Friday, February 24, 2006

Gloomy Laughing Creatures of the Night

Return engagement at Pam. Took mom. They sat us in the same claustrophobic corner two-top as last time, but the food was better. They even added fried garlic to the koo chai upon request, which made a big diff. There's something about the glutinous noodle, earthy greens, molasses-y dipping sauce, and crunchy fried garlic colliding all at once that makes this dish so addictive and unusual. Mom was already talking about dropping in just for koo chai and having a whole plate of three to herself. It's a dangerous slope.

She wasn't really up for the aforementioned fermented fish kidneys with lime leaves etc., and I, still recovering from a Korean throwdown late the previous night, was in no condition to press the point. So we had the same seafood special she'd read about here on LZ, and added paht kee mow, a flat noodle dish usually made with cabbage but here leavened only with peppers. To its detriment. I was a little disgruntled by the general sameness of the main dishes and oiliness of the noodles, but mom was happy with everything until ...

The durian.

I've had enough raw durian to know what I'm getting into when I order it. I've even cut open a durian with a machete and eaten it in slices, watermelon-style, deep in a rain forest. (There is more to Lord Zim than is dreamt of in your philodendron.) But nothing had prepared me for the rank grimness of "Durian and Rice Pudding" chez Pam. The perfumey freshness at the heart of durian obsession is boiled out, leaving only an oniony wet corruption. Unless they'd accidentally dropped some onions into the pudding pot along with the fist-sized chunk of salt. Hard to say. Poor mom made such a face that I had to jump up and filch her a ginger candy. And now we know.

We walked slowly back in a nasty wind, stopping for a couple errands on Eighth Ave., and once mom was back home I went out again, this time to meet an old pal at a curious, slightly seedy spot on 56th called simply "Restaurant Francais." Under kitschy French posters, a chanteuse accompanies herself on accordion as another woman reads tarot cards in the corner and a prematurely wizened Irish bartender plies the 35+ clientele with wine and weak cocktails. It's also a restaurant, but I wouldn't know about any of that. No matter where I meet him, R seems always to have dinner at the bar. When I arrived tonight, he was done dining but perched on a barstool, gamely folding napkins on the next stool. He was chatting with two exotic young women who worked there and thus were being paid to fold. It seemed a pretty far reach to make time, but I unsaddled my coat and scarf and let him talk me into folding too. The bartender regarded me with such sadness and concern ... as though I didn't know how ridiculous I was. Oh, I knew. Almost as soon as they'd drafted me, both women up and faded away. Are we not men? We are patsies. Anyway, they had work to do.

I had already taken Sonya's seat, and then R took Souad's place across from me at the tiny booth so we could talk as we folded. When the stack was done, Souad appeared briefly to scoop up the tower of white linens, and we were done. I started to doodle, R foisting Freudian interpretations on every last line and circle. We kept an eye on the singer perched a half-level above us. Perched on a barstool, staring blankly at the wall, bathed in a lurid red light clipped to her accordion, she looked like an extra from "City of Lost Children." The mystique paled when she stopped singing obscure froggy songs: Mary Hopkin's 1969 nostalgia-fest "Those Were the Days" segued into an "I Will Survive" so pensive it made me laugh. Then she laughed too; maybe she was just testing us. R led the thin clapping between numbers. Following a few arias and languid interpretations of '50s Americana, she called it quits to pal around with the off-duty servers and tarot fans collecting in the corner. Every once in a while tall, lithe, ebony Sonya would waft by and I'd hand her one of her forgotten personal effects -- her ever-vibrating cell phone, her Fendi handbag -- and each time I did she looked alarmed. She immediately rifled through the purse to make sure I hadn't. I wasn't offended. I wore the smirk of honesty.

Bellied expectantly at the bar, R somehow started talking with a girl who'd been sitting alone up there for a while. She was blonde and had a pretty face, but she'd had a lot to drink. It wasn't easy for her to chat with us from way up there on her barstool, so before I knew it she was scrunching in beside me. She was pretty big, and it was a tight fit to begin with. I doodled furiously, doing my best to be pleasant but not too. She was nice enough, but when R got up to have his damned cards read, she didn't move. I guess she liked being cozy with a stranger. It all struck me as damned peculiar. I wasn't clear which of us was more desperate. During several strained games of tic-tac-toe on the edges of my now panoramic doodle, I learned she's from Wisconsin via California, has five siblings, lives in a studio, loves loves loves NYC, and isn't using her major at work. I made a couple references to my girlfriend, to little avail. When she said she wanted another martini I suggested she have a water instead. She mopily agreed that was a good idea and somehow a glass of wine materialized instead.

