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    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    Miscellaneous: New York State of Mind

    Two days after my vacation in NYC and I’m already back in the maelstrom, so I’ll keep this recap brief.

    “Music doesn’t come from us. It comes through us. But we’ve got to keep ourselves clean on the inside so it can come through us. And most of us don’t. So that’s on us.”

    - Barry Harris, whom we saw in performance with his trio at the Jazz Standard

    Dear Citi Field:

    I like you. I do. You’re a little impersonal and not at all Mets-centric, but you’ve got charm and the pulled pork sandwiches from Blue Smoke are to die for. I think you’ll grow on me. I wasn’t sold on Caesars Club, though. You know, that private section for the wealthier fans that feels like an international departure lounge and features its own bar and carving station? I was in there when Francoeur hit the two-run shot that gave the Mets the lead over Houston, a lead they’d never give up, and I almost felt like it didn’t happen because I saw it on a big screen TV. We left immediately and were back freezing out tuchuses off in the bleachers when Murphy went yard. At least we got to the see the Apple come up. I’d complain further but I figure if the team’s good those seats will be impossible for me to afford, so I’m just going to hope for a great season next year. That way, it won’t be a problem.


    PS. Thanks for keeping Carvel.

    Additional recommendations include Coco Before Chanel, the brilliant new Coen Brothers film A Serious Man – if at all possible, see it with a packed house on the Upper West Side on a Saturday after temple, when it plays like Blazing Saddles – and Mike’s NYC tour of the Fashion District.

    You would not think that a cocktail called the New Jersey Turnpike would be good. You would be wrong. Thanks to the bartenders at Little Branch for introducing me to this rye and applejack sour. Also recommended: anything poured at the Flatiron Lounge.

    Three days after we saw and enjoyed the Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of the George S. Kaufman/Edna Ferber play The Royal Family, actor Tony Roberts took ill onstage. We’re glad to hear he’s doing better, and we wish him a swift recovery.

    My Flickr page includes additional photos from our walk along the High Line as well as our visit to various locations from Flight of the Conchords.

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    Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Movie: The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

    Come on. You knew this post was coming.

    Regular readers are well aware of how I feel about the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham 123. It’s the movie I’ve seen more than any other. I have referred to it here variously as the perfect thriller, the quintessential New York movie, my all-time favorite film, and The Greatest Movie Ever Made.

    When I heard that a big-budget remake was in the works - a second remake, actually - I had a brief bout of existential dread. It passed quickly, because I am a realist when it comes to the ways of Hollywood. I always knew I’d see the update. I like the people involved and the premise of John Godey’s novel – a carload of subway passengers held hostage – is still unbeatable.

    In this open and optimistic spirit did yours truly approach the new version. And thus did he pronounce the new version ... good.

    I’m going to keep comparisons to the still-unmatched original to a minimum and judge the new movie on its own terms. After all, New York itself has changed since ‘74, becoming slicker, more garish, more impersonal. I still go back home every chance I get. As a summer action film, the ’09 Pelham is an entertaining piece of work.

    The material has been smartly updated in terms of technology and how New York City is now hardwired to respond to perceived acts of terrorism. It’s also been turned into a more conventional star vehicle with Denzel Washington’s regular Joe train dispatcher squaring off against John Travolta’s hothead criminal mastermind. This approach does not always pay dividends, but it quickly and clearly gets this version out of the original’s shadow. The best thing about the ’09 film is easily James Gandolfini as the mayor, offering a sharp and very funny gloss on current Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg.

    The original film was made at a time when the city was falling apart, and a man with a plan could conceivably take advantage to get whatever he wanted. The only thing stopping him was the tenacity and spite of everyday New Yorkers, the working-class heroes who ride into the city on the 7 train. That’s a huge part of my affection for Pelham 1.0; it’s a movie where the good guys come from my old neighborhood. Enough of that spirit survives into the remake to make it worthwhile.

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    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Meaningless Milestones: I’m Five

    Yesterday I realized with some amazement that this website has been up and running for five years. In that time the site has directly and indirectly led to interesting projects and lasting friendships. I may not post as frequently as I once did, but rest assured I have no intention of stopping now.

    And while we’re on the subject of milestones ...

    Miscellaneous: Gray Lady Down

    For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I did not have the New York Times delivered to my door this morning. I finally canceled my subscription after months of deliberation. It figures that right after making the call I saw State of Play, with its closing sequence of a paper going to press guaranteed to put a lump in the throat of anyone who ever got “newsprint on their hands.” It was like going to a dog show after putting down Old Yeller. I expected the audience to “J’accuse!” me en masse.

    What finally made me pull the trigger? Several things.

    The paper is smaller. In every physical sense – font size, page width, page count. That takes a psychological toll.

