Friday, March 31, 2006

Heroes Fallen

Poking around the Inter-Compy Wunder Web earlier today, I stumbled across a couple visual gems.

First, it appears that everyone's favorite purveyor of audible treacle, Yanni, was arrested earlier in March on charges of domestic abuse. I missed it then, but found his mugshot on The Smoking Gun.

Further details can be found here and here. It may be old news, but it's still worth a bit of a chuckle.

Second, Antonin Scalia may have played hookey from the training session entitled "How Supreme Court Justices Should Properly Address Reporters Who Ask Questions They Don't Want To Hear."

The release of the photo by photographer Peter Smith confirms an earlier account in the Boston Herald, and Slate gives us comprehensive look at the entire story. Sad it may be, but he's a perfect complement to a president with a loose finger.

Next time someone asks Alberto Gonzales about Gitmo, maybe he'll give us the full moon, and the triad will be complete! Let's hope not...

Happy Friday to all!

And She's Gone

At around 7:30 last night, Adam and I heard a tap tap tapping in our backyard. A strange time for hobbies or maintenance, thought we. Upon further investigation (ie. looking out the window), we saw two men working under the cover of darkness to remove the four-foot tall Virgin Mary statue from the neighbor's backyard, where it had been standing under an iron trellis ever since we moved in. One had a flashlight, the other a hammer and a chisel, and they worked with the nervous stealth of car thieves and first-time johns.

And now she's gone. Just like that.

Now, when we moved into this apartment, I was kind of creeped out by this substantial backyard shrine. 'Twas difficult to relax on the fire escape, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, without hearing "Repent! Repent!" ever so faintly in the distance. As I became more familiar with and desensitized by the voluminous heap of Catholic kitsch in this neighborhood, * the creepy factor diminished slightly, but never faded completely. I'm not entirely sad to see her gone.

Paragon of Catholic Kitsch:

But the mode of removal is by far the creepiest element of the story. Two men, clad in black, in the middle of the night, under cover of darkness? Ok, so maybe they weren't clad in black, and it was only 7:30, but still... one has to wonder. Is Greenpoint so rabidly Catholic that to remove a plaster Mary in broad daylight would result in nothing less than a full-scale riot? After all, on April 2nd, 2005, you would have thought the end of the world was nigh for the tone on the streets of our fair 'hood. NPR was even broadcasting live from right outside St. Anthony of Padua.

And then, where did they take her? They certainly didn't put her on the curb. Who has her now? Who are they?!?

So many questions that I fear will never be answered to any degree of satisfaction.

* Big thanks to Jon for coming through with Jesus!! I wish I could post more visuals, but Michelle took back her camera. Maybe I'll devote an entire posting to the stuff sometime.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Step Away From The Vehicle

At least once a week, someone parks a car outside my window whose car alarm goes off every time a pigeon shits. I am so very tempted to write a note saying, simply, "I strongly encourage you to adjust the sensitivity of your car alarm," and then leave it on the hood held in place with a brick. Would they get the message? Is that going too far?

Another one of my sick car alarm fantasies is a Lottery-esque scenario in which an alarm goes off after midnight, then all the residents of a block simultaneously emerge from their homes dressed in bathrobes and armed with crowbars or baseball bats (maybe a brick or two?), walk solemnly over to the offending car, pummel it for 30 seconds, and return to their apartments. Children, grandmothers, husbands, wives, everybody. All without a single word. I think they had an X-Files episode about that one, actually...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Oh, how I love sitting at my lappy, looking out the window at the sunny, sunny day, thinking: "Oooh, it's probably nice Out There if it really is 61 like it says online." Hmm.

Having a visitor can completely open up one's perception of the city, whether by virtue of taking a different path or simply experiencing the daily patterns through a new filter. My friend Ben, of TC, MI fame, just left after visiting for a few days, and the last couple days were the first in a long while where I've seen the city as something new again (save a trip to the Chinatown fish markets a couple weeks ago, which may not sound like much, but unless you've been there before, don't hate). On Monday, we hiked uptown from Union Square along Park, Lexington, 3rd Ave., switching from one to the other, with a very hazily-planned destination, and a just-as-hazily-defined mission of "data collection." Couldn't have asked for better weather: no clouds, high 50s, maybe some 60s in the sun. Now, in the last two and a half years, I don't think I've ever had a compelling reason to be anywhere on the east side between 18th and 59th, except maybe a couple apartments I would have shown back at that "job." Thus, it was an hour and a half of discovery -- or rediscovery, in some instances. One of these buildings on this block of Third Avenue, between 32nd and 33rd, was the first apartment I ever crashed at in the city, back in December, '97, and I haven't been back since. I can only guess as to the specific building, but the block hasn't been forgotten.

