Thursday, June 29, 2006

One Day Shy of Two Weeks Silent *

Holy cats, it’s the cover of a Wilco album!

Or maybe it’s just me, sitting under a bridge over the Chicago River, trying not to get rained on, and being the 28,459,002nd person to photograph the Marina City towers. I’ve been in Chicago for about five days now, and while I haven’t yet succeeded in escaping cities in general, simply being in another city has been satisfying; non-urban time will come along soon enough.

Not having been here since well before I moved to New York provides a new perspective, it’s quite a different experience this time around, but an entire post devoted to a NYC/Chi comp/con would be too much of a gimme. It’s more or less what you’d expect: more room to breathe, better air to breathe, markedly inferior public transportation system, markedly superior architecture, cheaper beer, widely accessible- and normal-seeming people (the “L.L. Bean Effect”??), sevvies instead of 24-hr bodegas, less trash, smoky bars, big lake off to the east, numerous unnecessary dipthongs. Michigan Ave and Times Square are both places to avoid 1) if you’ve been there before, or 2) if you’re not a 16 y/o girl with a shopping addiction. “In the loop” actually has a literal meaning. Brooklyn could use a lesson in how to use a waterfront.

The previous two days ended up being museum days — Art Institute of Chicago on Monday, and the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesday — and, inadvertently, photography days. At the AIC, I spent two hours peeking through an exhibit of Harry Callahan, whose work and significance I didn’t know in the least beforehand. A pleasant surprise, it’s very powerful in a pure sense (online galleries available here, here, and here). He seems to be a big fan of pure form and patterns, contrast, which seems to clarify the first two, and relatively mundane environments, with or without people. One in particular sticks with me, and I haven’t been successful in locating it online: a multiple exposure of a leafless tree, which somehow implies angular motion, dizzying and physical.

Shift gears to Tuesday at the MCA, Wolfgang Tillmans, of whom I had no previous knowledge either. The exhibit didn’t have quite the same power as Callahan the day before; I think I was just wandering on Monday, whereas Tuesday I was out to “see some art” (dammit!). It would be nice to wander more often, even within a pre-determined path — increase the chance of discovery.

EITHER: Not to imply that nothing had impact, particularly memorable were groups of pictures taken of a certain event (the Concorde taking off and landing, a solar eclipse), aligned in a perfect grid, positioned “randomly,” completely out of sequence, emergent properties of the composition just as striking as the components themselves. Also captivating: several large-format (ie. 8x10 ft) prints, wispy and fibrous-textured, monochromatic yet infinitely-toned, and beautifully balanced, which appeared as if he may have created them by "drawing" on photo-paper with a laser and/or flashlight.

OR: At this point, I’m thinking about a bit of writing I've read recently, and realizing that I can’t really think of an effective, metaphorical way to convey the character of the exhibit in a manner interesting and meaningful to you the reader. Everything I’ve thought of so far sounds like a forced art history paper. And so, on we go.

CONTINUE: About halfway through, this jazz quintet fired up and started playing, rambling reductions of Miles Davis tunes. Imagine a group of that stature in a large, cavernous space with plenty of hard, reflective surfaces. Not only was it loud, but overly reverberant, a soundtrack to a psychedelic-steeped sequence in a irritably disjointed and poorly-composed indy film. It’s so easy to imagine some museum director having his/her own, personal eureka moment:

Deconstructivist Jazz
Avante Photography
Über-Artsy Jeans Cream

But in actuality, not so happening. The reverberant wash coursed through the galleries, a spatial and electrostatic invasion, disorienting and distracting, rendering one’s comprehension of and patience for contemporary art a couple shades shy of worthless. But here’s to good ideas.

All of this high art begged for balance, and balance I did find, in the form of several In Touch magazines scattered around my sister’s A-ville flat. (Elizabeth
attributed these greasy rags to her roommate Jake, conveniently away in Honduras for the week…) For as much as I denounce these trashy parasites in the intestines of journalism, I have to admit, I understand their power of addiction. First of all, it’s hard not to pick it up when the cover screams: “Best Boobs in Hollywood!!” Then, 45 minutes pass, and I'm fully up to date on the reemergence of Lindsay Lohan’s bust line, her ongoing feud with Paris Hilton, Brangeina’s retreat to Namibia, and Britney’s near-dropping of baby Brandon. Chock-full of cultural referents, I can now show my face in the world, unburdened by ignorance. It’s refreshing, really.

Now, only a couple days left… I had hoped to get in some ultra-touristy stuff, maybe an arichitectural boat tour or something, but it looks like laundry and fixing the sister's car must take precedence. Oh responsibility, I thought I'd left you in Brooklyn.

