Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Saturday Is My Birthday

I was born on March 2nd, 1957. That will be 56 years ago come Saturday. I weighed 7 pounds. Today, I weigh 190. If you had bought a thousand shares of me back then...

When I was born, there were 48 states. Now there are 50. Can any Gen-X’er say he’s done as much for his country? I think not. 

Before I was born, the Boston Celtics had never won an NBA Championship. One month after my appearance on earth, they won their first. Since then, they’ve won another 16. You’d think, considering the way my birth realigned the stars in their favor, they might have sent me a refrigerator magnet or something. What the heck. Every time they win, it annoys Spike Lee. I suppose that’s good enough.

There were only 4 television stations in Boston on the date of my birth, and no cable. Now there’s cable, satellite, Tivo, On-Demand, and all sorts of other groovy ways to get your programming. If you buy them all, there are thousands of channels from which to choose. That’s good news, I suppose, but there are still only 4 things worth watching at any given time – if that - and you need to spend fifteen minutes searching for any of them. By the time you find one, half the program is over and you don’t have the slightest clue why Dwight Schrute isn’t wearing pants.

When I first came into this world, the following things were healthy: milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and red meat. Now they all kill you. Other once-friendly-to-children foods, such as peanut butter, have become increasingly homicidal. Any day now, I expect we’ll find out that the only healthy foods are library paste, bugs, and brown paper bags. That weird kid who sat next to you in kindergarten will live to be 140.

When I was a child, the only people walking down the street alone, talking, were insane. They still are, but now they hold small rectangular devices to their ears while they do so, and some of them drive.
The first presidential election I was alive for, we elected Kennedy. From there, things have gotten out of hand. You can’t blame me for that. My record is spotless. I’ve voted in 10 presidential elections and my choice in every one of them hasn’t even finished as high as second.

Music has been decent during my lifetime, but if I knew then what I know now, I’d have preferred that Mick Jagger stop writing songs in 1980. If I have to hear Start Me Up even one more time before the kickoff at a football game, I’d just as soon spend my Sundays whacking myself in the head with a hammer.

Let’s finish with a familiar poem.

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child has to work for its living
But a child that’s born on the Sabbath day
Is fair and wise and good and gay

That last line doesn’t mean the same thing now as when it was written, but neither do things like ‘budget deficit’ and ‘peace’, so why quibble? Anyway, I was born on a Saturday, so it says I have to work for a living. I’m not getting paid for this, so apparently that's true. Monday’s child is fair of face. That would be MY WIFE. You might have assumed she was Wednesday’s child, but you would have been wrong.

All in all, I’d say my presence on this planet has resulted in more good than bad, so why not toss me a sawbuck? If enough of you do so, I’ll quit pestering editors from around the country concerning publishing my drivel and we can all go home early.

Soon? With more better stuff?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dogs (But No Dogs), Etc. - Part Three

[Part One HERE - Part Two THERE]

Monday, February 11th

On Monday, we went to MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art) where MY WIFE is a member.

[One: No. 31, by Jackson Pollock]

As with most other depositories of modern art, the New York one contains lots of interesting works and also a whole bunch of pure bullshit. For instance, there was one canvas entirely covered with white paint. It was accompanied by an explanation to the effect that it was an example of superior brushwork, subdued technique, and daring experimentalism. No. It's a canvas, originally white, painted white again. Calling it the work of a great artist is similar to having seen a guitar that had been re-strung and then deciding that whoever did it is a virtuoso musician. I was of the opinion that Jackson Pollock was the most overrated artist of all-time, but I am now convinced that Pollock is the painterly equivalent of Paganini when compared to the tone deaf jug blower who somehow managed to con someone into hanging in a museum something a drunken house painter could have accomplished in under a minute.

[The Scream, by Edvard Munch]

There was an entire exhibit of works by Edvard Munch, including what is assuredly his most famous piece, The Scream. This is actually one of four similar works, the other three residing in Europe. The artist himself preferred the title The Scream of Nature, but it has been known via the shortened sobriquet for a century or so. It is a somewhat troubling work, but unsurprising when considered within the totality of a gallery full of Munches. Cheeriness and gaiety are in short supply. As a matter of fact, taken as a whole, it was perhaps the most depressing collection of artwork I have ever seen in one room. Another example:


And this, a self-portrait...

Notice the foreground, a skeleton's arm.

