New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Monday, February 28, 2005

Oscar and Me

Jenn and I had a great time at Elaine's Oscar party last night. There were about 25 smart and interesting people in Elaine's living room enjoying the parade of Oscar gowns and film accolades on the plasma TV. She also had a great spread of food, including homemade quiche, several different cheeses, charcuterie, grapes, roasted chicken, brownies, and other yummy stuff. As far as beverages are concerned, it was mostly a wine party, owing to the Sideways phenomenon, with just about everybody bringing a bottle. Jenn filled out her best guesses for who would win what on a form Elaine distributed at the beginning, and in the end she did very well, though probably not well enough to win the grand prize (a bottle of wine).

Jenn started getting sniffly from the cats, so we split at around 10:00 p.m. but we were both glad we went. We got home just in time to see the last winners (Jamie Foxx, Hillary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby). Then we went to bed, tired from running around most of the weekend with our houseguests.

Today is Monday, February 28, 2005. It's not leap year, so tomorrow is the first day of March. That means there are only 20 days until Spring. I'm back at work, and the one thing I've accomplished this morning is sharing the Numa Numa dance with my work friends.

One more thing: The last day of The Gates was yesterday. Today they start the process of dismantling them all. Overall I've enjoyed the project. It was neat to look at, and fun to talk about.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Plan Eat

I pulled myself together yesterday and made it to kumite at 4:00 p.m. Kumite was particularly fun because at the end we did some drills where two people attack one. It's pretty exciting.

I got home feeling pretty woozy and fevered, like I knocked myself out during kumite. (Actually I got kicked in the head.) I took a nap and woke up when Jenn arrived home with Mayumi and Kevin. They had been out walking in the Village.

We all hung out for a few minutes, and then bundled up and walked in the cold to Plan Eat Thailand (scroll down). Plan Eat has always been a dependable restaurant. Good food, cheap prices, funky atmosphere. Very Williamsburg.

We ordered a whole bunch of food. I recall shrimp gyoza, vegetable and shrimp tempura, miso soup, oysters, chicken and steak teriyaki, pad thai, a rainbow roll, with sake and beer. It was all good. We left the restaurant at around midnight and walked home in the cold.

Today, after sleeping in, Jenn and I showered and dressed and I went out to buy the paper. I read pretty much the whole Sunday Times in the time Mayumi and Kevin were getting ready to go out. Then we all went into Manhattan together and walked briefly through SoHo. The real purpose of our trip was to go to Yonah Schimmel's.

We all got knishes and enjoyed them very much. Kevin and I got spinach potato knishes. Jenn got a sweet potato knish. Mayumi ordered cherry cheese knish. Then we walked to Katz's Delicatessen for frankfurters with sauerkraut and mustard. They were absolutely delicious.

We were pressed for time, because Mayumi and Kevin had a flight to catch out of JFK, so we headed home, called them a car, said our goodbyes, and saw them off in a black Towncar.

Now we are hanging out and getting ready to go to Elaine's Oscar party tonight. We are addicted to this video and this story behind it. The kid is a hero.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Quiet Evening

Last night I stayed at home while Jenn, Mayumi, and Kevin went out to dinner with Elizabeth and Joy. I ate some Chinese food and watched about ten minutes of K-1 kickboxing on TV. I was asleep when they came home at about 12:15 a.m.

I woke up this morning at 9:00 a.m., the first one up, and I went into Manhattan and bought bagels (four onion, two plain) and cream cheese (half pound lox spread, half pound plain) from David's.

Jenn was up when I got home, and now we've both had our coffee and I have also had my bagel and a glass of grapefruit juice. Kevin and Mayumi are still sleeping on the pullout sofa downstairs. It's 11:43 a.m. I don't blame them. They had a long day yesterday with lots of walking, and they're somewhere between California time and New York time right now.

I feel about the same as I did yesterday, not quite sick and not quite well. I'm not sure about kumite today.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Slushy Friday

I went straight home after work last night. It was snowing pretty hard. Mayumi and Kevin were still at the apartment. They never made it into Manhattan, because Mayumi was writing a power point presentation for a business meeting this morning. We tried to leave her alone upstairs to concentrate on her work. Kevin and I walked to Sal's Pizza on Lorimer to get some pizza pie. Mayumi finished her presentation at 11:00 p.m.

Today I feel sicker than I did yesterday, but still not completely wiped out. I'm not sure I'm up for any serious going out tonight. I just want to rest.

It snowed much of the night. Today we have three to five inches on the ground, but the streets are mostly slushy. I'm at my desk, hacking and honking and thankful it's Friday. My cubicle colleague Anna emailed from home, asking me to please wash a soup mug she had inadvertantly left in the office sink. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Identity

Google forgot who I am.

I used to be the number one entry if you searched Victor Ozols. Then I switched my blog from New York 2005 to New York City Diary.

Now you'll get a few of my old AMM and Dow Jones clips, but no blog. My comments on other people's blogs come up, but not my own blog. Yahoo!, however, has me all squared away. Search Victor Ozols on Yahoo! and I'm number one, right where I belong, ahead of the doctors and British heroin addicts who share my good name. Webcrawler and Dogpile and a few others also have it right, though my placement varies.

Let's hope Google catches up soon. I can feel people Googling me now, in vain.

Italia!

I'm still walking the tightrope between sick and not-sick.

Last night I went to black belt class at the dojo. There was a group of people from our dojo in Florence, Italy. We welcomed them warmly and gave them a big round of applause for their week-long visit. Some of them are here to take a special promotion (the test you take when you move up in rank). I remember when they visited a couple of years ago. They fought especially hard in kumite class, a real tough one to get through. I recall seeing stars at the end.

On my commute home I once again encountered Shakerleg on the L-train platform. The only downside to Shakerleg is that he makes me absolutely detest the other subway drummers, of which there are many. Shakerleg is a musician. Those other guys grab a couple of buckets, flip them over, pound on them while making faces, and expect people to swoon. Sadly, some people will go nuts for any drummer at all, so there will always be a market for untalented subway drummers. May Shakerleg crush them all.

I should add that he doesn't use drumsticks. He tapes his fingers and does it all by hand. Also he has a shaker on his leg.

When I got home, Jenn was watching the finale of Project Runway. After a final fashion show, Jay was chosen as the winner, defeating finalists Wendy (the basket case) and Kara Saun (the talented cheater). We watched it while preparing for our guests, Mayumi and Kevin who . . .

Arrived this morning at 7:45 a.m. after a red-eye from San Diego. They are currently sleeping it off on our pullout sofa. And I'm at work, trying to get healthy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Risky Business

I work on the 13th floor of a 20-storey building located on Broadway between 57th and 58th streets. The building is undergoing renovation, and a construction crew is currently building a huge system of scaffolding on the Broadway side. They must be cleaning or refacing the building surface.

Today the scaffold builders have reached the 13th floor. I can see them right outside the windows, carrying up boards and bars and tightening bolts, and I have to say, these guys are fearless. It's unbelievable. None of them is wearing any kind of safety harness, and they're dancing all over the place, leaning precariously over the edge above the street to reach a bucket attached to a pulley that brings up supplies and climbing up on bars to tighten bolts and drill holes in the building to secure the scaffold. Watch out, guys, it's a long way down!

I'm nervous just watching them, but they don't seem to be nervous at all. Maybe they get a thrill from the risk. I hope these guys are make good money because it's not a job I would volunteer for. Perhaps they are Iroquois.

25 Days Till Spring

I was trying to prevent it from happening by not talking about it, but I think I'm getting sick. I have felt a bit sketchy for a couple of days, and this morning I woke up with a sore throat. First thing I did (pre-coffee, even) was throw on some of yesterday's clothes and walk over to the cleaners to pick up the laundry. It was nice to see the blue sky, but quite a pain to drag forty pounds of laundry in two oddly-shaped bags the two blocks home. Well, I suffered and was rewarded. Jenn had a steaming mug of coffee waiting for me on my arrival. I showered, dressed, and came to work without incident.

I don't have too much to report. Yesterday was a somewhat slow day at Esquire. A few stories have come in for the May issue and I've been making some calls, but the serious push probably won't start until next week. We are preparing for a visit from Jenn's friend Mayumi and her boyfriend this weekend. I'm not sure what the plans are but I sure hope they don't involve me spending money. On Sunday we have an Oscar party to attend at my friend Elaine's place.

