Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why is the day before a trip always so busy? I try my best to get the errands out of the way earlier in the week, but no matter how hard I try, there's my to-do list, bigger than a post-it.

Curious about the things I did today? I give you...the minutia of my day:

8:45am: wake up
8:46: bathroom
8:47: turn on NPR
8:48: lay in bed, check phone for emails
8:56: look in mirror, wrinkle on right cheek from sleeping on my stomach
9:01: try to motivate
9:15: get dressed
9:16: stuff dirty clothes in bag to take to laundromat
9:20: walk out front door
9:25: put clothes into washer
9:30: walk to D'Espresso, not the greatest coffee but its the best I can do in a 4 block radius
9:34: walk back to laundromat
9:35: sit in laundromat and wait, that show Doctors is on the air, try to watch
9:55: put clothes from washer into dryer, except a pair jeans and wool socks that can't tumble dry, set them on shelf
9:57: walk to library to return books
10:05: wait out front of library with at least 20 other people, even though it's supposed to be open at 10am
10:07: librarian shows up, she's smoking
10:09: walk back over to laundromat
10:10: realize on walk over that the detergent has been leaking and now have it all over purse and sweater
10:11: everything in purse is sticky and smells like laundry
10:12: fold clothes at laundromat
10:15: walk home to drop clothes off
10:16: bathroom
10:17: deal with purse and sweater situation
10:30: go online, send emails, go on Facebook, putter
10:50: decide to work out at lunch, sign up for class online
11:00: check in for flight, print out boarding pass
11:40: head to Bar Method class
11:55: shop for gifts at a bike shop on Lafayette
12:05pm: wander around Banana Republic to try and use birthday coupons, don't find anything
12:20: change into work out clothes
12:30-1:30: Bar Method class, lots of small painful movements called exercise
1:31: stretch
1:35: get changed back into street clothes
1:45: walk over to the Frye store to look at some shoes I've been wanting
1:50: try on boots and sneakers, decide neither are amazing and leave
1:58: walk over to 'Snice on Thompson Street for a lunch
2:10: have a bowl of Gumbo and a small coffee
2:30: walk over to UPS pick-up to get a package that I missed, it's freezing out, try to cover up all skin that is showing
2:45: take 1 train up to 14th Street
2:55: go to O Cafe to get another coffee, which I don't need but I have time to kill
3:30: go to eyebrow appointment
3:55: bathroom
4:00: take F-train downtown to Delancey
4:15: walk over to vegan bakery, Babycakes, to buy gifts
4:20: stop into vintage shop, wander
4:30: stop into another vintage shop, wander
4:55: walk over to laundromat to pick up jeans and socks that I left there this morning
5:00: walk home
5:01: bathroom
5:02: turn on NPR
5:03: wander aimlessly around apartment trying to decide what to do
5:04: realize blood sugar is a little low, eat randomly until it's better: 3 prunes, 1/2 piece matzoh, cottage cheese, cucumber
5:08: go online and purchase Louis C.K. special on his site, it's $5, which is like, nothing, download to watch later
5:10: put laundry away
5:15: put clean sheets on bed
5:20: pack
6:00: talk to my friend Holli who lives in Long Beach
6:45: make lunch to take on plane tomorrow, I never buy food on the plane, never
6:56: bathroom
6:57: take out trash
7:05: take plants upstairs for neighbor to watch while I am away, by watch I mean water
7:20: more packing
8:00: make dinner: tomato soup, salad, toast with goat cheese
8:10: eat dinner and watch Louis C.K. special
8:15: think about best places to run into Louis C.K.
8:20: think about what it would be like to meet Louis C.K.
8:25: wonder how I can work for Louis C.K.
8:30: re-focus, put away Louis C.K. pipe dream
8:50: eat an apple for dessert
9:30: decide to do this blog post

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the surface.

