Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pizza Quest: Roundup #1

[Here are reviews for a few pizza places I've been to recently. All of them will be added to the Pizza Quest pages. Click here for the entire list.

PINCH - Park Ave. b/w 28th and 29th
*1/2

I ran in one night and grabbed a slice...or, uh, quadrangle or whatever the appropriate pizza unit would be to describe six inches of pizza thing (PINCH stands for "Pizza by the Inch," so you order a number of inches off of a big slab of pizza). Dude. This is not good pizza. The crust was insubstantial (not thin - weirdly airy and fall apart-y), there was too much damn cheese, and the sauce was weirdly sweet. I finished it and thought, "That's the best Ellio's pizza I've ever eaten." If I were in a more charitable mood, I might try to spin that as a compliment. Feh.

Sullivan Street Bakery (Hell's Kitchen location) - 47th St. b/w 10th and 11th
**** (but it doesn't matter)

The bread at Sullivan Street Bakery is one of my favorite foodstuffs in the world. And so is the pizza. The pizza -- thin, crispy, and square, served room temperature with no mozzarella -- is made out of deliciousness. They offer only a few varieties, but all of them are excellent. The potato and rosemary is my favorite (the thin sliced potato gets crispy around the edges and tender in the center), followed by the marinara (tomato sauce, and, err, that's about it). The problem is that while amazing, these slices don't scratch my pizza itch. Meaning, if I think to myself, "I could go for a slice," a slice of Sullivan St. pizza won't satisfy me half as well as the crappiest slice from Mr. Super Crappy, himself, Famous Ray. It depresses me to say that, but I still love you, Sullivan Street Bakery. Please don't be mad at me.

Mariella's - 8th Ave. b/w 56th & 57th
*

Oprah's friend Gayle was sent on a quest for the best pizza in America. She went to three places - first, the one she went to in college, second, what is oftentimes called the best pizza in the US (Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ) , and third, Mariella's Pizzeria in New York (at the suggestion of her driver). This was a quest in the same way that purchasing boneless chicken cutlets is hunting. I'd had Mariella's a couple times and had literally no memory of it, so I decided to give it another chance. This is far from great pizza. In fact, it might not even be good pizza. The sauce was way too sweet and had too much oregano in it. The crust was tough and chewy. The cheese blanketed the pizza completely. Actually, blanket is too gentle a description. The cheese suffocated the pizza like a plastic bag. I also got a white slice (mozzarella and riccotta) and it was even worse. Bland riccotta and that layer of mozzarella without even bad sauce to break things up. There are several better pizzerias within a five block radius (John's on 58th, Sacco's on 8th, even the two Angelo's -- one on Broadway and one on 57th), let alone the entire city. While people having irrational love for a pizza place is nothing unusual (*cough*salandcarmines*cough*), this is particularly disappointing because Oprah's word carries, I hear, some weight. And so, Oprah viewers will come to New York. And those tourists will go to Mariella's. And they will think that's what good, NY pizza tastes like. Don't believe the Oprah-generated hype.

Totonno's - 2nd Ave. b/w 80th and 81st St.
**1/2

Tara and I had nearly the same experience at the uptown Totonno's as at the 23rd St. location. We ordered a half-plain/half-sausage-and-garlic and it was good, but not great. It's like a blurry photocopy of the original in Coney Island. The same kinds of tastes - - coal oven, good cooked sauce, fresh mozz, same taste to the crust. Yep, it's the same kind of pizza (Genus: Totonnus), but not charred enough, and just not plain ol' amazing enough (Species: Underwelmicum). As a bonus, they do have signs up making fun of the pizzeria next door that sells pizza by weight. I can't remember them exactly, but it's sort of like, "Why the hell would you buy pizza by weight?" Okay, I'm exaggerating. Slightly.

Pepe's - Bridgeport, Ct.
***

Yes, yes. I know the original Pepe's is in New Haven, and, yes, I know I haven't been there...but I was in Bridgeport. What do you want? Cunningham took me and Tara to Pepe's, where the pies are irregularly shaped, sliced into narrow wedges, covered in strange toppings, and ginormous. Oh, and they're pretty good, too. It was in the same pizza family as Modern Apizza and Sally's (unsurprisingly), but was a bit better than either. Again, the crust wasn't charred on the bottom the way I like it (though it was a coal oven, what gives, Connecticut?), the cheese was slightly overcooked to my tastebuds, and it was a bit chewier than I prefer, but it was quite good. We got a small white clam pie (excellent) and a large (meaning: huge) pie split between plain and bacon (good). Bacon? Yeah, bacon, pancetta's unruly, nitrite-filled cousin. The bacon was a bit much, I have to admit, but the pie was pretty tasty. Bridgeport, like New Haven, also has a line to get in. We waited a good half-hour early on a Saturday evening. While waiting we looked in on those who were already eating, comfortable and warm, and felt deep stabs of envy. So, if you want good pizza and an opportunity to break the tenth commandment, head to Pepe's in Bridgeport!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Randominnyc Explainer

Slate's Explainer apparently can't answer all the questions it receives, especially those of somewhat dubious validity. Anyway, instead of mocking Slate, I've decided to pitch in, to shaaaaaare the looooooad.

Q: Why do train whistles at night always sound lonely and mournful? Not so in the daytime.
A: Because train whistles are made from unbaptized babies and unbaptized babies always sound sad at night because that is when they feel their separation from the Almighty most acutely.

Q: Lasers are now powerful and small (at least I think they are), so why don't our troops carry laser guns?
A:Because lasers can't go through overturned tables. Watch GI Joe, people.

Q: What would happen to the stock market if a meteor impacted the earth? What would happen to the global markets and the U.S. market? Say a meteor hits inside U.S. borders and takes out two states.
A: The price of Meteor Insurance, INC would likely go down somewhat.

Q: How clean is bar soap in a public bathroom? Is it "self-cleaning," since it's soap? It seems like a health hazard to me.

A: What Five Year Plan are you currently living under that there are still bars of soap in your public bathrooms?

Q: Why do humans die so young? In biblical times, people lived for several hundred years; now living to 100 is considered a long life. What happened?
A: Why do leprechauns no longer hand out gold? Why didn't that genie grant my wishes? Why doesn't Sparkles the Unicorn come visit anymore? The answer: Fake shit doesn't happen.

Q: Just suppose, one day someone wants to sell you an old gold bar. You don't know if it belongs to any treasure, and you can't find out if there is any reward for it, if it was a lost treasure. How would you go about melting it and selling it? The same would go for a gemstone about the size of a dinner plate. How would you go about selling it? If you're living in a country that is corrupt and you cannot trust the government, or anyone else, what can you do?
A: HELLO. I AM THE PRINCE OF NIGERIA. PLEES SEND ME YOUR GOLD BAR FOR TO GET MY TREASURE OUT OF THE COUNTRY.

Q: What is the richest religion? Scientology has a lot of Hollywood stars and I think they actually make their members give money, but Catholicism is a very old religion with its own country. Also, Islam has a lot of members but I don't know about their money situation.
A: Scientology is that friend with the nice apartment who misses his credit card payments. Catholicism is your aunt with the house in Westchester who gives out pennies on Halloween. Islam is that guy who works weekends as a cab driver even though he doesn't have a taxi license.

Q: Are UFOs confirmed to be from other Alien Planets?

A: Yes. That "U stands for Unidentified" thing is a fucking smokescreen.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Random Idiot on the Internet Tells you his Favorite Music of 2006. Now Pay Attention.

Hoo-ray!

- Tom Waits - "Orphans" As good as everyone says. If not better. Weird. Eclectic. Pitchfork called it a "shadow best-of." That's pretty true.

- The Thermals - "The Body, the Blood, the Machine" Angry, tuneful, witty. What else does one need?

- Justin Timberlake - "FutureSex/Lovesounds" This album is made up of only good things. Like sex. And Michael Jackson when he was cool. And Prince. I listen to it all the goddamned time.

- Neko Case - "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" I can't stop listening to this album. Her voice is so good. The songs make weird, unexpected turns.

- The Gothic Archies - "The Tragic Treasury" Took me a few listenes to really enjoy it. And not every song is great...but what's great is great in all the ways I want it to be. Witty. Dark. Rhyme-y. Stephin Merritt is made of smart.