Yesterday was a wayward trek through Chinatown, with the background goal of finding a copy of The Killer for Ben. Except for the fish market excursion of a couple weeks ago and occasional one-place-to-another runs along Canal St., I haven't spent all that much time there, and certainly haven't rolled up the sleeves and spent an afternoon poking around in its guts. It's a fascinating neighborhood, with an energy unlike any other in the city. What gives it the extra charge, besides the obvious cultural content, seems to be the very tangible compression of the island, as both shores pinch and drive for the Battery. Streets become narrower, and those that have been straight ever since 14th Street start to bend and curve in on one another. Cities like Paris and Tokyo are filled with narrow, winding back alleys, built for pedestrians, the memory of the feet. I haven't found anything quite like that in New York until now. The grid is all well and good for purposes of navigation, but I always get the feeling that it's stretched out against its will; it would happily revert to an entropic state of spaghetti on a plate at the removal of a couple key shims. There's something so satisfyingly natural, human even, about nonsensical, twisting back alleys.

We did end up finding a The Killer in a video store on Mott between Bayard and Canal after stopping for a cup of coffee-flavored warm milk at a neighborhood coffee shop. I would be a touch frightened, though, if one could get a perfect cappucino in Chinatown without having to dig. From there, it was up to B&H, where one of the salesmen informed me that buying a digital camera for under $300 was somewhat akin to taking a girl to McDonald's: "You take girl to McDonald's, try call again, she have DOG answer phone." Can't win 'em all.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Got TNT?

Sighted earlier today in Union Square:

I came up with a few different captions, but none of them are nearly as good as the picture is alone.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tokyo Not Tokyo

I'm constantly fascinated by how one can swing between loving and hating the city within the same 24 hour period, if not over the course of one lonely hour. Of course, with a couple pounds of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and methanol sitting in ones liver, it's pretty easy to hate just about anything. Kittens even. Cute, cuddly lil' kittens.

A stroll down Manhattan Ave. during the late afternoon, something about the quality of that last hour of sunlight catches the neighborhood in a way that reveals a facet I haven't seen before, brownstones, churches, row houses, and warehouses backlit and glowing. Shards of the city skyline hide at the end of cross streets, peek above those building with a lesser stature, and stare me down from the end of Manhattan Ave., an asymptotic taunt: keep walking kid, try me, you'll only get as far as the river unless you got your Jesus shoes. I pass by MDC, where a couple bucks will get me a donut or two and a bottomless cup of sass from Magda; the 24-hour fruit stand and deli, where I know I can get fresh ginger, a couple lemons, and a jar of honey at 3am; Matchless, where Arty will take such good care of me on a Wednesday night, playing or no, that the headache lasts well into Thursday evening; Europa, a taste of Warsaw nightlife with a host of the most genetically improbable waitresses and bartentresses. I hear four languages in one block. It's moments like these where the love affair flows unihibited.

Take the train during rush hour, see how long the love lasts. I used to do it all the time, during the Libeskind day job epoch. Ok, maybe I'd conveniently miss the absolute peak of the morning rush, and would usually stay late enough to miss the evening peak, too, but rush hour is rush hour. Daily exposure develops an immunity after a while, a resistant cyst. Nowadays, I rarely have occasion to be riding the trains at those times, and if so, usually not in the direction of commuter flow, so when I do, I really have to sit back, think happy thoughts, and try not to roll my eyes too much.

Ever since December, when I spent 10 days in Tokyo, I can't help but pine for the smooth, efficient and quiet nihon-poi train protocol. They really have it figured out. New York? Not so much. For those of you who haven't been there, or haven't heard me or my sister rave about it, a summary: Packing as many people into a car as possible is a given; each passenger knows perfectly their own role in the choreography. Upon the arrival of a train, those waiting cohere into an amoeboid blob, which, after letting all exit who wish to exit, spills into the car, consuming everything in its path. It's a trip, riding the amoeba, and that's really what it is. If there's still space to push in further, you better not stop, 'cause the sum force of twenty-some businessmen pushing politely on each other behind you will snap any resistance like a matchstick. And if our amoeba gets stuck -- shouldn't 've eaten that last gaijin -- the white-gloved platform attendants swoop down to provide a hefty shove before the doors close... because, apparantly, they adhere to a *schedule*. (Did you hear that, MTA?)

Now that you're on the train, you probably have your head wedged into someone's armpit and your hand in a crotch, maybe your own, but you can't turn your head to investigate further. * And the greatest thing, it's all ok! No one cares, it's just How People Work Together In High Concentrations. No one's screaming across the car to each other, listening to Young Jeezy MP3s on speakerphone, clipping their nails, or cracking gum like it's going out of style. And when you have to get off, just push your way to the door. They'll move! Doors only open for so long.

