New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Blown Cover

I left work in a hurry because I had to get to karate by 6:45 p.m. and it was 6:20 when I walked out the door and I needed time to change into my gi. I rushed along 57th Street, past the dense clumps of tourists standing between their buses and the Hard Rock Cafe, to the subway station at 57th and Seventh. (That's how you get to Carnegie Hall, by the way. Take the N,R, Q, or W trains. No problem!)

I bounded down the stairs to the subway and as I went past the token booth area toward the turnstiles my internal aggressive activity alarm started buzzing a little bit.

Oh brother. Some dude was bugging out at the booth.

I thought "is this the theme of the day, people losing their cool in the subway system?"

But this one felt a little different.

A guy was yelling at the token booth attendant. It was a white guy with short hair, wearing jeans and a light jacket.

He was shoving dollar bills under the glass to the booth attendant and saying, "fine, here's two dollars. Take it if you want it so bad!" The clerk said something back but I couldn't hear it.

Then the guy yelled at the token booth clerk "you're supposed to just let me in, you know, you're not supposed to make a big announcement over the intercom." I had just gone through the turnstile at this point.

Honestly, I had it figured out before he even finished. Really. Call it New Yorker intuition.

The guy was an undercover cop.

The clerk is supposed to buzz cops through the gate when they walk by and flash their badges in the booth window. But the clerk is also supposed to be vigilant about who he buzzes in. So naturally there is some friction between token booth clerks and cops sometimes.

I think the cop saw me looking at him as I was walking by, because he came down the stairs to the downtown platform (where I was waiting for a local) and he really gave me a look as he went by. He could tell that I noticed the exchange with the clerk. It was kind of a weird moment. I was looking at his jacket as he walked by to see if there was the bulge from a gun. I couldn't see one.

A train had just left, so we were both standing there for a few awkward moments. I slowly reached down into my bag and pulled out my Bill Bryson book and started reading.

Then an N train came and I couldn't take it because the N goes express south of Times Square and I was going to the dojo on 23rd. The cop looked around, looked at the people getting off the train before he got on the train as cops often do, and then he got on the train and was gone.

So this incident was far more mild than the incident on the L train this morning, and I think that maybe the cop regretted raising his voice to the clerk.

I didn't hear what the clerk said to the cop, just like I didn't hear what the hipster said to the black dude this morning. But I did hear what the cop said in response, just like I (and about a hundred other people) heard what the black guy said in response to whatever the hipster said to him on the subway.

The cop blew his own cover to me. He didn't need the token booth clerk's help to do it. He lost control of his emotions and the result was compromising his own job. Fortunately there were no negative consequences.

And the guy this morning blew his cover as a nut job. If he would have stayed quiet I would have never known.

I did make it to karate on time and it was great. It was such a good workout, and the promotion test for black belt candidates is still going on, so I got to help with that. I got flipped on my back pretty hard helping one guy demonstrate intermediate self defense number 10, left punch coming. It was my own fault for not doing a better roll. I knew it was coming. Anyway I'm fine.

I left the dojo feeling so much better mentally than I felt during the day. Today was a warm day which was great but the circulation in our office was lousy and I felt sweaty and clammy and officey and just generally gross. Then we had a good workout and I got really sweaty and I actually felt cleaner. It was almost like taking a shower. And then when I got home and took an actual shower it was the shower of champions.

Out Of Control

I could see that the sun was shining as soon as I woke up this morning and this made me feel good. We are having beautiful weather today. I left the house and enjoyed my short walk to the subway. Once I got to the platform, though, I could see there was a problem.

Any experienced New Yorker can tell the difference between a crowded subway platform that says the next train is on the way and a crowded subway platform that says there's some kind of problem with the trains. It's not just the size of the crowd, it's the collective mood of the people waiting. This morning's crowd was the latter kind, but, fortunately, a train arrived after a few minutes, and, amazingly, most of the people were able to cram onto it.

The train was packed like a tin of sardines, too crowded to even attempt to read my book. No big deal, it's the price you pay for being a subway commuter (that and $76 a month.) Once we got to Bedford Avenue, the last stop in Brooklyn before the train goes under the river to Manhattan, another flood of people pushed and shoved their way onto the train, like the offensive line of a football team (American football, to my international friends). A few people were left standing on the platform. This train was filled to capacity and then some.

Tempers were raw already, and they started to fly. There was one argument in my train car that started to get out of hand. This one guy, a white guy, about 5'10" with hipster glasses and a dark beard, must have said something to a black guy who was trying to squeeze past him or find some room. The black guy was in no mood to hear it. He started yelling at the white hipster guy "Why the f*** you trying to start something if you don't want to start something?" The black guy was about 5'9", and he was wearing a Yankees cap on top of a white bandana/do-rag. He also had a beard. He was gesturing in the white guy's face, using that bent-wrist pointing gesture popular in hip hop culture.

The white guy said something back, not quite as loudly. But at this point, the words didn't matter any more. It was f-you vs. f-you and I'll f*** you up vs. give me a break. The black guy seemed to want to show everybody that he could "out-crazy" the white guy, and anybody else on the train for that matter, because he was looking around, trying to make eye contact with people. (Side note: In New York there is always somebody crazier than you.)

He was mad, probably about much more than being slighted on the subway, and he was looking for some kind of catharsis. I don't think he found it. The thing you have to realize is that these guys were not even six inches from each other. This was road rage without the protection of a car around you. We take everything to the next level in the city.

Eventually the black guy pushed past the white guy into an even more crowded part of the train, between two women (one with short spikey white punk-rock hair) and in front of a Latin-American woman who was sitting on the bench with her two children. She picked up her little boy and moved him to the other side of her, farther away from the mad guy. The boy turned around and started looking out the window, although the only thing he could see was the tunnel wall flying by.

The guy kept staring at people on the train and muttering to himself about how people should know better than to start shit with him, because he's not the kind of person to take it. Sadly, I think the situation made him more mad, rather than less.

At first I could hear a quiet ringing of my internal violence alarm, not too loud, but it told me to monitor the situation. But the longer it went on, the more I knew that no violence was going to occur. It's like the old expression, beware the dog that doesn't bark. A loudmouth is usually just a loudmouth, not a fighter. The white guy was probably just your standard curt, solipsistic New Yorker. I'm not giving him a pass, he may have said something really rude, but at least he didn't start making a scene. The black guy had a statement to make, and the commuters in the subway car were his captive audience. Anyway, let it be said that I've seen subway rage come from people of all races and ethnicities, it can manifest in anybody.

I got off the train at Union Square and took an uptown N train. It was less crowded, but most of the seats were taken. A group of four Asian kids, early teens I think, were playing some card game with each other and having a good time.

The lesson here, if there is one, is that people sometimes don't realize how quickly one's mood can change given the right (wrong) circumstances. I left the house feeling great (as opposed to last night, which had a slight whiff of "what the heck am I doing with my life?") and I maintained my mood pretty well until I witnessed that argument on the train, which happened about six feet from where I was standing.

Even then I consciously clung to my thoughts of sunshine. Both of the warring parties probably felt good when they walked to the train as well. It's a lovely spring day, who wouldn't enjoy feeling the warmth of the sun after such an oppressive winter? Why would you knowingly give up your positive feelings for negative ones? It makes no sense, but I know how it happens.

I guess my point is that you are, to a great extent, responsible for how you feel. You are more in control of your choice to feel good or feel bad than you might realize. But more than that, you are responsible for your actions. To blame someone else for bringing out your nasty side is folly. Enjoy the weather, New York, and try to ignore perceived slights against you. Living well is the best revenge.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Warmer Weather

The weather in New York today was much nicer than it was yesterday, when it rained all day long. There was little or no rain today, and in the afternoon I thought I saw the sun come out for a few minutes. It was warm, in the mid-50s Fahrenheit. I wore a short-sleeved shirt and had my light Dickies denim jacket.

I was kind of busy at work but everything got taken care of. I'm trying to sell a few freelance stories here and there and am meeting with mixed results.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Sad Garden

Today was extremely Monday-ish in that I was quite busy, I felt kind of crummy, and it was pouring down rain all day long. But other than that it was a fine day. Fran gave me a cellphone made of chocolate. My only cell phone!

I stayed at work until 7:30 p.m. working on a freelance story. On my way home I stopped by Family Garden for some food (Jenn is out to dinner with friends) and while I was waiting for my small pork fried rice ($2.95) an NYPD detective came in. He was white, maybe mid-30's, crew cut, blue NYPD windbreaker jacket.

One of the guys behind the counter was reporting a crime to him. Apparently the Chinese guy's home had been broken into and $1,200 that he was going to send to China was stolen. It made me sad to hear it, those guys work hard and the idea that he was sending money home made it even sadder. I wish I could help him but I sure don't have the money to give him. I'll just keep going to their restaurant for takeout.