- Sufjan Stevens - "The Avalanche" "Oh, it's just leftovers?" True. But so is that Turkey sandwich on the day after Thanksgiving. And they are both FUCKING AWESOME.

- Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - "Ballad of the Broken Seas" I feel like I shouldn't like Mark Lanegan. Pretentious, meet portentous. Now make a baby: it's Mark Lanegan. "What a cute baby!" -k

- Thom Yorke - "Eraser" Thom sounds lonely. In a good, pretty way. Maybe he misses Radiohead. Nah, he's just sad.

- Arctic Monkeys - "Whatever People Say I am" So, so good. Did this come out last year? Whatever. They deserve all the love they've gotten.

- Mountain Goats - "Get Lonely" Yes, it's sad. And it's not quite as good as The Sunset Tree. But it's still really good.

- The Scissor Sisters - "Ta-Da" Maybe I shouldn't like this. And maybe I shouldn't eat all the leftover Halloween candy. But I do.

- Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins - "Rabbit Fur Coat" Pretty voice + Good songwriting = Very Good. Bonus: Twins!

Close!

- Yo La Tengo - "I am Not Afraid of You and I will Kick your Ass" I loved the title. Then I just kinda liked the album. Now I quite like the album. Not sure how this is going to wind up.


- Decemberists - "The Crane Wife" Haven't listened to it enough. But when I do, I enjoy it.

- Solomon Burke - "Nashville" Sometimes I like you. But then sometimes you're boring. Be less boring.

- The Black Keys - "Magic Potion" I like the songs, really like them, but can't remember any of them. Know why? 'Cos they sound like all the other Black Keys songs. It's time to make like the White Stripes, Other Rock/Blues Duo, and start experimenting.

- Drive By Truckers - "A Blessing and a Curse" Some really good songs ("Aftermath USA," Gravity's Gone"), but too many that don't do enough for me.

- Tenacious D - Soundtrack It makes me laugh more than it should. And some of the songs are so spot on that it's amazing. And Dio sings on the first track. But it's still not an album.

- The Raconteurs - "Broken Boy Soldiers" Did I like this as much as I thought I did?

- Howe Gelb - "Sno Angel Like You" Haven't listened to it enough, but enjoy it when I do.

- Outkast - "Idlewild" Ridiculously uneven. Pretty damn weird, too. And yet, enough of it sounds enough like Outkast to make me happy.

- Gnarls Barkley - "St. Elsewhere" I loved you. But we drifted apart. It's not you. It's me.

- Bruce Springsteen - "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" I tried. It's nice and all. It runs on...Folk Power!

- Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Show Your Bones" I liked the first one a lot. This one, kinda "meh."
- Sparklehorse - "Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain" Haven't listened enough. Not as good as "It's a Wonderful Life," but good. I think. Maybe.

- The Hold Steady - "Boys and Girls in America" I like you, but I'm not in like with you. But I'll give you another try.

- Bob Dylan - "Modern Time" You set the bar too high on "Love and Theft" (and "Blood on the Tracks" and "Highway 61 Revisited" and...). This album is good...but definitely not great. Actually, not even sure on good. I haven't listened to it in over a month, except for "Nettie Moore."

C'mon!

- CSS - "Cansei Se Ser Sexy" I do not understand the appeal of this band

- The Strokes - "First Impressions of Earth" Do better. I still enjoy the other two albums against my better judgment. Make me like this one, too. And not just "Juicebox."

- Scott Walker - "The Drift" This album makes me want to cry. In fear. Why do people like this? Terrifying. Like crying-while-eating scary.

- Flaming Lips - "War Against the Mystics" I happily listened to this for a while. And then it started annoying me. And then it just seemed loud and bad. Is this how the rest of the world feels about the entirety of the Flaming Lips' output?

- Nellie McKay - "Pretty Little Head" I gave Nellie McKay the benefit of the doubt last time. And then this happened. When it's not boring, it's annoying. Go make a real album, hippie! (Note: Nellie McKay isn't a hippie.)

- Destroyer - "Destroyer's Rubies" Why are you so loved?

- Pearl Jam - "Pearl Jam" Sounding like you did ten years ago does not a "return to form" make.

- Jerry Lee Lewis - "Last Man Standing" Should be like Johnny Cash's American Recordings. Instead, it's like Santana's duets albums. Poop.

- Elvis Costello & Allain Toussant - "The River in Reverse" Good intentions don't make good albums.

- Neil Young - "Living with War" See: "The River in Reverse"

- Christina Aguilera - "Back to Basics" You, madam, are no Justin Timberlake.

- Beck - "The Information" I cannot hum, remember, or quote a lyric from a song on this album. It makes me sad to say that. Now I have to go listen to "Midnite Vultures" and cry while dancing.

TV on the Radio - "Return to Cookie Mountain" Everyone loves you. I listened to you again last night. You leave me cold.

Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler - "All the Roadrunning" Pretty. But sleepytime pretty. Someone's mother loves this.

David Gilmour - "On an Island" You are not Roger Waters. And now, you sound like his dad. Or my dad. Or...if Jimmy Buffet had played guitar on "The Wall," he'd make an album like this. Basically: there aren't enough bad metaphors to describe how lame this album is.

Wild Card!

- Various - "Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys" Do you need an album of pirate songs? No. But should you download Baby Gramps "throat singing" on "Cape Cod Girls"? Probably not, either. Why is John C. Reilly Singing on this? And, not badly?

- Various - "Plague Songs" Songs about-kinda the plagues in Exodus. Cody Chessnutt's "Boils" is a keeper (refrain: "BOILS!"). As is Rufus Wainwright's Katonah [if only for shouting out the Taconic Pkwy]. Westchester in the HOUSE! Whoops.

- Various - "Harry Smith Project Live" Uneven and probably unnecessary. But watch as David Johansen's version of "James Alley Blues" trumps Wilco's. Also: Nick Cave approaches his scariest with "John the Revelator." Not as scary as Scott Walker's "Drift," but scary. Oh, and Lou Reed's "See that my Grave is Kept Clean" is great.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Someone call the OED

"I hope it was a lot," Tom said with a thin and charmless smile. "I hope it was at least a thousand [zombie-type things that were killed], and I hope they slow-cooked them. I find myself thinking of some restaurant chain or other that used to advertise 'broasted' chicken.'[...]"

-from p. 276 of this edition of "Cell" by Stephen King.

At first I thought I'd spotted the first reference ever to the word broasted in a work of fiction, and was happy. Turns out, broasted has appeared in numerous books according to a Google books search. While most are books on food and/or travel, there are several in fictional works. The two that stand out are Stewart O'Nan's Speed Queen, and Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Now, Child and Preston are probably, next to Koontz and Crichton, the closest thing to King's competition in the blockbuster horror-ish thriller category, and O'Nan's book's plot apparently centers around a manuscript being sent to a writer called "The King of Horror" (that's what Amazon says, anyway). Also, I'm pretty sure King blurbed O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying. Where am I going with this. Nowhere. Except we can now safely say: horror writers love the word broasted.

Finally, for those interested in knowing what broasting is, no, it is not baking + roasting or broiling + roasting (or, as Mr. King suggests, slow-cooking). It's the brand name of a pressure-frying process. One makes broasted chicken in a broaster brand pressure fryer using broaster brand seasonings (an aside: it seems that KFC, at least originally, pressure fried its chicken). I sampled broasted chicken in Indiana at Rachel's Hi-Way Cafe in Alexandria. We saw about 156 restaurants boasting of broasting, and I finally whined enough that we pulled over and ordered some. Before we pulled over, Tara said, "It's just gonna be fried chicken." She was right, but left out the fact that it would take twenty-five minutes for a single order and be styrofoam-meltingly, mouth burningly hot when we finally tasted it in the car. Slate took on broasted chicken here. And, if you'd like to find out firsthand that, yes, it's just fried chicken, you can click here and search for a location near you. But don't.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Possible Titles for Negative Reviews of the Bob Dylan/Twyla Tharp Musical

Here at randominnyc, we strive to be helpful. That's why we've created a list for theater critics who want to pan the new Bob Dylan/Twyla Tharp musical "The Times They Are A-Changing," but aren't familiar enough with Bob's oeuvre to really get a good dig in.

