September 29, 2008

The Next Toronto Star?

CN Tower A gray Canadian day.

I haven't had much reason to want to go to work lately, but I actually wanted to take this business trip to Toronto, despite it falling on a weekend. We were scheduled to go to an event at Canada's Wonderland, an amusement park north of the city, and although my travelling companions hate rides and wouldn't go on any with me, I did get to eat a waffle ice cream sandwich and some tiny, freshly-fried doughnuts.

I'd never been to Toronto itself, though I was in its suburbs for the Eden Music Fest back in 1996, when Bush, Live, and Everclear were among the headlining acts.

I also recall being on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls as a five year old and visiting another Canadian amusement park, Marineland, where I was too short for most of the rides. I think that trip also marked my first Dairy Queen experience, where I got a can of Diet Coke that had French writing on it. As a small child, I was amazed.

Growing up in Central New York, you get pretty used to Canadian accents, Canadian coins, and Canadian delicacies like pizza and wings. So when I got to Toronto on Sunday, nothing seemed too terribly foreign to me. Except the fact that I had to use my passport to get into the country, and stand in a customs line for almost an hour.

Like Syracuse, Toronto is a pretty industrial city, with lots of warehouses and factories and smokestacks. They've made lots of attempts at converting those buildings, many of which are from the early 20th century. We actually got to take a meeting and have lunch in the really cool warehouse campus of the old Toronto Carpet Factory in Liberty Village, whose conversion includes not only hip office buildings but also the ristorante CaFfinO.

In the narrow driveways between buildings, you can see old streetcar tracks that they've preserved - in fact, showcased - as part of the conversion.

But not all parts of Toronto are beautiful and historic like the carpet factory. Most of it is ugly and beige or gray, and not just because of the cloudy, cold weather we encountered upon our arrival. Train tracks and railyards cut the city off from harbour access, and even the CN Tower - which we didn't pay the $21 to go up into - is horribly forboding and cold in design, looming over the city like a huge push pin, less sci-fi than Seattle's Space Needle and much less utilitarian than any of NYC's lofty observation deck office buildings like the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock.

There's something very San Franciscan about it's public transportation, though, with many streetcars still in use - and looking like they haven't been replaced since maybe the '60s. They share the traffic lanes with cars, often causing bottlenecks while collecting and depositing passengers on busy, narrow streets with parked cars on both sides. The subway station entrances also really reminded me of BART, but since we were there on business and relying on rental cars, I didn't get the chance to explore.

The main exploring I did was upon my arrival, when I was starved for lunch and Kevin was nursing a migraine. Of course, the front desk at our hotel refused to recommend any place to eat besides their own restaurant, so I was on my own to find something authentic and local. And what better than a local chain restaurant called The Pickle Barrel, where I drank Nova Scotian beer (Alexander Keith's Red Ale) and ate Albertan steak in possibly the best caesar salad I've ever had. It didn't matter that my meal has had pretty much in the mall. It was delicious and I am no stranger to suburbia.

During our meetings today I lightheartedly said that I would move to Canada for the right opportunity, and I think I meant it. But I hope there's a side of Toronto beyond my visitor's experience today, because if there isn't, I'm not sure how long I would last.

But I'm glad I went on the trip, if only for the chance to take advantage of Sebouh's companion upgrade and fly in Business Class on the way home. I really don't belong with the "luxury travellers," but where do I belong? I felt like a schmuck amongst the elite in the front of the plane, where they give you as much Cabernet as you want, and I don't know when to stop. The flight attendant kept telling me I could take more bags of snack mix, like I was a little kid flying for the first time. I think she sensed my glee, which I wore on my cheeks in a red that matched the wine that constantly filled my (real!) glass.

And now in New York for a couple of weeks before the next business trip.

September 27, 2008

Leave No Trace

Photo: Edith Bellinghausen

Not all of our trip last weekend was gorgeous landscapes and breathtaking sunrises. Though we had plenty of that, we encountered a lot of really disturbing images of nature's attack on man, and, frankly, man's attack on nature.

On the drive from San Diego to Julian, through winding roads that reminded us of the "scenic route" to Campo on our way to the Train to Tecate, we witnessed the remainders of what we could only imagine had been the natural deforestation of the landscape by summer wildfires. Everywhere around us, on both sides of the road, we saw terrifyingly gnarled trees, blackened branches, and charred trunks, as close to us as the side of the road, and extending way up into the mountains. It was a startling sight, but with nowhere to pull over and sparing Edith the anxiety of watching me photograph the landscape while driving (which I have done while driving alone), I didn't get any pictures of it. If you could imagine the scariest forest in The Wizard of Oz (including during the deleted "Jitterbug" scene), what we saw looked like escapees from there, stopped dead in their tracks. As much as I dream about buying an RV and parking it permanently out in the desert, I can't imagine being so close to nature's wrath, especially in all those houses we passed...