My main task today is to take care of myself to lessen the severity of this oncoming illness. My grapefruit juice sits in front of me, and I'll probably start making tea at around 1:00 p.m.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Four-Day Weakened

It's Tuesday morning, which is this week's Monday, and I'm at my desk at Esquire, trying to come back to the world of work after four days of non-work. It was a pretty busy weekend. Here's a recap of my big accomplishments and notable events since I left work on Thursday evening:

Friday: Went to karate (general class) and meditation; Installed ethernet card in Jenn's computer and hooked it up to the router.
Saturday: Bought a love seat from Pier 1 with Jenn, went to kumite class, went uptown to the Ding-Dong Lounge for Noah's birthday party.
Sunday: Went to kata class, met Jay at Jenn's office and took walk through Central Park to see The Gates (again). Back in Brooklyn, the three of us had dinner at DuMont.
Monday: Took possession of new love seat. Went to Black Belt Class. Cooked dinner (big turkey breast).

Looking back I can see it was a productive weekend, but I always go into them thinking I ought to completely reinvent myself, kick-start my career, make a million bucks, and save the world, so in that sense it was a failure.

Better to look on the bright side.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Presidents Day

It's Monday morning, Presidents Day, and there is snow on the ground. We're drinking coffee and waiting for our new love seat to be delivered. I just called Pier 1 and tried to find out where I was in the delivery queue (they told me to call) and the woman I spoke to was so obnoxious I hung up on her. So I guess I'm doomed to wait here from "ten to two" no matter what.

Yesterday afternoon Jenn and I went into Manhattan and went to her office, where we met her stepbrother Jay. The three of us took advantage of the views from Jenn's building to see The Gates from above. I shot some pictures and video. Jay also brought us one of his paintings as a wedding gift.

After looking at the gates from above, we went down to the park and walked around for about 45 minutes. It was my third time walking through the park to look at The Gates, my fourth if you count my brief walk before they were unfurled. It may have been the best view, however, because it was kind of windy and the saffron panels really danced at times. I shot one video that captures it really well.

We were getting cold and the sun had set so we all piled into Jay's truck and drove out to Brooklyn, where we hung out at home for a few minutes. I hooked up the camera to the computer and uploaded the images and videos, and then burned CDs for Jay and myself. After a ten-minute slide show, we all walked out to a local restaurant called DuMont.

We had a long wait for a table, but it was excellent once we got one, because we had a booth by the window with a great view of both the interior of the restaurant and of the snow falling on Union Street, covering up a Studebaker parked out front. (We were wondering what kind of car it was, taking wild guesses, so I walked out to it to settle the matter: Studebaker.)

Both Jay and I ordered DuMont burgers. It's not very creative but I hadn't had a burger in a while and DuMont makes a fine burger. Mine had gruyere cheese and world-class French fries. Jenn got the chicken. The waitress was flirting with Jay and Jay was flirting with the waitress but in the end we paid our check and went out into the blizzard.

Jay drives a Toyota 4Runner so the snow wasn't much of a problem for him, but I think the traffic was. In any case, we said goodbye to him and then had a snowy walk around the neighborhood before going home and hitting the sack. It was a pleasant day.

Rest in peace Hunter Thompson.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Ding Dong

I've been overachieving lately. On Friday I wrote that I might, maybe, possibly try to install that ethernet card into Jenn's computer, but please nobody get their hopes up. I ended up doing it in no time flat. Then yesterday morning I wrote that Jenn and I were going to "look at couches." Well, we bought one, in record time (less than an hour).

It's a love seat, actually, basically the same design as the one we just got rid of, but sturdier, a nicer color (blue), and not all stained and falling apart. We got an ottoman to go with it (I should just call it a foot rest) and three fancy pillows to give it some flash. We got it for a good price and my parents very generously offered to buy it for us. Thanks Mom and Dad!

We left Pier 1 Imports (where we got the love seat, to be delivered tomorrow) and Jenn walked to the gym on Eighth Avenue and I walked to the dojo on 23rd and Sixth. Kumite class was a lot of fun as usual, and I showered and dressed and took the subway home, where Jenn was waiting for me.

We picked up some take-out from Yola's, a Chilean cab from the corner store, and the hot-off-the-presses Sunday Times from Hana, went home and had dinner. It was a cold night and Jenn didn't feel up to going out so I went out at about 9:00 p.m. to head to The Ding-Dong Lounge.

Due to construction, the L train terminated at Union Square, so I had to transfer to the uptown R to Times Square, and then to the uptown 2 to 96th. I got out at 96th and Broadway (my old neighborhood) and stopped by the Citibank to deposit a check, but there wasn't one single deposit envelope in the whole place, which was annoying and typical of Citibank.

From there I walked to 106th and Columbus and went to the bar. The occasion was Noah Shachtman's 34th birthday party. The Ding-Dong Lounge is a very nice place in a somewhat unlikely neighborhood. It was dimly light by iron chandeliers and had wooden tables and brick walls. It seemed kind of like a basement but it was at street level. The DJ was playing a variety of nice music, one band I remember hearing was Franz Ferdinand.

It was a fun party. Noah was there with Elizabeth, Phillip, and Marcella when I arrived. In short order we saw the arrival of Adam, Jamie, Cindy, Jordan, Webster, MaryAlice, and many more. There was much good cheer. Jamie surfs Rockaway Beach, and told us how a seal scared the heck out of him when he was surfing on Tuesday. Yes, he even surfs in the winter, and yes, there are seals in the waters around New York.

I left at midnight, as the party was in full swing. I had a long ride home so I didn't want to be stuck uptown too late. Adam and I split a cab to the subway at 96th and then I retraced my subway journey from earlier: The 1 to Times Square, the Q to Union Square, the L to Brooklyn. It took me an hour to get home. I spent an equal amount of time at the party and in transit, two hours each. Still, it was worth it. Nice group of people.

Jenn was still up when I got home, Saturday Night Live had just ended. We went to sleep at about 2:00 a.m. Today we woke up feeling fine. I went to karate at 12:00 noon and Jenn went to the gym. We're back now, and gearing up for another adventurous afternoon.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Technology Master

I am a master of technology. Last night, in record time (while Jenn was showering), I installed an ethernet card in Jenn's computer and it worked. We had planned for a long time to get a router and connect both of our computers, and now it has finally happened.

I was amazed at how simple it was to do. The shell of the computer opened up like nothing, and it was pretty intuitive to figure out how to put the ethernet card in. Then I just plugged in the two new ethernet cables I bought and presto, we're both online at high speed at the same time. It's a great leap forward. Thanks Webster for providing materials and know-how.

Now it's Saturday morning, 11:38 a.m. and our big plan is to go into Manhattan and look at couches. Kumite is at 4:00 p.m.

New York has gotten much colder in the past 48 hours. It's 22 degress Fahrenheit and fair, according to a weather bug that popped up on my screen a second ago, just as I was about to go look for it.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Possible

I'm back from Manhattan, fed, showered, and listening to reggae on Music Choice channel 632, which recently informed me via their on-screen artist facts that Dennis Brown's dreadlocks famously hung down to his knees.

It's 5:33 p.m. and I feel very good. My 1:30 p.m. karate and 2:30 p.m. meditation classes were excellent. Again I was a sort of squad leader in meditation class, along with two other black belts and one advanced brown belt named Ash. Ash is an actor, and he's playing a cop in a new Crest commercial with Emeril as well as an upcoming Law & Order. Go Ash!

Anyway, we received our ceremonial wooden swords and bowed to the shinzen and to Kaicho and to each other and walked in unison along the rows of karateka meditating in seiza position, turning toward some and giving them ceremonial strikes with the swords upon their shoulders. As always there were three candles in an otherwise dim room with a shiny wooden floor. A little bit of light came in from the edges of the window shades as well as the faint roar of traffic on 23rd and Sixth.

After we returned our swords to the shinzen, kaicho wrote the Japanese characters for possible and impossible on the chalkboard and explained how we sometimes consider a challenge impossible at first and should instead try to see everything as possible. He gave as an example the story of how the blind program was begun (there were four people from the program in the meditation class). Twenty years ago someone from the Japanese consulate inquired about teaching karate classes to a blind person (who also had physical disabilities), and Kaicho agreed and was very touched by the experience, and thus began programs for the blind as well as the hearing impaired, mentally impaired, and victims of domestic violence, that continue to this day.

