Sunday, June 29, 2008

Best Robot Movie Ever?


Maybe not, but I liked WALL-E better than The Iron Giant or the film starring Wall-E's doppelganger Johnny 5, Short Circuit. I never bothered to see Robots.

The first half of the film is heartbreaking, with glimpses of the aforementioned movies plus E.T. and even a bit of Cast Away.

I know that I'm the creepy old lady when I go see these PIXAR movies in the theater by myself, and I usually try to wait until they're available On Demand (as was the case with the brilliant Ratatouille, which I've already watched twice), but I've been looking forward to Wall-E since last September so I went today, waiting only two days after opening night. As with a Stevie Nicks concert, it was probably better that I went by myself, because once again I was bawling.

I guess there's something about the fantasy of talking rodents and anthropomorphized inanimate objects, robots who feel real emotion, that really gets to me. The world feels so cold and lonely and disenchanting to me that I seek enchantment wherever I can find it. I'm still waiting for my teapot to get up and dance and sing to me like in Beauty and the Beast.

The movie's not perfect and you can't shake the corporate shudder of Disney from it (despite its eco-political message and demonization of such mega-corporations), but it is poetic and devastating at moments, charming and hilarious at others. If watching scenes from Hello Dolly never broke your heart before (though it should, with Thornton Wilder's timeless themes of breaking out, finding adventure, falling in love, and finding your way home again), it most certainly will now.

Wall-E Review - Salon.com
WALL-E is a love story that's anything but robotic - Baltimore Sun
Moves that Inspired Wall-E - Los Angeles Times

Night at the Beach

I saw Stevie Nicks at Jones Beach again last night. After having dragged both James and Dan to shows in the past for company, and trying to lure people to just go to the beach with me before the show, I was out of willing companions and had to buck up and once again go alone.

I wouldn't mind so much if it weren't such a date concert. Lesbians, married couples, gay boys and even man-dates: everyone goes to see Stevie Nicks in pairs.

rainbowI sat on the end of the row on the aisle, warmed by a disturbingly hot armrest whose illuminating light bulb accounted for the heat emanating from it, I think. Jones Beach is always more freezing than you expect it to be, especially with threatening weather. Last year I was painfully shivering in the flooded ampitheater, watching Chris Isaak take off his shoes and socks and roll up his pantlegs to come out into the wet audience and sing a foot-soaked serenade. This year, I was prepared with sweatshirt and umbrella. It had been pouring in Manhattan when I got to Penn Station, so I expected to be sitting in the rain again during the concert (as I had for John Mellencamp), but luckily when I arrived to Jones Beach, all I saw was a rainbow looming above the bandshell.

Stevie Nicks is predictably good in concert, and I don't think her show has changed much in the last three years. This year she added a couple cover tunes - a recent Bob Seger song "Face the Promise" and a stirring rendition of Dave Matthews' "Crash Into Me" (the only forgiveable Dave Matthews song in my opinion), which felt like she must've written it or somehow inspired its composition, seeming so natural to grab the folds of her dress and sing, "Aw, hike up your skirt a little more, and show your world to me," as if it were an invitation for all women to join her.

In a way, it's good to be alone at a Stevie Nicks concert, because pretty much every song makes me cry. From the first notes of her opening number, "Stand Back," to some of her lesser-known album tracks like "Outside the Rain" and "How Still My Love" (which I can't believe she actually performs live), a date might find me bawling next to them. Better to leave me alone with my torment.

There are so many details of the concert which are unendingly fascinating to me but boring to most so I guess I'll skip them. But I guess what keeps me coming back are the slide shows of old photos of Stevie projected on the screen behind her, and footage of her twirling over and over again in some scarfy costume, intermixed with unicorns galluping through a splashy stream. I can't really even imagine where I would rather be.

This year's opening act was even worse than Jeffrey Gaines - Peter Cincotti, whose only redemption came when he closed his set with a rousing cover of David Guetta's club hit "Love Is Gone." I should've shown up an hour late, but I actually enjoyed my leisurely bus ride from Freeport, with the sun's golden rays blinding us a little in our seats. I was listening to a shifty-looking man tell another passenger first that the FBI has been watching him for years, and then that he was actually working for the FBI. I took his picture because I don't think I could've really described his look to anyone, other than as a trench-coat-clad character who might have been on an episode of the X-Files.