Buildings aren’t nominated for Emmy awards, but at the corner of Bedford and Grove, in the West Village, there’s one getting so much attention you’d think it has already won. The five-story, brick building is steady and solid with big, pleasant, curving windows. On one side is the quintessential fire-escape, making it quintessentially photogenic. You’ll find it alongside quiet one-way streets, near a school where you can hear kids playing. If you had a bike and were afraid to ride in New York, you would enjoy riding it here.

A week ago I had been across the street, waiting for a leasing agent to arrive. Three months ago I had moved to New York and, still looking for my new home, I was hoping this tree-lined block would be the one. (Looking for real estate in New York involves a lot of crossed fingers.) While waiting for the agent I noticed a steady stream of visitors to the opposite corner. They’d walk up, look around, snap a picture and walk off. Odd I thought. When the agent arrived I asked if he knew what it was. “Oh, yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s where Bob Dylan lived, or something.” His answer seemed iffy, so I pulled out my phone and typed in 90 Bedford Street. There in front of my eyes was the reason: Friends, and a link to Wikipedia. We were standing in front of the exterior location shot of the long-time hit show of the same name. You know the one, I need only say their names to make it all come flooding back: Monica, Ross, Chandler, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey.

The apartment he showed me was as uncharming as Friends was charming. Too dark, too small, too depressing (it was in the basement) and it could be mine for only two thousand dollars. I walked away from the agent with a frown but, still feeling a bit like a tourist myself, my interest was piqued and a week later I went back.

Barreling down the sidewalk, past the corner, came a family, a four top. Speaking rapidly in French, wearing red backpacks and pointing, they craned their necks up and looked around. The father held a giant SLR camera in his hands and, if my High School level French served me right, the mother mentioned she was hungry. Their angular kids shrugged their skinny shoulders. I couldn’t tell if anyone was excited to be there. But then again, non-excitement is the French form of excitement. They wandered back and forth and corner to corner as if in a real world version of Pac-Man. Quick and darting movements. Is that it? Or is that it? I could see them, eyebrows thrown up in question marks. When I glanced over I noticed they were taking pictures of the wrong building.

Sitting on my bench outside The Little Owl, the restaurant that has occupied the ground level at 90 Bedford for the last five years, I watched this same scene unfold ten times in one hour. Couples, families, and tour groups alike. They came to pay homage to their version of television mecca. It’s been seven years since the show last aired but, if one goes by the languages spoken on that corner, the show has hit its syndication stride in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. As the Euros fanned out to their respective corners to take pictures they pointed their cameras up the building, down the block and then they stood in front to capture the moment in a digital memento to take back home; to show around to their real friends.

Friends first aired in 1994 and, over the course of ten years, produced a total of 236 episodes. If we track just one relationship of the group we see it come full circle: Ross wants Rachel. Ross and Rachel date. Ross and Rachel break up. Ross wants Rachel. Ross and Rachel date. And there they’ll remain, frozen in a prehistoric TV stratum for all eternity.

According to an article in The New York Times, the foreign interest in American entertainment has been particularly pronounced in the television industry. In many countries, particularly in Europe, American television shows, once relegated to late night, are being shown in prime time. With this shift in programming has come an increase in the number of hours given over to American programming on the European networks and this number has been increasing year over year, with no signs of downshifting. Sitting here on my corner, I could tell they loved America for our TV, but did it go any deeper?

Out of nowhere a stealth German group walked up, lead by a tour guide wearing a headset, the kind worn by a big pop star singing in a big pop arena. He lead a group of about 25 people that brought to mind a submarine suddenly surfacing for some much-needed air. I tried to follow, hoping to catch an occasional word in English, but it was too fast and too German. They made quick work of this tourist hotspot. They snapped pictures, they moved along.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman walking past me into the restaurant. Tall and round with ruddy cheeks, she smiled but kept one hand on the opened door, striking a pose that said, don’t take too much of my time. She was wearing clogs so I presumed she was the chef. So, what’s it like to work at this location? “Well, it’s all part of the neighborhood charm, ya know.” So, it doesn’t get old? She repeated that it was fine but when I asked again, with slightly different wording, she gave in to my line of questioning. “Well, yeah, it can get a little boring.” One can’t miss all the cameras pointed at the restaurant, so I asked if she’d ever looked for the photos online. “Nope,” she said. Ok. Thanks. I guess I was also getting a little boring, so I thanked her for her time and promised to come back for dinner.