There was a thumbnail biography of Munch on one of the walls. The most entirely expected thing ever read by me was the entry next to 1908 stating that he entered a mental hospital that year and underwent treatment for anxiety and hallucinations. Quite a fascinating body of work, done with obvious skill, but not viewed without a major feeling of darkness and oppression overcoming me as I moved from canvas to canvas.

Despite some of my cynicism, MOMA is certainly worth a visit. There is enough variety for anyone to find at least a few things of startling beauty. Even if you somehow end up being utterly unimpressed by even a single piece of art, the place has a great cafe. I highly recommend the chicken panini.

Tuesday, February 12th

We began the day with a subway ride to Coney Island. Our mission? To acquire hot dogs from Nathan's.

For those unfamiliar with Nathan's, it is probably the most famous hot dog stand in the world. Every July 4th, it is the sight of an internationally renowned hot dog eating contest (current record: 68 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, held by the amazingly still-alive Joey Chestnut.)

Unlike Mr. Chestnut, we had been tremendously unsuccessful in our previous attempts to eat Nathan's hot dogs. By my count, MY WIFE and I had made three previous journeys to Coney Island during trips to New York. On none of those three occasions had we eaten a Nathan's dog. We decided we had nothing better to do than make another attempt, so we set out on the quest.

The ride to Coney Island is worth the trip by itself, IF you enjoy elevated trains. The F train, or Culver Line, is perhaps the best elevated ride available on New York transit. The final leg of the journey, from Ditmas Avenue to Coney Island, provides a wonderful aerial view of many Brooklyn neighborhoods and landmarks during the 12-station run. The Verazanno-Narrows Bridge can be seen off in the distance, rising above the rooftops, and during one stretch the train passes above a startlingly large graveyard. We enjoyed the scenery, but we were after frankfurters. After about a thirty-minute ride, we arrived at Coney Island and eagerly disembarked, our stomachs growling in anticipation of a gustatory delight.

As we hit the street, it began to dawn on us that perhaps our hungers wouldn't be sated. There appeared to be little life of any sort. And then we truly thought, for the first time, about this fool's errand of ours. It was February, and a raging snowstorm had hit the area no more than three days ago. Why would anyone outside of two dopes from Boston be at the beach? In addition, we had forgotten the devastation rained upon the area during Hurricane Sandy. Much of Coney Island was wrecked during that storm. Debris still littered many lots and streets.

Nathan's was closed (although a sign, hung on the facade, promised a re-opening someday soon.) We scooped up what little was left of our dignity and walked back to the elevated, still hungry but a bit wiser. No dogs for us. However...

We attended the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden that night, so, yes, dogs!

We had watched the dog show on TV, with fascination, for many years. Although neither of us is an outright dog nut (I actually prefer cats, and MY WIFE prefers... well, she prefers to breathe, and she's allergic to animal dander) we had also seen the marvelously funny movie, Best In Show, so when we found out that we would be in New York at the same time as the dog show, we immediately decided to go to it. We bought two tickets for the finals.

I had another reason for wanting to go. I had long wanted to attend an event - any event - at Madison Square Garden. It is one of the world's most famous arenas. I assumed that I might see a basketball game there someday, since it is considered by many to be the premier basketball venue in America, but the dog show would do. And I have to say I was suitably impressed. The sight lines are magnificent from just about anywhere in the place, our seats were very comfortable, the ushers and other staff were courteous and attentive, and it is world-class in a way that I expect Boston's TD Garden never will be.

(I'm not totally dissing Boston's Garden. I've enjoyed many a Celtics game there, among other things, and it is decent enough. MSG, however, blows it away in almost every regard other than the fact that it is home not to the Celtics but the hated New York Knickerbockers.)

(One more great thing about MSG: They serve foot-long hot dogs there. I bought one and enjoyed it greatly. It almost made up for the disappointment of our failed trip to Nathan's.)

The dog show happens in eight segments over the course of two evenings. Four classes of dog are judged the first night (Hounds, Herding, Toys, Sporting) and three more groups are judged on the second evening (Non-Sporting, Working, Terriers). After the best dog in each category is chosen, the seven winners are brought back into the ring to be judged against each other. The eventual winner is given the title of Best In Show, the canine equivalent of Miss America.

We watched the first evening on TV back in Brooklyn. I was particularly taken with the look, and back story, of an Old English Sheepdog named Swagger.

While many of the dogs being judged are veterans of a hundred or more showings, and most are winners of a previous competition (and thus have the prefix of CH [Champion] or GCH [Grand Champion] affixed to their names) Swagger was in only his fourth contest and had never won before. He was, however, chosen top dog in the Herding group, and thus eligible for the big prize the next night. An underdog, in the truest sense of the word, I knew I'd be rooting for him come the finals.