Nature takes its toll on the desert, too. Made mostly of rock instead of dune, it appears to be stable, steady, unmovable, but it lies on the San Jacinto Fault, and like Death Valley, the earth's subterranean plates are shifting so much that their movements have isolated Coyote Mountain from the Santa Rosa Mountain range, so that it now stands alone. We drove east on S-22, stopping occasionally along the 21-mile stretch known as "Erosion Road," which gives spectacular views of geologic forces at work, creating arroyos, playas, bajadas, canyons and erosion-induced cone-shaped piles of rubble called alluvial fans. We were heading east out of Anza-Borrego, crossing county lines into Imperial County to reach the Salton Sea. We could see it on the horizon from the desert, looking as blue as the sky, but when we arrived we realized it wasn't blue at all, rather reflecting the blue sky from a distance. In reality, this inland sea's dark and mucky surface is just a small indication of its distastrous history.

The Salton Sea started as a dry lake, of which there are many in Southern California, and as an empty basin it seemed like a good place to collect the runoff of an overflowing Colorado River. After a series of man-made historic events - canal-digging, reservoir-building, irrigation and other agricultural developments - the sea kept getting saltier and its shores kept fluctuating. It was meant to be a temporary body of water that would eventually evaporate, but it never did. By the 1950s, people realized the salinity of the water caused it to be more buoyant, making it one of the fastest bodies of water to go boating on. Hollywood celebrities flocked here, too - to its shores, for boating, camping, and even fishing (thanks to some ocean-dwelling fish being introduced to the sea).

In the end, The Salton Sea turned out to be an engineering disaster, and everything went horribly wrong. The sea became too salty and people were advised against eating the fish they caught. The birds started dying off, slowly and then en masse as a result of an avian botulism outbreak. Millions of fish died off from oxygen depletion as a result of too much algae. Now, nearly 10 years later, it is one big, smelly graveyard for wildlife, its sulfuric, rotten fumes choking the local Salton City residents and visitors like Edith and myself. Of course, our interest in the dilapidated and the macabre brought us there, so we didn't mind crunching through all the fish carcasses, nestled in a silty ground made mostly of shell fragments (which apparently can get pretty kicked up in a windstorm).

The water surface is still pretty active, but it washes a gunk ashore that's pretty disgusting. Staring at all of the death and destruction, it's surprising to see that a good number of seabirds are still surviving, in fact, thriving there. It's actually a key stop in many of these birds' migratory patterns, especially so surrounded by desert. The local wildlife refuge is one of the many reasons why there's a movement to restore the Salton Sea, but it makes you wonder: hasn't man done enough? Should they just leave it and let nature take its course with it? Or is it so far gone that nature will only induce more destruction there?

Out there in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by abandonment, I didn't feel as lonely or as small as I did standing in the middle of Badwater, Death Valley's salt basin which is only slightly more under sea level than the Salton Sea. The air was too humid for our desert-adjusted bodies, and we really felt the 100+ depgree heat, escaping to our air conditioned rental car for relief. However, we had one more stop to make while we were in the area: boiling mud pots.

It took a while to actually find them, and we had to drive long down a canal-flanked dirt road to get there. When we arrived, we saw a long, white-encrusted stretch of nothingness, and an empty brown field - empty except for cone-shaped deposits created by tiny volcanic eruptions. Underneath them? Bubbling mud.

If we listened closely, making sure we didn't walk too closely towards them, our feet already sinking into the white-dusted ground that looked dry and cracked on the surface but was wet and soft under some pressure, we could hear the blup-blup-blup that signified an impending eruption. It was surreal and alien. The site was somehow so "out there" that we were surprised it was even listed on a map.

We made it back to Borrego Springs for dinner at The Red Ocotillo that night. Before returning to our room at the Palms, we looked up at the stars, remarking how you can't see any of them in New York. There are so many of them, and they were all so close and bright. Somehow I think we felt safe and protected under that starlit sky, a feeling unfamiliar to me in New York as well, and even in Death Valley, when I was terrified to drive in the dark, listened to animals scratching at my door and awoke to ghost sightings. Maybe it was the companionship of Edith. Or maybe I'm just getting used to visiting these bizarre sites with the deafening cries of lost souls all around me.