Then R came back scowling from the reading and said he was going, and I made as if to join him. But she didn't move and wheedled so piteously for me to stay that I felt paralyzed by pathos and even made R sit back down. Conversation was strained after that, and our bubble of bonhomie grew thin. Ten minutes later R and I wrapped it up and walked out, leaving behind a fantastic doodle and one girl suddenly alone again in a room full of gloomy laughing creatures of the night.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Two nights ago, trying to fall asleep, I had my hand under my chest and suddenly noticed the beating of my heart. It was alarmingly small and slow. Like a freezing bird leaning against the bars of my ribcage. When I exhaled it felt even closer, less than half an inch from my fingers. When I inhaled, it receded deeper within my chest, behind a shield of muscle and fat. I exhaled and stopped breathing to keep it close and there it was again, thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Made me think more about the miracle of life. Made me think more about taking a good multi-vitamin. Fortunately, I fell asleep pretty quickly.

Then my dad, somehow forgetting about the time difference, called at 3am to argue with me about the ports issue. I pled slumber and he apologized and that was that. Just me and my adenalin-shocked heart alone again in the dark, exiled from the last dream and waiting for the next one to come along.

don't know

Say, where did that old tickhound go?
You know I miss my moo cow Joe
I like the dancers in the show
But I don't know what I don’t know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Pam Real Thai

Astonishing. I've found a memorable Thai restaurant in NY. For years now I've been comparing every Thai place on Earth (outside of Thailand itself) to Hollywood's Sanamluang Cafe, and for years I've found nearly all of them wanting. It's been a drag, frankly. Exhausting, even. Comparison may be odious, but so is disappointing blandness. There's often as much flavor in a spoonful at Sanamluang as there is on an entire plate at an Americanized Thai spot like Arawan in Sausalito, CA. On the other hand, I loved Renu Nakorn in Norwalk, CA, and an upscale place V took me to in Redmond, WA, but neither is particularly convenient lately.

Tonight my disdain met its match at Pam Real Thai, on 49th just west of Ninth. It's the first NY place I've found that offers the elusive koo chai, or chive dumplings, and they're actually better than I'm used to. The noodle is thin but dense enough to hold an abundance of flavorful, slightly briny greens, and though I miss the crucial fried garlic garnish and yes, the pungent sauce is a little thin, they'll do. They'll do very well.

(Obsessional footnote: Once I got over my initial revulsion at the gooeyness of koo chai, I started wanting them every day. There were nights I'd show up at Sanamluang just for one order. It seemed freaky to come in just for a $3.50 appetizer, so I'd cover with some noodle dish. Eventually I reached satiety and had to lay off. Now I just like them every once in a while but see them as an index of a restaurant's possibilities.)

Tonight my dinner companions, new friends K and E (they're actually friends of friends of friends), were polite enough to try their first koo chais, tentatively splitting first one and then divvying up the other. They said they liked it. "Different!" was the word they used. K's massamun curry was light but full of flavor, with just enough snap left in the vegetables. The revelation lay before me, however, in the form of a seafood special thick with lime leaves, galanga, shredded young ginger, bell pepper, and garlic. And pleasingly non-rubbery squid. Tal pla something or other. It seemed a crime, but I had it all to myself; the two-chili alert may have scared them off. There is something to be said for the gluttonous autocracy of separate plates. Speaking of chiles, one of the condiment jars contained micro-wedges of fresh lime floating in a light fish sauce with paper-thin cylinders of hot red chiles. The limes are a zingy, crunchy treat, but the chiles are not to be trifled with.

I'm looking forward to trying the three-chile-alert gang tai pla: fermented fish kidney (!) with turmeric, lime leaves, chili paste and assorted vegetable. Here's hoping fish kidneys don't taste like lamb kidneys. And I'll leave time for durian, which has previously appeared in these pages. In case you forgot what I had to say about this fruit 10 months ago when recapping a Thai festival in North Hollywood, allow me to remind you:
    "It's not nearly as bad as folks make it out to be. Yes, the texture of the edible pulp is like rotting liver, and yes, it is cloyingly sweet, and yes, one does detect a strong whiff of, well, rottenness once again, but all in all, it's not so bad. Honest. It's a very labor-intensive fruit, though, and you have to wonder who was brave or desperate enough to eat the first one. A durian is about the size of a volleyball though not as spherical, with a spiky green hide that gives it a fierce medieval look; keelhauled onto the end of a pole it would be helpful in a street fight. Once you cut through the fibrous hull and use the side of a knife to tease out the edible pulp that surrounds the huge pits, you stand a fair chance of enjoying yourself."
I also noted, "People love durian and, rumor has it, will kill for it."

