Saturday, December 09, 2006

Green Tea-Crusted Insalmonia

OK, what raving genius invented "green tea-crusted salmon"? The same free spirit who first dipped whole coffee beans in chocolate? What's next? Meth-infused cupcakes? Cocacinos? Polonium speedballs?

I guess the better question is what the hell was I thinking when I ordered something so wrong for dinner? The worst of it? I loved it. Perversely cursed with a taste for all things caffeinated (except soda pop) and a system that just can't handle caffeine, I periodically lapse into a willful disregard of the facts, facts that might stick with me were my intolerance likely to provoke anaphylactic shock or even hives rather than insomnia, the (very) invisible killer. So tonight, at dinner, at Yaffa Café, I had this nutty dish, the likes of which had never before crossed my palate. And I had it all. Every last crunchy twig of green tea crust. Yum! Kill me now. So here I sit, twitchily typing away the pre-dawn angst after twice flying out of bed completely unable to sleep.

Don't think I'm not tempted to use this rocketing wakefulness to recount all the adventures of LordZim since the last post, but it's just too dense a constellation. Sorry for my absence.

The issue is that so much happens here in the precincts of LordZim that it’s hard to capture everything. To do it justice. For example, recent weeks have found your humble narrator prosecuting two circumnavigations of Manhattan Island. Exploring shipwrecks on the Hudson. Moviegoing. Spectating the modern dance. Spectating a rocknroll "Woyzeck" in Dumbo, where the river-bridge-citylights vista was so colossally magnificent my eyes nearly exploded. Traversing the Brooklyn Bridge back by night. Dining at fancy spots for free before or just after their openings. Riding the bike along the railroad tracks on a gravelly track of fist-sized chunks of rock well into Riverdale. Lassoing parking meters at midnight in Tribeca. Doing battle with the forces of evil at Palm Inc. and Verizon. Working more than usual. Waxing nostalgic. Visiting L.A. for 10 days -- and hating it. Observing parrots -- wild quaker parrots -- in Brooklyn profonde, where the committed birdwatchers are even more watchable than the birds themselves. Ruminating on the end of an era at the last days of Tower Records, where thousands of pop CDs sit unwanted in disarray, yet the classical department is stripped.

There's more, but hey ... I'm getting sleepy.

As for this sudden onslaught of winter ... I love it. Sure, call me up in a month and see how I'm doing, but for now, I bask in the freezing wind as the parched man flings himself into a brackish pond.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Sleuth of Rock

It's rock month at Lord Zim, apparently. "Rocktober," as those wags on the radio like to say. Not like I planned it or anything. We don't have an editorial calendar here ... there's no 12-month schedule of topics, excursions, obsessions, weird celebrity sightings, and general moodiness. Nope, it's all very seat of the pants in these parts -- a posteriori. And that's what gives the product its crisp, fresh, lively mouthfeel. That, and a wasabi-ketamine speedball every four hours.

OK, speaking of addictions and freshness, hard on the heels of last week's remarkable house party, Lord Zim had a sort of referred rock 'n' roll sighting yesterday.

The setting: Fairway. (For the sake of readers outside the TriState area, we'll note that Fairway is a gourmet supermarket that manages to be upscale, personal, and mass-market all at once, in a very New York way.)

Dramatis Personae: Hundreds of shoppers, dozens of store employees, and me. And one person on the clock.

I'd just filled a basket with food and was waiting to pay and get out. The end of the shortest line put me behind an unmanned cart filled with dozens of quarts of orange juice and milk, plus two big boxes of Twinings tea, and unusual quantities of everything else.

"Craft services," I thought. If you don't live in L.A. or New York or work in TV/movie production, you might not know that craft services refers to the people who provide food and drink on sets. Yet I'd seen no evidence of a production anywhere in the neighborhood (74th and Broadway). Coincidentally, the one time I visited Fairway's supersized Red Hook branch I'd witnessed a $5,000 shopping spree conducted by a brisk Latino in a "Sopranos" sweatshirt. The entire checkout area was in a low-grade uproar, because his six carts were causing a serious traffic jam, yet as a known and highly valued customer, he had everybody's full attention. In the parking lot, when I asked, he explained that it's his craft services company and he does the shopping himself to ensure that the finickier actors are happy with their provisions. Brooklyn, Hollywood -- stars are true to form everywhere.

Back on Broadway, a blonde in jeans and a black sweatshirt showed up behind the cart. She had the capable, gregarious, yet disinterested look I usually see on lesbians (insert hate mail here), but because I'd paused to let her pass earlier, she acknowledged me briefly on seeing me again in line.

Aha. The famous lips and tongue logo on her sweatshirt. The enormous radio clipped to her belt. The major event at the nearby Beacon Theater later that night.

"Are you also picking up bottles of Jack Daniels and Rebel Yell?" That was me, the smartypants, posing an annoying question. She looked at me with studied blankness and replied, "Why would you say that?"

"Well, you've got a cart full of craft services, the Stones are playing across the street tonight, and you're wearing the logo on your sweatshirt."

She smiled slightly and bent to unload the cart. "Well, you guessed right, so we're good."

Seemed like a weird way to shut me down, but I bet she gets that "Say, aren't you --" kind of wiseacre commentary all the time. As if regretting her brusqueness, she added, "I wear this because it's the free stuff they give you. Plus I've got this giant radio on my ass, too. Kind of gives it away. Are you going to the show?"

"I'd love to, but the tickets are probably out of my range." And then, rather than take the opportunity to abase and prostrate myself in pursuit of a backstage pass which would never have happened, I took the opportunity to validate a longheld belief. "Is it true that Keith always has to have a bottle of Jack Daniels and bottle of Rebel Yell in his dressing room?" I'd heard this years ago, back when I was drinking the Yell like lemonade.

"You're right about the Jack."

"No Rebel Yell?" I must have looked crestfallen, because she said something like, "Maybe at other venues."

Well, I still like it.

As for the tickets ... I later read in the Observer that the show was only for those worthy burghers who donated upwards of $60,000 to the Clinton Foundation, which is hosting it as part of the former President's 60th birthday hullabaloo.

Longtime LordZim readers may recall that I met Wm. Jefferson last year at a speaking engagement in L.A. He was speaking, not me. In case you were wondering. Yes, there is a photo of the handshake, but I posted a far livelier picture from the same event, in which the well-known ladies man appears to be puckering up to lick my friend Steve's grandmother's hair. See for yourself. I love that picture.

Here's what the Glimmer Twins and their entourage were sucking down backstage last night, exclusive of whisky.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This Sporting Life

"Intensely caring ... More like my long-lost home every day"? Yecch. Who wrote that crap -- Mitch Albom? Sappy crappy way to end a post. The worst thing about leaving this screed stagnant for more than a week is that everyone who stumbles upon that slice -- and for some reason, a lot of people did -- assumes it reflects all I am; in this case, a flibbertigibbet who gads about every night and gives not a thought to the serious issues besetting our poor tired planet.

Is that so wrong?

I'll leave those judgments for posterior.

(A seat-of-the-pants decision.)

Miss Langston Regrets

This just happened tonight:

"You don't care about this, do you? How can you live like that?" Miss Langston, a stately, slender woman of middle years with mahogany skin and a determined chin, is astonished. She is standing behind the front desk in my building's lobby, where she works. When we first met, one night last month when I had a package to retrieve, she called me Mister _____. I asked her to use my first name, but she refused, condemning such casualness as "unprofessional." "My name is Miss Langston ... like Langston Hughes," she said levelly.

Then she softened and wanted to talk about the Mets. Or was it the Giants? Though happy to see her so engaged, I neither weighed in -- I can't -- nor conveyed my raging disinterest in any way other than a slight glazing of the eyes. We'd repeated the mismatch a couple times since. The only time she smiles is when she's talking sports, so I haven't had the heart to tell her I don't know what she's talking about. Tonight, however, she is acknowledging my apathy. I have to come clean.

"I don't know anything about sports."

"No sports at all? None?"

"You figured me out."

"You like soccer, right?" She tilts her head, sure that I'm at least one of those effete soccer fans.

"No, no sports."

"None? Do you play tennis?" Now she's giving me even more effete points.

"No. I ride my bike."

"You don't know what you're missing." Miss Langston just shakes her head, saddened and amazed.

"Could be."

"Man, I don't know what I'd do without my Shea Stadium, without my Giants Stadium.... How do you spend your time?"

"I find ways."

My Ways

When last we saw our benighted hero, he was still smarting from a swastika-shaped contusion on his nose. That has since healed, and the nifty green Band-aid is, despite its striking effect on members of the opposite sex, gone. No swastika scar mars my semi-semitic nose. Sic transit gloria rhino.

Papa's got a brand new bike. The bike trouble mentioned in passing just a few weeks ago led me to the East Village, where I wandered into Busy Bee Bikes, a tiny second-hand store presided over by a man anointed, he asserts, by the NY Times as the city's leading expert on English three-speeds. And there I was, having wanted an English three-speed for nigh on twenty years. When I said I wanted a Rudge, a Humber, or a Raleigh, he started paying attention. "You know your bikes. Those are the three top brands." He said if I came back to buy one, he'd pull out a few choice choices. He wanted to make sure I was serious before he committed resources to excavating inventory. The tiny storefront offers little room for humans to stand; most of its floor and walls bristle with bikes of all styles, colors, ages, and values, united only by NYC grime and a complicated stacking algorithm. I went away and had my Peugeot's crank replaced elsewhere (it's a looong story you can thank me for omitting), and a week later, finding time to burn in the East Village on a drizzly evening, decided to see what he had.

I was lucky, and what he had is now mine: an unrestored Raleigh "Sports" with a leather Brooks "saddle" (that's Pretentious for "seat") and original black paint, made in September 1970. A "Gene's Bicycle Shop, 417 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, CT" decal still adorns the downtube. It's perfect. Not the fastest bike on the macadam, but among the more historic. And it's faster and more comfortable than the old Peugeot, which I traded in and he sold a week later. This bike feels stately. And solid. And sexy, in a weird way. Maybe because I've wanted one like it for so long.