Just Deserts.

Photo: Edith Bellinghausen
I just got back from the desert less than a week ago and I'm already planning my next trip. I think next I'll check out Arizona - slightly harder to get to from a work-related trip, but within reach of a JetBlue destination so I can use one of the two free trips I've racked up.

My trip to San Diego in March seems to have set the tone for most of my travels throughout the remainder of the year, following it with trips to Death Valley and Morocco, which reminded me very much of Southern California and Mexico. I've gone back to San Diego twice now since the spring, last month for work and then last week for a weekend vacation after working in LA the entire week. This time I convinced Edith, who accompanied me to my first San Diego trip, to once again join me in my desert adventure.

I wasn't really aware of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California's largest state park, until my friend Ken suggested I go there when he found out I was in San Diego last month. I figured I wouldn't have enough time to just daytrip it up there, so I was looking forward to giving it the full treatment in September, which, though still considered the "off-season," would be much more liveable temperature-wise.

I chose to drive up to Anza-Borrego from San Diego the same way most people do: up through the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to an old goldmining town called Julian, whose famous apple harvest was just beginning and was sure to produce some amazing apple pies. I had tried to actually find a hotel in Julian, but everything was curiously sold out - though explained later by the apple harvest and the bluegrass festival which is one of the biggest events of the year there. We stopped in town for a quick lunch at Miner's Diner, an old school soda fountain where I had the Pioneer Pastrami sandwich, which was as fat and soft as I was eating it, on what tasted like freshly-baked rye bread with a pickle spear on the side. Edith chose a turkey sandwich called the "Banner Queen," named after a mine in a nearby ghost town that we drove through but didn't really see anything in. Sitting at their lunch counter (they don't serve dinner), it was great because we were surrounded by high school students and other locals, not tourists, though the town has retained the character of a historic, tourist-worthy town full of kid-friendly activities like panning for gold and cider-making.

Lucky for the locals who live there, Julian is a haven for locally-produced jams, jellies, butters, ciders, and of course pies, as well as cider doughnuts that kick the Greenmarket's ass - and not only because they're chocolate-frosted. It's also a burgeoning wine communicider doughnutty, with several wineries converging near the orchards to make hard cider, apple wine, and a variety of other grape-based wines. Like Temecula to the north, the area isn't as European-influenced as Napa and Sonoma, and the wines can really only be described as...Southern Californian. Sometimes a bit rough, often complex, smacking you in the palate a bit before you find one you like. It's the tryingthat's the fun part, and although you enjoy the visit, you're not sure if you could experience it all the time. But we did find a Viognier at Orfila that we liked enough to buy and bring back to San Diego with us...and lots of free wine glasses from all the local tasting rooms we visited.

Once we drove into the desert and to the palm tree-lined oasis of Borrego Springs, I was glad we hadn't found a room in Julian and chose to stay inside the state park instead. The New York Times had recommended a recently-restored mid-century modern resort called The Palms at Indian Head, and once I read about the Hollywood elite visiting there - similarly as they visited Death Valley - I knew it would be the place to stay. Even better, Borrego Springs was once destined to become the next Palm Springs, but of course never did. And knowing me, always to root for the underdog, it was the perfect place for me to escape the Hollywood hustle as well.

The Palms was originally built in 1947 as the Hoberg Resort, but the 50+ cabins and bungalows that dotted the expansive property burned down in 1958, to be rebuilt that same year, but with fewer places to stay. Of course like anything else in a little-visited town whose weather requires properties to forcibly close in 125 degree summer heat, it fell into disrepair and was as forgotten as the oasis itself, with all eyes on Palm Springs instead. In the late 90s, a couple decided to restore the property to its original splendor, naming it "The Palms" after all the palm trees that rose up out of the desert in the spring-fed town, and "at Indian Head" after the mountain that rises up behind it, shaped somewhat like the head of a Native American chief.

We knew the place would be cool, but we had no idea we would stumble upon our own little ghost town, especially after our failed attempt at exploring nearby Banner. You can still see the ruins of much of the original property, and even walk right through them, despite how architecturally unstable they may be. Original shower stalls and even toilets are still standing, sheltered by salmon- and mint green-colored tile walls, with rusty spikes sticking out at every turn. The paint is peeling everywhere, yet there are few signs of trying to demolish the old remains. It was fascinating to try to piece together the plot of the old Hoberg Resort, walking on sidewalks that led to nowhere, standing behind walls with huge chunks missing out of them. As if our location weren't remote enough - especially with the staff of the hotel never around, us checking ourselves into the hotel and drinking hot coffee which mysteriously appeared on its own in the morning - we had the spooky feeling of walking through someone else's memory, piecing the bits together as the details crumbled around us.