Cutting to the chase, the finalists arrived in the judging ring. Swagger was obviously a sentimental favorite among many in the crowd. If you watched the show at home, you may have heard a few people yelling "Swagger!" while the judge was making his final determinations. I was one of those people. Meanwhile, others were saying, "Choose the bichon frise!" and other less worthy utterances.

One of the other seven was an affenpinscher. When he was being paraded around the ring, MY WIFE and I started chanting, "Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog!", but, even though this is the literal translation of affenpinscher, we were unsuccessful in getting the rest of the aficianados to join in.

The judge had two trophies to award - Best In Show, of course, and also a RESERVE Best In Show, which we understood to be the dog that would fulfill the duties of the title should the winner have been found to have done steroids or something. He looked them over one more time, while the crowd held its breath, and then he motioned at Swagger! Unfortunately, this meant that Swagger was chosen as the RESERVE, which is still an amazing accomplishment for a non-winner of any previous show, but a bit of a letdown for those of us who had fallen in love with the giant ball of fur.

The eventual winner was the affenpinscher, named (in an obvious nod by the owner at the literal translation of the breed's name) Banana Joe.

[Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog!]

No real complaints from us. The Monkey Dog was probably our second choice. We had had a fun night and seen THE preeminent event in a sport, live, for the third time in our lives (we had previously seen a game in the 2010 NBA Finals, as well as the World Championships of Curling, a few years back, which you can read about here if you can stand every possible joke my peabrain could come up with concerning men sweeping ice with brooms.) We will get to the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Stanley Cup someday, but these will do for now.

And thus ends our trip to New York. Nothing more to say except it was a fine time and we would once again like to thank MY WIFE's brother for his generosity in letting us use his Brooklyn apartment as our temporary headquarters, and to Daryl & Ray for being, in person, as nice as they have appeared in print and on film. I hope you've enjoyed my somewhat wordy recounting of the events that transpired, and I think I've given you enough links to keep you busy for a week or two, so I'm going to bed.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dogs (But No Dogs) & Cats (But No Katz) - Part Two

[This photo - copyright Daryl Edelstein, by the way - is screaming for a caption. Give it your best shot. Don't be afraid. Ray and I are grown men. We won't cry, no matter what you say. Well, we won't cry too much. And I might give a prize for the one I like the best, so fire away!]

This is the story of our recent trip to New York. If you missed Part One, lucky you! No, wait, that's not what I meant to say. If you missed Part One, and you'd like to read it, go HERE and you can enjoy it (but only if you promise to come back.)

Sunday, February 10th

This was the day we were to meet up with Daryl and Ray Edelstein.

Daryl, in case you've never traversed my sidebar and visited the many wonderful people I have listed over there, is the author of the blog Out & About In New York City. Her specialty is the taking of photographs of New York City, mostly Manhattan, to which she adds a few choice words. Her choice of subject matter is often whimsical (for instance, every Wednesday she finds a new water tower to show us) and when she writes, the words are usually just right, in both temperament and amount (something of which I cannot often be accused. Take this blog today, for example, because Daryl wrote about our meeting in about a hundred words and I passed that a sentence or two ago and still have another 1,100 to blab at you before I let you off the hook.)

We entered the subway in Brooklyn and rode into Manhattan to meet at Daryl & Ray's place. Daryl gave us wonderful directions, right on the money as it turned out, but she forgot to take into consideration that MY WIFE and I come from Boston. Daryl had included such things as "Turn north and go three blocks." Nobody in Boston ever gives directions that include such straightforward compass-inclined steps. This is because, while New York is laid out in a North-South-East-West grid, Boston is... well, take a look at the following graphic and you'll see what I mean.

We eventually figured out which way to go because, unlike Boston, every New York street actually has a sign on the corner telling you what street it is and most of them are labeled WEST Whatever Street or EAST Whatever Street, so that left us with a 50-50 proposition for North or South and we guessed correctly. Daryl and Ray and Harry and Jack welcomed us into their home.

Oh, yeah, here's where I blow off part of the title. Harry and Jack are their cats. Harry was glad to see us and accepted various pettings of his fur and skritches of his noggin. Jack was a bit more reticent. As a matter of fact, he bolted for another room upon sight of us and didn't get within ten feet of us at any time thereafter. But, although Harry was a nice fellow and enjoyable company, Jack was probably the more entertaining of the two. He is a cat with OCD and he goes through the most amazing ritual when it's feeding time, going into the kitchen, climbing up on the kitchen drawers, towards the counter, hanging there for a second or two, then jumping down, going back out of the kitchen, and repeating, over and over again, until such time as the food is ready. Back some 25 years ago, while I was still doing cocaine, I used to do much the same thing while the lines were being chopped, so I understood.

