New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

W. Mark Felt is Deep Throat

The story of the day is clearly the revelation that former FBI number two guy W. Mark Felt was Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Deep Throat, the secret source of inside information about Nixon's 1972 Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup.

Felt made the admission in an upcoming article in Vanity Fair. Woodward, Bernstein, and former editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, on behalf of The Washington Post, confirmed that it's true.

I am a little embarrassed to admit I had never heard of Felt until today. I always thought the source was Henry Kissinger, because my high school government teacher thought he was and that was good enough for me.

It's a bit anticlimactic after all this time. Why would Felt reveal his identity to Vanity Fair, of all places? I think there's a coverup and a scandal in all this.

It will be interesting to read what will be written on the subject in the next few days. Let me start with one point that others will likely make:

Anonymous, confidential sources are not ideal, but they are sometimes critical in getting the truth out. Use sparingly, use carefully, and double check everything, but when the established authorities lie to you, you do whatever it takes to get to the truth, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Kittens Surrender

This is too good not to share, especially since you're all looking for something to do to avoid work.

http://kittenwar.com/

Make sure to check out the winningest and losingest kittens.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Three-Day Weakened

Today is Memorial Day and Jenn and I had the day off work. It was a very enjoyable three-day weekend and now at the end of it we are both happy but weary.

My Saturday played out as planned in the previous entry. I went to kumite at 4:00 p.m. and it was great. Later that evening Seth and Sam dropped by our place and the four of us hung out and got Italian heros from Cono's. It was a nice time. Seth and Sam didn't stay late because they were tired from the previous night's gig in Boston.

On Sunday (yesterday) my parents arrived at our apartment at about 9:00 in the morning. They dropped off some provisions (paper towels, shower spray) and then I drove with them up to Connecticut for a party at my cousin's house to celebrate my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary. Jenn couldn't make it because she had work to do, which is a shame because it was a very nice time. The weather was sunny, the food was good, and lots of relatives who I don't see very often were there.

We drove (actually I drove) back to Brooklyn that afternoon. My parents continued on their journey back to Virginia. When I got home I hung out with Jenn and relaxed and watched TV. It was a pleasant evening.

We didn't have too much planned for today but it turned into a day of walking, another megatransect across Manhattan. We left the house at a little after noon and took the L train into Manhattan. First stop, David's Bagels. We had our bagels and grapefruit juice.

Powered by bagels, we intended to walk to Porto Rico on St. Marks Place to buy coffee beans, but when we got there, Porto Rico was closed, presumably for Labor Day. We kept walking west. I had my camera with me and snapped a bunch of photos.

We walked through Washington Square Park. The sun was shining brightly and the park was filled with people. The fountain was turned on, spraying water into the air, and a jazz duo was playing very good music near the dog run.

We continued walking west, enjoying the day and each other's company. Finally we reached the point where we could go no further when we walked all the way across West Street to the end of a pier on the Hudson River. The pier is a very nicely maintained park and we sat on a bench for a while and just zoned out in the sun and watched all the interesting New York people around us. A parade of boats sailed by on the river, including several kayaks, and helicopters kept buzzing over us in the sky, following the river. It was a pleasant scene.

Then, as if we hadn't walked enough, we walked to Western Beef on 14th Street and Ninth Avenue, right next to a restaurant called Markt. Western Beef has great prices. We bought lean, skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets for $1.99 a pound, as well as some broccoli, carrots, and onions.

Then, finally, we took the subway back to Brooklyn and unloaded our groceries. But again, we were both antsy to go out again, so we took a quick walk to our local grocery store, C-Town. I bought a small bottle of olive oil and Jenn bought some flavored coffee creamer.

We came home and I cooked a delicious dinner. I sliced up the onions and seasoned them on both sides and then put them in a lasagna pan with olive oil and heated it in the oven. Then I added the carrots, so the bottom of the pan was all vegetables. I cooked that for a while and then I washed and seasoned the chicken breasts and placed them over the veggies. I baked the whole thing for about half an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and also steamed the broccoli on the stove.

After I cleaned up Jenn and I took one more walk, just around our neighborhood. It's nice to take a walk after dinner. When we came home we drank camomile tea. Now I am sipping Pere Magloire VSOP calvados.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Stained Class

I just watched the second half of the movie Shattered Glass, which I thought was very well done. I can't believe I'd never seen it before. I'll have to catch the first half some time soon. That's how it is with cable I guess. I was just looking for something to watch while I ate my onion bagel with egg salad that I got from David's Bagels this morning. Good movie, good breakfast.

After a spell of rough weather the sky is blue today and I can actually hear birds singing. It's noon on Saturday. Jenn has gone to visit Stacie and Mike and their new baby. Stacie and Mike recently bought an apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Huzzah.

So I'm on my own for now. I'll putter around the house and/or neighborhood for a while until I go to kumite at 4:00 p.m. I've got a few story ideas to work on, and I also need to clean the house. My parents are going to pick us up tomorrow morning to take us to a family get-together at my cousin Edgar's house in Connecticut. Therefore, I need to tidy this place up a little bit for the drop-in. I also need to get my bicycle fixed.

I am drinking a juice cocktail that I made from 50 percent grapefruit juice and 50 percent seltzer. It's a wonderful and life-affirming drink.

Sorry I didn't blog yesterday. It was a half day at Esquire and I had a few things to do that squeezed out my blogging time. I thought I might blog from home later but instead I went to black belt kata class from 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Kata class was great and I'm a bit sore.

There's a gentle breeze outside. I can hear the sound of wind chimes from the open windows.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bronx Cheers

The weather held out for us so Jenn, Jen, Will, and I went to Yankees Stadium in the Bronx last night to see the Yankees defeat the Detroit Tigers by a score of 4-2. It was a very enjoyable game. The weather was quite chilly but it didn't rain until we were safely home and watching Miami defeat Detroit in the NBA playoffs. You might think I'm a big sports fan but I'm really not. I like going to Yankees Stadium and I like the NBA playoffs, that's all.