    The peculiar phenomenon of news osmosis. I’d flip through the paper over breakfast. Quick read of the op-ed pages, a glance at sports. By the time I returned to the paper in the afternoon I’d have absorbed much of its contents elsewhere. Through the Times’ Twitter feed, or its website, or on various blogs. And I didn’t need a moist towelette when I was done.

    The paper is dumber. A front page article on novelty books spun off from blogs? Chunky male movie stars? And it’s still better than the local rag.

    The cost. Running the numbers pushed me over the edge. For the price of a one-year daily subscription to the Times, I can buy an Amazon Kindle, the attractive leather case, and an electronic subscription to the paper. Throw in access to the Times crosswords for Rosemarie and I’d still have enough left over to load up said Kindle with a few books on how the newspaper business as we know it is dying.

    Why did I hesitate? Because I look at enough screens as it is. Because there are few pleasures as civilized as strolling to the coffee shop with the paper under your arm. But mainly because I still associate reading the newspaper with the mysterious world of adulthood. I remember watching grown-ups file onto the subway, papers at the ready for the long ride in. I remember my father coming home from work at the airport having collected all the newspapers left behind by travelers, from Chicago, Los Angeles, London, the bundle under his arm thick enough to be useful in an interrogation room. I remember him paging through those newspapers for the rest of the evening.

    This morning I fired up my laptop, opened the today’s paper section of the Times website, and read the articles that interested me while I watched the Mets game. It took a third of the time it usually takes to conquer the Sunday edition. No wet naps required.

    It felt strange. But I’ll get used to it. And when a holdout like me can put his romanticism behind him, the industry is in serious trouble.

    Miscellaneous: Link

    How ‘bout one for old Times’ sake? NYC and Pelham 123, then and now.

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    Friday, August 01, 2008

    New York Post: The Great White Way

    Last of these posts, I promise. But when in New York, you’ve got to go to the theater at least once. Or in our case, twice.

    The 39 Steps. When we heard that there was a stage adaptation of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie and Chez K favorite, we knew we’d see it. How do you recreate the train sequence, or the chase across the moors? The answer is with a game cast of four – four! – and bracing theatrical legerdemain. It’s all directed by Maria Aitken, who for me will forever be John Cleese’s wife in A Fish Called Wanda. The Tony Award-winning stagecraft was what had me laughing, not the broader stuff like shoehorning as many Hitchcock titles into the script as possible. Before we saw the show we watched the movie again. And it still holds up.

    Celebrity Encounter #1: After the show, the heavens opened. The deluge had us ducking into a diner near our digs. A few minutes later, we saw Mario Cantone darting to cover under an awning. Or at least I did. Rosemarie saw the back of his head.

    [title of show]. This meta-musical about the making of a musical was an Off-Broadway smash and came highly recommended. It features energetic songs and a quarter of terrific performers. (Again with the four actors. A coincidence, honest.) But there’s a difference between an Off-Broadway show about holding fast to your dreams and a Broadway show about achieving them. The new third act, about the compromises needed to open on the Great White Way, feels contrived. But on the whole I enjoyed it, and you’ve got to love any show with its own YouTube channel.

    Celebrity Encounter #2: Just before the curtain, Peter Gallagher sat down next to Rosemarie. Who initially didn’t notice. “I had bigger problems,” she said. “I was worried someone was going to step on my sprained foot in the dark.”

    Miscellaneous: Link

    Today’s reason why I love New York.

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    Thursday, July 31, 2008

    New York Post: Movies

    It took me this long to think of New York Post as a title? I must still be in vacation mode. Anyway, a recap of what we saw on t’other coast.

    Man on Wire. Easily one of the year’s best, and a movie that was definitely worth seeing in New York. This documentary recounts Philippe Petit’s self-described coup of walking a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Director James Marsh seamlessly blends interviews, archival footage and recreations. The result is like a Donald Westlake-style caper, only instead of taking something this band of dreamers and misfits is giving. You already know the outcome – Petit is on camera throughout, still ridiculously charismatic – yet the ratchets tighten. And the climax, in which a bland public space now erased from the earth briefly becomes a realm of magic, has a startling emotional intensity.

    Transsiberian. Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) again delivers a thriller that never goes where you expect. Two American missionaries taking the nowhere-near-glamorous title train from China to Moscow fall in with a pair of mysterious vagabonds. The first hour chugs along at its own pace for good reason. But once it switches to the main track, hang on. Emily Mortimer kicks ass as a reformed bad girl, and Russian cop Ben Kingsley devours the scenery like it was made out of blintzes.

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    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    New York Report: Medical Update

    Rosemarie’s back from the doctor and hobbling around in one of those walking boots. Turns out she sprained her foot while racing to Sardi’s for a cocktail before curtain. Making her the first person to injure herself in such a fashion since Kitty Carlisle Hart.

