Haircuts and Signs

I got a haircut the other day at Angel’s Barbershop, a block up from my place. The guy was Cuban[1], I think, and he was so meticulous. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone pay so much attention to the back and sides of my head. The cost? $10. These guys are old-world craftsmen. I’m so lucky to have them so close by, even if they don’t seem to speak much English.

Today I walked around the East Village and across the Williamsburg Bridge. The best part was along Avenue A where I came across a $.50 Care Bears toy dispenser. For some reason I thought I’d get one. I told myself if I got the green Good Luck Bear, that my lucky streak will continue. Apparently I’m in some sort of zone. Moments before that, I saw this and knew that my grandmother was still with me.

I also debated buying a cheap Les Paul copy, saw a stuffed dog, avoided the third rail, took more trashy pictures, received another message from the universe, visited a Japanese toy shop, had flashbacks to Superman II, witnessed firsthand the encroachment of commerce on religion, heard the rock under Radio City, and saw Elmo.

Another leisurely weekend in the city.

1.) I have nothing to base this on other than instinct. I have a pretty good sense for accents and dialects – for example I had initially thought that the two German guys I work with were Dutch; I later discovered that they grew up along the Dutch/German border. So I was very close!

An Offering of Thanks to the Gods of the City

A brief list of things for which I am thankful:

Subway Lessons

If you ever find yourself at an F/V station in Manhattan during rush hour, know that the general pattern of the trains is this:

  1. Long wait – Platform population increases
  2. V train – Platform population increases and people get impatient because so few people ride the V train home
  3. F train – Everybody crams in, so nobody gets a seat
  4. F train – Far fewer people around, seats are plentiful

It’s a realization that occurred to me only when step 3 once left me behind because the train was packed.

I’ve also learned that, despite the convenient location of the Union Square stations near my office, it’s really not worth getting on the 6 train to Bleecker to get on the F. The crowds are are worse and the waits are longer (although this is the route I have to take if I need to stop off at the K-Mart at Astor Place – because Target in Brooklyn is not worth the effort). My F stop at 14th street is a half mile from the office, but it’s worth the walk.

Minds Connected

I sent Shelley some CDs recently, and she sent me some things in return, one of which was a DVD of The Science of Sleep. This is a DVD which I just so happened to purchase for myself at Virgin Megastore just about 24 hours prior to the arrival of Shelley’s package. This is probably purely coincidental, but I’m going to pretend there are larger forces at work here.

This was yesterday evening, by the way. On that same night, as I was puttering around the kitchen, I started whisting the intermission music from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at which point my roommate mentioned that she had been humming that all day. I was not aware of this at all. Again, most likely this is coincidence, but it’s just too weird. Did I mention both my roommate and Shelley are from Tennessee? That’s a coincidence I can accept. But of all the tunes to hum and DVDs to buy…

3-Day Weekend, Netflix, Kangaroos

Coming out of the sickness, I’ve opted to stay indoors all weekend. I only left once, on Saturday to go to the post office. Mostly I’ve been devoting my time to Netflix on-demand movies. Yes, I finally signed up yesterday. My queue is now full of obscure 80’s movies, Billy Wilder films, and European cinema. The first disc in line is a film that I’ve been wanting to see again since I was a child. I couldn’t remember the title, so I just started Googling and it turns out that the movie is called Dot and the Kangaroo. It was a mixture of live-action and cartoon; it’s about a young girl who gets lost in the woods and is taken in by a kindly kangaroo who lost her joey. I remember watching it more than once on HBO, but I haven’t seen it since.

The Watch Instantly service is something I highly recommend. I haven’t had any drops or lags in the streaming process, and the picture quality is really nice. Here’s what I’ve watched this weekend:

Dark Days – A documentary about some homeless people who lived in the train tunnels near Penn Station back in 2000. It’s amazing to see how they lived and what they accomplished (cooked meals, showers, electricity) by starting with literally nothing. I later discovered that the film was shot by one of the people who lived down there. They got the camera and film as charitable donations. It’s an astounding achievement. And DJ Shadow donated some extended versions of his tunes for the soundtrack. Lauren recommended this film to me, and after riding home Friday night looking out the back of the last subway car, I knew I had to see what life would be like to live under New York City.

Koyaanisqatsi – A hypnotic montage of modern life in 1982. Music by Philip Glass. Some parts were a little irritating and heavy-handed, but overall it serves its purpose by getting you to question the ways in which we’ve shaped our world.