In all fairness, I should say that my mom took me to Pam a year or so ago and I failed to appreciate it. We must have ordered badly. Or perhaps it simply wasn't as good. I just looked at a four-year-old Chowhound thread on the topic and it appears Pam's excites mixed feelings. Apparently there's a real Thai treat in Woodside. Meanwhile, Pam is 10 minutes away.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Yes, Lord Zim is back. And with so many questions, so little patience. Let me just say, by way of crediting where credit is due, you folks have been fantastic. I know, I know, I went away for a while and left you high and dry, but hey! I'm back! More important -- so much important -- YOU're back. Yes, you. The curious, the invisible, the inscrutable mysteries of Lord Zim, you semi-anonymous readers who make me wonder and make my day.


It's 4am in NYC, but I'm still abuzz from one of the most narcissistic escapades in recent memory. A private karaoke room for two. Self-absorption a deux. It was kind of nerve-wracking, truth to tell. No time to lay back and let the rest of your self-indulgent pals soak up the limelight. No sir -- get that song ready, crank it, kick it, go go go! But it was a nonpareil way to reconnect with a close friend from 20 years ago. That's right. We hadn't talked for 20 years. How does that much time flit by? You forget. You just forget how much a close friend means, because you take her for granted when you see her all the time, and then you move away. 3,000 miles away. And then she disappears down a rabbit hole of bad habits, and you both, wrapped up in your picayune pursuits, let it all slide. But then you move back and miracle of miracles you meet and wow, it's like yesterday, as Karen Carpenter used to sing, once more. Shoo bee doo bee wah.

We found we both like dogs. A lot. We oohed and aahed -- well, me, mostly -- over a pair of matched Great Pyreneeses waiting patiently outside a posh restaurant. The cold didn't seem to bother the super-furry animals, but they looked really bored. Kind of like supermodels. Shaggy, four-footed supermodels. On leashes. Drooling.

That's Mr. Dog on the left.

A minute later, we stopped in a 24-hour "gourmet" grocery and it was M's turn to go nuts over a big beige pitbull. She walked right up to coo over the affable beast, so I waded in to give equal time to his lunchable companion dog, a Shiba Inu puppy one-tenth his size. Frisking around in the warmth of our attention, the purebred Mutt and Jeff nearly destroyed hundreds of dollars in cut flowers. Their mistress had a mixed time of it, happy to see her dogs appreciated but worried she'd be ejected for -- oh, any number of reasons. Health code violation, for starters. Yet the counterman fixed us with a sphinx-like gaze and held his tongue. The dog lady eventually became a little overwhelmed, and we all unwedged ourselves from the tiny space between the bouquets and the canned goods. "I'm used to it," she asserted. A minute later, her dogs' leashes encircled my legs. Classic pincer maneuver. Israel used it in the Six-Day War. She freed her hands to untangle me by literally throwing a can of evaporated milk onto the counter, where it rolled right across and off the back. The counterman's sangfroid was much diminished when he stood up again, can in hand, so we left as soon as my doggy bondage session was over.

OK, obligatory Lord Zim kulchah roundup: Our evening started at a Tribeca theater, where we watched the last performance of a run by Lava, a dance troupe run by M's friend. A second before my shutter unshut to create this curiously cinematic image, only two of the 12 feet pictured were on the ground. (A sports photog I'll never be. Not with this damned slow camera.) One woman was supporting the other five. This was not the high point, but it was the most anticipatable feat, which is why I had the camera out in time. The show overall was a mixed bag. Very organic, earthy, even crunchy stuff, plus some breathtaking two-woman trapeze hijinks, impressive acrobatics, poetry, and a lot more humor than lesbians get credit for. M, a professional dancer herself, chimed in with comments like, "Ouch!" and "Yeah!" Afterward, the two of us had dinner in a once-famous Tribeca brasserie, then met the dancers at a bar nearby. I was shocked when someone countered the compliment "You've got a mind like a steel trap" with MY line, "... more like a steel sieve." Is that catching on? What's happening out there? Am I impinging on the Zeitgeist? Why can't I ruffle the Weltschmerz?

After the dancing and the eating and the shmoozing and the karaoke, I walked M to her E. Village crash spot and then kept on going crosstown. It was cold, but I didn't mind. Much. Halfway across, a bizarrely well-tended collection of cans stopped me in my tracks ... a vision in garbage, OK, don't take my word for it. Look.