The bus ride back was uneventful and got me on a train that gave me enough time to drown my sorrows in some Sangiovese at Marshall Stack before putting myself to bed. But no dreams of sorcerers and doves and unicorns...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just Avoiding

It feels like I'm kind of avoiding everything lately. Avoiding conflict, avoiding romance, avoiding my dirty dishes in the sink...This week I'm back on the food diary so I've been trying to avoid alcohol and junk food, but I caved last night into a glass of rose and tonight into a bag of Limited Edition Crunchy White Cheddar Cheetos, which are delicious.

Today in the kitchen at work, which is often full of candy, sweets, leftover bagels, birthday cake and other dangerous avoidables, I stared at a bag of Goetze's caramels, which I just love. Even though normally you only see them around Halloween time, there this HUGE bag was, sitting on the counter, ripped open yet still full. Those caramels, with the slightly gritty cream frosting center, had already been on my mind since passing their warehouse or factory or plant or something on the Amtrak, through Baltimore both TO and FROM Washington DC this weekend. I considered eating one, since I usually just push the frosting part out of the middle with my tongue and throw the caramel part away anyway, but I avoided them. In fact, I ran away from them.

Right now I'm trying to avoid all the sounds in my mind, the bits of dialogue from the episodes of "I Love the New Millenium" I watched tonight, the Sesame Street pinball number countdown song (which I NEVER knew was the Pointer Sisters!)...Images of people I talked to today, people I wish I'd talked to today...But what I really wish is that I could just avoid my own brain, just for a little while. I'm so tired.

Dreaming is exhausting. Nearly every night, my dreams take place in the house where I grew up, where my sister or my mother might make a cameo appearance. My father, who I actually got along with and who I'd still be talking to were it not for my mother, almost never shows up. Given the amount of conflict I always experienced in that house, I usually wake up more tired than when I went to bed.

Lately I've been having a different kind of dream, all with a recurring theme of joyful lust or romance or even just conquest, and then I wake up really sad, defeated, alone, full of failure. I'd just rather not dream it.

But you can't avoid your dreams unless you stay up all night with the laptop on your lap, unplugging the power cord so the brightness of the screen dims to not to blind your eyes, dry and tired from a day's worth of contact-wearing. The light of the laptop makes the room look even darker, and I think maybe I could sleep...until I close it and the street lights flood in again, along with the voices in my brain.

Monday, June 23, 2008

That Familiar Feeling of Being on the Wrong Train

My trip to DC this weekend was a little unsatisfying. I would have liked to have gone down earlier in the day on Friday, but I decided to actually be a dedicated employee and not skip out on a weekly meeting for the third week in a row, only for it to be cancelled at the last minute, way too late for me to get on an earlier train.

Of course, I must always try. Remembering my experience flying standby out of Chicago just one weekend before, I decided to hustle to Penn Station to try to get on an earlier train. The machine wouldn't let me; the line was too long; and the customer service phone line had a 24 minute wait, cutting it way too close to the train departure time. So, diligent and fearless traveller that I am, I just went down to the train platform and asked someone official-looking with a hat, "I have a ticket for the next train, but can I get on this one?" He looked at me with big, greasy eyes and said, "I guess so." Seemed good enough to me.

Union StationAs I got on the train, I relished the window seat I'd found on a pretty empty train, despite the website saying it was sold out. We chugged through the Westside rail yards and into the tunnel under the Hudson, and that familiar hole-punch sound began approaching from the front of the car. When I offered my ticket up for punching, the conductor told me that I had "the wrong ticket" and that - gasp - I had to get off the train at Newark. I panicked slightly that the next train would be routed differently somehow and not go through Newark, but in the end the biggest inconvenience was just having to wait a half hour for another train...in Newark.

I was kicking myself for being considerate of anybody at work except for myself.

When I arrived in Union Station (which is actually quite beautiful), I had my friend Amanda and her husband waiting to take me out to their favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pacific Cafe, for some fried tofu, fish curry and a couple bottles of wine with their fun gay friends. I'd put off this trip for such a long time, but the moment I sat down and we all dug into the food and drink together (Amanda abstaining from the booze at least until she gives birth), I couldn't imagine what had taken me so long to get there.

My only other experiences in DC were for work, and once in college for a NOW-organized rally against Violence Against Women. I wasn't really ever involved in Women's Studies at Colgate, but in 1994 I had the chance to pay very little money for a bus trip to DC with some girlfriends and sleep on the floor of an alumna in Arlington, VA. Early in my days of exploration, that seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

Being on The Mall, surrounded by tens of thousands of passionate, rallying women, I actually felt like I was part of something. It was burning hot out, with the sun beating down on us, so all the women just kind of took their tops off - and we followed suit. At the time it was kind of a novelty to be standing in public in our bras (something that Liz Green and I would revisit at Chittenango Falls and on the car ride back), and rumor has it that our glee was captured by C-SPAN cameras. I remember when I got back to snowy Hamilton, NY - nearly laying in the snow to cool off my sunburned back - I got a message from Maria that said something like, "Next time you decide to be on national TV, make sure you have a top on!"

