Friday, January 01, 2016

Best Of 2015

Hello! Best book I read: The Handmaid's Tale, finally
Best movie I saw in a theater: Mad Max: Furiosa! But It Follows was very, very good, too.
Best movie I saw not in a theater: Take Shelter
Best album: To Pimp a Butterfly. But The Most Lamentable Tragedy was very good, too.
Best show I went to: It's hard to remember shows when I'm not describing them in obsessive detail! Speedy Ortiz at Saint Vitus Bar (August 31st) was pretty good.
Best show I performed at: Pepperoni at holy shit Shea Stadium.
Best veggie burger: Shack Veggie Burger, Pickle Shack.
Best podcast I was on: Chab City.
Best podcast I wasn't on: The Black Tapes.
Best worst movie: Joysticks. But Evilspeak and Bulletproof (aka Butthorn) were also straight-up garbage.
Best reason to listen to WFMU: Dr. Gameshow, on which Jo Firestone - sounding like she's always on the verge of a panic attack - attempts to corral a crew of guest stoners as they play through listener-submitted gameshow ideas.

I took the year off from writing about myself. I reckon my hiatus began as I was poised to give the blog an update to its look and feel, and wondered what its next incarnation should be. Should I pack it up and move it to Tumblr? Roll my own thing? What were the kids doing. A survey of self-documentarians proved thoroughly demoralizing, though: Such idle, solipsistic chit-chat from such desperate, desperately boring people. I didn't feel like I had more of anything interesting to say.

It was also around this time that Beau invited me and Nina to "FloChan," a sort of chat room as implemented over Facebook comment threads, and populated with a crowd of sweet, earnest weirdos drawn from the "Anti-folk" music scene that accumulates around the Sidewalk Cafe on 6th and A, and its weekly open mic nights. I got quite addicted to FloChan in its digital form, bringing my phone to bed to chat with my new friends, and in its corporeal manifestation in the backroom and basement of Sidewalk.

And it was through FloChan (and Beau) that I met Ray Brown, for whom I've been playing drums periodically. Our act, which also includes Charles Mansfield, is called Pepperoni, after the name that our friend Joanna gave Kitty on a pet-renaming spree. The songs are drawn from Ray's catalog of solo material, re-arranged as brisk 80's hardcore. (Because that's what I can play.) It works pretty well! Ray is good friends with John Hall, the lead singer of King Missile (whose "Detachable Penis" played in heavy rotation on Z100 in 1993 coincided with my awakening to popular music) who are performing together again after some years. Ray and John conspird to get Pepperoni onto a King Missile bill at Shea Stadium a week before Christmas this year. Which is how I found myself stashing gear in the green room and sitting behind the drum kit in the House of Reisch & Levine, things I never thought I'd ever get to do in this lifetime. Sure, I was in a state of crawling panic right up until the final half-note, but other than that it was bliss. Nina wrote her name on the wall in the back. Eric Harm mixed us and filled the booth with smoke.

What else?

I mean, the year was filled with pleasure and distress as usual; weddings, trips, projects, incremental achievements. More nice things and friendly people than I deserve. I went to Poland on business; Seattle and Pennsylvania for little vacations.

Kitty is, improbably, still alive.

Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Of 2014

Best book I read: The Savage Detectives
Best book I turfed out on finishing: The Gulag Archipelago (at Volume 2)
Best movie I saw in a theater: Obvious Child
Best movie I saw not in a theater: The Host
Best album: Run the Jewels 2, Run the Jewels. But Lost In The Dream (The War On Drugs) was pretty good, too.
Best show I went to: Deltron at Celebrate Brooklyn, July 19th. Runner-up: Buzzcocks with Titus Andronicus at Webster Hall, Sept. 6th; observed through the dressing room window with Jo-Jo and Jo-Jo's mother.
Best veggie burger: Falafel burger, Thistle Hill Tavern
Best brunch: Nah, fuck brunch
Best podcast I was on: The Breakfast Quest
Best podcast I wasn't on: Welcome To Night Vale
Best nut: Cashew
Best worst movie: Foodfight!, possibly the only outright evil movie our team has ever watched. Runner up: The Vineyard
Best thorn in the side of clickbait capitalism: @SavedYouAClick
Best weird Twitter: @dogboner
Best Twitter: @RandyIsDaMan

We visited Emma and Jay on New Year's Eve. They'd made spaghetti and meatballs, and we sat for a while and watched Terry Crews and Ken Marino get drunk in Times Square before cutting the TV over to a movie, Roger Corman's Attack Of The Crab Monsters. The crab monsters took their sweet time making an appearance; most of the tension came from the love triangle between Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, and Russell Johnson ("Hank Chapman"). Pearl the ancient dog snored in her bed near the screen.