My dinner was good, but there was nothing on TV, and I checked all 200 channels. The Contender was on but I just can't watch it any more. Instead I did a little writing.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Brooklyn Pub Night & Coney Island Sunday

Yesterday afternoon I went to kumite class at 4:00 p.m. and it was excellent. Many good fights with tough opponents. Much fun and very cathartic. Great therapy.

After coming home and getting cleaned up Jenn had the excellent idea of taking a walk down to Bedford Avenue (the main cool strip of Williamsburg, Brooklyn) to go to a new-ish bar, Spike Hill. I had been there only once before.

We arrived at Spike Hill at about 7:00 p.m. It was mostly empty but with enough of a crowd to be comfortable. Spike Hill is a very nice, very Irish bar, for being so new and in a neighborhood that doesn't have too many Irishers (let's not forget the excellent Iona, though).

Jenn and I got a nice pair of bar stools by the front window, with a good view of the bar as well as of the pedestrian traffic along Bedford Avenue. It was a nice spot and I went to the bar to get some beers. I ordered a Delirium Nocturnam for Jenn (also here) and an Old Speckled Hen for myself, both draught, of course.

I ordered it and the friendly bartender acknowledged it as a fine order and starting pouring and a couple at the bar who had overheard me ordering said, alright, what the hell did you just order? And I explained to them what Delirium Nocturnam and Old Specklend Hen were like, and they were fascinated, and the barman said "This guy knows his beer," so thank you very much.

I delivered the beers to Jenn waiting in our nice corner with good views and we enjoyed our brews and had a chat. In the course of our chat we decided that we were hungry and too lazy to go to much trouble, and we both said, at the same time, in fact, that we should go to Spuyten Duyvil for some cheese and charcuterie. We finished up at a leisurely pace and then took the walk to Metropolitan Avenue to Spuyten Duyvil. Once there we got two seats at the bar and we each ordered great beers, though I can't remember exactly what they were, which is rare for me but it's a testament to the amazing selection of rare draft and bottled Belgian and other superb beers they have there.

The couple who own and run the place are really cool too, and the guy had my back in my beef with Fifty last Saturday when I was out with Justin (long story).

I love the Blind Tiger Ale House and d.b.a., with their extensive selection of draft beers. Those are two great great bars/pubs. Spuyten Duyvil is different. They will have a constantly-rotating selection of about eight draft beers and one cask ale, and then they have a "library" almost of Belgian and other artisinal beers.

But perhaps the best part is they also offer cheese and charcuterie (and olives, pickles, "phat beets," and other goodies) to pair with your beers. We got two different aged goudas and another cheese I can't remember. I got sliced sopresata sausage but Jenn doesn't eat the red meat. We got an olive plate and it all came with a big bowl of Italian bread slices. Superb again.

We didn't stay long there, either. We left at around 9:00 p.m. and bought the Sunday New York Times on the way home from Hana. At home we read the newspaper, surfed the internet, and watched TV. I bragged that I read the entire New York Times but I had actually just flipped through every page of every section, methodically. Still, that's something.

One of the things we decided on last night was to go to the New York Aquarium at Coney Island today. I woke up early, at 7:42 a.m. and started getting ready, made coffee, bought egg sandwiches from Kellogg's Diner, etc. We finally left the house and got to Coney Island, Brooklyn (via the L and Q subways) at 11:05 a.m.

It was colder than we had hoped. At least it wasn't raining. The aquarium was pretty good but it was also kind of disappointing. There were a few excellent exhibits, like the jellyfish and sea jellies (different things, I'll have you know) but there were also quite a few exhibits that were under renovation, and a bunch of "interactive" stuff that was broken. The fish and other aquatic life seemed pretty well cared for, though.

At 11:30 we shivered in this outdoor amphitheater to watch California Sea Lions getting fed. They were pretty cool, especially since they were kind of misbehaved, and ignored the trainers' commands a lot, especially this one older sea lion (40 years old). He was like "forget this," and he manipulated the trainer just enough to get his fish with minimal effort.

We saw one penguin in the penguin exhibit, we saw two beluga whales, but had only a brief glimpse, and we saw some sharks. Actually we saw a lot of things, but sadly the New York Aquarium suffered in my mind (and in Jenn's too, she said) by comparison to the excellent Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California and Birch Aquarium at Scripps in San Diego, both places Jenn and I visited a couple of years ago. Those are some nice aquariums. Poor Coney Island suffered by comparison, although it wasn't horrible, we did enjoy it and how many of you reading this can say you saw beluga whales today? Also I shot a bunch of cool digital photos, especially of the jellyfish. If you are really curious you can email me and I'll send you a jelly photo.

I like aquariums in general and think oceanography is a pretty neat field of study.

After we left the aquarium we walked along the Coney Island Boardwalk for a while and looked at the ocean. It was pretty cold and windy and we weren't interested in the fried clams or shoot-the-freak games so we headed to the Q train at Stillwell Avenue and took it back to the L train, which took us home.

At home I took a nap. Jenn did some work on the computer. I woke up and we got some Thai food. Now we're trying to get a few last-minute Sunday night things done. Happy Easter, everybody.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Red Hot Chili Peppers

I got out of work a little bit early last night due to the holiday and came straight home. I immediately sat down at the computer and started transcribing my recent interview. It was kind of a lot of work and I got through maybe half of it. I'm glad I made some progress, and I'll try to put in some time on it today as well.

After working for an hour or so I got hungry and Jenn was out to dinner with her friends so I walked out to Yola's on Metropolitan Avenue for a beef burrito. I sat on a stool while I was waiting for them to prepare my burrito. Yola's is a very small, very clean, very bright restaurant. There's a TV on top of a drink cooler that always has a Spanish-language variety show on it. The reception is always a little bit fuzzy.

While I was sitting there watching some type of dating game on the TV one of their guys came in with a delivery, a huge bag of dried red chili peppers. He plopped the bag on the counter and I could smell the peppers. This amused me. It was about the size of a small laundry bag, like ten pounds of laundry, but it took up most of the small counter area by the register. It was the biggest bag of red chili peppers I had ever seen.

As I was marveling at this big, clear plastic bag full of dried red chili peppers and listening to the monetary negotiations between the pepper guy (who also had cases of soft drinks) and the woman behind the counter and hearing the Spanish dating show as well I felt a rumbling in my seat. It took me a second to remember that Yola's is a basement restaurant directly on top of the Canarsie-bound L-train station. Peppers, dating shows, and subway rumbling. And a burrito, which was delicious and substantial.

After I ate and watched about 45 minutes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Jenn came home. I decided I was done working so I showered and put on comfy clothes and stretched out on our new loveseat and ottoman and read all the weekend sections of the various newspapers I always take home from work on Fridays.

We relaxed that way for a while and went to bed. Nice. Today will follow my regular Saturday pattern for the most part.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Kenji Kawakami

I have to offer one more endorsment, since this book landed on my desk yesterday.

Kenji Kawakami is a genius. You might know him from Sloshed In Translation. He is an inventor of unuseless inventions.

He has a book out in the states now called The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions, and if you want to read it but don't want to buy it, it will be on the top of the toilet tank in our guest bathroom.

I'm particularly fond of the Duster Slippers For Cats. ("For feline assistance with tedious housework.")

One more thing: Octopuses can walk on two legs.

The Office

I'm now sitting at my desk in the office, but, fortunately, my office doesn't very much resemble *the* office, of the popular BBC comedy.

Last night the American version of The Office debuted on NBC after the Apprentice. It stars Steve Carell, formerly of The Daily Show, who is a really funny guy. And the show itself wouldn't be bad if you had never seen the BBC's version, starring the hilarious Ricky Gervais. But, sadly, I've seen several great episodes of the BBC version, and there's just no comparison. If you have access to BBC America, check it out. (If you have access to the regular old BBC, you've already seen it, right?)

Two things make the BBC version of The Office so funny. First of all, it's exactly like an office that you either work in now, or have worked in in the past. (For me it was a job in the Norfolk, Virginia-based corporate headquarters of Camellia Foods, owner of such grocery stores as Meatland and Farm Fresh, as well as a stint at Columbia House music here in NYC.) It's the same inane meetings, stupid memos, theft of office supplies, and lame attempts at practical jokes to keep yourself from dying of boredom.

Second, it's such a bleak-looking set, there's no laugh track (thank goodness), and it's kept in a pseudo-documentary format, such an un-funny setup that the jokes are amplified until they echo. It really is a belly-laughing show, whose closest relative on the U.S. airwaves is Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The American version might do okay, better, probably, than the Yank version of Coupling. Again, the British version of Coupling was superior, but nowhere near as good as The Office. Coupling was the British Friends, more or less, and much better, but that's not saying much.

My friend Seth would like to remind you all that today is the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a watershed moment in the history of worker's rights (and fire codes, too). I figure most of you know about the fire, which occured on March 25, 1911, but if you don't there's a good explanation here.