Jen (note number of ens) and Will are season ticket holders, and their seats are one row from the field, just inside the left field foul pole. They are great seats. We arrived in the bottom of the first inning. I went with Will to buy beer (Will was getting frankfurters in a different line) and had an embarrassing experience.

I went to the line for "special" beers because I'm not a big fan of Miller Lite. I ordered four beers and then handed the cashier my debit card. It's supposed to be easy as pie. Only the woman couldn't get my card to swipe right, and just didn't have the mental firepower to figure out how to punch in the numbers manually. Of course there's a huge line behind me.

Now, they even have big signs that show how they take all kinds of cards and it's the easiest way to pay. But as time went by, managers were called, and I even offered another card, but things went from bad to worse. It was just too difficult for these women to figure out, and I only had $20 in cash (four beers are thirty bucks at the stadium, by the way).

It wasn't long before the people in line behind me began to consider me "the asshole at the register trying to use a credit card." It wasn't my fault, but you try explaining that to a line full of Yankees fans waiting for beer. You may have heard stories about how polite and charming Yankees fans can be, and I caught an earful. I was the recipient of several helpful suggestions and what are known as "Bronx cheers."

After what seemed like forever, the cashier and manager gave up on trying to take my card (which was and remains valid) and took my beers away. I left in defeat, beerless. It was pretty bad. I was thinking to myself why would anybody go through such a hassle just to shiver in the cold, watching a bunch of millionaires play a game from 300 feet away. Even if they did take my card, do I want to wait in line 20 minutes and pay $30 for four beers? It's true, in my head I was thinking fuck this fucking bullshit.

But then I found Will, still waiting in line for the hot dogs. I told him my tale of agony, and kicked in my only $20 toward a $41.50 tab on four Miller Lites (the only beer they have in the hot dog line) and two foot-long hot dogs. Fucking ridiculous what people put up with to think they are being entertained, I thought to myself.

The guy at this register didn't want to make change for three twenties and said it was our "lucky day" and he'd give us our beer and dogs for $40. I have a hunch that he never rang up our order and pocketed the $40. And I bet I'm right. Did I mention we were in the Bronx?

Finally we made our way back to our seats, they ate their dogs and I sipped my beer. During the whole ordeal Jenn and Jen were waiting in the seats, talking to each other and not watching the game. I was hungry but too embarrassed to bum a frankfurter off our generous hosts, who had provided the tickets.

But, as shite a beer as Miller Lite is, I kind of enjoyed it, and I focused on the game, which was actually pretty good.

Derek Jeter made an amazing catch in the seventh inning. I'll let The New York Times describe it:

"... the play of the night might have been made by Derek Jeter, who appears to have recovered from a sore left elbow after being hit by a pitch Saturday. After getting two hits and scoring a run, Jeter made one of those fielding plays that might live forever on highlight reels even on networks not devoted to the eternal glory of the Yankees.

"In the Detroit seventh, with two runners on, one run in, one out and the Tigers threatening to rally for more, Jeter chased a pop fly off the bat of Marcus Thames that had drifted in the wind to short center field. Also in pursuit were Robinson Cano, the rookie second baseman, and Bernie Williams, charging in from center field.

"Jeter caught up to Cano and the ball at about the same time, running over Cano while making the catch with his back to the infield, both players losing their caps as they tumbled to the ground, but Jeter holding onto the ball and keeping the two runners where they were."

It was a great play, and we saw it happen live and in the flesh. It was good to be at the game. The Yankees pitcher, a rookie named Chien-Ming Wang, was great. Everybody on the team put in a strong effort. The closest player to where we were sitting was Hideki Matsui, so there were a number of Japanese fans in our area. That was neat.

For the most part you get a better view of a sporting event by watching it on TV, I think, but being at the park shows you the scale of what's happening. At one point a Tiger batter hit a very long fly ball that headed right at us. It landed in foul territory, just barely, but it was really amazing to follow it from the crack of the bat, the length of the field, and then over our heads into the stands. That's why you go to the ballpark.

During lulls in the action Will and I had a nice conversation comparing the refugee experiences of our parents fleeing war and communism, mine from Latvia and his from China. Very different, but with common threads.

The girls got cold, so we left the game just after the seventh inning. Fortunately, the score didn't change after we left, and the Yankees got another win. Good times, though not without challenges. I guess you always have to work for your fun.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Weather or not . . .

We're supposed to go up to the Bronx tonight to see the Yankees put the whomp on the Tigers, but it's rainy and cold. Jenn and I are both not-so-secretly hoping that the game is called due to inclement weather. I would hate to skip Wednesday night black belt class to sit shivering by the left field foul pole, but I brought an extra sweater, hat, gloves, and a windbreaker just in case.

Work is not quite busy but I'm working on a very tragic story that requires a delicate balance of sensitivity and bluntness in the fact checking process. That's all I can say about it for now.

Not too much to note since the last entry. I'm still smiling hard, trying to keep the gloomy weather from invading my head. So far, so good.

Last night as I took the subway home from work I saw an undercover cop patting down a very sketchy-looking dude on the L-train platform at Union Square. I had no idea what the skell had done to warrant such attention, but it was happening in front of everyone. This particular cop must have been sort of undercover but not deeply under cover, because he really looked like a cop: big white guy with short hair, wearing a Budweiser windbreaker, jeans, and--get this--Doc Marten shoes. Just like the British Bobbies.

He emptied the contents of the guy's pockets onto a subway bench. I was trying to watch without watching. On the one hand I hate to be a rubbernecker but on the other hand anything I can learn about criminals can only make me safer (or more criminal). Plus, assuming the perp was guilty of whatever he was being investigated for, and assuming he had some kind of conscience (an unsafe assumption), public scrutiny might encourage him to get his act together. But what do I know about the criminal mind? I'm just justifying my curiousity.

I've got work to do, and I reckon I'm going to do it now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ominous Clouds

Ominous clouds fill the sky above New York, threatening heavy rain at some point today. It's almost dark outside, and it's 10:55 a.m.

