New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Where Worlds Collide: String Theory

It's Thursday evening, 9:45 p.m. I'm at home in Brooklyn, waiting for Jenn to get home from a dinner with friends at Capsouto Freres.

I left work at about 6:30 p.m. I was headed to an art opening for an artist friend of mine from karate. The opening was on 45th Street and Fifth Avenue and I was at 57th and Broadway so I figured instead of taking the subway I'd just have an evening stroll. It was pretty warm and muggy outside but I didn't mind. I wasn't in any particular hurry.

It's interesting walking through midtown Manhattan during the evening rush. It's a sea of humanity, so many different faces for your mind to process. Of course they blend together but you still notice certain people.

(For example, today I walked past Jessica Alba in the lobby of my building. She might have been meeting with Marie Claire magazine. She was certainly more striking than the people she was walking with, I noticed her before I figured out who she was. Of course Jenn is much prettier.)

So I was walking down Broadway and I figured I'd hang a left at 45th and walk over to Fifth Avenue. At the corner of 53rd and Broadway I saw my friend Patrick Horan standing by the building where he works. He was waiting for a woman. The woman was late.

We stood there and chatted for ten minutes or so. Patrick's an interesting guy. He just finished producing and acting in a film short called something like Cat Hates Dog or Cat Fights Dog.

We traded phone numbers and promised to get together some time this summer and I walked on to the art opening. It was held in an advertising design studio called R!ot Manhattan, where my black belt artist friend, Riva Weinstein, works sometimes.

Her show was entitled Where Worlds Collide: String Theory. Riva uses reclaimed materials, in this case, string and floor tiles from her apartment that were ruined (for their original use) after a flood.

She turns the tiles so the bottom part is facing outwards and wraps string around them in fascinating ways, creating intricate designs, both measured and chaotic, that include matrixes and long tails, or fringes and woven designs, or all of those.

It's hard to figure out what exactly it is that makes the work so engaging, but maybe it's the sensation of infinity. I spent an hour gazing at the collection, as well as some of her beautiful jewelry creations.

I also had one Red Stripe, one Heineken, two barbecued shrimp with peppers on skewers, one roast beef wrapped around asparagus skewer, and two chicken and vegetables on skewers. The food was wonderful, and the beers weren't bad either. They were served in a tub of ice, which is a beautiful thing, the urban version of a cold rushing mountain stream.

Art shows are fun, especially if you like the art and the artist. This show wasn't pretentious at all, everybody there was really cool and friendly, and I had several very pleasant conversations.

I said goodnight and congratulations to Riva and then took the subway home to Brooklyn (the F train from 42nd and Sixth, Bryant Park, to the L at Union Square).

Now I'm home and I'm going to sketch out an outline for a book idea I got last night.

Time's Up

I think Time magazine chickened out by agreeing to surrender Matthew Cooper's notes to the government, presumably identifying their sources who leaked the identity of undercover agent Valerie Plame.

That leaves Judith Miller of The New York Times all alone in facing a prison term for sticking to her guns and not revealing her sources. And she didn't even write a story about it.

The man who "heroically" identified Plame as a CIA operative for the first time was Robert Novak, who appears not to be in any jeopardy at all. Not coincidentally, Novak is symathetic to conservative positions in his reporting and commentary.

Somebody in the government, only three civilians and their editors know who, leaked Plame's identity as payback for a critical editorial that Joseph Wilson IV (Plame's husband) wrote about Bush's claims in his State of the Union address that Iraq sought yellowcake uranium from Africa.

Those Yellowcake claims have since proven to be nonsense, and evidence indicates that the government knew they were nonsense at the time as well. It was just another example of Bush's fear-mongering to get people to support his war: support me, or you will be nuked.

Why did Time cave? Nobody knows for sure. I guess they wanted to avoid having to pay huge fines to the government, which would hurt their company's bottom line. That wouldn't be in the best interests of the shareholders.

But damaging the credibility of your news magazine also isn't in the interest of shareholders. I wonder if that was any consideration.

Perhaps they think by wimping out in this situation they'll be rewarded with better access to the administration. In Latin it's called *quid pro quo.*

The saddest irony is that, for being a member of the "liberal media," Judith Miller may have helped the Bush administration more than anyone else. As the Bushes kept beating the drums about WMDs in the runup to the war (remember WMDs, and the imminent threat to the United States?) she reported uncritically about them, adding credence to the assertions. And now she's facing prison.

When Deep Throat came forward and revealed his identity a couple of weeks ago, it reinforced the need for anonymous sources, especially when dealing with a mendacious government. Did you see Bush's speech on Tuesday night? He continues to push the lie that the Iraq war is payback to Saddam for 9/11.

I guess that since Bush abandoned the truth so long ago he now has to target the people in charge of pursuing it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bon Vonage!

Jenn and I are finished with copper telephone wires as far as our home phones are concerned. We are fully on the Vonage VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system now.

It took a couple of weeks for our former carriers (Verizon for local and AT&T for long distance) to release our wonderful 718 telephone number, but yesterday it finally happened. Call the crib, same number, same 'hood. It's all good.

Barring circumstances unforseen, we are completely finished with the Old Guard of telecom services. And good riddance to them. We paid so much money (about $140 a month, all told) for phone service that it's a pleasure to give them the old kiss-off. We'll now be paying $25 a month for unlimited calls in the USA and Canada. If we need to call somewhere else, we'll figure it out somehow, or else just send an email.

The sound quality is basically the same as it was before. If there is a difference it is negligable. Other than where you plug your phone in, there's no difference at all (except you don't have to dial a 1 in front of the area code, unless you want to).

The way it works is you get a router (in our case a new router to replace our existing router) that you use to connect your cable modem to both your computer(s) and your phones. It only took me a few minutes to plug the router in, and most of that time was spent clearing junk out of the way and moving the bookshelf to get to a wall outlet.