One of the remarkable elements of the original property is the Olympic-sized pool, which we dove into both at twilight (despite the bats dive-bombing the water around us) and at sunrise. We discovered that it had been built with two plexiglass windows in the deep end of the pool, providing a kind of underground observation deck for spectators to surreptitiously watch swimmers through a deep blue, chlorine lens. I dragged my toe along the far wall of the pool until I felt a window, and once I'd verified that the windows in fact did exist, I had to find the underground passage to them.

It wasn't difficult, actually: I spotted a pile of cinder blocks with some construction materials around them and an old, faded yellow warning sign above a subterranean flight of stairs. In my wet bathing suit and slippery flip flops, camera in hand, I walked sideways down the dirt-piled steps, digging my toes into the dark sandy dirt for leverage as I grabbed the rough stone walls on either side of me. I expected some kind of cocktail lounge or something down there, but instead I found a dirt floor, a couple of lawn chairs, some plastic buckets, and two cruddy windows that could form the backdrop of a really terrifying slasher flick. It looked like this:

Of course, we were giddy at the discovery, laughing hysterically, causing all kinds of ruckus in the normally-quiet pool area visited only by a couple of other resort guests, all of whom were retirees, I think. Which makes sense since that's pretty much who I see wherever I go these days.

Unlike Death Valley, Borrego Springs itself is far from a ghost town. There are quite a few resorts and motels and even a strip mall. It actually seems quite liveable, though there's basically one singular, fantastic place to eat, The Red Ocotillo (also owned and operated by the same folks from The Palms). With so many plots of land for sale, and real estate signs everywhere, I started to dream about what it would be like to live in this place, whose center of town is a roundabout called "Christmas Circle." It just seemed like paradise to me.

Mornings were idyllic too. The first day we set our alarms to watch the sun rise from our terrace, but the next day we woke up on our own and got to see it again, with golden light pouring over our faces and kissing the palm trees. I can't imagine anywhere else that I would want to wake up at 6:30 in the morning.

I wanted to live while I was there. I couldn't wait to spot the bunnies that emerged by the pool as the sun set, or to hop in the car and find some canyons or scenic overlooks. Most of the other people staying at the resort seemed to just hang out by the pool all day, and that seemed nice too. And the thought of eating every meal at The Red Ocotillo - whether it was the bacon crumble benedict with garlic rosemary potatoes or the Peg Leg breakfast with too much butter on the cinnamon French toast - seemed just delightful.

For more photos, click here.

September 23, 2008

Not So New, Back on the Block

Working in children's entertainment and not having any kids, I often use the line that I'm "very in touch with my inner nine-year-old," explaining why I can market music to kids today.

I always see a lot of nostalgic concerts during the summer, but tonight's New Kids on the Block show at IZOD took me back 20 years to my boy band-obsessed, pubescent self. And it was one of the most entertaining shows I've seen.

The new album is really good and they opened with their new track "Single," in which they promise that they'll be my boyfriend, and I believe them.

We could feel the palpable excitement in the air, and we were deafened by the shrieks of 20,000 women.

Jordan Knight is still really hot. In fact, they all look (and sound!) pretty good. And still dance!

At one point, they disappeared off the stage and ran down the aisle right in front of us to make their way to a rotating dias in the center of the audience, where we could very clearly see them performing in the round.

They made lots of costume changes and sang all the hits you could think of, including "I'll Be Loving You Forever" (left) and their first comeback hit, "Summertime" (right). At one point, Jordan was standing at the top of the stage with his white shirt blowing open in the wind, and I regressed back to my 13 year old self and felt guilty for looking at him. It was too hot.

There were great effects too: video, graphics, smoke, and even pyrotechnics!

Remember the episode of VH1's "Bands Reunited" when they tried to get NKOTB back together, to no avail?

Thank God they changed their minds.

I Want to Dress Like Steve Stevens for Halloween

Last week I saw Billy Idol again in concert, this time at House of Blues on Sunset in West Hollywood, which was transformed into "House of Billy" for a sold-out, three night stint.

Despite my negative experience with the crowd, the show was predictably good.

Billy seemed a little off, though. He didn't chat very much.

That made Steve Stevens the real star of the show.

I was standing so close to the edge of the stage that I could practically light his cigarette.

