31 August 2005

In case you were worried

I am back on the Vineyard until next Sunday. This is the first time I've gotten online since Sunday morning. Must be some kind of record. I am not walking at all; only eating, drinking and sleeping. Amazingly, though, I am also doing some work. Yesterday was incredibly productive, writing-wise. Which pretty much guarantees that I will not be able to do anything for another three days!

25 August 2005


On my way to work this morning, around Fordham University, I passed, as I have several times before, a set of twins. The two women are probably in their 50s, though they have the kind of non-descript faces that could put them anywhere from 40 to 60. If there weren't two of them, you probably wouldn't notice either of them -- long gray hair, thick, oversized glasses, baggy t-shirts and dingy sneakers. Maybe that's why they're always together; you can't help but notice when there are two identical people walking towards you, no matter what they look like.

They walk very quickly, and are always having an animated conversation. "Did he really say that?" "He did." "I don't understand why he would say that," all in the space of the two seconds it took to pass me. I wonder if they are ever apart.

24 August 2005

I wasn't going to the fair

The morning's fishing trip wore me out. I was settled into the hammock with a book -- Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World; turns out he wasn't such a bad guy after all -- but Kendall begged, and I remembered that I was there for the sake of family togetherness, so I went.

One of the first people I saw was Ted Danson, who has a house on the Vineyard with his wife Mary Steenburgen. That's him on the right with the white hair.

Kendall and Matthew are crazy about animals. Matthew is a little skittish, though, and mainly looks from a distance. Not Kendall, though. She kneels down right in front of the stalls and start petting whatever nose comes near her. I am going to be a nightmare as a mother. Petting farm animals? Tuleremia, anyone? Foot-and-mouth disease? She seems to have survived, though.

One of the exhibits I particularly enjoyed was The Raptor Project, featuring beautiful hawks, owls and eagles from around the country. Most of them have been hurt in some way that makes releasing them into the wild impossibility. The project is mainly for entertainment and educational purposes; I don't think it has a conservation agenda. Still, I thought it made a statement. At least, this chained American Bald Eagle seemed to be saying something possibly profound.

And, of course, what would an Agricultural Fair be without some really big squash?

23 August 2005

Breaking news... maybe... but probably not

As I approached Lincoln Center on my walk to work this morning, several firehouses' worth of trucks were gathering around the 66th Street subway station. Some of the firemen were interested in the hole that a ConEd worker was in. Others were going down into the station. Passersby were variously interested, uninterested, annoyed and oblivious. Stay tuned.

News from my Vineyard trip throughout the day.

17 August 2005

Out of town

If I can manage to find some clean clothes to pack, and do the dishes so the friends who are coming to look after the cats don't think I'm a sloth, I am leaving in a little while for Martha's Vineyard. I took the picture above from an airplane window in October 2001, when I was coming home from Ghana.

I had been scheduled to fly a couple of days after 9/11, but apart from the fact that the airports were all closed, I wouldn't have wanted to fly then. I put my trip off for a couple of weeks. The scene at the airport was pandemonium. Long lines for luggage to be scanned -- it was the first time I realized that it actually wasn't, previously -- harried workers at the check-in counter, men with big guns. There was an irregularity with my ticket, since it was originally dated for a flight two weeks earlier, and the man at the check-in counter wasn't budging. I couldn't get on the flight that night. I tried pleading, "I'm sorry, but I did call the airline and they said it would be okay. Please, I have to get on that plane. Please, my city was attacked, I didn't know what to do."

"Her city was attacked," the man said to the woman next to him. "Her city. Do you hear that?"

OK, Mr. Lufthasana Man. Four years later, I apologize. It was your city, too. Maybe you knew some of the pilots or flight attendants on those crashed planes. But did you have to be so mean? I was the one, after all, who was going to have to get in the plane, not you.

After I talked to various managers, they decided to let me go. The two great things about flying right after 9/11 were that the flights were half empty, so I was able to sleep across five seats the entire way, and I had asked my doctor for ativan, so I was flying stoned. Ativan is a lovely drug; I don't know how I ever flew without it. I highly recommend it.

13 August 2005

Praying for rain

When I got up this morning, the people on the radio said it was going to feel like 110 degrees. It was already 85 degrees at 9:30am. I had plans to walk out to Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and back, and while I was discouraged from making the full journey on foot, I couldn't bring myself to cancel it altogether.

One of my stops was to be Target, on Atlantic Avenue. Can you believe there's a Target on Atlantic Avenue? Let alone a Chuck E. Cheese's.

I love Target. When I used to travel to California for work a lot, I used to look forward to shopping there on my lunch hour. There was one across the street from the CitySearch headquarters in Pasadena. It was always one of the highlights of my trip, along with burritos from Baja Fresh and Jamba Juice for breakfast. Jamba Juice has made it out east now, but it no longer holds any appeal for me. Target, on the other hand, merits a long trip out to Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year (and if Baja Fresh ever comes here, I'm going there every day).