We didn't wait for the claws. We left Bridge St. at 11:30 and jumped on the train to Classon Ave. to check out the final blasting of the Pratt steam whistles, due at midnight sharp. Mr. Milster, the Chief Engineer at Pratt (guess he runs the physical plant) was blowing the whistles for the very last time. ...Which is what every blog and newspaper item had been saying for the past few weeks, and why we wanted to go, but we didn't really know what the whole thing was all about until we got round the corner of Willoughby and Grand and heard the first massive toots. The main event was through the gates and around the corner in a copse of trees outside the East Building, where a crowd had gathered around an array of steam whistles. We couldn't see or understand any of this at first, because of the volume of steam and noise. It's hard to describe the sound, but it was a bit like a barge horn: A basso-profundo hooooo at the resonant frequency of the human skull. Like the muezzin's adhan, it was hypnotic and pacific. So was the way the steam looked just as it emerged from the valves of the whistles. It looked like the edges of an egg frying in the air, dense, fluid, opaque. We stood in the warm-wet veil created by the steam, smelling that radiator-water smell of old iron pipes, certainly not a clean smell; corrupt in a physical, if not biological way. When we became aware of the mechanics of the scene, we saw that feeding the whistles was a large conduit pipe running along the ground to the wall of the East Building, where Conrad Milster was giving comments to the press and appreciative members of the community, periodically opening and closing a master valve with a lever. Nearby, there was a smaller-scale installation, a kind of miniature steam organ attached to a wood-and-plexiglass console with a piano keyboard that people were lining up to play.

We waited for the whistling to subside, but it was still going pretty strong around 1:00 AM, so we decided to make our way to the next party, at Nina's friend Diana's house on Berry St. in Williamsburg Prime, the heart of corruption and profligacy. Diana and her husband are successful graphic designers, and their ground floor brownstone apartment is furnished like a big game hunter's colonial-era trophy room. There was chocolate cake and fancy cured sausage and champagne. Shiny metallic balloons spelling out "2015" bobbed against the low ceilings. It was a combination New Year's / birthday party for Evan, and so I presented him the prize I'd been carrying with me all night, a handle of Widow Jane, which he promptly cracked open and poured into shots. "You were at Pratt?" he said, as we stood talking with Ray and Nini. "At Parsons, we used to call Pratt students ATMs, because it's so easy to get money out of them." I could swear I'd heard Randy say the same thing about Parsons students, but I kept my mouth shut. It was his birthday.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Last Chance To See

Holidays!

My sister and I cooked Thanksgiving for my parents. (Well, everything except the turkey, which my dad more or less handled himself. With a little help from this video.) Here's what we made:
Nina's grandmother Ann passed away about a week after Thanksgiving. It was sad. She was a nice lady. The funeral was in Scranton, where she'd lived her whole life. I took the Martz bus from Port Authority on a Thursday night, stayed over through Friday, occupying her abandoned house with Nina and her family. The funeral was held at Our Lady of the Snows in downtown Scranton. Appropriate, since the town as freezing and blanketed in white. I'd never been to a Catholic service before; I had to sneak glances at the other mourners to see when to sit, when to stand, when to kneel. The doddering priest slobbered about Jesus, didn't say much about Nina's grandma in particular. We drove the coffin out to the Italian American cemetery, waited in the icy chapel until it was time to lower it into the ground. Nina and I returned to the city on Friday night to prepare for our holiday party, which had been too close to cancel. It felt strange, but there wasn't really anything else to be done in Pennsylvania, anyway. We got up early on Saturday, bought a Christmas tree from a sinewy Québécois woman outside the Key Food on 5th Ave., scrubbed the apartment, and laid out the truly overwhelming selection of cheese and nuts and cookies and chips that Nina'd gotten at Fairway. We gave the tree an initial dressing of lights and Garbage Pail Kids cards, the red "Christmas birds" -- and a new addition, rescued from the fake tree in Nana's dining room in Scranton: Alex the Owl, another fake bird in the shape of a tiny horned owl; but with his eyes glued on about a quarter inch too low, giving him a seriously derpy expression.


Our guests started to arrive at seven o'clock, and we put them to work at the craft table, a tradition from Tom and Colleen's annual party than Nina'd been eager to implement herself. KT brought a pouch of decorations from Michaels, which included googly eyes, pom-poms, shiny confetti (shapes: bible, dreidel, circle) and pipe cleaners. We supplied the glossy pages of The Economist, New York Magazine's grotesque "gifts issue," and, like, the Neiman Marcus Kids catalog. In return, our friends produced the following ornaments.


Skeleton Space Cat


Free Robert Blake


Jay's masterpiece; a kind of Sistine Chapel ceiling of dicks.

I saw The Dickies play a show at The Bowery Electric last weekend. Weird place: Narrow bar at street level, cavernous basement performance space. (And right next door to where I bought my first porno movie!) They were in the same configuration (I think) as when I saw them last year, though this show was filled to capacity. A much older crowd, too; maybe they wouldn't come out to Brooklyn. "It's great to see so many young faces in the crowd," said Leonard, kicking off his traditional five minutes of comedy. "All you forty-year-olds; you've got your whole lives ahead of you." There was a contingent of hecklers standing next to me, definitely older than forty. "Fuck you! Fuck you!" one guy kept hollering, like a boorish Yankees fan. "If I wanted to be bored, I'd'a stayed home! Fuck you!"