I just took my Tuesday walk to drop off the timesheets. A taxi had broken down in the middle of 57th Street. A cop was at the scene. The lights on his car were flashing.

A nanny was gently scolding a child for repeatedly standing up in her stroller. "I'm not going to tell you again," said the nanny, but I imagine she would have to repeat herself.

I feel pretty good today, but it's taking extra effort. It would be all to easy to let my mood match the weather, which is gloomy. But I'll rise above the clouds, transcend the gloom.

Jenn and I are supposed to go to the Yankees game tomorrow night with our friends Jen and Will. If it rains the game might be cancelled. If it rains and the game is not cancelled we might regret going. I don't want to sit in the rain at Yankees Stadium and I'm quite sure Jenn doesn't want to either.

We'll be monitoring the weather closely.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Noguchi

It's Sunday night, and we're relaxing after a day spent running around the city. After a late start, we took the subway (turned out to be multiple subways, due to construction) up to Astoria, Queens, where we visited the Socrates Sculpture Park and then The Noguchi Museum.

The weather was initially quite warm, and we regretted bringing jackets and not bringing sunglasses, but it soon cooled off and eventually a light rain started to fall. In general the weather was decent all day long, good for running around the city.

We've been to Astoria (the famous Greek neighborhood of New York) a few times but never to the sculpture park or Noguchi museum, so it was a first time for us. The Socrates Sculpture Garden was filled with children flying kites they made for themselves. The wind was kind of fickle so it required a lot of running around. But we walked slowly, first through a field populated with white plaster-looking barnyard animals: chickens, bunnies, a goat, a pig, and a big steer.

The park is along the East River so after we got through the barnyard we walked along the river on a path, and then cut through the main part of the park, which currently has a sculpture theme of "Sport." The main piece was about twenty feet high, with sports gear like catchers mitts and chest guards cemented into the side of a tall tower, and a shiny metallic athlete perched on top.

From the sculpture park we walked to the Isamu Noguchi Museum, which was a real treat. Noguchi was an American-Japanese sculptor who was born in 1904 and died in 1988. His work reflects the relationship between the natural and technological worlds. Many of his stone sculptures have both naturally rough and machine-smoothed surfaces to reflect this.

We had wanted to go to the Noguchi Museum for a long time, and really enjoyed our visit. It includes both indoor exhibition space and an outdoor sculpture garden, the latter of which I'm especially fond of. The outdoor space was quiet and serene, with green trees providing a lush canopy over a Japanese rock garden populated by very carefully placed sculptures, one of which Jenn decided was a cat (and I could sort of see it that way too).

We sat on a bench and appreciated the beauty of the sculpture garden, and then a museum worker told us he was about to begin a museum tour, so we joined the tour, and it was very enlightening. Now I know more about Isamu Noguchi than I ever thought I would. For example, I know he apprenticed with Constantin Brancusi, who is also one of my favorite sculptors (Bird In Space).

With our artistic souls inspired by the Noguchi Museum, Jenn and I took the subway into Manhattan, took a short walk and another subway and ended up at 168th Street and Broadway to visit our friends Mike and Stacie. Stacie just had a little girl and they're at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

The baby is cute and is doing fine, as are mom and dad. We stayed for a while, droppped off some gifts, said ooh and ahh, and then came home to Brooklyn, tired, but the good kind of tired. Tired from a life well-lived.

Friday, May 20, 2005

No-Politics Friday

It's raining on this fine Friday morning in New York, and on the way to the subway I had to drop off our overstuffed, dirty white laundry bag at the cleaners, worried all the while that the rain would weigh it down and cost me an extra dollar. I'm cheap like that.

There will be no politics in the blog today. Forgive me, but some of what goes on in my wonderful country makes me so mad. But today I've forcefully infused myself with love (and coffee, grapefruit juice, and scrambled eggs) so it will be nothing but sunshine and roses here, despite the precipitation outside.

There will also be no discussion of how some people are jerks. Today, all the people I saw on the subways and streets of the city were honest and hard working, kind to animals and loyal to friends and family.

Maybe I'm better caustic and sardonic, but I'll try this zip-a-dee-doo-da stuff for a while.

Jenn and I have been kicking around ideas for a day trip on Sunday. We're a bit limited by lack of funds and wheels, but I'm sure we'll figure out someplace nice to visit. We have considered taking the train up to Dia:Beacon (check out diabeacon.org) but the weather report is a little iffy. Ditto Storm King (the name notwithstanding). We have considered going for a hike, possibly at Breakneck Ridge, although we've done that one a number of times. I wouldn't mind checking out the Staten Island Botanical Garden (we've seen the Brooklyn and Bronx gardens a number of times). For something closer to home, we could certainly check out the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City. The point is we're going to do something. Tonight we can get together and discuss our ideas.

As for today, I have one pretty big (and pretty sensitive) feature story to work on, and no definitive plans for after work. And other than the aforementioned Sunday day trip, I'll have to finish up my saving-the-world project this weekend, because I didn't get too far on that the past two weekends. I should make a list of things to do. That always helps.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

What's the Difference?

This was written by Bill Press, who sums up my view of the matter very clearly:

"The Difference Between Newsweek and George W. Bush"

"Newsweek relied on faulty intelligence to write a magazine article. George W. Bush relied on faulty intelligence to start a war which has cost over $200 billion, and which has taken the lives of over 1600 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Here's the difference. Newsweek didn't know its intelligence was phony. And Newsweek apologized."

More Aggressive Behavior

Two incidents from this morning's commute represent New Yorkers acting out the stereotype of rude, overly-aggressive New Yorkers:

1. A local train was waiting at the platform at Union Square (14th Street) just as I got there so I jumped on it without looking to see if an express was arriving on the opposite track. To get to work I take either train to 57th Street. If given the choice I'll take the express, but the difference in time to my destination is barely five minutes, so I don't care much either way.