-It's Alright, Bob (It's Only Broadway)
-Shelter from the Stage
-Things Have Changed. Not for the Better.
-You Threw it All Away
-It’s Not All Over Now, Baby Blue…It’s Just Intermission
-There Must Be Some Kind of Way Out of Here
-Oh, Mercy!
-I Don’t Believe You (Twyla Tharp)
-Chimes of Crapdom
-The All-White Jury Agrees: This Show is Terrible!

[with zick and ravitz]

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Six Word Story

In the spirit of this Wired Magazine feature I give you my own six word story (with apologies to Ray Bradbury):

Once, books were printed. Now? Burned.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Heading to Hollywood: #6

The CONTRACTOR, oh, where should I begin?
Blueblocker shades? The beard used as a chin?
The seven inches of expos-ed chest?
The hopeful-hopeless comb-over (the best!)?
So many points there on that tasteless chart
That pointed to a sad and wounded heart:
"That fuckin' bitch," he said with great ado,
"If I see her, I tell you what I do."
He ne'er finished that thought, got too choked up.
"Fuckin' slut. Fuckin', goddamned whore, coked up
Ev'ry day and then, what? She gets it all.
She's laughin' now, yeah, shoppin' at the mall
On my motherfucking Roosevelt dime."
Oh, love's a cliff! The meek, they dare not climb!
"I'll show her, though," he said it more than twice,
"The sun, the sand, the girls. Shit, this sounds nice."
He planned on making cash with swimming pools,
"A great biz: take your time and milk the fools.
'I'm sorry, lady, hit shallow bedrock.
You want it quick, you can just suck my cock.'"
Where was he from? Westchester? Manhattan?
No, sir, from that island they named Staten.

[To head to the Intro and Contents for "Heading to Hollywood" click here.]

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Heading to Hollywood: #5

There was a guy, was just about my age.
Figured when he arrived he'd be the rage.
He was a RAPPER, called himself G-man,
And claimed Snoop knew his stuff and was a fan.
I know 'cos he was working on a line
Describing how he'd headed out to find
The fame the five buroughs had denied him.
It was terribly mean and deadly grim.
And also premature, if you ask me,
I'll say it but not claim it's quality:
"You bitches think you know me, suck my dick,
I never showed you nothing, you a trick.
Think I should owe you something, get in line,
Your shit is ugly, fucker, mine is fine."
Yeah, that's what I remember as the best,
(And I won't bother to repeat the rest -
Most all his rhymes, they had an awful slant,
And I was never sure just what they meant.)
I know that I'm supposed to think it's art,
But I prefer that music have some heart -
I'd rather Dylan, Pearl Jam or the Dead
Than any lyric that the rapper said.
Vernacular! Give shit a fancy name
And some claim it and Dante are the same.

[To head to the Intro and Contents for "Heading to Hollywood" click here.]

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Southhampton: kitsch

Tara and I stayed in the Hamptons on Labor Day. Southhampton, to be exact. We stayed in the greatest house ever. Look!











Monday, September 25, 2006

Heading to Hollywood: #4

I can hear what you're thinking it's so clear,
"He said it was awful, and yet look here:
Two pretty girls...he thinks he should complain.
This is hell? Only pleasure, no real pain?"
Don't worry friend, the bus it was jam packed
With freaks and oddballs and others who lack
The basic skills possessed by you and me
To sit and drink and talk and simply be.
There was this guy - NEUROTIC to the core.
Always yapping: a monumental bore.
"Excuse me sir," this is just how he spoke,
"Excuse me, but I think the toilet's broke."
You know, first it was too cold, next too hot,
Never happy with that which he just got.
He said that he was rich, but couldn't fly,
A bump or dip would make him scream and cry.
I wished he'd left that nonsense in the air;
He'd hear a noise and like a siren blare.
"Oh, what was that? I think we blew a tire!"
I quickly grew to hate this new town crier.
He wore thick glasses and a mustache wisp,
He spoke in a real high-pitched, whining lisp.
Why would someone like that take such a trip?
What was so important he couldn't skip?
His dad was dying, that's what he said,
Needed to see him before he was dead.
I felt a bit of sadness at his plight,
But mostly I just couldn't stand his sight.

[To head to the Intro and Contents for "Heading to Hollywood" click here.]

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Heading to Hollywood: #3

The goddess who was sitting up ahead.
The legs up to her ass, the bleached-blonde head.
There are girls you should bring home to mother,
Her, you would bring home for something other.
(In fact, it really might not be so bad
To keep her out of reach from dear old dad.)
If deified, what would her domain be?
The sun, the moon, the fields, the tranquil sea?
She'd tell you to stuff your past'ral notions,
N'also flush your soporific oceans.
I think she'd be the queen of pounding beats,
Of fishnet stockings worn with schoolgirl pleats.
Ah, she'd be the keeper of metal poles,
Stilettos pointing out from women's soles.
She was a STRIPPER, a gorgeous one who
Had figured she should try out something new.
She was going to give mod'ling a shot,
To see for once if she had "it" or not.
I don't know if she did, but she had me,
And if she'd pitched it, I'd have drunk the sea.

[To head to the Intro and Contents for "Heading to Hollywood" click here.]

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Heading to Hollywood: #2

And so we'll start with her, Ms. Riot Grrl,
The UNDERGRAD so certain of the world.
Priv'lege, she could spot from miles away
From Bennington or Sarah Lawrence, say.
She was headed West for some good reason:
To shame the latest crook for some new treason.
Don't stand so close to her, you could get sued;
All pins and politics and attitude.

"Sleater Kinney, who's that?" I mutely thought,
"Someone who'd been imprisoned, maybe bought?"
And yet, despite her efforts she was cute,
Pink hair, ripped jeans, Sontag: a sexy brute.
Too bad she hated me right off the bat
When I kinda stared a touch too long at...

[To head to the Intro and Contents for "Heading to Hollywood" click here]

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Heading to Hollywood: Intro

It's 1995. Kurt Cobain is dead, yet grunge is still king. The flannel industry might as well be printing money as checkered shirts. The dot-com boom is ramping up, and jokes about hanging chads are half-a-decade away. And I, lil' k, am a high school student. And in Mr. Greco's English Lit class we read the prologue and a story or two from The Canterbury Tales. Our assignment: write our own prologue to a modern day Canterbury Tales. Being a nerd, I do it and get a kick out of it. Two years later I go to college and sell my prologue and flannel shirts for drug money and a copy of Bob Marley's "Legend."

That's not true, but I did lose the prologue and have always wanted to rewrite it (or redo it anyway, because I don't remember much of it). So, here's what I'm gonna do: At least once a week (hopefully), I'm going to post a bit of what I'll call (for now) "Heading to Hollywood." I will do my damnedest to write it in heroic couplets (more or less) and swear (scouts honor) to try to make it dirty and stupid.

Oh: and as this is being written as I go, it will also be rewritten on the fly. So, minor changes will likely sneak in here and there.

All additions will be linked to on this page.

Prologue:
No. 1 - Opening
No. 2 - The Undergrad
No. 3 - The Stripper
No. 4 - The Neurotic
No. 5 - The Rapper
No. 6 - The Contractor

Heading to Hollywood: #1

The Port Authority, you know it, right?
D'ya know the types you see there 'round midnight?
I'll let you know the truth since we just met,
There's two: the desp'rate and the des-per-ate.
Yeah, I hear bitterness there in my voice:
It was years ago, and without a choice
It comes back to me. The sour Greyhound smell.
The still sourer people - God, was it hell.
"Hell is other people." That how it's put?
That is pretty close to true, I guess, but
Truer still: Hell's a bus that only could
Leave from New York and go to Hollywood.
Ah, bartender, another, si vous plais.
Oh wait. What was I just about to say?

It left at midnight, that awful, reeking bus,
And bleary-eyed we stumbled on. All of us,
I think, believed that we would find new life.
(New job, new love, new start...a new ex-wife.)
We'd cast our foolish plans and petty schemes
There on that sunny coast made up of dreams,
(Yes, yes, I know it's a bit of a cliche
And yet for certain dreams, the only way.)
What dream was mine, you wonder? We'll get there.
First ev'ry tale should have a maiden fair.
Mine has two: there's a harlot and a shrew.
I like to hear the bad news first, don't you?