I'd yelled that and worse at them when I was twenty, and I sometimes wonder if the band thought it was part of the contract the same way I did at the time. Back when Bel Argosy was still a thing, I think we were flattered when people threw empty cups at us (that one time) but I would've been hurt if teenagers had yelled to us that we were too old. The set list had some good stuff on it, even if it wasn't anything I hadn't heard: They opened with "Silent Night, Holy Night," Leonard in a Santa hat -- one of many props he'd exchange with a patient producer in the sound booth. They played "Welcome To The Diamond Mine," which I think only I danced to. I tried to sing along to "I'm OK, You're OK," but they've changed the lyrics again, and I have no idea what it's about any more. They played "Manny, Moe & Jack," and ended the song with a decisive down-stroked chord instead of the final "...Jack." The crowd applauded, the band turned away to tune their instruments. A good ten seconds passed. Leonard took a swig of water from his Poland Spring bottle, stuck his finger in his ear, and sang the final note on pitch.

Christmas interlude. Caroline and I cooked again. This time we made the four dishes I'd made at the South Indian class I'd taken at Brooklyn Kitchen:
  • Potato carrot (spinach) sambar
  • Coconut cucumber raita
  • Green beans palya
  • Lemon peanut dill rice
My sister made two pies -- cranberry sage and rosemary shoo-fly -- from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds cookbook, which she's been baking her way through. They were both amazing. She makes the dough and weaves lattices herself, something I have never had the patience to do.

Nina and I went out on Sunday to see Bass Drum of Death at Glasslands, one of the last shows before the venue closes. Much has been made of the disappearance of so-called DIY spaces in North Brooklyn this year: 285 Kent, Death By Audio, Goodbye Blue Monday. A real bad thing, for sure. And crazy that so many of those think pieces attempt to re-assure the reader that the closures are No Big Deal. But it's interesting to see in the semi-mourning for all of these lost places the gloss applied to the term "DIY." It doesn't mean there was no money involved -- there's always money, even at the Market Hotel. Doesn't it really mean, We don't know what we're doing yet; we don't have any partners to show us the way? We're writing the book as we go. But no one's gonna call the next place that Haykal and Rosenthal open DIY. Furthermore, isn't there something in VICE's takeover of Kent Ave. akin to Caesar's return to Rome? No excuses for them, but everyone should'a seen it coming. "So where's the Underground?" I asked Nina as we stood up on the balcony watching the last of the opening acts, Mitski. A last tuft of the "burning cloud" sculpture that used to hang above the stage dangled from a wire above the sound booth. "There isn't one," she said. "And you wouldn't like it, anyway." The band was performing a song with the refrain, "I don't care about your fucking money!" It ended with three or four unrestrained, full-throated screams from the lead singer. A thread ran in my brain for the rest of the evening contemplating the idea of starting a zine to curate and distribute the kind of non-artisanal dirtbag outsider art materiel that's being wiped out in New York City. Like a Maximum Rocknroll for the 21st century. I even came up with a name for it: True Weirdo. I think it's a cool name. But it's probably impossible to do, and I might be -- might be -- too old, anyway.

Bass Drum of Death, though: They were very good, even if not every song is as interesting as their singles. At their worst they sound a lot like The White Stripes, which is to say, still pretty good. At their best, I was surprised to find myself thinking of Jay Reatard. Vocals reverbed to hell, unpredictable but catchy lead guitar riffs on top of more and more guitar. The comparison is aided by the hairdos, huge swaying yellow-brown mops that completely obscure their faces. I'm going to miss Glasslands. It's a beautiful place. We spent some minutes after the show staring into an installation they'd put up recently -- since the last time I'd been there: A clever combination of blinking LEDs, mirrors, and one-way glass in elegant black frames to create an impression of an infinite starry corridor.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Horses

Nina and Eve go driving some Sundays, partly to keep their skills sharp and partly to learn about the mysterious parts of the city that are accessible only by car. This most recent Sunday I took them up on an invitation to ride along, and we drove out to Floyd Bennett Field. Which is to say that they drove, alternating in the driver's seat, while I sat in the back and munched on pastry. It was a cold, gray afternoon. We put Neon Bible on the stereo, and I sat in the back, watching us pass through Kensington and Marine Park, trying not to be boorish and sing out loud along to the record. There's a great black wave in the middle of the sea. Floyd Bennett Field is a former municipal airport that's been turned into a kind recreational area. It's got "nature walks" and a climbing wall and an ice skating rink and even a petting zoo. When we arrived, I got into the driver's seat and drove around the parking lot, a couple of times, haltingly. (I've recently re-obtained my Learner's Permit, having let it lapse in a fit of despair about five years ago.) We ducked inside the hangar, now converted to a kind of neutered, family-friendly video arcade, to use the bathroom, then struck out across the tarmac for the wilderness. The runways are cracked and faded, but you can still see the markings that indicate the landing zone for, say, a helicopter; standing inside it makes the airfield seem even bigger, even emptier. We took one of the hiking trails on the far side of the airfield that lead into what the National Park Service map calls the "Natural Area," a kind of ramble of small trees, thorn bushes, and tall grass that's taken back the northwestern side of the facility.