Some 8th St. eatery separates its refuse into picturesquely consistent cans so a private truck can come along at 2am to whisk it all away for composting in New Jersey. As I stopped to stare at a can full of nothing but pomegranate rinds next to matched bins of wilted lettuce, fruit salad, white rice, chicken parts, and more, the very truck rolled up (note it there in the background) and two guys -- the most personable sanitation engineers ever -- hopped off to elucidate. They seemed very upbeat about compost. And why not? It's putting their kids through charm school. Then they dumped all the different types of refuse into the one hopper on their truck. I left as they were still at it.

Hooray again. A compost heap grows on Eighth Street.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Roman Emperors of Long Island

Southampton has a small sculpture garden full of these weathered, August types. They ruled the known world, and now they're irrelevant, streaky heaps in a side yard. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Free Percussion

Monday I saw the Juilliard Percussion Ensemble perform a free concert titled "Rhythm and Process" at Alice Tully Hall. I never knew how much I liked percussion until last May, when K and I saw Evelyn Glennie and Steven Schick in LA. I wrote about it then, back when I was a better blogger.

I loved the Juilliard show. The pieces were varied, the young players were amazing, and two hours of hypnotic rhythms hit me like a ctrl-alt-del. Among the highlights: Lukas Ligeti's "Pattern Transformation" (written when he was 16!) and the closer, Wolfgang Rihm's "Tutuguri VI," a powerful half hour or so of six people whanging away at bass drums, gongs, tom-toms, and wood blocks the size of a dishwasher and a hot tub.

Midway through, an elderly couple decided to leave. They apparently didn't think much of the music or the audience either, for they chatted loudly while inching down the aisle. Had the percussion been nonstop, noone would have noticed, but Rihm wrote a lot of silence between the thunder. And it was in these gaps that the hall filled with the loud gabbling of a senior moment. They looked the part, too, classic "longhairs." He wore horn-rimmed glasses and a black beret over stringy gray locks, and her coat was a cheery faded pink. They eventually made their way out, and Gotterdammerung regained its power.

By the cataclysmic end, after about ten minutes of mind-altering, pounding violence, all six percs laid down their mallets and started whooshing and shushing cymbals together. Foreshadowing the likelihood that, for all their versatility and power, they'll spend the lion's share of their careers waiting 40 minutes a night to smack a pair of brass plates together.

Underground Music

As any subway rider knows, busking is everywhere these days. I've seen two Chinese guys on a single train platform coaxing howls from erhu's (a Chinese string instrument). The seven-man Peruvian panpipe ensemble is a commonplace now in the larger stations, as are the guy hitting buckets, the girl with a violin, Mr. Sax, and of course, the singing guitarist. Last night, changing trains at 34th Street, I heard an unfamiliar percussive blend in Herald Square's underground echo chamber. Source? Two graying guys playing hammered dulcimer, congas, and reindeer bell anklets. The crowd was thin and spread out -- keeping their distance -- but the upended drum case nearly brimmed with greenbacks. I walked past, stopped, listened, walked back, looked at the CDs, reached for a dollar, and then decided to buy a CD. I'm on a percussion jag, remember? The dulcimerist opened his eyes and asked if I needed change. I did. The music stopped as he found a ten and I thought again, as noted last August in these pages, "The very act of enjoying something destroys it."

The two guys, Paul and Marc Mueller, form the core of Mecca Bodega, and "Skin," the CD I bought, is their seventh. I'd seen their name associated with former Soul Coughing singer M. Doughty, who sang on the soundtrack they did for the HBO movie "Subway Stories." Mecca Bodega have played at Lincoln Center, they were onstage at the revived Woodstock in 1994, and they seem to hit the regional festival circuit pretty consistently, but there they were, two accomplished percussionists busking on a Friday night. The artist's life. Maybe they went to Juilliard.

I really should learn a trade.

Meanwhile, the CD is a winner. Parts are a little New Age-y for my tastes, but big tribal throwdowns balance out the yoga studio moments. You can order your own copy at the website and help keep these guys off the streets. Or out from under them.


Blogs and Schools

I stopped reading New York Magazine many many years ago, disliking it for many of the reasons I now dislike Vanity Fair. But while I was away, NY's own dopey socialite journal became interesting. This week, bloggers and even the MSM are abuzz about "Blogs to Riches," a revealing article that explains who makes money on blogs and how and why. In short, focus, frequency, and fawning are key.

See? I'm learning. It's not even noon yet and I've said nice things about people, linked to other sites, and posted twice! Oh, shoot. I forgot to be "snarky." Or focused. Well, I guess I'll just keep toiling away in obscurity at my own little Bartleby project.

