Sunday, April 30, 2006

Facts about Coca-Cola Blak:

- It comes in a small, glass bottle.
- It costs $1.85.
- It is supposedly a combination of coffee and Coca-Cola.
- It has a deeply unpleasant, disturbingly strong caramel flavor.
- Despite its name, it is at least as brown as regular Coca-Cola.
- If it were a person it would stay at a party while the host is cleaning up and not offer to help.
- I will not be giving up my morning Diet Coke for it.
- People who make buckets of money thought Coca-Cola Blak was a great idea.
- Spelling reform advocate and playwright George Bernard Shaw would partially approve of its name, because it removes the redundant "c" in "black," but would suggest that the Coca-Cola company hasn't gone far enough, and that "Koka-Kola Blak" would be more consistent.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Amen Break

A thing that makes you realize how little you know about music: here. Dry, but really, really interesting (warning: video + sound in link).

And wiki has a nice little summary here.

[Fairly certain Roger sent me the video some time ago, but may have seen it on Mefi. Whoever did it, I thank you Internet, for all things good and nerdish.]

[placeholder: i want to live in a factory in the south bronx]

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bronx Cowgirl - No. 2 [bumblebee]

[three blocks away from home]

Okay. Wallet. Yep. Keys. Yep. Plane Ticket. Yep. Okay, good. Good to go. I locked the door. I packed my toothbrush. Toothpaste. Bag's in the trunk. John's watching Fry. Gave him the ear medicine. Okay. Oh, shit! The iron. No. I didn't use the iron. I didn't cook anything. I didn't turn the oven on. Everything is cool. Cool. Okay.


Back door! Back door? Yep. Good. Locked it when I took out the trash.


I forgot something.


Shit. Oh, dammit. Fuck. Dammit. Shit. I didn't

Dammit! God. Fuck. Now I have to turn around. Shit. Fuckshit. Dammit. Shit. Agggh. Goddammit. I'm such a fucking idiot! Fu-uck!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Things That Make Paula Abdul Cry

Tonight on American Idol, Paula was moved to tears by Elliott Yamin's performance. Here are some other things that make Paula cry:

- "Terms of Endearment"
- The song of the humble bobwhite
- Flashing yellows at intersections
- The ending of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
- Nutmeg
- Dwelling on her own mortality

Whiskyfest 2005

Gluttony seems to be getting attacked from all sides these days. There's always the standard Christian aversion to it, but recently we've been informed (yet again) that having too many choices does not lead to happiness and that we (Americans) have a tendency to fetishize, well, anything we can. Apparently, we no longer value simple enjoyment, and in our constant search for "the best" we've managed to lose touch with that which is really good. Meh. When confronted with this line of thought, I like to recall Wallace Stevens's dictum: "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream." In fact, I'll do Mr. Stevens one better "...and you should really ask him if you can try every flavor."

This was my mindset when I stepped into Whiskyfest 2005, a virtual Baskin Robbins (times four or five) for adults that was held in the Marriott in Times Square a few months ago. Two friends and I forked over $95 each for the pleasure of wandering from table to table (over fifty all told) trying sample after sample of whisky (or "whiskey," if you prefer - the "e" is common in the American and Irish spelling of the word) for about four hours. None of us come close to qualifying as aficionados. I would place us all squarely in the "eager beginner" category; we each have three or four bottles at home, we like to drink it, and we want to taste a whole lot more of the stuff.

We came up with four rules for the night:

1 - Eat beforehand. Food would be served there, but it couldn't hurt to get something in your stomach.

2 - Drink plenty of water.

3 - There are buckets at every table: use them. The point is not to get drunk, but to taste as much whisky as possible. Drink enough to make a judgment and dump the rest. Seriously. I mean, unless it's really good or something. Or, you know, you just want to drink it all. Okay: Don't get too drunk.

4 - Don't drink anything you have already tried. Unless it's really good, or, you feel like it or whatever.

We entered the ballroom, holding our goodie bags (a copy of Malt Advocate magazine, a small glass with "Whiskyfest 2005" etched into it, two little hotel room bottles of booze, and a small book with a map of the tables and space to write reactions), and immediately became bewildered. Any notion we'd had of where to begin evaporated. Scotch or bourbon? Which Scotch, which bourbon? We wandered for several minutes, open-mouthed and dumb, skimming tables but unable to take a taste for some reason. We eventually settled (for no good reason) on the Isle of Jura table, which was manned by a smiling older gentleman in a kilt. We approached and I snuck a look at his nametag: Willie Tait. A Scottish guy named Willie. My brain immediately turned into a Simpsons quote generator ("What do ya mean, there's no such thing as Scotchtoberfest?!" "Willie hears ya, and Willie don't care.")

He handed us each a small pamphlet explaining the different whiskies from the Isle of Jura. "There are tasting notes here for each of them, but you can ignore them...It's all what you get out of it. Your individual palate's response to it." He turned his pamphlet to a map of Scotland and pointed.

"Here's Jura. It's next to Islay. Do ya know what the best thing about Islay is?"

We all shook our heads "no."

"Ya can see Jura from it!" He laughed and we joined in, then he squinted one eye, looked around and said, "Oh, he's a mean bastard, isn't he? And he hasn't even had a drink yet." I typically don't cotton to people speaking of themselves in the third person, but Willie pulled it off. He then went on to explain the differences between Scotches from Jura and Islay. Islay Scotches are much smokier. We tried the three different Scotches at the table (a 10 year, a 16 year, and one called Superstition, which was far smokier than the other two). The 10 year - the most straightforward of the lot, was my favorite. This is why I am an amateur. "If you want to get a sense of Islay," Willie told us, "try the Laphroig over there." We thanked him, happily, and headed for Laphroaig (pronounced "la-froyg").

"Willie is awesome."