At first the paths were obvious, dusted with sand and bordered by shrubs and berry bushes offering pale and inedible little berries. The kinds that birds eat or that maybe nothing eats at all. The further we went, though, the thornier and more overgrown the trail became. We saw several buildings and large machines covered over with creeping vines and in some cases with trees growing up through them, despite printed signs insisting that the buildings were still in use and alarmed. We talked about The Magicians trilogy, which Eve and I had just finished, and whether Quentin Coldwater's emotional journey is plausible or resonant. (I say it's not.) At length we emerged into a clearing near the banks of the Mill Basin Inlet and dominated by the skeleton of some kind of warehouse or other functional structure, now overtaken by weeds and graffiti -- the ubiquitous "KUMA" in big, elegant letters on the north-facing side. Peeking inside, I saw drifts of empty aerosols and bottles and takeout containers, and I got the prickly feeling that this might be a place someone would go to get away from the world, and that they might not want visitors. I suggested that to Eve and Nina, but they pooh-poohed the idea and went poking around inside while I stood on the rocks looking out across Island Channel. They were right, I was wrong; the place was deserted. We followed the shore as it curved around to the south and came upon a rocky, trash-covered beach. A guy with some kind of fishing apparatus was picking through a net he'd cast. He looked like he had a very practical interest in the area. He wasn't there to paint or hide out.

As we re-emerged onto the airfield, we came upon a group of middle aged men in heavy coats flying and observing a set of expensive-looking remote-controlled model airplanes. Model planes swooping, carefully landing; Old Dudes impassive with their hands in the pockets of their parkas. Obviously a dad activity, and one apparently with some real precedent: A wooden shed, open to the elements but wired for electricity and phones, displayed a wall full of plaques and crusty laminated photographs of Old Dudes through the decades with their model planes. We watched for a few minutes and then walked back west towards the parking lot.

A pair of newlyweds (or soon-to-be-newlyweds) were taking a photo out on the runway as we neared the hangar. The cold and the wind were fierce, whipping the bride's train like a flag. We got back in the car and drove out to Brighton Beach to buy groceries, picking up a few tubs of eggplant hye from Elza Fancy Foods, and some frozen pierogies (mushroom, cherry) and charcuterie from the Russian grocery around the corner. We passed by the proctology clinic with the distinctive signage; we passed the stretch of Brighton 4th St. with the tiny houses sprouting like cabbages on a tiny grid within the block. It was very dark by the time we were done. Nina drove us back on Ocean Parkway like a total champ, Ben Folds' frustratingly ironic cover of Bitches Ain't Shit playing off an ancient mix CD on the car stereo.

My parents euthanized Ivy, the cat the family adopted after Josephine died and I left for college. She was old (though not as old as Kitty) and had bad teeth, and once they fixed her teeth, she'd stopped eating, probably because of a growth or a blockage in her intestines. My parents had brought her to the St. Marks Veterinary Hospital on 9th St. and 1st Ave., which is where they always bring their animals when they're in trouble. It was a freezing night. I stopped there on my way home from work, and joined them in a tiny exam room. Ivy looked like a sick kitty; bony, weak. My parents talked to the vet about all the things they'd tried to do to get her to eat. The vet agreed that they'd done everything a good pet owner would have done; she gave them permission to put the cat to sleep, which is what they were asking for, in so many words. She gave Ivy the first injection, which, after about a minute, caused her to just sort of keel over. I sat on a metal chair with my jacket and hat on and peered into the cat's unseeing face. "Their eyes stay open," said the vet. "It's not how it looks in the movies." Then she administered the second shot, and Ivy stopped breathing. My sister cried and said that Ivy was "a baby angel," which was sad and funny at the same time.

After leaving the vet, I went to Ted's huge condo on Dean St. to watch I Know Who Killed Me, which was insane; like a fever dream.

Nina and Caitlin and I went out to Kensington Stables on Sunday to ride some horses through Prospect Park. First we had brunch at the Thistle Hill Tavern (close to my old apartment on 12th St. and former home of the second location of The Olive Vine) which was very good and in which none of Fat Mike's influence could be detected. (Certainly not in the house playlist. But maybe the dude really likes "falafel burgers?") We walked around the perimeter of the Park to Caton Pl. where the stables shared a corner at E 8th St. with Calvary Cathedral. Some teenage girls were using a hose to bathe a shaggy brown pony on the sidewalk.

Caitlin announced herself as an experienced rider, and was promptly assigned a large brown horse named Bingo. "You'll be riding Emma," the trainer told Nina. A guy and a girl who'd walked in at the same time as us were assigned horses named Cody and Tinkerbell, respectively. "And you'll be riding Dakota," the trainer told me. (Dakota! Like Dakota Moss from I Know Who Killed Me!") Emma turned out to be a enormous white mare with a sleepy demeanor who stood patiently in the middle of the street while Nina climbed onto her back, using a plastic mounting block to boost herself up. Nina sat in the saddle, taking instructions from the trainer on how to hold the reins and control Emma's speed. Emma closed her eyes, fanning her long eyelashes. Dakota turned out to be a stallion, not quite as big as the other horses, I thought, but still the size of a freight train. I couldn't see how I'd be able to get a leg up over him, but I put my foot in the stirrup and just kind of clambered up. it's a testament to their training, I guess, that they just stand there and let you push and pull them.