Could this ever happen in NY? Ha. Here, people get inside the door, set up camp, then shoot you an annoyed glare when you try to push through to the spacious portion of the car between doors. Two people sit where you could have four. Sometimes it takes a full minute or two to close the doors, because the mob just can't figure out how to move to the middle of the car. Frustration triples if you're carrying something awkward, maybe a tenor sax case, for instance. When your stop comes up, good luck getting off if you're not right by the door. iPod Jane may need a bit of a push if the "'scuse me" doesn't cut through the first three times.

As nice as it would be to bring that aspect of Tokyo to our fair city, I fear that the same ruthless individuality and infinite variety that make this place so damn cool also, in some twisted-around way, ensure that it remains forever in the realm of the imagination. Or maybe it's just because New York isn't populated entirely by Japanese people.

Coming soon, my very own revival of "Good Idea, Bad Idea."

Episode 1: City Architecture. Hehe...

* My sister has a lovely story about a man who couldn't turn the page of his book because his other arm was rendered inoperative... so she turned the page for him, venturing into territory non-existent in the Japanese social reality. I'm sure she would happily elucidate.

Razing the Bar

In a furtive attempt to meet my every-couple-days posting goal, I sit down to hammer out a reasonably articulate belch of something fresh. It's not Saturday until I go to sleep and wake up, right? Flow and coherency are entirely optional.

First of all, I think that if one manages to spend eight hours in a single bar (with a break, and a couple different cycles of people), they should pay you, whether out of pity, respect, or amusement. Not just free drinks -- for which one probably doesn't have much of a need after about the sixth hour -- but cold, hard cash. At least a Hamilton or two. 'Cause ya know I been droppin 'em ever since seven. Call me Aaron Burr.

At times I mull over the option of claiming gayness just to have license to touch young women with impunity. Or so one may incline to think after spending some hours in a bar with the entire NYU drama department, past, present, and future. Upon further consideration, I notice the "bad idea" alarm strobing in the distance.

Does anyone remember the "Good Idea, Bad Idea" segments of Yakko and Wakko? Or the Wheel of Morality? If not, well, you missed something back in the mid-90s. Something big.

Mel wanted to post this video on her blog, but because she is in the business of science and not political commentary, it's probably more appropriate that I pass it on through the iMEGA universe. Not a huge Will Ferrell fan, I, but sometimes he really goes there. Like with the yazz flute bit, which I unfortunately had to do last Saturday. Poor people getting married, they actually paid for it.

After a couple days of deliberation, I have decided not to censor content using the "appropriate for family" filter. Saves me the trouble of maintaining a separate, anonymous forum. Less = more.

I may not delete this when I wake up tomorrow.

Good night, good morning, good luck, and good riddance.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


As with just about everything I do, this seems to have started out with the best of intentions behind it only to sit on the shelf and collect dust for a month. Seasoning, I call it. Like those people who buy a cymbal and then bury it in the backyard for a year.

*pin drops*

Here's a summary of what I may have written about in the last month:

  • I now have health insurance. As a freelancer, even. Yay!
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith had me come up to his apartment and jam. Cathartic? Maybe yeah. To be continued...
  • Hustling gigs is a real pain in the ass. I think the only people who are good at it have no concern for pushing thresholds of annoyance.
  • I really need to get out of the apartment a little more.
  • Winter should end now.
  • Finally, I'm part of a cool, original-music-and-otherwise organ trio. We had a gig. Soon we'll have more. In a year, we will battle the Bush administration for world supremacy.
  • They tore up my street and put in a new one. I thought about writing a song called "They're Gonna Tear Up My Street Today" but didn't. They will soon tear up the siding on the front of my house, which shares a wall with my bedroom and leaks. The anticipation is killing me.
  • I built shelves. Does anyone know a woodworker in NYC who might want to hire on someone of reasonable intelligence with plenty of curiosity but only two seconds of experience?
There's also a partially-written post about a very strange subway occurrence. Like those ever happen. Maybe I'll finish it. Or post it as is, half-baked and runny. French style.

Today I subbed in a big band rehearsal, which was a lovely opportunity to get out of the apartment and meet cool new musician people. Turns out that it ended up being neither a big band nor a rehearsal due to the large number of late cancellations, but a rather large band jam session. Unfortunate, as I was looking forward to playing what had been hyped up to be some well-written original charts in a large-ensemble setting, something I don't think I've really done at all since leaving Michigan. I think that these days, big bands only exist in colleges, high schools, and towns where people generally pay less than $500 in rent. It would not surprise me to go to what had been advertised as a big band concert here in the city only to find two horns and a piano.