So I got on the local train, and the doors closed, but as they were closing an express train (Q train) started to pull in across the platform. A guy, mid-twenties, who appeared to be of Latin American ancestry, aggressively grabbed the doors just before they were completely closed and wouldn't let go. He obviously wanted to get on that express train. He was trying to force the doors open to get off the local.

The conductor didn't open the doors immediately, he did that thing that subway conductors do where he opens the doors just a little bit to give people time to get their hands and bags out of the doors so they can close completely. But this guy wasn't having it, he was pounding on the doors, and stuck his face through the gap between the doors and yelled, so everybody on and off the train could hear him, "Yo! Open da doors! I want dat express train!" He was ready to rip the doors apart like a superhero.

After a few awkward moments of this (we normal passengers were giving each other looks that said "What a freak!") the conductor finally relented and opened the doors, and the guy ran over to the express train. Since the conductor left the doors open for a few moments I also went to the express train, only I walked one car to the right, in an attempt to not be in the same car as the freak. We had given each other dirty looks and I didn't want the situation to escalate.

Unfortunately, the freak got in my car and took a seat. I kept an eye on him, just in case. Moments later, the train arrived at the next stop, 34th Street/Herald Square, and the guy got off there! I couldn't believe it. It meant that he did his whole freak act just to save two stops (23rd and 28th Streets) and barely two minutes. He delayed the local train and made a spectacle of himself, and for what? That's solipsism for you. "I'm the only one who exists." Good for you, buddy. Small victories.

Maybe he had to dismantle a ticking time bomb at 34th, but I doubt it.

2. On my walk to the office I stopped at the grocery store to get some "brekkie" as the Brits sometimes call it. I grabbed my food and grapefruit juice and went to one of several working cash registers near the front. A woman was in front of me, fishing in her wallet for change. The cashier was visibly impatient with this, although she shouldn't have been. This grocery store (Associated/Morton Williams on 57th) rarely has the right change to give back to customers. Break a $20 for a four-dollar purchase and they'll press sixteen dirty singles into your hand like it's the most normal thing in the world.

There was nobody behind me in line, and I didn't mind waiting a moment. The cashier (early twenties, also Hispanic) gave the woman her receipt and bag (no "thank you" of course) and then quite loudly yelled "NEXT!" as if I'm not standing right in front of her. I didn't budge. The woman was still getting her stuff together, grocery bag, receipt, wallet, etc., and I was giving her space to do it. These grocery cashiers hand you a pile of bills with a precarious pyramid of change balanced on top of it and expect you to wrap your fist around it and run out the door. In New York you put your cash away before you hit the street. That's what you do. So I waited. This woman wasn't being ridiculous, she was just getting her stuff together like any normal person would.

The cashier wasn't pleased at all. Again, with voiced raised, she ordered me to "JUST COME AROUND" the woman and put my food on the scale. But it would have been a tight, awkward squeeze, and for what? To save five seconds and then be in the woman's way? No. There was still nobody in line behind me.

So I told the cashier "I have time" and I said to the woman "please take your time," and she gave me an appreciative look and left.

The look the cashier gave me was decidedly not appreciative. She huffily rang up my purchase, pushed my changed at me, and neglected to thank me. Fine, screw you too, jerk.

Believe me, I know what it's like to be in a New York hurry. I was running late to work myself, weaving and dodging other pedestrians on 57th Street.

But you've got to pick your spots, and you've got to keep your humanity about you. You lose more than you gain by being an asshole like that, but some people will never think that far.

We are not all like that. Many New Yorkers are kind and patient and generous, despite the poor example set by others. But even after more than a decade of living here, I'm frequently amazed by how obnoxious some people choose to be. May they reap what they sow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Daydreamy

It's Wednesday and I have real work to do, and rest assured I'll do it. But I feel a little spaced out lately, in need of a vacation. I love living in the city, particularly in Brooklyn, but having spent so much time here without a decent vacation (since our honeymoon in the Greek Islands last July) I'm feeling a bit claustrophobic. Boo Hoo, I know.

It sounds funny, but sometimes New York feels like a small town: a bit insular, and a bit inward-looking. I need a trip out of town, or out of country. Ideally, this trip would be free of charge, or perhaps I would be paid for this trip. Here's a partial list of places Jenn and I would like to visit, if only we had the money: Ireland, Latvia, Africa (specifically SA, Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire), Greece (again), Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela. Actually we'd go pretty much anywhere interesting.

Maybe I should look into volunteer vacations. I am willing to sing for my supper. I could dig up a dinosaur bone or help build a rope bridge.

Anyway, I'll try to stay in the moment, but the nice weather is bringing me back to sunny days in far-away places: Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius, Prague, Istanbul, Lusaka, Lubumbashi, Miami, Paris, Los Angeles, Quebec City, Valencia, Helsinki, Stockholm, Negril, anywhere but here, beloved here.

Maybe I should plan a trip out of town this weekend. Maybe just a cheap day-trip. A new horizon, just for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Back to Work

It's Tuesday morning and I'm back at work after a lovely three-day weekend. I don't have too much to report, since I have to keep my top-secret journalistic research product under wraps for now. Just a few items to note:

Newsweek is not responsible for the deaths of rioters in Afghanistan. The people who were looking for an excuse to get violent are responsible. Nor is Newsweek anti-military or anti-American. And please note that Newsweek writer Michael Isikoff is the dude who hounded Clinton relentlessly over Monica Lewinsky, so he's certainly no shill for the left.

Newsweek reported their story to the same standards that any respectable publication would do, doing their best to vet their information with a second and even a third government source. In retrospect, an unnamed Pentagon source turned out to be unreliable and the others chose not to challenge the Koran account at that time, but we still don't know the whole truth here.

It's the government itself that refuses to say anything on the record ("for attribution" is the term we journalists use) and when they do, it speaks in lies ("Saddam sought Uranium from Africa" and so on), half-truths ("intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"), obfuscation, and cliche. So as I see it, readers have a choice between government propaganda (Fox News, NY Post), no news, and our best attempt at real news that, unfortunately, must occasionally rely on unnamed sources who rightly fear retribution from the government (Valerie Plame) if their identities are known. It's a sad state of affairs, and the saddest part now is that once again the focus will be on the bias of the "liberal media" rather than what is really going on at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere.