I guess this time it just felt natural to take my clothes off in DC, because I was more than excited to get naked for a massage at Nusta Spa. I'm pretty sure my massage therapist was a gay man, based on Amanda's friends' comments about him, but I'm a red-blooded female, and I must admit I enjoyed having his big strong military hands on me. Maybe too much.

There are plenty of other things I'd like to do in DC, having goofed off at the Smithsonian 14 years ago and no real exploration since, but once again I was being considerate to others and decided to get back to NYC in time for Michelle's house party Saturday night. Filled up on champagne from Amanda's baby shower, I got back on a train and snoozed my way back to NYC, too tired to drink or even really socialize at Michelle's party. I kept kicking myself for crafting my weekend around the needs of others, but I think actually Amanda was really happy I came down (and Michelle was relieved I made it back).

And fortunately for me, despite very little sleep, I got to cruise the Gowanus the next morning....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baby Let's Cruise Away from Here

Lately I'm always trying to get away from here. Wherever here is. I think I'm trying to escape my own head.

I escaped New York a little bit this weekend by going to Washington DC for my friend Amanda's baby shower, but considering how sick I am of being surrounded by parents in my industry, it wasn't much of an escape. Still, it was great to see Amanda, and I had really been looking forward to seeing her house, meeting her cat and dog, and going to the spa with her.

It was nice being around animals again, being so used to it now from my stays at Maria's house and feeling so lonely in my pet-free apartment. Amanda's cat Cocoa came to visit me a few times throughout the night, and was so friendly that she'd get really close to my face and sniff my eyeballs while my lids were closed. I allowed it to happen, enjoying the closeness and the feeling of feline breath on my face, secure in the fact that it was a real cat and not a ghost cat.

Back in NYC after only a day, I escaped Manhattan a bit today by recapturing my old Brooklyn self, taking a BCUE-hosted cruise of the Gowanus Canal and subjecting myself to a street fair called "Stinkfest."

I've been fascinated with the Gowanus for a while, ever since first disembarking the G train at the 4th Avenue station to visit my old roommate Terry after he moved out from living with me into Park Slope. Since then, I've missed several years' worth of Open House NY canoe tours of the canal, but a few weeks ago I finally got to see it first-hand from the Carroll Street Bridge when I went to a party at The Yard and ate $25 macaroni and cheese courtesy of Saxelby Cheesemongers. A little drunk on bourbon lemonades on a Summer Friday, I was dying to go exploring down those silty, dirty waters.

gravel bargeInstead of a canoe, today's cruise took place on a regular Water Taxi boat, big enough to force the DOT to lift all the bridges that traverse the former creek, and big enough to get in the way of a gravel barge that delayed our entry for a good 20 minutes.

The entry to the canal, by Hamilton Bridge and the Erie Basin, is disgusting. It's one of the most industrial parts of the city, with sunken ships, a sewage waste management system, a police evidence dumping station, and lots of oil in the water. gunkApparently the Gowanus used to nuture dinner plate-sized oysters, but now there's so much run-off from the Brooklyn highways and streets that the polluted water chokes all sealife and the fishing birds that feed on it. They've done enough cleanup to improve conditions enough to allow us to see one healthy egret today, but there's a lot of work to be done.

With the BQE (and the dilapidated Gowanus Expressway section) overhead and the F and G trains rumbling nearby, our cruise was anything but luxurious. Though we did spot a real cruise ship near the new Red Hook cruise terminal, we also passed such sites of urban decay as Civil War-era warehouses , coal and oil handling plants, chemical plants and the Port of New York Grain Terminal. Still, with the canal no longer necessary for Brooklyn port commerce and renewed interest in the area because of the IKEA opening, you can imagine a beautiful future for the Gowanus. If only they would clean it up.

It was cheese that first brought me face-to-face with the Gowanus, and it was cheese that brought me back to Carroll Gardens today, for Stinkfest - a street festival featuring food from Smith Street restaurants, live music, and a cheese-eating contest. Smith Street has come a long way since I lived in Brooklyn four years ago, and it was nice to see, in daylight, how much it's developed, though everything good there seems like it was plucked from Manhattan. Flatiron Lounge opened its new classic cocktail establishment The Clover Club on that strip, and there are Brooklyn editions of Po, Exit 9 and Flight 001 there too.