[To head to the Intro and Contents for "Heading to Hollywood" click here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Other Things Justin Timberlake Considered Bringing Back before he Settled on Sexy:

- Crystal Pepsi
- The "u" in "flavour" [US only]
- LBJ's Great Society
- Helen of Troy
- The Latin Mass

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday, September 01, 2006

Other TV Show Political Groups

The media is going crazy for "South Park" Republicans. Here are some other groups that the media hasn't mentioned.

- "Deadwood" Greens
- "Captain Planet" Right-to-Lifers
- "Blossom" Whigs
- The First Eight or Nine Seasons of "The Simpsons" Libertarians
- "20/20 Downtown" Socialists
- "Cop Rock" Democrats

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Teenagers who listen to

Everyone is talking about this study, and how it suggests that teenagers who listen to sexy music are more likely to have sex. But no one is discussing the other results:

- Teenagers who listen to The Arcade Fire are more likely to own ironic clothing.

- Teenagers who listen to U2 are more likely to care about stuff...and things.
- Teenagers who listen to Frank Sinatra are more likely to make it past the first round of American Idol, even thought they don't really deserve it.
- Teenagers who listen to "The Big Chill" soundtrack are more likely to actually be my parents.
- Teenagers who listen to unsexy music are more likely to have unsex.
- Teenagers who listen to Elvis Costello are more likely to complain about his recent, genre-hopping work.
- Teenagers who listen to The Grateful Dead are more likely to be living in a past that they never experienced.
- Teenagers who listen to John Mayer are more likely to write bad poetry about fucking unicorns or some other lame shit.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Things that Need an International Standards Group, No. 1: Ratings

If you open up Time Out NY, you may be surprised to find out that they give up to six stars in their reviews. Six. Six Stars. Then you have the Times Dining section, which, on a Michelin-like scale gives up to four stars, but getting one means "good" (Confusingly, readers on the website rate on five star scale, with completely different meanings. Look here. See!). New York Magazine gives five stars...but is also on a Michelin-style scale (where, in typical New York Magazine form, five stars equals "ethereal, almost perfect." Almost! Ha! Like: "Nothing could live up to the Platonic ideal of what a restaurant should be."). Then you have movies, which are usually up to four star reviews...except when they aren't, Netflix with five. There are also only three possible states to two thumbs: two up, two down, one up/one down. But one of them belongs to Roeper, so you can immediately ignore it. The other belongs (or belonged?) to Ebert, and you can just read his (up to four star) reviews. Rolling Stone has up to five stars for everything (including terrible albums by great rockers). Then you have the up to 10.0 review offered by Pitchfork (Art Brut's most recent album got an 8.9. Eight-point-nine. That's just fucking priceless). The up to 100 review for most game magazines. The much-cribbed three-star Michelin guide. Metacritic, which converts everything to "out of 100," anyway. The helpful, but not quite objective Allmusic with up to five. And the Village Voice...with letter grades - for music, anyway.

I propose: An International Standards Group for all criticatorial services. I also propose that said group force all publications to either adopt a standard four star or Michelin three star rating system. What most of these places refuse to acknowledge is that a four star review means something (and not just in a 4/4 = 100 kind of way). It has a certain cultural meaning. "This is a four (or three or two or one) star movie" makes sense to me. "This is a five out of six star movie" does not make sense. Dear critics, at your core, you provide a service. Don't make my understanding of your service more difficult than it should be.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Spam Biography: Beulah Ali

[Spam Biography: a biography is produced based solely on the fake name attached to a piece of mail that winds up in the Spam folder of my gmail account.]

Beulah Ali was born Beulah MacAlister in Belzoni, MS in either 1897 or 1898 to a farmer named Padrig MacAlister and his wife, Meaghan. She would later describe her childhood as "Small people living small lives in a small town. It was alright." In 1914, she won the title "Miss Saw Mill" and was sent to Cologne, Germany to represent American industry in the 1914 World's Fair (The infamous "Werkbund Exhibition," in which the first German-designed tanks were "jokingly" pointed directly at Serbia's table and sole representative - generally considered a small, but important incident in the run-up to WWI.). While there, Beulah met and fell in love with Jacques "Scimitar" Ali, the knife juggler at The Ottoman Empire's "Healthy Man of Europe!" Pavilion. As war broke out around them, Jacques and Beulah fled to his native Paris (Jacques was a French citizen of aristocratic extraction who had been hired by the Ottoman Empire for his robust mustache and willingness to change his last name) and were hastily married on the steps on Notre Dame.

Unfortunately, Jacques was drafted and sent to the front within weeks of their arrival in Paris. Beulah eked out a living by singing in clubs at night and weaving bandages for the war effort during the day. As the war dragged on, Beulah became well-known for her cabaret act, a set of self-penned songs in a mix of English and French that detailed - in quite explicit language - how happy she'd be when her husband returned from the trenches. She recorded "That Shot'll be Heard 'Round the World" in August 1918, on the eve of Allied victory. It became the unofficial anthem for the end of hostilities and the homecoming of millions of soldiers. Unfortunately, her own husband, Jacques, perished on the battlefield days before the Armistice. Beulah never recovered. She wrote and recorded a handful of songs after receiving the news, but destroyed the masters before they could be released. "They were my love letters to Jacques. I didn't want anyone to hear them," she said.

She retreated from the world, living in a small apartment in Montmartre off royalties and the kindness of a still appreciative public. She died in 1942 while working on her first new songs in over two decades. Only "Vichy Victory," a scathing critique of French collaborationism, was released. While suppressed, it became popular abroad and among the resistance. At her request, her body was interred in her family's cemetery in her native Mississippi. "Since I can't be with Jacques," she said, "Mississippi seems as bad as anywhere else."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Time Out...Time Out NY

This summer, Time Out NY has thrice (thrice!) gotten me to buy it with an interesting looking cover story. The first promised "Food Getaways." Now, when I think "Getaway," I think short, easy (e.g., "Go to Philly, and hit these ten spots over a weekend to become a cheese steak connoisseur."). They were, instead, offering advice on full-fledged vacations (e.g, "Fly to North Carolina, rent a car, drive two hundred miles to a strip of restaurants that's BBQ Heaven."). Since, I'm not sure if getaway really has the connotation of being quick and easy, I let it slide. Then, I bought an issue that promised interesting "staycations" in New York City. Y'know when I should have known that it was not going to be great? When it had the word "staycations" on the cover. Anyway, most of the "staycations" were kind of hectic and jam-packed (one would do a lot of subway riding) and fairly expensive...and kind of lame.

Last week's issue's cover says: "Why didn't we think of that?! How to make New York better by stealing the best ideas from other cities." I looked up, read that, and thought, "Hey, that's interesting." And I bought it. And most of the ideas are kind of bad. Or at least not needed. So, I'll provide a rebuttal for their top five bad ideas.

1. Downtown Minneapolis has tubes connecting buildings, so pedestrians stay warm in the winter.
Bad idea because: Minneapolis has a population of less than 400,000, and it has a longer, harsher winter. In other words: suck it up. The cost of building sky tubes to accomodate the millions of people in Midtown Manhattan including commuters and tourists for a (relatively) mild winter seems like it would be gigantic. Also: have you been to Yankee Stadium and walked through the tube that connects the parking lot? That shit is ugly.

2. We need something like London's Hyde Park, where people can stand on a soapbox and make fools of themselves.
Bad idea because: If you want to exercise free speech in NYC, make like the Black Israelites or Moondog and find a busy intersection. We don't need a publicly sanctioned, tourist-ridden spot to do it.

3. Herring is a popular snack in the Netherlands. We need herring as a snack food in New York City.
Bad idea because: You looked around NYC and decided that what it needs is herring? What? What! Herring? Fah!

4. Paris closes down an important road, fills it with sand on the Seine, and creates a beach. We should do that on the FDR.
Bad idea because: Maybe not a bad idea, just a really, really unnecessary one. Paris is landlocked. It's like 3 hours from the ocean (according to google maps). New York is not. Coney Island. Rockaway Beach. Orchard Beach. Knock yourself out. Wait: the French do this in August. Aren't the French famous for taking the month of August off? Meaning, wouldn't traffic be a million times worse in NYC, because not everyone is on vacation. I change my vote: bad idea. Bad idea.