Then he told us the story of a very inspiring Japanese woman named Hisako-san Nakamura (worth reading--scroll down) who lived in the early 20th century. When she was two and three years old she developed a disease that eventually claimed both her arms and legs, yet she was very determined and learned how to do amazing things. She grew up to become very famous for her poetry, calligraphy, cooking, and kimono-making and once presented a Japanese doll to Dr. Helen Keller, who had come to Japan to meet a group of blind people. The point is, you are capable of amazing feats if you don't allow yourself to become discouraged by your circumstances and what you perceive to be your limits.

After I got dressed I went across the street to the Best Buy on Sixth Avenue. What a hassle. I was there to buy two different lengths of ethernet cable and a spindle of blank cds (I bought a hundred). The cables were sold in different places all over the store, and the line took over fifteen minutes to get through. When people actually want to give you their money, you should make it easy for them, not hard. The experience almost undid my meditation, but not quite.

I'm not making any promises but I might try to install an ethernet card into Jenn's computer tonight so I can plug it into the new router, thus putting broadband internet on her machine. I've never taken apart a computer to install a chip before, so I'm a bit apprehensive, but willing to try. I'll report results anon, if not sooner.

Morning Clouds

Today is Friday and for some reason Hearst gives all its employees off on both Friday and Monday of Presidents Day weekend. Today is specifically for Abraham Lincoln, while Monday is for George Washington. As I have whined about before, as a freelancer, these days off are killing me. Three four-day weeks in a row equals a very tight budget.

So that's got me down a little bit, but I'm trying to harness my bilious energy for productive use. Today, like last Friday, I shall go to karate and then meditation class. I'll write about that later.

I woke up today as though I was going to work. Jenn made coffee and split. I went into Manhattan to run errands. Right before hopping the subway back to Brooklyn I went to David's Bagels for an onion bagel with egg salad. There were no rude people like last time, but this one little old lady was driving everybody insane.

"I want a toasted bialy with mayonnaise and one scrambled egg, well done," she said, over and over again. "And, is this a plain bagel?" she asked, repeatedly, pointing to the bin of obviously plain bagels. "I'll have a plain bagel then," she said. But she wanted a specific plain bagel out of the bin. Not that one, no, not that one either, the dark one on the bottom.

"Should I go wait by the register?" she asked, again, multiple times. Of course, lady, everybody goes to the register after they order. Once she got to the register she decided that she wanted the egg on the side of the bagel instead of on the bagel. And of course coming up with the right change to pay was a huge issue as well. She'll break a ten. Wait, no she won't, she'll count out the pennies. No, then again, she'll break that ten. "Can he put that egg on the side?"

I do realize that sometimes older people get lonely and just want to talk to people, so I wasn't tempted to scream obscenities at her or anything, but I did feel sorry for the good people behind the counter, because I imagine they get about a hundred customers just like her every day.

I hopped on the subway back to Brooklyn. The New York City subway system has two types of intercom systems. The ones where you can't hear a single thing (like this train is skipping your stop) and the ones that are so loud you are ready to confess to crimes you didn't commit. This morning's subway was the latter, and I even changed cars to avoid it, but to no avail. BROOKLYN-BOUND L TRAIN! Aaaaaah! I confess! I did it! Just make it stop!

When I came out of the subway in Brooklyn the clouds looked really weird off to the west, over Manhattan, as if a big plume of smoke was snaking across the city, and I don't need to tell you what huge plumes of smoke over Manhattan remind me of.

The bagel was good. I watched about ten minutes of Eurotrip and three minutes of a strong man competition (from Victoria Falls in Zambia . . . which I have visited). Now I'm getting sorted out and ready to go back into the city.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

British TV

I've got nothing on The Gates today, except to note that I've given it more column inches than any topic since my blue blazer. Enough Gates.

It's cold outside, and it's slow at work, except that a British TV crew is here to interview Chuck about a certain recently-married pop starlet. I'd name the obvious names, but it's scary enough to see how people land on this page with various search criteria entered into Google or Yahoo! The last thing I need is middle school girls lurking.

Anyway, Chuck had interviewed said starlet a while back and now the limeys are doing a special on the nature of celebrity, and since Chuck's take was rather iconoclastic (e.g. I personally witnessed her storm out of the office, clearly angry) they wanted to get his input.

As for me, I'm bored and frustrated and at a loss for positive comments on this blog, so I'll do my best to describe New York City as I've seen it today. It's really an average New York day. People are just going about their business, selling scarves and hats from tables on the sidewalk, rushing between subways, stores, and office buildings, running red lights and honking horns. I haven't seen anything particularly freaky today except maybe this older white guy with a huge white afro at the Union Square station on the way to work this morning.

I had a strange and vivid dream last night that GQ magazine offered me a job, I can't remember what job. I must have been thinking about this guy at the dojo who I recently learned works at GQ. I can't tell you if it was a good or bad dream.

Okay, I tried. If I've got something of interest I'll post it. In the meantime, if you read this, I'd appreciate it if you left a comment. It's free, and you can be anonymous.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Rainy Gates

The rain started in the afternoon and I figured I'd go for another walk through Central Park before I bought a sandwich. I wanted to see The Gates in rainy weather, to see if it's any different.

Conclusion: it's the same, except wetter.

But it's also something that you have to experience to understand.

This time I took a walk on my own, with only my umbrella and wistful feelings as companions.

During the moments I was actually passing under The Gates I certainly felt immersed in it. It really is an all-encompassing experience. For me to write about what it's really like I'd have to write from the park itself.

Anyway, I enjoyed my rainy Gate-walk, and I wasn't thinking about the artists or the controversy, just the work itself, and the work is splendid.

I did think for a moment about how Christo and Jeanne-Claude originally wanted 15,000 gates instead of the 7,500 they have now. That would have been too many. That information is from an excellent article by former NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern that my wife pointed out to me. That article can be found here. I also highly recommend you check out this slide show from Slate.

I walked around the southwest corner of the mostly-empty park for about 15 minutes, and then walked to the JY Deli to buy a chicken sandwich. And it was delicious, although I couldn't help but wonder about the true motivation of the sandwich-maker, and the impact her choices have on the sandwich, the city, and society in general.

Conclusion: it's all good.

More Gates

The Gates is still on my mind, and still in my park. If you live in or near New York City, I highly recommend you go see it. You can also view an excellent slideshow with narration here.

Yesterday I wanted to post a blog entry immediately after returning from a walk through the park to see The Gates. My impressions were confined to the work itself, not the artists, and not what the media and other people have said.

That seems simple, but it's not, because, as I mentioned yesterday, everybody has an opinion about The Gates, whether or not they have actually seen the project up close. And people want very much to share their opinions, because their opinions are the right opinions, more like facts, really.

I can't really blame them, because it's just human nature. You don't need to actually see the movies to have an opinion on who really deserves to win an Oscar, right? But I think judging the work independently of everything that's attached to the work is important, and will often yield a different opinion.

I wanted my impressions of The Gates to stand alone yesterday. Today I will write a few thoughts about the artists and the aura that surrounds them. I do know a little bit about it because I fact checked an item in Esquire about it, so I did a bit of research. Here's what I think:

Is The Gates an ego-driven project for Christo and Jeanne-Claude?

Not entirely, but ego plays a big role.

Is The Gates the talk of the town because of its sheer scale, i.e. were Christo and Jeanne-Claude pretty much guaranteed a big splash no matter what?

66% Yes.

Has the brainy media fallen at Christo and Jeanne-Claude's feet?

Yes. My number one complaint about The Gates is this: Christo and Jeanne-Claude won't stop talking about how they paid for it themselves. Over and over again, in every single media outlet you can imagine, right in the top of the story, it will tell you that the artists financed the project themselves. That taxpayers did not finance this art project. That it's technically not a "public art" project at all because that might imply that the public paid for it. Which they didn't. Christo and Jeanne-Claude did.

Note to Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Shut up about how you paid for The Gates.

New York is not going to feel indebted to you. You should feel indebted to New York for letting you use their park for your project. Quit browbeating the media to mention that you paid for everything high up in every story. It's clear you've gotten through to them, but I smell a rat every time I read it. Even at the opening ceremony, it wasn't New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg harping about who paid for what, that came from the artists. And every time that point is pounded into my head, I like The Gates a little bit less.