"I'd forgotten how weird horse people are," whispered Caitlin, as the procession of riders and horses with ridiculous names filed past us.

Walker, the head trainer, mounted the "boss" horse, a huge coffee-colored stallion named Spider, and led our party in a single-file line around the corner and down E 8th St. onto Ocean Parkway. The horses moved slowly, almost comically so. Dakota and I were behind Tinkerbell, who had a loose shoe that clanked every time she took a step. Brian, the other trainer (I think that was his name; he looked like a "Brian") riding a horse whose name I didn't catch, brought up the rear. He kept giving me pointers on how to handle Dakota and keep him out of trouble, but Dakota seemed like he had no intention to misbehave. He was the best-behaved of all the horses. "Press in with your left leg and tug the reins to the right," called Brian. "He's going to want to eat those bushes." (He didn't.) We crossed the intersection at East and West Drive and entered the park, where we crossed West Drive at the southern end of the lake and walked up the western side of the park in the muddy ravine next to the road. We turned the horses right at Well House Drive and made a slow loop of the southern interior.

The whole time, the horses moved slowly, obediantly. A loose nail in one of Tinkerbell's shoes clinked with each step. Occasionally a horse would stop to pee or take a shit, their tails shifting to reveal their enormous, dark-hued orifices; and every horse behind would stop politely and wait for it to be over before clomping forward. It was good of them to do that, because I felt very little control otherwise and would have been powerless to prevent a horse pile-up, which the trainers were anxious to avoid. ("Dakota shouldn't get too close to Tinkerbell!" called Brian.) We'd only been riding for about an hour, but the effort of sitting straight in the saddle and the continuous, low-grade impacts on my lower parts made my body feel not good. Nina was unaffected. I loped and limped with her back through Prospect Park, anticipating a painful morning.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Mustache Frog

Apple picking, right at the end of all autumn things. Jerry borrowed her dad's car, and we met her outside the Saint George ferry terminal after crossing the Upper Bay on the 11 AM ferry from Whitehall Street. I hadn't ridden it in quite some time, and was surprised at how comfortable the experience was. I bought a coffee and sipped it as we stood in the bow (stern? It's double-ended) and watched Staten Island approach over the horizon. Hanlon reminded me that I used to watch Count Duckula when I was little and how weird that show was. (Why was his governess so big?) The ferry off-ramps get kind of winched down by a guy in a cherry-picker, and the flexible fringe that helps them connect with the ferry looks like claws.

In the car, we talked about #GermerGoat, regrettably. The whole thing is reprehensible, but the part of it that I find truly disheartening is the hurry of the basement-dwellers to defend an industry status quo that serves them dubiously if at all, and which facilitates their participation in its "culture" in the most passive, disempowered way possible. Naomi Clark describes it shrewdly (as always) as a movement of consumer-monarchists. As someone else once put it, don't wait around for them to come and shake hands; they're not going to be waiting for you.


Our destination was Riamede Farms in Chester, New Jersey. We bought cider donuts and ate them while dodging yellowjackets. (They can sting over and over again, guys!) Much of the orchard had been picked clean at this point in the year, leaving mainly the less desirable apple variants -- I'm looking at you, Red Delicious -- but we were still able to retrieve a good selection of matte-finish red-and-green bakin' apples. We spent some time nosing around the gourd patch as well, and stalked the rows of two-for-a-dollar decorative corn. Jill came away with an enormous, dripping sunflower which promptly wilted. I cradled it in the hay ride to the parking lot. On our way back to Brooklyn we stopped briefly outside the home of Jill's father, the elusive Fadoo, to return the car. He waved from a balcony, cautiously. I love being a passenger in the car so much that I'd almost rather not go anywhere. When I'm in the car I can sleep, I can yell, I can eat things. Full-on toddler mode. I used my half of our eight-pound haul to make a pie with cardamom and crystallized ginger. It didn't reach the level of spicy transcendence I was aiming for (maybe because i didn't include the cookie-cutter Cars shapes) but it was very good.



I used the gift certificate for The Brooklyn Kitchen that Nina'd bought me on a South Indian cooking class that we both attended on Wednesday. The venue was solidly North Brooklyn: A nothing-to-see-here warehouse exterior piled to the rafters inside with stainless steel gear that even ballers like me can't afford. The class was in the back of the shop, in a large room decorated with obvious care to look industrial. Metal lockers, concrete floor. We sat with the other students at two wooden tables abutting a slate counter that ran the length of the room and was laded with dishes in various states of prep. Our table-mates were two Australian UNICEF staff members who sparred with each other in an obnoxiously cheerful, alienating way. ("Mick's our Polio man!") The instructor was a young woman who was working on a cookbook detailing the South Indian recipes of her Jersey girlhood. She laughed nervously and often. The class was focused more on ingredients and procedure than on practicum, in particular on the use of sambar powder and on another spice mixture that included asafoetida, black mustard seeds, curry leaves, and red chilis. Asafoetida, hing asafoetida, is very pungent, but in a savory, clearly edible mode. I really liked it, and when I dumped a whole ramekin of it into our butane tabletop skillet, to the horror of the Australians, it was only partly an accident. We ended up cooking four / sampling four dishes, all flavored with the same mixture of spices, but all of which came out tasting unique.