RacletteBut today was all about the street. I stopped by Bar Great Harry for a "dub pie," a traditional Australian meat pie filled with minced beef, and a Captain Lawrence Pale Ale which was unusually nice to drink in a plastic cup out in the open air. The highlight of the hot, steamy afternoon was definitely in front of the Zombie Hut, where the neighborhood cheese shop Stinky was hosting their table of fried cheese curd and Raclette, a semi-firm cow's milk cheese wheel that's heated under a lamp and then scraped onto a variety of foods, this time onto brined potatoes and scallions with a side of cornichons. The street fair had plenty of international foods - from Thai and Indian to Greek and just plain ol' tailgating burgers - but this French/Swiss stinky delicacy seemed the most unusual and definitely the biggest crowd-pleaser.

I couldn't get Michelle to try the Raclette, but she did love the cheese curd, and it was impressive enough that she came to Brooklyn at all.

In truth, despite being a Manhattanite for the last four years, I really love Brooklyn and would love to live there again, especially with how much stuff there is to do there - both of the food/drink sort and urban exploration. But considering how much of Manhattan has already infiltrated the nice Brooklyn neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, I'm doubting I'll be able to afford it there either.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hurry Up and Wait

Fortunately I've done enough of these types of shoots where I know you spend most of your time waiting. Production people think talent is unpredictable and unreliable, so they make them get there really early. In my case, since I'm the talent representative (and not the talent, this time), I had to get there early too. But I spent most of my time on my laptop working anyway.

We did have enough time to get breakfast this morning, despite too little sleep, and lucky for me Sebouh's luggage required us to take a cab anyway so we got to go to the famous Lou Mitchell's on Jackson Avenue, too far to walk, too inconvenient to the El line, but at the crossroads of America at the beginning of the famed Route 66 and a quick taxi ride away.

Lou Mitchell's, which opened in the 1920s, is one of those places like Sears in San Francisco that's still kind of stuck in the mid 20th century, full of tradition and about as down-home as you can get. Before we even sat down, we were greeted at the door by a woman with a platter full of sugar-dusted doughnut holes, offering us each one, which was a very good juicy prunesign to having an outstanding time there. The meal started with a complimentary slice of orange and a juicy prune, which was better than any shriveled up little thing I was forced to eat as a kid. I tried to get a little bit of everything, ordering one pancake and one egg with a slice of honey cured ham, but apparently they double every egg order so I got two instead. We went all-out and ordered Lou's special fries which come served in a skillet with melted feta and cheddar all over them, and which were just terribly delicious.

When it came time to leave, they lit up their genius taxi call light, which flashed like one deserving of an accompanying siren. Lo and behold, immediately a cab answered its call. Wishing we'd stayed to eat more greasy food to fatten ourselves up, we got to the studio early enough to sit around and do a whole lot of nothing, except be on hand in case someone needed us. They call that "artist relations," exhausting work which is just making conversation and being nice. After about seven hours of that (about three of which was actually recording something), Sebouh and I had to hustle off to the airport.

Of course, our flights had been cancelled because of weather in New York, but Seb's travel agent managed to get him confirmed on another flight even earlier than his cancelled one, so he really had to hustle. I, however, was not so lucky, and could only get confirmed on a flight the next morning. I figured I'd go to the airport with Seb anyway and just try to get on one - something that's more often successful in person at the airport than on the phone with the airline. Once again, Seb insisted on public transportation rather than braving rush hour traffic, but we found ourselves too far from the El train to walk and no cabs in sight. In typical fashion, I spotted a bus and suggested we hop on. Nobody ever takes busses unless I make them.

For all the hustling we did, we still ended up on a stupid CTA train that just sat in a station, and just crawled even when it was moving. By the time I got to the airport, I was in a race against time to get on any flight, braving long counter lines and self service machines that weren't a lick of help.

I got on a standby list for a 7:45 flight that was delayed to 9:42, giving me enough time to stop by Wolfgang Puck for dinner (a highlight of O'Hare). But a big part of me, as my eyes drooped and my stomach dropped at the thought of the week ahead, wanted to just check into the airport Marriott and get a good night's sleep and take the early flight the next morning, despite not having an extra change of clothes (or underwear) and really wanting to sleep in my own bed. I can imagine that a lot of people felt the same way because somehow, even though I was #13 on the standby list, I managed to get on the flight - which finally departed Chicago at 11 p.m.

