Wednesday, December 22, 2010

holiday scenes in nyc

because i'm no longer in nyc, today's post will just be a collection of holiday scenes (the numbers in the picture refer to the dec. 16 post).

#7 free gift wrapping
a picture of random strangers with an fao schwartz soldier:

#10 fao schwartz soldier
the decorations suspended above fifth avenue

giant snowflake above 5th avenue

Monday, December 20, 2010

yay real kitchen!

today i got to enjoy something i've abandoned all hope of ever possessing while living in nyc: a real kitchen (and by real, i mean larger than 25 square feet).  woo hoo!  i did some more holiday baking ... decorating will follow in the next couple days.  pictures to come ...

review of the bolt bus to boston

why i love the bolt bus from nyc to boston (er... okay, love is a strong word ... swap out "love" for "occasionally tolerate"):

1. it's cheap

2. it does not involve radiation and naked 3D photographs or groping by questionable security officials

3. (some of) the seats have electrical outlets and the bus promises free wi-fi

4. at least one driver begins the voyage by asking if anyone knows the way to boston.  enjoyed him.

how the bolt bus could improve:

1. make good on that wi-fi promise (i.e., yes, technically it exists ... but if it is not possible for people to use it because there is not enough of it to go around (resulting in no one using any of it), i don't think that really counts).

2. signs.  they need more signs.  for example, a sign on the inside of the bathroom door to inform well-intentioned passengers that the floor is not the appropriate disposal receptacle for their chewing gum.  and a sign requesting that passengers treat tuna fish like the dirty little secret it is - as something to be shamefully consumed in private ... not devoured in confined public spaces, where its nasty odor can waft over into the nostrils of the innocents.  or how about a sign on 34th street that clearly distinguishes the philly bus from the boston bus?

what happens now: during the 30-60 minutes before a bus arrives, passengers begin arriving on the street corner.  they walk around confused, happening upon a line that someone has started somewhere (the line has not been started by an employee of the bolt bus - if they are even around, they will tell you that the spontaneously formed single file of passengers "is not a line because the bus is not even here yet").  the newcomers might ask around to find out if they are in the right place: "is this for boston?" "are you going to boston at" (fill in a time)?  they derive a modicum of comfort from discovering that others intend to board the same bus they do or they walk around looking for something else vaguely resembling a line.  or maybe they are confused because the bus everyone else intends to board should have left 15 minutes previously. but no one is really sure of anything.  if an employee happens to be around, some passengers might ask him/her for information, only to discover s/he doesn't really have any.  then on their way back to their place in the single file of strangers, others will ask them what they found out.  the strangers then play telephone with the message that no one knows anything.
eventually a bus pulls up to a curb.  either the uninformed employee who happened to be there with the masses or an employee who has materialized out of nowhere softly makes the announcement of a destination and a time.  the masses who do not intend to go to this destination play telephone with the announcement, passing it along down the line that is not really a line.  the people who intend to board the bus suddenly make a mad dash to throw their bags in the luggage compartment and mob the entrance to the bus (and then we learn why the line was not a line ... yet it seems to form itself again and again before each bus arrives, even though the only purpose i could see it serving would be to keep the masses from rioting in disputes regarding who had arrived first (before, of course, they realize such distinctions are futile).   then the employee recites the first few letters of the alphabet ("a! anyone for a?"), pausing while harried travelers shove through the crowd toward the door of the bus.  some flash pieces of paper in front of his/her face, while others hold up their handheld electronic devices.  sometimes the employee looks at what they are showing him/her as they file past and finally board the bus.  other times, the employee is distracted by a compelling discussion with his/her coworker. eventually, by some dark magic, everyone ends up on the bus, seated with their carry-ons stowed.

3.  related to #2, some system of keeping employees abreast of which bus is which ... or some expectation that they communicate their knowledge to their customers

4. heat.  no, i don't mean on the bus (though it was a little on the chilly side for me).  i mean a heated waiting area.  it is cold when you are standing still on the streets of nyc in mid-december waiting for a bus that no one is sure will really arrive until it actually does.  in fairness, the outdoor "terminal" situation is probably not really bolt's fault.  bolt has its own terminals at the station in boston (and boarding there is quite organized).  maybe space is at such a premium in nyc they have been unable to secure ideal space.  or maybe they do enough business they don't care about securing something resembling a terminal in nyc.  i don't know.  i just know it is cold waiting for that bus.