It's at moments like these, playing standards in a windowless, fluorescently-lit, tiled-floor, white-walled room when I think that maybe jazz has offered up its final rosebud. Daylight couldn't get into this room even if it were armed with the knowledge of a master lock-picker and the Jaws of Life. Vibe? Forget it. Can't even get past the doorman. What's with fluorescent lights? Who's bright idea was it to put them in every institutional setting around the country? I insist that fluorescent lights are a tool of The Man, designed to sap us of all of any creative momentum that may have been present at the beginning of the day, to reduce us to drooling, lethargic, compliant automatons who like Maroon 5 and play bingo. Who needs to put LSD in the water supply? Think they have fluorescent lights in the White House? I doubt it!!

Beyond the fact that this room would be much better suited for . . . for what? I don't really know what would be appropriate for this setting. Chinese water torture, maybe. Perhaps the raising of a feral child. Anyways, beyond the fact that this room would be much better suited for something not to be discussed here, we entertain the idea that as soon as a space is designated as a rehearsal space, it is virtually ensured that no music will ever be made there. Much like the practice rooms at UMich, almost exactly the one described above except about 1/20th the size. Has anyone ever experienced a moment of sheer inspiration in those airtight cannisters that wasn't derived from the touch of another? Why did we all scramble for the empty classrooms, or even head to the stairwells? I guess things like 'good lighting,' 'fresh air,' and 'leg room' aren't ever really considered as factors that make for a suitable practice space. Nay, just give 'em a piano (tuned twice a year), a music stand (hopefully functional), about 36 square feet, and, of course, a couple fluorescent lights in the panel ceiling (really trippy when one of them is flickering). Couldn't be better, let's GROOVE!

Now I have never been party to a jam session of this instrumentation. We had the standard piano-bass-drums rhythm section, joined by vibraphone, with the most intriguing cast of horns: trombone, euphonium, french horn, tuba, mellophone, and baritone sax. Wot!? Orchestrational issues aside, let's deal with magnitude. Two horns at a jam session is easy: "How about you take the melody on the A, and I'll play the bridge?" "Ok." "Groovy, baby." Three horns requires a little more coordination and the willingness of at least one to shut the hell up now and then, but generally goes off without a hitch. When it comes to four or more, maybe it's the fascist in me, but at this point, we should probably have charts. When five horn players try to make up backgrounds on the bridge of "Have You Met Ms. Jones?," even Stockhausen would cover his ears and pray for a swift and merciful demise. In the absence of charts, the situation can be remedied slightly by one with a strong (fascist) personality who isn't afraid to tell people not to play for the next five minutes. Just call it management.

Having addressed magnitude-inflicted organizational difficulty, we move on to the issue of tune selection. Let us say, for argument's sake, that one person knows 500 tunes. If he's paired with another person who knows 500 tunes, maybe they have a shared repertoire of 250. Add a third, and the rep drops to 125. Continuing with this logic, the repertoire of a ten person jam session consists almost entirely of "Blue Bossa," "All The Things You Are," and "Happy Birthday," all of which were beaten bloody, robbed, and left for dead in a back alley 40 years ago, long before we dug up the cadavers and gave them the same treatment in jazz school. Needless to say, one can pretty much predict the fare at a jam session. Corn flakes again? But we had that last week...

Imagine a world in which everyone takes a one-chorus solo and then moves on to the next tune. Observe, cherish, and release; this world does not exist even under a theory of infinite universes. In all fairness, though, two choruses are about what it takes to Really Get The Juices A-Flowin', except in the case of ballads and tunes with extended forms, where one is enough, and blues/way-uptempo tunes, where three or more are standard fare. Based on the two-chorus universe model, a ten-piece version of "Have You Met Ms. Jones?," complete with a few choruses of trading fours, would last about 23 choruses, and about the same time in minutes. By the end of this tune, at least two or three people have fallen asleep and the bass player's fingers have worn down to bloody stumps of bone. Had I my lappy with, I probably could have written this posting and a couple others. But... Sadly, even the two-chorus universe rarely manifests itself, as there are often one or two people who happen to be "feeling it." Epic. Simply epic.

All things-endemic-to-jam-sessions-worldwide considered, I had a lovely time and was happy to be out of the house, where I would have sat for the majority of the afternoon, pretending I had a lot of work to do and not surfing MySpace. I met some great musicians, and saw a couple that I hadn't seen in a minute, plus I got to ride the subway. Maybe next week I'll go to Coney Island.