Most of what I know about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire is from the excellent New York: A Documentary Film by Rick Burns. If you can't afford it they do broadcast it from time to time on PBS so keep your eyes open. I was also taught about the fire in a Business and Society class I took in business school at Baruch College.

While I'm plugging things, I'd like to give a ringing endorsement to the poetry of my karate friend Hugh Seidman. He has a new book out entitled Somebody Stand Up And Sing. If you like poetry you should buy it. His poetry has a power and poignance that you can really feel.

Well, I've spend enough time blogging, and I need to get back to work on this Good Friday.

But before I go, I'd like to say that the subway was swift and smooth today. Thanks, New York City Transit!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Old School Subway Rant

Man, the subways were so messed up this morning it really ticked me off. (Insert vulgarities where appropriate.) At first I was only going to be about ten minutes late for work (normal late) but I wound up about 50 minutes late.

The L train took forever, but my real problem was with the uptown N train. Apparently there were "signal problems." Signal problems are one of the five made-up reasons for subway delays that they cycle through. You'll also hear about the mysterious "sick passenger," "smoke condition," "police activity, and "scheduling adjustment."

For whatever the reason (ostensibly signal problems at Lexington Avenue) our train was hung up at Herald Square for several minutes. The conductor kept on telling us, over and over again "we hope to be moving shortly." Yeah, don't we all. But what she could have told us, but chose not to, was that if we were actually trying to, like, get to work, we could step off and grab a Q train.

Once our doors closed and the N started crawling up to Times Square, we had the joy of watching Q train after Q train breeze past us. Yeah, sadly, that information could have helped us. And don't act like you didn't know.

Back in "the day," (in my case, the mid-90's) they used to not tell you anything when the train was delayed. But some directive must have come from above that passengers are less likely to riot if you tell them something--anything--about the reason for the delay. So now they drone on and on with their meaningless apologies and we-will-be-moving-shortlys and thanks-for-your-patiences (when they really mean thanks for not killing each other) instead of telling us something useful, like "this train is going to sit here for twenty minutes, but the Q across the platform will proceed without delay."

Do the conductors just like having a full train? Do they not want to lose us as passengers to a faster train? Is it a pride thing?

Is it that hard to figure out that more than half the people on the train are just trying to get to work in midtown, and if you told them which train is going to get there first that might be considered useful information?

It must be a drag being a subway conductor, with people holding the doors and acting like fools. I know the collective intelligence of a subway mob. It's not high.

But the way they slam doors in people's faces at 1:00 a.m., crush baby strollers in the doors, start closing doors before people are even finished getting off the train, let alone on it, and, my favorite, hold an express train at a station just long enough for half the passengers on a local to rush toward it, only to get shut out at the last moment, makes me think they'd be happiest just driving the trains up and down the lines without picking up any passengers at all. Passengers are such a nuisance anyway.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring Snow

It has been snowing and sleeting in New York City all day long. Spring started on the 20th so this is officially a Spring snowstorm. It's cold and wet and about an inch and a half of slush has accumulated on the streets and sidewalks of Manhattan and Brooklyn. I can't vouch for the other boroughs but I imagine it's the same there.

I got a bunch of stuff done today and feel good about it. I did a couple of interviews; one big, one small; I fulfilled my regular fact checking duties with alacrity; I faxed a letter and a form to my Putnam fund to credit my stock purchases over the past twelve months against a sale charge I had a year ago (tax stuff); I wrote and filed a freelance story to The Star-Ledger for their educational supplement; and I went to karate to observe the black belt promotion that's going on now. They did very well.

The walk home from the subway in Brooklyn was really cold. Like a dummy I didn't bring a hat, gloves, or an umbrella to work today (I did have a scarf) so my hair was covered in snow crystals. But after some reheated leftovers and a hot shower I feel fine.

Now I've got to start transcribing my interview. Busy day, but good busy.

Wet Wednesday

We went to bed early last night, crawling under the covers at 10:30 p.m., although I stayed up for another hour reading The New Yorker, particularly Ken Auletta's story about the evolution of the advertising industry. Aflac!

But we skipped the Daily Show, which is almost unheard of. I could catch up on the show by doubling up tonight (per my endorsement below) but I might be busy transcribing an interview that I just did for Esquire. Sorry, I can't reveal the subject, but it was really, really cool. When (and if) the story is published you can be sure I will be doing a massive PR blitz. I appreciate your support.

Today is Wednesday, and it is wet outside, in contrast to the bright sunshine we enjoyed yesterday. One of the stories I'm fact checking for Esquire is moving along pretty quickly, so I've got to stay on top of that, and I also have to finish up a freelance story (that I wasn't so heroic finishing up last night).

Tonight after work I have to go to black belt class. Promotion is still going on (see promotion explanation below) so we'll have to supervise and support those who are going through what we went through a year ago.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Endorsements

Here are a few endorsements:

The Mozilla Firefox browser. Dump IE and download Firefox.

Tabs. Firefox lets you open tabs instead of new windows. Very clean.

Gmail. Nice architecture. Get a gmail account. Migrate.

Broadband. You need the speed.

How the previous night's Daily Show comes on after the new one. Very forgiving.

That's it for now. What I need is a cure for procrastination. I have a story to write on the topic of employment due tomorrow. Here goes.

Free Fruit

Today really feels like a Spring day. I hope the weather is like this for our whitewater rafting trip in two weeks. Maybe a few degrees warmer even. I'm ready to go no matter what the weather, but I would prefer the Hudson River Gorge to be sun-dappled.

I made some decent progress on one of my freelance stories yesterday but I'm kind of stalled on my more important story, which is frustrating. I hope I can break through the brick wall this week.

I took the subway home from work with Jenn last night and was telling her that I didn't have any money for dinner so I hoped she could spot me a couple of bucks for a chicken fried rice. This guy standing near us on the L train overheard me and--I'm not making this up--reached into his bag and offered me an orange and an apple.

I think he was one of those homeless outreach guys who's not all that far from homeless himself.

Of course I politely declined his offer of free fruit, suggesting he could find someone more needy than I, but that was a first for me.

Jenn found it embarassing, but in the end he was just an eavesdropping guy trying to be . . . I'm not sure what. Neither of us look poor. And you're allowed to ask your wife for chicken-fried-rice money without having homeless outreach food thrust upon you. So either he was overly generous and underly observant, or he was being a jerk. Whatever. That's New York City Transit for you. Always an adventure.

I've got to go beg for my timesheet and take the Tuesday walk of shame now. Maybe I should have taken that fruit.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Weird Dreams

My recollection of my dreams fades as I wake up. As vivid as they seem at the moment I open my eyes, they slip away as I transition from dream world to "real" world.

I can't remember all the details anymore, but I woke up in a cold sweat this morning after having had two seperate (but possibly connected) dreams.

The first dream vaguely involved hiking in the mountains, searching for something, some secret spot or some object of value. I got close--the place or object was just within my grasp--but then it faded away.

I was in prison in my second dream, and I'm not sure why I was there but I think it was for writing bad checks or something. (For the record, I am very good at paying my bills in full and on time.) I recall waiting in a line behind other prisoners to answer questions from a prison warden behind a desk.

These might be manifestations of general anxiety rather than specific metaphors for things I'm searching for in my life and things I feel guilty about. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Or a little of both. Either way, since I had these dreams within the five boroughs, they count as New York City dreams (or nightmares).

Back to reality, today is Monday and it's the first full day of Spring. I know I keep harping on Spring, but I like the hopefulness of the season, and I'm looking forward to a season of good things happening.

Things at work are kind of slow because we just closed an issue, but I have a number of freelance projects I'm working on that are coming due in a few days, and I'd better get going on them.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Spring At Last

Spring arrived this morning at exactly 38 seconds after 7:33 a.m. It's rather chilly (6 C) in New York City, with light rain. It is also Palm Sunday.

Jenn and I got our acts together and made it out of the house before noon. We took the subway to Barnes & Noble at Union Square so she could buy a book about how to write a book proposal. Then we walked to David's Bagels and got two onion bagels and a container of egg salad. We went home and had a bagel feast. Now we're both blogging.

It has been a nice weekend. I haven't written since Friday, so here's a brief update on my life in New York City since then. Friday night Jenn and I chilled at home, as planned. On Saturday I ran some errands during the day (bank, etc.) and went to kumite class at 4:00 p.m. Kumite was especially good, and our instructor was trying to instill in us higher-level fighting techniques and trying to break us of the habit of brawling and not keeping a good defense. It was a great class.

Shortly after I got home Justin buzzed the buzzer. It was his last night in New York before flying back to Vancouver at an ungodly hour. The three of us (Justin, Jenn, and I) hung out a bit, and then Jenn had to split to go to her friend's birthday party in the city. Justin and I left shortly after to meet his friends Will and Ali at a Japanese restaurant called Haru at 48th and Park. (Haru means Spring in Japanese, which is appropriate for the day.)