Madame Tussaud's House of Rock

I was lucky again last Saturday, when I attended a superrich person's Upper East Side birthday party. My old pal's sister married into a third-generation real estate fortune, affording my friend a speculum into the lap of luxury. (He's the opposite of upscale: "We have rent-control in our blood," he e-mailed me last week.) The food and drinks were just right, but the older, well-dressed crowd wasn't very engaging, and the Art Nouveau décor, though impressive from a Sotheby's perspective, left me cold. So why was I there? Tray-passed lobster canapés? Bottomless flutes of bubbly? Strained conversation with robber barons? No. I was there because Elvis Costello performed a two-hour set in the living room.

Playing a variety of guitars over a breathtaking sound system, he noisily yet carefully knocked out 25 songs from his rock years for the amusement of 150 docile guests. Predictably, the thirty- and fortysomethings were his loudest fans, while most of those outside the target demo tuned out and looked politely bored after the initial novelty had worn off. This seemed to me both funny and depressing.

Nothing seemed to depress Elvis. He bantered just enough, served up two requests, and mugged with the same wry, bemused look he trains on everything that appears to compromise his legendary integrity. He even amended the name in "Alison" to the birthday girl's own. Afterward, he posed for snapshots with the hosts and then vanished.

How do you get Elvis to play at your house? By paying him a lot of money. Anyone can well afford to look wry and bemused when making $1,000.00 a minute. (This preposterous figure is merely my estimate, and it doesn't reflect anything anyone told me -- except one guest, a former music biz guy who'd heard such gigs can fetch $200K.)

Elvis's deal forbade photos and recordings of any kind, but dozens of phones captured fuzzy images of the formerly angry young man.

It's hard to process an event like this. On the one hand, it's undeniably exciting to stand ten feet from a guy whose first album dominated my ears for several months in 1977, watching and hearing him play songs that used to mean a lot to me. (I was stuck on three of his subsequent records too.) And of course I was happy to have been invited, to have been there for such a weird scene. But if any of Manhattan's energy still derives from the unusual proximity of high and low culture (the way it used to before the rise of the freakish, isolated ultrarich class), that juxtaposition is an awkward place ... like the grinding edge of the San Andreas Fault. Caught between, no place to stand as the ledge shears away, and ever mindful of the hot magma future incinerating loose ends. Nothing evokes youth and its discontents like the music of long-gone malcontents, and few things cast one's accomplishments into a harsher light than exposure to the achievements or inheritances of others. Though I know comparison is not merely odious but idiotic, knowing isn't quite doing.

Oh, boo-hoo. I got to drink champagne and ride my sexy antique bike home through Central Park.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Week in Coincidences

Warning: The following is way more like a regular blog than usual. Full of bla-bla-bla about my life, without the rich detail you've come to expect. But the coincidences and some of the dumb comedy impelled me to put it all down.

Last Friday night at dinner at my cousins' house, I narrowly avoided being the only adult at the children's table -- how this still happens to me I'll never know. I ended up at the grownups' table after all, between a small, spritely man with white hair and a quiverful of forced puns and, on my left, a striking brunette with an easy smile and a small Band-aid on her eyebrow. The gent and I had already spoken before dinner, so as he carried on with the woman on his right, I engaged in chitchat with the Band-aid woman. She has five kids -- four with husband the first and one with Mr. Right Now -- but that wasn't what made her so very interesting. No, what made for a highly engaged conversation was the fact that we'd gone to high school together. It sort of came up naturally, and once it did -- and the fact that we'd been there at the same time -- we had plenty to discuss. Neither of us remembered the other, though her maiden name sounded familiar, but we'd both been fans of Jos. Hoppenbrouwers, a stern yet intensely caring and funny Belgian man who used to teach French at our school. He was a sort of secret treasure, and L and I both delighted in finding someone else who had recognized that. We promised to be in touch and of course nothing's come of it, but it was fun while it lasted. Viva Manhattan.

The next night, I had dinner at another cousin's house, way downtown on Grand St., where I met an Israeli filmmaker who's met my Israeli filmmaker pal Anat Zuria. Her husband thinks he knows my pediatrician friend MC (whose book I should be working on right now), because they're both North African-French Jews, and apparently that's a pretty tight-knit little world here in NYC. These two live in Williamsburg, and MC is opening up the first Manhattan-émigré-friendly pediatric clinic in Williamsburg ... do I sense a match here? I made the introduction.

You've already read about Saturday night in these pixels earlier. Circle Line, etc. Glimmer glimmer whoosh. Blogging under the influence. There was this one disturbing image in Times Square, which is rife with disturbances on a Saturday night.

(Apologies for the phonecam image quality.) Times Square makes my old Hollywood Blvd. stomping grounds look like kid stuff. The chief distinction is that Hollywood Blvd. is rarely home to hundreds of armed cops and marshals, all of whom seem to be standard-issue after dark in Times Square. I walked past this scene at about midnight, and the same guy was still on the sidewalk a half-hour later. By then he was horizontal, and the crowd was a little bigger. No coincidences.

Sunday the bike broke in Central Park. Later, I met my most fun friends, the Minneapolitans, at the karaoke bar. As usual, all their friends were fun, lively artists too. After I shredded my throat channeling a Neanderthal in rut on "Baby Hold On," one of them, a bona fide perfessional musician, asked, "Dude, what do you do? Are you a singer? You have a great voice." That made it all worth it. Even if I could barely hold a note for two days. Creativity through adversity. Arbeit macht frei.

Speaking of Arbeit, on Monday I put in a full day at the office, then met an editor for dinner. No coincidences. No rich comedy. See previous post for details.

Tuesday I worked again and then met a friend for happy hour at Sapa, followed by a return visit to the karaoke bar at 2nd and 2nd. That was no coincidence either. That was when I hit myself in the nose with a microphone. That was the sake talking. It didn't hurt, so I barely noticed it. Except for all the blood. Blood, blood everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Blood on my hands, blood on my shirt, blood on her shirt -- Jesus, I was geysering blood and all I wanted to do was get back to the music. So I excused myself for a moment.

In the bathroom, trying to wash off the affected area, I couldn't stop laughing at the size of the contusion. How could such an innocuous little tap cause such dermal mayhem? Blood clotting, we went back to the music. Later, when I got home, I found that the mike's screen had left a swastika-like grid imprinted deep on the bridge of my nose. I thought to make it less conspicuous by applying a Band-aid, but the only Band-aids in my cabinet were "Grinch"-branded tie-ins -- bright green with Sneetches on them. Each one says “Official movie merchandise.”

The Band-aid is both comical and intensely stupid-looking, an effect which only grows richer when I try to explain what happened. In fact, I like my green Band-aid so much I may keep wearing it after the wound is gone. Chicks dig it. The hard part is making the incident sound anything but pathetic. Which it is. Why fight it? One woman -- the tall, glammy neighbor with whom I shared a cab to JFK three weeks ago (when it turned out we were both taking the same flight to Minneapolis!) -- laughed in my face in the lobby two days ago and said, "You have to come up with something better than that!"

Well, I'll see what I can do. Nobody believes me when I say I had a nose job. Or got into a fight. Maybe I'll say I left it on the grindstone too long.

OK, back to the coincidences. Thursday evening, I was riding my newly repaired bike past my friend P's mom's building on 96th Street. I was thinking, "Hey, that's P's mom's place," and then there she was, walking toward the subway. I stopped and we talked for a little while. She was going to see Lawrence Lessig talk about Creative Commons at the Public Library. Ten minutes and a thousand tiny southbound revolutions later, I was waiting for the light to change at 57th and Broadway when along came Jon of Jon Valdi, a small boutique I used to visit in L.A. I hadn't seen him since he and his design partner moved here a few years ago. We talked for a few minutes, and then I resumed my southerly progress toward the studio of a painter I'd met the previous week. Those coincidences? He was born the same year I was, and whereas I was born in NYC and moved to LA at age four, he was born in Santa Monica and moved to New York at age four. Later that evening, visiting a neighbor and new friend, , I discovered that she'd gone to high school with my close college pal A, right here in NYC. (I met P (of P's mom fame) through A, for what that's worth.)

Friday, I met MC for lunch in Williamsburg, where he's building his new clinic. Afterward, I roosted in the backyard of a coffeeshop on Bedford for a few hours, tap-tap-tapping away, and then caught a train back to Manhattan to meet J, an old pal, at her new office for a drink. We were half a block from Sapa, so back I went. Though we sat on the other side of the place, the same guy took our order. I don't call that a real coincidence, but still. Jigmed. That's his name. Jigmed. It's Tibetan.

After that, I was supposed to meet P for another one uptown, but he called from downtown to say he'd just had dinner with Lawrence Lessig ... and did I want to come meet him and Vernon Reid for a drink?

I'm still wearing the green band-aid. And New York feels smaller and more like my long-lost home every day.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two Nights

Becalmed. Oops, ouch, stilled. Bike broke. Walkin' blues. But there is a virtue in living the city at everybody else's speed.

Two nights ago, I met S at her hotel as she arrived from LA and we went off for a drink and then a walk on the West Side. I like water. I mean, I love alcohol, but I like looking at water. We went to the river. I took us to the river. There we found the Circle Line dock, and we started walking along it toward New Jersey. That is to say, we walked west on the Circle Line dock, encountering no wizened security guards, no infrared sensors, no nothing --- just a long walk on a long pier past half a dozen of those freshly painted Circle Line ships, until we reached the end, where we turned right at the rope-swoggled cluster of piers and found an unassuming shelf at the outermost reach of the Circle Line's extremity. There, facing the river, some meditative soul had set up a single folding chair on the pier's end, but I took a seat on the seawallish edge and slung my legs over, again toward New Jersey. Over the rushing water. It was a move far more frightening than it deserved to be. S, possessed by a confounded sense of self-preservation, sat demurely on the other side of the same low wall, feet pointed landward. She lacks a certain desire for eternity. She has a job. A house. A dog. I wondered how shocking it would be to jump into the water. Cold, clearly, but no colder than the Minnesota lakes where I swam night and day just a week ago. And a rushing current, sure, but would it overmatch my strong strokes? And darkness and directionlessness too -- the worst of it all ... but would it really be so bad after a few drinks? Out in Minnesota I found I swim better when I've had a few drinks (he said with the certainty of the doomed.) I hold my breath longer, quickening fear forgotten in a swanning wash of alcoholic calm, and my swimming is commensurately stronger. Weightlessness. Freedom. How you gonna keep 'em down on the dirt once they seen Atlantis?