5. We need a Waffle House!
Bad idea because: Don't you want to at least pretend that New York is special? That it's an individual place? You're suggesting that what New York needs is the regional chain that you visited when you were hungover in college? C'mon! Go to a diner or a coffeeshop.

This leads me to my real problem with the article. I'm not one of those "New York ain't New York if it ain't dirty" people, but New York is not just the sum of its parts. It has a character, and the people who wrote the article, in several places, just didn't account for that. This is worrying, because they, working for a publication that covers New York, should be best informed as to what makes New York special, and how it can be improved. Look at it like the Galapagos: New York evolved diners and coffee shops to fill the same evolutionary niche the Waffle House does in the South. Enjoy them. If you want to kill off all the finches by importing competitors, go for it, you heartless wretch. I don't.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Spotted at 'disiac on 54th nr. 9th.

-Huh.
-What?
-What's...uh...What's that?

-Up in the tree?
-Is that a?
-It is.


-It's a chair.
-In that tree.
-Weird.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Junk, junk, idiocy, bill, junk.

[Mail's here. Junk, junk. I've been pre-selected for an American Express Gold Card. You don't say. Fancy.]

[Aah. Tara's been pre-selected as well, looks like. Very exclusive. Wait a second.]
Me: Hon'?
Tara: Yeah.
Me: Take a look at this.
Tara: Ha!
Me: Where'd they get Pecanpie from?
Tara: Uh, that's my password for pretty much everything.
Me: I think you should change it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Internal Monologue: Mayor Bloomberg Takes a Sunday Off and Bums Around

Good morning, New York City! Oh my, it's 12:05. Hmm. Good afternoon, New York City! Capital of the World. Time to take a shower in water consistently rated among the best of major American municpalities. Or should I? C'mon, Mike. Nothing to do today. World is your oyster. You can just sit around watching golf in your underwear. Plenty of people do that. Hmm.

I live in and efficiently manage the greatest city in the world, and I'm going to squander a day off in front of the television? No, thank you.

[Showers.]

Okay, now what? 1 o'clock already. Hmm. Is it lunch or breakfast? Hmm. Never been a big breakfast person. But I do like coffee. You can have coffee at lunch. No law against that.

New York is the greatest city in the world to have lunch in. Get out there and eat some lunch!

Or perhaps I'll order lunch from one of the many exquisite places in this neighborhood, and have it delivered, likely by a member of one of the outstanding immigrant groups who have made New York, the bustling, thriving metropolis it is today. And I'll eat it and then I'll do the Times crossword puzzle. What a perfect way to spend an afternoon in the city with the biggest heart in America.

[Orders. Eats.]

Three letters. "Like an ostrich." Not today, my friend. E-M-U.

[A half hour later.]

Who knows this stuff? These words exist only in crossword puzzles.

[Puts puzzle down. Turns on the TV.]

Only 4 o'clock. Five hours till the Sopranos. Oh, no, they're done, aren't they? Not back for months. Dangit. I should work a Tony Soprano thing into a speech.

That's a dumb idea.

Rudy could've pulled it off. He prosecuted those guys. And his last name was Giuliani. Stay on target, Mike. Efficient management. That's what you're about. You efficiently manage the most vibrant city in the world.

[Flips idly for a few minutes. Settles on golf. Falls asleep]

[Wakes up.]

7 o'clock. Okay, Mike. You can do this. Just relax in front of the television. Just watch.

[Flips around for a moment.]

[Reaches for planner.]

There's gotta be something going on tonight. This is New York, Dangit. Nothing? Nothing. No dress gala? No museum opening? A car wash? Nothing. Jeez-louise.

I'll go see Superman. Everyone knows Metropolis is really New York. They shot in Australia, though. We're practically giving streets away to film crews, and they went to Australia to shoot Superman. Sheesh. Both Spiderman movies shot here.

[Flips around for a moment.]

Oh, heck, I'll go see Superman.

[placeholder: naked atms]

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Grups Award #3


Aaah, The Grups Award. For its illustrious history click here. It's given to ideas and articles that at first glance might seem insightful, but in reality are simple overgeneralizations. Today's Gruppy goes to New York Magazine for this article about happiness. It is filled with generalizations that are drawn from studies that may or may not be rigorous -- the first thing mentioned, which the author uses to tell us that New York City is an unhappy place, is an online test called the Authentic Happiness Inventory. Now, I'm no big city statistician, but because it's self-selecting, this has all the authority of an AOL "Is Brangelina pregnant? Yes/No/Maybe" poll. The doctor even says so: "But please appreciate—and this is a formal disclaimer—that these are not representative respondents." But the article still spends like the first four paragraphs on it, then mentions it a few more times.

It's a lazy, tangent-filled wreck of an article. It dips into the author's personal life before flying through some summaries of studies, before making a few more generalizations and "big picture insights." Then it makes it New York-centric, with some snark, before reversing its position and doing everything all over again. It is, in one convenient location, all the things that bother me about New York Magazine. So, it's winning a Grups award. Here's my running commentary on the article. Feel free to go page by page, and shout these things out, Mystery Science Theater style.

p. 1

- A self-selected group of people logged on and took a test. There is no significance to this test, as the group was self-selected, and, as admitted very small in some locations.

- What is this test, anyway?

- Stop talking about this test.

- The number of people who sign up for a class at Harvard is also not significant. Maybe it's an easy A.
- Wait, how can it be a recent phenomenon if that Smiles guy wrote a book in 1849?
- Has "positive psychology" existed under other names?
- Oh, wait, as self-help books?
- Describing the interest as "explosive" conveniently allows one not to cite a single real number.
- Name-checking Malcolm Gladwell does not make you Malcolm Gladwell. And he kind of has nothing to do with this.
- How is studying happiness a "boomer phenomenon" if all those Harvard kids are interested in it?
- Aaah, putting the pieces together. Self-help=dot com; George W.=positivity. I hate this magazine sometimes.


p. 2

- I still haven't don't know what the Authentic Happiness Inventory is or how it works, but it and its inventor, have been mentioned several times.
- "To wade into the literature on happiness is to wade into a world of control groups and volunteers, questionnaires and ratings scales, cases of the fortunate and cases of the medically extreme." I think you mean: "To wade into the literature on anything related to any trend in any social science is to..."

- A bunch of statistics and studies that aren't synthesized in any way. Or: "I did my homework."

- Wait, a lot of these studies are from before 1998? Umm, why are you still pretending this is a brand new field?

p. 3

- Some generalizations that may or may not be based on rigorous studies.
- "Because our imaginations are limited, we can be disappointed by the things we covet most." I don't think limited is the right adjective there. I don't think limitations have much to do with "being incorrect" in this situation. Wouldn't a limited imagination be more likely to lead you to things that would make you happy? Instead of dreaming about a house made of gold, you'd dream about the new CD you were going to buy.

- "Like most New Yorkers I know, I can’t imagine living in most other places in the world." This statement is a fakey generalization. "No, look, I was only talking about the ones that I know."

p. 4
- "Yet New York, as surprisingly neighborly a city as it is, is still predicated on a certain principle of atomization." I need numbers on this. I need you to demonstrate that New Yorkers have fewer friends and less social interaction than non-NYers.
- "Then there’s the question of the hedonic treadmill, such a demonic little term, so vivid, so apt. Isn’t that what New York, the city of 24-hour gyms, is?" Mixing figurative and actual treadmills is not cool.
- "More charitably put, one could say that New York is a city of aspirants, the destination people come to to realize dreams." Have you considered the notion that if - if! -NYers are less happy than the rest of the country (something you haven't proven), then maybe NYers would be even less happy in the places they came from. Maybe NYers are people who are, say, made unhappy by their families? You're pretending like the same set of inputs makes people happy in exactly the same ways, which is the most consistently annoying thing about this article.
- Based on a comment by Barry Schwartz, you're imagining that NY creates unhappy weirdos, instead of the other way around. Meh. I need more than a comment by Barry Schwartz.

- What's the jam story have to do with anything? I remember reading about food studies that suggested that one simply can't keep more than 7 or 8 tastes specifically in mind. Simple confusion is not the same as being paralyzed by choice ("Wait, did I like Jam 19 or Jam 16?"). Or unhappiness.