Now we have to register with 911, so they know where we are located in case of an emergency. And that's it!

I know that we are the guinea pigs for a lot of you who are considering switching your phones over to VoIP, so I can tell you that so far we are pretty happy with it. No snags yet. We have everything we had before (voicemail, etc.) and more (conference calling) for one cheap price. Vonage seems to be one of the lowest priced options, certainly cheaper than Time Warner Cable, as if it's a shock to anyone that Time Warner Cable's products and services are expensive.

Saving money is fun.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Molyvos

Last night Jenn and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary by having dinner at a Greek restaurant called Molyvos, located at 871 Seventh Avenue, which is between 55th Street and 56th Street, just south of Carnegie Hall.

We chose Molyvos because Greek food would remind us of our wonderful honeymoon in Greece. (After a fun day in Athens we spent a week in the Cycladic Islands, specifically Mykonos and Santorini.)

It kind of pains me to write this, because I really wanted everything to be perfect, but Molyvos was a disappointment.

While the food was pretty good, and the atmosphere romantic and pleasant, the service was just so inept that it ultimately spoiled the experience for us.

Yes, we had a nice time with each other, but after the first ten minutes or so I couldn't help but wonder what was wrong with our serving staff. Had they never eaten at a restaurant themselves? Did they have a clue as to how they would like to be served if the tables were turned?

The answer is no.

The Maitre D was really the only person who had any idea about service, but unfortunately he was busy attending to other customers to take care of us full time.

Here's how it went down, so you can be the judge.

Jenn and I arrived five minutes early for our 6:30 p.m. reservation. When I personally dropped by the restaurant more than a week earlier for a reservation, I requested a 7:00 p.m. reservation, but was told that only 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. were available. I took a 6:30 p.m.

Since it was early and we weren't really famished yet we started out with cocktails. Jenn got an "Aphrodite" which was very good, and I ordered a Greek Alfa beer, which was also pretty good. We sat there and enjoyed our drinks as 6:45 p.m. turned to 7:00 p.m., which soon became 7:15 p.m. We had a nice corner table, but the entire row of tables along our wall was completely empty.

So, Molyvos, what happened to the hordes of people who booked the 7:00 p.m. slot? You know, the 7:00 p.m. reservation you wouldn't give me, even though I made the reservation over a week ago?

Strike one, but moving on . . .

We had a main waiter, I think, but it could have been one of two people, and we had a number of guys in charge of busing tables and filling water glasses. They soon became annoying.

We made it clear that we would take our time enjoying our drinks, and then we would order dinner and wine. But they kept hovering over us, interrupting our conversation to fill our water glasses after every sip, and asking us if we're ready to order. First one guy would ask us, I would tell him to give us time ("No problem, no problem.") and then another guy would come by with the same question.

Well, when the message finally sunk in that we wanted to enjoy our drinks in peace, we were ready to order. But where was the waiter? We had empty cocktail glasses on the table, but nobody seemed to notice. It was a situation where when you want to be left alone you are constantly harassed, and when you actually need something, there is nobody to be found.

Finally I was able to flag a waiter, who asked us if we wanted two more drinks. No, we are ready to order. He never mentioned anything about specials, so I assumed there weren't any, or perhaps they were on the menu and I missed them.

In any case, I ordered for us a baby octopus appetizer. For our entrees, Jenn selected the halibut, while I had the moussaka, which is like a Greek shepherd's pie, with cheese and ground lamb.

Then I asked about the wine list, but our waiter had no clue at all. I wanted a Hatzimihalis, which is a wine I remembered from our trip. I eventually found it myself on the wine list and ordered it.

After one minute (it might have been thirty seconds) a food runner bolted out of the kitchen and tossed a plate of octopus on our table, in front of Jenn, as if that were her entree.

Okay, now I know that many of these dishes are pre-made, to cater to the pre-theater (in this case pre-Carnegie Hall) dinner rush.

A good restaurant will ask you as you are seated if you are going to a show, because they will adjust the service accordingly, but nobody asked us.

But at least leave us with the illusion that there is some preparation involved in the dishes before you rush it out of the kitchen. And for it to arrive before the wine? Just unbelievable.

We were confused at first. Could this really be our appetizer that we just ordered moments ago? I told the guy "we haven't even gotten our wine yet." He was confused too. Did we want him to go back in the kitchen and wait and then come back out after we'd gotten our wine?

I just wanted him to get an idea about what service in a restaurant of this supposed caliber (and price range) is supposed to be like. He put the octopus on the table and left.

After a few minutes the wine arrived. The pourer dribbled a few drops on the tablecloth as he poured my sampler sip, but I don't really care about that. It's just that I can't help compare it to the way other restaurants pour wine, with a wine towel wrapped around the neck of the bottle to avoid exactly that.

Anyway, that's strike two (and possibly strike three), but moving on . . .

The wine was good, and the octopus was also pretty tasty. We ate lots of octopus in Greece and have been fans of Greek-style octopus ever since.

We finished the octopus, and the entrees arrived. They were quite good. I think Jenn's halibut was tastier than my moussaka, but I don't blame Molyvos for that. I enjoyed it but probably wouldn't order it again. It was just too "rich," as they say.

But, bottom line, the food was pretty good. No strikes there.

Since we were celebrating our anniversary, we decided to order dessert, which we normally wouldn't do. We were interested in the baklava and the "ravani," which is a toasted almond vanilla cake. It was the Maitre D who came over to take our dessert order.

When we asked for the baklava and the ravani, he asked if we wanted the special, which was a three-dessert sampler of baklava, ravani, and bougatsa, which is phyllo filled with semolina custard.

My response: there are specials? I didn't know there were specials. I'm just finding out now, at dessert, that there are specials?

Strike . . . oh, forget about the strikes. Plenty of strikes.