We had a very good sushi dinner (I insisted we order some white tuna sashimi, of course) and paired it with some of the best sake I have ever tasted outside of Japan. The sake container and sake cups were made of bamboo and looked really cool. We also had a nice conversation. I was the only guy at the table not in the music industry.

After dinner, Justin and I went back to Brooklyn and went to one of my favorite bars, Spuyten Duyvil. We had some cask-drawn Scotch ales and a plate of cheese and charcuterie and a bowl of olives.

It was about 1:00 a.m. when we got home. Poor Justin had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to get to JFK airport for his flight back to Vancouver. I had the best intentions of waking up and walking him out to his gypsy cab, but it didn't work out. I think he made his flight, because I probably would have heard from him by now if he didn't. It was nice to see Justin. He misses living in New York and is thinking about ways to get back here.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Hit List

We have Music Choice channels on our cable TV system, and I've been listening to the Hit List channel for the past couple of days because I wanted to get current on what pop music is on the charts right now.

Hit list is the channel to help you "get educated about the most popular R&B, pop, and rock out there. If it's on the charts, it's on Music Choice Hit List!"

For the most part, you could add an S to Hit List to make it more descriptive, but I'm glad it exists. It really doesn't take a long time to get a good grasp of the most popular commercial songs. Finding really creative, inspired, well-written music is tougher. I like some of the other channels better, and we do make use of them. Our most popular is Jazz, with Classical Masterpieces and Light Classical tied for second place, followed by Electronica, Reggae, Sounds of the Season (Irish music last night), Soundscapes, Rap (uncensored), Rock, and others.

As for Hit List, I've stumbled on a couple of decent pop songs, although some of them are a couple of years old already. I've had the song All The Things She Said by Russian faux-lesbian duo Tatu "running through my head" all day today. You can hear it here, as well as see the weird but sfw video. In the video it's raining and they are running from something, wearing schoolgirl outfits of course, and then they're up against a brick wall and behind a chain link fence, and then they kiss. Dour-looking post-Soviets look on, disapprovingly, but they don't understand.

It's a slammin' pop song. I like it because it's corny Eastern European pop, not unlike the Numa Numa song. Right now I'm listening to the "hard drum mix." Three more listens to this and it will turn into torture.

So last night was Saint Patrick's Day in the big city. I met Justin on the corner of Fifth Street and Bowery by The Scratcher, my favorite New York Irish bar. Sadly, the Scratcher was too crowded to deal with.

(Excuse me, but I have to change the Music Choice channel. Ashlee Simpson is torture from the first listen.)

So instead we went for a bite and a pitcher at Dojo (Dojo the restaurant, not the place I study karate). I got beef yakitori and Justin got the sukiyaki salad, as usual. We split a pitcher of Brooklyn Lager.

The food was great and the atmosphere was Saint Mark's all the way. You can always count on Dojo. Justin caught me up on his new life in Vancouver, working as a music analyst for Nokia and awaiting the birth of his first child with Sue in June. Sounds like good stuff.

After Dojo we walked three doors down to the Grassroots Tavern, the old standby cheap dive bar. It was packed but somehow Justin and I managed to get a small table near the front. We finally toasted Saint Patrick's Day with pints of Guinness, as required. Guinness is fantastic. I like to call it the genius. Grassroots, like Dojo, is a place you can count on to deliver the goods every time, and it "pairs well" with Dojo, being practically next door.

We didn't stay long, just for the one round. Justin had to meet his friend Matt at a bar in Hell's Kitchen, and I had promised to have an Irish toast with Jenn, so I said goodbye to Justin and hit the subway to Brooklyn. It was about 10:00 p.m.

Jenn and I split a bottle of Sam Adams Black Lager (thanks Esquire) and drank out of frozen champagne flutes. We turned on the Music Choice channel Sounds of the Seasons to listen to Irish music. (I wonder what they're playing now that St. Pat's is over? Answer: Still Irish music. Hey, this is good. It's Na Connerys' Mist Covered Mountains/Walls of Liscarroll from Celtic Sessions. Very nice. I'll leave it on.)

Today, unfortunately, I had the day off work. I say unfortunately because I'm a freelancer and need the money. But I made good use of my day off, running errands in the morning, getting a haircut, picking up a package at the Post Office, and going to karate. The weather was nice too, sunny and near 50 F.

Jenn's on her way home from work (it's 6:15 p.m.) and we're just going to chill tonight.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

It's 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, Saint Patrick's Day, and the streets of New York City are already filling up with green-clad revelers. Saint Patrick's Day is a celebration of much more than alcohol, but that's one of its more visible elements here in the five boroughs. I'm one of very few people in my office who thought to wear green today. I'm wearing a green shirt with vertical stripes. And no, I'm not Irish, I'm American with Latvian heritage, but I could pass for Irish to anyone but an Irish person (so I've been told). Perhaps tonight I can put it to the test.

The beers are flowing at work right now, and I have a non-Irish Dos Equis beer with me at my desk. We're not officially celebrating Saint Patrick's Day here at the office, it's a going-away party for one of our art directors, who is off to ESPN the Magazine. I reminded him that he's entering Mauschwitz, as Disney is sometimes referred to.

I was going to go to karate tonight, but with this beer, I have just decided to skip it. My old friend Justin is in town from Vancouver (recently of Paris, France, recently of Park Slope, Brooklyn). We'll get together and bend a few elbows, but tonight won't be a late one, as we both have to work in the morning.

Of course, those are famous last words on Saint Patrick's Day. Happy Day, all, especially to my friends in Ireland. Jenn and I might visit Ireland this summer. We've never been, but she has an Irish grandfather, so it would be nice to see the old country. As for me, I just like seeing new places, and I've always wanted to visit the Emerald Isle.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Promotion

At karate, now is one of two times a year that black belt promotion is held (Spring and Fall).

A promotion, as I've mentioned before, is the test you take to move up in belt rank. At my dojo, promotions for colored belt students are held once a month or so. Colored belt ranks are called kyu ranks, and go in descending order from tenth kyu to first kyu.

Different martial arts schools have different sequences of belt color, but generally a beginning student will have a white belt, while a brown belt (or advanced brown belt, with a stripe) is usually the last one you get before going for your first black belt.

A black belt ranking is called a dan ranking, and it starts at first dan (shodan) and goes up to, well, it doesn't matter how high it goes. In the world there are martial arts teachers with tenth, eleventh, even thirteenth dan rankings. At a certain point, it doesn't matter except inside the individual school itself.

Now we have a group of advanced brown belt students going for their black belts, just like I was doing exactly one year ago. There are also higher ranking students going for promotion, including some fourth-degree black belts going to fifth-degree. I'm not really involved in that promotion but we are encouraged to come and help out with the first kyu to shodan promotion.

Tonight in place of our regular Wednesday black belt class we had the promotion for the shodan candidates. Kaicho led non-candidates, the people who weren't currently up for promotion, (like me, I'm good for at least another two years until my promotion for nidan, tons of new material to learn) in a quick group workout. We did a few katas. It was good to get the heart pumping.

Then the shodan candidates were led onto the dojo floor wearing blindfolds. They had been at Visions, a center for the visually impaired on 23rd Street, participating in our visually impaired program as part of their promotion. I remember it well, being led down the streets of New York City blindfolded is a scary thing, and then it becomes kind of transforming. The blind karate workout is interesting as well.

Now they were back at the dojo to take off their blindfolds (slowly) and participate in the rest of the evening's events. At this point I don't want to write in too much more detail about what went on at the promotion, it's a bit private and still ongoing (a month long) but they went through some tough stuff. It's a good group.

As I was transferring to the F-train at 14th Street I happened to see Luis, a guy from karate who happens to actually be in the visually impaired group, on the subway platform. I said hi and we rode the L train into Brooklyn together. Luis takes the L-train a few stops further into Brooklyn than I do. He just got his first black belt (shodan, remember?) in the Spring. He wants to be a bartender (and he doesn't drink).

I came straight home because I had a leftover pizza roll from Sal's in the fridge. Jenn's out to dinner with some friends.

Cabin Fever

Everything seems possible in the morning, with a caveat. I need my coffee, then everything seems possible. I look out the window at the blue sky and realize the world is still there and feel like there's still plenty of time to do the things I want to do. A world of possibility waits under the rising sun.

It's another beautiful day in New York City (freezing temperatures notwithstanding) and I'm sipping my coffee at my desk at home. I'll give myself just a few minutes to tap something out and then I've got to get going.

I'm quite sure I'm not the only person in New York to be chafing from the dreaded cabin fever, even though I live in a rear house in Brooklyn, not a cabin. (I imagine Mongolians get yurt fever sometimes.) I think the Winter is okay, but it's amazing what some decent weather can do for your spirits.