The set list was basically the same as at the Hammerstein show, but we actually got to hear his version of "LA Woman" in LA - not changed to "New York Woman" the way I normally hear it. The geographic lyric change didn't work quite so well for "Hot in the City," which is normally sung as "Hot in New York City tonight...(Tonight!)" but doesn't have the same lyricism when it's changed to "Hot in Los Angeles." Billy tried one more time with "Hot in L.A." but it just didn't work.

Steve Stevens is from New York City and Billy lived there for a while, so although the whole kind of spiky hair, leather pants, glam metal thing should have felt at home on the Sunset Strip, it felt a little forced. Still, I would buy Billy Idol concert tickets for pretty much any show that I was in town for, no matter where it was. During the House of Blues show, I actually thought to myself, "Gee, I'd like to see Billy Idol in concert everynight," and then I figured the only way I could do that would be to sing much-needed backup vocals for him out on tour. I would do it for free if only I could get my travel, food and accommodations taken care of. What would I need a salary for?

September 17, 2008

And the Asshole Award Goes To...

I've warmed up to California over the years, and the more I come to visit LA, the more I wonder whether I could live here. I think if I could get a nice place tucked away in Laurel Canyon, and drink margaritas at Saddle Ranch, I'd be alright. Get a car, drive to the mountains, get fake boobs when I'm 45 (which I'll probably do anyway).

But then I think of the people who I encounter here. I guess it's unfair to judge a city by who I see in bars and restaurants - no one would ever live in NYC by that measure - but I come across so many assholes here.

When I first arrived at House of Blues tonight for Billy Idol's Sunset Strip takeover, the first thing I encountered was a drunk woman in her late 40s or early 50s grabbing my arms and shoving me out of the way, saying, "Hold on, Jack, that's my spot." I'd noticed a big empty spot right at the front of the floor, and without having to shove anybody out of the way, I'd slithered up there. Now, I'd be more than happy to let her stand in front of me, but why did she have to manhandle me so? I was about to clock her, but instead, I asked her how drunk she was. When she said "not at all," I knew she must be really drunk, so I forgave her a little inside and started manhandling her myself, but in a weird David Lynch seductive way, stroking her hair and calling her Jackie. It was a bizarre scene, but my public scuffles often are. We finally resolved that she was a jerk and she would get her place to stand, and I would stand behind her. I was still only three people deep into the front section of General Admission, so what did I have to complain about?

Towards the end of the two-hour show, around "Rebel Yell" and "Mony Mony," some other chick started trying to use me as human monkey bars to climb up high onto the crowd to, I guess, reach up and touch Billy. I wasn't having it. Forunately I have a tremendous center of gravity and I pretty much spent the last 20 minutes of the show pressing hard up against her to prevent her from hoisting herself up or from squeezing in front of me. At one point she was dancing to the music and grinding me so heavily with her pelvis that I worried about impregnation.

I'd been to a Billy Idol concert at Hammerstein Ballroom several years ago during which I had a similar front-of-house experience, and it wasn't worth it to me to get crushed up against the barrier and lose all respiratory function so I moved to the back. But this time I was determined to withstand the pain and aggravation and have the kind of rock concert experience I never have, grasping onto Billy's clenched fist and making eye contact with Steve Stevens as he noodled on his guitar. I think some of their sweat cascaded down on me and it smelled like rain in there.

I've gotten into plenty of shouting matches in NYC (usually with cab drivers) and tonight I was ready to get arrested for biting somebody's ear off. But fortunately that wasn't necessary, and I even made it to Saddle Ranch for some tri-tip and margarita afterwards.

September 16, 2008

The Things I Left Behind

I packed for my 11-day Morocco trip for a month, piling things on my couch as I thought of them, and still I forgot deodorant and had to go buy Fa wet roll-on.

I waited til the last minute a bit more for this 8-day trip, and I seem to have forgotten some of the most important things:

  • sunglasses - understandably because I fly with my regular glasses on, so I actually have to pack the sunglasses rather than putting them on my head like I do every other day. I had to buy a new pair at the airport, marking the first time I've actually bought sunglasses. I think ever.

  • jewelry - I don't wear much, but I feel pretty naked without even a pair of earrings.

  • USB cable for my camera - forcing me to blog with only my camera phone pics

  • stuffed piggie - I promised myself I'd bring a stuffed animal to keep me company on this trip, since Los Angeles can be so lonely and hotel pillows are never quite comforting enough. Now I'm in a king-sized bed with a zebra-print bedspread with about a million sub-par pillows and, of course, waking up earlier than my alarm.