We ordered the sampler, and I ordered a Metaxa Greek brandy. The desserts and brandy arrived and were pretty good. It seemed like they put an especially small amount of brandy in my snifter (and yes, I do understand how brandy works) but Jenn told me a secret from her days working in a nice restaurant. If you turn the brandy snifter completely on its side the brandy should come up almost level with the lip of the glass. I tried it, and it didn't. A very light pour. Strike . . . whatever.

We finished up and wanted to leave. I asked for the check, and the waiter (or whoever) came by and literally dropped it from a distance of a few inches above the table, face up, right between us. It came in a leather sleeve, but not a book, so that anybody who even glanced at it could see the amount.

Now, this was a special occasion, and I was going to pay, but I wanted to be discreet about it, and not let Jenn see the amount of the check. (Take a look at the menu online and you can take a guess at the amount.)

I put my card in it, he took the check and card and quickly brought it back for me to tip and sign.

I tipped a lot more than they deserved, and left the check, face down, on the table.

Before we even left the table (and we were not lingering) the waiter (or whoever) came and took the signed check. The first thing he did was glance at the tip amount. Wouldn't it be nice to leave it until I had left the table? Clueless and rude.

We used the restrooms and left the restaurant. I liked the quality of the paper towels in the men's room.

So that was it. We walked to the subway and took it home to Brooklyn, where Jenn and I exchanged cards and gifts and reflected on our year of marriage. It's been wonderful, great, excellent. And one bum meal won't change that.

But considering how excited I was to celebrate our anniversary there, I have to say that Molyvos was a disappointment.

Let me offer an comparison: As a wedding gift, my best man John Shaw gave us a $200 gift certificate to Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo.

Babbo is only slightly more expensive than Molyvos, but in terms of service, it's the difference between night and day. They don't hover over you, they don't harass you, but when you need something, they are there. We would go back to Babbo in a heartbeat. Even though it is expensive, it is worth the money.

Molyvos just didn't seem to care for repeat business. Maybe they don't need to. Perhaps they have the attitude of so many "Midtown" restaurants (and I do mean Midtown in a derogatory way) that just cater to tourists and business people passing through. I was hoping Molyvos wouldn't be like that. My own magazine (Esquire) had given Molyvos a good review a few years ago. Either John Mariani got special treatment, or Molyvos has gone downhill since then.

Final word: we will not be dining at Molyvos again.

If you are in New York City and you want Greek food, I give you the following options:

1. Visit Astoria, Queens, and enjoy any one of dozens of excellent, and authentic, Greek restaurants. Esperides, Karyatis, Elia's Corner. They're all good.

2. Check out Pylos on East Seventh Street in Manhattan. It's fantastic.

Molyvos, I had such high hopes for you, and you let me down.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Happy First Anniversary, Jenn and Victor!

I should have blogged over the weekend but never quite got around to it. We had a bunch of stuff going on, all good.

On Friday night Jenn and I greeted friends old and new at Spuyten Duyvil to celebrate the summer solstice. We had a solid turnout and everybody had a great time. It was a pleasure to see Nicole, Ted, Rob, Bonnie, Seth, Sam, Elaine, Jason, Jordan, Joy, Cindy, Marty, Carolyn, and so many other fine people.

It was a very pleasant summer night in Brooklyn and the lush garden was a beautiful place to sip our fine beers, sample artisinal cheeses and charcuterie, and catch up on what's been going on in our lives. Several of our friends are writing or have recently finished writing books. They are an inspiration to us all.

On Saturday Jenn and I slept late, owing to the festivities of Friday night. I was feeling a bit sluggish but the summer heat actually made me feel better. I sweated out whatever toxins (and bad humors) I had absorbed the previous evening. As is typical for Saturdays I went to kumite class at 4:00 p.m.

The class began with a brief meeting among those who regularly fight on Saturdays. Apparently the Saturday kumite class has a reputation of being an especially rough, full-contact class, and lower belts and people with less experience were feeling intimidated about showing up. We don't want anyone to feel unwelcome, but at the same time we don't want to ratchet down the competition when it's between two experienced fighters.

So basically we agreed to encourage lower belts to attend the class and to try especially hard to help them bring their fighting to a higher level (and also not hit them so hard).

On Saturday night Jenn and I went out to a sushi restaurant in the West Village called Sakura Hana. We were there to celebrate our dear friend Marty's birthday, along with about eight other well-wishers. We enjoyed excellent sushi, sashimi, and dry sake. We had pooled our money and bought Marty an iPod (the kind with the maximum amount of storage space). I think he liked it. After dinner we all went to Robin and Sonya's apartment across the street (on the corner of Hudson and Jane, to be specific) and hung out a bit.

Jenn and I left early, at around 11:00 p.m., because she had to be ready and refreshed to be interviewed on MSNBC the next morning (Sunday morning). She had helped write the cover story in Newsweek on the topic of identity theft, and she was going to offer a brief summary and suggestions on how not to become a victim yourself.

She did wonderfully in the interview. She was well-spoken and looked gorgeous. I was very proud of her. As she was coming back home (she had a Towncar, naturally), I was leaving (to take the subway) for karate. I took two classes and came home, with bagels and lox spread, at about 2:00 p.m.

It was hot all weekend. Really hot, and humid. Hot town, summer in the city hot. We felt like we had no energy, but I was able to convince Jenn to come out to McCarren Park with me on Sunday afternoon to toss the Frisbee around. We only got a few tosses in before we wilted in the heat, but there was also some kind of craft fair going on in the park, and several dozen vendors had tents set up to sell their baubles, jewelry, dresses, hats, framed prints, things of that nature. We browsed but didn't buy.

That evening (Sunday evening) Jenn and I decided to start celebrating our wedding anniversary, which is today. We went out to dinner at Plan Eat Thailand, since we have so many fond memories of the place. We split a Long Island Duck over mixed greens appetizer, and Jenn got the salmon teriyaki entree while I got chicken. We split a small bottle of sake, and everything was great.