* Ok, I know, at the time of posting, it's officially more than two weeks, but I wrote this on Wednesday at a Starbucks, and they wanted a minimum of $6 for an hour to use the T-Mobile Hot Spot. Are you kidding me!? I haven't received a bill lately for breathing. Anyway, I let it gestate on my lappy until I finally came to access the internet freely. And I like the title, so it stays.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Silver Temple Show

Man, some days, all the outerspherics come out of hiding, like those few days a year when the flying ants emerge and you find them everywhere. I score a seat on the V train earlier today, and there's a rather rotund fellow in a yellow shirt seated next to me. He's staring out the window and humming loudly. Nutcase flags fly, and I take inventory of other seats. Then, I reconsider: he seems harmless, let's stick around and see what he's got! The singing stops, and he sits in silence. How disappointing! I turn my attention back to my book.

We're probably right under the middle of the East River when, without warning, the eye of the storm passes, and he's off!! Now he's an announcer for some mystic-themed reality game show called The Silver Temple Show. Jackpot! I think about my mini-tape recorder, collecting dust on my desk, and cry a little. In lieu of a complete transcription, the highlights (given in a high-pitched, enthusiastic voice): Congratulations to contestants Sean and [name] on surviving the first round ... Now here's what you have to do ... there's a password room, go to it ... find the three Temple Guards ... but watch out for the Guard Spirits ... very angry ... you'll have to fight ... but first, let's take a look at your prizes. Just for making it this far, we have...


He gets off the train at 5th Ave (still announcing) to be replaced by a guy who smells like dirty laundry extract. Across the way, an elderly chap sits down wearing foam earplugs and a pout that could turn Mr. Rogers into a bitter existentialist. All in five minutes. Perhaps my life was in need of enrichment.

Monday, June 12, 2006


I know it's been a while, and I offer a semi-apology for the lapse in postings. But to those readers whose complaints extend beyond the margins of allowance, I have this to say: How much would YOU think about blogging after a weekend of food poisoning and all-day gig obligations? Hmmph! And I did try to post a few times last week, but Blogger was either down or moving with such viscosity, posting was nearly impossible.

Now that that's out of the way... I am now officially a Zipster!

"Wow," you say, "But what does it mean?"

It means, simply, that I have joined Zipcar, which is basically a car sharing/rental organization for the web generation, and thus reintroduced myself, however marginally, into the realm of automobile access. It's a pretty cool idea: There are many, many zipcars, all sizes and models, parked around the city in various lots and garages. A zipcar member looks online, finds available cars closeby, reserves one by the day or by the hour (even minutes beforehand, if necessary), then locates the car, unlocks with a personal zipcard, and drives away. Brilliant. The fee automatically covers gas and insurance, and starts at $10/hr or $70/day (small car during the week). All this adds up to a much smaller pain-in-ass factor than a normal rental.

I'd been thinking about joining for a while now, and finally had the perfect excuse: a Sunday afternoon gig in New Paltz, NY. 90 miles away from my apartment, and 20 miles beyond the reaches of Metro North, and unable to catch a ride with anyone else in the band, I finally found myself in a position of needing wheels. When the bandleader offered to cover a portion of the Zipcar startup costs, I decided to swing.

My first zipcar: Toyota Prius. Going green! A strange and wonderful car, it is. It has a "power" button on the dash to start up, no key turning required; feels more like turning on a laptop. Most controls usually found in button form on the dash are all consolidated into a touch-screen unit in the center, cutting down significantly on dashboard clutter. It's comfortable and spacious. With the rear seats down, it would easly pass the double-bass test. When the car isn't moving, it the engine shuts off completely, and for the first five minutes of driving, you swear it's stalling out. Then you grow to love it. Of course, the pickup isn't exactly like driving a Mustang (or a Camry), but who drives a hybrid to go from 0 to 60 in five seconds?

I picked it up after a Saturday night gig at midnight, and had myself a leisurely drive through Manhattan at the height of weekend nightlife fervor, arm hanging out the window, late-nite WNYC pumping. It felt like such the luxury, driving a car through the streets of the city, blocks flying by, sometimes creeping by, observing the streetlife from the confines of one's own vehicle. To cap it off, I even found a parking spot right in front of my apartment.

During the Sunday drive, I was constantly impressed to see average miles-per-gallon statistics of 40 or greater. And although the pickup isn't a selling point, I noticed a few times that I was doing 80 without even trying.

Just being on the highway in itself was satisfying, although it kicked up a touch of wanderlust. As signs came up pointing towards destinations beyond mine, the urge crept into my mind to drop off the keyboard player and just keep going, following roads based on whichever muse spoke most convincingly at any given moment. Maybe I could extend my rental long enough to make it out to the west coast...