What gets me is that I'd actually forgotten food for the plane in my fridge and made my driver go back for it (for fear of eating 4 bags of Munchie Mix during the course of the flight). So even after a second consideration, I couldn't remember to bring any of these things.

Fortunately I travel light, never checking baggage (even internationally), and I can survive without or replace pretty much anything. But I just hate that nagging feeling of having left something behind...

September 15, 2008

The Unbirth of Cool

I came to LA for this conference because I was afraid not to. I'd presented here last year and made lots of connections, and although I wasn't going to present again, I thought I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pass around a lot of business cards, especially now. But because I'm not as visible this time, I've got to work harder.

Also I don't mind so much coming to LA anymore because it's familiar, and this time I chose to stay at my old haunt, the Grafton on Sunset, where I know exactly what to expect. It's like those tourists who come to NYC and eat at McDonald's and Olive Garden. You can't blame them. There are plenty of bad places in New York that one could stumble upon, and they're just trying to avoid their own regret.

I'm a little more adventurous, but if I decide to try something new, it probably is going to be familiar to me in some way.

Tonight I tried STK for two reasons: 1) it's owned by the same folks that own several Meatpacking District eateries, including STK NY and 2) I keep seeing it on celebrity coverage. I apparently was there too early, because it was practically empty and I only saw typical fake-boobed aspiring actresses, no Jessica Simpson or Eva Longoria. Still, I felt conspicuous eating on my own, so I moved myself from a bar table to the bar itself so I could ogle the black-clad, hot bartenders who shake their cocktails for show, competing with one another to see whose cocktail shake is bigger.

I happened to sit next to Marc, one of the partners of the company, an experience slightly less thrilling than when I met the owner of Blue Hill at Gottino. Marc, also owner of Sky Radio, was very LA, though, and was much more interested in his blonde companion who joined him later than in conversation with little ol' me, so that was that. We only spoke long enough for him to comment on my "petite little dinner," which was true. I was starving when I left.

I'm trying to get back on the food diary so I only ordered a 6 oz. skirt steak, which still seemed big to me in theory (in caloric theory anyway), with a side of roasted cauliflower. Everything was delicious - including the "bold" STK sauce - but it just wasn't enough. But, if I wanted to drink a couple of glasses of wine, that was the portion sacrifice I had to make.

The food was noteworthy but the wine was overpriced and not that good. My initial waitress was ditsy and less than knowledgeable about the food and wine, only pointing out the most expensive dishes as her "favorites" and telling me the Rose Sauvinion was good when it was not. I moved partially because of my conspicuousness, partially to ditch her. And I figured at the bar, I wouldn't notice how much of an unscene it was there, despite all the hype.

oven burner oven wall
The highlight of my evening came before dinner, when I had the hotel shuttle driver drop me off at Johnny Cupcakes, a boutique of skull-and-crossbone wares that feature, well, cupcake iconography. It's the perfect merger of my two sensibilities, and although I can't tell if the place is hipster or played out, I was glad to visit their homey bakery shop and buy myself a freshly-baked signature tee. I suspect the place isn't that cool considering its proximity to Paul Frank, Kid Robot and Agent Provocateur, but considering how cool I am not and how much I love all those places, it was a perfect stop on my trip.

My conference starts early tomorrow morning and I will likely be working for a good 10-12 hours. Thank God I'm seeing Billy Idol at House of Blues on Sunset tomorrow night.

September 09, 2008

Trying to Find My Inner Flossy

Tonight at Le Souk, while I was unsuccessfully trying to recapture my Morocco experience, our chiseled and groomed waiter (surely a model) asked us if we were part of the Fashion Week party they were having. We explained that we were focused on getting an authentic meal, aghast that they were out of Moroccan wine (all of them???). At least I did get to try their take on bastilla, the sweet chicken pie that's off-putting if you're not prepared for the confectioner's sugar on top.

In truth, Le Souk is exactly the kind of place that Fashion Week partygoers go to. I should've spent more time researching an authentic Moroccan experience, but I've been too busy or too depressed or too whatever to focus my energy on it, so I just went with the place I'd been to before.

The aforementioned Fashion Week party was the reason it took 40 minutes to get a glass of wine and a bread basket, but the bread - with its double-olive tapenade dipping bowl - was actually so good it was worth it. More or less the kind of Moroccan bread pocket we'd gotten used to, this kind had a kick to it, and hot out the oven, it was actually better than what we'd had during our trip.