Here is a good link on the subject.

The Yankees have won nine games in a row, and are back above .500. Go Yankees!

The weather is very nice today. Go Weather!

That's it for now. If I can't say anything nice . . .

Monday, May 16, 2005

Product of Latvia

It's Monday morning and I've got the day off work. I'm going into the city in a bit but wanted to post a quick update before I do.

Several interesting things happened over the weekend, including one journalistic research project that you'll have to read about in the September issue of Esquire, but here's something I've been looking forward to writing about.

For our Saturday night dinner, Jenn and I decided to have fine cheese, charcuterie, and fruit, paired with Belgian beers. We really enjoy getting cheese, charcuterie, and beer at places like Spuyten Duyvil in our neighborhood, but we figured we'd get more for our money by going to a cheese shop and our local beer distributor.

We walked from our home to the Bedford Cheese Shop, arriving just as the place was closing. Fortunately, a manager was kind enough to let us in for our quick purchases. We went kind of nuts at the shop, because they have so many wonderful things. We got three kinds of cheeses, an aged gouda, an Applebee cheddar, and a gruyere. I also got some prosciutto, several types of olives, a tin of Norwegian smoked salmon, and, the best part, a tin of Riga Gold Smoked Sprats.

(A sprat is a small herring. And a herring is a fish.)

My family originally came from Latvia, and I lived in Riga (the capital) in 1993 and 1994. Smoked sprats in sunflower seed oil are one of the country's major products. It's a standard thing to bring back to America from a trip to Latvia (that and a bottle of Rigas Melnais Balzams).

I was very happy to see a several stacks of cans of these wonderful Riga Gold Smoked Sprats (Product of Latvia) by the register.

It's one thing to see these things sold at a shop out in Brighton Beach, but another thing entirely to see them prominently displayed at what is arguably the hippest cheese shop in New York City (that might sound funny unless you've read the recent cheese articles in The New Yorker and The New York Times).

Riga Gold Smoked Sprats come in round 5.6 ounce tins with a black and gold label. And they are delicious, if you like smoked fish (and let me tell you, they pair wonderfully with the cheese and the beer). I might add, a tin of Latvian sprats only costs two bucks.

So, if I may please make an endorsement and a recommendation, go at your earliest convenience to the Bedford Cheese Shop in the Hipster Mini-mall in Williamsburg (first stop in Brooklyn on the L train) and buy a tin of Riga Gold Smoked Sprats. Get some cheese while you're at it. And try my favorite charcuterie, beef breseola (thinly sliced, air-dried beef).

To complete our meal, Jenn and I bought some grapes and a loaf of sesame seed bread, and we went home had a great feast. We shared a bottle of Delirium Tremens Belgian beer. Fantastic. It was the kind of meal my parents would enjoy. It was wonderful. We were living well, and on the cheap (sort of).

I'm going out now, to enjoy my day off. I'll post more later, but just wanted to tell you about the latest Latvian invasion. I hope Riga Gold Smoked Sprats catch on around here. I'll do my part to make them the official sprat of New York City.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Clubbing in NYC

Last night Jenn and I went to the opening of a new restaurant and nightclub called Salon, located on West Street on the far west side of Greenwich Village. The party probably ran pretty late into the night, but, as a married couple with jobs, we were part of the early crew.

It officially started at 9:30 p.m. but we arrived fashionably late at 10:00 p.m. Salon is a two-level place with a, well, salon motif. It has high ceilings, big windows overlooking the Hudson River (and West Side Highway), circular banquettes, and a big, antique clock on the wall that was about an hour slow. I really liked the clock, and I really wanted it to be set to the right time.

The place was just filling up when we arrived. Jenn greeted the owners and introduced me, and then we went upstairs and got some drinks. At first we sat down in a big banquette with a view of the very talented swing band that was playing. It was quite comfortable and my martini was excellent (I think it was Finlandia vodka but I didn't specify). We were living pretty large in our fancy V.I.P. booth and did our best celebrity act, but then we decided not to monopolize a booth that could easily accomodate six people, so we moved to the bar, where we found two barstools waiting for us.

The band was playing really nice swing/big band music, and I couldn't believe that the crowd didn't give them a big round of applause when they finished their first set, so I applauded enthusiastically, and my enthusiasm quickly spread to others, and finally they got a decent round of applause, thanks to me. No, I wasn't drunk.

Jenn and I stayed at the bar for a few minutes and checked out the parade of beautiful people filing past us. All along the bar were young women wearing strappy tank tops and behind them were men with collared shirts. Jenn and I had fun talking about people for a while, and then we decided to hit the road and get on the L-train before they began construction work at 11:00 p.m.

So we spent about 45 minutes in the bar, had a couple of drinks, and got a glimpse of fabulous and fashionable New York (the early crew, anyway). Then we went home and caught the last few minutes of the Daily Show (the moment of Zen).

Today is Friday, and I am at work. We've got a couple of things to do to wrap up the August issue. This weekend I've got to work on a freelance story, as well as do my normal, save-the-world kind of stuff.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Fighting Mowhawks

It seems like the Mohawk hairstyle is back, along with the Faux-hawk. I've seen several solid examples of both in New York City over the past couple of weeks. Trend spotted.

It's another very pleasant spring day in New York. We at Esquire are wrapping up our August issue this week. So much for summer. It was good while it lasted. I wish the weather was nice like this all year long, but then I probably wouldn't appreciate it as much.

I had a good time at black belt class last night. It was a tough workout. We did some "pad work" at the end that succeeded in wearing me out in just a few minutes. You take two kicking pads, and, working with a partner, hold them in different positions so your partner can try different techniques. Then you switch.

We were doing three techniques: low leg kicks, knee kicks, and elbow strikes.

For the low leg kicks, one person would hold the pads low, one over the side of each thigh, while the opponent threw a right and left low roundhouse kick.