As their website will tell you, Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed The Gates by selling "studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models" of The Gates, as well as older works. These "studies, preparatory drawings" etc. are valuable precisely because New York City granted them permission to use the park as a canvas. Those drawings wouldn't be worth much if the actual project didn't happen, so without financing it, New York made its financing possible. It's not like Jeanne-Claude saved up money from her paper route to make a gift to the people of New York.

Yes, the financing of the project is an important detail, and most news stories ought to include it, right around the fourth paragraph. But Christo and Jeanne-Claude's excessive touting of their "benevolence" reeks of self promotion.

My point is, I love The Gates. I love the work itself. Walk through the park and love it (or hate it) yourself. Experience it on your own. Forget about the artists, and the media, and who paid for what. Because that's a different thing entirely.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Gates

It's 3:41 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 and I've just gotten back from a long walk through Central Park with my Esquire friends Kevin and Rob. We were there to check out The Gates, a temporary public art exhibition in which 7,500 orange-framed gates draped with saffron-colored fabric panels line the walkways all through Central Park.

It's beautiful. The bright winter sun shone through the panels as they danced in the breeze. You can watch the saffron flags sway over your head as you walk beneath them, or see them in the outlines of long, snaking paths in the distance, each gate responding to the wind and sun in its own way.

I found the color and the motion of the gates to be their most captivating characteristics. The shade of saffron that Christo and Jeanne Claude used is so unique, I'll probably always associate it with this exhibit. And since the panels are only attached to the frames on top, they give life to every breeze, reminding us of the wind's silent grace.

There's not much color in the park during the winter, so filling the park with color is one thing this project accomplished. It also filled the park with people. Central Park was packed with New Yorkers and people visiting from out of town. Everybody was strolling around, gazing at The Gates, enjoying the weather, taking pictures, and discussing the merits of the project.

Not everybody is a fan. Kevin said he found both beauty and frivolity in The Gates, while Rob thought the effort might have been better spent on other pursuits, as he discusses in his blog. And Tom, who strolled through the park about an hour before we did, said he enjoyed it but would have preferred yellow instead of saffron.

Getting back to the purpose of this blog, which is to discuss the contemporary mindset of New Yorkers as I see it, I can say this: love it or hate it, everybody is talking about The Gates. Everybody has an opinion on it, and in giving voice to those opinions, they think about the purpose and meaning of art, both to themselves and to our city (i.e. to society). It's not that deep, and it doesn't require heavy intellectual analysis, but in deciding whether or not you like The Gates, and whether or not it's a worthy project, people are certainly taking a few steps toward knowing themselves.

Personally, I'm all for it. Seeing The Gates, walking under them, touching them, photographing them (I took a few hundred digital photos) probably didn't change my life in a fundamental way, but I'm certainly left with the feeling that it was worthwhile. I'm glad Central Park is now hosting one of the largest public art projects of our time. I'm happy that it enticed so many people to come to Central Park. I'm proud that New York is still culturally relevant.

And I just like watching the pretty saffron banners wave in the breeze.

Watch This Space

Money was tight last night for a number of reasons so I had to provide a romantic Valentine's Day dinner for Jenn on a shoestring budget (assuming shoestrings cost seven bucks).

In this case, romance involved candles, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, pizza, Prosecco, and cookies. All in all it was a home run. We had a nice time, and Jenn gave me a sweet Valentine's card.

In a few minutes I'm going to take a walk in Central Park to see The Gates, so please watch this space for my initial impressions.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day 2005

Today is Valentine's Day, when lovers express their affection with greetings and gifts. Although there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, the day probably took its name from a priest who was martyred about AD 270 by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus.

According to legend, the priest signed a letter to his jailer's daughter, whom he had befriended and with whom he had fallen in love, "from your Valentine."

The holiday also had origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, held in mid-February. The festival, which celebrated the coming of Spring, included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine's Day.

It came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century.

[From the Encyclopedia Britannica. Thanks Britannica!]

Here's what's going on with me.

It was a busy weekend. I woke up slowly on Saturday morning and received a phone call from my friend Webster while I was lingering over coffee with Jenn.

Webster needed my help. His girlfriend is moving in with him and he wanted me to help him carry a bulky and heavy wooden couch frame down the stairs of his apartment building and into a rented van. They were getting rid of it at the Salvation Army on 46th Street. Yes, the same Salvation Army where I purchased my $10 Brooks Brothers blazer.

Of course I agreed to come over right away. That's what friends are for. But I also sensed an opportunity. Jenn and I have been meaning to get rid of a few items as well, namely a bar, a chair, a loveseat, and a coffee table. I suggested to Webster that after I help him load that couch into the van, we come by my place and grab a few other items for the good people at the Salvation Army. We had a deal.

I showered, got dressed, and gathered myself. I took a quick trip out to Graham Avenue to pick up the laundry and came back home to drop it off. Then I said goodbye to Jenn and took the L-train into Manhattan. I got out at First Avenue, and stopped by Citibank on the way to deposit two checks. Then I walked to Webster's apartment, which is on 10th Street and Second Avenue. He had run out for an errand, and left a Post-it note for me on his building's front door that said "Vic-Running an errand, -W." It was about 1:30 p.m.

I waited on the corner, across the street from the famous Second Avenue Deli. The sun was struggling to shine through the white winter clouds, and it soothed my aching head.

After a few minutes and a quick glance at the latest Village Voice, Webster showed up. He had been buying a Valentine's gift for his lady. We got right to business. First, he gave me an ethernet card to install into Jenn's computer, so we can hook both of our machines up to the router. Nice.

Then we attacked the couch frame, a tall, awkward monster that we nonetheless humped down six flights of stairs, in full military-press posture every step of the way. We hardly left any dings in the walls at all. Once we got it out the front doors MaryAlice was pulling up in the van. Perfect timing. We loaded the van up with the couch, a lamp, and a coffee table. I hopped in the back of the van (sat on the couch) and directed them over the Williamsburg Bridge to our place.

Things went smoothly with our stuff, and we filled up the van with furniture to donate. Jenn had gone to the gym so it was just me, Webster, and MaryAlice. Some of our stuff would turn out to be garbage, but there were enough good pieces to make it worth everybody's time and effort. I said goodbye to Webster and MaryAlice and thanked them for the ethernet card and the use of the van.

It was almost 3:00 p.m. so I heated up two pieces of leftover artichoke pizza that Blanche had given me, wolfed it down, grabbed my gi and fight gear, and went to the dojo.

Kumite class was excellent as usual. I was able to fight through my headache. I gave as well as I got. After class ended I showered, dressed, and went home to Brooklyn. Jenn was there, impressed at how clean the house looked with all that extra furniture gone. She was entering a very interior-design-focused state of mind that continues to this day.

It was about 6:00 p.m. when I got home and I was feeling both tired and energized at the same time. I was beaten down by hangover, furniture moving, and fighting, but yet I felt good that I had accomplished a lot. I figured I would keep working while my energy was up, so I took a walk out to Beverage World on Meeker Avenue and bought a case of seltzer (16 liters) and a six pack of Brooklyn Pennant Pale Ale. I carried it home, struggling now and then on my four-block walk. We do errands on foot in New York that most of America uses large vehicles to do. My seltzer and beer run was a real bicep blaster. Hooah!

I was even more tired but determined to keep going while I had the motivation. I put the seltzer and beer in the refrigerator and went back out. I figured my favorite Italian butcher would still be open and I was right, only he was out on the street in front of his shop, helping jump-start his friend's Lincoln Towncar. He told me to go ahead and wait in his shop for him, so I did. I sat in a chair, watched the Italian channel on TV, and looked around the store at the fine cuts of meat.

He came into the shop after about five minutes and got me two pounds of chicken cutlets, carefully trimming the fat from the edges. Then I walked up to Graham Avenue and bought grapefruit juice, milk, Italian bread, and chocolate chip cookies from C-Town and broccoli, carrot niblets, onions, and plum tomatoes ("from out front") from the produce market. Ready to cook!

But before dinner, Jenn and I hung up our new curtains, using convenient cafe rings. Now we have lovely off-white curtains downstairs instead of the jungle-bird motif, which I was okay with but Jenn had grown tired of. Really tired.

Jenn and I opened a bottle of Argentinian wine (I was feeling better and anyway it was Saturday night) and I started cooking. We had some garlic bread to go with our wine. Then I prepared baked chicken cutlets over a bed of onions with thick, seasoned tomato slices on top, drizzled with olive oil. I steamed the carrot niblets and broccoli. It turned out well, if I do say so. Yummy food.