I was lucky enough to pass out on the flight, so the two hours on an American airplane without the entertainment amenities I'm used to on JetBlue didn't feel too excrutiating. After waiting for the car service to pick me up and sitting through the half hour ride home (pretty speedy in no traffic), I've got to figure out how to put myself to bed, now that I'm in my own and all the waiting is over....

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Back in Chicagoland

The light bulbs from the Chicago Theatre marquee just went out. I'm up too late.

This business trip for a Wal-Mart promotion was meant to be just an in-and-out thing, but now that I'm here, I kind of wish I had more time to re-experience Chicago. I was here briefly about a year ago for a bachelorette party (and a wedding in Michigan City, IN) but I haven't really spent time in Downtown Chicago since the late 90s and the Millenium, when my work with indie rock bands, singer-songwriters and jazz musicians brought me to Chicago pretty regularly and a night's rate at the Hotel Monaco was more like $150, not the $240/night rate it is now.

This time around I was lucky enough to find a Hotels.com deal for another Kimpton property, the Hotel Burnham - a boutique hotel on the National Register of Historic Places, which lately seems to be a requirement for me to stay somewhere. Formerly the Reliance Building, an office building which had fallen into disrepair and disuse, the Burnham has restored the building to its original splendor, even keeping the original office doors as the hotel room doors, giving the hallways a film noir feeling of approaching the office of a private investigator.

It took me long enough to get here. Predictably, my flight from JFK took off late, but despite actually arriving pretty much ontime to O'Hare, it took me two hours to finally check in to my hotel. Braving public transportation instead of a car service or cab, I found myself at a subway station that did not make change, with transit ticket machines that only took exact change and no credit cards. Feeling like a stupid tourist, I had a pained look on my face after pleading with the booth guy, so some other tourist took pity on me and handed me their day pass which was to expire today, useless to him now that he was about to fly out. Alleviation of massive hassle was even better than getting a free ride, but I was stopped in my tracks shortly thereafter, waiting a half hour on the parked train in the station before finally departing, and then being diverted by construction onto a shuttle bus in a not-so-nice neighborhood. The CTA sucks as much, if not more, than the MTA does.

When I finally got to The Loop, I was glad to have Sebouh waiting for me at a champagne bar with a glass of sparkling rose, and a menu full of cheeses, shrimp, baked oysters, fried chick peas, cinnamon beignets and chocolate fondues, all of which we partook with glee.

Sebouh is a great date and an even better travelling partner. I can't wait for breakfast together tomorrow.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Believe It Or Not I Was the Audience Favorite

I feel like I spend my whole life trying to get back on TV. As a kid, I made a few local television appearances for spelling bees, science fairs, school board meetings and various other academic and political activities. In high school, I found myself on an episode of The Montel Williams Show after a newspaper article I wrote about racial tensions in our school got picked up by the AP. (Lacking sentimentality, my mother threw out my only copy of the show.)

As an aspiring actor, I've done background work on NYPD Blue, starred in a PSA for MTV, and and even appeared on a speed-dating episode of Parco P.I. But the crowning glory of my TV career is my big game show appearance, when I won a Toyota 4-Runner SUV on VH1's Name That Video.

The win itself was thrilling of course, especially since I could flex my music trivia knowledge for such a great reward, but it was also pretty exciting when the show aired and all these people - high school friends, college classmates, old colleagues - started crawling out of the woodwork because they saw me sweep the floor with the other contestants.

For the last seven years, I've been milking that game show win for all its worth, even putting it on my work resume (a factoid I'm convinced got me my job at Razor & Tie). But as the years go on, it feels more and more obnoxious to keep relying on something that happened so long ago. So, I've been dying to find another reason to get myself on TV in a big way.

In my attempts to recapture game show stardom, I ended up getting cast in the pilot episode of a new game show, which will unfortunately never air (so they say). But until the pilot does or does not get picked up, I can't say what it was or any of the details about it...And at the same time, I'm dying to talk about it.

I think it's pretty flattering actually to be cast in the pilot episode of something, especially a game show that will have a rotating cast of contestants throughout its run. The pilot, of course, is intended to be a pitch piece to help the producers sell the show, so even though it may never air, they have to act like it will and make it the best episode they possibly can. That's a lot of responsibility, but I was up for the challenge.

Of course, the last time I was on a game show, when I actually saw the episode I hated the way I looked, so this time around I quickly descended into a mirror-avoiding crisis (which eclipsed my Death Valley-induced existential crisis) in anticipation of being on TV again. In order to find something solid-colored and TV-friendly to wear to the taping, I went dress-shopping all over the city, but found nothing at Banana Republic, Gap, Express, French Connection, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor LOFT, Talbot's, Club Monaco, Anthropologie, J Crew, H&M, and even Le Chateau. Even with money being no object, I still couldn't find anything that didn't make me look pregnant, short, with too much booty or too much booby.