While not very glamourous, low leg kicks are one of the most effective fighting techniques, because they have tremendous power, can be thrown from a medium distance, and are difficult to block. Getting out of the way is really the only protection, and is easier said than done.

For the knee kicks, the pad holder would cross the pads over each other (to make a doubly thick cushion) and hold them at chest level, while the opponent would throw a right and left knee kick while grabbing the opposite shoulder each time. Knee kicks are very common in Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing). Knee kicks are a powerful technique for close-range fighting, and can be darn nasty.

For the roundhouse elbow strikes, the pad holder would hold the pads a bit higher while his or her opponent threw right and left elbow strikes, also a strong technique for close range fighting. An elbow to the temple or chin can be a knockout blow.

I wasn't holding the pad very well and took a hard elbow to my left eye. My opponent's elbow hit the pad, but then the pad smashed me in the face. Worse was that it was my fault for not holding the pad right.

One good thing about learning a martial art: The lessons tend to really stick with you. I can almost guarantee that I'll hold the pads properly in the future.

Last night at the dojo was another example of clean sweating. For whatever reason the air conditioning at the office wasn't working right yesterday, so I felt sweaty and disgusting just from being in the office. After an hour and a half of karate, however, I felt more sweaty and less disgusting. I actually felt cleaner than I had been before. Of course I did take a shower, but it was a very cleansing workout, in its way.

Today is Thursday. If there's no work for me to do there's a good chance I won't be in the office tomorrow. Tonight Jenn and I have tentative plans to go to the grand opening of a trendy nightclub called Salon in the Meatpacking District (the second coolest New York City neighborhood name after Hell's Kitchen).

Two words can describe our attraction to tonight's fancy, celebrity-studded event: open bar. Combine that with the words low-level magazine worker and you've got a potent cocktail.

We might skip it out of sheer laziness, but if we go, I'll provide a full report right here on New York City Diary.

My name is Victor Ozols. You hear that, Google?

I'll speak to you later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Keeping On

It's Wednesday and the weather in New York City is beautiful. It's a perfect spring day. I'm at work but that's okay.

It's very busy here so I really can't write much at the moment. Just wanted to check in.

The Yankees have won four straight. Perhaps they are out of their slump.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Rat Circus

It is Monday night. The Yankees have won, and I turned off the Pacers-Pistons game in the third quarter so I could write this.

I left work at 6:30 p.m. and went to the dojo for a 7:00 p.m. karate class. The class was excellent. Lots of sweat and energy, exactly unlike sitting at a desk, no matter how hard I'm Lexis-Nexising.

After the karate class ended I got cleaned up and walked to the nearest subway, which is the F train at 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue. Now is the time we talk about the rats of New York.

We in New York City enjoy the company of a type of rat known as the Norway Rat (Rattus Norvegicus, for you fans of Latin or Black Flag). Here's a good description.

The New York neighborhood known as Chelsea is, for some reason, Rat Central of New York City. This is both from rat reports published in The New York Times and my own research over ten years.

The rattiest Subway station is definitely the 23rd Street F-train station, particularly the downtown platform. Super-specifically, the south end of the downtown platform, right by the tunnel entrance, where they keep bags of trash waiting to be picked up.

It's also where I have to stand and wait for the F train to be well-positioned to meet my connection to the L-train, one stop away at 14th Street. Real New Yorkers will understand that one. Rat or no rat, nobody wants to miss the connection.

But tonight, as I was coming home from karate, there was a Rat Circus on the south end of the downtown 23rd Street platform. I almost always see rats when I wait for the F train there (actually, I think I can safely say always) but tonight was the absolute rattiest it's ever been. It was, and I mean this literally, filthy with rats.

It's one thing to see a rat down by the subway tracks. That's nothing. But rats were swarming all over these bags of garbage on the platform level. They were squirming and crawling all over each other to get to the garbage.

There are two dirty blue sheet metal dumpster things, like big lockers that the workers put garbage in while it waits for the "trash train" to pick it up. More on the trash train another time, but in a word, you don't ever want to see the trash train.

Anyway, rats always find their way into these trash lockers, but worse, there are almost always bags of trash next to and on top of these lockers, and those trash bags are always crawling with rats.

One of the symbols of New York City should be a half-full black plastic trash bag that's moving and wriggling from the inside. For me it's more of a symbol of Chelsea, for I live in clean, sanitary, rat-free Brooklyn (yeah right). Actually I had a rat incident here once that I don't want to talk about right now.

The most amazing thing about tonight's Rat Circus was that I witnessed several big (one-pound plus) rats scaling the corners of these big metal trash lockers to get to the trash bags up on top. I couldn't believe how adept at climbing these rats were.

They were crawling into the bag that had been tossed on top of the garbage locker. There were about six or eight rats that I could see at any one time (I was standing about ten feet away, disgusted but also a bit fascinated, obviously) and I imagine there were at least three more inside the trash bags. Ugh! Grey and brown and whiskery and nodding all the time and squeaking and crawling over each other with their scaly tails.

The big rats certainly had priority over the smaller ones. The big rats would literally walk right over the small ones to get at the trash. One big rat almost knocked the smaller one off the side of the garbage locker to the platform about five feet below. I was hoping he would fall but he hung on, the rat-faced rat.

Rats are absolutely vile for so many reasons.

In Africa, when you go on a game safari, the guides usually can't guarantee you'll see lions. Well, I can most certainly guarantee you'll see rats at the 23rd Street F-train station in New York City. Rat safari!

One time, when I was working as a freelance fact checker at Forbes, which is on Fifth Avenue in the Village right above Washington Square Park, I saw an art student girl with a pet rat out on the sidewalk in front of the school in the place art students smoke cigarettes (the art school was next door to Forbes).

She let the rat crawl all over her, through her hair, along her shoulders. She was giving the rat little kisses. I almost got ill. I wanted to tell her "Congratulations. You have successfully differentiated yourself from others. Perhaps you are a true artist. A contrarian. You have become completely disgusting."

But I didn't say these things, though I do remember actually having a physical gag reflex.