Nina and I saw Screaming Females play to a packed house at Knitting Factory. It was the first time I'd ever seen them. Despite the band's name, Marissa Paternoster doesn't exactly scream; she roars, more like, which makes it a surprise to hear her soft, friendly speaking voice between songs. And while I wouldn't describe their songs as catchy, holy shit can she ever shred. At the end of their set, she climbed up on one of the speaker cabinets at the back of the stage and crouched, cat-like, her fingers intent on the fretboard, a rapid succession of unearthly sounds issuing from her amp. They didn't play an encore.

I dressed up for Halloween for the first time in many years. I met up with Nina at Abracadabra, which transforms on October 30th from an expensive warehouse of white-elephant "B" movie props to a cheek-to-jowl disaster survival sale, a supermarket with no loaves of bread left on the shelf. We had to wait on line to get in. The floor staff was in full costume, either to demo the merchandise or just get the holiday started early. An androgynous Thing One and Thing Two were helping people try out makeup. Nina was able to find a few components of her desired look -- Nyan Cat, a Popular Internet Thing -- but it wasn't until we got on line to pay that I found a costume that spoke to me: A gruesomely lopsided frog's head bonnet and gloves in a bag marked simply "Frog Costume." Wall eyes; inconsistent stuffing. I snagged a clip-on mustache near the register to complete the look. Mustache frog, I thought. Mustache frog. We went to a Halloween party in Windsor Terrace at the house of a friend of Jill's, where they ferried us a key by way of a stuffed manatee dropped out the window. Hanlon promptly dismantled my costume and self esteem. "Oh," he said. "You're Frog Suit Mario. From the video game. Because you're a gamer." Of course, I thought. How could I have been so blind? I gorged myself on Twix.

We had two friends running in the marathon this year: Beau and Caitlin. We woke up early to watch the proceedings on TV from Katharine and Tom's luxe condo in the sky -- silly, maybe, because they live right off 4th Ave., but convenient because we could track our runners electronically from indoors and then once they were within 10 minutes of us run outside to the bitter cold to cheer them on. Nina made a reversible sign: Go Caitlin; Go Beau! We met up with Caitlin at Morgan's for barbecued things a mere three hours after she completed the ordeal. And then we went into Manhattan to attend a party in Beau's honor at Ray's house, a gorgeous penthouse studio on 14th St. Ray said his apartment was the setting / inspiration for Bruce Springsteen's song "Candy's Room." He packed the place with poets and musicians and weirdos, and there was a kind of impromptu anti-folk show. Ray covered Beau's song "Wake Me Up When Everyone Is Dead" on the piano. While they played I had diarrhea in the bathroom from the jalapeños I ate at the BBQ place; it was very Llewyn Davis of me, I thought.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Cemetery In The Year 3030

Thursday was when the MSF guy checked himself into Bellevue and turned out to have Ebola. The announcement came around 7 PM, as I was preparing to leave work to meet Nina at Pianos for some CMJ acts. I watched the mentions of #EbolaNYC on Twitter begin to shoot up. 45 unread tweets. 180 unread tweets. It was strange to think that just ten blocks away from my office, there was a dude having a real bad time. (Or about to.) Oh no, I thought. People are gonna go nuts. I headed to Pianos anyway, the lineup mostly unevaluated except that I listened to some songs by Spookyland and thought they were pretty good. But by the time I got down there, he? they? had come and gone, and we were waiting for the next band.

Which turned out to be Ages And Ages, one of those ragtag folk music collectives with so many members that they were able to support two people playing rhythm guitar and one woman who had an assortment of musical props, like maracas and a cabasa. The main dude was having a hard time with his monitor and kept summoning the beleaguered sound lady over to fix it. In spite of all this, they were very good, I thought. They sounded a bit like Alan Price and The Animals: Strong vocals with pop sensibilities; rich arrangements. We stood up front, near a kid with a big backpack on, who before the band started had been standing up straight and holding a book about an inch away from his face. Now he was filming the set on his smartphone with the same posture and slack expression. A nerd out on the town. Part-way through the band's set, during a tuning between songs, a little South Asian guy pushed his way through the crowd carrying a bag full of tiny, light-up tambourines; clearly having taken advantage of the general chaos of CMJ. He was shaking them and offering them for purchase. The band started their next song, but the guy kept shaking the tambourines, out of time with the music and seemingly oblivious to the spectacle he was interrupting. He was like one of the toilet beer hawkers in Barcelona. One of the guitar players looked at him like what? I made eye contact with her. I know, right? I mimed.

When the set was over, we ducked downstairs to see what was happening on the ground floor stage. It was a trio of scruffy dudes making sad dude music. We didn't stay long. Nina established that Dr. Spencer had been hanging out at The Gutter, not Brooklyn Bowl. Thank god ?uestlove is safe, we said.