I had heard a rumor that Target was now stocking Boots cosmetics. The Boots chain of pharmacies is one of the great things about England. They have everything a person needs to live a good life, including cucumber sandwiches cut into triangles. Once, on my way home from spending three months in Ghana, I stopped in London for a week. A few hours after I'd landed in Heathrow, I walked into a two-story Boots on Tottenham Court Road. It was heaven, but a little confusing.

There are always a few days of disorientation after I come home from Africa. People move so fast here, and there is so much stuff to buy. So many choices, and after a week or so, I want them all again. But during the first few days back, I reaffirm my committment to an ascetic, non-consumerist, earth-friendly way of life. (Whether this is actually how things are in Africa is a subject for another post; or an entire book, ha. It's only been three years that I've been writing it.)

That day in Boots, I had something specific in mind. The day before, in Ghana, I'd burned myself with an iron, and had a bright red triangular wound on the inside of my left arm. I needed something healing to rub on it

Why was I ironing in a place where it's never cooler than 90 degrees, you might reasonably ask. There are little bugs, or mites, or chiggers or something -- I don't know what they are called, but you can't see them when they attach themselves to your laundry drying on the line in the backyard. And even if they aren't there, just the fact that you know they could be means you will never put on a t-shirt or lay your head on a pillowcase without feeling them biting you. Ironing everything makes sure they're dead before that happens.

In the two-story Boots, there wasn't just an aisle devoted to salves and lotions; there were several. In fact, there were several on both floors. Boots' own brand of unguents, make-up, shampoo, nail polish remover and the like are all top notch, and relatively inexpensive. It took a while to find what I was looking for, but while I searched, I found at least five other products I absolutely had to have, and by the end of my first day in London, the memory of Ghana's scarcity was fading fast.

So, the Atlantic Center Target. Did they fulfill my cosmetic desires? Sadly, no. The Boots products they carry are the fanciest ones -- the aromatherapy oils and ultra-firming anti-wrinkle creams. Not what I was looking for, and not cheap. Oh well.

Next, my long hot walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

10 August 2005

Swag isn't what it used to be

When I used to write for a living, I got free stuff. Not just the stuff I wrote about -- theater tickets, boat rides up the Hudson, passes to museum show openings -- but stuff people thought I might write about. Advance copies of books, CDs, the occasional lipstick or eyeshadow. There wasn't an expectation on anyone's part that by accepting these things I would actually write about them. That's just what the PR industry does -- sends out loads of press releases and products in the hope that someone will feature one somewhere -- and entertainment journalism isn't exactly Woodward and Bernstein, let's face it.

This was in stark contrast to my days on Capitol Hill when, fresh out of college, I was mightily impressed by the senior staffer who would send any gifts he received directly to the nearest homeless shelter.

In my current job, I receive no perks. Once, someone who came in for an informational interview brought me a small box of Jacques Torres chocolates. That was a great day. I only wish there'd been a job for him.

What we do get a lot of here is visitors. I don't want to talk about my job too much, even if it's not negative (cf.: Dooce), but suffice it to say that what we do here is more interesting than what goes on in most midtown Manhattan offices, in a strictly legal, very wholesome way. Teachers hear about us, call me, and ask whether they can bring their class of 40 or so students by for a tour. We show them a video, answer their questions, take them on a tour of our facility and send them on their way within the hour. Usually there are two or three kids with their hands raised the entire time; the rest of them are just happy to be on a field trip.

Private school groups, though, are usually smaller, and frequently single sex. Recently, a group of eight fourth graders from the Emma Willard, a girls' school north of the city, came by.

I like fourth grade girls. They are still very curious about the world at large, and being smart isn't yet totally uncool. Without boys to impress, or to bully them, girls excel academically. (I know this for, like, a fact. I did a Westinghouse Science Competition project about the "Relational vs. Positional Characteristics of Women Who Attend Single Sex vs. Co-ed Colleges" when I was in high school. I was a semi-finalist even.)

These girls were all well prepared with questions, and ended up staying for far longer than most groups. They talked about coming back sometime, with more of their classmates. They were in school during the summer, for god's sake. Clearly, they are the leaders of the future.

Afterwards, they even sent a thank-you note, complete with a little gift.

On the right is a folded up travel alarm clock, with the school's crest imprinted on it. We identified the object on the left at first as a coaster, but on closer inspection, its heavy stone and cork base lead us to believe that it is, in fact, a trivet. You know, for all those hot casseroles we serve at the office. Thanks, girls.

Meeting of the minds

StuntMother is in town for a few days; we had dinner and drinks last night at the super-gay Brite Bar, a few blocks south of my office. More drinks than dinner, I'd say, if my difficulty getting up for an early work meeting this morning is any indication. Why do people schedule things for 8am? Things other than breakfast in bed, that is.

We discussed our hair, and how it is the front in the war against sliding into middle age. Fortunately, my hair people generally take me for younger than I am -- probably because I'm not married and don't have children -- so they haven't started to give me the soccer mom cut yet. Sometimes, though, I catch a glimpse of my unruly hair as I'm passing a store window, and think the only thing keeping me from looking like a crazy street person is the assiduous application of product. Must buy stock in Devachan now. StuntMother usually has her children in tow at the salon, so has to emphasize that she wants to "look like I don't have children".