I'll try to wrap up this rat tale but there's one more thing. I was standing there watching rats eat garbage on the F-train platform at 23rd Street, waiting for the where-is-that-f**king train, and the platform was getting crowded.

A guy, white guy, mid 50's, kind of bumbles past me, not paying much attention, and goes over to the nearer of the two garbage lockers and starts to lean against it, and I immediately went up to him and said "no, you don't want to lean against that, it's a rat circus!"

This is all a true story, by the way.

There were two trash lockers. The farthest locker had the trash (and rat party) on top of it, and the closer one just had internal rats and rats around the base, but not on top. He was leaning on the closer one, but still, as soon as he turned his head to see where I was gesturing he said "oh" and moved away from Rat Nation. We both kind of shared a New York look as we marveled at the rats. Then he said "I guess I should thank you. Thank you."

I said "You're welcome." We wished each other good nights. It was about 8:30 p.m. The train came and we both got on. He was a Jewish guy, or at least he was wearing a yarmulke.

I transferred to the L train at 14th and came home to Brooklyn. Beautiful, clean, rat-free Brooklyn.

Running Around

It's Monday morning, and I'm at my desk at Esquire, sipping some grapefruit juice, reflecting on the weekend. It was a pretty New Yorkey weekend for me, so I'll just give a quick rundown on what happened since Saturday's strong beer posting.

First off, an update on the strongest beer in the world: it's even better the second and third time you drink it. The bottle lasted through the whole weekend, and I finished it off last night. Moderation is the name of the game when you're drinking Utopias beer, especially since it's a hundred bucks a bottle (or free).

On Saturday afternoon I went to a very good kumite class at 4:00 p.m. Several talented fighters were present and we had some very competitive (and rough) fights. I walked out of the dojo feeling great, if a bit beaten up. My feet, shins, and forearms are bruised.

On Saturday night, Jenn went out to dinner with her friends, to celebrate Joy's birthday. I hung out at home and it was fine, since I was nursing my minor wounds. I finished reading Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis. It was very good.

Sunday was a day of running around. I took the subway in and out of Manhattan a total of three times. It's good to have an unlimited ride Metrocard.

In the morning I made a bagel run to David's on First and 14th. A very quick round trip, all in the service of bagel excellence.

Later in the afternoon I convinced Jenn to come into the city with me for a walk. The weather was cool with periods of sunshine. Not bad. We started out at West Fourth Street in the Village.

Our first stop was Porto Rico on Bleecker Street to buy coffee beans. From there we walked all the way downtown to City Hall Park, where we sat on a bench and looked at the pretty fountain for a few minutes. Then we took the subway home. When I got home I remembered that my second cousin Amity Gaige was having a reading from her new book at KGB Bar on East Fourth Street.

After resting a few moments, Jenn and I left the house again and went into Manhattan. We arrived at 7:05 p.m., said hi to Amity, her sister and mom, and my cousin Sarma. We enjoyed the reading. Amity read from her first novel, O My Darling. Since this blog will now show up when people search that book or her name, I'd like to wholeheartedly endorse this engaging and enjoyable novel about the intricacies of relationships and our relation with past memories. I only just got a copy of the book but I'm deeply engrossed in it already. I was reading it on the subway just this morning.

For more information on Amity's book, go here.

Jenn and I left KGB after Amity's reading and came home. We were pretty beat from running all over the city, so we tidied the house a bit and went to bed.

Now it's Monday, and I need to get started on my Esquire stuff. We're wrapping up the July issue now and things are getting pretty busy. I'll try to write something more heartfelt tonight after work. For now just consider this a bare-bones update on my life in New York.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Strongest Beer In The World

One of the editors at Esquire very kindly gave me a bottle of Sam Adams Utopias beer recently. Yesterday was Friday, so when Jenn and I got home from work we decided to live it up a little and drink some of the official "Strongest Beer in the World."

Samuel Adams Utopias is a complex, uncarbonated beer with a 25 percent alcohol content. Most beer is between five percent and nine percent alcohol. Utopias is more comparable to a port wine or a whiskey than a beer in terms of texture and strength.

It's brewed like a beer, using Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittlefruh, and Tettnang Tettnanger hops (they are known as "Noble hops"), and Crystal Malt and Two-Row Moravian and Bamberg Smoked Malts. Then it's aged in oak barrels that had originally been used to make bourbon.

Yes, I am getting this from the press release that came with the bottle but I found it interesting and I like knowing the actual names of the hops and malt.

The beer is brewed in limited quantities, and it comes in a really cool-looking 24-ounce bottle that's shaped like a copper brew kettle. You can see a picture of it here.

I chilled the bottle a little bit (it's supposed to be served at room temperature) and poured out small servings in the snifter that came with the bottle and a wine glass and we had a toast to the strongest beer in the world and to us drinking it.

I guess it's a pretty obvious statement, but that beer is really strong. It had a thick consistency and a bittersweet taste with hints of fruit. The press release quotes Spirit Journal in saying that Utopias has "a semisweet aroma of fruit and honey with tastes of toffee, molasses and dark coffee." I would agree with that, and I would add that I also tasted bananas.

I took one sip that was a little too big, a regular beer sip, and it made me shudder. Whoof, that's a strong beast of a beer.

It's also a very delicious and interesting beer, but it's hard to drink too much of it. It's supposed to be served in two-ounce servings. Jenn and I enjoyed it but after a couple of small glasses we were both loopy and I closed the bottle (it's resealable) and put it in the fridge for later. It's definitely a sipping beer, I would call it unchuggable but maybe there's somebody out there who could do it, but not me.

It's kind of confusing because it exists in an alcohol netherworld, somewhere between beer, wine, and liquor. It has properties of all three, but in the end it's a beer. It's hard to wrap your mind around, until you've had a glass of it. Then it's easier.

I'll admit I am slightly hung over from it. It's a very mild hangover, but it's there.

Anyway, I hereby give my seal of approval to Sam Adams Utopias beer. Just know what you're getting into. Also please know that each 24-ounce bottle costs $100. I don't know if that makes it the most expensive beer in the world, but it's up there.