We tasted Laphroaig (too smoky for me, almost "mesquite-y"). We made our way to Suntory, and much to my amazement the poster behind the table said "It's Suntory time." I giggled. It also said, "(c) 2003 Lost in Translation." While I felt like neither an ennui-ridden, aging actor, nor a disaffected, youthful nymph after drinking them, the whiskies were quite good. A note here is necessary: Where advanced drinkers would likely have been able to tell if a whisky had been sitting in its casks for a day too long, or had been smoked for 30 seconds too little, our amateur responses were essentially: 1) "Wow, that's amazing." 2) "Yech, too [blank] for me." 3) "That's weird...but good." 4) "Yep, tastes like whisky."

We went up to the empty Lombard table, and were met by a stone-faced guy. We looked at the selection, waiting for Stone Face to break the ice. When he didn't, my friend asked, quite innocently, "So, uh, which of these is your favorite?"

"That's a ridiculous question," Stone Face replied.


"'Cos it depends on when you're drinking it. It depends on why you're drinking it. You have a few girlfriends...which one of them is your favorite?" On one hand, Stone Face had a point. On the other, Stone Face was a jerk. And not just a jerk, but a jerk who puts together poor metaphors. And a jerk who is supposed to be acting as a salesman. We tried some of the whisky. It could have tasted like ambrosia (the food of the gods, not the dessert) and we wouldn't have liked it. You're a jerk, Stone Face.

This brings me to the three types of whisky pourers at Whiskyfest:

1) Pretty girls in little, black dresses.

2) Knowledgeable people who work for the distillery.

3) Salesmen who are very excited.

There are of course hybrids (pretty girls who are quite knowledgeable) and subcategories (distillery employees who are jerks; distillery employees who are nice).

The hall was grew more and more crowded, and we had to stand in line to get to the tables for samples. Who crowded the hall? Middle-aged white men in good suits (I did spot a few women, a few minorities, and a few hipsters. The oddest sociological observation I can make was that the crowd was also very Jewish. Guys in yarmulkes were common, and there were even a few men in Orthodox dress). We wandered and tried the varieties of rye whisky that were available (Old Portrero, Michter's) and generally enjoyed it, but felt that it wasn't for everyday drinking. It was very "bright" tasting, and not anywhere near as "peppery" as I had assumed it would taste (Rye, it should be noted, seems to be making something of a comeback. It should also be noted that since Rye is a variety of whisky, Don McLean's Prom-ending anthem is both annoying and redundant.). Penderyn, the first and only Welsh whisky in a century, was interesting - both straightforward and quite delicious (and the Type 2 manning the bottles was extremely helpful). Michter's "American Whiskey" was very, very good. Then A Type 1 poured us massive amounts of a $500/bottle Scotch (the amount poured generally had an inverse relationship to the price of the whisky). We were giddy, then drank it, and my response to it, I am ashamed to say, was "Yep, that tastes like whisky." A 20-something Type 3 in a velvet (!) suit poured us three varieties of Speyside. He looked and acted like Max Fisher from Rushmore. Where's Bill Murray at?

We took a break.

We sat down at a table outside the tasting area with two gentlemen who didn't object to our presence. One got up, and the other introduced himself as a "real horse's ass when it [came] to whisky." At first I figured he was a novice like us, but it was just the opposite. He was a horse's ass because he was obsessed with whisky (like the way some of those people in Into Thin Air just needed to climb Everest. Except they died. And they served as a handy metaphor for man's hubris.). He was wearing a salmon-colored shirt and had a vague twang in his voice. If I had to assign a label to him, it would be "Rich Nascar Dad." We leapt on him for information, and he supplied it mostly by mocking our pedestrian tastes (I'd been downright awestruck by how good a John MacDougall single cask whisky had been. His response: "John MacDougall's a good guy, he's worked at a lot of distilleries, but I don't know if this stuff he's got coming out with, uh, the guy in the kilt is really worth it.")

"Did you guys try Suntory?" Salmon Shirt asked.

"Yes..." I said, unwilling to give away my opinion for fear of being mocked.

"Those Japs are doing really great things. I'm being facetious; I'm not racist. Really good things, though. Oh, and if you're not into, y'know, categories where it has to be single has to be from this specific place. You should try Compass Box, that guy is doing some great things with blends."

"Oh," I thought, "He's an anti-snob snob." We had in fact tried Compass Box and liked all four of the whiskies we'd tried (Hedonism, in particular). I was both happy that I apparently had somewhat refined taste, but also a little upset that I liked the same thing as Salmon Shirt, whom I was finding more distasteful with each passing moment. He quizzed us on what we had at home, and when one of us described Maker's Mark as his everyday whisky, Salmon Shirt responded, "I like Maker's Mark. Take some of that wax, put a dot on your forehead, pretend you're an Indian."


We re-entered the hall for a final circuit, and found a few more whiskies we liked. A Glengoyne 16 year Scottish Oak and several of the Glenmorangie 12 year olds. They're finished in different kinds of casks for very different effects - burgundy and sherry were my favorites). We tried good Irish whiskey (Clontarf and Knappogue) and Irish whiskey that did nothing for us (Tullamore Dew). There was an announcement: "We've found a cell phone." A pause. "We've also found a set of keys." "Someone drove to this, and they're giving him back his keys," I thought. The crowd was getting drunk(er). As I washed out my glass at the Glenrothes ("Yep, that tastes like whisky.") table a massive and massively drunk man thrust his glass at me for me to pour some water into it. When I hesitated at his rudeness he said, "We're all in this together." Hmm? I poured the water and didn't make eye contact.