    New York Report: The Old Neighborhood

    The entire reason for scheduling our trip at this time was to see one last New York Mets game at Shea Stadium before the exodus across the parking lot to Citi Field. It’s pointless to rehash a week-old sporting event, so let’s focus on the color commentary.

    We headed to Flushing early, because it’s where Rosemarie grew up. She took me to her childhood haunts – the candy store turned cell phone shop, the former A&P. Her block, in her words, “is an inch long.” We took photos of her old house, alarming the contractors in the process of remodeling it. We also stopped by her school, not hard considering it’s across the street.

    Flushing is renowned for inexpensive and delicious Chinese food. But where to go? We were still without internet access. After a scouting expedition we settled on a restaurant that still had customers late in the afternoon, taking that for a good sign. Plus it had “Gourmet” in the name, and who’d lie about a thing like that? They certainly didn’t. (Note what a later web search turned up.)

    Next stop was Flushing Meadow Park. When I was a kid it was the only green area around. Not only did I have to take the subway there, I had to change trains at 74th Street. Never seemed out of the ordinary to me.

    Then it was game time. We met up with our friends Mike and Paula. (Here are Mike’s pre- and post-game reports.)

    It was merengue night. We didn’t stay for the show.

    Call me a traditionalist, but I miss the old blue and orange panels that used to hang from Shea’s exterior. They gave the stadium what character it had.

    A recent New York Times article on baseball cuisine reviewed the food at every major league ballpark. The verdict on Shea: eat the hot dogs and nothing else. New York law now requires fast-food outlets to post calorie information. This explains how I know that two Nathan’s hot dogs are roughly equal to a bag of peanuts. This made me feel better until I realized that no one consumes an entire bag of peanuts in one sitting. Even in extra innings.

    For the record, I ate two hot dogs and no peanuts. Apparently those things’ll kill you.

    Carvel ice cream is also sold at Shea. Talk about childhood haunts. Carvel soft serve would be my treat for getting good grades on my report card. Mike told me that the real prize dessert-wise was the lemon ice, which would last “a good three, four innings.” Only they weren’t available at any of the food outlets in the mezzanine. We’d have to wait for a vendor. By the seventh inning I gave up; “a good three, four innings” meant I’d be finishing it on the 7 train, not known for its dining ambiance. So we had Carvel instead. I didn’t bother to read the calorie information.

    Halfway through the sundae I remembered something: Carvel ice cream isn’t that good.

    There were a pair of homers in the game, a two-run shot from a reinvigorated Carlos Delgado and a career first for the Mets’ young second baseman Argenis Reyes. I was so excited to see the giant apple behind the center field wall light up twice that I forgot to take pictures each time.

    I did the “Jose, Jose, Jose” chant, along with “Everybody Clap Your Hands!” Beats doing it at home all by yourself. But that’s true of so much in life.

    Top of the ninth, one out with a six-run Mets lead, and who magically appears behind us? The lemon ice vendor. Thanks for nothing, guy.

    The Mets win and we join the throng filing into the IRT station. The “super express” gets us back into Manhattan in no time flat. During the ride, we have a pleasant conversation with a Cardinals die-hard who flew in for the series. Mets fans, magnanimous in victory.

    Barring a miracle, the next Mets game I see will be in Citi Field. Across the parking lot, but a world away.

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    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    New York Report: The Return

    The days of neglect are at an end, for the great journey home to New York is over. After a morning of gallery-hopping in Chelsea and one last terrific lunch, we flew back to a city thirty degrees colder and shrouded in gray. Seattle, I say this as a citizen of the world: it wouldn’t kill you to tart yourself up a little.

    We handled our accommodations a bit differently this trip, renting an apartment for our weeklong stay. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so again. There’s nothing like being centrally located and able to prepare your own breakfast for less than you’d pay to stay in a hotel.

    We saw family and friends, did a little business, and partook of numerous cultural experiences to be detailed in a series of bloated posts. In short, a grand time was had by all. A few random notes:

    Rosemarie stumbled off a poorly-marked curb in Times Square our second night in town. Her ankle swelled and turned purple, but she taped it up and soldiered on. She’s a trooper.

    We did have one unfortunate incident involving the insect known to all New Yorkers as a water bug. Rosemarie insists the beast was the size of a bath mat; I’d say it was as big as my thumb. I almost pulled a hamstring getting rid of it.

    For reasons I cannot fathom, I spontaneously bark Seth McFarlane’s dialogue from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, complete with Prussian accent. (“Agent Hellboy! I demand zat you take ze shot!”) On a related note, I learned again that skyscrapers allow the human voice to carry great distances.

    When in the city, I leave the TV tuned to the local news network NY1. In short order I became obsessed with the promos with actor Dominic Chianese, in which The Sopranos’ Uncle Junior sings along with the station’s snippets of theme music. I don’t know who wrote the lyrics “Twenty-four seven, that’s what we’re here for,” but damn are they catchy.