Look at that river, I said. Sparkly. Eternal. New Jersey lights shone us a bright soft horizon and long-distance reflections, local illumination flashing back off a million little wavelets, and uncommon quiet floating over the post-midnight vista. There we were, blithely perched on the edge of Manhattan, feet a dangling. Glimmer glimmer. Whoosh.

Tonight, I met an editor at a new (two weeks old!) eatery on W. 21st that announces its intentions with a steerhide carpet on the sidewalk outside. First NYC beachhead of a celebrated Ft. Worth spot, this place trumpets its carnivore cred not just via floor coverings but with such delights as kangaroo carpaccio and a split marrow bone for smearing oily protein sludge on bread. If I want to look at dog treats all night, I'll bring snacks and a bedroll and hunker down at Petco.

But what we had was very good. If scallops were always cooked to such perfection, they'd be as popular as shrimp. (What happens to all those scallop shells as it is? Do scallop middens clutter shores near and far? Do most folks even know what a midden is?) All my stuff was good, and the editor didn't comment on his giant stuffed tenderloin. No half-dead kangaroos bounded past the table -- just a half-dozen worried-looking staffers.

Eventually we left and walked a few blocks. I accepted a cigarette -- sure sign I'd had enough to drink -- and then he got into a cab and I was left to call my good-time Charlene pals the Twin City dancer lesbians, but they didn't answer. Neither did my uptown Solomon, so I ducked into an inviting spot called Gstaad, where surfing films played on a screen opposite the bar and modish blond wood furniture from Switzerland helped establish le vibe. Der vibe.

That was drink 6. Or maybe 5. Being so very good at holding my alcohol on dry land and in lakes by moonlight, I mattered it not at all. Eventually I left again and occupied myself walking westward in cell phone conversation with a pal in NoCal.

I found my way home, wrote the preceding in a pickled state, and went to sleep. Then I woke up, reread it, deleted a few sentences, and posted it here for your diversion. Don't worry -- I won't be jumping into the river. I'll swim at the gym like a good model citizen.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I Guess You Had to Be Me.

I am sitting in the solarium working. I am listening to Blondie via headphones. I am moving a group of work-related emails into a folder. As I open the "Jobs" folder, I see the name of a friend and client on a sub-folder. At that moment, the song "Hanging on the Telephone" starts. As you may know, it begins with the sound of a European phone: "ring ring!" Just then, as if on cue, my cell phone rings too: "ring ring!" Same rhythm, similar tone. That throws me a little, but then I look at the screen and see the same friend/client's name I just saw on my laptop screen. I am ... well, amazed. We haven't spoken in a few days. Of course, when I try to explain this to him, he's significantly less awestruck.

Well, I guess you had to be me.

And were you me, you wouldn't bother to ascribe any significance to this either.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Cramps (Hollywood Palladium, 3500 seats, $15)

I generally assume that no one I know reads this thing. But every once in a while, a post excites reaction, and friends surface to offer compliments, comments, even corrections. The last item, my hastily assembled reflections on a recent Cramps show, was just such a post. B up in the verdant fields of Vermont said it was the best thing I'd done in a while, while A in Brooklyn both praised my prose and contended that Lux Interior is in fact about 70. Holy cow. That would make the man on stage still pulling down his pants almost my dad's contemporary.

From A's email:
    As far as Lux's age goes, I have repeatedly heard that he was 39 in 1975 when the band first started; thus the assertion that he is now (you do the math) either 69 or 70. Knowing his propensities, I'm sure he's been waiting to be 69 for some time. BTW (as the kids say), the Cramps are the only band I ever got autographs from. I've met a lot of rock-star types, but I never wanted souvenirs from most of them. Lux was probably the nicest rock star I ever met .... The fact that he is closer in age to Duke Ellington than to Glen Danzig must mean something, but I'll leave it to wiser minds than mine to figure out what.
Thanks to that email, I went to see A play his own guitar this evening at Manitoba's, a downtown club. As my bike and I rolled along the lettered avenues of the East Village profonde, it occurred to me that had I not wanted to write about the Cramps that night 20-some years ago, I might not have gone into music reviewing and thence into music trade journalism and artist management and, and, and ... well, who knows? I did, and I did, and I did, and here we are.

But where were we? Here. Here, in all its jejeune, prolix prose, both constrained and inspired by the clipped weirdness of vintage Daily Variety style, is the first review I ever wrote, retrieved from a dusty drawer by She Who Shall Remain Nameless (my mom).

And now to, as the DJs say, set it up (and split an infinitive), with a little history:

In 1986, Daily Variety was still an intensely scruffy, family-owned operation slapped together five days a week in a one-story cinderblock structure surrounded on Cahuenga Blvd. by auto repair shops. A few years would elapse before global publishing powerhouse Cahner's bought the paper from the founder's descendants, moved it out of Hollywood proper, and glitzed it up to leverage the equity inherent in so powerful a brand. As the kids say.

Yep, it was quaint. Sales and editorial were divided by an actual wall, and we the ink-stained were discouraged from socializing with the well-groomed toothy types on the other side of that wall. Copy editors used to edit hard copy with Ebony pencils and then use antique manual typewriters to hammer out headlines on half-sheets of yellow paper. These we'd attach to the first sheet of each article with a few deft brushstrokes from our individual mucilage pots before handing off the marked-up, restacked sheaves of copy to our editorial betters for fine-tuning. Lest readers think such systems were common then, they were not; our methods were already absurdly outdated. The paper was simply run on a shoestring by two parallel dynasties: the Pryors, who controlled editorial, and the Silvermans, who had inherited the publisher mantle.

The paper was then full of "characters," but perhaps the most memorable was our drama critic, a gray-haired fellow well-known for the following habits at the theatre:

1. Sitting in the front row
2. Knitting (loudly)
3. Falling asleep.

Though I went on to see many concerts, I never knitted at any of them. Not once.

This piece was my first in a national publication, and it ran on page 18 on July 15, 1986, right next to a short, unbylined squib entitled "CBS Records, Liberace Pact." Speaking of bylines, reviewers didn't merit them at Variety way back in the Pre-Cambrian Era; we went instead by weird little four-letter abbreviations called "slugs." Three- and five-letter slugs were not allowed.

For my efforts, an extra $7.50 per review graced my meager biweekly paychecks. As it happened, by volunteering to lend the music editor this reviewing assist, I invented the rock "stringer" position at Variety; the paper soon added other byline/slug sluts to round out a small corps of underpaid music critics. I ran into Publisher Michael Silverman one afternoon outside the building and mentioned how low the reviewer fee was compared even to the tight-fisted L.A.Weekly's per-word rate. Cornered, he pled impotence (not his term), but within a month, all freelance fees rose to something approaching the low end of market rate. And yet, no plaque commemorates my achievements. *Sigh*

Though I labored over this review, it was edited, of course, which annoyed me to no end but today lets me blame any rough patches on that other guy. Now that I'm a much better editor than he was, I can laugh at how at sea he must have been in the face of this weirdness, not only to let me switch tenses and refer to the singer by his first name, but worse, to let me wax so damned long-winded. I'm tempted to cut this relic by half, but that wasn't the point of reproducing it here. Let's do the time-warp again.

    The Cramps
    (Hollywood Palladium, 3500 seats, $15)

    In their first L.A. show in two years, The Cramps turned in a crowd-pleasing madhouse of a show, spotlighting new material and their trademark versions of trash-rock classics.

    Four-piece combo plays driving unclean garage rock. Its style derives from sources like country and rockabilly music, horror and porn pix. Having dwelt in voodoo, psychedelia, madness, monsters and junk culture in recent years, emphasis now is on sex, with much fine earlier material unaired this outing.

    Singer Lux Interior, his powerful deep voice echoplexed, handles audience rapport alone, in total command of an ecstatic crowd. Two girl guitarists, longtime mainstay Ivy Rorschach and new addition Candy Del Mar, sport guignol sneers of disgust throughout. Drummer Nick Knox is consistently poker-faced behind his skins and sunglasses as he rivets the guitars onto a strong percussive frame.

    Not a band given to stagy warmth or endless jam sessions, members barely acknowledged each other from far-flung corners of the stage. Occasional sloppiness dovetailed nicely with trashy musical intentions.

    The show started on the good foot, Lux taking the stage in a gold lame suit for high-energy original "She Said."* Shedding the jacket within minutes, he spent the rest of the show bare-torsoed, posing his long skinny body dramatically. With his Gene Vincent-meets-Godzilla vocal style and striking physiognomy, Lux is a captivating performer.

    After several fast numbers, band slowed for a tremolo-heavy version of the late Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town," played dirge-like and alienated.

    Cover of a Presley beach pic tune, "Do the Clam," was a nod to band's surf music influences, and the dedication of "Hot Pool of Womanneed" to Johnny Cash further staked out sources.

    The drily satiric "Good Taste," followed, laughably, by band's latest single, in an opposite vein,** raised the mostly teenage crowd to a fever pitch as the band sank into gut-crunching guitar hell.

    Version of the Human Beings' old hit "Nobody But Me" traded the original's brash '60s confidence for a hollow exultation more in tune with the era and the audience. Echo ranting and massive fuzztone bass, sounding like a bulldozer in fourth gear, carried the version effectively without the original's backup shouters.

