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.

Automatic Writing

Ever read your spam? I didn't think so. Well, you don't know what you're missing. Oh sure, most of it's just drivel, intentionally misspelled names of drugs that modify your sexual and emotional performance, or hot tips on penny stocks, and almost all of it is dull and annoying, but every once in a while, if you just stop ... stop to smell the email, you stumble upon something worth reading. Something that takes you right back to Ionesco by way of Monty Python. Something like this:
    Now and then, a grain of sand trades baseball cards with the insurance agent. If another CEO befriends the statesmanlike abstraction, then a fruit cake self-flagellates. Most people believe that a dolphin behind the demon satiates a salty inferiority complex, but they need to remember how non-chalantly an eagerly college-educated dolphin ceases to exist. If a tuba player derives perverse satisfaction from some grand piano, then a power drill toward the jersey cow sweeps the floor.

    When the cowboy inside some dolphin ruminates, the corporation meditates. Furthermore, the blotched corporation leaves, and a false garbage can barely tries to seduce a parking lot. A tomato is nuclear. lion.

    A grand piano teaches a radioactive stovepipe. Indeed, a pork chop pours freezing cold water on a jersey cow from a cargo bay. If a scooby snack related to a power drill cooks cheese grits for the worldly earring, then another flatulent judge rejoices. The mating ritual living with the paycheck, a cowboy about a hole puncher, and a freight train of another tuba player are what made America great! Now and then, the tornado buries the gentle chess board.

    A cosmopolitan anomaly operates a small fruit stand with the grand piano. If a pine cone figures out a corporation for a spider, then some mean-spirited CEO wakes up. A frustrating power drill knowingly buries a mortician over the power drill. A traffic light of the spider figures out a line dancer, because a college-educated paper napkin tries to seduce a completely obsequious photon. The abstraction for a fire hydrant ridiculously buys an expensive gift for the demon.

    The ostensibly nearest burglar dies, and a dolphin trembles; however, the turkey inside a cocker spaniel knowingly can be kind to a diskette. A loyal sandwich conquers a cloud formation. Now and then, a spider underhandedly finds lice on the avocado pit about the mastadon. An usually obsequious pork chop sweeps the floor, and some customer inside the tabloid wakes up; however, a lover dances with a gentle tripod. Indeed, the tornado goes deep sea fishing with another microscope behind a light bulb.

    gotta go