I finally just relied on a sirenesque outfit I already had, daring to actually wear color instead of my normal all-black palette. Still, I wasn't certain I'd be able to rock the look with any confidence whatsoever.

I tried to get all necessary grooming done before the taping, getting my fried green tomatoeshair blown out at Blow (a "blow dry bar" near the Meatpacking District). During a leisurely pre-game show lunch at 202, my heart was pounding, calmed somewhat by guzzling a glass of wine, hair of the dog from my binge the night before at DB Bistro Moderne and Pamplona. I knew I might not get to eat again until after the taping, so I also filled up on cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes (which very closely mimicked mozzarepas) and an arugula salad with prosciutto, grapes, toasted pistachios and warm goat cheese. Even just for that lunch, I was glad to have taken the day off from work.

When I got to the green room, I felt the same way I did when I arrived to Sony Studios back in '01 for Name That Video: these people have got nothing on me. I was certain to win. And suddenly, it was confidence all the way.

In preparation for my close-up, I got the star treatment by the makeup artists, getting my face put on right next to the show's host (who is a famous and funny comedienne from a popular mid/late-90s sitcom) and getting to hear all her star-studded gossip. After hours of sitting around doing nothing, hoping that my makeup wouldn't run down my face (not being used to wearing that much - ever), I finally got to do some blocking on the soundstage, at which point the producers realized they could not have two girls in red sitting next to each other. Having done a complete 180 from my prior self-loathing paranoia, I was actually quite comfortable in my outfit and refused to change, making the other girl change back into her street clothes after having listened to her go on and on about how much she loved her red outfit and how all her friends and coworkers told her that it was "the one." (Before she put it on, I told her it would be a problem for us both to be wearing red but she ignored me. I figured I had dibs since I'd arrived in my red outfit and firsters keepers.)

There's not much I can divulge about the happenings of the shoot or the fate of the show, but I performed well enough to "win" the episode (and no, it wasn't fixed even though it was a pilot - the actual win was real). Because it was just the pilot, the prize wasn't anything astounding, but it's something I will enjoy very much I'm sure. But for me, of course, it's not about the prize, it's about the winning. It would be really hard for me to do a game show and not win. I can't even imagine that.

It's disappointing because the producers kept saying no one was ever going to see the pilot and that it would never air, so I won't get the same thrill off this one as I did last time. But there's a glimmer of hope in me that, if the show does get picked up, maybe they'll invite me back to be a contestant for real....

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to start looking for my next big break.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hot Summer Night

When it's this hot, I'm inclined to just stay home in my air conditioned apartment, but my air conditioner struggles to maintain 73 degrees so I still sweat. So last night, instead of escaping the heat, I embraced it for a patio party at Hudson Terrace.

Now that my job is nearly entirely children's entertainment, I don't get to go to so many fabulous parties anymore. I've dropped off many of the invite lists. I can't come up with an excuse to attend Winter Music Conference. So when I get a party invite that's not for a new baby website debut, I get pretty excited - not for the free drinks or food per se (at least not anymore), but more for the chance to mingle with people my own age who don't have kids.

Last night's party was hosted by mobile marketing service Mozes, and it felt like the year 2000 all over again, sipping unlimited cocktails (mixed with IZZE!) and chasing down plates of tiny food courtesy of an internet company with money to spend on industry tastemakers like ME. I felt back in my stride, eating too many little round grilled cheese bites and overlooking the Circle Line which sparkles against the dark Hudson River at night. The patio was both open and glassed-in, with no ceiling, but windows that delicately pumped out air conditioning. Long white curtains flowed gently with the breeze, and for a moment I dreamed of Miami and the exquisite Delano Hotel...

The party itself was kind of a bust. Cute swarthy waiters who normally populate these things were replaced by busty blonde chicks who were dismissive about the food rather than describing them passionately and seductively. There weren't that many people there, and I think I was the one most excited to be there. And the "superstar" musical guest was....Vanessa Carlton, who was a big bore.

A life-changing night? No, but at some point, Stella's got to get her groove back.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Waiting Game: BBQ Edition

I feel like I spend my whole life waiting. Part of my quest to avoid regret is driven by the constant struggle between the slowness of time and the feeling that time is slipping away too quickly. I always feel like I'm running out of time, which makes sitting around waiting for something to happen ever the more frustrating.