    Encore consisted of showcaser standard "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen. Band hurtled through the one-chord tune with stops all out, pausing only at the midsong vocal excursion for much highly unnatural microphone abuse. Tune ended in chaos, band members leaving in disgust as Lux, trouserless, writhed and moaned in a pool of blood-red wine. He finally had to be wrapped in a bathrobe and carried away -- twice! -- tights around his ankles in a cloud of Knox's cigarette smoke.

    Band's cartoon aspect, an in-joke in the Gotham punk scene nine years ago, is now an institution, and the dementia and menace so refreshing in the late '70s have long been a series of contrived, if uncompromised, poses.

    Though the Cramps have grown older, their audience has become younger, with the result that everyone's basest impulses are indulged in a show that actively pursues the lowest common denominator and makes it irresistible.


* An error. As longtime L.A. music journo Chris Morris informed me that week in a gracious hand-written note, "She Said" is not a Cramps original; it was written by rock 'n' roll wildman Hasil Adkins. I was mortified, but went on to become friendly with Chris, who might otherwise never have contacted me. You can hear the original here.

** That unnamed song was "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" but Variety's unofficial Standards & Practices Dept. deemed such raciness too blue for the godless showbiz audience.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Cramps ... Again

The Cramps were the first band I ever reviewed. I was working at Variety in Hollywood as a copy editor, spending more than a little time repairing poorly written reviews of operas and ballets. It dawned on me that I could do at least as well as the waxworks whose choppy prose cluttered our pages, so I convinced Managing Editor Pete Pryor that even if he hadn't heard of them or seen them on the charts, the Cramps were the Next Big Thing. He believed me.

I was happy to get free tickets and a modicum of special treatment at the venerable Hollywood Palladium, a former ballroom then as now given over to a rotating cast of alt-rock would-bes and has-beens and estrellas Latinas. That was before we called it alt-rock.

It was July 1986. I went on to review about a hundred shows over the next few years -- Frank Sinatra! R.E.M.! Guns N' Roses! Luther Vandross! -- until I so thoroughly detested reviews and reviewing that I stopped. By then, I was getting free tickets and music anyway, and was happy to attend shows where I didn't have to take notes and plan paragraphs.

Tonight, a balmy late summer evening two decades later, I saw the Cramps again for the first time in at least 15 years. I think -- and this may be the degenerative effects of age on the brain -- they were just as good. Maybe better. They've certainly had a lot of practice playing their horror-movie-influenced "psychobilly." Way back when, Lux Interior, the tall skinny ghoul who fronts the band, was a nice-looking young man who made a lot of faces and howled and pulled his pants down more than almost anybody could have wanted him to. That was then. I wish I'd seen them a few times in recent years, so I could have seen him growing into the look he seems always to have wanted. When he was 30, those scary faces he made went away when he stopped making them. Now, like a terrifying illustration of mommy's warning that if you don't stop, that face will stick, it has. They don't. Go away. Once he played at Grand Guignol -- now he's the Grandest Grandee of the Guignol in Gotham, as I might have written 20 years ago. He's still tall and rail-thin, but he looks like Dorian Gray's portrait. Or, as my friend Don wrote just yesterday, the blonde rinse (on a head that's been covered in jet-black hair as long as anyone can remember), makes him look "like Christopher Walken reincarnated as a particularly dissolute vampire." That's no stretch. But the steel caps on his teeth? He's grown into himself in his mid-50s. And yet his longtime partner, Ivy Rorschach, seems hardly to have changed at all. Her face isn't as taut as it used to be, but whose is? In the plus column, she laughs a little more now than she used to -- but not so much that she comes completely out of character. And that enormous auburn mop must be a wig ... was it always? Does it matter? The ersatz and the genuine are as entwined in their act as their act is in their life.

So why did I hie myself down to the former Limelight, now the Avalon, still a deconsecrated church on the edge of Chelsea, to see a band I liked when I was a teenager? For reasons unclear to me, I started hearing their songs in my head a few months ago. Just like that, they started playing. I think I read about this phenomenon in the Times a few years ago. It's a function of faulty wiring. It might have been the bike riding that brought it all back. Or hearing their song "Garbageman" in the moderately funny movie "The Matador" this past spring. Whatever caused it, the music wouldn't go away. One night I was in Kim's Mediapolis near Columbia and there they both were -- the band's first and second LPs, even including their first singles -- all shrink-wrapped and waiting for me. I took them home and haven't been able to stop playing them since. That was more than two weeks ago. Imagine my delight at discovering the band itself was coming to town.

Did you imagine it? Good. Now imagine the ambivalence that followed, when I considered the grim reality of standing in a crowded club for two or more hours, jostled, breathed on, view blocked, toes stomped ....

Okay, you can stop. That all happened, but it was a great show and I didn't much care about the inconvenience of it all. I used to be used to it. It's like riding a bike. And whooo, what a show. They even started with the very song that was crowding my head on the way downtown, "Mystery Plane." How'd they know?

The next song was an Arthur Lee cover, which Lux outroed thusly, declaiming: "That song was dedicated to Arthur Lee! One of the greatest rock singers ever! He's dead! But I'm not! And I'm not chopped liver either!"

Because I don't write reviews anymore -- now that everyone does, who needs it? -- I'll just say the show was well-paced and energetic, drawing from several eras and albums, punctuated with comical asides, and enlivened by exciting tricks with a bottle of red wine. (Lux would clench his metal teeth around the bottle's neck, tilt his head back, and blow a bloody geyser of wine and wine vapor out the sides of his mouth. The red would run down his chin and soak his shirt, as if he'd just torn someone's neck open with his fangs. Caution: Dissolute Vampires at Work. May Cause Pandemonium.)

Near the end, up in the balcony, one of the hundreds of tattooed girls pulled her spandex top down to show off her perfect breasts. She and her even more tattooed boyfriend simulated sex and more for a good ten minutes on the rail, her pocket camera at arm's length recording their digital antics, until the band left the stage, whereupon she demurely hiked her top back up.

Then the bottle blonde and the fright-wigged drag queen who'd introduced the band returned to the stage to say more incredibly useless junk ("Was that amazing?" "Amazing." "I mean, the Cramps!"), and I slipped out the side door to cross a long line of future revelers waiting on the sidewalk for my place on the dance floor.

I'm going kayaking in the morning. Endless summer.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Invisible Beirutis

Last night I was speaking with a friend who grew up in Lebanon and asked him -- gingerly -- what he thought of the war. I know, I know -- I keep saying I'm not going to talk about it, but he's a good friend and is about as vested in this as I am, so I had to know.

"I wish they'd finished the job," he said.

Here's a perspective from Lebanon that no one is publicizing via photos or stories.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ninth Avenue Dining Club

Recently, right after a decent Hell's Kitchen lunch with a cousin, I stopped by the fish market to get some, well, fish. For my mom. Lulu and the Doc weren't there, but Dominic and Tony were both working, as were a few other guys I'd seen but not often. I was telling one of them what I wanted when Dominic called to me.

"Hey, come over here," he smiled, his head inclined.

I felt very "Who, me?" as I excused myself from the younger fishmonger to talk to the paterfamilias of the fish market. He was standing at the top of a flight of stairs.

"I want to invite you to have lunch with us," he said, touching my arm with one hand and gesturing below decks with the other. "We're eating downstairs. Are you hungry?"

I wasn't, but who cares? "Thank you, that sounds great. I'd love to join you."

In the low-ceilinged basement, darkness shrouds the farthest reaches and the walls are covered with shelves, boxes, tools, equipment, pails, stoves, refrigerators, and a riot of other dusty things. It looks like my old garage. But in the center of the room, gathered around a long wide well-lit table, sat half a dozen people talking, eating, and drinking. Dominic indicated an empty spot at the near end and showed me where to get my "tablecloth" -- a 3x4 sheet of paper. As he shuffled over to the stove, the woman next to my place pointed out a jumbo box of plastic forks. I approached the stove, fork in hand, and Dominic pulled a tray of roasted tuna belly from the oven. He spatulaed a browned slice onto my plate and filled the rest with spaghetti and tomato sauce from a giant pot on the stove.

"Who's the chef?" I asked.


"Dominic, thank you for inviting me. I would have brought a bottle of wine if I'd known..."

"No, no, don't worry about it. Enjoy yourself!"

I sat down, and the woman next to me introduced herself and her husband.

"How'd you guys get invited?

"We just live in the area and come here a lot. Dominic does this every [week on this day] at 1."

"So you're regulars."

"Every week when we can."

He filled our glasses from a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi Paisano Red, and she handed me a light, crispy hand-rolled breadstick (from Trio French Bakery on Ninth). We spoke while he kept up with the table's main conversation. She's a translator-interpreter -- mostly corporate stuff, but her favorite recent jobs were a movie junket and a gig at Jack Welch's house -- and he paints large geometric abstractions.

The fish was perfectly done, a little overdone but chewy and substantial, impervious to an extra few minutes in the oven. Readers with recall will recall that's the fish Dominic was taking home the last time I'd seen him. Now I know why.

A steady dripping noise came from nowhere and everywhere, echoing the ice machine upstairs, where thin white chips fall ceaselessly into a hopper all day. Across the room, three massive cast iron stove burners stood against the wall, at the bottom of the steps leading up to the sidewalk. At the top of those stairs, a thin "H" of sunlight shone between the steel cellar doors.

"My mom would love this," I said to my neighbor. "She used to come here all the time."

"Ask Dominic for some to go."

When I was done, I did, explaining , "She's been coming here for ten years -- she told me about this place."

"Sure -- but let's do it now, before it's all gone. Get one of those cartons." He filled it with tuna and pasta, and then excused himself. "I have to go upstairs and work. But come back any week -- [today] from 1 to 1:30 you're always welcome. But don't come at 5, because there won't be anything left!"

The party was breaking up. The friendly couple to my left were also standing and getting ready to go. "Is your studio near here?" I asked.

"Yes, I've been there for 15 years. Next time you come, I'll take you there after lunch."

As I washed my plate with a fistful of steel wool, his wife was talking about sea salt with the last straggler, an olive-skinned middle-aged woman who said she likes Argentinean salt best. She brings it back with her whenever she goes home.