Instead, we went on the prowl for other new things. The lineup at Cake Shop didn't look promising, and Leftfield cost cash money to get in, so we cut over to Rivington and walked into Fat Baby, passing straight through the always-empty upstairs and down into the almost-empty performance space below. The band setting up was called Prom Body, and they were visiting New York for the first time from Arizona. The guys in the band had a sort of bar rock dirtbag look, and they were loud, so loud that you could feel it in your legs and the band's playing lost all articulation. But their songs were actually kind of okay indie rock type songs, and the main dude's voice was high and interesting, not what you'd expect after hearing his speaking voice. If they'd only turned down a bit they would'a been kind of okay. We stayed for their entire set, though, then caught the subway at East Broadway, passing a piece of graffiti around the corner from 169 Bar, a broken wine bottle in the style of Basquiat, underneath which: Fuck 169 Bar.

On Friday night I found myself at 169 Bar for Caitlin's going-away party. That place is true hell-on-earth bar, an explosion of tchotchkes and camp doo-dads, packed with Oxford-shirted douchebags, almost all male. There were drag queens dancing in cages. A 15 minute wait for the bathroom. Eventually the party became mobile and moved across town to an all-night dumpling place near the on-ramp to the Manhattan Bridge. I veered off and headed for Canal St. to train home. I spent no less than 45 minutes on the platform waiting for a train, foolishly wearing my messenger bag overloaded with two laptops and a bunch of cables and other unnecessary junk. When the train finally arrived, I lurched forward from my lean against the wall, and found that my vision was getting fogged with a kind of yellow geometric static, the kind I used to self-induce as a kid by pressing on my eyeballs. It occupied more and more of my field of vision as the train pulled in, and by the time the doors were opening, I could barely see. This seems kind of dangerous, I thought, but I don't know when the next one's gonna come. I managed to board the train blind and get to a squatting position at the doors opposite the entrance, and my vision promptly returned. But I was all sweaty and felt weird. "Oh yeah," said Nina when I got home and described the experience. "That's what it feels like right before you faint."

Nina went to Pennsylvania on Saturday to visit her grandma, and I spent most of the day feeling hung over and run down. I managed to rally in the evening and flung myself back to Hell Square for the evening's festival offerings. I'd been aiming to catch pow wow! at Leftfield to say hi to Sal, my co-star from Vanderpuss, but they were off stage by the time I got there and I was unable to pick out any familiar faces in the red darkness of the basement. (I think the band might've been packing up outside when I left the bar, but I felt a pang of shyness and crossed to the other side of the street.) Next, I returned to Pianos, where Native America were wrapping up their set. They were good: punky, unpredictable garage pop; a lot of texture to their sound despite having only three dudes on stage. In particular, their bass player delivered a well-articulated, energetic performance, which somewhat justified how high he was turned up. A warm-blooded bass player; you don't see that every day.

But I'd come to see Future Punx, who were up next. I'd discovered them in the some concert listings as a result of some momentary, and, I think, justified confusion with Punks On Mars. Both bands share a highly affected art-school aesthetic, and produce cheeky pop arrangements; but where Punks On Mars is twisting Telephone Hour sock hop Americana, Future Punx imagines something more akin to Deltron 3030: A band like Television or Blondie or another of the prickly, proto-punk 70s acts battles for the human race in some kind of future dystopia. Or at least that's what I think it was all about. It was all very serious. The lead singer wore dark glasses. They set up a projector. An intense young woman played a keytar and managed to make it look cool. "This is post-wave," they chanted. The music was tight, somewhat dissonant electro-pop. A bald guy in a mink stole gyrated next to me. It was a great show.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Day Of The Bikes

Nina and I went on an epic bike journey over the weekend, the longest ride I think I've ever taken by any measure. Our goal was to see how far we could make it up the West Side Highway. We didn't think we'd be able to make it to the George Washington Bridge, but we'd heard tell of a pretty boss picnic area right across the river in Fort Lee.

We decided to take the Brooklyn Bridge into the city and then cross lower Manhattan to get to the West Side Highway. It turns out the Brooklyn Bridge is a bad bridge to bike across because the city's made it all stupid and pretty for people crossing on foot: The stone towers are huge and elegant, and the hardwood boardwalk feels good under your feet. So everyone crosses very slowly. Sometimes they stop to take pictures, and they mostly don't pay attention, even when you're a foot from them and about to run into a kid and you're ringing your $30 bell brrrring brrrring! Peds. There was a little guy wearing army fatigues and a backpack jogging stoically in front of us for most of the length of the crossing, contending just as we were with the pedestrian gridlock but going maybe a little faster than we were. The hardest parts to pass through were the areas around the suspension towers, where the lanes squeezed down to a fraction of their size and more than once I had to just get off the bike and let oncoming bikers go around me, muttering their frustration. Finally we got to the other side and onto Chanbers St., where we turned west and headed for the highway, bumping over cobblestones and braving the frightening speed of the traffic on West St. We walked our bikes down the ramp to the little marina at River Terrace, remounting when we reached the entrance to the greenway.

We passed the heliport at 30th St., where a helicopter was idly spinning its blades.

We passed the Intrepid at 48th St.

We passed a huge queue of people waiting to get into something happening at Pier 97. A banner on the wall of the stage came into view: Lorde. I looked back at the people: Excited young women; warped, frustrated young men. Ah, okay, I thought.

We passed the Hustler Club.