Today is June 27, and it is our official one year anniversary. The year has gone by quickly, and it has been wonderful. We are both working today but we have a 6:30 p.m. dinner reservation at Molyvos, a Greek restaurant on Seventh Avenue near Carnegie Hall. Since we went to Greece for our honeymoon it seemed appropriate to celebrate our anniversary at a Greek restaurant. It's going to be spectacular. I can hardly wait.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Oh No You Dont!

I had to wake up extra early today so I could be at St. Vincent's Midtown Hospital for an 8:15 a.m. appointment. I was having a pain in my left ear and thought I might have an ear infection, so I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician. (I used email to schedule it, which to my mind is the best way to communicate with your doctor, other than face-to-face.)

I would have been satisfied with something next week, but he emailed back that we'd better take a look at it sooner, in case it got worse over the weekend. So Friday morning, 8:15 was it. I left the house in the wee hours and, after two subways and a walk to West 51st Street, I was there, right on time.

I approached the receptionist, waited for her to recognize me (she was writing something down), and, all smiles, greeted her with a chirpy "good morning."

She finally looked up and asked what I wanted. I told her I had an 8:15 appointment with Dr. L.

This was her response: "No you don't."

Me: "I do, I scheduled it yesterday."

Her: "Oh no you don't." (Stress on the "oh.")

She was being a jerk, but instead of being a jerk back (I figured I could just blog about it later) I pressed my case, explaining that I scheduled an appointment with him yesterday for an ear ache, and we did it via email, and the emailer's initials were [redacted] (his assistant). I think his assistant checks his email but he basically dictates what to email back.

I made a note of the name on the receptionist's nametag. It was a nice name for such a jerky woman.

"I don't know anything about this," she said. "Dr. Lisn't here. He doesn't work on Fridays. You're going to have to wait to talk to the nurse."

Silently, I took a seat and picked up Nicole's book to pass the time.

Taking her sweet time, she finished up her paperwork. I might note that I was the only patient in the reception area. Then she went over to find a nurse to tell her that (and I'm paraphrasing here) some idiot was here claiming to have an appointment with Dr. L.

The nurse reiterated that he doesn't work on Fridays, so I reiterated that we had corresponded via email, and he said I should come in today, Friday, at 8:15 a.m. I volunteered to show them the email if they would let me use a computer. My suggestion was greeted with more snottiness. They'll just have to call him to set things straight.

A quick phone call to the good doctor cleared things up: I was right! I did so have an appointment. Only Dr. Leither forgot about it or decided to let another doctor handle it.

I'm not going to fault him. He's a good doctor and I like him a lot. So I was instructed to wait for another doctor to see me.

In a few minutes I saw another doctor, an Indian guy in his late thirties or early forties. He was also a good guy. He checked me out and declared me ear-infection free. "There is nothing physiologically wrong with you," he said, suggesting that my ear ache was stress related. (He may well be right.)

So that was my adventure. I'm out an hour's sleep and a ten-dollar copay. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut, but I still think that receptionist could have heard me out instead of declaring me an idiot from the start. I might be stressed and perhaps hypochondriacal, but I know when my doctor's appointments are.

Well, the other good news is that since I'm not on antibiotics I can fully enjoy the good Belgian beers at Spuyten Duyvil tonight for the grand Solstice fest. If my ear ache really is stress-related, then a relaxing evening is just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Every Day is Thursday

I often like to write the date in full when I date things, such as my "sign offs" on magazine pages circulating around the office, or check endorsements, things of that nature. And the most natural day of the week for me to write is Thursday. I don't know why. Every day is Thursday. Today certainly is.

Tomorrow won't be, I hope, because it needs to be Friday for the great Midsummer Night's Scream Belgian Beer Bash at Spuyten Duyvil.

Today the weather in New York City is spectacular. The sun is shining and there's a very pleasant breeze. I hope for the same weather tomorrow. Through reminders and browbeating I've gotten a pretty fair amount of RSVPs for the event, so I'm looking forward to catching up with friends I haven't seen in a long time as well as making friends with beers I haven't yet met.

Black belt class was fun as usual last night. We worked on a few advanced self defense techniques and some prearranged fighting excercises. It's always an interesting and unique way to spend a Wednesday night in New York. I got home at around 9:00 p.m. read a few pages of my good friend Nicole Ridgway's excellent book The Running Of The Bulls, Inside the Cutthroat Race from Wharton to Wall Street, which will be officially released on August 22, 2005. When I'm finished I'll give my full review right here on New York City Diary. I stopped reading when Jenn got home. We watched the Daily Show and went to bed.

Now it's time for me to eat my daily roasted turkey sandwich (on wheat bread, with lettuce, tomato, and dijon mustard). Turkey power!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Eye Doctor

Today is Wednesday, and this morning before work I had an appointment with my eye doctor, Dr. Chang. He has an office on 10th Street in the East Village, on the ground floor level of a big white apartment building. He also has an office in Chinatown, but 10th Street is more convenient for me.

It was a my regular yearly checkup, and fortunately there were no problems. I do wear glasses, i.e. corrective lenses, but my vision has stabilized, making me an ideal candidate for laser eye surgery, which I will consider for the future. My hesitation has nothing to do with the risk (Dr. Chang is actually an eye surgeon, and he would do the surgery himself) but the finances. Eventually I will do it, and it will be great, but first I need the dough.

Speaking of finances, my health insurance does not cover vision care, so I had to write a check for $150 for today's seven minutes worth of face time with the good doctor, and I will have to cough up another $180 for a year's supply of contact lenses when they come in next week. Healthy living is not cheap.