The night wound down and our taste buds grew exhausted. We returned to the Isle of Jura table to get Willie to make us laugh again. It was an attempt at artificially bookending the evening (our own, mild version of "doing a cattleya;" Proust would not have appreciated it), but it misfired happily. Instead of Willie, we got the distillery manager for Isle of Jura. While he did not joke around, he did take a good five or ten minutes to explain why we were tasting what we were tasting. He explained the importance of the barrels used, the stills, the amount of smoke. It was a crash course in what makes Scotch Scotch. A CNBC cameraman shot us as we listened. I did my best to look studious, but I cracked a slight smile when I imagined a voiceover saying, "Whiskyfest attracts all kinds...from the rich and well-dressed [shot of someone rich and well-dressed], to the poor and ignorant [shot of me and my Old Navy khakis]." The distillery manager finished up, and we finished our last whiskies of the night. We exchanged handshakes and thanks with him, retrieved our coats, and staggered (though not too badly) out into the Manhattan night.

"This was," one of my companions commented, "one of those rare moments when the event lives up to your expectations of it." Take that, Barry Schwartz.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fictional Art/ists

Fictional art/artists that I wish were real:

- "Unterwelt," the made-up Fritz Lang film in Don Delillo's "Underworld"
- All the brilliantly weird, non-starter stories from "if on a winter's night a traveler" by Italo Calvino
- "The Three", the Hollywood movie from "Adaptation"
- Pink, the singer in Pink Floyd's "The Wall"
- The first, famous-making novel in "Wonder Boys"
- Kilgore Trout

Fictional art/artists that I am glad will remain fictional:

- William Forrester from "Finding Forrester"
- The novel from "Sideways"
- Stillwater from "Almost Famous"
- The long, unfinished novel from "Wonder Boys"
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- Jack Driscoll and any and all plays by Jack Driscoll from the new "King Kong"

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Grups Award: Drawing a Blank

Because I enjoy complaining, I was itching to hand out a Grups Award this weekend. And when I saw the headlines to two pieces (one in the NY Times, one from the AP), I was just aching to waste some energy on whining about them. But, sadly, neither of them were worthy of a Gruppy.

Here's the first non-Gruppy article: The Bank of Mom and Dad from the NY Times. Damn, I thought this was a sure thing. The Times sometimes attempts to call trends based on almost nothing (remember when all those women were quitting their jobs to become housewives a couple years ago. Yeah, neither do I.), but this time, they did right. In this article on kids who continue to take money from their parents well after college graduation, they spoke to the author of a massive study, they cited figures from said study, and they didn't try to predict the future. In short, they did a trend piece that is pretty good. It just describes something that is happening, makes a few tentative calls on why this is happening, and doesn't generalize. The biggest problem is that it doesn't mention the percent change through time (i.e., How much money were parents giving their kids thirty and forty years ago versus today?). The closest it comes to answering the question is quoting Bob Schoeni the study's author as saying, "Certainly over the last couple of decades it has been increasing." So, unless the study is flawed or Schoeni is lying, well, it's a pretty good trend piece.

The other article, which comes closer to winning a Gruppy is this AP piece the headline of which screams "Americans Are Fleeing Big Cities." Now, I read a headline like that, and I figure in a couple years I'll be buying a townhouse in Chelsea. Also, I'll be rollerskating up the middle of 5th Avenue during rush hour. Actually, I don't figure on either of those things - because I am not a moron. Basically, the census released a report on Domestic Immigration in the United States (meaning where Americans are moving within the country) and found that among other things, Americans appear to be leaving large cities (and the Northeastern states) more than they are moving to them. The sin in the article is one of ommission, it doesn't mention that populations are growing in major metropolitan centers (including New York) because of births and international immigration (so the net Domestic Immigration loss isn't enough to cause the populations of cities to start shrinking). It's an annoying, slightly alarmist take on the census study, but it's not quite Grupsworthy. You win this round, massive newsgathering organization! And I lose: no townhouse for me.

Food Goes Here: Arthur Ave.

If you haven't made the trek to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, you should. It's like Little Italy, except Italians still live there, and it isn't swarming with tourists. And things are really reasonably priced. Okay, so it isn't like Little Italy. Anyway, there's fantastic food to be had there - both in the restaurants (Dominick's, Mario's, and the fancier Roberto's all have their partisans) and the shops (including the Arthur Ave. indoor market). The Arthur Ave. area (what you're interested in, anyway), is only a few blocks long, extending out from the intersection of Arthur Ave. and 187th St. Walking around Arthur Ave., grazing as I go, is one of my favorite ways to spend a day. It feels civilized, like it's the way eating and shopping should be. I went to both high school and college nearby, and one of my favorite memories from high school is my Freshman year religion teacher returning from taking his lunch break on Arthur Ave. with loaves of Italian bread, tearing off pieces of the bread, and handing it out to the class. Anyway, I did some shopping Arthur Ave. yesterday, and took some pictures. Like a tourist. A tourist, I tells ya!

Vincent's Meat Market is my favorite butcher. If you look at the large view, you'll see carcasses in the window. Yeah, it's a bit theatrical. Take note of the cars in the street. Traffic and parking are - on Saturdays, anyway - pretty miserable.

This is Teitel Brothers, which is next to Vincent's Meat Market. I got some prosciutto and a massive piece of parmigiano reggiano here. And this weird-but-delicious, marscapone tort that they forced me to taste. Forced might be a little strong. This is my favorite place to get cold cuts. If you look at the large view of the above photo, you'll see two old ladies that look exactly the way you want them to. Exactly.

An inside shot of Teitel Brothers (doesn't it sound like a plumbing supply company?). It's filled with deliciousness. There was a father walking out of the store with his son (maybe four years old) when I was walking in:

Father: Okay, now we'll go to bread store. Okay? I promise it won't smell in there.
Son [suspiciously]: Okay...

It smells like a million different cheeses and cured meats in Teitel Brothers. Like heaven, really. Unless you are four. Or a vegetarian.