I chimed in to blather briefly about how great my visit to Argentina was, and the salt-importer lit up. Then the interpreter complimented her necklace, a chunky affair of silver and semi-precious stones.

"It is from Syria! These stones are amber."

Uh-oh, I thought. Then the couple said goodbye, till next week, and went upstairs, leaving me alone with the amber salt woman.

"And where are you from?"

"Los Angeles."

"Before that."

"I was born in New York."

"No, I mean your people, before that."

"My father is from Israel."

"From Israel!" Her features grew sharp as she leaned in and asked, "And what do you think of what they are doing to Lebanon?"

I paused. I paused some more. I've been discussing this issue with American friends all week, and they usually don't know much, or they invoke unreliable, easily dismissed sources like Alexander Cockburn. But I hadn't engaged on the topic with someone so vested on the other side. So we began. It turns out she's originally from Lebanon.

After a few adrenalin-flooded minutes of banging our heads together and barely even addressing facts -- though she did go far enough off-topic to assert that the Armenians may have deserved their genocide -- we agreed never to discuss these issues again at Dominic's lunch table.

"I don't even like to talk politics," she said.

"Then why did you ask what I thought?"

"I thought you were Italian!"

Wouldn't that be easy.

Upstairs, the Lebanese-Argentinean and I bade each other cordial goodbyes, and I bought some fish for my mom.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Killing the Oceans with Trash

"The amount of plastic in the oceans has risen sharply since the 1950s. Studies show a tenfold increase every decade in some places. Scientists expect the trend to continue, given the popularity of disposable plastic containers. The average American used 223 pounds of plastic in 2001. The plastics industry expects per-capita usage to increase to 326 pounds by the end of the decade."

That's from an L.A. Times article entitled "Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas," where you can read about the huge, huge masses of garbage and other detritus floating in the Pacific and killing all kinds of sea and air creatures. It's an environmental crisis comparable to that old chestnut the ozone layer, which no one talks about any more, now that we have global warming to keep us busy.

"The debris can spin for decades in one of a dozen or more gigantic gyres around the globe, only to be spat out and carried by currents to distant lands. The U.N. Environment Program estimates that 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of the oceans. About 70% will eventually sink.

"An estimated 1 million seabirds choke or get tangled in plastic nets or other debris every year. About 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and sea turtles suffer the same fate."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Who Rides a Bike to Costco?

I rode to the Costco in Queens on my bike today — it’s about seven miles from my uptown address. People warned me of heatstroke and called me crazy to try such a stunt in this weather, but the trip was pleasant and without mishap. After years of driving everywhere and a lifetime of failing to use the bridges that link Manhattan to the rest of the world, little voyages like this are part of my post-automotive rediscovery of exploration. It's not normal to ride a bike to Costco, of all places, and make purchase decisions based on whether items will fit in a daypack, but it was a fun excursion.

After climbing to the middle of the 59th St. Bridge, I found myself coasting down into Queens from well above the rooftops and leafy trees. It was a peaceful entry, like dropping through a green cloud cover, until a subway train rumbled past to my left, descending in the opposite direction toward a tunnel; at the same moment, a noise-damping bulwark on my right disappeared, revealing how near and loud the cars were racing at and past me onto the bridge. Kind of thrilling.

After I hit terra firma, the ride north to Costco was brief and uneventful. I had never before ridden a bike in Queens. Apart from trips to the airport and a couple museum expeditions, I had never even been in Queens. The Clash's "Safe European Home" came to mind as it often does when I leave my usual range for terra semi-cognita, but I don't think Long Island City -- even its scruffier precincts -- remotely qualifies as a "place where every white face is an invitation to robbery." It was very benign, if run-down, and those buildings that haven’t been absurdly defaced with affordable materials were charming and impressive. And rare.

Rolling through the parking lot, I was surprised to discover a bike rack. And even more surprised to find that I wasn't the only person using it. A youthful, white-haired couple was already there chaining up, and we all laughed at the unlikelihood of finding others just as quixotic. His bike was a shocking antique: an ancient Raleigh with rod brakes and a full chain guard. The original black paint was almost invisible under rust, and the rear fender was actually rotting and falling apart.

"When, how did you get that bike?" I asked, wide-eyed.

He smiled and said slowly, "I received it for my ninth birthday." The bike was a museum piece, about half a century old. I could tell by his accent that he was from Holland, so I unleashed my usual Dutch palaver, which is remarkable in the way that a talking horse would be remarkable; it's not what the horse says but that he says anything at all. Dutch is among the least useful languages on Earth, not because it lacks great literature or movies or fine conversationalists, but because most every Dutch person you meet speaks English. And probably French and German too. So when a non-Dutchman spreekt Nederlands, the native speakers are unfailingly tickled and full of compliments for even a rudimentary fluency. Incidentally, the Dutch are committed cyclists, a national trait reinforced by the almost universal flatness of their country.

"My daughter won't ride with me. She's embarrassed by my bike," he said proudly. His wife's bicycle was also older and, like her, made in America. She seemed amused by his opportunity to speak Dutch and talk about his prize bike. We wished each other restraint in the aisles and said goodbye.

The store wasn't as well-organized or maintained as its L.A. counterparts, but it was basically the same experience, if a little smaller. Where it differs from the branches I've seen out West is how it's almost integrated into its neighborhood; true, it’s just a cluster of huge shiny warehouses plopped next to lower-middle-class houses and grubby low factory buildings, but it’s right on the East River, and it bears a passing resemblance to a picturesque cannery. A modest esplanade divides the parking lot and the river, providing benches where people speaking five or six different languages were recovering from shopping while taking the late afternoon air. Two guys had three fishing poles propped on the railing, near a fence where someone had hung a hand-written sign touting "Bait for sale."

Away from the water, heading back to Vernon Ave., a row of mature mulberry trees borders the parking lot, and the bright red berries are starting to darken and fall. If all that local color isn’t enough, the Noguchi Museum is right across the street, suggesting that after a spasm of consumption one might counter with culture. If one arrived early enough.

(I won't bore you with my shopping list, but everything I bought fit into the daypack with a little room to spare.)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

More on the Dogs of Yore

Lord Zim is not the only place to read about the so-called dogs of yore (I thought I invented that phrase, but a cursory Googling proves me wrong). Here, in an old New Yorker, is a great book review about dogs and what they may be telling us, as explained in the work of psychologist and dog trainer Stanley Coren.

Excerpt the first:
    Consider the case of Shadow, a golden retriever of unusual acuity. One day in obedience class, he was commanded by an inexperienced boy, "Come on, Shadow, sit down!" Shadow looked uncertain for a moment; then he lowered his rear end to the ground and his chest nearly as far down, and began with his front paws to drag himself in that position toward the boy, whimpering as he went. The obedience instructor was puzzled by this strange behavior, until he realized that Shadow—brilliantly, tragically—was trying to come, sit, and lie down all at once.
Excerpt the second:
    Once, Coren was telephoned by a woman named Josephine, who was having trouble with her Rottweiler, Bluto. The problem was that Bluto was too affectionate. When Josephine's husband, Vincent, was around, he would behave, but when Vincent went to work Bluto wouldn't leave Josephine alone. He would put a paw on her knee; he would gaze into her eyes; he would sit very close on the sofa and lean against her, and if she moved away to make room for him he would follow and lean on her again. Josephine would stroke him on his head, but it seemed that nothing she could do satisfied his longing for love. When Coren arrived at her house to assess the situation for himself, however, he realized that Bluto was not demonstrating affection at all. The paw on the knee, the staring down, the leaning—all these were gestures designed to convey to Josephine that Bluto was of a higher status in the household than she was. And, alas, Josephine's response—the stroke on the head—was, in dog language, classically submissive, akin to the humble lick that a low-status dog or a puppy would give a dominant dog to show that it knew its place.

The Art of Shellfishness

Yesterday after the gym, I rode to Central Fish for my weekly dozen oysters. I know, I know, never eat shellfish in months without an "R." Well, I've been doing just that all summer and nothing's nailed me yet. It was a slow day, and twenty minutes before closing time Doc was on the sidewalk and Lulu and some other guys were standing in the doorway savoring the late afternoon Ninth Avenue fumes. I slapped Doc five as I rolled past to a small hopeful tree, where I swung off the bike and locked up. Lulu smiled and went inside, and I checked in with Doc, then stepped in to choose my shellfish off the display ice. Doc came in and told me not to bother. "Lulu's taking care of you. He's got the oysters in the back, they're fresher. You're his special customer."

Can't really argue with that, so I just showed Doc the most elaborate oyster I'd chosen, a triple with several small clams hanging off it -- he wasn't impressed -- and then went to buy a beer at the African place next door.

When I returned, Lulu was opening and eating some oysters himself. He's a good-looking Hispanic guy in his mid-40s, with a wolfish grin under a shock of black hair. He saw me eyeballing the walls for a church key and said, "Let me," then opened it with his shucking knife. He's an all-purpose opener.

"OK. You ready?"

"Let's go." I took a long pull on the Guinness and accepted my first mollusk.

Was it the best one ever? No. But it was good. Not great. I don't use sauce or lemon, and I chew before I swallow, each chomp a death blow. He kept handing me oysters. They just kept on coming. I started examining them, noting the fine veins on the translucent gray sac, black frills like the front of a tuxedo shirt, the cloudy liquor pooling in the shell around the organs. And always the outside of the shell, to see if we were consigning any living things to long slow landfill deaths. After my last oyster visit, I coasted my bike down to the Hudson and threw back three live oysters plus a few hitchhiking clams.

"How's your day going?"

He shook his head. "Not so good. Slow day."

"That doesn't sound so bad."

"I like it busy. When it's slow, the boss is in a bad mood and time drags. And I don't make any tips."

I tip Lulu well, but hadn't realized he actually counted on that.

"And when it's busy, the day just goes by, boom, like that. But slow days, they take a long time."

He was keeping very busy with my oysters. I hadn't been counting, but I was slowing down. "Are we at 12 yet?"

"Oh yeah, but you had some twins."

"Twins count as one?"