Bedazzled – The original 1967 film, not the sub-par remake! If you like British comedy, you need to get to know Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as a duo. Bits of their TV show, Not Only But Also, as well as their stage show, Beyond the Fringe, are available on YouTube, so seek them out. This one is my favorite. This is really the only great movie they made together, as Peter Cook was reluctant to go into film. But Cook plays the devil so well – with wit, deviousness and humanity. Here’s a clip. Oh, and Dudley Moore composed the music score. What an insanely talented coupling those two were.

Cool Hand Luke – Best. Prison. Movie. Ever. Previously I thought The Shawshank Redemption was tops. Now it’s a close second.

Barry Lyndon – Apparently the most sane film Stanley Kubrick ever made. It’s 3 hours long, but once you get swept up in it, you hardly notice – assuming, of course, that you’re the type of person who can get swept up in 18th century European drama. It’s beautifully made; shot mostly with natural light, it has a very painterly look to it.

On the Presidency

The media seem legitimately surprised that Giuliani and Romney performed so poorly in the primaries that they dropped out. Am I the only person who knew neither of them had a chance? This country had a hard enough time electing a Catholic in the 60’s; it will be a long time to never before we elect a Mormon. And a New York City mayor? That might impress the East Coast, but that’s not going to impress the rest of America, especially given his checkered personal life as well as his consorting with thugs like Bernard Kerik (which you have to admit, is almost a pre-requisite for running New York City).

Everybody thought McCain was down for the count, now it’s him and…Huckabee? OK, Huck I seriously didn’t see coming, but it makes sense for the evangelical voters left in Romney’s vaccum. And Huckabee, interestingly enough, seems to have almost as much oratorial charisma as Obama.

If there’s one underlying lesson here, it’s that America loves a flyover land candidate. Clinton, Obama, Huckabee, and McCain are not east coasters. Clinton gets to have the best of both worlds in that she’s technically a Southerner and a New Yorker. Both George Bushes managed to have it both ways as well by fooling people into thinking they’re a Texas family, when in fact they were born, raised and schooled in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

So the formula for a presidential candidate is: flyover land + charisma = candidacy. It also helps to have a compelling narrative (McCain the war hero, Bill Clinton the poor boy done good), but that’s not a necessity. Lord knows it didn’t work for John Kerry. By the way, I think Hillary Clinton gets some narrative charisma by proxy from Bill.

The formula is so tried and true that it’s working for a woman and a black man. So far, it looks like Obama’s superior charisma may win him the Democratic nomination.

If nothing else, I’m excited that not one of the candidates appears to be a drooling moron who can’t so much as conjugate a verb without a script.

This Just In: Romney endorses McCain, because Romney sure ain’t gonna do Huckabee any favors.

Creativity Forged in a Fevered Mind

I’m sick again. Something flu-esque, I think. Anyway, I stayed home again today, and in my sleepless bed-ridden state I tried to find thoughts with which to amuse myself. I started to make up silly band names using only references from the film Blazing Saddles. Here are the highlights:

Lilly von Schtupp and the Schnitzengrubens
Sheriff Bart and Do What He Say
The Waco Kid and the Dazzling Urbanites
Hedley Lamarr and the Phoney Baloney Jobs
Sheriff Taggart and the Kansas City F*ggots
Governor Le Petomane and the Indignant Harumphs
Olson Johnson and Want Don’t Want the Irish
Mongo and the Bean Scene[1]
Candygram for Mongo
A Laurel and Hearty Handshake
Vatican Stampede
The French Mistake

1.) I picture this group as made up of cast members from a failed Sid and Marty Krofft pilot of the same name. And maybe the characters all went on to have parts in The Banana Splits or H.R. Pufnstuf.

Diagnosis for the Modern Man, 1962

I’ve been reading Stand Still Like the Hummingbird by Henry Miller. It is a compilation of essays, many of which have a unique philosophical and almost motivational flare; so much so that I wish he had started a religion instead of L. Ron Hubbard. Here’s an example of what he was on about way back in 1962:

…the American is incapable even of enjoying the little which is permitted him…I mean, his physical wealth. His car may take him wherever he wishes to go, but what is he met with on arriving at his destination? If it is a restaurant, the food is usually unpalatable; if it is a theater, the spectacle bores him; if it is a resort, there is nothing to do but drink. If he remains home with his friends, the conversation soon degenerates into a ridiculous argument, such as schoolboys enjoy, or peters out. The art of living alone, or with one’s neighbors, is unknown. The American is an unsocial being who seems to find enjoyment only in the bottle or with his machines. He worships success, but on attaining it he is more miserable than ever.