I also liked this article on how Joel Greenblatt, "one of Wall Street’s most successful stock-pickers," used business principles to improve a public school in Queens.
    "The extra $1,000 per child Greenblatt has invested amounts to less than a 10 percent increase over the approximately $12,500 that the city spends on average per child — and well below what some private schools pay for the same kind of results. 'Given all the negative costs of not educating the kids — more crime, fewer taxpayers, less productive people — it was less than free,' Greenblatt says."
See How Is a Hedge Fund Like a School?


'Turns Your Lungs into Bloody Rags'

There's nothing like the specter of a global pandemic to really bring out the paranoid germophobe in a guy. Yesterday at lunch, I watched in horror as the busboy refilled my glass. He came in too close and brought the pitcher practically into my water, close enough that the lip of it brushed against my straw. OK, so what if the pitcher did touch the straw? The problem isn't that the pitcher touched my glass, because I'm fine. But what if the people at the next table all have colds? Or worse?

I have a friend in LA who lives with OCD. It almost ruined his life a few years ago, but he's controlled it with drugs and now seems to have a semi-normal life. He's still a freak, but in a manageable way. He leaves the house, has a family, runs a business, and so on. He's also, as is often the case with OCDistes, brilliant and funny and preposterously knowledgeable. He knows too much. For instance, he knows that smoke alarms contain minute particles of radioactive Americium-241. He's afraid of radioactivity in all its manifestations. Even though the radioactive particles "travel only a few centimetres in air before they are absorbed and hence will not escape from the smoke alarm [and] ... do not have sufficient energy even to penetrate the dead layer of human skin" (source), he goes out of his way to avoid any proximity to smoke alarms. He never set foot in my house, back when I had one. Vintage watches terrify him, because radium, the substance that used to make watch dials glow, is radioactive. I once gave him a non-toxic glow-in-the-dark toothbrush. He laughed ruefully.

His obsessions don't stop at radioactivity. At lunch in LA a month ago, he urged me to have his toast, declaring himself with no irony "the most germ-free person you know."

I don't want to go down that path. I have no hope or intention of becoming a "germ-free person." But I've been reading about the bird flu creeping its way toward us across the globe, country by country -- haven't you? -- and maybe bottled water isn't a preposterous luxury. I wonder if whisky kills germs effectively.

Here's how Michael Greger, M.D., director of public health and animal agriculture for the Humane Society of the U.S., describes what happens if you come down with bird flu:
    "[Y]our immune system kills you. The virus triggers an overreaction of your immune system, which attacks your lungs and basically turns your lungs into bloody rags and you essentially drown in your own bloody secretions."
Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret. Get me the fuck off this planet!

You can read the rest of the interview in Satya, a NY-based magazine focused on vegetarianism, social advocacy, and animal rights. The current issue is all about chickens. I haven't eaten chicken in about six years, but now I'm having a hard time even thinking about the eggs in my fridge, let alone eating them. Not because of bird flu, but because of the way chickens are treated. In the interview, Greger talks about how factory farming is the real cause of bird flu:
    "One can trace H5N1 to the explosion of intensive poultry production in Southeast Asia and the developing world in general. Over the last few decades, meat and egg consumption has really exploded and led to mass industrial animal agriculture and transport—the perfect environment for breeding a super flu virus like this one ... The blame can really be laid at the feet of intensive poultry production. This is truly a virus of our own hatching coming back to roost."
To roost! Who says doomsday prophets have no sense of humor?

You may recall that factory farming was behind that other laff riot, mad cow disease -- having something to do with feeding dead and diseased cows to other cows in the form of food pellets. Kind of a toxic feedback loop upsettting the laws of nature. Step back in time for more on the horrors of factory farming cows. Maybe we'll all get lucky again, just like we did when Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis came a-knockin' but so few humans died.

In the meantime, whenever a busboy refills my water, I think "bloody rags!"

Bon appetit!


Thursday, February 16, 2006


OK, the storm was big. Record-breaking. This Old Blog declined to join the media frenzy. So what else is new?

The creepiness of the blog. Yes, it's kind of creepy that someone spent at least an hour this week reading allllll of Lord Zim. And has been checking in daily for updates! And is not related to me! Wowsers. Of course, it's flattering that anyone would be so motivated and find all this so interesting, but it's also unusual ... so unusual that I now feel, uh, naked. So I've been going to the gym.

Not that it's helped. What's clear about the anonymous devoted reader, thanks to the intelligence granted me by my trusty sitemeter, is that s/he lives in NYC, has Roadrunner DSL , and uses a Mac with a Mozilla 1.0.1 browser. Now, I'm no browser historian, but isn't that kind of a Model T among browsers? Speculation abounds here at LZHQ.

So who the heck is out there using a six-year-old Mac and reading every last page of Lord Zim? Fess up. And more important, what was your favorite post?