This weekend, we decided to buy a Fast Pass for the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in Madison Square Park so we wouldn't have to wait so long to buy plates of 'que from the various vendors that set up for the weekend extravaganza, whose lines are notoriously long. The Fast Pass didn't really help much, because it still pretty much felt like waiting in line for the really good rollercoasters at Six Flags: sun beating down on you, sweat pouring into your eyes, anxiety rising in the pit of your stomach as you get madder and madder that you have to wait so long for something that might not end up being that good.

free beerI got lucky with the first round of food, nabbing some delicious St. Louis-style ribs from Baker's Ribs in a matter of minutes and bringing them back into the shady area behind Shake Shack that we had cornered for ourselves. It turned out to be a good standing spot for eating and for getting free beers from dudes who realized they were double-fisting when they couldn't actually take their beers out of the beer garden and into the long lines for food. It's amazing how willing they were to just give a full, cold beer away. We were more than happy to accept.

We realized what a fluke our first round of food was when Edith disappeared for what seemed like forever to get some sausage from The Salt Lick, which came with unusually tasty cole slaw (were those toasted sesame seeds?) that was well-worth the wait. But as the afternoon progressed, so did the lines, and after nearly an hour in line for one of the few things at the BBQ that wasn't beef brisket or pork shoulder, I couldn't stand it anymore and had to tag Edith in. She's even more determined (and gets even madder) than I, so she stuck it out in the sun to get some ridiculously fresh hush puppies made - to order - with crawfish and smoked okra.

We'd about had it with the sun after over two hours and decided to leave, despite having used less than half of my $100 Fast Pass - even more frustrating since the Bourbon Bar didn't accept it and we could've easily used it up there. In my mind I figured I could come back the next day and try to use it up, so I was happy to move the party to Rodeo Bar for some happy hour frozen margaritas to cool off and rest up.

In retrospect, Saturday's experience at Madison Square Park didn't seem so bad, despite the headache that was still plaguing me this morning and the heat stroke I'm pretty sure I suffered. We'd actually had a great time: we heard two great bands (The DeFibulators and The Sweet Divines), we ate great food, and we got to do some really weird people watching (including the
"Tasty Murder" guy and the grass-fed cow street teamer guy who looked very out of place chanting in a style that was more hip hop than Flatiron, "Read it 'cuz ya eat it!"). So it wasn't too hard to go back today, once again slathering on some sunblock and putting on a sundress I wouldn't mind sweating through.

This time I decided to not be as choosy about what I was eating, instead just jumping on short lines to get some quick breakfast pork into my stomach. My first stop at Ubon's got me pulled pork and slaw within seconds, slightly longer than it took me to devour it. Next stop? The terrifying whole hog stand courtesy of Raleigh's The Pit.

the whole hogI wasn't sure what I'd see when I got to The Pit, but the first thing I saw was...the whole hog. They'd gutted an entire pig and smoked it in one of their huge cookers, and it took four men to drag the browned thing out onto a big table, where six gloved workers dug in with their fingers and began pulling it apart. Most pulled pork is from just a part of the pig, often the shoulder, but this pulled pork was most certainly the entire pig, all emptied out into one big foil pan.

scrapsAfter I got my sandwich and cole slaw, soaked in some peppery hot sauce poured from a plastic jug, I stopped at the end of the table where I saw one guy with a smaller foil pan with indescriminate parts inside. Ah, the scraps! I got a couple of chunks of I-don't-know-what, crispy fatty brown bits that had already been ravaged once but still had enough left on them for one more ravage. The man said to me, "Come over here pumpkin and let me give you another piece. Now you go put some of that sauce down there on it, yeah."

It's weird not knowing what you're eating.

s'moreI still had quite a bit of money left on my Fast Pass, but I was fading fast in the sun once again, so I decided to spend it on a Blue Smoke t-shirt and a s'more from Wildwood BBQ, leaving about $4 unspent with no regrets.

If I hadn't been sweating so much, I think I would've made some friends in the park, strolling all alone with a Texas Pete temporary tattoo on my chest. There were a lot of single guys there - beer-drinkin', BBQ-lovin' dudes for whom I'm probably their dream girl. But greased up with sunblock and sweat dripping down my back, I felt far less than attractive and got the hell out of there as quickly as I came.

I'd wanted to go to this annual BBQ pretty much ever since I've lived in the neighborhood, so I'm glad I finally got to go. But the long lines and a real lack of variety in the food (despite the quality) may keep me from going back next year...unless it's only to scope out the pitmasters' secret techniques, as they prepare their meaty offerings throughout the night before.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Photo Essay: The Spotted Pig

I actually got into The Spotted Pig tonight, partially probably because I was alone. But they were actually really accommodating in getting me a seat, and my waitress upstairs, while I was crammed against a column with a very narrow ledge by the oyster bar, was an absolute joy.





devilled eggs with a lot of chives and spicy paprika








you can't really tell, but this is a big fried pig's ear








the most delicious lemon tart I've ever had




I mean, if you're going to be at The Spotted Pig, you might as well eat pig.