After dinner we cleaned up and then I took yet another walk to the bodega to buy the Sunday New York Times. Mission accomplished, I came home, we flipped through the paper and watched Saturday Night Live, and went to bed. A nice, productive day.

Sunday dawned, and we slept until 10:00 a.m. We had coffee and newspaper time and then I got my stuff together and went to the dojo. Kata class was enjoyable, and I chatted with my friend Dan after class and then came home. I mentioned earlier that Jenn was in interior-design mode, so we spent most of the day cleaning the house and thinking about what could go where.

My big job was to power-clean the upstairs bathroom, which I did, to the detriment of my soft, supple hands. I used every cleaning chemical we had and created a toxic cloud of chemical gas, which I then ventilated by opening some windows. Jenn vacuumed the downstairs carpet and cleaned the downstairs bathroom and mopped the kitchen floor. Through our excellent teamwork we now have a very clean house.

We had delicious leftovers for dinner, and some cookies for dessert. Then we relaxed upstairs, read the newspaper and watched Raiders of the Lost Ark until bedtime. Good night!

Today is Monday, and not only is it Valentine's Day, it is also the third day of the massive outdoor art exhibit in Central Park called "The Gates" by Christo. I walked through the park last Thursday and saw The Gates before the saffron panels were unfurled. Today, if it's not raining, Jenn and I will check out the unfurled version, and of course I'll blog about it. I'm all for The Gates. Go Christo!

One more thing: My parents had a great time on their cruise. They report that the Queen Mary 2 is a fantastic ship.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The New York Bar Scene

I got back from Blue & Gold Tavern about half an hour ago. I had a nice time celebrating with my Esquire co-workers. They are all good people and it's nice to hang out with them in a casual setting. Obviously I was one of the first to leave. I didn't want to spend any more money and I had already dropped $19 so I figured I'd split.

Blue & Gold is a dive on East Seventh Street in the East Village. Drinks are cheap, which is why I bought a round for everybody and then called it quits. Seth and Marty met me at the bar. Marty actually left before I did, because he's got to work tomorrow. Marty bought me a beer and Seth bought me a beer and a shot (Beam and a Rheingold).

There was a jukebox and a pool table. Marty put a bunch of money in the jukebox and played good music, including Dave Brubeck.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Blue & Gold

I'm not working today. Esquire just closed the April issue and there wasn't much going on, so my boss asked me to take a day off. For me that's bad, because as a freelancer, I don't get paid when I don't work. Money has been pretty tight lately, and I'm knocking myself out trying to save a few bucks here and there. I'll survive I guess, but since President's Day is coming up, I'll end up losing a good chunk of change this month. Ramen noodles, anyone?

Instead of checking facts in Esquire stories today, I went to the dojo for a karate class at 12:30 p.m. and a meditation class at 1:30 p.m. Meditation is a very interesting class. There were about 25 of us in the third floor dojo, and we spent an hour doing breathing excercizes and sitting on seiza benches finding inner tranquility and recentering ourselves in a large, candlelit room with wooden floors and the low rumble of traffic on 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue below us. A very unique experience.

One very basic Zen meditation, and perhaps the toughest one, is to "just sit." Just sit and do nothing else. Do not think. It's almost impossible. We try to get as close as we can.

I can get as far as just focusing on my breathing and tuning out my problems outside the dojo, but it's tough to avoid the random thought that tears through your brain like a kamikaze. After a few minutes of meditative breathing you sort of get to a different level, though. Today I was a bit more busy at meditation, because as a black belt I was assisting in the class, using a ceremonial wooden sword and striking people on their shoulders to help their meditation. The strikes are voluntary and it's done in a very ceremonial manner. It doesn't hurt much but the slight sting helps you relax afterward.

The black belts (myself and three others) then led our groups in a "walking meditation" slowly around the dojo using soft Zen walking steps. Japanese flute music was playing. After we finished, Kaicho wrote on a chalkboard the Japanese characters for an expression that translates to "the cow drinks water and produces milk, the snake drinks water and produces venom." He told us that the message is to produce something positive with the circumstances you are given.

Not working when everybody else is working gives you a different perspective of the city, and it also reminds me of the time I was unemployed. You get to go out in the middle of the day and you see a lot more children than you normally see, especially when they all flood out of school at around 3:00 p.m. Those elementary school kids are great. The junior high and high school kids ... well. Could I possibly have been that obnoxious when I was that age? I know I was a little bit obnoxious, but these kids are breaking new records every day. New York high school kids. Fantastic.

Speaking of obnoxious, on my way to the dojo I went to the bank and then to David's Bagels on First Avenue for an onion bagel with egg salad (delicious). As I was leaving, this older white woman was being really obnoxious to the woman behind the counter. The people who work at David's are pretty sharp, they don't screw up orders very often, but she claimed she told the lady no sugar in her coffee when I was sitting right there and heard her say "coffee, three sugars." She told the poor girl behind the counter that she was a son of a bitch (why not just bitch?) and that she should go back where she came from. (They're Asian, possibly Thai, I'm not sure.) Then, the people behind the counter were saying "did you pay for that candy?" because the woman had a candy from the jar by the register. I didn't see her take the candy because I was at a table reading am New York or Metro or some such but at this point I could easily believe that the woman tried to steal a candy.

Apparently this woman was with her daughter, because a slightly younger-looking woman with her said "forget about ma, we won't come back here." At this point I was just getting up to leave to go to the dojo, and I was really tempted to say something to her, but I didn't because I figure the woman had to have some real mental problems, and wasn't entirely responsible for her actions. Then again, maybe she was just an asshole.

This posting is called Blue & Gold because that's the name of a bar I'll be going to tonight at approximately 7:30 p.m. in honor of William Pelkey's last day in the Esquire production department. He's taken a job with Marie Claire, which is on the third floor of our building.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Quick NYC Tale

It's Thursday, 2:53 p.m. I just got back from picking up turkey sandwiches at the JY deli with Jenn.

While we were in there, waiting for Jenny (no relation) to make our sandwiches, we strolled around the store, checking out the latest in tomato packaging and looking at funky Asian foods.

There was a guy in there buying something, a tall, older dude with bushy white hair and beard. He looked kind of straggly.

He suddenly moved to the door and peered out, then came back to the counter.

"Just checking on my horse" he said to the woman behind the counter.

I thought he was making a joke, but when we left with our sandwiches, sure enough, a horse and carriage was parked out front. The horse's big head was nuzzling a bicycle that was chained to a parking meter next to it.

The guy was a carriage driver in Central Park.

The Walk

I was held at work just late enough that I couldn't make it to karate on time or within a respectable period of lateness (like fifteen minutes) so I ditched black belt class and came home.

On the way home these three women, I think Persion (Iranian?) wearing blue robes and headscarves but with faces uncovered, asked me if this train went to Queens. They didn't speak English well at all, the youngest one knew a few words.

Since we were on the L platform I said no, this train doesn't go to Queens, just Brooklyn, and I pointed them to the N/R/Q/W platform. But they seemed reluctant to go, like they were sure the L went to Queens (it really doesn't) and one of them showed me an address written on a piece of paper, and it said Glendale, Queens, and then I figured it out.

Glendale, Queens is close to the Brooklyn Border, and a good way to get there, say if you wanted to go to the excellent, historic, and authentic German restaurant Zum Stammtisch, would be to take the L train to the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop, and then transfer to a bus north on Myrtle Avenue to Queens.

I figured that's what they were doing (taking the bus up Myrtle Avenue to Glendale, not going to Zum Stammtisch) and I was right. I directed them to the right station and subway surfed home to Brooklyn.

I was antsy and the weather was still mild, so I decided to go for a run, although it actually ended up being a walk. I just wanted to get outside and breathe because I had been cooped up all day.

It felt great to get out. I left the apartment at about 8:15 p.m. and walked a very similar route to the one Jenn and I took on our megatransect last Sunday. A very light rain was beginning to fall but it wasn't very cold. From McCarren Park I could see the taller buildings of the Manhattan skyline like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, silver lights glimmering in the sky.