    On our last night in town, at the dark corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, I literally slipped on a banana peel. One more thing I can cross off the bucket list. Next up: pie fight.

    New York Report: Cocktails

    Oh, yeah. We drank a lot. Did I mention that?

    There are a handful of bars that we frequent when we’re in the city. On this outing, we hit all four.

    Death & Company
    The Flatiron Lounge
    Little Branch
    The Pegu Club

    Peruse Death & Company’s menu and behold what you’re missing by attending various parent-teacher conferences and church events. Although I will say that the bar’s sublime Cooper Union – made with Redbreast Irish whiskey (although on the night I was there Bushmills had been pressed into service) and St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and served in a glass washed with Laphroaig – is in and of itself a religious experience.

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    Friday, July 25, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Little Town Blues Melted Away, Tonight at 11

    Greetings from New York City. Yes, it’s time for the annual pilgrimage to our hometown. We’ve been here since Tuesday, and aside from the now-resolved glitch involving our internet connection, it’s been a little slice of heaven. More detailed reports to follow, because right now it’s too late and I’m too high on seeing this live to file them.

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    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    Miscellaneous: Look Homeward, Mets Fan

    The hiatus is over. Time to document the trip home. And this time I’m serious.

    I visit New York at least once a year. I see friends and family, take in shows, absorb all that the city of my birth has to offer. But there’s one thing I hadn’t done, and that’s return to the Queens neighborhood where I grew up. This time, I made it a point to do so.

    Here I am in front of the apartment building I lived in when I was a kid. The building looked the same, although it seemed larger in my memories. The pavement leading to the front door used to be bright pink, like the slab of gum that comes with baseball cards.

    A cemetery dating back to the colonial era is around the corner. Naturally, it haunted me. I still on occasion see this headstone in my dreams. To this day I have no idea who A.M. is.

    Next stop, the church where I was an altar boy. I knew it was small at the time. We always heard that the diocese ran out of money during construction, so what was intended to be the basement ended up being the whole shebang. I don’t believe it, but it’s a good story.

    The corner pharmacy where I bought my first paperback is still there, as is the local pizza parlor. The movie theater where I squandered my youth is now a health club, but there’s a much nicer multiplex just down the street.

    I used the Museum of the Moving Image, located blocks from my old home, as an excuse to visit the neighborhood. Truth is, the museum would have been worth the trip by itself. It includes some terrific interactive exhibits. I went into a looping booth and rerecorded Humphrey Bogart’s dialogue from To Have and Have Not. His readings were better.

    Rosemarie and I are both unafraid to do touristy things in our native town. We rode the Staten Island ferry for the first time, a feat that now means I have set foot in all five boroughs. We also ventured to Top of the Rock, the new observation deck in Rockefeller Center, which may offer the best views - and elevators - in the city.

    As always, I went to the movies at every opportunity. I jumped at the chance to see what’s being billed as the definitive cut of Blade Runner on the big screen. I stepped out of the theater directly into Times Square, and for a moment I wasn’t sure the movie had ended.

    We also caught We Own The Night, an old-fashioned New York crime thriller that takes full advantage of the city’s locations. There are several terrific set pieces: a fraught sequence in a stash house, a car chase in rain-soaked Queens that’s as good as action scenes get, a final exchange between two brothers that damn near killed me.

    The main point of our trips is to see people. We added some new ones on this go-round. Our nephew and his charming new bride relocated to the city recently and are throwing themselves into life there with an enthusiasm that’s a joy to behold. Even better, another nephew was there visiting for the first time as an adult. It was a treat to spend time with people experiencing New York with fresh eyes and boundless hunger.

    My friend Mike – he of Mets Fan Club and proud member of the Islanders Blog Box – came into town for dinner. The plan was to have a beer while coming up with a place to eat. We didn’t know the bar was having trivia night. By round three, The Sinatra Group had earned a comfortable lead and dirty looks from the regular competitors. We stayed to the bitter end and emerged victorious, thus fulfilling another of my lifelong dreams: to hold an oversized novelty check.

    The regulars expect us back next Tuesday. They’re in for a long wait. They will look for us at the quiz night ... but we will not be coming.

    Celebrity sightings were sparse, but the one we had was a good ‘un. We were leaving a restaurant as John Slattery, who’s been dazzling as louche agency head Roger Sterling on Mad Men, came in. Rosemarie said, “He gets the same billing at lunch that he gets on the show. ‘Special Guest Appearance by John Slattery.’”

    I have a few more photos up at my Flickr page. And I’ll leave you with one more, of me recreating a scene from David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner at the actual location in Central Park.

    Zoom in on my eyes. You can see the panic, can’t you? Oh, I’m bringing it, baby. Next trip I’m going up for a role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. And another dream will be fulfilled.

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