We have such problems.

There were other topics of conversation, which would no doubt fascinate you, but you never know who is reading these things...

09 August 2005

Columbus Circle update

The evolution of Columbus Circle has been an interest of mine for ten years now. I started documenting it around the time the plans for the New York Coliseum site were being discussed. I went to meetings, took lots of pictures (not digital, unfortunately; I need a scanner), studied all the proposals, and watched as the decision was made to build what you currently see in the background here, the Time Warner Center.

Visually, the most interesting thing about the TWC is the transparent auditorium that houses Jazz at Lincoln Center, but since I'm not a fan of the kind of jazz that Winton Marsalis programs there -- or any jazz, for that matter, but JLC seems particularly Lite-FM to me -- I'll probably never see it from the inside.

So far, the best development is the inside of the circle itself. They've kept the column with Columbus atop it, and opened its base up for people to sit on it. A fountain rings the outermost part of the circle in four parts. This girl had the right idea on Sunday.

The second best thing about the new Columbus Circle is that, for car traffic, it is actually a circle again. We don't have too many of those in the city, but so far, drivers seem to be coping.

There is one building that has not been touched by the renovations, which you can see here, behind the Falun Gong demonstrators. It's always referred to by its address, 2 Columbus Circle, and it is currently empty. It was originally built to house a private art collection, and if preservationists have their way, it will be turned into a museum. I was in it once -- for one of the Columbus Circle meetings in the mid-90s. The only windows it has are in its boardroom, about 20 stories up. If for no other reason, the building should be kept as is so the public can have access to that spectacular boardroom view of Central Park. Why should the people who can afford to live in Trump's ugly palace on the north side of the Circle be the only ones who get to see it?

07 August 2005

Sunday afternoon

I have to have a destination in mind when I go for a walk. Today it was the Conran Shop, under the 59th Street Bridge on First Avenue. It's a very good thing I'm not rich, because if I were, I'd be exactly like Edina Monsoon on Absolutely Fabulous, shouting at my assistant on the cell phone at the same time I told a shop clerk, "One of those, and one of those, and I'd better take the whole range of bed linens and sake cups as well."

In reality, I go to Conrans only for inspiration -- I have a very nice dresser my father made me that's a knock-off of one that cost $1300 there -- and the occasional cereal bowl or juice glass. But if I had the money, I'd probably buy all sorts of inappropriate things, like this yellow plastic couch. You might not be able to tell, but the orange blanket flung over it has holes cut out of it, like swiss cheese. It cost $395, and boy do I want it. Note to self: never become rich.

More from my 4 or so mile walk when I recover a bit.

04 August 2005

At the zoo

I had an early doctor's appointment on the Upper East Side this morning, and when it ended earlier than I'd expected, I took advantage of the extra time to walk for a while before rushing to work.

I passed the Central Park children's zoo, where these fine fellows were hanging out. I had hoped if I stayed long enough they'd start challenging each other for king-of-the-mountain status, but unfortunately, they must have been as affected by the heat as the rest of us.

Passing the zoo proper, I peeked through the bars to see if the sea lions were visible -- if they're lying out on the rocks, you can see them from the path -- but they, too, were probably keeping cool, under water.

There aren't many large animals at the Central Park zoo. The biggest by far I can think of is Gus the polar bear. There's a book about Gus. In the 90s, visitors to the zoo noticed that Gus seemed a little down in the dumps. I'm not sure how mental illness manifests itself in polar bears, but he was diagnosed variously as neurotic, psychotic and obsessive compulsive. The zookeepers finally sorted him out by adding a jacuzzi feature to his pool. Apparently, the moving water is more of a challenge to swim in, and Gus now looks a lot happier.

Apart from Gus, though, these elephants are the only two large animals on display at the zoo. They're called "VWX Yellow Elephant Underwear/HIJ Kiddy Elephant Underwear," by Japanese artist Chinatsu Ban.

01 August 2005


I had a moment of pedestrian rage last night, as I took my evening constitutional up Columbus Avenue. As I approached 78th Street, walk sign on my side, a white SUV pulled into the crosswalk, barely slowing down. I did what I usually do when a driver doesn't seem to be paying attention -- I stuck my hand up in a STOP motion. I always feel like I'm the one doing something wrong, I'm all uptight, man, when I point out that a driver is doing something illegal, dangerous, and, I might add, anti-social.

And sure enough, when I got to the other side of the street, the driver stuck his head out the window to say, "you're welcome." Yeah, thanks for the favor, bub. I turned and said, sort of nicely, "there's no right turn on red in New York City."

"Really," he replied, as he stepped on the gas, and proceeded to make the turn anyway.

What I really should have said, was "go back to the suburbs, little man, you and your little wife, where you can be surrounded by other people who arrogantly think they are entitled to consume as much gas as is necessary for them to feel really, really, safe when they drive into the city and are threatened by women who dare to question their automotive supremacy. Yes, I know you could have run me over, and where's a traffic cop when you need one, but I will continue to feel morally superior to you, and also, you're probably short and bad in bed."