It was a trip to meet Ray. He contributes to Daryl's blog once a week, with his Toonsday feature, and it's always a fun bit. That wasn't why I was excited to meet him, though. You see, he and another fellow, by the name of Andrew Johns, make some of the funniest videos I have ever had the pleasure of watching. I've touted them here before, once or twice, but it never hurts to let the world at large (if you can be called that) know, once again, where to find them. There are way more videos than I'll list here, but these are probably my favorites. Do yourself a favor and click onto the links. These are two very funny men. The humor is unique, the dialogue superb, and all is done with a fine sense of subdued absurdity.

Rainy Day Old Maid

The Titwillow Affair

West Of Limbo (which is one of a continuing series with the characters in it, so you will want to see them all, especially one entitled Slappin' Leather, for which I have a personal love and you'll understand why if you watch it and listen carefully.)

OK, if you have any sense you're ready for me to wrap this up so you can scour You Tube for more of their stuff. Here's a photo of Daryl and me. I have absolutely nothing weird or off-color to say about this shot. She is a lovely woman and I almost look human.

We all went out to eat at a nice restaurant. Here are the four of us after the meal.

What more can I tell you? It was a lovely and enjoyable visit with two swell folks. I hope we get to do it again someday in the near future.

Soon, with more better stuff (which is to say, Part Three, which will be the finale, and in which you'll find out about the dogs part of the title.)

P.S. To finish off the "Katz" part of the title, that refers to Katz's Delicatessen, which we did NOT visit during our trip despite the fact that I had three pastrami sandwiches overall. I would have preferred that one (or all) of them came from Katz's because their pastrami sandwiches are legendary (and deservedly so) but we never found ourselves on the Lower East Side and so the only cats we encountered were Harry and Jack, who were wonderful but not filling.

P.P.S. The blow off of the "Dogs (But No Dogs)" will likely be more clever, but you never know with me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dogs (But No Dogs) & Cats (But No Katz)

When a fellow is as unemployed as I currently am, he doesn't take a vacation per se, but if HIS WIFE takes one, he happily accompanies her. And that's what I was doing during The Snowpocalypse that hit New England. I was slightly south of here, in the less-ravaged wilds of New York City. While Boston and environs received some 25 inches of snowy hell, MY WIFE and I were, for the most part, in various sections of Brooklyn thoroughly enjoying not having to shovel the 8 inches or so that fell there.

I feel it should be known that we were not slacking just for the sake of slacking. We didn't hear the forecast and then say, "Damn! Let's get out of here and leave everything for our neighbors to clean up, and then we'll come home when the sidewalks and driveways are clear!" We had decided to abandon our digs in Watertown at a much earlier time. My brother-in-law had planned a trip to Brazil. Since his apartment would be empty, we asked him if we might use it as our no-cost hotel for a five-night sojourn. Being a very nice man, he agreed to give us run of the place. Our leaving town, at the very moment when the biggest blizzard in thirty-five years was arriving, was strictly a stroke of fantastic luck.

Friday, February 8th

At 10am, we caught a bus from Alewife Station headed for New York. We pretty much drove through the storm that was headed to Boston in an opposite direction, seeing particularly strong precipitation during some stretches of travel through Connecticut. As we found out while watching the news, most of Connecticut was shut down by Friday evening. All manner of conveyance were stuck on the freeways. Had we chosen an afternoon departure, we might not have made it to NYC at all.

God bless our drivers, of which we had two. Our driver from Boston switched places in (as I recall) Hartford, taking over a bus from New York traveling to Boston, while our relief man came on and drove us back to his original starting point of New York. We assumed the switch was made because both men were from the cities they would end in, and maybe the company had knowledge that they would not make it home had they tried a full round trip.

We arrived safely in midtown at approximately 3pm. After gaining our bearings in the storm, we caught the subway to Brooklyn.

[Map courtesy of MTA, the amazingly well-run New York transit system.]

I won't tell you exactly where in Brooklyn we went. I have no desire to compromise any information concerning a man kind enough to loan us use of his home for almost a week. I'll say it's somewhere along one of the orange-colored lines in the map above. If you must know exactly where we stayed, write to me. I still won't tell you the truth, but I'll probably make up an interesting enough lie to make it worth your while.