It didn't chase away the headache that's been plaguing me since the beach yesterday, but it was a nice way to end my day after seeing a play starring Peter Frechette and Chris Stack.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sand In My Teeth

The first time I felt it, I was coccooned in a towel on the beach, avoiding sunburn by any means necessary. All I could see was the orange glow from the sun shining through my towel, and I was gritting my teeth together, grinding the salt and sand that ended up in my mouth when a wave washed over me.

We went to Robert Moses State Park today, enjoying the sunny weather. But as warm as it was, the water was really too cold for swimming. I tried my best, because clearly I am not a person who likes to go to the beach and just lay out, but walking into the water made me fear hypothermia and instant arthritis in my ankles. In fact, the best I could do was to lie down on the cold wet sand where the water had once washed over, and wait for it to creep back up on the shore and wash over me.

It was actually quite refreshing and got my heart rate really going, but it was so cold that I had to run back to our spot and wrap myself up in a towel and lay in the sun to warm up. My heart rate slowly calmed as I dozed off a little, listening to the gigantic waves that eventually chased us out of our spot, farther up towards the dunes. I found the grittiness in my mouth comforting, as though it gave me an excuse to grind my teeth, a therapeutic way of relieving the tension that had built up in my head all week.

After getting a little beached out, James suggested we go take a walk by the lighthouse. There's a great boardwalk that takes you through the Fire Island National Seashore, famous for its wildlife (bunnies, rabbits, raccoons, and apparently lots of deer) and birdlife. We were lucky to see one cottontail on the way, and, strangely, a fly-infested dead shark.

The approach to the lighthouse is gorgeous, with lots of great scenery. Even better is the view you get after climbing the harrowing 182 steps to the top of the lighthouse tower, 360 degrees of Fire Island - its flora and fauna, its ever-changing shores across a narrow plot of land, its significance in New York's maritime history now eclipsed by stories of crazy parties and sun-loving teens.

After teetering back down the spiral staircase, which sent my claustrophobia and vertigo into overdrive at the same time, we did some more exploring outside around the lighthouse, following a dead end path down a boardwalk that led to a narrow strip of shore filled with fisherman. As we walked past their posts towards a local pier (which we weren't authorized to actually go on), I became increasingly surrounded by sea creatures that had washed up to their ultimate death: empty mussel shells, so many disembodied crab legs and empty bits of shell, and even a whole skate. I'm glad those didn't wash up on me when I was lying down by the water's edge back at the beach.

fly-infested fuzzy wildlife dead skate

James is a great person to go exploring with, and he's mapped out pretty much the entire area, so it was easy to just let him navigate and let myself decompress, forgetting I have to work tomorrow, even not minding so much being the third wheel to him and his girlfriend. But once we got back to the beach, his two other friends were gabbing away, and he snuggled up with his girlfriend to rest from the long walk back, and I realized being the fifth wheel is even worse. No one to talk to (and no interest in insinuating myself into somebody else's private conversation), I stretched out alone on my beach blanket, enjoying that I didn't have to share it with anyone. I dreaded the car ride home, which would surely bring back my claustrophobia, once again being crammed into a backseat that does not easily fit three not-small girls.

On the way home, we made a worthwhile stop at Branchinelli's in Hauppage, a strip mall family-run Italian restaurant that pleasantly reminded me of Syracuse. Beautiful pizzas, gigantic chicken parm (could feed three), and an iceberg lettuce tossed salad that's deceivingly delicious with chopped cucumber, celery and green onion giving it some flavor. They don't have a liquor license so you have to ask for wine, which they'll give to you for free, but I chose to wash the rest of the salty sand that remained in my mouth down with some Diet Coke. Although it's a casual place that serves the soda in wax-coated paper cups, it still felt like a special occasion.

Overall I'm glad I joined James and his friends for today's excursion. There were parts of my day that were beautiful and poetic, but for that adventure I had to forego comfort, conversation, and a ride all the way home. As the sun set with a bright orange sky, I was dropped off in Long Island City and had to tote my cooler, towel and blankets onto the 7 train to complete my journey home. I guess if I'm not going to explore alone, I'm relegated to the role of tagalong.

Plan Your Visit: Fire Island Map