The remedy? Well I’m not even halfway through the book, but I’ll let you know when I find out. Based on the earlier pieces, I’d wager that the answer is something he declares on page 13:

No, happiness is desirable, but it is a by-product, the result of a way of life, not a goal which is forever beyond one’s grasp. Happiness is achieved en route. And if it be ephemeral, as most men believe, it can also give way, not to anxiety or despair, but to a joyousness which is serene and lasting. To make happiness the goal is to kill it in advance.

By the way, you can read the whole thing at Google Books.

The Unintended Consequences of the Dollar Menu

Last week I went into the McDonald’s Express on 7th Avenue, not because I had any particular craving, just because I’ve come to recognize the McDonald’s (and the even more ubiquitous Starbucks) logo as the international symbol for “public restroom.” At the Express, the menu’s focus is the dollar menu. Now, in a large city, this draws a very specific demographic from the lower end of the economic spectrum. The place was populated almost entirely by sad old folks who are unwilling or unable to shop and/or cook for themselves, and by the apparently homeless and/or just plain crazy. I’m not saying it was like visiting the set of The Fisher King, but it was not your average fast food crowd.

Because I’ve learned my lesson not to use a business’s bathroom without buying something[1], I bought a $1 burger and Coke and sat down to eat (the line for the bathroom had two older ladies in front of me). An older gent sat down next to me and greeted the lady to his right with familiarity; apparently this McDonald’s is the neighborhood cafeteria, or more like the local bar for people whose drinking days are behind them.

Having seen the film version of Fast Food Nation, I’m always aware that there is a reason why the meat costs $1. I don’t eat at McDonald’s often enough for it to matter to my health[2], but it scared me to imagine that these poor souls do. And as fewer young people seem to know how to cook these days, the number of individuals on this particularly sad trajectory will only increase[3].

I’d like to blame McDonald’s or capitalism or whatever Big Evil people like to shoot at, but really it comes down to the individual’s choice of convenience. Cooking a meal requires grocery shopping, pots and pans to wash, and the time and labor of cooking. The only way out of this mess is to get people to enjoy cooking a meal or at least view it as something that must be done, like brushing your teeth. My crackpot scheme would be to change public schooling such that Home Economics is a senior-level, yearlong course; because everything I learned in Home Ec, I forgot by the time I went to college. Nutrition education needs to be expanded in there as well; kids need to know that McDonald’s should be the gustatory equivalent of candy – something that is not to be consumed in large daily quantities. But then there are a lot of things I’d like to change about public schools…

And so it goes.

1.) In ’06 I was locked in to a restaurant over near 48th street after I was seen using the restroom without buying something.
2.) I get the jones for a quarter pounder with cheese about once every three months, milkshakes one month.
3.) I am reminded of a defendant in my dad’s court whose justification for writing hot checks to Burger King was “I had to eat, your honor.” My father then informed the accused of the wonders of the grocery store, particularly the produce aisle.

The Week in Photos

I haven’t done much today, but I did run some errands up the street, which allowed me to take some pictures of the antique store and some interesting neighbor’s yard. There’s also a guy on Court Street who sits in the small window of what appears to be a shop of some kind, but I can’t see past him, and I’m not sure which door is his. I’m afraid to take his picture. I’ll have to figure that out some time.

Last night I went out to The Tea Lounge, which is a great little jazz venue and tea shop on Union in Park Slope. After that I went to Joe’s Pub to see the always delightful Mike Viola play. No pictures, sorry, because the weather was warm enough for me that I didn’t need my coat. Listen to his tunes, though. He’s like a happier Crowded House.

I guess most of the latest pictures are from last Saturday. Lauren and I went to the Knitting Factory to see Edan and Prince Paul, who together gave me my first truly revelatory hip-hop show. Edan is a virtuoso – he’s an MC, a DJ, and guitarist (with the fancy chords, no less!). Sometimes all at once.

Earlier in the day I wandered around Manhattan, taking pictures of whatever jumped out at me: the cat at Bleecker St. Records, Rebel Rebel music store, traffic, the famous Chelsea Hotel and its attendant guitar shop, and various sundry flea market items.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Rob Riggle from The Daily Show, who apparently decided not to use my footage this last week. Maybe they’re saving it for next week, but here’s footage that was taken that day.