The apartment was a relatively short walk from the subway; about four blocks, which is to say maybe a quarter-mile at most. Traversing that distance in a raging snow and sleet, however, with twenty-five mile per hour wind gusts, and carrying a couple of pieces of luggage each, made it seem a much longer journey. We were extremely glad to get inside and enjoy the copious heat provided by the landlord of the building.

(Seriously, my brother-in-law seems to have a very decent landlord. I've known building owners who scrimp on the heat as much as possible, making it a downright necessity to wear full clothing, including sweaters and long johns, indoors during winter. This place was warm as toast. I had gained permission to smoke in one of the rooms, so long as the window was open and I sat next to it blowing the smoke out, and it was an entirely pleasant experience. The cold air from the window, mixed with the extremely strong heat from the radiator positioned directly beneath said window, made for a perfect atmosphere in which to continue my concerted effort at killing myself. I puffed contentedly while viewing the back of an apartment building a block away, wherein I imagined Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton plotting a way to go to The Racoons convention sans Alice and Trixie.)

After getting very comfortable, we discovered we were hungry. Our only sustenance during the day had come from McDonalds, during the brief layover in Hartford, so I decided to go back out into the storm in search of food. On our trudge from the subway to the apartment, we had passed an open Thai restaurant. We both like Thai food, so I threw on four or five layers of stuff, pushed my feet back into my boots, and...

You know how some people tell stories about going to school when they were kids, and they swear they walked uphill both ways? Well, Brooklyn doesn't have a lot of hills, but I swear the wind was shoving wet snow, hail, sleet, and an occasional waterlogged squirrel, into my mug in both directions. Did that stop me from lighting up a cigarette and adding to the general visibility problems on the street? No. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dark of night, will stay a true addict from his addiction, at least until he realizes that he's sucking in more melted snow than smoke, at which point even he will see how idiotic he must look. Anyway, I made it home with the food and we enjoyed it. Then we went to sleep, which ends day one and fairly much describes day two, also, as you'll see.

Saturday, February 9th

We awoke to find the streets being plowed, plowed again, plowed one more time, then scraped over and over and over by fleets of snow jockeys divesting the public works overtime budget of all signs of life. I only had a view of one small patch of street, so maybe these guys were contending with huge mountains of snow elsewhere on their journeys, but I swear by the third pass-through they were scraping up more asphalt than they were snow. I do commend New York City on the thorough job they did of making every street passable - really, I do - but I have a feeling they could have hired folks at an hourly wage to walk along melting the snow with handheld blowtorches and saved money on our street.

Such fiscally conservative grousing aside, we enjoyed the day by remaining indoors for 23 out of the 24 hours. Our joy was especially heartfelt as we watched The Weather Channel and saw that we were not home to deal with drifts reaching mid-chest. On the one trip we made outside, we took a walk around the block. I bought two pastrami sandwiches at a deli, while MY WIFE bought a bottle of wine. I can't remember the real brand name of what she bought, but it was something like Yes, This Is Actually Wine, Not Disinfectant. It didn't come in a carton, but it did come with a screwcap. I was wolfing down pastrami and smoking Pall Malls, however, so who was I to make fun of her choice of beverage?

Sunday, February 10th

And then we met Daryl and Ray.

That's them, above, except in the opposite order. And, if you don't know them already, you'll get to meet them in the next installment. They were altogether way-too-delightful to tack onto the end of this.

Soon, with more better stuff (in other words, part two, where maybe you'll find out just what in hell the title to this means.)

Sunday, February 03, 2013

We Made Money

We made money.

You did bet, right? And you'll be sending me 10% of your winnings, right?

We won two of the three bets. The bet on the total going Over 47 was, as I predicted, in the bag before the end of the third quarter. We also cashed on the small side bet that Colin Kaepernick would score a touchdown. Baltimore won the game outright, so our bet with odds, that the 49'ers would win by at least eight points, went down the tubes. Oh, well. On balance, the total was +875.

According to my sidebar, I have 597 followers. Since you all followed my betting recommendations, that means all 597 of you made $875 each. So that's a total of $522,375 you guys won. My 10% cut is $52,237.50, which I expect to show up in my mail, in 597 separate envelopes containing $87.50.

Cool! Now I won't have to worry so much about finding a job right away!

As soon as I receive all of your payments, I'll be back. In the meantime, enjoy your winnings. It was my pleasure.

Soon, with more bettor stuff.