And OK, fine, twist my arm. Here's something from the storm.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Before the Storm

I went for a walk up the West Side around midnight on the eve of a ballyhooed snowstorm. Still in tourist mode, if a little jaded.

    10th Ave at 58th: A teenager in a miniskirt tries to convince the five guys she’s with to find a cab for their crosstown trip. They laugh at her from the comfort of parkas. It’s 31 degrees.

    10th Ave. at 61st: Receding lines of featureless condo towers, blank at street level, show me that the city's western edge can be just as bleak as its eastern one.

    Lincoln Center: Dozens of sacks of road salt heap in a wide doorway just off the smooth marble courtyard. Billions of crystals, waiting to be free.

    Broadway, in a restaurant’s public lobby: A heavyset black man in a dark coat sleeps upright in a chair, a broad-brimmed sombrero perched atop his head. Several sizes too small. And yes, made of straw.

    Broadway, in front of Fairway grocery: A barricade, easily 30 feet long and seven high, of crushed and bundled cardboard boxes.

    Amsterdam at 79th: Tall young black guy heads toward me to ask for something, but I shake my head slightly without looking at him and keep walking. I am a native New Yorker, after all. Then he says, plaintively, “Can you help me find a train?” I stop, turn, answer as completely as I can, and we go our separate ways — he to CPW and the C line, I to the south. New Yorkers are known for their helpful natures.

    Amsterdam, mid-70s: Several clusters of smokers hover loudly outside a knot of pickup bars. A girl chats casually in a shoulderless lycra top. It’s still 31 degrees. How do they do it?

    Amsterdam, behind the Beacon Theater: Stampede up ahead. My private barren avenue has turned into a horde of Deadheads evacuating the Phil Lesh show. I cross the street ASAP to avoid catching their mellow vibe. Once safely out of range, I look back to see them still flooding out via the multiple levels of cast iron walkways and staircases that cling to the theater's high brick wall. Piranesi's pachinko machine. Open doors offer glimpses of the inner hall, gleaming through the darkness like caramels in a dirty Advent calendar.

    Broadway at 72nd: An unmarked white police car, speeding, cuts the corner too close and almost nails me but swerves away at the last minute. It’s one of those rare occasions when I’m not jaywalking.

    Broadway at 71st: Several Very Serious Boots stand at attention in a shoe store window. I plan to get a pair elsewhere in the morning. It’ll be my first snowstorm in years and years.

    Columbus Circle: To my right, a horse yoked to a carriage trots briskly west toward its stable, lashed by the chill. To my left, coming off Central Park South, a fusillade of taxicabs flies at me like stars in a screensaver: some go right up CPW, some left around the circle, others straight through and on up Broadway.

    Everywhere: People walking their dogs. Italian Greyhounds, Shelties, Golden Retrievers, terriers, poodles, even a Bernese Mountain Dog. Canine couture is very big here. Very big. After all, it's 31 degrees.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Three Stooges of the Apocalypse:
'Let's Roll Over!'

Delving once again into the traditional blogger's domain, I am compelled to comment on a bracing trio of headlines tonight:

Paper: White House Knew About Levees Early

Libby: White House 'Superiors' OK'd Leaks

Abramoff says he met Bush "almost a dozen" times

The cheer these items brought me gave way within seconds to resignation that neither the toothless press nor the all too loyal opposition will be able or willing to put the President's feet to the fire. Even so, it's a little thrilling to see so many of the lies unraveling at once. The Three Stooges of the Apocalypse -- Scooter and Brownie and Abramoff -- all look ready to roll over on the powers that be that hung them out to dry.

Yeah, but so what. It's not like W did anything really bad, like lie about sex.

No Program Left Alive

Speaking of bad things W wants, here's a handy list of all 141 programs he proposes to cut or end in the 2007 budget. I know you won't bother to click -- though it really is a fascinating list -- so we'll just look at a few here, OK?

This one seems well-timed: W wants to end a $75 million program of "Watershed protection and flood prevention operations." Gee, that sounds like a useless chunk of pork just months after Katrina, Rita, and Wilma! Way to go! It's that bold, contrarian thinking that separates the very rich from you and I. That, and private helicopters, multiple homes, and reinforced bunkers.

The USDA's own Natural Resources Conservation Service says:
    Local communities, with USDA [NRCS] assistance, have constructed over 11,000 dams in 47 states since 1948. Many of these dams are nearing the end of their 50-year design life. Rehabilitation of these dams is needed to address critical public health and safety issues in these communities.
Mississippi alone needs $34 million to repair or rebuild 84 dams that pose threats to downstream residents, according to the NRCS.