Despite the prominent New York backdrop the show never filmed in New York. The producers felt that shooting outside made the episodes less funny and so, not a single “Friend” left the sound stages of sunny Los Angeles for the urban grit of New York. Yet somehow, what’s made it into seemingly every European guidebook, is this building, used only for it’s exterior, in the opening scene. Once. Our biggest export of Friends is to entice world travelers to visit New York, to see the outside of a building, a building as meaningless as a square of cement with a stars handprint in it.

The Levin Institute says that many complain that this form of globalization should actually be called Americanization, since the United States is by far the biggest producer of popular culture goods. They go on to say that the U.S. entertainment industry generates more revenue from overseas sales than any other industry. In a world where a show like Friends earns us more money than hard goods, is it any surprise that we still don’t have enough jobs to go around?

Hearing Spanish I jumped up from my wooden bench to chat with a couple from Madrid. I asked them why they had come to see this building. “Ah, well, because we both watch the Friends.” But do you still watch the show? I asked. “Ah, yes, we watch again,” the husband said with the obligatory large camera held aloft in his palm. “We enjoy doing together,” his cute wife added, sportily clad in yellow jeans, navy puffy jacket and scarf. They asked me questions, my being “from New York” I instantly became the local expert. I pointed up to the top of the building mentioning that it was just used for the exterior. “Ah,” they said. “So, just uh, façade?” the husband added moving one flattened hand up and down. Yes, I said. The façade. Are you visiting any other locations? Places like this? I asked. “Ah, yes, we go to Tiffanys,” replied the wife, looking at me with that blue box glow in her eyes, “And to see Marilyn,” she said billowing her hands like a pretend skirt blowing up and out from her hips, “At Times Square. You know?” Oh yes, I know.

We stood there smiling for a second longer. I had run out of Friends trivia and they had run out of English. I wondered if they felt about Friends like I did, like they were family. I was 23 when the show first aired, it was almost like we had grown up together. But what did it mean to the Europeans? Was it a show about New York? These were questions I didn’t know how to ask. Before we said adios they asked me to take their picture. I crossed the street to another corner so I could get far enough away, panned up so that the whole building fit in the frame and said quietly to myself, Cheese.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Winter reading list.

I have one whole month to read anything I want which gives me a strange sense of freedom. Here's the list of books I'm hoping to get to:

1. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
2. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
3. The Master by Colm Toibin
4. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
5. Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan
6. The latest issues of GrantaPloughshares

I'm only missing two of the books, thanks to the awesome street vendors on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. Hopefully the library will come through with the other two. Like to read? Let's connect on Goodreads.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Breaking into Etsy.

Last week I lamented to a few friends about how I wasn't invited to any holiday parties. No real job means no company holiday parties to dress up for, and I guess I'm still settling in to a whole new city and making new friends. I know, cry me a river, it's not exactly a big problem to complain about.

But then there was Thursday. I started the evening at the 42nd Street library, with Wells Tower and John Jeremiah Sullivan, to talk about Pulphead, Sullivan's new collection of essays. The room was packed with hipsters in heavy plastic framed eyeglasses, beards and cardigans. As Sullivan sipped on a small glass of whiskey the two authors, who had never met, even though they live in the same city, quickly dispensed with small talk. Wells started by saying something very funny like, when I read the galleys to your book I wanted to throw up with jealousy. I loved hearing such an admission from an author I admire, even more satisfying to know that writers of all levels feel the same type of envy slash insecurity. In an answer about how he puts together his profiles, Sullivan replied that when he gets home from a long reporting trip he tries to re-inhabit the experience, saying that he can't just look at his notes, "my notebook is full, but I'm distanced from it." I was grateful to Wells for digging into questions about the nuts and bolts of Sullivans craft. You'd think a well-respected writer wouldn't ask such touristy questions. They even talked about John McPhee, a long time favorite of mine, turns out he's also a favorite of Sullivans. He mentioned an interview he read of McPhee's, about how the writer organizes the immense amount of research he pulls together to write his stories. I can't find it online, but looks like you can order it here.