- "Yet most of us insist that New York is the only place we’d be happy, just as parents insist their children are their greatest sources of joy." Dammit, you have to back that "most" up. A lot.

p. 5
- And now, you contradict everything you wrote. Y'know I used to do that in college when I realized I only had three pages of a five page paper.

- Writer, please stop implying psychology focusing on pathology was/is a bad/incomplete thing. Do you criticize surgeons for not removing the appendixes of physically healthy people? Making sure that schizophrenics don't go crazy and kill people is more important (I think) than making sure a guy who's already happy gets nominally happier. In fact, that psychologists can focus on this, shows how far the pathology side of things has come, no?
- This guy's peddling self help books? Umm, didn't you say this was different from self help?


p. 6
- "(In fact, happiness researchers frequently use the equation H = S + C + V, or happiness equals our genetic set point plus our circumstances plus what we voluntarily change—a tad too reminiscent, for my taste, of a certain “Far Side” cartoon: “Einstein discovers time actually is money.”)" That's nothing like that Far Side cartoon. Umm. What the fuck?
- The English Patient? Where are you going with this?
- "Some of us are Hanas, some of us are Kips." BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Seriously. Did you just tell me there are two types of people in this world? You did. You didn't say, "There are two types of people in this world," but that's really what you said.


p. 7

- Stop writing about yourself.

- "Like every religion, movement, and interesting idea, positive psychology has its own creation myth." Someone needs to have all of her generalizations taken away from her.


p. 8

- "There’s an untold distance between knowing happiness and knowing about it." Umm...yes? You can put just about any thought/idea in that sentence. Poverty. Hunger. Sunlight. Hunting. Fishing. William Shakespeare. Peanut Butter.
- "And sometimes, to our blinking incomprehension, that distance can only be measured in the space between this life and the next." Oooh. [inhales] Oooh.

- "Until extremely recently, happiness wasn’t even a value, much less an inalienable right. Instead, it was something one got to experience only in death, after leading a virtuous, and often self-denying, life." What? 1) It isn't a "value" now, either. 2) It isn't an inalienable right (cough*pursuitof*cough). Are you really suggesting people weren't happy before 1998? Or 1776? Or...what?

p. 9

- I knew you'd get to the depressed = realist study! It's mentioned in that "Lincoln was depressed" book.
- Ah, and we end on a snarky note, naturally. "A psychoanalyst might even call him conflicted."

- Blech.

Monday, July 10, 2006

No Pictures Comix Presents: The Adventures of Second Wave Gentrification Man

["Making Neighborhoods Less Threatening!"]

[Wall Street Financial Analyst Mike McMichaels walks into a loft party thrown by a neighbor he ran into at D'Agastino's in last week's issue.]

Neighbor, looking suitably bohemian: Hey, glad you could make it...uh...I'm sorry I completely blanked on your name.

Mike: Oh, Mike. And you are Kurt, right?

Neighbor: Yeah.

Mike: So, what's the occassion?

Neighbor: Oh, just one last party. My landlord's raising the rent, so I have to move out. He's going to divide this space up into apartments.

Mike: Really? Do you know what they'll go for?

Neighbor: What? Uh, no.

Mike: This is a great space. [beat] I bet you had a great deal on it. [beat] "New York" said this neighborhood was "Up and Coming," but I wish it would already "Up and Come!"

[Neighbor glares at Mike.
]

Mike: Is there a good place for coffee around here?


Neighbor: There's that little place on the corner, next to the dry cleaners by the subway.

Mike: I know that place. I mean, like, y'know... [trails off]

[Neighbor glares some more.]

["Later that evening..."]

[Mike is walking down the street, and spots a homeless man.]

[He looks around to make sure there's no one else, then looks up in the sky.]


Mike: KAAAA-Ching!

[A lightning bolt descends from the sky and turns Mike into Second Wave Gentrification Man. He looks pretty much the same as Mike.]

[He walks over to the homeless man, and shoots gentri-beams from his eyes.]

[The homeless man turns into a squirrel who cocks a curious head at Mike, then hops away.]

[Mike walks up to a gated storefront. He waves his hand over the gate and it disappears, revealing a sign that says "Pollo Azteca."]

Mike: Not in what has only recently become my neighborhood.

[More gentri-beams.]

[The sign changes to read "Dandelion Cupcake, Co."]

Mike: That's better.

[The End.]

Friday, June 23, 2006

Randominnyc Klassik Kut

Randominnyc will be be on hold for the next week. In the meantime, enjoy this classic post from the turn of the (20th) century.

An Imagined Conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Thackery Walpole St. Clair:

Mr.: My dear!
Mrs.: What? What is it?
Mr: I do believe there's a roustabout over there.
Mrs: A roustabout? Oh, it is! What shall we do?
Mr.: I'm going to call for that burly Irish fellow they have patrolling the neighborhood. Officer! Officer!
Officer Houlihan: Faith and beggorah! Hi-diddle-ee-dee!
Mrs.: What is he saying?
Mr.: Don't worry, that's just the way these people talk. Officer, there's a roustabout over there.
Officer: Oish! [sings] When Oirish ois are smoilin'! [runs off toward the roustabout, club in hand]
Mrs.: That certainly was trying!
Mr.: It's like medicine, dear.
Mrs.: How so?
Mr.: You see, the cure is often worse than the disease.

[end]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I need toothpaste, and I don't have time to cross the street

I'm juuust about positive that the Duane Reade under the scaffolding (across the street) is set to close, but it's now been about a month since the bright and pretty one opened, and they're both still there. Two Duane Reades directly across the street from one another. Huh. (This is on 57th and Broadway.)

Signmakers of America, C'mon!

I've almost accepted the overuse of apostrophes (Make Hundred's of Dollars a Day from Home) and the use of quotation marks for emphasis (We "Beat" Our Competitors Prices), but I can't stand by and watch another punctuation mark be abused. "Within" does not have a hyphen in it. C'mon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

randominnj: Cape May

Two weeks ago, Tara took me to Cape May, NJ. She said I was being "cranky" and an "asshole," and that if I didn't relax she was going to "stab me" with a "fork." So, we went, and had a really nice time. How we got there: a Greyhound to Atlantic City, and a NJ Transit Bus from Atlantic City to Cape May (yes, we stopped and gambled for an hour). If you own an automocar, you take the Garden State Parkway to the end. Here's a map. It's far away. While the Greyhound was fine, the NJT bus was filled with disturbing people. We heard a woman leave the following message on her, um, boyfriend's answering machine: "I'm just wondering what happened last night. I thought you wanted me. If you just want to be friends, that's okay...but I want my money back." Aaah, beautiful New Jersey.

A pretty, tree-lined street. There are quite a few of these. And everything will look all nice, American flags will be flapping gently in the breeze, all will be right with the world, and then:

Wham. A house painted like prostitutes live there. I have no idea what this is about. When I mentioned it to someone upon returning to NY, she said that they're called "painted ladies" and it's a thing. Whatever. So, if you go and you see houses made to look like houses of ill-repute, remember, that's the way they're intended to look. The above one is actually kind of tame, as it's only two or three colors. There were several that had so many different colors on them that my eyes bled. We had to go the hospital. It's called Painted Lady Syndrome (PLS) and it happens to a lot of first-timers in Cape May.

This is the beach. It was quite nice looking, but as it was pretty chilly, we didn't go in the water. Along the beach there is skeeball to be played and silly prizes to trade tickets for. I cashed in for a rabbit's foot. I think it's a real rabbit's foot. It makes me kind of sad.

Tara and I went whale-watching. We watched no whales. They couldn't find any. But. We did see a whole lot of dolphins, which was pretty thrilling. Dozens of them surfacing from the water at a time. This picture makes it look 96% less thrilling than it actually was. I also got a nasty sun/wind burn. Remember, white people: sunscreen.

A view from the (lack of) whale watching boat of Wildwoods. What is Wildwoods? It's where message lady ("I want my money back") was headed. I think it's like the Ur-Jersey Shore. Mini golf + rides + alcohol. Four young Irish guys who had traveled from New York City got off the bus at Wildwoods. They came from Ireland to spend some time in Wildwoods. They left New York to spend some of their visit...at Wildwoods. Guh?