It's a nice day in the city today, and here at Esquire we're in the semi-lull between issues. Articles for the September issue (including one of mine!) are slowly starting to circulate, but things will be busier next week.

Tonight I have black belt class, and the only other major event on this week's calendar is Friday night's solstice party. Yes, I know that the solstice was actually yesterday, but Friday seems like an easier day for people to get down and boogie, and anyway it's St. Jean Baptiste Day (Quebec). Happy summer, everybody!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Penguin Love

This evening after work Jenn took me to a screening of a movie called March of the Penguins.

It's a documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman that follows a colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica as they migrate through unbelievably treacherous conditions to mate.

March of the Penguins is an expertly produced and touching movie. True, penguins are naturally photogenic creatures, and the fluffy baby penguins are especially cute, but the film captures them in almost human-like moments. When you see the long, almost endless line of penguins marching across the Antarctic tundra it truly looks like a bunch of hunchbacked guys wearing overcoats shuffling down the street.

We saw the film in a screening room with a bunch of other magazine and newspaper people, critics, mostly. They were writing in their notebooks as the movie played. In the screening room next to ours there was a showing of David LaChappelle's Rize. Rize seems pretty cool but I'm glad we saw the penguins.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Weekend Update

Friday was a good day. I wasn't working so I went to a 12:30 karate class and 1:30 meditation class. That evening (around 7:30) I met Jenn, Marty, Carolyn, Robin, and Sonya at Barramundi (the new location on Clinton Street). It was to be an evening of debauchery on the Lower East Side. Classic downtown New York stuff.

We had a very nice time and took advantage of the bar's Happy Hour policy. It ran until 9:00 p.m. which suited Jenn and my needs perfectly. We don't stay out too late like we used to, although we have our moments.

While we were at Barramundi (also here) we happened to see Kevin and Janice. Kevin is my coworker and friend from Esquire and Janice is his wife, a fine painter and good person. It was nice to bump into them.

Jenn and I chatted with Kevin and Janice for a while and then went back to our banquette with Marty, Carolyn, Robin, and Sonya. We proceeded to have a few drinks and a nice conversation about the issues of the day.

They continued on to dinner after the bar, but we, claiming poverty (not unjustly) took the subway home and split a microwave burrito. It was actually quite good.

The next morning (Saturday morning) we slept in a bit and then tidied the house until it was time to head into the city. Jenn went to the gym and I went to kumite class, which was excellent as usual.

That evening Jenn and I met our friends Mike and Stacie at a restaurant in Manhattan called Candela. Mike and Stacie were having a celebratory dinner there (three weeks ago they had a baby girl and it was their first "date" since) and they really wanted us to meet them for a drink in the restaurant's bar before they sat down to dinner, and we headed back to Brooklyn.

Candela is a very pretty restaurant. I've been in the place a couple of times but never tasted the food. There's a very dark and woody motif, with many candles. The bar area is quite pleasant, and I enjoyed one pint of Pilsner Urquell and one pint of Guinness Stout.

We all had a pleasant chat and then Jenn and I said good night to Mike and Stacie and took the L-train back to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The train took forever to arrive due to construction, but finally we made it to Bedford Avenue.

It was still relatively early (like 10:00 p.m.) so we went to a very good Indian restaurant on North Fifth Street right off Bedford Avenue called Taj Mahal. I had been there once before, with Marty and John Shaw.

Jenn and I had a very delicious dinner of chicken curry and chicken saag (with spinach) and a selection of Indian breads. It was wonderful, and didn't cost much either. A great meal.

Today (Sunday) we slept in and woke up feeling very good. The day was spent productively. I cleaned the upstairs bathroom, top to bottom. Liquid and powder bleach, cleaning sprays of all kinds, and a boatload of elbow grease got our bathroom to its cleanest state in weeks. Jenn cleaned the downstairs. The whole house looks great.

After we cleaned we felt like we deserved some recreation, so I convinced Jenn to walk with me to McCarren Park. It was around 8:00 p.m., which, at this time of year, is when the sun sets. As we were walking toward our frisbee-tossing place the sun was setting in a big bright orange yellow ball.

We tossed the frisbee around for a few minutes, and took the long way home walking back. We were gone for maybe an hour or so. It was very pleasant, and not unlike the megatransect.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Phone Home

We have been paying too damn much for home phone service.

We have been writing checks to both Verizon and AT&T totaling more than a hundred bucks every month. To be specific, the last Verizon bill was $73.65 and the last AT&T bill was $66.23.

Combine that with my recently acquired cell phone ($52 a month) and Jenn's cell phone (probably the same) and we're spending a pretty penny to yak on the phone.

The frustrating thing is, we don't even yak that much. Even Jenn, who, admittedly uses the phone a good deal more than I do, doesn't talk all that much compared with other people.

Well, the cell phone scenario probably won't change much, but it's nice to have alternatives when it comes to home phone service.

Enter VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Make calls over your broadband cable line instead of the old-school copper telephone wires.

Today I took the plunge and signed up with Vonage. So far everything seems good but I'm withholding my full endorsement until everything gets up and running.

I was able to sign up online pretty easily, but now I have to wait for the phone adaptor to arrive in the mail, and for my existing phone companies to release my phone number (yes, we get to keep our classic 718 Brooklyn number).

I had to pay a $30 activation fee, and $25 for the first month. Going forward it's--supposedly--$25 a month for unlimited calling, local and long distance, anywhere in the USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico. (There are special plans for international calls, which I almost never make.)

I'm guessing that with taxes and fees I'll be paying more like $30 a month for the Vonage phone service, but it's a heck of a lot less than the $140 we paid for home phone service last month. That's a difference of $110, which pays for both of our cell phones and gives us a round of beers on top of it.

Why did I pick Vonage over the other companies that offer cable/VoIP phone service? Well, for one thing, the guy at the Cingular store who helped me pick out my cell phone two months ago told me that he had just gotten Vonage at home, and he seemed like a sharp guy who knew a lot about telecommunication.