It's now 1:07 p.m. on Saturday and I'm at home. Jenn is out at a brunch with some friends, and she has a birthday dinner to attend tonight. I'll be on my own, probably hanging around at home trying to do productive things (see yesterday's post). This afternoon I'll go to kumite class at 4:00 p.m. and might possibly also get a haircut.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I Should Be Working Now

But instead, an update, however brief. It's Friday, and this pleases me. Last night I closed a big story I'd been working on, and while I do have other work to do, I'm sort of taking a breather today.

After work last night I went to senior kata class, which was great as usual. I needed a workout, and I got it.

The weather in New York today is overcast and cool. We're all wondering where the spring has gone. The Yankees are in last place in their division, despite the fact that I saw Randy Johnson in the grocery store last week. Perhaps he bought the wrong yogurt. In other sports news (which you will rarely get on this blog), the Celtics beat the Pacers in the NBA playoffs last night, making their series even at three games apiece. It was a good fourth quarter and overtime (which is all I watched). I would prefer the Pacers won, because I like Reggie Miller, despite his Knick-killing pedigree. Even though I only watched a few minutes of the game it was very engaging. With nine seconds left on the clock in overtime, Jenn went downstairs to grind coffee, making her even less of a sports fan than me, and that's setting the bar pretty low.

Last night I felt like I was getting sick again, so I took it easy and read for a while and then went to sleep. I'm reading an interesting collection of short stories by a Russian-Jewish emigree from Latvia named David Bezmozgis, who lives in Canada. The name of the book is "Natasha and other stories." He doesn't talk about Riga as much as I would like, but then he doesn't remember Riga as well as I do, probably, since he left when he was about seven, and I lived there in my twenties. It's been a long time for both of us, though. Anyway, it's a fine book. My friend Dave, who also lives in Canada, gave me the book when we had drinks at Kettle Of Fish last Saturday night.

I feel better today, and my weekend plans include writing, cleaning, and saving America. In other words, the usual.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Delinquent

Please forgive me, dear reader(s), for I haven't posted since my brief update on Monday. Today is Thursday, May 5, and I'm sitting at my desk at home in the early morning (it's 8:45 a.m.). Sunlight is streaming into the room from my one eastern-facing window, and I'm drinking my second cup of freshly-brewed (by Jenn) coffee.

The New York news of the morning is that two improvised grenades exploded in front of the building that houses the British consulate very early this morning. Nobody was hurt. I don't know what to say about it. I'm glad nobody was hurt, and disturbed that explosive devices are being detonated in New York. My approach to the news (and I'm probably not alone among New Yorkers) since September 11 is one of wariness.

When I wake up in the morning and listen to the news headlines on the radio I'm always relieved that nothing especially tragic happened in the city since I went to bed. When I get to work and turn on my work computer and read the Times, I'm a bit relieved nothing tragic happened during my commute. Ditto when I come back from lunch. That's how it is now.

Anyway, I've been busy this week at Esquire. We are working on the July issue. In addition to that I have several freelance writing ideas I'd like to work on but it's been tough finding the time. You know the deal.

Last night I went to the dojo and helped out judging at an inter-dojo tournament we had. I hadn't been to karate since the previous Wednesday because of my out-of-town guest. It was fun, although for me it was work. I was busy adding up judges' scores for the kata competition. Everybody did well.

(Somebody just buzzed my buzzer. I went out to the front door but nobody was there. It might have been a meter reader or FedEx guy. Some people will buzz every buzzer in a building until they get some attention. Others buzz once and then immediately flee.)

The week has gone by quickly. I can't believe it's already Thursday. The weather has been generally sunny and clear but also rather cool. I hope it's nice this weekend because I feel like doing something outdoorsy, though I don't know what.

In other news, I've had a cell phone for almost two weeks now, and I must say I like the thing. I hardly ever use it, but I find it very convenient when I do. I also think it's a handsome-looking phone. It's a Nokia 3120.

I haven't had any celebrity sightings since Randy Johnson last week.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Weekend Update

I've got a lot of work to do today, so here is a very brief update on what's been going on in the city since my last post on Thursday.

John arrived Thursday night, and Marty came over, and we hung out and then had dinner at an Indian restaurant on North 6th Street in Williamsburg. It was a good dinner, the Indian breads were especially tastey.

I worked on Friday and John hung around the house, playing his guitar. On Friday night we ended up doing a lot of running around, including eating a very good Polish dinner on Bedford Avenue, and going to the bars Spike Hill (in Williamsburg) and The Raven (in the East Village). The highlight/lowlight of The Raven was that some drunk guy went psycho outside, started a brief fight with someone else, and then stripped down to his boxer shorts for reasons that are beyond me. He was raging in the night. John and I went home.

During the day on Saturday John and I went into Manhattan and ran some errands. On Saturday night we had dinner at DuMont and then met our old friend Dave at the West Fourth Street subway station. Then we three went to Kettle Of Fish for some drinks and conversation.

John left early on Sunday, and I went to Prospect Park. Jenn was on her way back to New York from her vacation in Arizona. It was the Cherry Blossom Festival in Prospect Park, known as Sakura Matsuri, and I went to see a Japanese play called "The Way of Samurai, Samurai Sword Soul" that was part of the festivities. The play involved lots of martial arts and samurai sword demonstrations, and several of the performers are friends of mine from karate.

The weather on Sunday was beautiful, and the cherry blossoms were a brilliant pink. The play was very good and attracted an enthusiastic audience of several thousand. After the play I talked with my friend Toru and congratulated him on an excellent performance.

Since it was just me I didn't feel like hanging around in the park, I went home and scrubbed the upstairs bathroom. It was good to at least accomplish that. Jenn came home in the evening and it was good to see her. Unfortunately I was finishing up a freelance story so we didn't get to catch up as much as I would have liked, but I'm done with the story now so tonight perhaps we can have some quality time.

As for now, I've got to spend my quality time earning money to pay the bills.