This seems to sum up Cape May. It's kinda trashy, but it's also wicker. Here, have some.

This place is located on the pedestrian mall (some restaurants, 72 ice cream shops, a bunch of Cape May T-shirts), and it creeps me out. "Rowr, come a little closer, kids, I want to fucking eat you." Have you read Stephen King's Dark Tower books? "And be a happy choo-choo train until the day I die." It's just so wrong-looking.

This was among the last things we saw in Cape May. We were waiting for the bus when one of us noticed this on a beam at the station. Eric did 12 pull ups there. Apparently, among the lace and skill cranes there are teenagers. And they, like all teenagers, are bored.

Monday, June 19, 2006

HOWTO Ride a Greyhound (Bus)

[I've taken a few Greyhound buses in the past few weeks. In a weird way, I kind of love them. They are completely and utterly off the cultural radar, and they're totally utilitarian. There are so few things like that. Also: I'm cheap and don't drive. Anyway, riding Greyhound does have its pitfalls. Here's how to minimize them.]

1 - Rework the way you quantify your time. People will be all, "It took us four and a half hours to drive here" and you'll be all, "It took me six on the bus. I'm sad." Bullshit. They had to drive for four and a half hours and you got to read and sleep for six hours. If someone randomly gave me six hours to read and sleep, I'd thank them.
2 - Put your wallet in your front pocket.
3 - Traveling by Greyhound is cheap. You will be placed in a bus with an odd collection of working stiffs, college students, and the insane. Oh, and one (1) family with numerous small children. Where am I going with this? Several places. But first: try to ride with someone you know. If you are alone on the bus, the person you sit next to, might be one of the insane. And they'll want to talk to you. Remember, you're going to be on the bus for a while, and what might start off as "This guy is awesome. I am going to have the best story," will quickly turn into, "I hate my life." Which brings us to:
4 - Bring music and headphones that block sound. Nope, iPod earbuds won't do; they'll allow you to hear the weird little kid sitting behind you repeating "Mommydaddy, mommydaddy" for hours at a time. If you want to get fancy, you can get the noise canceling type. I have a pair of Sony headphones with soft (rubber? silicone?) buds that seal my ears up. They are awesome. As a bonus, if you do get a seat right next to a crazy person, you can put them in your ears and ignore him.
5 - Also: Sit near the back of the bus. The closer to the back of the bus, the less likely you'll be seated in front of someone who doesn't have an indoor voice, and who projects forward so everyone can hear them. This gets a little complicated because: 1) the seats in the very back do not recline; 2) the further back you sit, the closer you'll be to the restroom. Before you commit to a seat in the back take a good, long sniff.
6 - Bring more music and reading materials in more genres than you think you'll want. Getting antsy on a bus is the worst thing in the world. And then you turn into the shifter-guy who can't get comfortable. Sometimes switching the type of reading material or music I'm consuming makes my brain less twitchy.
7 - Bring a sweatshirt. It's like a towel in the Hitchhiker's Guide - it has many uses. Okay, it has two: You can keep yourself warm when a sadistic driver turns the A/C all the way up, and you can ball it up and use it as a pillow. Remember: there is nothing as bad as that feeling when you lean your head directly on the window of a moving vehicle (vibrations, vibrations, BUMP).
8 - Set your phone to silent. This will make your life as well as everyone else's better. If it rings and you're on the verge of sleep...it's going to wake you up. And then you're going to do that weird sitting dance while you get it out of your pocket. It's just not worth it.
9 - There is a difference between comfortable and uncomfortable jeans. Know it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

[placeholder: alien urination]

[taken by Franklin in Tricase Porto in the Puglia region of Italy]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hypothetical Cape May, NJ Conversation

- Hello, Evelyn.
- Hello Marjorie.
- I see you have the Vacancy sign up. A little late in the season for that, isn't it?
- Oh, well, it's just the small room.
- The one with the fire ant problem.
- That was twelve summers ago, and you know it.
- Well, anyway, I'm full up.
- That's nice. You're also a husband stealing whore.
- Better than being a frigid bitch.
- Have a nice day.
- You, too.

Monday, June 12, 2006

You make me sick

[picture from the menu at a chain restaurant]

Let me guess, you're starting with our onion dippers, then having one of our sinfully good half-pound burgers, and you're going to finish it all off with a simply decadent brownie sundae? I'm right, right? I'm totally right. Okay, then maybe you should not have one of our awesome triple-thick shakes with your meal. Just an idea. Maybe you should try something just a smidge healthy. I mean, it's lunch, for the love of God. You're going to eat again in like three hours. Also, would it kill you to walk somewhere? Like, once. Okay, okay, here it is. Step 1: Have a delicious smoothie. Step 2: Do a situp. Jesus.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pizza Quest: Introduction

The Pizza Quest started about two years ago as an attempt to eat at the best pizza places in and around New York. It's been an off-and-on event, as my free time (and capacity for my own foolishness) waxes and wanes. It remains sadly incomplete (we still haven't been to Staten Island or Franny's in Brooklyn.), but there's plenty here. So, enjoy, the fruits of the labor of a roving band of idiots (sometimes as few as two, sometimes over a dozen) who ate their way around New York (except for Staten Island. Dammit!).

Just so you know, writeups are grouped by geography (as you can see) and within that are presented simply in the order in which the places were visited.

Oh, and while I didn’t originally rate places, a couple people requested ratings (they really are helpful), and so here is how this highly scientific system works:

* = Famous Ray’s
** = Wouldn’t mind having in my neighborhood
*** = Worth a subway ride
**** = Worth a subway, a bus, a ferry, whatever, just get there.

Manhattan Below 14th St.
Manhattan Above 14th St.

Queens
The Bronx
Brooklyn
Westchester
New Haven
Mail Order Chicago

Pizza Quest: Manhattan Below 14th St.

Arturo’s on Houston –
**

The decor: The walls are filled with paintings (by Arturo, and available for purchase), pictures of Clark Gable and others, a vaguely Mayan looking calendar-ey thing...airplanes hang from the ceiling, the pianist (pianist!) cranks out background music, the bathroom has a bathtub and a chalkboard in it...It's as if someone had detonated a kitsch bomb and Arturo's was ground zero. Whoever you are, Arturo, I salute both you and the black velvet paintings that almost certainly decorate the walls of your home.

The pizza lands in the middle of the pack. We ordered two pies. The first, a fresh mozzarella-half plain/half garlic left us underwhelmed. The mozzarella had an odd, unpleasantly pungent aftertaste. The sauce was okay (Ted found it lacking, I found it alright). The garlic had the same "not-really-fresh" taste as V&T's. The crust was okay (the cheese was a bit watery and some pieces of the pie didn't hold up to it), there was some nice charring (sometimes a bit too much), and a pleasant greasiness in the rim of the pizza. The pizza was also sprinkled with black pepper (a first), which was generally appreciated, and gave the last bites a nice little kick. The second pie was plain mozz-half pepperoni/half sausage. Neither topping was great. The pepperoni was extremely mild; the sausage (crumbled), had disturbing little chewy bits in it. Shudder. The cheese was okay, with a thick layer applied directly to the crust with the sauce spread on top and around it. Again, the pizza finished well, with the peppery, crisp and chewy outer crust.

John's on Bleecker –
**1/2

Four people, two pies (one half-plain/half-garlic, one half-sausage/half-pepperoni).

If I'm not mistaken, John's is among the first round of pizzerias in New York City to open after Lombardi's (which was the first in the US), opened by a pizza-maker who got his start at Lombardi's (Patsy's and Totonno's were also founded by former Lombardi's workers). Pizzas are cooked in a coal-fired, brick oven, and their crusts are very close in style to Patsy's: extremely thin, crispy, and near-flaky, with nice charring (though, a bit too much on some slices). The sauce and cheese were where I felt the pies faltered: the mozzarella was a bit bland (applied, again, directly to the crust), though it had some nice charring and bubbling (not too much), and the sauce was a little too sweet-tasting (I'm preferring, by a large margin, the simple crushed tomato sauces most places have been offering up). The garlic was very good, large chucks (not overpowering), the pepperoni was alright (thin, not greasy, but without enough spiciness for me), and the sausage was excellent (crumbled up, great, strong fennel and herb taste). I'd rate it below Louie and Ernie's, Matt and Tara disagreed with me (saying that Louie and Ernie's crust was too thick, closer to a corner slice joint). Brian agreed with me. I win.