I was a little hung over from the Fashion Week party I had been to the night before, a work function featuring a performance by a band I don't get to work with, Semi Precious Weapons. I got to hang out with hottie actor/singer Drew Seeley (a dreamboat for the tween set), and see SPW's fantastic, glammed-out, dirty rock show up close, and take some gorgeous photos of lead singer Justin, who himself is, self-proclaimed, "fucking gorgeous."

I felt out of place with all of the trashy chic artists, musicians and fashionistas that were singing along to all of the words. It's been a long time since I've been out on the party scene. And carrying my big bag with my gym clothes inside from pilates class earlier, I felt kind of like somebody's older sister that they had to invite. I was sweating and claustrophobic and so not cool. I didn't even really want to drink.

The cast from MTV's The Real World: Brooklyn was there with their camera crews, and, unlike the last time I encountered a Real World cast at a Gene Simmons Tongue magazine party a million years ago, I had no desire to weasel my way into that scene and get on camera. I just knew I didn't belong. And I accepted that.

So I guess the Fashion Week scene just isn't for me. But the question is: what scene is for me?

September 05, 2008

High on Coney Island

Wonder Wheel
I've been trying not to miss out on anything as the summer ends, so I finally made it to Coney Island on the last Fireworks Friday, for the second-to-last Brooklyn Cyclones game.

I did the same thing last year, but poetically alone, taking photos from the Wonder Wheel and inhaling the fireworks smoke coming in off the ocean. This year I got to go with Edith and Eric, who humored me by arriving early with me to go exploring before the game. Our first stop, of course, was Nathan's for a cheese dog with onions. But as we walked towards Astroland we noticed that my favorite bumper car spot in the world, the El Dorado Auto Skooter ("Bump Your Ass Off"), was CLOSED with no sign of explanation and no indication of whether the closure was permanent or not. Curses.

Despite the media frenzy over the announced shuttering of Astroland (which they swear is definite this year, despite last year's false alarm), there didn't seem to be much interest in Coney Island today, even with nice weather. Edith and I got to ride the Musik Express all by ourselves, and we all faced only one opponent on the regular Astroland bumper cars, a menacing driver who was out to get every single one of us with repeated head-on collisions, giving his young female passenger a bloody nose and a childhood trauma from which she may never recover. The rest of us escaped luckily only bruised and slightly battered. I don't think that would've happened at the El Dorado. It's a happy place there.

We walked down the empty boardwalk towards the stadium as the sun was setting behind the parachute jump, and I noticed only a couple cops and a few crazies. I kept waiting for an influx of people who wanted to take advantage of the park the last chance they could, as I was doing, but it never happened. I guess it's easier to talk about the preservation of a place like Coney Island rather than actually showing up to support it.

I'd never been to a Cyclones game, but I was in a minor league state of mind after attending a Staten Island Yankees game in SI a few weeks ago, and visiting upstate with the memories of the Syracuse Chiefs games my father used to take me to. One of the first things I saw when we arrived was cute young pitcher Scott Shaw practicing this throw in the dugout, and at that moment I decided it would be pretty nice to date a minor league ball player. No media attention. Not too many groupies. But tight pants and hometown hero status.

I couldn't get any of the players to notice me before the game, though, so we took our seats: the splurge $15 "field box" seats behind home plate, which gives a great view of all the action, obstructed only by the big net that protects you from getting clocked in the head by fly balls.

Sandy the Seagull

Our view of the post-game fireworks were slightly obstructed, too, but mostly by the smoke which had eventually blown away from me last year and blew right into our faces this year.

Considering my obsessive love for amusement parks, fireworks, the ocean, and The Warriors, I can't really figure out why I don't go to Coney Island more often. How is it that I can only manage one visit a year, and I wait until the very last minute to go? By the looks of the emptiness that surrounds me every time I'm there, I guess I'm not the only one. People love to love the idea of Coney Island, but they don't really love going there.

For me, when I actually do make the trip, there's something magical about the train rumbling into the Stillwell Avenue station, especially if I'm lucky enough to arrive at night. And standing on the platform, with quiet, vacant subway trains parked all around with doors shut tight, staring out at the still, red-lit Wonder Wheel, I get a chill watching a Q train round the bend to slowly approach the station, ready to take me back home.

September 02, 2008

Alone in a Crowd, Yet Again

I'm starting to think I've got all the wrong interests. Everything puts me in isolation. Abandoned buildings, old trains, haunted houses, Victorian cemeteries, crowded wine bars... As active as I am, I can't seem to meet anybody when I'm out.