I figured I'd pick up some food on Bedford Avenue and I actually walked in to a gyro place but the guy looked overwhelmed and I didn't feel like waiting, so I walked on. I walked into the hipster shopping mall the Girdle Factory just to warm up and walked right out. I ended up at Yola's, a brand new, hole-in-the-wall Mexican takeout place on Metropolitan Avenue close to where we live. It was my first time there and I must say I like Yola's because it is one of the cleanest restaurants I've ever seen. Everything is white and it is sparkling. Of course the place is still new but they definitely keep it clean.

I ordered a beef burrito and paid and tipped a buck and sat on a stool to wait for my order. There was a small TV in the corner tuned to a hilarious-looking Spanish-language comedy variety show. It was something about men and women being separated into teams and competing with one another, but there was this nutty grandma character on the women's team that kept pulling crazy stunts, and then they all got wrapped up in white ribbon, and some confetti was dropped on them and they started falling down. Then my burrito was ready and I went to Hana Foods next door and bought a Tecate Mexican beer to drink with my burrito. It seemed fitting. Both were excellent.

Now I'm back at home and full. Jenn's on her way back from a Project Runway TV party.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Rise Up

I just met Jenn by her office, which is across Broadway from my office, and we walked to our favorite lunch spot (when the soup man is AWOL), the wonderful JY Deli, on the west side of Eighth Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets. We got turkey sandwiches, bananas, and apples.

Just north the deli, between 56th and 57th, they are building a new building for Hearst, which is the company that owns Esquire, Cosmo, Marie Claire, and a bunch of other magazines. The new Hearst building is pretty sweet looking, much nicer than the new Time Warner center on Columbus Circle (though they invented an address for it called One Central Park). The Hearst building is going to be 45-storeys tall. They've almost completed the basic structure up to the top floor, so in a couple of days there will be a ceremony with the Mayor and some other dignitaries to commemorate this milestone in building one of the biggest new towers in the city.

Today there's an article in the New York Observer that gives a good description of it. The Hearst tower will be a "green" building, which is good for environmental reasons, and it preserves the original Hearst building on that location by basically building on top of it, though of course they sunk huge beams through it to support all the weight. It has an interesting multiple-diamond glass design the reaches into the sky.

I don't know if I'll still be working at Esquire when they move in in the second quarter of 2006, but I'm sure it will be really nice, the crown jewel of New York publishing buildings. At the moment the uber-magazine shop is the Conde Nast building at Times Square. I had a temp job at Lucky for a few weeks (you should laugh, I did, but they paid me) and enjoyed being in such a spiffy building. The Conde Nast cafeteria was well-known for good food and the daily fashion show of Vogue editors and models ordering their steamed tofu stir fry with the "sauce on the side." Those food court guys didn't bat an eye at the requests.

Whether or not I find myself working at the new Hearst building, I'm happy to see new construction in the city, and I'll be very satisfied when I see some actual construction work at the former World Trade Center site, because I want the "New York rising up from the ashes" thing to be more than a metaphor.

Also, I've had this fear for as long as I've lived here that over time, New York will be less and less viable as a place to do business. That, basically, New York City is dying, because nobody needs New York (and quite frankly, most of red state America hates New York, where they think everybody is either Jewish, or gay, or Joey Ramone, or all three).

With the communication and data-sharing capabilities technology has given us, it just seems like everybody will eventually end up in sprawling New Jersey office parks. Who needs a big city with no place to park? Nobody! The only people who really benefit from high-density human contact are artists and other creative types, and the current political climate doesn't seem to favor them at all.

So I'm glad to see that companies, and not just media companies, are still building skyscrapers in New York, because it's a vote for the continued vibrance and importance of the city, which gives me energy and inspiration every day.

Ash Wednesday

Daylight means a lot. We have a nice apartment in Brooklyn but I feel claustrophobic if I stay inside too long. This morning I drank my coffee and did my morning routine, not feeling particularly bad but dragging a bit. Once I stepped out the door and saw the blue sky, my spirits lifted. Anything seems possible in the morning, particularly on a nice, blue-sky day.

I was barely off my own block when I saw the first person with the distinctive mark of Ash Wednesday on her forehead. I probably won't get my forehead done today, but I've done it before, and the non-Catholics always think you accidently smudged your own forehead.

We're in the middle of the crunch on the April issue, so I can't rap, opine, or pontificate much today, but I've got a few irons in the fire that I can expand on in short order. And tonight is black belt class, which always gives me some material.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Sorted

I was a bit sluggish and down yesterday morning but today I'm sorted. Jenn woke me up with a cuppa joe at 7:55 a.m. She split for the gym and I gulped it down and put on some clothes and took a early morning walk to the cleaners to pick up the laundry.

Did I say I had my act together? Well, I forgot to bring money, but that wasn't a problem. Kay released the laundry bag into my custody and I lugged it home. After finishing my morning routine I stopped back by her shop on the way to the subway and forked over the dough. Mission accomplished.

Today's weather is unseasonably warm for February 8, but it looks like a winter sky, and it still feels like winter, kind of like when you put the air conditioner on in your car but don't make the temperature very cold. The sky is white.

I had a case of the blahs yesterday, but my spirits improved after I had some steamed vegetables and a fish cake for lunch. I was depressed over the progression or lack thereof of my writing career, but Jenn and I had a chat in the evening and I looked through my 2005 Writer's Market book and decided to redouble my efforts, focusing on travel and adventure writing, with a few navel-gazers thrown in. If anybody out there cares to share some good magazine leads I'm all ears. And yes, I do pitch things to Esquire from time to time, and have gotten a few items in the book in the past and possibly have something coming up in a couple of months. But I want more. More work. More money. More everything.

Anyway, enough introspection. As Rilke writes in his eighth elegy, with all its eyes the creature world beholds the open, while our eyes are turned inward. Here's the story from the streets of New York.

People are getting by alright. I was just out on Broadway for my weekly walk from 58th to 55th and back to drop off timesheets at our old building. Traffic was light and I didn't see anybody visibly freaking out. Let's all stay sorted.

Monday, February 07, 2005

God Save the Queen

My parents, bless them, are on the Queen Mary 2 right now. They boarded the ship on Saturday and right now they're somewhere in the Caribbean. I hope they have a wonderful time because they deserve it.

Today is Monday, February 7, 2005. The weather in New York over the weekend was beautiful. Our Saturday night was mellow as expected. We read The New York Times and watched Saturday Night Live. I was itching to get out of the house on Sunday morning, and since Jenn was feeling better she agreed to take a walk around the neighborhood with me. We walked around Williamsburg from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., stopping to soak in the sunshine a couple of times.

First, we walked through McCarren Park. The city is in the process of replacing the running track and soccer field. Then we walked along Bedford Avenue, stopping in the Girdle Factory and eventually going to the bagel shop by Metropolitan. It was a good healthy walk, very similar in rigor and duration to J. Michael Fay's Megatransect, except with bagels and a chocolate croissant.

Of course the American cultural event of great importance last night was Superbowl 39, or XXXIX for those of you who dig Roman numerals. My friend Webster dropped by the house to watch it with us. He brought along a router, to help link up Jenn and my computers. It was very nice of him.

The New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, and I cared only a little bit. Paul McCartney was a good halftime performer, far superior to last year's debacle, irrespective of the incident.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

S.P.Q.R.

I've just gotten back from my regular Saturday kumite class at the dojo. I took the subway back home to Brooklyn and got out at the corner of Metropolitan and Union. The weather has been beautiful all day, real feel-good weather. It felt great to be outside and I walked east up Metropolitan and stopped by the local Italian bakery and got a loaf of bread, then went to my local Italian butcher and bought some chicken breasts to cook tonight.

I like my butcher. He's a real white-haired Brooklyn Italian butcher, and he drives a Buick Roadmaster that sometimes has Florida plates. Some time ago there some argument between two cable TV companies, the result of which was there was no MSG network being broadcast, thus no Yankees baseball for New Yorkers to enjoy (it was summertime). He railed against the greed of the cable companies. "Sonamabitch maddafukers" he said when I brought up how it would be nice to watch the Yankees game but it's a shame we can't.

Tonight he and his assistant were there and I told him I needed six bucks worth of chicken breasts, and he said I would get a pound and a half (at four bucks a pound, natch) but ended up giving me 1.68 pounds (I saw it on the scale). He hooks everybody up, or at least makes it look that way. Cool old dude.