Afterwards we stopped next door at "Cones" a gelato shop. When asked what the difference between gelato and ice cream, the proprietor bragged, "It's made with milk, so it has 20% less fat." This is not something you brag about, as far as I'm concerned. You might as well brag that it’s made with 20% less love...still, it was pretty tasty.

Joe's Pizza on W. 4th St. –
**1/2

Five of us made it to Joe's Pizza near W. 4th. I wasn't particularly impressed with the place: it looks like a standard slice joint (actually, like a substandard slice joint), and I feared a repeat of Sal and Carmine's (an okay slice place that, due to some shared dementia, numerous people have elevated to the status of "the best"). Happily, my fears were unfounded. We faced a brief moment of panic when we realized that Joe's does not serve alcohol, but persevered: We ran into a nearby deli (We tried three before we found one with alcohol. What's wrong with that neighborhood?), grabbed some booze, listened to a fey, gerri-curled guy yell at the cashier, "Don't you curse me! Don't you curse me!", paid, and returned just in time for the first pie (Opening the bottles proved to be another challenge, and required the following: try to open on cheap table in pizzeria, give up, run outside - bottle wrapped in an ultra-classy brown paper bag - open bottle on side of telephone booth, if telephone is in use try the gate to the store next door, when store owner comes out to investigate banging noise, run inside, poor beer into cup, drink, when cop enters pizzeria to buy an Italian ice, try to "act cool.")

The pizza:

Two pies. One regular mozzarella/half-sausage, one fresh mozzarella/half-pepperoni. They were some good pizza. Thin crust (the fresh mozz pie thinner) topped with a pretty thick layer of the regular mozz, or thin blobs of the fresh, and a tart tomato sauce. Plain ol' pepperoni (though sliced very thin) and relatively thin-sliced, peppery sausage. The group was impressed, with a split decision on the cheeses (I, along with Matt and Pete, go fresh, which had a slight crispiness to it, Jaimie and April went plain, which, they said, worked better with the sauce). Complaints: crust was a little "floppy" particularly on the fresh mozz pie, and cheese, while tasty, wasn't great (completely acceptable, but didn't bowl me over). This was a very good "standard slice" place.

Una Pizza Napolitana, 1st Ave and 12th St. –
****

We went to this absolutely tiny (maybe 25 people can fit?) pizzeria on what was one of its first days open to the public. It showed. Not so much in the pizza (although on one pie there were areas of the crust that only the very charitable would refer to as charred rather than burnt), but in service: we waited an hour-and-a-half for our first pies. But, first night jitters and all…I am willing to forgive this. Especially because this place has a lot of potential; they seem committed to creating excellent pizza from remarkably high quality ingredients. They only offer four pies (all just 14 inches across) – all containing some variation on: buffalo-milk mozzarella, tomato sauce, fresh cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and basil. We had three pies, split among four people. Two Margherita (cheese + sauce), one white with tomatoes. The crusts were thin, crisp, and flaky, the cheese ridiculously good, the whole thing sprinkled with sea salt (which gives the crust a happy salty crunchiness) and a huge amount of olive oil (which gave the pie a tasty olive oiliness to me, and a greazy greasiness to others). While I am excited by the prospect of returning when they’ve worked out the (relatively minor) kinks, my three fellow pizza-eaters were less impressed. And that is why I hate them.

Update:

I returned with Tara and Jen several months later, and I have to say, this is among the best pizza I have ever eaten. We ordered three pies, then mixed and matched as we pleased. The buffalo mozzarella sort of opens up as it cooks, releasing liquid as it melts. This, when coupled with the olive oil drizzled on top, makes the pizza slightly soggy in the center, but the crust, expertly charred and crisp from the wood-burning oven, holds up. When you've nearly finished your pie, you can use the last bit of crust to mop up this deliciousness. Then the choir of pizza angels kicks in. I had two beers with the pie, but walked out feeling slightly drunk from the pleasure of just eating something so damned good. Bonus: The owner/pie man is tattooed in the extreme, they run all the way to his fingertips.

Lombardi’s, Spring St. –
**1/2

I’ve now been to Lombardi’s about five times, and it always seems to be a shrug-a-thon. I hate to sound dismissive of the first pizzeria in America, but I continue to get just plain good pies at a place that should be killing me every time I go there. Why is this? The most common factors pointed out are a lack of care and too many pies being made (the two are, of course, linked). Basically, Lombardi’s has capitalized (under owners unrelated to the family who founded it) on the fact that it was the first, and has turned itself from a pizzeria into a tourist destination, adding on a new seating area and cranking out more pies than the ancient (and beautiful) oven can reasonably handle. I wish I weren’t so negative (on one visit, the crust was downright exquisite – that’s right, exquisite – and none of the ingredients they use are less than good), but I speak from a place of disappointment. I want the first to be the best. Or at least number two or three. Instead, it goes to the middle of the pack.

De Marco's, 146 Houston –
**1/2 for the good pies
No stars for the bad one

What was ordered:

"Square pie" - half plain/half pepperoni
Round - Plain
Round - All sausage, half garlic

The reason we went to De Marco's is because it's a kinda-offshoot of the legendary DiFara's in Midwood, and as we were sitting there, eating slice after slice, all I could do was rain on everyone's parade. "Oh, this is good. But at DiFara's this would be a million-billion times better." And it is, hyperbole aside, true. The first two pies we got were very good. The square was a bit thinner than a Sicilian pie, the round, thicker than places like Patsy's (similar to the style at, yes, DiFara's). They were messy (not a bad thing) and topped with a huge amount of cheese (aged mozz, a way-too-small amount of buffalo mozz, and a sprinkling of grana padana), very good, thick pepperoni slices, and a tasty, lightly-cooked sauce (I got a nice fresh basil taste from it). Unfortunately, they fell apart as they sat; the crust was no match for the ingredients, and, yes, the forks and knives came out. But still, De Marco's was placing pretty high ("It's no DiFara's, but...") when pie #3 came out. I can honestly say that I think it had the worst crust of any pizza I've ever gotten from a pizzeria. It had almost no rise to it and tasted chalky. The nearest comparison I can make is to frozen pizza. Bad frozen pizza. Dense and gross frozen pizza. To make matters worse the garlic didn't taste cooked so much as dried out. I don't know what happened (cold oven?) but we were severely disappointed. Unfortunately, it is safe to say that (as of now) De Marco's is no DiFara's.

Luzzo's on 1st b/w 12th and 13th
**

I don’t care too much about service at a restaurant (particularly a pizza joint). In fact, I kind of enjoy the crankiness of the servers at places like Totonno's and Johnny's, where the attitude seems to be "The pizza's so good, you don't need to like us." This cranky-but you-love-us vibe was not in effect at Luzzo's: the service alternated from simply bad (bathroom out of order, a long wait for the check) to the bizarre (At one point Matt and I ordered beer. The waiter came back with one for Matt and said to me, "Give me a minute on yours." Ten minutes later, he came by with mine. Where did he go to get my beer? What happened in those ten minutes? What’s going on?). The pizzeria has a coal oven and was installed over the bones of Zito's, a bakery, only a few months ago (because of the damn, stupid environment this is the only way to open a new coal oven pizzeria in New York). I had pretty high hopes, and the pizza pretty much met them. It was a thin crust pie that was extremely light, only a little smoky, and not particularly crispy, but very good. Cheese was a choice of either buffalo or fresh mozzarella (the buffalo had a nice, full flavor to it), the sauce was light and sweet, with a little oregano bite to it. The "salami" listed on the menu was actually pepperoni (pretty good), and the sausage was extremely tasty and flavorful (lots o' fennel, no scary gristle bits in it). They were very good pizzas that were slightly different from the typical ultra-crisp New York, coal-oven slice (Patsy’s, John’s). Also, the owner/pizzaiolo came over to us for no good reason and gave us a big slab of pizza bianca (parmesan, herbs, salt, and olive oil were the only toppings). The service almost sank the place, but the quality of the pies and the good humor of the owner make me feel like this place merits another visit further down the line when they’ll have had more time to adjust to their newfound popularity.