Today is March 16, and, I'll remind you again, the first day of Spring is four days away. No, the weather won't suddenly become tropical, but it's a hopeful sign that warmer days are just ahead, and some outdoor adventures too, I hope.

Last night, on a whim, I picked up Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country from the shelf. I had never read any Bill Bryson, so I read the first few pages and was reminded right away of how great it is to travel and see new things, and to be in motion in general. It's not so much about Australia (which seems pretty great) but just getting out under the big sky at all is quite soothing to my winter-constricted brain.

It got me thinking about what a sweet gig travel writing is, and thinking about my favorite travel writing books. On The Road is a classic, but perhaps it's not travel writing per se. Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon was excellent, as was Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz. (Yes, I like blue books.) I'd like my own title in that group some day.

I can't wait to start doing outdoorsy stuff and taking trips this year. Next up (I hope) is whitewater rafting in the Hudson River Gorge. In my more immediate future, however, is a shower and a short walk, and then a fun trip on the New York City subway to 57th and Seventh. Sorry, gotta split. More soon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Baby Steps

Today is Tuesday and it's sunny outside, although the temperature is right around freezing in the city.

Yesterday was very Monday-ish in many ways, but in the end it was a fine day with a few positive developments for me, including getting an assignment for Esquire (sorry, can't reveal what it's about), working on a Star-Ledger assignment (extra work is good), taking a few baby steps on my million-dollar idea (remember that?), and possibly being on the verge of getting an assignment for a popular magazine in New York that I've been pitching for a while. These are small developments, but they add up and keep me motivated.

Last night was a quiet evening at home. Jenn and I enjoyed the leftover chicken from Sunday evening. On my way home I stopped by Family Garden to pick up some brown rice and steamed mixed vegetables to go with the chicken. It was delicious. We did not have wine or booze of any kind, thank you very much.

I've got a whole bunch of work to do today so I'll have to leave this brief update at that. A reminder to everybody in the U.S. that your income tax returns are due exactly one month from today.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Art Rock

After ruminating a bit yesterday afternoon, Jenn and I decided to head up to Rockefeller Center to see an indoor/outdoor art exhibit called Art Rock. It was pretty weird, in a G-rated way. The weather was nice and we breezed through the exhibits, which included a dumpster folded into the shape of a paper airplane, an abominable snowman in an urban environment, several neon lightboxes, some paper dioramas, and a mirrored house.

I took a bunch of pictures with the digital camera and then we moved on, taking the F-train downtown to West Fourth Street. There we went to the Porto Rico on Bleecker and bought coffee beans. One more jaunt on the subway put us back on 14th Street, where we did some food shopping at Western Beef. Western Beef is a great grocery store, and yes, they do sell much more than just beef, but the meat is one of the big draws. Instead of having refrigerated coolers, they have an entire refrigerated room where you can just grab packaged meats off racks. We got some skinless chicken breasts on the bone for $1.99 a pound and also picked up some other stuff to cook for dinner like broccoli, Italian bread, and olive oil.

Then we took the subway home to Brooklyn, stopping by a couple of shops on Graham Avenue for some final touches. First thing I did when we got home was upload all my photos onto the computer, so Jenn and I could enjoy a slide show of our fun afternoon. Most of the pictures turned out well, and the abominable snowman has an otherwordly quality.

I cooked the dinner and it was darn good. First I cut the onions into thick slices and seasoned them and put them in a lasagna pan to pre-cook them before adding the chicken. Once that was going I kind of made up a recipe for bruschetta, Victor-style. (I diced an onion and three plum tomatoes and sauteed them in a pan with olive oil and Italian herbs for seven minutes, then spooned it over pieces of bread and put it in the oven for a few minutes.) I served that to Jenn as an appetizer with some simple red table wine.

I put the chicken breasts over the onions in the pan, and then put plum tomato slices over the chicken breasts and seasoned them. I baked the whole thing for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and then we feasted. It was great, and we have leftovers for dinner tonight.

That was pretty much the extent of our evening. We both tidied the house and took care of a few little things for the upcoming week, and here we are on Monday morning. I feel pretty good today, and I'm very happy that Spring begins in less than a week.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Super Sashimi

I took Jenn to Miyako last night for our long overdue Christmas and anniversary dinner. Sushi is our favorite going-out-to-dinner food, and Miyako is our favorite sushi restaurant, at least in Brooklyn.

We got a nice table by the wall at about 8:30 p.m. and were soon feasting on some fantastic raw fish and clinking our sake cups. The idea of eating raw fish is kind of weird, I admit, but a good piece of white tuna sashimi dipped in soy sauce is a little piece of heaven.

We split a sashimi sampler and also got ten pieces of a la carte white tuna sashimi, as well as a cherry blossom roll and dragon rainbow roll. The cold sake was flowing, and we were feeling good. We lingered over our dinner and savored every bite.

On our walk home we bought the Sunday paper at Hana and were back in time for Saturday Night Live, which I don't remember all that clearly.

This morning I got up first and showered and went into Manhattan to get bagels at David's. I took a walk to the Porto Rico on Saint Mark's Place. I wanted to get some coffee beans and Porto Rico is the place to buy them in NYC, but when I got there I discovered to my dismay that it wasn't going to open until noon. Slackers.

At least the weather was nice and I was enjoying my walk. I picked up the bagels and came home. The bagels were delicious. Now we are deciding what to do with our day today. The sun is shining brilliantly over New York City.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Something to Say

Sometimes it seems like everybody in New York has an announcement to make. Earlier today I was running errands in the city and enjoyed/endured another candy sales kid on the subway. They typically walk from car to car hawking their wares, and they almost always follow the same script, verbatim. I have memorized it and could easily lip-sync along.

"Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. My name is xxx xxx (usually Reginald Harris, I don't know why) and no I am not selling candy to make money for my school basketball team (they used to always say that, but New York has since gotten wise to it). I'm selling candy so I can stay off the streets and have a little money in my pocket."

"At the moment all I have are M&M Peanuts and Starburst. (I don't know why they say 'all' I have, but they do. Seems like bad salesmanship.) Each candy is a dollar. If you'd like to buy a candy or make a donation it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much, God bless, and have a safe journey."

Then they walk through the car and say "wanna buy, wanna buy, wanna buy," but it usually sounds like "baa, baa, baa."

I didn't baa. Instead I ran my errands: the bank on First Avenue, the post office on what little there is of Fourth Avenue (where I bought a set of Pacific Coral Reef stamps, to complement my Northeast Deciduous Forest stamps), and Astor Wines for wine and sake on Astor Place, naturally (which is named after John Jacob Astor.)

I came home, quickly gathered my fight gear, and went to the dojo for kumite class, which was a blast as usual. Good fights, good spirit, and no injuries, although I did break my big toenail on my left foot kicking this one dude.

On my way home from the dojo I was waiting for the L-train at Sixth Avenue and, wouldn't you know it, a roving evangelist exactly like the last guy (except white) had a few loud words to say about the "good news" the bible holds for us sinners. His script was almost the same as the last guy's script, except this guy had three different lengths of rope as a visual aid to describe the three main types of sinners. I think I was the middle rope.

When the train came in I made a point to not get in the train car that he chose, but fortunately for Brooklyn he stayed on the platform. I have to wonder, did somebody just unleash a whole army of these guys on New York?

Now it's 6:29 p.m on this Saturday night and Jenn and I are going out tonight. I'm taking her to Miyako, an excellent sushi restaurant here in Williamsburg (our favorite). I had promised Jenn I would take her there as part of my Christmas present to her, and tonight's the night. (It has a lot to do with me receiving freelance checks for two different jobs today, as well as my regular paycheck.)

I'll describe the sashimi in my next posting. Kampai!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Northeast Deciduous Forest

This afternoon I walked to the post office on 60th Street to mail out a couple of packages (books) and buy a sheet of stamps. I always ask for the latest and greatest stamps and this time the postal guy (I think his name was Mark) showed me a sheet of Northeast Deciduous Forest stamps.

It's a beautiful sheet of stamps and it will be a shame to have to stick them on bills. The key on the back shows you what plants and animals (excuse me, flora and fauna) are featured, such as the Northern Red Oak, the Ovenbird, the American Beech, the White-tailed Deer, and my favorite, the Long-tailed Weasel!

The Believer

Last night I went to karate after work, and then I took the F-train to 14th and Sixth and transferred to the L-train to go home to Brooklyn. When the L got to Union Square a tall black guy, about my age, got on the train and stood about five feet from where I was leaning against the door.

In a booming voice he began to address his captive audience. The train was crowded, not quite like rush hour, but there were no unoccupied seats and many people standing.

At first I thought it was going to be the typical hard-luck story which every New Yorker has heard thousands of times, but it soon became clear that this was a man who felt it imperative to tell us about religion, as he sees it.

"Most people don't understand the way God works," he said, implying that he, for one, does.