And for another thing, I simply can not imagine giving the vile cretins at Time Warner Cable any more business, and the thought of having those mouth-breathers visit my home again was simply too much to bear.

So, watch this space for my impressions on Vonage VoIP phone service. It might be three weeks or so before I can give my full report.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Cupcakes and Bora Bora

It's 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday and I'm at work. Earlier today I signed for a package for one of our fashion editors who wasn't around. When he came back I checked in on him to make sure he received it, because the messenger was implying that I was signing for something of great value (like a Rolex or something, which happens).

It turned out that the package was filled with cupcakes. I've just finished eating the cupcake of a lifetime. The one cupcake to rule them all. It was a moist chocolate cake with fantastic green frosting. The frosting was actually crunchy with sugar, just like frosting ought to be. I feel like I could lift a small car now.

Things at Esquire were hectic from last week up until yesterday, but now we've "shipped" most of the big stories I was working on, and we're finishing up the final details of the August issue, like the table of contents (we call it TOC), credits, and things of that nature.

I wanted to leave yesterday's Midsummer Night's Scream post up long enough for everyone to get a chance to read it, but now it's time to keep things moving along. Scroll down if you need Solstice information.

I had a nice spike in blog traffic yesterday, indicating that lots of people received my party invitation, but the response in terms of RSVPs and comments has been tepid to say the least. Be that as it may, I know I will be at Spuyten Duyvil on the evening of the 24th, along with Jenn and a few other souls bold enough to hit "reply" on their email programs. As for the rest of you who read under the cloak of perceived anonymity, come on, people, I'm juggling babies here! It ain't easy.

The weather in New York City is decidedly cooler today than it has been for the past couple of days, which is good. I worked late last night and had to literally jog down 23rd Street to make it to a 7:15 p.m. karate class on time, so I was sweating before the class even started. By the time I got home it felt like it was 100 degrees. Then I took a cold shower, and it was the shower of champions.

Jenn and I are big fans of a TV travel series called Globetrekker. Last night WLIW ran an episode about Tahiti and Samoa, and we decided that we must absolutely get to Bora Bora as soon as possible. If anybody out there wishes to contribute $25,000 to fund a "research" trip to Bora Bora, please leave me a comment below and I'll be in touch.

I'd better get going now. Tonight I've got black belt class at the dojo, and then it's an exciting adventure on a train that goes under the river to a beautiful village on the west end of Long Island. Beautiful, exciting, exotic Brooklyn.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Meet The Author

It's Tuesday and it's hot in the city. New York City must be the hottest place on earth right now, I'm sure of it. Take that, El Azizia, Libya!

Instead of my usual observations about the nutty people I saw on the subway this morning, I'd like to let all my readers--friends and friends I haven't yet met--know about my almost-annual Midsummer Night party, to be held on Friday, June 24, at one of the world's greatest bars, Spuyten Duyvil, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Jenn and I would be delighted to see you there, starting at, let's say 8-ish, and lasting until somebody comes up with bail money.

So, before I go any further, here are some important links:

Spuyten Duyvil

Review of Spuyten Duyvil on Free Williamsburg

I can't go into too much detail here, being at work and all, but here's why I like celebrating the summer solstice, which is also known as St. John's Day, or, in Latvian, Jani (pronounced Yan Nyee).

I had always known that Midsummer Night was an important holiday to Latvians, but until I lived in Latvia (from 1992-1994) I didn't realize what a big deal it was. I believe it was 1993 when I went out to the Latvian countryside with a group of people led by my friend Karlis Freibergs, the editor-in-chief of The Baltic Observer, which was an English-language newspaper I wrote for. (He's also the son of Latvia's current president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.)

We had a wonderful time dancing around the bonfire, drinking special Jani beer, and eating special Jani cheese. We wore oak-leaf wreathes in our hair (Ozols=Oak) and stayed up all night. Since it's the longest night of the year, the sun barely set, dipping only briefly below the horizon after 11:00 p.m.

That was a great time, but a whole lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Now I enjoy sharing the holiday, and what I know about it, with all my New York friends. Be a Pagan for the night, and have some fun.

We will likely be enjoying the beautiful back garden at Spuyten Duyvil (you may smoke there, those who smoke), so be sure to walk all the way through to the garden. I think it's an especially appropriate bar for the holiday, because they have beers that resemble Latvian beers (cask ales and a bewildering array of Belgians and the like) as well as fine hard and soft cheeses, charcuterie, olives, "phat beets," and more.

Trust me, you will love it, and we would love to see you there.

Spuyten Duyvil is very easy to find: just take the L train to the first stop in Brooklyn, which is Bedford Avenue, walk south to Metropolitan, (street numbers getting smaller) and turn left. Walk to 359 Metropolitan Avenue. It's right across the street from Black Betty, another very cool Williamsburg bar, and a good bet for late-night mackin', for those who mack.

Better still: next door to Black Betty is a car service called Metroline where you can get a cheap and fast ride home in a Towncar. There is also access to the G train at Metropolitan, for those who get G'd up.

Now I've really got to get moving, so to reiterate:

Please join me in celebrating the Summer Solstice
Friday, June 24, 2005
8:00 p.m. until whenever
Spuyten Duyvil
Probably in the garden out back
359 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11211

Let me know if you are coming by posting a comment. No, you don't have to register with blogger to do it.

That's it for now. We really hope to see you there.

More fun links:

Jani info

more Jani info

Monday, June 13, 2005

Modes of Transport

Yesterday was Sunday, and Jenn and I spent a few hours in the towns of Fort Lee and Edgewater, New Jersey. We were there to visit Jenn's mom and stepdad. Everything went well and we had a nice time.