This is Mike's Deli inside the market. They have good stuff - fantastic sandwiches if you want to sit and munch, good cheeses (including fresh mozzarella) and cold cuts, great olives (pictured below). Unfortunately, it can get extremely, extremely crowded. There's also a photo of Benito Mussolini hanging up behind the counter. Apparently, he made the trains run on time.

Olives! In drums! Many of them! These are part of Mike's but you don't wait on line for them. There's someone standing there to scoop them up for you. Don't scoop them yourself. I mean it. Cafe al Mercato in the rear-left of the market has good subs and "grandma" slices of pizza. I've never really been blown away by the fruit and vegetables I've gotten in the market...but they've never been bad, either.


Amazingly, there's a merchant in the Arthur Ave. market that specializes in things I am too scared of to eat. Tripe! Kidneys! Rabbits! Did you know that in another five seasons there will be a Simpsons reference for everything you may encounter in life? Seriously.

Lisa: [gasps] Mom, are those rabbits dead?
Marge: No, no, Lisa they're just sleeping, upside down... and inside out...

This is inside Madonia Brothers bakery, my favorite bakery on Arthur Ave. This isn't the sort of bread you get at a good Manhattan bakery, but light, airy Italian bread that's perfect for mopping up a meal. They also have prosciutto bread, which is chewy and peppery, and has cubes of, yep, prosciutto in it.

There are two fish places on Arthur Ave. - Randazzo's and Cosenza's - both seem good to me (not great, but good). You can stop and slurp a dozen clams or oysters at either if you are so inclined. Sometimes in the summer, they have eels swimming in tanks. Watching eels swim in tanks is oddly hypnotic.

This is 187th St. where it intersects Arthur Ave. Borgatti's pasta is located a couple blocks down on it. If you stop in be prepared for some pretty extreme Catholic bumper stickers (Actually, if you make the trip, be prepared to see more crucifixes in public places than you are used to.). The large, cheese-filled ravioli at Borgatti's are ridiulously delicious and filled with creamy riccotta (I have a dozen taunting me from my refrigerator right now). You can see Enzo's pastry shop as well as DeLillo's (an aside, author Don DeLillo grew up in the area). I go with Enzo's. Finally, you can make out Casa Della Mozzarella (green awning), which is my favorite place for fresh mozzarella - if you're lucky, it may still be warm when they hand it to you. If you're very lucky, it won't be crowded and you can watch them make it in the back.

Anyway, here's the meal - or one of the meals, anyway - Tara and I have had based on my trip:

You can get to Arthur Ave. in a few ways. The D train to Fordham Road, then the 12 bus east to Arthur. You can take the 2 or 5 to Pelham Parkway, and then the 12 bus west to Arthur. Or you can take the Metro North to Fordham Road, and walk a few blocks east to Arthur. Here's a google/subway map to show you what you're getting into. Give yourself (at least) 45 minutes from midtown. Finally, if you make the trip, don't do it on a Sunday. I repeat: Don't do it on a Sunday. Italian neighborhood, Catholic rules: very few shops are open on Sundays.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Rainy Day New York Activities

[The weekend is supposed to be chilly and rainy, and so there's a good chance that you're going to stay inside for most of it. Saturday will be okay. And then you're going to look up and realize that it's dark out. When did that happen? Huh. You'll get through the night okay, maybe make a few phone calls to establish contact with the outside world, but when you wake up on Sunday your apartment will take on that dorm room feel, and you'll stop thinking the space-for-access-to-culture tradeoff of NYC is a reasonable one. You'll think about trying to hook up with some friends to do something, but they live just a little too far away in this weather. And then you'll have to figure out something everyone wants to do. And you really don't feel like grabbing a drink at that bar near John's place, because that's what John always wants to do. Anyway, instead of spending the weekend watching reruns of The Real World on MTV, here are some solitary, mostly indoor activities that will remind you that you are a citizen of the bustling urban center that is New York, without forcing you to engage said bustle in any meaningful way. And remember: being alone is different than being lonely. Is that from a Kelly Clarkson song?]

- Read the first 50 pages or so of Underworld by Don Delillo (they are about this pennant game. And the human condition and stuff.). The rest of the novel's 800 pages are good, and you'll get to them. Y'know, eventually. Once you finish Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow.
- Donate some money to the ACLU.

- Go see Inside Man. It's good, and it's a movie that loves New York City. See it by yourself. Don't call your friends. Seriously, everyone does it. It's cool.
- Obsess and worry about things that are completely outside your control.
- Download 53rd and 3rd by the Ramones.

- Rent Quick Change. Compare and contrast with Inside Man.
- Listen to this David Sedaris essay (there's like 30 sec. of music at the top of it before David Sedaris starts reading). Where's your copy of "Naked"?
- Chocolate Syrup + Milk + Seltzer? You are a crazy motherfucker. Correction: you are a crazy motherfucker who is drinking a motherfucking egg cream.
- "I like Fever to Tell like a million times more than Show Your Bones." Pretend to have an opinion on this very important subject.
- Buy the Sunday Times. You definitely won't read all of it. It's possible you won't read most of it. Hell, you might not read any of it. But, boy, is it huge.
- Troll around Forgotten NY. It's a great website with a lamppost fixation.
- Read Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn.
- Practice saying "drawer." It's not "draw-er." It's "draw." Or, if you're feeling outlandish, "draw-uh." Really hit that "w" in there.
- Rent Metropolis. Did you know that Fritz Lang conceived of the film after seeing New York's skyline? You can bring that up on Monday when you casually mention that you watched Metropolis over the weekend, you pretentious dick.

1980s + Sports + Music = Hilarity

Case No. 1 - Let's Go Mets!

Do it! [Let's go!] Do it! [Let's go!] Do it! [Make it happen! Let's go! Mets go!]

Case No. 2 - The Superbowl Shuffle

Now I'm smooth as a chocolate swirl,
I dance a little funky, so watch me girl.

