was un-navigable. Horrifyingly, I was left with only one alternative:* Go to one of the other half-dozen places to buy food staples within a 3-block range of my house. For GOD'S SAKE, people! Every other storefront in Park Slope is a place to buy food! Granny will not starve, you have my word!
*Or I suppose I could just take my coffee black for a day, if necessary, but apparently that's the kind of sacrifice that could kill us all, leaving Park Slope strewn with the corpses of the starved, her streets piled high with withered bodies, dessicated skin tented over dry bones, half buried in drifting snow, with no one left to weep for them but the moaning wind.
January 17, 2005
Barnes & Noble cooking the books? Part II
I posted a while back about the glaringly obvious liberal bias in my local Barnes & Noble’s book displays. I wondered whether the bias was dictated by market forces, or by a political slant coming down from local or national management.
"AkRonin," an Alaskan, responded to my post, saying that there was evident bias even in the B&Ns in Alaska, a red state. Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but it suggests a political, not commercial, motive. Now I have a bit more information to add to the mix.
First, a friend saved this shocking, yet somehow expected pre-election conversation (.pdf file) from a Borders employee bulletin board. (The site deleted the thread when it started receiving unwanted blog-scrutiny.) Brief sample:
You guys don't actually HAVE to sell [Unfit for Command]! Just "carelessly" hide the boxes, "accidentally" drop them off pallets, "forget" to stock the ones you have, and then suggest a nice Al Franken or Micheal [sic] Moore book as a substitute....
I don't care if these Neandertals in fancy suits get mad at me... Anything you can do to make them feel unwelcome is only fair... And they would censor your speech, your books, your music in a heartbeat, so give them a taste of it!
Borders, of course, is not Barnes, but it’s reasonable to think the same kinds of things might go on, at least at the employee level.
Second, for some time I’ve been noticing the books displayed at the Brooklyn Costco, about 35 blocks from the Barnes & Noble. Costco is famous for its fiercely strategic buying and inventory control. They only keep about 50 or so current titles in stock at any given time, and book inventory flies out of that store; you know they keep a sharp eye on every unit moved. I’ve watched their book selections change over countless visits during the last few years, and their selection seems scrupulously balanced politically. For every “Deliver Us From Evil,” there’s a “Bushwhacked.” For every Al Franken book, there’s an Ann Coulter book.
Could Costco be stocking conservative books just for appearances, even though they don’t sell? It doesn’t seem likely. I think conservative books are selling, at least as well as liberal books, and that’s why the new ones keep getting stocked.
Finally, I’ve been using Amazon for about 4 years now, and I’ve never noticed much of a bias. Sometimes they get some kind of bug up their butt about promoting a certain book, and often these are liberal. (Lately it’s been Jon Stewart’s “America.” I assume they have some sort of sweetheart deal from the publisher in these cases.) I haven’t made a study of it, but it appears that, over time, conservative books have been just as common as liberal books on Amazon’s top-seller lists.
So what other explanation could there be for the Barnes & Noble stock and display policies other than political bias? I hate to believe such a thing of a bookstore, but it’s hard to think of any other motives on their part.
January 15, 2005
Stunningly weird photos of Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges in fog
On January 13, I woke up and looked into my back yard. At first I thought there was a fire nearby — everything seemed obscured by white smoke. The 'smoke' was actually fog — the thickest, lowest fog I've ever seen.
At 9:30, as EtherHub drove us both across the Brooklyn Bridge into midtown Manhattan, I had a chance to check out the capabilities of my new Canon PowerShot SD300. We were driving at a good clip, but I managed to get some amazing shots out the window.
I've lived in New York all my life, but I've never seen the skyline disappear so completely. The enormous gothic stone towers of the bridge were only visible for a few moments as we approached them; the rest of the time the suspension cables just disappeared up into the sky, apparently anchored to the clouds. The FDR Drive, which runs along the river up the east side of Manhattan, seemed to be a short stretch of grey in the middle of an empty, flat world of white nothingness. No river, no skyline, nothing. Even the bridges were only visible from the FDR when we were practically on top of them.
These are color photos, though you'd never know it. Here are a couple of the shots (click to enlarge):
|The Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR Drive||The Manhattan Bridge from the FDR Drive|
More below the fold. (Again, click to enlarge.)
|Brooklyn is allegedly at the other end of this bridge.||I love the ad on this cab. It's good to know I'll have somewhere to go in case those pouty ol' blue states ever really secede.||Ghost cables in the sky.|
Click here to view the complete album with more amazing shots and an animated GIF.
November 24, 2004
"Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure!": A Review.
Just got back from seeing Dave Gorman's one-man show, "Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure!", at the Village Theatre on Bleecker St. I confess I have no special attraction to the lone-raconteur-on-stage genre, but I do find it fascinating in its simplicity. When you strip every bit of the unnecessary glitz from theatrical performance, you end up back at the origins of theatre: Just a guy telling a story in as involving a way as he can.
Gorman's story is lighthearted, but no less of a saga than anything written in Greek or Old Icelandic. The plot: Lone man, through odd combination of circumstances, is forced into a quest that takes him to far-off lands where he meets strange characters and attempts to enlist their help as he races against time to complete his mission. Sound familiar?
Joseph Campbell would have had a field day with this show. Perhaps, like me, he would have been fascinated by the idea that a hero's quest can now be undertaken in cyberspace as well as meatspace. Gorman's quest occurs in both worlds simultaneously.
So how was the show? Well, I'm famously hard to entertain, and Gorman held my attention. Most of the audience was laughing throughout. Even my tough-to-amuse spousal unit was guffawing, and the sound of his laughter in my ear was enough to add another full star to my review. (Is there anything more pleasing than the knowledge that someone you love is having a great time?)
I have nothing but boundless admiration for anyone who can keep an audience's laser focus for nearly two hours just by talking. And bear in mind that Gorman's epic tale is not particularly physical. There are no accounts of Borneo rituals, Amazon headhunter battles, or mountaineering feats. Yet he manages to make the intrinsically dorky act of ... well, of Googling, just as compelling. That calls for performing chops and subtle stagecraft, and Gorman's got 'em.
Note that I've deliberately avoided posting links to reviews of the show; in my opinion, the less you know going in, the more delight you'll take in the story as it unfolds. So if you intend to go, be circumspect about reading the reviews.
And finally: a special tip o' the hat to Dave Gorman for including absolutely no political commentary at all in this show. It feels so damn good to just be entertained and taken care of for a couple hours without having to endure a single moment of pandering, self-satisfied homily. Thanks, Dave!
November 13, 2004
But I hear they do make graves.
"PRETTY GIRLS DON'T TAKE THE SUBWAY "?
Here's an example of the importance of good grammar, kids. What if this message was originally meant to read "PRETTY GIRLS, DON'T TAKE THE SUBWAY"? Then it would be a sinister threat, instead of a boneheaded slur.
And by the way: Pretty girls do take the subway. I recommend the F for a nice assortment. (Especially if you like Asian chicks mixed with well-turned-out just-out-of-college babes commuting between their Cobble Hill apartment and their publishing job in Manhattan.)