Tonight I found myself at a total nerdfest, surrounded by other isolated lost souls: the John Carpenter retrospective at BAM Rose Cinemas. More specifically, I wanted to check out his version of The Thing starring a very young and bearded Kurt Russell, of which I had somehow never heard til my coworker John mentioned the screaming blood scene last week. Since I was oblivious to it this whole time, I didn't realize what a cult following it had - one of solitary geekdom that I didn't expect to see come out in droves in Brooklyn tonight.

I'm not much of a film geek, but I found the idea of a Kurt Russell movie I'd never seen irresistible, especially if he was going to be sporting such a robust beard.

I also like scary movies, and there's something about the look of late 70s and early 80s movies - this one being from 1982 - that I find incredibly appealing. I almost expected the Baseball Furies to come out and fight the monster.

I think I was one of the only people there who was seeing the movie for the first time, but I love discovering old movies in the theater. The only thing that would have made tonight better - besides a date - would have been for it to be shown in 3D. To think!

In the end, I'm glad to come home alone with thoughts of Kurt Russell to keep me warm tonight. He was beardtastic. And maybe I will dream of some Kurt Russell megamix that incorporates my favorite scenes from Overboard, Tango & Cash, and Tombstone all together in one impossible mashup. That would be awesome.

September 01, 2008

That Unfamiliar Feeling

When I walked back into my apartment building tonight after a holiday weekend upstate, everything looked different. There was something about the lighting that had changed its appearance dramatically - too dark by the mailboxes, too bright upstairs by my door - such that I wasn't even sure I had the right building except that my key worked. I looked at the floor and couldn't remember if the carpeting always met the tile there by the door like that. And whether the hallway had always been that clinical and ugly.

I'm glad to be sleeping in my own bed tonight after a few restless nights in the attic, but it doesn't feel altogether familiar.

I kind of always feel like a stranger wherever I am, even back in Syracuse this weekend where I grew up. I never really lived in the city, locked in a tower for most of my childhood, so when I was trying to show Edith and Eric around, I didn't have much to show them.

But they came up mostly for the State Fair so there was plenty to see there, though my memories of it are all muddled up between excursions with my father and various trips with Maria and Stan as an adult. Though I'm a huge amusement park and ride fan, I was mostly looking forward to the food, dreaming about the dough-licious Villa Pizze Fritte that you can only get at the Fair. Unlike the fried dough and funnel cakes that New Yorkers are used to, the pizze fritte is an elongated stick-like piece of fried dough rolled in granulated sugar, which cascaded down the front of my dress when I bit into it. Edith and Eric both tried mine but didn't like it enough to order their own. Heathens!

Instead, they partook of the pig roast from the Mountainview Restaurant, which admittedly was impressive. The Twin Trees pizza we ate didn't taste like I remembered, but maybe I confused their pizza with Pavone's, whose taste I always recall whenever I get a slice at Pizza Box on Bleecker Street. I got so confused over the unfamiliarity of my taste buds that I just stopped eating at the Fair, passing over the Walkaway Sundaes and the Gianelli sausage. Blasphemy!

I think Edith and Eric were mostly into the animals showcased at the fair, after I'd talked up the purple chickens to them so much. After all, there's lots to see:



Bunnies that look like dogs!

We even got to pet some bunnies, but we had to fight small children to get to them.

I think staying with Maria and her nine pets has made me more receptive to, or at least comfortable with, animals. I was sticking my fingers in every cage, even when the signs were warning me that the animals (especially the goats) would definitely bite me. None of them did.

I did, however, get scratched by a cat and attacked by two huge huskies at Maria's house, reminding me that all good things must come to an end, and that puppies grow up and forget you, and become huge growling dogs that just want to knock you down instead of cuddling up on your lap. It's hard to love something that's going to change, and one day be totally unrecognizable to you.

On our way out of town today, we drove by my parents' house just to ogle it. We spotted my father mowing the lawn out front, wearing safety goggles and looking old. I barely recognized him, or the house, whose chocolate brown siding was painted a light color sometime after I moved out and whose driveway now houses a big SUV truck that my parents must've bought in the year and a half since I last saw them.

At times during my trip home this weekend, I considered whether I could ever move back, enjoying the huge frozen margaritas at Texas Roadhouse (as good as Rodeo Bar!) and taking in the glorious weather we had this weekend. But when it comes down to it, I'm not a hometown girl, even where I grew up, and now that I'm back in New York, I don't know where to call home.