I had already heard enough and moved to the other end of the car, but his voice was loud enough to carry. He had that certain skill shared by opera singers and some homeless people where it's not so much about volume but finding just the right vocal pitch to make his words sail through the air and penetrate everybody's concentration, regardless of how hard they try to ignore it.

"Most of you think that if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds when you die you will be allowed into heaven," he said. "But it doesn't work that way."

"You are all sinners," he continued. "But being a sinner doesn't mean you are a bad person, it just means you need to accept Jesus into you heart as your personal saviour."

He went on and on like this as the train went under the East River. At Bedford Avenue, the first stop in Brooklyn, about six people dashed out of our car and into the next car, to avoid the sermon. One twenty-something blond girl was wearing shaggy white fake fur boots.

I got out at the next stop, Lorimer Street, and walked to Sal's Pizza to pick up some dinner. I was walking behind a couple who also were headed to Sal's, an African American couple who were seemed to have artistic sensibilities. The guy was wearing a dark overcoat and had very neat shoulder-length dreadlocks. He was wearing Philip Johnson-style eyeglasses. His girlfriend or wife also had neat braids. The guy held the door for me as I went into Sal's. We recognized each other from the subway.

They ordered their pizza, and then I ordered my pizza. There weren't too many different pies out so my choices were pretty simple. I politely blurted out my order and then said to the guy "that was easy."

I paused for a second and then added "because I'm a sinner."

The guy laughed and told me he was ready to have a word with our subway evangelist. He wanted to suggest to him that if he had something to say, he might as well say it to his face, but thought better of it when he realized just how much conviction our preacher had in his beliefs.

I told him that he did the right thing, and probably saved himself a lot of fire and brimstone talk by pretending to ignore him. I told him that I have nothing against religion, but that nobody wants to be beaten over the head with a bible. He agreed, I got my pizza and walked home.

Jenn was home and busy with a financial workshop assignment. I ate my pizza and watched The Apprentice. In the end, John the jackass got fired, which was certainly the right choice, but Chris the whiney baby was almost equally expendable.

I've been realizing that the candidates represented are far from the most promising candidates Trump could have chosen to be his actual apprentice. Some of them are complete idiots, but, for reasons only Mark Burnett understands, they make for good television.

The Contender, which came on next, makes a little more sense, cast-wise. The candidates are ostensibly the best middleweight boxers in the country, so they got on the show based (mostly) on their boxing skills. But this also might explain why the non-boxing parts of the show are so boring. I'm not sure if I'm going to continue to watch it. I find myself wishing that I was just watching a regular boxing match on Showtime or something.

I will say that the fights on the show are pretty good matchups, though. And it was nice to see a cameo of big George Foreman last night. Technically, George and I are coworkers, because he's on the Esquire masthead as our spiritual advisor, and he occasionally writes "sermons" for our magazine. His stuff is good, and I like him as a person (though I have not met him). Last year he wrote a sermon about how he stopped cussing, and I wrote a small jokey sidebar to it about how to not cuss, which suggested some alternatives to the more common vulgarities. You might say Big George and I were "on the same page." (Sorry.)

It was snowing this morning but now the sky has cleared. I'm pleased that it's Friday.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Free Booze

After work last night Jenn and I walked over to the Asprey store on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street (in Trump Tower, next to Tiffany & Co.).

We were there for an event commemorating the launch of an 18-year-old blended Scotch whiskey from Chivas. We arrived at a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. and were soon sipping Scotch with a splash of water. The Scotch was delicious, smooth like velvet, with notes of almond, chocolate, and caramel. It warmed us after our cold walk.

One of the first people I recognized there was Esquire drinks writer Dave Wondrich. Jenn and I chatted with Dave and his fellow drinks writer friends for a while, and then we all moved upstairs because there was a draft by the door that even the Scotch couldn't counteract, and the real party was happening on the second and third floors.

Upstairs, I introduced myself to food and wine connoisseur and Esquire contributing editor Ted Allen. I had never formally met him but since we are technically coworkers I wanted to say hi and to tell him that we enjoy his show.

Ted was very nice, and we all talked for a while and browsed through Asprey's rare book room on the third floor. I introduced Ted to Dave. There was a photographer taking pictures, and he shot Ted, Jenn and me and asked us to speak our names into his camera. I guess there was a recording device to help him write photo captions. Maybe we're in the tabloids today. I ought to check.

The Asprey and Chivas executives and master distiller said a few words and led us in a toast to inaugurate the new Scotch and we all raised our glasses, but I had led our little group in a toast earlier in the evening. I wasn't surprised that nobody mentioned it in the formal remarks, but Chivas was the favorite drink of one recently deceased writer. We made a very sincere and private toast to Hunter S. Thompson.

At about 9:00 p.m. Jenn and I got our coats and gift bags (very nice stuff) and walked to the subway. It took us about half an hour to get home. Jenn did some homework for a financial seminar she's doing, and I took a shower and watched the Daily Show. We went to bed at about 11:30 p.m.

I woke up this morning feeling fine, and now I'm at work. I'd better get going, but that was our New York evening. It was a fancy and fun event that we didn't have to take too seriously. And there was free booze. Good stuff, too.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Erhu Music

Jenn and I left work at the same time last night. It was snowing, windy, and bitterly cold. We took the subway home to Brooklyn together.

I've written plenty about Shakerleg, the drummer I like who sometimes plays on the L-train platform at Union Square. Last night there was another musician I like. He was a (presumably) Chinese man playing an erhu, which is a two-stringed instrument which creates, to my mind, very haunting music, evocative of Chinese parlors and back alleys.

He was a darn good erhu player, and he gave me a smile and nodded his head after I tossed a buck in his case. I wasn't sure how to dance to that kind of music, so my moves were reminiscent of Heathcliff Huxtable. While I was dancing, a young Asian girl tossed him a handful of change and he gave her a big smile too.

We stopped by Family Garden on the way home and bought a quart of chicken noodle soup. Our evening was spent relaxing, watching Crocodile Dundee and the Daily Show.

Tonight, instead of karate, I'm going with Jenn to a Chivas tasting.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Snowing Like Crazy

Now it's snowing like crazy. I just got back from a lunch run (turkey sandwich). Traffic is congested as usual, but the drivers are being especially jerky, blocking intersections and crosswalks. It's also quite windy and cold. Serious New York winter weather.

The strobe lights have been flashing on and off all day long, and it's not helping my concentration. I've donned a Samuel Adams visor to help shield my eyes, but it only helps a little bit. Fire safety is important, but I wish they'd just get it sorted out. It's making me batty.

Just One Of Those Days

First off, let me apologize if this posting is a little erratic. The building guys are working on our fire alarm system and very bright strobe lights are flashing all around me. This could give a person a seizure. It's hard to concentrate.

We're having funny weather here in New York. Yesterday it was a warm Spring day. Today it's Winter. The temperature has been dropping all morning and rain has turned to snow. Tonight the temperature will be well below freezing, according to the forecasters.

I got home last night at around 8:00 p.m. Jenn had carved up our leftover chicken. I picked up a loaf of Italian bread on the way home and we had a very nice meal of leftover chicken and bread. Then we watched the first episode of the latest reality drama, The Contender.

I thought it was pretty good, but then again I also like boxing. The fight at the end was a good matchup. The strange thing about it was that it was edited, as though it was a highlight reel, but then it had never before been broadcast, like a live fight, so you didn't know the outcome until the end. It was a plus that only the real action was shown, but I didn't really care for all the crowd shots, and the shots of the fighters' families. In that way, I would prefer to just watch a regular boxing match. Too bad that one of the fighters committed suicide. It's just a show.

Today is Tuesday but this morning was very much like a Monday morning for me because I had a bunch of errands to run before work and not one of them was easy. It was raining on me the whole time. As soon as Jenn left for work our front door buzzer buzzed, again and again. Of course I was in the bathroom, but I made it out to the front door to greet the Con Ed meter reader. He told me I looked like Kiefer Sutherland. I had been told that once before, in college. He said I sounded like him too, "like in Phone Booth." I told him that I was Kiefer Sutherland and that things in Hollywood hadn't worked out for me so I moved to Brooklyn. The Con Ed guy looked like Turtle.

I took two rainy trips to the cleaners to pick up the laundry. Then I showered, dressed, tidied up the house, and hit the subway. I couldn't catch a break with the trains, but I did eventually make it to work, late, and took my rainy walk of shame to the 55th Street building to drop off the timesheets. A TV crew squeezed into the elevator with me. The camera was poking me in the belly until they got off on the Good Housekeeping floor. Maybe they are doing a segment about pies. On my way back I stopped in the grocery store. They had run out of grapefruit juice, but this cranberry juice cocktail is okay.