When I walked out of the butcher shop it was a nice moment. The sun had just set and to the west straight down Metropolitan Avenue the sky was a brilliant palate of pink and red and orange and blue. I could see the silhouette of lower Manhattan behind the eastern span of the Williamsburg Bridge. I could see the outline of the Woolworth Building, where I used to work for an internet company that seemed like a good idea at the time. It's one of my favorite buildings in New York and standing there I felt really good about living in such a nice city despite its challenges.

Kumite was wonderful as always. It wasn't my best fighting and it wasn't my worst, it was just a tough, fun experience, working on perfect technique but also slugging it out with a couple of guys. I showered and dressed and came home feeling the endorphin rush that karate consistently provides.

Of course the main reason for this New York City Diary blog entry is to tell everybody about our annual Black Belt Dinner last night. It was held at a restaurant called Sal Anthony's S.P.Q.R. It's on Mulberry Street between Hester and Grand Streets "in the heart of Little Italy" as they tell you on the site, and it's true.

I was busy at work but fortunately was able to get out at around 6:25 p.m. and booked downtown, clad in my spiffy new used Brooks Brothers blue blazer, which apparently I can't shut up about. New Shodans (first-degree black belts) like me were expected, in accordance with tradition, to help out by serving food to the senior black belts (fourth degree and higher) and taking care of various things. My job turned out to be pretty important: I was one of two doormen who took names and took tickets and sold tickets to people who hadn't purchased them yet. Our tasks involved money handling, name remembering, basic mathematics, all underscored with our finest decorum.

I think there were about 200 people in our reception hall, and there was a rush hour between 7:00 and 8:00 in the evening where we were quite busy. In the end we hung in very well and didn't lose any money.

Eventually I did get to eat, and the food was excellent. I had a little of everything, several types of pasta, ravioli, chicken, sausage-and-peppers, vegetables, calamari, salad, and bread. The only thing I didn't have was booze. There was plenty of drinking going on, the bar was hopping and the red wine was flowing, but I was so busy working the door that I didn't want to bend my elbow any more than I had to.

After dinner Kaicho said a few words of appreciation and encouragement, and one by one (sometimes two by two) people got up and said a few words in honor of the event, which is a pretty big deal in the dojo, more than I had realized. There were no guests that I could see, the only people in the place (we had our own hall upstairs from the regular restaurant, which is pretty big itself) were restaurant staff and about 200 black belts.

People get up and talk at many karate events, but it's not too often that they get up and sing, and dance, and do comic routines, but all of that happened last night. There were some comical moments and memorable songs, from rock to oldies to Italian opera, all a cappella. The purpose of the dinner is to let everybody relax and get to know each other better in a comfortable environment, and that certainly happened.

They were still going strong when I left at 10:30 p.m. I would have stayed later but Jenn was still home sick and I wanted to get her some chicken soup and TheraFlu, and that's exactly what I did. She had been sleeping much of the day so she stayed up with me and sipped her hot apple-cinnamon flavored TheraFlu cocktail and I told her about the dinner.

We slept late, until 10:30 a.m. Jenn said she is feeling about 50 percent, which, if you're an optimist, is better-than-bad. We hung out, drank coffee, listened to public radio, and read the weekend sections of the various newspapers that I had brought home.

After we got the mail (which included my paycheck) I went out and hopped on the subway for exactly two stops and one trip under the East River to 14th Street and First Avenue. I deposited my paycheck at the bank, bought three onion bagels and a half pound of egg salad from David's Bagels, and came home.

We enjoyed the bagels. I got my stuff, went to karate, and there you have it. A nice New York day. Tonight is looking like a mellow night. I'll stay home and care for my sick wife. Maybe I'll buy a bottle of Guinness.

One more thing before I forget. I didn't now what the letters S.P.Q.R. stood for so Friday afternoon before I left work I looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica online. It's Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the people of Rome. I was surprised at how many people already knew that. I didn't. But now I do.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Blazer Update

Jenn's home sick today, the poor dear, but she's feeling a bit better than she was last night, pre-TheraFlu.

This morning I woke up quickly at 8:15 a.m. and threw on some clothes and went out to the cleaners to pick up my new used blazer. Kay had sewn the patch on (but not too tightly, for easy removal) and cleaned and pressed the jacket. I have to say it looks darn good. So the outfit consists of gray Armani pants (on sale from Off 5th) , baby blue Van Heusen shirt (Van Helsing?), blue patterned CK tie, my new used Brooks Brothers blazer, and my regular black dress shoes and overcoat with scarf.

On the one hand, I think I look pretty sharp (my wife said I did, anyway) but on the other hand, gray pants and a blue blazer with a patch on it? I'm a building security guard. I.D. please? What floor you going to? No cardboard boxes! Go to the freight elevator.

Today is going to be another busy day so I've got to scoot, especially since I need to leave work at a decent hour to go to the black belt dinner. The quick report on NYC is that we're all glad it's Friday and the people on the subway and on 57th Street and Broadway seemed to be in decent spirits. It was raining earlier but it has since stopped. And it's not too cold.

The Apprentice

Today was very busy at Esquire and I wish I could write about some of the things I'm working on because there is some mild celebrity drama here and there, but it wouldn't be a good idea, employment-wise. I think the only safe work-related thing I could write about tonight is the Esquire sponge.

There's a note posted in the communal pantry advising us to wring out the sponge and place it at an angle against the faucets so it stays dry and doesn't get funky. I'm quite conscientious about keeping that whole area clean, but the sponge needs everyone's care, not just mine, and it's not in good shape. I need to start keeping a stash of clean sponges at my desk.

I left work at around 6:35 p.m. and, amazingly, stepped right onto a waiting W train at 57th and got to the dojo on 23rd with time to spare. I took a senior kata class, taught by the founder of our style.

Kata is a series of pre-arranged movements that simulate fighting an imaginary opponent, using the most perfect techniques you can. In some ways it's like a dance, because you have rhythm and cadence and you always strive to improve your techniques.

Most of the katas I do consist of 15 or 20 movements, although I'm learning a new (new to me) black belt kata called Seienchin that is much more complex than what I've learned before as a colored belt. The link goes to a website I just found. The little cartoon guy on the site actually does the movements accurately, only he never stops so you can't tell where the kata ends. I'd also add that we go deeper into our stances than the cartoon karateka does, at least we try to, and we usually do it more slowly. And of course you know that a clip-art cartoon doesn't do it justice, that's just to give you an idea of what the kata looks like.

Seienchen was one of the katas we did tonight, and I had a bit of trouble with a few of the moves but I'm really enjoying learning it. I've watched the senior black belts do it as long as I've been going to the dojo (eight years) and to finally do it myself is very satisfying. Tonight's class was really crowded, and there was good energy in the room.

I got back to Brooklyn and picked up Chinese food (steamed beef and vegetables) and beer and came home to my poor sick wife, who has a fever of 101.8 F. We watched The Apprentice. In tonight's episode, the two teams (Magna, who all have college degress, and Net Worth, who don't) had to create a marketing event for Nescafe in New York, to be judged by Nescafe executives. There wasn't as much drama in this event as there has been in previous challenges, but there certainly was some fur flying.

Net Worth (I should have mentioned that Net Worth, the non-college degree team, collectively earn more than triple what the college eggheads earn in their regular lives) did a spoof on the U.S. elections in Washington Square Park, while Magna gave away iPods in Bryant Park. Net Worth won. They took a luxury helicopter tour over New York with champagne. Danny, the project leader for Magna, got fired, even though Mike tried to sabotage their own project. Mike was negative and lackadaisical in his attitide because he had an exemption in the boardroom. He couldn't be fired that round.

After the show ended I turned off the TV. Now we are listening to classical music on 96.3 WQXR, the classical station of The New York Times. Jenn is relaxing on the couch. I made her a hot TheraFlu and it's knocking her out. Just. About. Now.

As for me, the Daily Show is on in five!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

My New Blazer

I'm feeling kind of smart and also a little bit pathetic over the purchase of my new used Brooks Brothers blazer for $9.99 at the Salvation Army on West 46th Street. It's actually quite a fine garment, frayed here and there on the inside lining but generally sound and of good quality. Jenn agreed, and said it fit me well.