Perhaps most notable were the myriad forms of transportation we used to get around: train, bus, automobile, and boat. That's how you get around in New York. A helicopter would have been a step up, but it's kind of an expensive ride.

Our extra-long, jointed bus dropped us off in Edgewater at a few minutes before 1:00 p.m. (thanks, New Jersey Transit!) and we walked a couple of blocks to the movie theater, where Pat and Chuck met us and took us to a 1:40 p.m. showing of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring the sizzling Angelina Jolie and the smoldering Brad Pitt. It was a fun (and good-looking) movie that had its flaws like any summer popcorn flick, but we enjoyed it.

We piled in the Honda and drove to a restaurant (JD's I think) where we had an early dinner. I had the crab cakes. Then we went on to Pat and Chuck's apartment in Fort Lee, where we ate birthday cake on their ninth-floor balcony, overlooking the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline.

After our sugar levels were sufficiently elevated, they drove us to the ferry terminal, and we hopped on a boat and enjoyed the outdoor seating area on the top level. (Thanks New York Waterway Ferries!) The breeze was in our hair and the view as we approached Manhattan was beautiful. It had been a hot day but it was a pleasant early evening on the water.

Included in the cost of the ferry ticket is a shuttle bus that takes you to the subway, so we wound up at Penn Station where we hopped an A train to 14th, and took an L train home.

It was a long day filled with much transit, but we had a swell time. Now it's Monday. Yippee!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Aggressive Fighting

It is Saturday evening, 6:07 p.m. and I have just gotten back from kumite class. They're never easy but today's class was particularly rough. Every fighter there was tough and we got very little rest between rounds, in some cases no rest at all.

I'm not complaining, I'm glad it was so challenging. It makes sitting in this chair, drinking this seltzer, and feeling the breeze from the fan that much more pleasant. But I did get pretty banged up. My right arm especially is scratched and bruised from blocking (or attempting to block) punches and roundhouse kicks.

I'm not sure if my endurance is that much higher now than it used to be, if I'm more adept at pacing myself, or if I'm just better at surviving in a state of total exhaustion, but I am definitely getting more and more out of these Saturday fight classes.

Today, in addition to being a great outlet for my pent up stress and anxiety, was a learning experience. One very tough fighter I went three consecutive rounds with (a fifth degree black belt) gave me some very good advice. I'm pretty good at keeping my jab going (straight punch with leading arm) but I don't pull it back fast enough before I throw the reverse punch, leaving me vulnerable to a nasty uppercut or side kick. I've felt enough of those over the years but never really knew what else I could be doing to protect myself.

Anyway, it was great to get in about twelve fights today. Now to nurse my wounds.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Aggressive Driving

This has pretty much been a non-blog blog this week, with my anemic attempts at keeping it "updated." Today won't be much different, as things at work are really busy, and work pays me, whereas my only payment for blogging is my own satisfaction in chronicling my life in the city, and the occasional nice notes I receive from people. So consider this just another little yelp before I go under the surface again. I promise I'll be a better blogger this weekend.

Before I go back to battle I'll give a brief New York anecdote.

Witnessed this morning, during my commute: A beat-up van with at least two guys in it, construction workers ("contractors") or painters or electricians or something. The driver mashes on the accelerator as soon as the light turns green, and the van takes off, spinning out a little (the pavement was wet) and making the engine roar. After two or three seconds tires could be heard screeching.

Apparently somebody had pulled out of a parallel parking spot in front of this van, which must have been approaching 45 miles per hour at this point. I'm not sure if there was a collision, perhaps a minor one, because it happened just around the corner from my field of vision, but in a moment I was able to see the commotion.

The van driver charged out of the van toward the driver of the car and unleashed an impressive barrage of vulgarities. Blankedy blank blank blank, you mother blanker! How blanking blank can you be? Blanking blank!

As I walked by (hey, I didn't witness it) I thought that I would probably be mad too, but wouldn't it be impressive if all parties involved first made sure everybody was okay, and then calmly and politely tried to rectify the situation? And wouldn't it be nice if people didn't have to go from zero to sixty and back to zero ten times to get across Manhattan? I mean, the stoplights are there, is the "need for speed" so essential? Is it so satisfying to speed in a heavily urban environment with pedestrians everywhere?

Some people are so reckless, as though they don't understand or don't care about the consequences of their vehicular risk-taking: human lives. Chill, everybody. Just cool it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

This is not . . .

a real blog update. This is just me checking in, saying I haven't forgotten about you, dear reader(s). It's just that I'm right busy today, closing the August issue of Esquire.

I stayed up late last night and woke up early this morning to heroically write a freelance story on banking trends, which I successfully filed a few minutes ago. You'll have to read the Friday, June 17 edition of The Star-Ledger to find out what those trends are.

Black belt class last night was fun.

I have tentative plans to hang out with Marty and Seth tonight. I'll give a full (if somewhat sanitized) report straight away.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Pravda

Last night after work I went with Jenn to a special Smirnoff vodka tasting event at a downtown Russian-themed bar/lounge called Pravda. It was a lot of fun and the vodka was very good. You might recall that a panel of food and drink experts assembled by The New York Times recently declared Smirnoff to be the best tasting vodka, beating the pants off of much more expensive vodkas such as Grey Goose. I thought it was great that the vodka that comes in a plastic bottle was found to be superior to the uber-trendy vodkas of the moment. Poetic justice.

Representatives of Smirnoff and a drinks expert gave us a brief lecture about vodka, what it is, how it's made, and why Smirnoff is so great (lots of charcoal filtering). Then we had a blind taste test. To be honest with you, all three vodkas tasted very similar to me, but I did give the highest marks to the Smirnoff (which was vodka B in the test). The majority of people in our group (other magazine people I assume) also gave the highest marks to Smirnoff. The other two vodkas were Absolut and Grey Goose.