I've got a lot of work to do today, so I'll have to end this posting. Stay happy, New York.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Great Weather

If you are in New York City right now you are in luck, because it's a beautiful day. The temperature is 17 degrees Celcius (62 F) and the sun is shining in the blue sky. Of course it's a pity we all have to work. I'd like to go grab Jenn out of her office and go to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park to toss around the Frisbee. Today is a brilliant Frisbee day. Rest in Peace "Steady" Ed Headrick.

We blew all our money on brunch yesterday so to save dough on dinner we bought a seven-pound chicken from the store and I cooked it in the oven. It was good, and it paired quite well with the Pinot Noir we opened. It was the baked cherry tomatoes that made it a winner.

Jenn passed out on the couch at 10:00 p.m. while I stayed up late shining my boots.

Things are quite a bit busier for me at work this week, so I'll have to do most of my blogging in the evenings. I just wanted to get online and report that New York City is happy today because it feels like Spring, even though Spring doesn't officially begin until March 20. It's only two weeks away.

One project I'm undertaking today (in addition to my regular stuff: writing greatness, making a million bucks, saving America) is assembling a group for a whitewater rafting expedition in the Hudson River Valley some time next month. Big water, big adventure, big fun.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Great Run

It's 3:44 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and I've just gotten back from an invigorating run through Williamsburg. I left the house at about 2:45 p.m. and ran pretty steadily until I came back home about five minutes ago. I feel good.

I put on my sneakers and took a right out of our front door and ran north on Leonard Street under the BQE overpass to Bayard Street. I took a left on Bayard and went west one block to McCarren Park.

Normally when I go running (which isn't very often) I run on the oval track at McCarren Park, but the city is currently replacing and improving the track and the soccer pitch in the middle. The track was pretty good to begin with. It was made of a special spongey material that gave your feet and joints extra cushion. But the soccer pitch was pretty well beaten up. Anyway since the track was off limits I just ran on the walkways along the eastern perimeter of the park and then headed south along Wythe Avenue.

I was keeping a pretty good pace, slow but steady. The temperature was about seven degrees Celcius. I ran to Grand Ferry Park, where I took a break. I walked to the edge of the water, next to the mostly-abandoned Domino sugar plant, with its big rusty cranes leaning out over the east river, waiting for a sugar boat that will never come. The view to my right looked like this.

The best view is looking south, to the left (second picture down). The picture doesn't do it justice because you can actually see all three bridges, the Williamsburg, the Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge, and if you look to your right you can see two more. It's a good place to watch the sun set. Or to catch your breath from a run.

I relaxed and cooled off for a few minutes, but it was windy, and I didn't want to get too cold, so I started off running again. I ran along Grand Street most of the way back. Good run. Hooah!

I wanted to run because I couldn't get to the dojo today (although I did make it to kumite yesterday). Jenn and I met our friends Stacie and Mike for brunch at Hill Diner on Court Street in Brooklyn. I had challah bread French toast and it was good.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

#1 Victor Ozols

I'm back on top of Google. I had disappeared for a while in between old blog and new, but I'm back at #1, ahead of Victor Ozols the doctor and Victor Ozols the British heroin addict, though I wish them both the best.

I didn't blog yesterday. Things at Esquire were getting busier, and I had work to do. I left work at 6:30 p.m. and took the subway to Bedford Avenue and walked to the Brooklyn Brewery, where I met Seth a few minutes later.

It was a short visit, just two beers long (Organic Stout and Pilsener) but it was nice to see him and sit on a stack of pallets. The door was open, though, and it was cold, even though I was wearing two wool sweaters.

I walked with Seth to the subway at Bedford Avenue and North 7th Street and gave him a swipe of my 30-day-unlimited Metrocard. A Manhattan-bound train was just pulling in to the station and Seth got it. It was 8:29 p.m. according to the Metrocard reader display clock.

I walked home, shivering in the bitter cold that comes off the East River (which is really not a river at all, it's a tidal estuary). Jenn had just gotten home. We had a quiet evening, since we were both tired. We watched part of a Dave Chappelle special and went to bed.

Today's extra challenge is getting into Manhattan without the L train, which is closed for repairs this weekend. (Even the Brooklyn Brewery home page has a note about the subway, which I think is cool.) I'll have to take the G train to Queens Plaza and transfer there to get to kumite at 4:00 p.m. Other plans for today include cleaning the house, doing some writing, and saving America.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Great Grapefruit

My friend Tom from Esquire gave me a grapefruit yesterday morning. I had already purchased a bottle of grapefruit juice from the store so I saved it until today. This morning I ate it when I got to work and it was the best grapefruit I have ever tasted.

It was a spectacular fruit. The peel came off pretty easily for a grapefruit, I just used my fingers, no knife or anything. The sections were easy to pull apart, and the juice was deliciously bittersweet. The little individual juice pods just exploded with flavor. It was refreshing and thirst-quenching and a real eye-opener. I could feel the healing power of the grapefruit slowly permeate my body. I was awake and transformed.

It was a fine Texas fruit. Tom's parents are or were recently in Brownsville, Texas, and the one thing Brownsville and nearby Harlingen is known for (other than shrimp boats, Tom tells me) is grapefruit. His parents sent him a case. He was handing out grapefruits at the office. I love grapefruit and this was the best one ever.

After work I went to kata class. We worked out with the Italian guys one last time before they go back to Florence, started teaching them the new black belt katas. Nice group of people.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Continued Violence

Our lives on this earth are filled with so much violence, it surpises and saddens me sometimes, but it's not all necessarily bad.

I can start by pointing out the obvious violence occuring in the Middle East, in Central Asia, on the streets of America, but it goes into the collective psyche of everybody, whether they're getting in fistfights or shooting bullets or dropping bombs.

I can stay on the theme by basically picking up from where I left off last night. I heated up the chicken fried rice and it was darn good for being leftovers of incredibly cheap food anyway. Then Jenn came home and we hung out, watched the Daily Show, and she went to bed. I stayed up and flipped through the channels on the TV.

There was a boxing match on between two welterweights, Miguel Cotto and DeMarcus Corley. It was broadcast from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

It was a great match, with lots of heart and grit and pretty good technique from both fighters. Everybody likes to watch heavyweights fight but the lower weight classes are often more fun. They thow more punches, with cleaner technique (each punch is more articulated, easier to see if it scores), and they have better endurance than those big guys. Imagine George Foreman, later in his career. He was so strong he could knock a guy's block off, but he could hardly move around the ring in the later rounds.

Anway, this was a good fight, even with the sound turned way down, and Jenn complaining from bed to turn it even lower. (She likes to tell me what time it is. "Come on, it's 11:43," she'll bleat from under the covers.)

I thought the fight was called too early, with the referee calling a technical knockout in the fifth round, giving the victory to the hometown fighter, Miguel Cotto. The announcers agreed that Corley deserved another round, but they also agreed that he was probably finished and wasn't going to win. Watching the fight, and the way it ended, made the adrenaline rush through me, and this was almost at midnight, after a relaxing hot shower.

Cut to today, at work. I can't reveal exactly what I'm working on, but a story came up in my research about a boxing match from 40 years ago, also welterweight, in which one boxer beat the other so badly that he fell into a coma and died ten days later. I thought, maybe it's not so bad that last night's fight was called a TKO before anyone really got floored, even though I was kind of rooting for the big knockout. Maybe taking away a little bit of the crowd's blood lust pleasure was okay. They're trying to draw the line between acceptable and unnacceptable violence. They're trying to control it.

Cut to today's news, and I mean New York City news. Big beefs between rappers caused bullets to fly late Monday night, and details were starting to emerge. 50 Cent dissed the Game while doing an interview with Funkmaster Flex on Hot 97, and, apparently (details are sketchy) some of the Compton-bred Game's entourage rolled up on Queens-native 50's guys at the radio studio in the Village.

Bullets flew, one guy got shot in the leg, some people fled, some people were found on the scene, 50 left the studio through a side door, and nobody saw anything. It was snowing outside. There weren't many cars on the street. It was 10:00 p.m.

Later that night, shots were fired at 36 West 25th Street, where 50 Cent's management has offices. Nobody was hurt.

I read this story with great interest, not because I'm a gangsta rapper with an entourage (I'm a fact checker at Esquire) but because it's a local story, and I know both of those areas well. Also, 50's record label is Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, and Intescope's New York offices are in my building, 1790 Broadway. I've never personally seen 50 there, but there are frequent sightings. And I have seen "crews" there before, with several luxury SUVs parked out front, and well-dressed and very tough-looking bodyguards waiting in the lobby.

So, while it's unlikely, that beef could spill into our little corner of New York, and that would be bad. Let's keep it cool guys. Tupac got shot here, and checked himself out of the hospital way before he should have, given his injuries, because he was afraid they'd come to the hospital to finish him. (Of course they got him in Vegas.) Lil' Kim has her own lil' problem. Maybe I should feel silly even writing about this, but this is my city.