You probably won't be able to sit through the entirety of either one of these.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


-Up there.
-Shouldn't it be Batdog?
-He's a dog in a bat costume.
-He's dressed up like batman. Batmandog.
-Wouldn't that be redundant?
-Then what's Batman dressed up as?
-A bat.
-Well, batdog sounds too much like "bad dog."
-It does.
-Was he in Scooby Doo?
-I can't remember.
-Scrappy Doo.
-That's not him.
-I know that.

[placeholder: happy time shop]

The Complete Incomplete Hypothetical Sufjan Discography

For your viewing pleasure, all the Hypothetical Sufjan albums will be linked to on this page.




Indiana #1

Indiana #2 (scroll down)



Louisiana #1

Louisiana #2 (scroll down)


New Jersey

New York



[For those playing at home who may be unfamiliar with Mr. Stevens, take a look at the tracklistings of this album and this album. They are the first two in his "50 States Project." Once you've done that, go buy "Illinois," because it is terrific. Everyone agrees.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

You got the touch!

You got the power!

High/low fun time: Yep, this is Dirk Diggler's song in Boogie Nights.

Flash! Ah-ah!

Just a man. With a man's courage.

High/low fun time: Prince Vultan (of the hawk people) appeared in Kenneth Brannagh's Hamlet as the ghost of Hamlet's father.

[placeholder: daylight bronx]

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Hearst Building

I pass the new Hearst Building just about every day on my way to work. Some people don't dig the abrupt change from the base - the facade of the original Hearst Building - to the odd, sort of fractured glass and steel structure that sits atop it.

But I really like it; I like how dramatic it is, joining the past and the present. I like that it makes a virtue of difference; it reminds me to say thanks for brindled cows and the like. I have to admit, it also reminds me - happily - that Ayn Rand's pleadings for purity of design in The Fountainhead are nonsensical. Finally, I like that while it is unlike any other building in New York, it also feels like a New York building -- unlike, say, the very impressive, but oddly foreign
Time Warner Center that it's pretty much next door to. It took me a while, but I think I've figured out why it seems to fit in: it reminds me of the Chrysler Building. The diamond shapes, the change from stone to steel...for some reason the two of them seem like species that share a common ancestor. Or the same ideas, but in vastly different ratios. Or something. Anyway, here's my favorite detail of the new Hearst building. In the crook of the diamond shapes that make up its corners, there's a little - I don't know how to describe it - wedge? Two little pyramid-ey things sticking out? It's a small touch, and yet I love it. It interrupts the diamonds a little bit, and seems (to my mind) to be a very small nod toward the hood ornament gargoyles that adorn the Chrysler Building.

The Grups Award #2

I didn't think it would happen this quickly, and yet here we are, and it's time to award another Gruppy. Time flies when you're reading gross generalizations. Those unfamiliar with the illustrious-but-brief history of The Grups Award can read about it here. For those who are impatient, The Grups Award is an occasional honor bestowed for overstatements, particularly those that appear astute at first glance.

And the Gruppy goes to...

...Slate for this article on how lacrosse players suck. It is just a terrible article about a potentially interesting subject (the idea that lacrosse exists at the crossroads of Preppie elitism and Jock brutality), but it does no real reporting. The elements mustered to paint lacrosse players in a bad light are: a high school locker room comment experienced by the writer, the widely reported rape allegedly commited by members of the Duke lacrosse team, a poster in one of the player's rooms, Stifler from American Pie, and an urban legend. That's about it.

The problem is that there are real questions that arise from the Duke case about class, race, college sports, and, yep, lacrosse players, unfortunately, the writer doesn't engage any of them. He relies on lazy stereotypes and the willingness of his readers to fill in the blanks, instead of relying on facts, data, interviews, and the like. I'm as happy as anyone to beat up on the obnoxious and the pampered (I can think back to a few meathead Lax players from my own East Coast prep school past), and for a second I bought the article (it's well-written and carefully constructed), but, really it's just empty. A waste. C'mon, do better, Slate. Please. No more lazy opinion pieces made up to look like anthropological studies.

[placeholder: foska oats]

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Bob Dylan Marathon

[A while back I listened to all of Bob Dylan's studio albums one after the other in order of their release. It's 20-odd hours of music, and took me three days (I've thought about doing it again all in one go, but Tara tells me this is a terrible, terrible idea. It's likely she's right. I still think I might do it.). The only studio album I didn't listen to was this one, which is not readily available (it's made of leftovers from another album and was released by his record label during a contract dispute). Here are the lessons I learned from listening to all the albums one after the other.]

1 - The stuff that's canonical is usually good. The "classic" Dylan albums really are classics.
2 - But sometimes the canon is incomplete. "World Gone Wrong" is a terrific album of folk tunes (and a nice "missing link" album that shows that "Love and Theft" didn't come from out of nowhere), it's also kind of unnecessary. It's not a classic, but it sure is great, particularly the title track.
3 - Everyone knows that people aren't perfect, but they screw up way more often then you'd think. By my reckoning, a full third of Dylan's albums are bad. Flat out bad. Maybe another quarter are marginal. And he's Bob Dylan.
4 - What's a less cynical way of saying that even a stopped watch is right twice a day? "Oh, Mercy" is not a very good album, but "Shooting Star" is a great song. It can be hard to admit things like that.
5 - Middle-age can be pretty dicey, artistically speaking. Being young and passionate: awesome. Being old and cynical: fantastic. Being middle-aged and comfortable: not so good.
6 - The exception to #5 is a messy breakup. "Blood on the Tracks."
7 - New converts shouldn't evangelize, but of course, that's exactly when they want to. True, Bob Dylan's Christian albums aren't as uniformly execrable as you've been led to believe (see #4), but some of the songs are downright mawkish. Yes, I'm looking at you "In the Garden."
8 - It's sad watching someone try to remain relevant instead of remaining true to themselves. "Empire Burlesque" and "Knocked out Loaded" are bad in a way that the very weakest moments on his other albums are not...which is weird considering that "Bob Dylan" has been a composite character from day one (who is he remaining true to?). But it's still correct.
9 - Bob Dylan is cooler than you are. It's just kind of a universal truth. Unless you happen to be Lou Reed.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hypothetical Sufjan Albums - No. 11A