Driving along the Hudson Parkway on the west side of Manhattan, sun setting across the river, I did my best to enjoy my last 10 minutes of motorized freedom before dropping off the Prius (which, by that time, I was completely in love with and wanted to steal) and taking the subway home. Living in a city/metro area where the pubic transport is extensive enough to render auto ownership unnecessary is amazing — way better than living around a city which can't even imagine such a condition, ie. Detroit — and I have stated many times that I don't miss having a car. I'm not entirely convinced of that last statement, though. More accurately, owning a car in the city would be such a headache for a multitude of reasons that this overrides the benefits by far. But being behind the wheel again reminds one what it's like to have the option at the fingertips to just pick up and go, destinations not limited by the path of the train tracks. Options are forever open, go here, go there, come back when I please, if at all. Perfect for the wandering spirit.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


My apartment has been inundated with bags. Plastic bags of all sizes, blue bags, black bags, white bags. Lots of white bags. Bodega bags, grocery store bags, clothing store bags, fruit stand bags. I open the under-sink cupboard and out pours a deluge of bags. I wake up in the morning, roll over, and there's a pile of bags next to my pillow. I reach for clean underwear and put on a bag instead. If all the bags in this apartment were turned back into oil and then into gasoline, I could use it to drive a small car to California. I hate bags.

Everyone wants to give me bags. Bags for free. Yippee! Double bags at the grocery store. Chicken gets its own special bag, then into two others. Coke and an apple on the corner? Bag. One CD down the street? Bag. Last time I got a haircut, I got a bag.

I hate bags.

Of course, the omnipresence of overbagging and overpackaging is no new revelation, but it's worse in this city than any other place I've lived or visited. Hands down. My favorite example, which I used often upon arrival, is coffee in a bag. Yeah, really. You have to be careful. Not only will they put it in a cup, but they'll put it in a bag too!! Completely looney! *

Everyone is an offender. If I order an egg-on-bagel sandwich plus a donut to go at MDC, I have to be careful, otherwise I'll be walking out of there with sandwich and bagel each in their own paper bags, and both in a plastic bag. Of course, the bagel sandwich has already been wrapped first in wax paper and then in aluminum foil, and includes enough ketchup, salt, and pepper packets to arm a small country. All said and done, packaging outweighs food ten to one. The sandwich/grill shop on the corner and Thai place down the block both follow suit.

I get angry when they give me bags I don't need. Though it's not quite the fault of people behind counters, I have found myself getting slightly gruff with some of them if it's late at night and I turn around to realize that they've stuffed my cranberry juice in a bag. With a straw. Often, I make them take their bags back. Sometimes people get offended when I reject their bags, and I have to tell them, "Don't worry, it's not you, it's me."
It's becoming by own personal crusade: reject as many bags as possible. Each day, I'm getting better and better.

Tangent: You also have to be careful here if you ask for a regular coffee. As you take a sip, expecting hot, black mud, you will realize that you are drinking dessert. Half cream, half coffee, with several spoonfuls of sugar. New Yorkers are not hard when it comes to coffee, they are wimpy, girly sissies.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Second Home Green?

I was drawn to this headline in the New York Times laying on a coffee shop table: Second Homes That Put Ecology First.

*scratch scratch*

Ok, it's beautiful that wealthy people are embracing the virtues of eco-friendly sustainable design, I'm touched. But does an energy-neutral home make up for the fact that it's a second home, which may stand vacant for nine months of the year? How about having one and attending to its green-ness? Granted, this is New York, where having an apartment in the city, a summer home in the Hamptons, a ranch in Putnam county, and a bungalow in Tahiti seems to be fairly normal, but this is also a place where we consider $850/month for rent to be cheap. National perspective, please.

My favorite quote from the article, by a Mr. Messerschmidt, green second-home owner: "...And I can't afford to buy a hybrid car."

Dude, you just built a second home. Let's think about this...

Ok, ok, I'm probably being a little too harsh. I should applaud the conscientious efforts of these eco-vanguardians. After all, they could be building 50,000 square foot, coal-heated, teak-facade, poorly-insulated mansions instead of 450 square foot, salvaged-lumber, grey-water-recovery, solar-heated retreats. Still, something stinks.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Wandering Island

I was inspired by this website, which was, in turn, inspired by this website (ohmygod, that's like soooo meta-inspirational), to have a little fun with Google Maps, and figured out that the isle of Manhattan fits beautifully in West Grand Traverse Bay, in clear view of downtown Traverse City, MI, my lovely hometown. Yes, they're both at the same scale. Amazing, the fit, isn't it!? Ok, ok, so a few of you will appreciate this wholeheartedly, and most of you only half-heartedly, but humor me. Too much time was spent on this graphic for half-hearted appreciation. Show some love, dammit. I took the liberty of extending some of the downtown bridges and tunnels (brings a whole new dimension to B&T, eh?) to make it a little easier for the commuters. Had the Manhattan Bridge been extended, it and the Brooklyn Bridge would have converged, so I gave preference to the latter. The only GT Bay casualty: Marion Island. Had to remove it. In consolation, behold Roosevelt Island, in all it's creepiness. Maybe they can rig up a tram to Old Mission...