Speaking of the Mississippi and other things so high you can't get over them and so low you can't get under them, the $3.468 billion of education cuts are astonishingly broad and deep.

Now, I can see why W might want to cut a $9 million program to promote educational "Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners." He's against whaling. And he doesn't give a shit about Eskimos. It's that simple. And I guess the $32 million "Alcohol abuse reduction" thing just gets him down. And who needs to spend $35 million a year on "Arts in Education"? Don't we have enough fags already?

But it's not all bad. W must have figured out that the $145 million currently being squandered on something called "Talent Search" could be ponied up by his Private Sector Pals. Dunno about you, but I'd sure like to see GOP boosters Shannen Doherty and Ted Nugent co-hosting that reality show. Get it? They could even use the same name! And darn it if Sith Lord Rupe couldn't find a timeslot for those kids to strut their talented stuff. Like, hey! My oligarch's got a barn!

But then you get the scarily short-sighted reductions, like the $272 million coming out of "Educational Technology State Grants." You don't need me to tell you that
    By the time U.S. students reach their senior year of high school, they rank below their counterparts in 17 other countries in math and science literacy.
No, you could have learned that yourself by reading the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (1996-97) ... or just seen that stat in an old BusinessWeek, like I did. We can't outsource everything. Uh, right? Well, no biggie. Kids today, they got more technology than they need, what with the videogames, and the iPods, and the PSPs and the Xboxes and, uh, the TV sets. No need to spend a quarter billion making sure they know how to work the keyboards.

Having tutored inner-city kids whose overworked, underfunded teachers have clearly Left a Few Children Behind, I can state the obvious, as usual, and say it's not like public schools are rolling in dough. Maybe a courageous band of rebel senators will mount some opposition to these cuts. Uh, right. No matter what they salvage, I sense this will all end badly for public schools, no matter what.

But this is America, and we're a can-do nation. If you don't agree with W's education cuts, no problem. Just send your kids to private school. If it was good enough for the President, it's good enough for your children.


Passage of Time

Want to see what growing up and growing old look like? Here you go, a photographic record from Argentina.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rehabilitating the Sardine

Today I bought six sardines on Ninth Avenue. The fishmonger beheaded and wrapped them and I took them home. I gave them to my mom. I couldn't stay. She cooked them and ate them and when I phoned later she declared them "the most delicious thing I have ever eaten."


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Life in NYC

... is great. Lots to do and see, etc. Just like I pictured it. But who wants to read about that? Here are two recent episodes of note.

Today I came back to my temporary digs and, finding the air stiflingly hot, thought I'd use the AC to pull in some cold outside air. Turning the dial, however, I realized the cold air would just blow in on its own if I opened the window. So I opened the window. And then I watched the white, 40-pound, 8,000-BTU air conditioner topple matter-of-factly out into space. It happened so quickly that I barely had time to grab the power cord and feel it rip gently apart. A concussion seemed to shake the building, though in reality nothing short of a bomb or wrecking ball would shake this brick fortress.

I leaned out, all shock and horror, to see the AC on the fire escape two stories down. It rested amid the shattered remains of a plastic flowerpot and a spray of dry winter dirt. No flowers. No pot anymore. Just dirt. And the AC.

Most peculiar. I'd opened that very window just a week ago.

I waited to see a head emerge from the window two stories below. Or any window anywhere. I waited for shouting. I waited for some other event to roll back the tape and replace the thing that had just happened. When none of these events came to pass, I walked down the hall to the elevator and took it to the fourth floor, where I discovered that the last door on that hall opens into a men's room. A young actor adjusting his hair turned from the mirror to register surprise at my entrance, but I, hair askew and eyes alight, ignored him. I pushed open my second window of the day, climbed out onto the fire escape, and made my way cagily past the other windows to the air conditioner. The dial had fallen off, so I slipped it into my back pocket and stood up to stagger back in with my dented cargo.

A word or two about this building. Up to the fourth floor, it is devoted exclusively to studios for actors, singers, belly dancers, and other riff-raff. The fifth and sixth floors are zoned for residential tenants. On the top floor, where I'm camping out, each unit has an enormous north skylight, so these units have historically been devoted to fine artists, who are in turn very devoted to their fine studios.

The fourth floor men's room presents a small incursion into the otherwise rectangular floor plan of one of the rehearsal studios. It is the part of an "L" that is not part of the "L" -- negative space, for the art and architecture types among you. Somehow, the actors and singers who patronize the studio were unfazed by the massive WHOMP! of an air conditioner slamming onto the fire escape mere feet from their well-coiffed heads. When I slunk past their windows just minutes after the impact, nobody reacted or even seemed to notice.