Louisiana has inspired another Hypothetical Sufjan Album (here's the first one). Fortunately, this isn't "Highlander," and there can be two of them. Or, if you prefer, this isn't "Timecop" and two Ron Silvers are better than one. Or something. Anyway, a Mr. Hutchinson sent in the following, and I ate it up like a featherless baby bird:


1 - Welcome to Sportsman’s Paradise!! (It’s Not the Heat, it’s the Stupidity)
2 - The Battle of New Orleans or Andrew Jackson Decisively Wins the Chalmette Presidential Primary through the Unnecessary Killing of 700 Redcoats
3 - Magnolia! Gardenia! Azalea! Bestow upon us Your Fragrance and Beauty!
4 - Angola Prison Rodeo
5 - All God’s Creatures of the Sea and Earth: Let us Fry Them.
6 - Regicide in the Capitol Lobby or Every Man a King or Populist Promises Finally Laid to Rest on a Cold Marble Floor or Despite Your Original Assertion that Being Caught in Bed with a Dead Woman or a Live Man were the Only Things that Could End Your Political Career, All it Took, in Fact, was a Bullet
7 - Ooooh! Aaaaah!! (Discovery of the White Alligator in Lower Terrebonne Parish Sparks Awe and Speculation)
8 - Candy Edwards, What I Have Done I Have Done for You, or Reconciliatory Chorus of the Incarcerated
9 - Wait, is This Arkansas? or Saints Bernard, Charles, James, John, Landry, Martin, Mary and Tammany Graciously Absolve the People of North Louisiana’s Geographical Transgressions
10 - His Royal Highness, King Zulu, Beloved Defender of the Gods of Fun and Toleration, by the Authority Vested in Him and All Mardi Gras Day Regents by Act 42, Louisiana Legislature, Signed by Black Lieutenant Governor Pinkey Benton Stewart Pinchback on April 23, 1872, Does Hereby Ordain and Decree…
11 - The Confectionist Mayor Takes a Regrettable Stance
12 - Riding the Gondolas at the 1984 World’s Fair or Romance and Enterprise Fulfill Humanity’s Promise in the Central Business District
13 - Avoyelles Parish or I Watched, with Envious Consternation, the Church-going Women Don Ornate Hats on a May Afternoon
14 - Jazz Hands for Satchmo! [Featuring George Porter, Jr. and Johnny Vidocovich]
15 - I. Nova Scotia, 1755 or Longfellow, Walk With Me! / II. Who’s Her Mama? Is She Catholic? Can She Make a Roux? / III. Fine Spanish Moss and Spicy, Spicy Tears / IV. Evangeline
16 - Bon Vivants! (Baptist Unease Upon the Introduction of Crawfish-Themed Scratch-Off Lottery Tickets)
17 - Pondering Jean Lafitte at the Foot of the Sunshine Bridge or In the Billboard for Mulate’s I Saw the Past, Present and Future of the Great Pelican State
18 - I. On the Untimely Suicide of John Kennedy Toole… / II. Sazaracs At Dawn
19 - The Storm
20 - Hope Overture [for Accordion and Washboard]
21 - Louisianne (Where Have You Gone, Randy Newman?)

[Click here for the complete (so far) Hypothetical Sufjan discography.]

Hypothetical Sufjan - Nos. 9, 10, and 11, and an Extra One for Good Measure

Two more complete hypothetical Sufjan tracklistings - Kentucky and Kansas - have popped up on the InterWeb. Both are posted in the comments section of the Stereogum mention, and one of the two (Kentucky) lives here.

My favorites from Kentucky, The Bluegrass State, Where Education Pays!:

1. Herbs! Spices! Eleven of Them!
12. March 1992, Philadelphia (In Which a Young Man Looks Back on a Basketball Game Against Duke, Notes Once Again that Christian Should Have Been Ejected for Stomping on Aminu, and Finds His Anger Renewed Yet Again)

And from Say Good Morning to Kansas, and Mean It!:

5. Manhattan, Kansas: The Little Apple
19. Evolution May Be True for You, but Kansans Were Crafted By the Hand of God

And a Mr. O'Boyle wrote in with the following politically charged hypothetical Sufjan album:

Louisiana: Politician's Paradise

1 - Louisiana, Oh, How we are Fucked!
2 - The Bayou is as Black as my Soul
3 - Katrina, You Miserable Bitch
4 - The Chocolate City and Whipped Cream Politicians
5 - All the King's Men are in Prison
6 - The Benevolent Black Bears of Bastrop
7 - Tallulah
8 - Ye Who Bleed Purple and Gold
9 - My Lady of the Night, Stay Safe on Bourbon Street
10 - Beware the Vampires that Roam the Palaces of the Oak-lined Streets
11 - You Did it to me Again, Rita
12 - Elvis Presley and the Louisiana Hayride Debacle
13 - Jean Lafitte, the Pirate of Barataria Bay
14 - Evangeline Lives under the Oak and in My Dreams

Reading this makes me want to see Sufjan get angry.