As the interview came to a close, I turned to Blyth to ask what we should do for dinner, slightly daunted by the thought of another restaurant quest in Midtown. "Well, we can go to the Etsy holiday party." Did she just say holiday party? And off we went, taking the F train from Bryant Park to York Street in Dumbo. Seeya Midtown.

Taking the elevator up to the 5th floor we were silent. I wondered if the party would be fun. If there would be food. If there would be any single guys. Walking into the unlocked office we saw a smattering of folks dressed up in cocktail attire. In the kitchen there were a few empty bags of pretzels and plastic tubs of red vines. No music, just some talking. "This can't be it," I said to Blyth. "Yeah, no way this is it," she replied. Making our way back out the doors we walked towards two people entering a freight elevator. "Hey, where's the party?" we said. "Follow us," they said. I felt a little Alice in Wonderlandish following them into the big rectangular box.

The elevator doors opened onto a cavernous, bare, cement room. No furniture, just candy-colored dresses, boys in argyle, a photo booth and a tall tree with wrapped presents piled underneath. We threw our coats onto chairs in a darkened corner and made a straight line for the food. The Brooklyn meets Etsy menu did not disappoint: fancy hot dogs, wasabi potato salad (tangy with a nice crunch of celery), purple cabbage cole slaw, mini cupcakes and cheap wine. Thankfully after "dinner" we ran into the friends that had invited Blyth and we no longer looked like party crashers.

The music was so loud we almost couldn't talk, but it was good. The DJ was spinning perfect shake your booty hits: the kind of music that seduces you onto the dance floor. Poison came on, by Bel Biv DeVo, and we took one look at each other, "Should we go dance?" Blyth asked. "Yes." Dropping our purses we moved to the edge of the dance floor and began to bend, shake and move. The holiday party photographer took our picture and I wondered if I could get a copy.

As the night progressed, faces becoming more familiar, sweat covered brows becoming more normal and a dance circle formed (the sign of all good parties). Blyth turned and handed me a paperback she had picked up off a table. It was a biography of Dennis Quaid published in 1988. (You can find it on Amazon, there's one new copy for $256 or several used for .42 cents.) The cover claims that it's "the first inside look at America's Newest Hearthrob." Smiling at the find I stuffed it into my back pocket and kept dancing.

When the DJ threw on the song Shout I knew it was time to go and, saying our sweaty goodbyes, we wandered out of the circle. It was definitely one of the best holiday parties I've been to (thank you Etsy), and it was a perfect way to get rid of my holiday blues. Blyth walked with me over to the York Street station, we hugged goodbye and me and my new book about Dennis Quaid took the F train home.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Celebs, they're just like (us) me.

<Superficial blog post alert>
I've been meaning to start a list of all of my celeb sightings, before I forget them! Here goes:

Chuck Close, on W. 12th Street (with his wife, I think and their dog).
Naomi Watts, with her two very blond kids, in the park on Spring Street in Soho.
Gary Shteyngart, sitting next to me on a bench in Tomkins Square.
Morgan Freeman, in a car on Rivington Street, filming a movie.
Alan Rickman, walking on Broadway in Soho. I heard his voice first, of course, then confirmed with a glance followed by a double take.
Thurston Moore, at La Colombe in Soho
Andrew Shue (Melrose Place!) walking on Spring Street
Daniel Day Lewis, walking in SoHo on Prince Street
Kyra Sedgewick, in my Bar Method class
Blake Lively, Penn Badgley & Chase Crawford, filming an episode of Gossip Girl, one block from my apartment!
Dylan McDermott, in Soho at midnight
Lisa Bonet, on Prince Street in Soho (Wearing silver lipstick, a jingle jangley vest and walking with a tall, gorgeous man I wanted to steal.)
David Byrne, sitting in front of me at a show at the NYPL
Gabriel Byrne, walking & smoking, late at night in Soho on West Broadway
Elvis Costello, maybe–I'm 70% sure, getting soup at the Whole Food on Houston
Josh Charles (The Good Wife) buying household whathaveyou at Bed, Bath & Beyond on 6th Ave
Katie Couric, in the bathroom at Jean Georges
Hope Davis, walking in Soho
John Malkovich, walking in Soho
Matthew Modine, in the audience at a Times Talk interview with Gary Oldman
Parker Posey, with her fluffy white dog at O Cafe, 6th Ave and W 12th
Roseanna Arquette, in my Bar Method class

Have I forgotten anyone?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A little slice of Japan. In Midtown.

Tuesday evening I attended Live at the NYPL to hear three musicians turned novelists: Steve Earle, Josh Ritter and Wesley Stace, better known as John Wesley Harding. Sitting in the second row I was close enough to see what their shoes looked like and what they were drinking. Josh drank water. Wesley drank wine and Steve alternated between a Diet Coke and water. The three men are as different musically as their writing is, or rather seems to be. I haven't read any of their novels yet, maybe over Winter break? I'm always interested in how people write, how they actually tackle a daunting task like stringing together enough words to fill up a novel. They talked about their transition from writing songs to writing books, which I hadn't really thought about till that night. A song, they all concurred, was a bit like a mini-novel. These guys just decided it was time to take a song a little further.

Are you ready for the reading list?
Steve Earle I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
Wesley Stace Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer
Josh Ritter's Bright's Passage

After the event my friend Blyth and I went off in search of dinner possibilities. In Midtown Manhattan that's no easy feat. You have to be sure to avoid Times Square, steer clear of tourist traps and sidestep the trashy happy hour bar scenes. What are two healthy, downward dog leaning girls from California supposed to do? One push of an app and I found dozens of Japanese restaurants nearby. Pointing to my top choice I showed the screen to Blyth. "Um, that's like the most expensive Japanese restaurant in the city," she said. With a crinkle of my nose and a "Hmmm," she followed it up with this little tidbit, "They actually measure the inside of your mouth to determine how big to make the sushi." Measuring my mouth? When can we go?

Wandering in the rain, up Park Avenue, down Madison, over 46th, down 45th, no luck hooking the first fish. Moving to the next one on the list we made our way, successfully, over to Hatsuhana on East 48th Street. Walking in the door we were greeted by an Asian man with a walkee-talkee. "Two for dinner," I said. With a radio message up to an invisible man, we were quickly escorted upstairs and shown to a table, not too far from a long, nice looking sushi counter.

You ever look at a menu and wish that you were still a kid and someone else would order for you? I do. All the time. Sadly I would have to work my way through the six pages of plastic, hoping for the best. Ten minutes later, Blyth and I were still turning the pages back and forth, weighing the options of getting a mysterious "chef's choice" dinner or going out on our own. Finally, orders in, wine in front of us, we could relax.

Twisting around in my chair I took a closer look at the chefs. There were five men behind the sushi desk, all eager to be put to work cupping rice and slicing fish. The man closest to me had a headband on along with Dad glasses. You know the kind: black plastic frames–oblong ovally things that looked more at home in a polaroid. He wore his glasses connected to his head, with a Croakie which made me imagine them playing basketball, in some king of Harlem Globetrotters vs Men of Sushi face-off. If only.

The food arrived and it was delicious. Nothing earth shattering, just very good. Fresh fish, nice portions and well put together. My only complaint was their hand roll. It looked like a lost roll from someone else's plate. Not the hand rolls I'm used to in Califonia. But that's ok, I can handle change.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shame: An exercise in voyeurism.