CSI: NYC. The AC had been inadequately mounted -- essentially perched on the edge of the window without a platform or brace -- and that's why it was so quick to leap to its death. I guess I'm responsible for replacing it. Life in NYC. I'm just lucky no one was standing below.

Life in East Hampton

Before we begin, a moment for search engine trivia: easthampton calls up 1.24 million results. East hampton (two words) calls up 12.4 million -- a tenfold increase.

Now let's go back in time. Late last week, I was a houseguest in East Hampton. Tony, posh East Hampton. Celebrity mansions surround the stately, yet unassuming seven-bedroom beachfront house where I spent a few days.

Saturday. Five of us had gone to dinner in nearby Bridgehampton -- our party consisted of my old friend whose mom owns the house, his girlfriend, a couple they know, and me. It was a good time. I even fell off my chair laughing at something my friend said, much to the delight of at least one adjacent diner. After dinner, after the hijinks, I needed a walk. A constitutional, said the doctor among us. Nobody else was interested in a metabolic boost, so I went out alone. Stuffed and a little drunk, but lucid and steady.

Just getting off the property took a couple minutes. In my friend's neighborhood, all the hedges stand at least 15 feet high, and it's only because of leafless winter that any structures are visible through them. Steven Spielberg's hedge, for example, stretches about a quarter-mile, punctuated every 20 yards or so by discreet black camera housings atop skinny poles. Only one house stands less than 50 feet from the single-lane road, and that house is Grey Gardens, where the Maysles brothers shot their celebrated 1975 documentary about two deranged bluebloods (soon to be a major Broadway musical!)

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. It was. Only the occasional driveway lamp illuminated the wet, narrow roads. When a car came toward me, I stepped right up against a hedge, thinking of Stephen King's crippling country lane accident. A minute or two later a car came at me from the other direction. Seemed odd given the low density and late hour.

But it wasn't the car that seemed odd. It was me. I had on a broad-brimmed all-weather hat with the hood of my raincoat pulled over it. To a policeman paid to protect the ultrarich from the unexpected and undesirable, I presented the likeliest interrogation candidate for miles around. The young cop rolled up alongside, blinded me with his high-wattage searchlight, and asked in a soft voice who I was and what I was doing there. Having lost or been robbed of my wallet the previous week at MoMA (more Life in New York), I had no driver's license to offer. Good thing I'm white. Well, the other white people. Happily, I had my host's address and my California driver's license number memorized. The cop ran my CDL and DOB, then announced, "Your license is suspended!"

What I learned from him: About 21 years ago, I allegedly neglected to pay a speeding ticket in rural New York. I guess it never came back to haunt me in California because it predates the days of a connected national database of minor infractions. In fact, I have no recollection of such a trip to the hinterlands, nor of a speeding ticket awarded for going 75 in a 55mph zone. Thanks to a recent spate of bad car luck, however, I've been driving more slowly than ever, which is good, because I'd been driving my host's car that very morning for two hours.

After warning me three more times not to drive in New York State until I'd sorted out the ticket, the cop eventually left. I walked on for another 20 minutes or so, keeping track of my lefts and rights, standing at the end of a cul de sac to peer through blackness at the crashing surf, and finally returning to share my weird story with the rest of the group. Hilarity ensued.

As planned, I left the next morning for Manhattan. Monday, I set to work. The New York DMV told me to call City of Monroe, County of Orange to settle this ticket from the last century. The first Monroe city employee I found was helpful:

"Looks like you have some felonies here too!"

"What?!" I hadn't even gotten up to full splutter when she recanted.

"Oh, wait a minute. No, no you don't. Here we go." She referred me to another clerk, who looked up my infraction and read me the details and told me what to do.

There were more calls, but I'll spare you the tedium. Salient facts: There is no statute of limitations on a speeding ticket. Clerks in Monroe have no idea what the fines are now or were then. None. None at all. Only the judge knows the actual fines. The judge cannot levy a fine higher than the original fine. Car insurance rates may follow the conviction date, not the citation date, so if I simply plead "Guilty" and pay the ancient, deflated fine, my insurance premiums could suffer for three years. In order to plead "Not Guilty," I have to spend $30 and 75 minutes each way on a bus trip to Monroe, NY. There, I'll file my plea and post the $100 bail to secure a court date in three to four months, at which time I'll go back up to Monroe -- another day, another $30, easy come, easy go -- to state my case.

Of course, if the arresting officer fails to show up, the judge dismisses the ticket. And how was your day?

The Fish Course

And now, because you've been so very patient, here are two wall sculptures from the lobby of the Sag Harbor Cinema, a well-preserved old movie palace out in the Hamptons.