And finally, April, on the grounds that Sufjan is releasing a second Illinois-related album, chimes in with an Indiana tracklisting in addition to this one:

Indiana: There's More Than We Let on, But Less than One Would Hope

1 - Christmas Burqa or Are You Going to Wear That to Bed?
2 - The Bar is Always Stocked in Alexandria
3 - Hot Nights at the V.P.
4 - Martinsville or Where Black People Fear to Tread
5 - Cruisin' a Circle
6 - Indiana-no-place
7 - How Far to Chicago?
8 - I'll Smack You Right in Your Face or Atlanta, IN not Atlanta, GA
9 - Hicks R Us or You Bet This Is a '96 Iroc!
10 - Yawney Town
11 - Long Days at the Mall
12 - There's More Than Corn in Indiana
13 - But There's a Lot of Corn in Indiana
14 - Saving the Day Light
15 - These is My Beans or That Anti-war Protest Sure is Sparsely Attended

[Click here for the complete (so far) Hypothetical Sufjan discography.]

Friday, April 14, 2006

Introducing: The Grups Award

...or as people will no doubt affectionately call it, the Gruppy.

Named in honor of this New York Magazine article which I hated more than I probably should have, the Gruppy will be an occasional award given out by the dedicated staff here at randominnyc for ideas, articles, sentences and so on that when first encountered may appear insightful and perhaps even a little provacative, but upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be lazy generalizations and/or wrongheaded conclusions. The graphic for the award is taken from this website and is used under CC permission from Anders Brownworth (Thanks, Anders!). Said graphic is a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge, and features the phrase "Everyone is jumping," which is a reference to the fact that if a Gruppy winner's friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge s/he would not only join them, but first would publish an article about how everyone is jumping off bridges. Because The Grups Award winning notion is potentially the fault of the writer, the editor, and/or the institution, it will be awarded to the publication in general.

So, without further ado, the inaugural Gruppy goes to...New York Magazine! For the following sentence in an otherwise excellent article about an upper-middle-class drug dealer:

"Dealing has always appealed to Lenny’s two most dominant personality traits: an obsession with money and chronic impatience, characteristics that don’t exactly set him apart from his peers, kids who came of age during the hip-hop and Internet booms, two movements united by the philosophy that money is something to be made quickly, dubiously, and only in large amounts."

It's an overgeneralization of the most annoying sort. Baseless, but backed up with what seems like sensible reasoning. But one could write the exact opposite idea and have it seem exactly as reasonable:

"Putting together his long term investment portfolio has always appealed to Leonard: after all, he's part of the generation that came of age during the dot-com bust, and that watched celebrities like Biggie and Tupac flame out when they overreached. This generation entered the job market when it was weaker than it had been in a decade. They watched 9/11 occur from their dorm room couches and may have friends fighting in Iraq, where the situation continues to deteriorate due to poor planning. Clearly, this is a generation that understands the idea of 'blowback,' and knows the value of being cautious."

What's most annoying is that the Gruppy winning sentence actually contradicts the tone of the entire piece, which stresses that Lenny is something of an outsider who feels pretty lonely. April pointed out that sometimes magazines want to "go macro instead of micro" and that seems like a possibility for what happened here. Maybe someone was afraid that unless Lenny seemed less an anomaly and more the extreme indicator of the zeitgeist, the article wouldn't connect with readers? Or maybe it was, itself, an anomaly, a bit of sloppy thinking that just slipped in there? Whatever the reason, it's a bad idea in the middle of a good article.

If you would like to nominate someone or something for a Grups Award, please feel free to send an e-mail to K e v i n H a y e s 9 [at] G m a i l [dot] com.

Hypothetical Sufjan Stevens Albums - No. 8


1 - First In States, First In Rock, Why It Pays To Be Less Than A Fortnight From Independence
2 - Blue Rocks, Their Not Just Minor League Anymore or How I Lost My Innocence To A Moose
3 - Frank Perdue Delicious
4 - Small Wonder, How A Girl Named Vickie Replaced My Heart With A Clock In The Land Of A Thousand Slogans
5 - Caesar Rodney Nightmares (Ruth Ann Haunts My Statehouse)
6 - Ryan Phillippe Was Built In New Castle, We Lost Our Souls With Curls Of Gold
7 - everything’s smaller in slower lower
8 - Blue Hens Will Lead To Shame And Laughter
9 - Ode To Ann Marie Fahey, Bullets And Igloos Will Not Sink Our Love
10 - Dela-Where? Pt. 1 We Are A State, Not A County, Pt. 2 Our Official Beverage Is Milk
11 - I-95, Turnpike Of 10 Miles, Memories Of A Lifetime, or We’re Already In Maryland?
12 - Dover (Home of Downs, Den Of Nascar)
13 - Miraculous Story Of Dupont, Bringer of Destruction To Civilization (W@r, It’s Good For Profits!)
14 - MBNA – More Banks, No Assets or Vampires Of Credit, Your Immortality Comes At 23%
15 - Biden My Time
16 - Rehoboth, Don’t Go After Dark Because Everyone’s Name Is Bruce

[from scheid]

[Click here for the complete (so far) Hypothetical Sufjan discography.]

Hypothetical Sufjan Stevens Albums - No. 7

Sufjan Stevens Presents: New Jersey, The Garden State

1 - To All My Heroes (Including the Boss, Bon Jovi, and Whitney Houston) or Frank Sinatra, Where Are You Now, or How to Pretend You Didn’t Grow Up In East Paterson
2 - Neptune! Deal! Asbury Park! Point Pleasant! But Watch Out For Syringes and Other Assorted Garbages!
3 - The Jersey Devil: Pt. 1: Building Commerce On Swamplands; Pt. 2 A Mickey Mouse Club Wins the Cup
4 - Thomas Alva Edison
5 - Oh, Mary, Where Are You in Relation to The Sbarros on this Side of the Short Hills Mall?
6 - When You Say “Let’s Go to The City” Do You Mean Philly or New Yawk? or Is This Really All of Princeton? Or Newark, Star Ledger, I Cannot Stomach to Read Your 3rd Grade Sports Reporters or No Way, I Went To Rutgers, Too, How About Them Grease Trucks
7 - My Long Lost Cousin Says The Urine Smell Is a Figment of My Imagination but Something Is Coming Out Of That Pabst Blue Ribbon Factory Near the Cemetery Off Of The Garden State Parkway And I Fear It Might Upset Former Governor and EPA Director Christie Whitman
8 - How Many Toll Booths? Jughandles? Traffic Circles? Gas Is Not Self Served
9 - Atlantic City, or Somewhere Here Stands the Last Lenape Indian, or W-w-w-w-watch the Tram Car Please

[from ravitz]

[Click here for the complete (so far) Hypothetical Sufjan discography.]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Problem & Solution

Problem: You bought a desk via craigslist and the former owner was a heavy, heavy smoker.