We stopped at a public bathroom on the Upper West Side, more for the information kiosk (which told us we were near 72nd St.) than anything else, but I went to take a piss for good measure. There was an older dude in there washing his hands and someone in one of the stalls. The guy in the stall said, "Hey, how ya doin'." I thought he might be talking to the old man, but I couldn't tell. He stepped out of the stall a moment later, wearing a full bicycle get-up -- spandex shorts, aerodynamic shirt. He might have been changing into them or just taking a little toilet bath, I don't know. He was a young guy, looked maybe a little like the kid with the freckles from The Sandlot. I washed my hands and left. The guy in the cycling costume walked out and unchained his bike. "Hey folks, how's it going," he said, to no one in particular.

We walked our bikes up the hill and out of Riverside Park into the little plaza where Riverside Blvd. turns into at 72nd St. We texted KT and Chris and met them in the lobby of their building on Broadway, where we chatted for a while. They recommended we cross Central Park and exit off West Dr. at Central Park South (to avoid having to take Center Drive all the way up to 66th St.) on our way to East River Park and an unbroken stretch of bike path. It was late afternoon, late in the summer; I began to worry about the fact that I wouldn't have a head or tail light for my bike in the dark. (I'm a rule-follower, you see.) Nina had a spare set of lights from a previous bike that she'd jury-rigged to her new one with duct tape. We'd passed a bike store right off 72nd St., but by the time we'd said goodbye to KT and Chris, it was closed. The sun was setting rapidly. I was balking at the idea of hauling my bike down to the subway, and so I was settling into a good, deep sulk. Nina rescued the situation, as she always does, with pluck and resourcefulness. She geolocated an Eastern Mountain Sports outlet on 76th St., and called to make sure they were still open. In no I'd acquired a cheap set of bike lights, and we were squatting in the murky darkness outside the store, that unusually deep darkness under the trees on Broadway in the 70s.

We set out across 76th St. and rode past a shuttered townhouse with a fire engine parked outside, firemen trudging up the steps in no particular hurry. We entered the Park at 72nd St., and quickly merged from Terrace Dr. to West Dr., which sloped downward towards 64th St., and I rode the handbrake to control my speed. We exited at 7th Ave. as Katie had suggested, zipping around horses and piles of horseshit. To find a bicycle-friendly street to take us east, we had to round the southeastern corner of the Park, past The Pierre and The Metropolitan Club (where they held our high school prom? Nina thinks so, but she didn't go. I honestly can't remember) onto 62nd St., which we followed until it became clear that it would take us onto the FDR Drive and not a bike path. A couple of hasidic families waited for cars outside the entrance to the Bentley Hotel. We walked the bikes back to York Ave. and up to 63rd St., where we found a pedestrian bridge over the FDR. An old tramp and a young tramp were crossing the bridge toward the river like us, the old guy pushing a shopping cart with some bedding in it. I thought of The Fisher King, inadvertantly. I looked up at the skyway that connected the Rockerfeller University dormitory building on our right to the Weiss lab on the left. It was 8 o'clock on a Saturday night. The Weiss café was empty, I could see through the big windows. We started biking down the concrete walk that met the far end of the bridge, but by the time we got to about 60th St., we found that it was curving back up to 60th St. Frustrating!

We rode down through the 50s on Sutton Place, goggling at the grotesque stone cottages in which New York's rich sequester themselves; the absurd, pointless NYPD surveillance kiosk at 57th St. Heiresses in sweatsuits entered and left the buildings. (What is it with the upper class and sweatpants?) We turned right at 53rd St. and pedaled west to 3rd Ave., which we took south through the hell of Murray Hill (traffic and yelling and I might've broken someone's rear-view mirror) down to Stuyvesant Town, where Nina made a pit stop to pee at her mom's apartment. 20th St. led us to East River Park and the bike path we'd been hoping for. We zipped downtown, taking the winding promenade around man-made rock formations, passing multiple encampments of homeless people sleeping on benches a few feet from the water. Somewhere around Corlears Hook, we passed through a recreation center under the FDR, with semi-enclosed basketball courts and a space for skateboarders to practice their tricks. A group of middle-aged and elderly Chinese people were gathered (it looked like) to celebrate the pleasant evening. Some of them were dancing, ballroom-style. We turned right and found the greenway that took us down Delancey and then down Allen, and then onto to the Manhattan Bridge.

The bicycle onramp to the bridge was so steep that for a moment I wasn't sure we were supposed to be riding up it, but we shifted into our lowest gears and puffed our way to the top, where the incline became less severe. But it didn't level off -- the bike path on the Manhattan Bridge is like a gentle concrete hill, cresting -- it seemed -- towards the far end in Brooklyn. It's less inviting, more industrial than the Brooklyn Bridge, and there's no aesthetic reason to linger on any single part of it, which makes it much easier to cross by bicycle. I thought all the gray was beautiful, though, and I pedaled and pedaled; the unbroken line of concrete in front of me, the metal fencework forming a cage created the feeling of an intense and enveloping dream. We stopped pedaling once we came to the inflection point of the bridge, and let gravity and momentum carry us all the way down to Tillary St.

I don't remember the details of how we got home. It was after ten o'clock, and we were both exhausted. My butt, in particular, was real sore. But it was a great day!