The thing is, these rap feuds are at the same time very real (people are getting shot) and very fake (the whole thing is contrived for publicity). I say it's not worth it, but 50 Cent made $50 million last year. Also, 50's new album drops tomorrow.

Cut to the dojo. It's the regular Wednesday night black belt class, only tonight we're doing something a little different. A group of eight people from our dojo in Florence, Italy are in town on a visit, and they're taking part in a special promotion while they are here.

(A promotion is the test you take to go up in rank. They were all moving up, two were getting higher colored belts, two were getting their first black belts (shodan) and the others were going for their second or fourth degree black belts.)

The promotion lasts for several weeks. This was the final day. They return to Italy on Friday.

Our regular New York group met and did a quick workout, and then the Italians came in, blindfolded. They had been training with our blind program at a special blind institute down the street. It's a standard part of the promotion. Learn what it's like to do karate blind. Learn what it's like to walk down the street blind. I did it, and I can tell you it's an enlightening experience.

They removed their blindfolds and stood in front of us in a row. There were fifty or sixty of us New York black belts. Kaicho asked the Italian group a few questions about what their training meant to them. Some of them spoke a bit of English, some used our Italian-New Yorker branch chief to translate. They answered very sincerely.

Then he had them go through a few forms. The black belts had to demonstrate techniques using a bo (long staff).

Finally, it was kumite time. I didn't bring my gear because I just wanted to watch this time, but a whole bunch of people did, and the fights were pretty good. Lots of energy, lots of spirit, good technique, and loud kiais (shouts). And then it was over.

They were all brought before us and Kaicho and his most senior black belts awarded them their new belts. Two guys got their first black belts, and I know how that feels. We gave them a huge round of applause. They were so happy they were beaming. These people are real Italians too. The two of them, brothers, race motorcycles and work in a motorcycle store. One 23-year-old woman is a student. Another guy is a policeman.

Not all the news at karate was good, though. We were informed of personal tragedies that had occured to three other members of our system, one of which involved both gunshots and multiple stabbings. Even if they are from far-flung dojos around the world, they are part of our family and it is a shared loss. We ache for them.

Violence is inescapable and incomprehensible sometimes. Perhaps it's better to have a positive relationship with it, as we do in karate, than to get on the wrong side.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Parallels

It's 7:35 p.m. and I'm home now. There was an interesting parallel between something that happened on the street on my walk to the subway and an episode of the Simpsons that came on just as I arrived at home and flipped on the TV at 7:00 p.m.

I left the office and went past the bank to the subway entrance at 55th Street and Seventh Avenue. It was about 6:30 p.m. A man and a woman, they were either porters or messengers, were rolling portable clothing racks (the kind you see all over the Garment District) out of an office building and into a truck. Several thick black garment bags were hanging on each rack. The messengers must have decided to roll them all out on the sidewalk first and then load up the truck.

It wasn't a good idea, because the racks were almost completely blocking the sidewalk, and they were pushing them around all over the place, getting in people's way. After all, it was West 55th Street, at rush hour, right in front of a subway entrance, and they're rolling these things all over the sidewalk. The wind was making them even harder to control. I felt sorry for them and annoyed at the same time.

One guy who was a few steps in front of me was more annoyed than sympathetic. The woman messenger was dragging her rack around and it was flying everywhere, and it knocked right into this guy. It didn't knock him down, but it was certainly a "what the Hell?" moment.

The woman messenger ignored him, oblivious to smashing into him, so he said to her (not quite shouting) words to the effect of "watch what you're doing" and "the least you could say is excuse me." He was a little animated but not quite threatening.

But her friend, the male messenger, stepped in right away. (At this stage I'm just about two steps behind all three of them.) It seemed like part of his reaction was to stick up for his coworker but a bigger part of it was that he was itching for a confrontation. Maybe he didn't like wheeling those racks around in the cold and wind. But he got right into the coat-rack smashing victim's face, saying "anything you got to say to her you say to me." He said it twice, for clarity and emphasis.

But the coat-rack smashing victim wasn't about to back down. He was maybe 5'9" (my height) and the messenger guy was about three inches taller and a little bigger. He starting yelling back at the guy "All she's gotta do is say excuse me. Is that so hard?" And the woman was yelling too. She said "I didn't even run into you that bad."

It all happened in a matter of seconds. I slowed down but kept walking because it was the kind of obvious New York street altercation where you keep going but you definitely pay attention to what's happening, in case it spills in your direction. Also, I wanted to see if it actually became a fight, not so much for the crude spectacle but because, as a martial artist, I'm curious to see how so-called real fights really begin. Of course I was thinking "could I whip these guys?" (Maybe.)

But I wasn't that curious. I continued past them while they were still yelling at each other, basically the same things. They were loud. I had to step gingerly around all these clothes racks. Since they were basically at the top of the stairs to the subway, I could hear them all the way down the stairs, through the turnstiles, and down the next flight of stairs to the subway platform.

Then I hopped on a downtown Q train that was waiting to leave. I could even hear them arguing, faintly, from the train before the doors closed. As I took a seat on the train I thought to myself, every one of those three people, but especially the two guys, had a lot of pent-up anger and aggression. They both seriously overreacted to the situation, making it much worse for everybody. For all I knew they were physically fighting up there on the street, with cops arriving and such. It was going in that direction.

Sometimes I get frustrated too, and little things can trigger an overreaction, but I think I know pretty well to keep things in control. Those guys were losing their control. It was bad, but I'm a New Yorker, and I'm not getting involved. The situation would not benefit from my involvement, nor would I.

I arrived at the lovely Brooklyn apartment I share with my wife and, seeing that it was 6:58 p.m. I turned on the TV to watch the Simpsons.

It was the episode where a hurricane sweeps throught Springfield and destroys Ned Flanders' house. The town gets together and builds a new house for them, but it's an ineptly-built piece of junk that collapses.

Ned Flanders finally loses his temper after all the years of bottling up his anger. He lashes out at everyone in town, especially the Simpsons. "It's Lisa Simpson, Springfield's answer to a question nobody asked." Then he checks himself into a mental hospital.

I sat back and smiled. I had just experienced the human versions of Ned Flanders, yelling at each other on 55th Street. They didn't actually resemble Flanders, they were all three in their twenties or thirties, African American. But they had the same anger problems.

Ned's repressed-anger problem stemmed from the lack of discipline of his Beatnik parents, which necessitated excessive spanking therapy by a doctor that worked "too well." Homer talked him through it.

I hope those three people find peace in their lives, for all of our sakes.

Jenn's working late tonight. I'm going to heat up some leftover chicken fried rice.

What Goes Down . . .

Funny how I was feeling down this morning, lamenting my wet sock and lowly status in life, albeit with a positive spin. I just found out from one of our editors, Brendan, that Esquire will be using a small item I submitted a couple of months ago for the May issue.

It's not my first Esquire piece (can't quite call it a story, more like a jokey little editorial sneeze) but it's my first in a while, certainly the first of 2005. I can honestly say I have written for Esquire. Not bad!

And unless it gets "spiked" at the last minute (which has happened before) it's going in May, so please look out for it. I'd tell you what it is, but this is paid content, friends. I blog for free, but I write for Esquire in exchange for legal tender (we're talking three figures . . . before tax.)

I'm going to start stepping in puddles every morning, if that's what it takes.

Wet Foot

I just got back from my weekly walk from the Esquire offices at 1790 Broadway to the other Hearst building at 250 West 55th Street. Every Tuesday morning I take my timesheet and those of the other freelancers currently at Esquire and drop them in the timesheet box there, so we can get our checks on Saturday. I enjoy getting out of the office for any reason, and this is only a fifteen- or twenty-minute round trip, but it's also a walk of shame, reminding me that I'm still, after all this time, only a freelancer at Esquire.

It's cold today, and there are big slushy puddles on every corner, remnants of last night's "blizzard." In my haste to cross 56th Street before the light changed I stepped in a puddle about six inches deep, and the water went right into my left boot, which made me feel terrific. I couldn't help but thinking about all those other people at Esquire, eating their bagels and muffins in the warm, dry offices, never giving a thought to timesheets and depositing checks, because they have the joy that is direct deposit (and, I might add, no-fee Citibank savings and checking accounts through Hearst, which I pay dearly for).

I will admit that I am susceptible to self-pity, but I can recognize when it's coming and try to turn it around before it picks up momentum. So that was a moment to turn it around. A wet boot is something I can handle, as is a freelance magazine job. I did some decent writing at home last night and will do more tonight, which makes me feel good, like I at least accomplished something for myself. And it's Tuesday, and I already accomplished a lot this morning, making not one but two trips to the cleaners to pick up two big bags of laundry before even getting to work (late, natch). We had extra laundry because of our houseguests, sheets and towels and such.

Okay, so here I am, typing away on the G-5, drinking my grapefruit juice and looking over my research assignments for the day. Yeah, I think I can handle it.