Solution: Baking soda.

[Desk says: I may look pretty, but if I were a cartoon, there'd be wavy stink lines all over me.]

[Drawer says: We don't want to smell like this.]

[Baking Soda says: Don't believe the Arm & Hammer hype! All Baking Soda is chemically identical. Key Food brand will do just fine...]

[...and boy are we a bargain!]

[Aluminum Tray says: I am made of Aluminum. My atomic number is lucky 13!]
[Baking Soda says: Whee!]

[Aluminum Tray says: Time to settle down and get to work, Baking Soda.]

[Aluminum Tray, Baking Soda, and Desk Drawer shout in unison: Symmetry is AWESOME!]

[Baking Soda thinks to itself: I shall never leaven a delicious cake or cookie recipe.]

[pictures: franklin / text: k]

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hypothetical Sufjan Stevens Albums - No. 6

Texas: The Lone(ly) Star State

1 - Stephen F. Austin Was A Friend of Mine
2 - From A Library On A Hill, Or Lyndon Baines Johnson Talks On The Telephone While Sitting On The John
3 - The Galleria Mall Fountain Song
4 - George H.W. Bush Claims A Houston Hotel Room As His Permanent Residence, But The I.N.S. Takes Exception To Jose Gutierrez of Juarez, Mexico's Attempt To Do The Same
5 - Texarcana, And Other Obscure Facts about Our Borders
6 - Oh, I-10, You Bisect This Great State with Love
7 - South Padre Island Is Not So Fun In The Wintertime
8 - Galveston Recovers From The Great Hurricane, But Never Recaptures It's Former Grandeur
9 - Black Gold, Texas Tea
10 - On The Contemplation Of The Stars At Night In Big Bend National Park And The Corresponding Sense Of Desolate Isolation
11 - Paris
12 - Old El Paso Is Not Just a Brand of Condiments, They Also Have A Pretty Good Basketball Team Out There
13 - Remember The Alamo Dome!
14 - Stanley Korshak Rules Dallas Retail with A Velvet Glove
15 - The River Walk Forever, Or How Davy Crockett Built A Canal To Nowhere
16 - It's Easy To Forget That Mission Control and Gilley's Are Less Than A Mile From Each Other
17 - Hakeem, the Dream!
18 - Ann Richards, We Shall Remember You (And Especially Your Hair) When You Are Gone

[from franklin]

[Click here for the complete (so far) Hypothetical Sufjan discography.]

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tom Waits Commercial

Tom Waits is fairly famous for aggressively pursuing companies that attempt to use his voice and music in ads. His court case against Frito Lay is (apparently) a pretty important bit of tradmark law (it allows celebrities to sue when companies use impersonators to sell a product). But, it looks like Waits did do a commercial a few years before that lawsuit. For Purina dog food. Everyone needs money. There's something so awesomely over the top about it (is he enjoying himself?), that I think it's kind of great. Watch it and the phrase, "beef...liver...bacon" will be forever whispered in your ear.

Poetry Spam

Sweet Calibration


Mjyvat Jshenterprisenet

Illustrate opaque of
slippery as fishy
vivaciously flaming
to markdown the catch swum
Blatantly jaundiced M,
and a facade Supreme Court.
to yard sale aid entirety
canvass a foul pasture.

Gingerbread shortly and penalty
mother-in-law ferociously
espouse rivalry
and mystify their South America.

Colonial whichever,
rock and roll
shift with sigh,
and critter straightforward
the occult-a-wilt.

A camper as veteran
the well-off accident-prone
affluence charm
of kerosene with firefighter.

symmetry on smoked,
trivial and disaffected.
Circumstantial mockingbird,
childcare alternative
as principally preeminence
as indivisible with great-grandparent.
spendthrift elaboration
stifle incidence cultivation.

Living as quarrelsome:
New World menopause shorthand.

[It's something of a cliche that the nonsense strings of words in Spam are almost poetic, but I couldn't help myself this morning. This one seemed particularly ripe (it did require some light editing). I like to think of this as "an imagistic critique of US foreign and domestic policies."]

Monday, April 10, 2006

NYC Flag #2

Okay, my flag-related idiocy continues. I have whipped up another flag. This one even simpler. But c'mon, look at how much better it is than the real one. And I'm just a moron with Photoshop. Not even Photoshop, just Photoshop Elements. An actual graphic designer with, y'know, talent would do that much better. I believe a letter writing campaign is about to get started. Who's with me?


Aww, to hell with ya, ya no civic pride havin' louses ya. When the new New York City flag is flying high, you'll be all, "I know the dude who started it all." No you won't, but I still love you.

[placeholder: night commute]

Pre-Pixelated Tees

For people who are going to be on reality TV shows: Pre-pixelated T-shirts. Effing terrific. The shirts come from Ironic Sans, which is my new favorite blog.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

NYC Flag

As I mentioned, I think New York City needs a new flag. Below is my somewhat obvious, and fairly quick 'n' dirty idea for one (keeping in mind the idea that a flag's symbols should be pretty obvious, I won't explain them on this one). I'll say it, though: I like it better than the current flag.