I bought the Seido patch on my way into black belt class tonight and tomorrow morning I'll drop the jacket off at my dry cleaner lady (Kay on Graham Ave). I'll have her sew the patch on and fix the inside pocket and a couple other things and also get it steamed. I fished the pen out that had fallen into the lining (through that frayed inside pocket I bet). It's a really nice disposable pen, a Sanford uni-ball Vision Elite, and it writes very well, still has ink, and isn't chewed on. (Okay, here's where I feel a little pathetic.) In any case I'll be looking fine in my 100% wool Brooks Brothers navy blazer at the black belt dinner Friday night. Doing things right, on the cheap.

So I can't resist writing about karate, because some of the things we learn in class are so cool. Tonight, like every Wednesday, is black belt class, taught by the founder of our style. I'd estimate that maybe sixty or seventy people show up, maybe more. All different people, just like the streets of New York, except they are all black belts. Tonight there was a reporter from a Japanese television station scouting scenes for a special they will do later. As with all guests, we welcomed her and gave her a big round of applause to show our appreciation for her visit.

Today we worked on different techniques involving a bo (long, heavy staff) versus a jo (short staff, like a cane without a hook). It's so interesting and so much fun practicing techniques like that. It's hard to put into words but I'm compelled to try. In one technique your opponent tries to hit you on your head with an overhead strike with the bo, and you counter with your smaller jo, twisting his bo over, spinning, knocking him off balance, and finishing with a strong back kick. I'm very much in the moment when doing stuff like that, but when I catch my breath I marvel at how unique and fortunate it is to train like that with such excellent people under such talented instructors. Truly amazing stuff.

So I took the subway home, gave my poor sniffly wife a kiss (hoping I wouldn't catch a cold), and unpacked my stuff, marveling at my sleek new old blazer. Good Lord, I am a cheap, cheap man.

Brooks Brothers Blazer for $9.99

I just got back from the huge Salvation Army store on 46th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues where I purchased a used navy Brooks Brothers blazer for $9.99. It was senior citizen day and if I had gotten a senior to purchase it for me it would have been half that. Now I have to buy the official Seido patch tonight for $20. The patch will cost twice what I paid for the jacket.

I made the entire round trip, including picking up a sandwich on the way back, in under an hour. I don't take the bus too often but I caught the bus both down Ninth and up Tenth and it saved me lots of walking. There were a few weirdos on the bus.

So, on the one hand, mission accomplished. I got my jacket, and it was less than ten bucks. It's not the greatest jacket in the world. The buttons are gold colored, which isn't my preference. There's a pen that fell into the lining that I'll have to fish out at some point before Friday night (no extra charge for the pen). But it fits me.

On the other hand, what the heck am I doing?

Wednesday Report: Mild Paranoia

It's busy at Esquire today and I've got to get to work on the April issue, so this will have to be brief. I stayed at work too late last night to make it to the dojo but tonight I'll be there for black belt class. Our annual black belt dinner will be held on Friday night at a restaurant downtown and I've got to buy my ticket as well as get a patch for a blue blazer that I don't yet have. I'm actually thinking about buying a blue blazer from the Salvation Army store. The only thing keeping me from it is a lack of time to do it. Yes, some day I will own an expensive, high quality blue blazer. In the meantime my blazer budget is about five bucks. I'll give a report on that soon. Please let the record show that I do own two nice suits and a nifty gray DKNY jacket, but I have no blue blazer.

Jenn wasn't feeling well last night. She blogged for a while and then went to bed at around 10:30 p.m. Her blog is anonymous, which is probably wise, while mine is out there flapping in the wind. I've got to be careful when I name names. It's amazing how easy it is for people to stumble upon it when they search for various things. With my Statcounter software I can actually see the referring web pages. For example, one person clicked on my blog because he (or she) was searching for Sal's Pizza on Lorimer Street, and I happened to mention once that I got a few slices from there. (And I did last night too.) Sal's won't change your life but it's a fine slice.

Sometimes I get paranoid about it but generally I'm okay with attaching my name to it for all the world to see. Hey world! My guiding rule is that it's okay to name names if I'm writing something positive, but keep the targets of criticism anonymous. I'm oriented to focusing on the positive anyway. People have encouraged me to be more carefree, caustic, and crazy but they're not the ones who have to answer for it. I'm feeling my way through this, and will find my voice soon enough. I feel safe enough writing about karate, and people seem to like that. Blogging about the state of the city, as I see it, is no problem. I'm reluctant to write about my job at Esquire too much, though. I wouldn't want to reveal secrets and find myself in the cheese line. Suffice it to say everybody here is intelligent, industrious, and kind to animals.

Anyway, the one interesting thing I did last night was watch the old French movie Breathless on DVD. I had to check a fact about Belmondo. I watched it without subtitles, even though I don't speak French. At times I felt I could understand it pretty well. Breathless is a very cool movie.

The weather in New York City this morning is mild. My commute was reasonable. I bumped into one of my work colleagues on the L train at Lorimer Street where we got on. New York does seem like a small town sometimes, or maybe we're just on the same schedule. In any case, Williamsburg is home to so many magazine people. I see people reading page proofs on the trian sometimes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Come Back, Soup Man!

Today is the first of February and Al's International Soup Kitchen still hasn't opened. I'm getting concerned that it won't open at all this winter. Taking a trip to Al's for lunch is a wintertime ritual for me, and I desperately miss his delicious soups, which come with fruit, bread, and a treat. His bisques are divine. People rave about the lobster bisque but you can't go wrong with any of them. The vegetarian lentil soup is one of my favorites. His turkey chili has a great kick, just right on a cold day. And Jenn is a fan of the chicken vegetable.

We just walked by his shop at 55th Street and Eighth Avenue and it's still bereft of any soup-making activity. There's a sign (a paper bag, really) posted on the window that says "will post on internet one week before opening." You better believe I've been logging on to www.therealsoupman.com but sadly there's no opening date posted. Winter is half over!

Of course I'm talking about Al Yeganeh, the owner of the best soup shop in the city and the inspiration for a Seineld episode ("no soup for you") that coined an unkind name for him. And it's true that he has some basic rules to follow, but when you're waiting in line behind some idiot who has to make a joke at the counter, or hasn't bothered to think about what he wants beforehand, it's great to see him get turned away, soupless.

Al is a good man and a great soup chef. He has always done right by me, and I miss him. There are stories about his plans to franchise across the country, but that doesn't help me now. This is soup weather, Al, and I'm your biggest fan. I always have my money ready. I always move to the extreme left of the line after I order. I'm an example to all other soup customers. Why have you forsaken me? Come back to 55th Street, Al! We need you to get through the cold New York winter.

Now I will eat my turkey sandwich. A fine turkey sandwich made by our friends at the JY Deli on Eighth Avenue, but same as the last turkey sandwich, and same as the next.

February 1, 2005

Happy February, one and all. Pay your rent and flip your calendar pages. New York is happy today because the temperature is above freezing, which makes it quite bearable outside compared to the deep-freeze we've had. I'm busy at work today and can't take the time to opine as I'd like but I'll check in later after I've fulfilled my research duties to Esquire.

Shakerleg!

I took the subway home from work at around 6:40 p.m. and as I transferred to the L train to Brooklyn at Union Square I was very pleased to see and hear Shakerleg performing on the platform. Most subway musicians annoy me but I do give money to those I consider particularly talented, whose music/art/whatnot actually entertains me and gives me a lift. Shakerleg is an outstanding drummer. He makes the other subway drummers (and New York is lousy with subway drummers) really suffer by comparison. I've also purchased his CD and he told me it was recorded right there on the L-train platform. You can even hear the train pulling into the station in one song.

The other subway performer to whom I've given money is a Spanish-singing guitarist who does a haunting rendition of Besame Mucho. I thought of him on Sunday when I read the Times obituary of Consuelo Velazquez. I don't even know his name but that subway guitarist is a real troubador. Besame Mucho is clearly his Tiny Bubbles but it's got staying power for a reason. Yes, I did just figure out the shortcut for adding links.

I've come straight home from work today. No karate stories. I've waxed sufficiently philosophical on the subject for now. Jenn's out with some of her friends having dinner at Five Front, a restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. Now I might grab some food. I think I will get beef with mixed Chinese vegetables, just steamed, no sauce. It comes with rice.

Update: The beef and vegetable dish was excellent, but I couldn't find anything satisfying to watch on TV while I was eating it. My fortune cookie told me that many a false step is made by standing still.

Another update relates to the sad story of the actress who got murdered on the Lower East Side last Wednesday night in a robbery. The cops got the guys who did it, at least it looks that way. So that's good, but not much consolation to the victim's family.