After the formal tasting and lecture, they brought out Smirnoff-based cocktails such as the Moscow Mule and some hors d'oeuvres (or should it be hors d'oeuvre?) which included caviar, chicken satay, and a few other very yummy snacks. Jenn and I hung around for a while, chatted with the vodka people and a writer for Cigar Aficionado, and then decided to go home. The organizers of the event even provided us with a safe and sober ride home in a Towncar. Sweet.

Smirnoff was one of my favorite vodkas before the event (I also like Stoli) and it certainly remains one of my favorites now, not just because we had such a nice time and each got gift bags that included, suprise, a bottle of Smirnoff. Vodka martini, anyone?

Here is a link to Pravda and here is a link to Smirnoff. I've got to get busy now. Have a nice day.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Monday Night Live

I'm home from work and showered and fed. Blanche gave us some leftover pasta and it was divine.

To recap the weekend, briefly: On Friday night we went to our friends Jen and Steve's brand new apartment (new as in just built) in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Specifically I think it was on 15th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Some people might quarrel over whether that's Park Slope or Windsor Terrace but I'm not so invested in that discussion, being as we live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, seemingly a world away. Here is a partial map of Brooklyn neighborhoods.

We had a very nice time, involving martinis, fine cheeses, olives, and martinis. I showed Steve how to use the free on-demand channels on his cable TV system and played Jay-Z videos as an example. Steve said he didn't really "get" 99 Problems but I think he secretly liked it.

Jen and Steve have a great place, which includes the use of a gym and a gazebo (which for some reason was termed a gay-zebo). We all sat in the gayzebo for a while, but it was raining so we didn't last long and went back to the apartment.

We got home that evening at around 1:00 a.m. after a lovely ride on the F and G trains.

On Saturday Jenn and I had a walk and ran some errands in the morning. In the afternoon we both went into the city together, I to the dojo and Jenn to the gym. We had to take the G train to the Manhattan-bound A train at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, because the L train was not running into Manhattan at all, due to construction. It was really a drag, but somehow we got through it.

Kumite class was excellent as always, and I stuck around afterwards for a party at the dojo in honor of our out of town guests, who were visiting us for the black belt seminar events. I helped set up for the party and hung around by the pasta table, warning people that there was meat in a few of the dishes. The majority of people were just fine with the meat. After everyone else had eaten I had a few bites myself. Then I went home and hung out with Jenn. I needed to take it easy because I had an early morning karate event the next day.

The next morning (Sunday morning) I left the house at a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. and took the G to the C to the F and got to the dojo right before 9:00 a.m. The black belt seminar was very interesting and helpful, and we worked on a kata called Seienchin and then had a lesson in the use of the bo staff as a weapon. Cool stuff.

I was at the dojo until the early afternoon and I hadn't eaten anything or even had coffee so I was really wiped out when I got home, bagels and lox spread in hand. When I finally ate my onion bagel with lox spread I felt so much better. The coffee was also magnificent.

We spent the remainder of Sunday night working on our various projects and getting ready for the week. As far as today is concerned, it was very hot in New York City, then it cooled off a bit, then it got really dark and it rained like crazy for a short time, and now it seems to be clearing up as the sun goes down. It's 8:19 p.m.

Almost Summer in the City

It's hot outside. New York is sizzling. But summer doesn't officially begin until June 21.

Again, I'll have to keep this brief. We're in the middle of closing the August issue and things are pretty busy around here.

It was a very nice weekend. For me it was dominated by karate, as our annual black belt seminar was held over the weekend, and I had several events to attend. It was all good.

I'll write more this evening. In the meantime, check out these lovely travel photos.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Phriday Photos

It's Friday. I'm at work, and, being at work, I've got work to do, so I can't write much now.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and since you might need a vacation as badly as I do, this might keep you happy until I can write at greater length. The travel photos are the best.

Let me know what you think, and have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

June Gloom

There's a phenomenom in southern California known as "June Gloom," which, until we visited San Diego in June, I had never heard of.

The name describes it pretty well. The month of June is gloomy, with lots of clouds and rain and cool temperatures. This is weird to the visitor, because in most places in the northern hemisphere June is a very pleasant month, and you'd expect it to be especially nice in southern California.

Today in New York feels like a June Gloom day in San Diego. It's cloudy and cool. It's not rainy but the word gloomy would describe the weather pretty well.

Gloom is a pretty neat word. It is both a noun and a verb, originating from the Middle English "gloumen" which is akin to the Old English "geolu," which mean yellow. In noun form it means partial or total darkness, or a dark and shadowy place, or a lowness of spirits: dejection.

I don't feel particularly gloomy today, but I couldn't help but compare today's New York gloom with the gloom SoCal is probably enduring at the moment.

While I'm writing about words, another cool word on the same page as gloom is glom, which means to take, steal, seize, catch, or take possession of. You might have heard the word glom recently in relation to WiFi networks. If you take your laptop to Starbucks you can glom on to their WiFi network. Or do you glom off? I don't know if it's glom on or glom off, but you get the picture.

Okay, the vocabulary lesson is over. Today is Thursday, and the week has gone by pretty quickly. Of course we were off on Monday, but holiday-shortened weeks seem especially labored sometimes. Not this time. Not to me.

I'm glad that the weekend is coming up, but I'm starting to feel that life is going by pretty fast. You can't always work for the weekend. It's time to make the big things happen. As far as small things are concerned, I did just get another assignment for The Star-Ledger, so that's one reason to keep on keeping on.

I went to black belt class last night. This weekend we have our annual black belt seminar, and all area black belts are required to attend. Some people have flown in from far-off lands to attend and to take part in a special promotion (a test to move up in rank). Last night we were honored to have a Sensei from our Capetown, South Africa dojo. He came to the dojo straight from JFK airport. That's dedication.

I would love to visit Cape Town some day. I've heard it's one of the most beautiful places on earth.