"Of course," he said, eyes on his knife as it gently penetrated my next victim. I stepped back from the waist-high cutting board, my staging area, to look at the blue plastic tub below. We'd been dropping the shells through a five-inch circular hole in the board, he the first half of the shell, me the second, for at least ten minutes. Amid a few crumpled papers and bottlecaps lay countless oyster remains, some rough and gray, others white and gleaming.

All around us, guys were pulling fish off the display ice and tossing them into cold-packed plastic tubs for overnight storage. After a slow day, they were all finally busy. No urgency, just repacking the inventory. A low tide of water sloshed around the wood risers we were standing on, a few hunks of bright orange salmon drifting past in a scum of scales and other detritus.

Eventually, he announced, "Here's your last one." I accepted the final creature with relief and finished my beer. "I need a fish for dinner, too. What's fresh?"

"A lot. Snapper, porgies, sea bass, bluefish, grouper ....."

I decided on a red snapper, and Lulu went to the back to get one. He cleaned it using an electric scaler that lay at the end of a long cord like a dentist's drill; he ran its flat side up and down the fish's flanks, sending scales flying. When he was done spraying fish bits every which way, I approached the bench again.

"How long've you been working here?"

"Twenty years," he said, expertly shearing off the fins and tail and snipping away the jaws from the torso.

"Twenty years! How'd you start?"

"You know, driving, delivery, packing, whatever. Yep, twenty years. Long time." He scraped the abdominal cavity clean, teasing away the dark and reluctant internal organs.

"What's your favorite fish?"

"Filet of sole," he said, looking up. "That's my favorite. I also like white snapper -- more than the red snapper -- and I like sea bass, porgies -- I eat them with the bones," he smiled, spraying the inside of the ribcage with a hose to blast away the last shreds of bloody tissue.

I must have looked disbelieving as I repeated, "Porgies? With the bones?"

"I deep-fry. I don't bake or grill them."

Does higher heat soften bones? Maybe fishmongers have strong teeth.

He rinsed off the fish and declared, "It's ready. Is that it?"

"That's it."

Lulu packed the denatured red snapper in a plastic bag and then put that in a paper bag. "Pay Dominic. Enjoy your dinner. Thanks.

"Dominic," he called. "Fifteen dollars." Lulu rinsed his hands and wiped them on his apron and went outside.

Dominic, a squat white-haired old bird with a beaky nose and sharp eyes, stepped up to the register, another small island of human activity just behind the lobster tanks. He took my credit card and added the tip on my request, then pulled a bill from the register and dropped it in Lulu's tip can. I asked the boss about his favorite fish.

"What's my favorite fish? I like all kinds of fish. Look," he said, walking to the glass-fronted freezer. "Tonight I'm having tuna for dinner. Tuna belly," he clarified, pulling out a semi-frozen two-pound hunk of red in a honey-colored plastic bag. He set it next to the register and added, "I like all kinds of fish."

I thanked him, told him how much I like his store, which he appreciated, and then I left. I felt fine.

Too much is never enough. I went back to the African store, because my new kitchen needs spices and it seemed a perfect place to stock up. I asked the pleasant young Korean counterman when the Africans had sold the store.

"No Africans ever owned it."


"Never. Jews ran it for fifty years. And then Koreans bought it about twenty years ago."

He confirmed my notion that most of the customers are Africans or West Indians, and a few walk-on-the-mild-siders like me pop in from time to time. While I was trolling the shelves, a third type showed up. A flustered guy walked halfway in, eyeballed the unfamiliar jumble, and said, "Potato chips?"

"No potato chips," said the clerk.

"No potato chips?"

"No, no potato chips."


"No. Try next door."

He could have had a softball-sized wad of corn paste, or a whole salted and preserved tilapia, or a Lebanese sesame candy, or a box of Horlick's milk powder biscuits, or Chinese cookies the size and shape of dice, or even fresh kola nuts (four to a bag), but no, no potato chips.

Eventually I chose four condiments: a Barbadian habanero-mustard sauce (bottle), sambal oelek from Vietnam via Rosemead, CA (jar), harissa from France (can), and an oil-based African paste called -- no kidding -- Shitor (jar). There were three kinds of Shitor, and I took the one that sells the best. It's made of peppers, dried shrimp, herring, garlic, and some other stuff which I can't look up. I'll explain in a minute.

I was excited about all my new spices, so even though the fish didn't need any spices beyond those in which it was cooked -- garlic, ginger, cilantro, jalapeno -- I had to try all the new sauces on it (except the canned harissa).

At about 1:30am, I became queasy. By 2:30, my stomach gave up, and I suffered increasingly painful bouts of reverse peristalsis for about two hours. I'd hurl, sniffle, hack, gargle, brush, and then go lie down to sleep. But sleep would not come. Then I'd do it all over again. Four times, maybe five. Finally, as the sky paled over my viewless windows, I drifted off, my throat raw from acid, my stomach muscles exhausted. The accursed Shitor played scapegoat, wrapped in paper at the bottom of my garbage can. I think it put a hex on me. Or maybe I just had too much of everything.

Or maybe you just shouldn't have oysters in months without an "R."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Summer Park Amusement: The Usual Themes, Recombined

Sometimes I take a break from my usual helter-skelter approach to bike riding, unwilling to commit to the mental engagement a street like Broadway requires. This past Wednesday was just such a time, so I rolled across the Great White Way and further west to Riverside Park near Columbia.

Many areas of New York afford pleasant bike riding experiences. There's the expansive sweep of Hudson River Park, where the water rolls along beside you and the sky is wide open, neither buildings nor stoplights to block the way. There are the bridges, where the rider's suspension between water and sky is even more extreme. Lovely lanes in the West Village offer a charming sense of having left the city and even the century, a sensation reinforced by the discomfort of riding on cobblestones.

But nothing had prepared me for the almost unbearable bliss of coasting through the upper promenade of Riverside Park on a lazy warm afternoon. Even the gray cobblestones beneath my wheels offered a welcoming minimum of bumpiness as above and all around, a high canopy of bright green leaves, a cooling interlacement of trees at the upper and lower levels of the park, dissipated the last of the heatwave. The benches were sparsely populated, but most of the people on them looked as drugged as I felt, basking with eyes closed in pools of sunlight. Everybody looked beautiful.

I had stopped pedaling and was going as slowly as possible to prolong the moment. A few yards ahead, a tall, attractive woman with white hair and a white sleeveless dress was walking a calico boxer dog on an extensible leash. Though full-grown, the dog was floppy and quick in the puppy way, all darting eyes and huge paws and alive to everything. Even so, his mistress was giving him helpful suggestions and pointing out phenomena she thought he'd find interesting. Like a squirrel.

"Look!" she said, leaning down to his ear and pointing as one scurried across the path. "Look! A squirrel!"

The dog's grave yet comical head whirled and jerked until he saw the fellow quadruped, a smaller, more prey-like creature. He took off after it and the squirrel, feeling suddenly very prey-like indeed, fled across the path and up onto the wide stones atop the retaining wall, an enormous structure that divides the park's upper and lower levels and keeps passers-by from tumbling 20-50 feet. The squirrel disappeared over the edge and the dog leapt lightly onto the wall to look for it. There he perched, young legs quivering with excitement, grave head whirling, eyes wide and searching.

The woman, who had indulgently let out another 15 feet of leash to enable puppy's adventure, suddenly saw that puppy was about to hang himself.

"Oh! Oh! Get back over here!" she exclaimed, yanking him back off the wall. He jumped down and scuttled to her side, where he endured a round of alarmed chastising.

"Don't you know you could fall? What were you thinking? What was that about? It's only a squirrel! Don't be a fool!"

I rolled by laughing. She looked up, joining me in a smile, and I couldn't help but say, "Maybe he's not ready for squirrels yet."

I kept rolling, my sublime afternoon suddenly even better for the infusion of comedy. And not just any comedy, but dog and squirrel comedy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

War Drinking

Here in NYC, the war in Israel (and Lebanon and Gaza) seems as far away as the computer monitor -- it's inches from your nose but an infinity from actually touching you. Is it distracting? You bet. Whatever I'm doing, I keep going to "My Yahoo," that simulation of my interests, to see if any new news has hit the international wire. Great job they're doing over at the AP and Reuters and Yahoo -- except that none of them mentioned the rocket that landed on a beach in Caesarea -- pretty big news, Jesus Christ. D'you think we'd hear about it if a bomb hit Malibu? You bet we would. But Caesarea? I had to search the dimmest recesses of to get any info.

It’s bad enough trying to keep track of all that from seven thousand miles away. Tonight I went to the Night Café at Amsterdam and 106th with my old pal P, with whom I've hoisted many a pint at that same venue. He loves to play pool, for reasons I may never understand. It's not like he's good at it. Nor am I.

When times are calm no one pays attention to country of origin. But tonight there was a skinny dykey chick at the bar talking to the bartender. I wouldn't have paid attention to either of them beyond my drink ... but then some of the dykey girl's chunky friends came in, and after an hour or so of girl-on-girl chit-chat, one of them got into a heated thing with the mild-mannered drink-slinger ....

"You owe me some respect! My people have been here since the '20s."


"Yes! We have been here for ... (bla bla bla)"

"I'll give you respect -- when you blow yourself up at an Israeli checkpoint."



I have a few people in mind to hate right now. Liars, tyrants, bullies -- I got a list, all based on my own personal life. But when I heard that bartender invoke terrorism as a source of respect, I went beyond my usual hatred.

Wish I'd had a bomb to blow up that bar. Theory ain't shit without engagement. Look at that blowhard Said. I'm glad he's dead, but what did he ever have to do? He was an exile, preaching his gospel of theoretical hate from a theoretical pulpit to theoretical adults (students), and now he's in a very real grave, useless beyond his books and parrot acolytes.

You've read my descriptions of Caesarea and Gan Yoshiya and Gaza in this blog before. Nothing new or remarkable about my alignment, right? If you're reading this you probably know me anyway, and if you want to debate this stuff, call me up.