Sitting in the dark movie theatre, watching the overly easy on the eyes actor, Michael Fassbender, I felt a bit like I had accidentally entered an art-house porn, if such a thing exists. The movie Shame, starts with Fassbender in bed, getting out of bed (nude), going to the bathroom, peeing (we see him from behind), hiring a call girl, paying her, getting back into bed and then noises of them having sex. The movie continues in this unrelenting pursuit of sex and watching sex with brief periods of wearing clothes, sitting on the subway (staring at women) and going into an office to do some unnamed high-tech work that doesn't involve a computer. A third of the way into the film we meet Sissy, naked in the shower. Played by Carey Mulligan, Sissy is his self-abusive, messed up little sister. She doesn't lighten the mood one bit and by the end you're just begging to get out of there. To get out of their destructive world. To not watch those two interact for one more second.

There were two things I liked about this movie: the first I've already mentioned. Fassbender is extremely attractive, with a body that could have inspired Michelangelo's David. The second thing is the moody and sultry New York, as directed by artist Steve McQueen. I can watch both of these subjects for hours. What I didn't like was the lack of story. We started in one place and, for the most part, ended up in that same place two hours later. Perhaps we didn't, maybe I'm staying too on the surface here, but since all the dialogue was trapped in Fassbender's head we'll never know.

Leaving the theatre, I overheard several conversations along these lines:
"Wow, I didn't expect it to be, like, all about sex."
"Yeah, I know. It's the only thing that happened."
"It was kind of uncomfortable watching all that sex."
"Um, so did anything happen in there?"

Next time I think I'll go see The Muppets.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Things I Wish I Had Packed.

When I closed up my San Francisco apartment I had five years of stuff to collate. I had to decide what to bring with me for two years in New York and I had to decide what to put into storage. An unenviable task for sure. Now, four and a half months later, I think I have a good idea of where I want wrong. So, here goes, a list of things I wish I had brought with me:

1. All of my cooking spices (my apartment has none). I brought with me one single jar of seasoning, my favorite salt, I call it bacon salt. There's no real bacon inside but the smokey flavor makes you think it's there. I've since bought cayenne and salt but man, those little shakers are missed.

2. My red Le Creuset teapot (my apartment has none). I'm tired of heating up water, one mug at a time.

3. My blankets and sheets. Oh how I miss my high-thread count sheets from Frette. The selection at Bed, Bath & Beyond does not compare.

4. My plants. I know I couldn't have brought them, but I miss them. I wonder if they miss me?

5. A plastic kitchen thing that chops up a hard-boiled egg perfectly for egg salad. The fork and knife method is nowhere near as fun.

Five things I wish I had brought. Not too bad. Stay tuned for more.

Celebrating Poet Paul Violi.

I walked into the medium-sized room, with dozens of red chairs facing West 13th Street. Looking around, I wondered who I might see. Fellow students but more importantly poets. Real live I-get-paid-to-write poets. We were here for a tribute to Paul Violi, poet and professor at The New School. Until that night I was unfamiliar with his work. But after two hours of listening to his poems, read by big names in the poetry world, I was smitten. Smitten with his laugh out loud humor and dexterity with language. How many poets can get you to laugh out loud? He certainly had a way with the mundane, twisting and turning it, into something else.

Sitting in that room, listening to the voices of writers I had only read, I felt like I was invited into the inner circle of a writers club. It was a heady club: Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Charles North, novelist Paul Auster, Star Black, Ron Padgett, David Lehman, Robert Polito, George Green, David Shapiro, Robert Hershon and on and on and on. (Take time to go through those names, they all link to a bit of their work.)

What a night.
What a tribute.
Here's a link to the NY Times story.

I'll end with a poem:

Appeal to the Grammarians
by Paul Violi

We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we're capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we're ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn't bounce back,
The flat tire at journey's outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it—here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, "See, that's why
I don't like to eat outside."