I wasn't sober enough to realize I should walk out on the spot. I wish I'd made a scene. But no. We finished our game, I paid and we left. Later, after P had gone home, I realized I'd forgotten my backpack somewhere, so I had to retrace my steps. The bartender was extraordinarily accommodating, but it wasn't there. In the country in question, that bag would have been blown up for safety's sake, my damp gym togs vaporized in perpetuity, but this being NYC, home of 9/11, no one batted an eyelash at my cheap nylon explosives carrier. It was stowed securely in a closet at Tap-a-Keg, a duller but closer and less politically charged drunkery, where I'd had my first drink.

In L.A. I used to go to a Syrian restaurant in S.M. called Sham, but that seems very far away. My dad, bless his crazy soul, likes to announce to the Sham waiter, "We are Israelis!" So far they haven't poisoned his hummus, but these days I think it's only a matter of time, Of course, we draw our battle lines tighter in wartime. Dad probably won't be going to Syrian places for a while. I won't.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Occupational Shanty

Someone there is whose last name is Cone-Miller, a product of parents who early adopted the hyphenated family surname. Well, I got to thinking, and when I was all done with that, I wrote her whole family a theme song for the profession they invented but have yet to pursue. You may sing this to the tune of any simpleminded sea shanty you may know.
    The Cone-Miller Song

    I’m a miller of cones, a singer of songs,
    A tiller of teetering trees
    I’m a killer of clones, a dinger of dongs,
    A spiller of ballwaxy bees.

    For ‘tis cones that I mill and
    Blood that I spill and
    Places I just will not leave.

    My pulse it don't run when I pick up a gun
    But for dozens of of ladies who grieve,
    I am the killer of sheep and the spiller of sleep
    And a good goddamn miller of cones.
Perhaps this will even inspire the non-cone-millers among you to lay down your arms and pick up your legs.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Twilight Twinkling

O frabjous night. Found a place to live. Farther uptown than I wanted, but it has some matchless qualities. Meandering southward from my future temporary home via Riverside Park and then along the Hudson Parkway, I stopped by the ruined piers to watch day's last light paint the water as a girl strummed a ukulele down on the riverbank rocks. Fireflies twinkled haphazardly above manicured lawns and carefully planted stands of swamp grass, while further upriver, vague through misty dusk, the George Washington Bridge majestically twinkled too.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Living, Breathing, Paying, Eating, Dying

A few things:

1. I am deep, deep, deep in the circle of hell reserved for people who think they can rent a spacious, sunny apartment in New York for roughly the same amount they used to spend on a home mortgage in Los Angeles. The boiler-room world of the Manhattan apartment broker is slightly fascinating if repellent and may warrant a separate post. In the meantime, I am looking, looking, looking. If the next few paragraphs seem more frivolous than usual, kindly blame it on the stress of impending homelessness.

2. I held my breath for 3:35 on the subway last night. That's right -- I went three and half minutes without breathing or blacking out. This ability surprised me, because I haven't practiced or tried to hold my breath since junior high. Back then, I could only go about a minute. Credit swimming and bike-riding for this unexpected ability. You try. How long can you hold it? Suggestion: Take several deep, fast breaths to oxygenate your blood before you start.

3. Yesterday, I met an ex at MoMA and we had a drink in the café. Having read Lord Zim prior to our meeting, she reported liking "A Particulate Essence of Eighth Avenue," which was gratifying, because I did too. We had a very nice time catching up on the last few years. When done, we paid a $19 tab with two twenties and asked for change. The waitress thoughtfully brought change for both twenties and included an extra twenty in the folder, for an accidental total of $60. The drinks could have been free. I pointed out the error to my friend, left the extra $20 with our tab, and said nothing to the server.

I watched covertly as she stood across the room and opened the folder. She counted the money, looked over at us, spoke to two co-workers, looked over at us again (I looked away), and then came back to ask tentatively if we wanted some more change. Hooray for honesty. I explained, and we all had a self-congratulatory little laugh. Was I being high-handed? I was just happy that two honest people had the good fortune to run across one another. Maybe I am too much in love with my own selective moral code.

4. Speaking of my selective code, I recommend "It Died for Us," a NY Times article on the "ethical implications" of a carnivorous diet. It's hardly a conclusive argument, but it raises some very good questions and hypocrisies while force-feeding facts most people ignore or don't commonly recognize about how food animals are raised. Do ducks deserve more sympathy than chickens? What about lobsters, who wait to die in small tanks with their claws immobilized, only to burn to death in boiling water? Pertinently for me, the article begins with a discussion of oysters, which are among the few foods that literally die as we eat them; clams are another.

4a. I recently went through a minor orgy of oyster-eating (three times in a week) after discovering that my favorite fishmonger will shuck bivalves for immediate consumption on the premises. Standing at the fish-slicing table, to be precise. The ambience is bizarre and not entirely appetizing -- several thousand small creatures are either dead or dying or waiting to die all around as one slurps other tiny things to their deaths -- but it is an experience unlike any conventional feed. That plate of ice and seaweed? Piffle. The richly burnished wood bar? Window dressing. Shallots minced in wine vinegar, and a cello bag of oyster crackers? Camouflage for lack of freshness or fear of flavor. As my fish store sherpa says, "You gotta be a perfessional oystah eatah!" If this means slicing your lips open on the razor-sharp shells, so be it. They heal in a day, and extraordinary experiences require sacrifice.

(And offer unexpected rewards. One oyster surrendered a small and unlovely pearl; it caused quite a stir, and Lulu the shucker was delighted to receive it as a tip. I was happy to give it away and happier still that it hadn't cracked a tooth.)

And then the buzz sets in, the post-oyster charge. It's not just the cliché of enhanced sexual potency, though the fishmongers talk as if there's no question that bivalves boost sex drive; one of the people I escorted to this place swore an hour later that he still felt higher off the oysters than he'd felt since he gave up hooch.

Is that possible? Is it imagined? I've been thinking about the life spirit of the oyster, which -- if we accept its existence -- must leave the flesh when you chew it to death. Then what? Does that energy stay in you? And if you don't accept its existence, why don't you? Why would an oyster not have a soul or at least electric energy powering its functions? Am I talking nonsense? I imagine far more erudite, thoughtful people than I have examined this question. Who are they? What do they say about the dying animal?

5. Finally, on the mysterious topic of souls, yesterday I looked at a Chinatown apartment that sounded great but was in fact a wretched disappointment. The closest thing it had to a saving grace was the bedroom's view of an ancient graveyard. The building owner had tried advertising through the usual Asian venues, but most of the potential tenants were too superstitious even to enter the room, let alone sleep in it. Craigslist's occidental audience had proven more willing to bed down next to those in eternal slumber. Chinese numerology ascribes power to different numbers than Western traditions do, but the building address is just as deliciously creepy as its rear window view: 13 Oliver Street.

As for that grassy plot, it is the First Cemetery of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue named Shearith Israel, at St. James Place, a synagogue that dates to 1683. According to, "the Shearith Israel Jews emigrated from Brazil beginning in the mid-17th Century." But wait! That's not all!
    According to legend, the location of the red-bricked building abutting the cemetery has an unusual history of its own. On the site of that building, there was a Civil War tavern known as the "Grapevine". Many Union officers went there, including many Southern spies and many incognito newspaper reporters.

    Of course everyone knew that everyone else was eavesdropping on conversations there, so the tavern became known as the place where many rumors originated. This became the origin of the phrase "heard it through the grapevine"!
Are those souls still hanging around, or have they moved uptown? And if an oyster has a soul, might it 400 years ago have inhabited a Brazilian Jew? Try covering up that taste with shallots.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Vicarious Circle of Life

Yesterday was my big life cycle proxy day.

Proxy Papa

A friend just had a baby! But her husband has the flu! Baby mustn't get sick! So she asked me to pick her up from the hospital.

First, I had to fetch her car, way up in the posh Hills of Beverly.

"Go into the house and you'll find the keys and a bag of baby clothes on the dining table. The car is in the garage."

I drove my own kid-unfriendly car up to their palatial estate, which unfolds over a few acres off a secured road. I parked and walked through the lush garden and into the house. There on the table were the keys and togs. I said hi to the nanny, went back out to the garage, slipped into L's new silver Mercedes, navigated the garage door and then the security gate, and glided down the hill to Cedars Sinai, where tout Beverly Hills goes to give birth.

I found them right away in what may be the least confusing hospital on Earth. L looked even more beatific than usual, and the infant lay semi-propped in the center of the bed like an offering, swaddled and vague. As I inspected the perfect miniature, she appeared to wave at me despite a general glazed look. The room was crowded with L's bouquets and bags, so I commandeered a surgical steel cart from the nurse and piled high the personal effects.

At the elevators, an excited young man held a potted plant and a tiny spray of carnations.

"Would you like a bigger bouquet?"

He misheard me: "I wish I did."

"Here, take these," I said, handing him the biggest bouquet off the top of the laden cart. I knew my friend wouldn't care.

"Oh, you're good," he said, which confused me, but I gather that's how people speak these days.

The discharge process took an hour or more: First L disappeared, then I went off to the car, then I came back and the baby was gone, then she was back but needed a new diaper and bottle of Enfamil, etcetera, but eventually we were done. As the orderly rolled mother and child in a chair through endless halls and waiting rooms, people' eyes darted from them to me, marching along behind with the rented breast pump and bales of sterile sponges. I wondered if I owed the moment an effort to appear the proud papa. Nah. I must have radiated the right vibe; only two people congratulated me.

I left them in the lobby with the wheelchair and the orderly and a collection of demented seniors waiting for their rides, and retrieved the car. The baby seat posed a new set of issues, because it was new and complicated and neither L nor I had ever used one. I tore open the "Alcohol Prep" packet from the room (nostalgic reminder of high school) and swabbed my fingers to keep germs from the tiny slumbering baby as I manipulated the straps and buckles around her. L redid all my work more exactly, slid in next to the baby seat, and I drove them home.

Tasting Dinner

That night I met three friends at downtown LA's tony Café Pinot for a tasting dinner, part of the catering process that has never before been apparent to me. The engaged two of them had invited the other two of us to help evaluate the food and wine options for their wedding next month.

We sat on the patio surrounded by suits and skyscrapers and glimmering tiny lights as managers hovered and servers delivered a series of artfully plated dishes: six appetizers (choose three); three salads (choose one); four entrees (discuss). Midway through my detailed comparison of the salmon crisps (unimpressive to look at but surprisingly good) and the crab cakes (promising of mien but curiously disappointing) I stopped and happily observed that this was even more fun than I'd expected, because people so rarely want to hear me pontificate about food.

"That's why we invited you!" cried the future groom. "Of all the people we know, you two are the best at pontificating about food. You're doing great -- keep going."

Thus encouraged, I waxed even more loquacious than usual: why the wasabi mousse had no bite, why such perfect French fries are appropriate for a celebration (hang the calories!), why my baby vegetables were losers and what would be better, how the sauce under my perfectly pan-roasted halibut was basically a puddle of oil, why the Spanish white had all the virtues of a Sauvignon Blanc without the downside, and on and on .... We all agreed on most points, a concord likely helped along by grapes. We probably sounded like huge asses. And if we ate like that nightly we'd have huge ones too.

After dinner we wandered through the gardens and the bride-to-be showed us the tree under which the actual ceremony will happen, where the bar will be, and all the homeless people who won't be allowed to occupy park benches on that hallowed night.

We parted in a haze of bonhomie, and I drove carefully home, musing alone in my car on proximity to the major life events of others.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Scofflaw No More, Part 2

Three months ago, I discovered I'd been an unwitting scofflaw for two decades. Devoted readers may recall the beginning of this story. Now that my misadventure and record have been resolved, the details are about to unspool in a Lord Zim first, a serialized narrative.

Welcome to the beginning of the end of the story of the longest-lasting minor infraction of my life.

Back to Monroe

"If the bus left at 9:10, why did you tell me 9:05? You lied to me."

He was joking. Bored and hating the bus ride, he was hassling to kill time. Probably. But he was right. I had lied. I tried honesty. "OK, I did lie. Yes. But I lied to myself to make sure I got there on time. And then I couldn't tell myself one thing and you another."

"Oh ho. You couldn't tell you one thing and me another. That's good." He smiled and looked away again. I smiled too, nodded, then turned to look out the window. Snow was melting all over outside, from the shopping centers to the slender third-growth trees to the rustic motels passing by. The blizzard had been huge but the sun was already erasing it.

"But ... you still lied to me." He wasn't quite done.

I didn't want to look at him again, but I turned anyway, slowly, to face him. "No more than I was lying to myself."

"But you lied to me."


Why had I lied? After the policeman stopped me for taking a walk in the wrong neighborhood and revealed my license had been suspended in New York State for 20 years because of a speeding ticket I don't remember getting, I went home and made some calls and determined that I had to go back to the scene of the crime to pay my debt to society. I had to go to Monroe, NY, to post bail. I couldn't just plead guilty to the speeding charge, because then it would go on my record. Big deal, I thought, until the court clerk said it might affect my insurance and my insurance agent back in LA agreed. He wasn't sure, but it was possible -- even likely, he allowed -- that insurance rates might be determined not by the original citation date but by the conviction date.

Usually, those two are just months apart. But in my case, the citation and the conviction, if there were indeed to be one, spanned a period in which the Berlin Wall had fallen, families had formed, children been born and educated and shipped off to college, computers and cell phones had nearly taken over the world, and both Islam and China had risen from impoverished slumber to threaten the American way of life. I had played unwitting scofflaw for an entire generation, and now my chickens had come home to roost.

We'd been roosting on the bus for almost an hour. P had subsided some, bored into submission, but my tailbone was killing me. I'd slipped on the sidewalk the first night of the blizzard, and the bruise was taking a long time to go away.

I'd lied to get myself to the accursed morning bus on time. Lying to him was just collateral damage.

"Look!" I said. That sign says 'Mt. P----.' (his name)"

"As far as I'm concerned, that's a sentence," he said. "An imperative command." I stayed put. He didn't mean me. I retrieved the last of our chocolate bar from the mesh bag on the seatback before me and broke it into two through the wrapper and we finished it. Ritter Sport milk chocolate with almonds. It was the least I could do. He was giving up most of a day to make up for this barely explicable mishap that had started with his storage needs 20 years ago.

... to be continued.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Snappy Service

S and I had dinner last night. He's in town for a design expo and we met at an open studio in Williamsburg. Afterward, we walked across the street to the Sweetwater something, a charming little bar/restaurant on Sixth. A middle-aged French guy with an expensively scruffy haircut led us to a row of three two-tops set snugly in the back of the room, more of a table for six with narrow gaps to help you lose silverware. The end tables were occupied, so S had to slither in to take his center seat against the wall. Good thing he's an exercise nut; an average American would have gotten stuck like Winnie the Pooh in Rabbit's hole.

As he shimmied between the tables and our new neighbors watched in fear, I remarked to the man seating us, "This is cozy. Do I need a condom to sit down?"

He smiled and hissed, "Maybe next time you'll reserve the whole restaurant."


I wanted to respond in kind but realized we were already in danger of food-borne reprisals. I nearly said, "OK, that's it, let's go," but it would have taken the Jaws of Life to get S back out again, so I just smiled back and sat down and hoped for the best. We didn't see him again. In any event, the dish our server recommended (John Dory in a tomato-basil reduction) was so good I didn't care about anything else.

The design shops on Sixth are full of really thought-provoking eye candy right now and worth a visit if you have the time or interest.

Post-script: High school pal A, a longtime Brooklynite, notes the "French" host is not French; he is from Argentina. That makes sense, because Buenos Aires is "the Paris of South America," which sounds like a ridiculous cliché until you're there and then the similarities are obvious. It is also the psychiatry and plastic surgery capital of South America, and its famously snotty residents are known unaffectionately as "Porteños." It all seems very French from where I sit.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Street Theatre: One Angry Man

Around midnight one recent Thursday, a private party was winding down at a high-priced bar on 23rd Street. Outside, a short dark man in rumpled business casual was screaming at the bouncers. Sweat plastered locks of straight black hair to his head and a bag of groceries kept one hand busy, but he used the other to point and wave wildly over the velvet rope.

“You don’t have a job tomorrow, and you don’t have a job tomorrow, and you don’t have a job tomorrow!” The bouncers just watched him, murmuring occasionally to one another or letting legitimate guests into the party. When the angry hand came too close, an Asian bouncer in a black leather duster said flatly, "Touch me and you're dead." The shouter wasn't immediately deterred, but he vented a while longer and eventually walked away. A minute later he came lurching back, screamed some more, and left again.

Afterward, the oldest of the bouncers, a black man in an impeccable suit and tie, said, "We get guys like that a few times a week. Not often, but more than we'd like." The duster added, "Sometimes the smallest guys are the most aggressive. Especially when they drink."

I coasted east on my bike to see if the angry man was causing any more trouble. By the time I spotted him, he'd quieted down and was making his way heavily toward Seventh Ave. He peered closely at a restaurant menu, hesitated out front, and then moved on to cross the street and descend into the uptown subway station.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

'Emotional Support Duck'

From a New York Times article entitled "Wagging the Dog, and a Finger," on the rise of "emotional support animals," which so far require no formal training and minimal certification:
    These days people rely on a veritable Noah's Ark of support animals. Tami McLallen, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said that although dogs are the most common service animals taken onto planes, the airline has had to accommodate monkeys, miniature horses, cats and even an emotional support duck. "Its owner dressed it up in clothes," she recalled.

    There have also been at least two instances (on American and Delta) in which airlines have been presented with emotional support goats. Ms. McLallen said the airline flies service animals every day; all owners need to do is show up with a letter from a mental health professional and the animal can fly free in the cabin.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

100 Words on Learning How to Ride a Bike

Just wrote this for a small online story contest about learning to ride a bike:

    After two weekends of trying to shed my training wheels, I'd just ridden almost a full lap around the local track. Euphoria! But where'd dad go? Then I noticed two women by the bleachers. They weren't watching me, but something about them caught my eye and -- Oop! Down I went. Six-year-old me and my shiny red Sears bike, all a-tangle in the dust.

    Dad came running over. "You were doing so well -- what happened?"

    "I was looking at those ladies," I mourned.

    He laughed and delivered this fatherly wisdom: "Looking at ladies will always knock you over."

P.S. (later): I won.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Podcast Flipout

Curses! Foiled again. I was about to read an interview with writer du jour Etgar Keret on Nextbook, when I discovered it was available only as a podcast.

OK, I know everybody loves podcasts. Tivo for radio. Democratizing the airwaves. Personal narrowcasting. Point-to-point multicasting. Embedded ads. Whatever. Look, I like listening to the radio while driving, but when my eyes are free to scan a website, I'd rather just read, for the simple reason that nuance, background music, sound effects, and all the lovely benefits podcasts and radio offer are generally less important than my ability to read as carefully or as swiftly as the material warrants and my schedule allows. I don't have 15 minutes to listen to every last detail of your vision or your author interview. And am I going to take along a 15-minute interview for my walk or bike ride? Er, no, probably not.

What's driving me nuts lately is this trendy, slavish, contagious editorial policy that dictates selected content be available only as an audio file. WTF? Is transcription too costly? I'm busy -- let me skim and decide if the piece is even worth my attention. Tease the podcast's unique features (Hear Etgar's tummy growl! Listen to Etgar whistle!) in the accompanying text if you want, but don't give up on readers ... lest they give up on you.

Y'know, I've read enough about Etgar lately. I'll skip Nextbook's version of the author clusterfuck and just read something else. Harrumph!

By the way, I heard Etgar read and talk last week while he was doing an NYC circuit to support his latest collection, "The Nimrod Flipout," and he was great. He shared the stage with his Israeliterati predecessor David Grossman, whose work I like less, but who was nevertheless incandescent in his closing remarks on why Israel needs peace.