5. in the summer, functional air conditioning for the entire bus (not just the first half of the bus).

6. functional seats.  yes, i understand that maybe you want to advertise that (some of) your buses have leather seats because maybe this is a major selling point for many (first-time/uninitiated?) customers.  but to those who equate leather with comfortable, let me explain something.  the seats are about 2" thick (warning: that might be a slight exaggeration - maybe it is closer to 4 or 5 inches? i'll have to pay closer attention if we need to use the bus again ... but they are thin).  and the actual seat part (you know, the butt cushion) falls considerably short of at least 2 of the passengers' knee pits.  as in, constant effort is required to prevent oneself from falling out of the seat.  to their credit, i think perhaps the bolt bus engineers must have known this could be a problem.  they installed foot rests beneath the seats so that passengers in each successive row could brace themselves.  (unfortunately, the first row lacks a bracing apparatus ... but passengers riding in this row have seat belts so that they can strap themselves in to prevent themselves from falling out of their seats).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

nyc scavenger hunt, part 2

the last saturday before Christmas is quite possibly the worst day of the season to do the holiday scavenger hunt.  i guess a lot of cattle were expected to come through midtown because the police had set up barriers on every block to keep the anticipated herds on the sidewalk and off of all the streets ... fortunately, when the traffic signals indicated the appropriate time, the police did open up the gated corrals to allow people to cross the streets.  seriously, i'm no fan of weekends in midtown pretty much ever ... but this was sidewalk cholesterol at its highest level.

but we had friends visiting today (including a), so we did the scavenger hunt today anyway.  and we had fun.

we probably actively hunted scavengers for about 2.5 - 3 hours in total (we had a side expedition of finding somewhere a group of six could sit together for reasonably priced, tasty lunch).  because we ran out of time, we didn't make it to a few locations.  our scavenger hunt score was a mere 20.  we'll have to try again next year.

when the picture taking involved random strangers, we found others surprisingly happy to stop and let us take pictures of their bags or their pets.  the only damper on the whole day was the crummy bakery by the name of crumbs bake shop (on 8th street in the village).  three of our group went into the bakery to try to find a holiday cake on display.  they were promptly reprimanded for photographing the merchandise (even when they innocently pointed out they were merely on a scavenger hunt).

so ... you don't want anyone to take a picture ... are you afraid someone will try to duplicate your designs?  because:
a) as one member of our group pointed out, if someone really cared to do that, they could buy one of your little cupcakes, take it home, and really study it in order to duplicate it (were such study necessary).
b) i hate to break it to you, but in this age of cake decorating insanity, there is nothing particularly special about your designs (if we are conceding to call rolling a cupcake in sprinkles a design)
c) you post pictures of your products online ... and i'm going to tell you what i tell all the social networking teenagers i love: be careful what you put on the internet; anyone could see it.
and d) seriously?  you're concerned about someone stealing your work?  the cupcake that is currently featured most prominently on your site is black with a white swirly pattern across the top ... and it looks exactly like a hostess chocolate cupcake.

but i should be fair.  maybe hostess stole the design from you ... maybe that is why you are a little extra sensitive.  either way, you may want to rethink pairing that cupcake with the statement, "You can enjoy your favorite Crumbs treats in the comfort of your own home - just like Mom used to bake."  let's try to ignore the referent ambiguity (did Mom used to bake your home?  was she baking your comfort?).  but still, if anyone was eating those cupcakes in the comfort of their own homes, it wasn't because Mom baked them.  it was because she bought them from the "not-really-food-but-will-survive-nuclear-war-and-winter" section of the grocery store.

#31 giant Christmas lights

#3 a person riding a fish

Thursday, December 16, 2010

nyc holiday scavenger hunt

i've always liked scavenger hunts, but i've never done one in the city.  there are sites that will sell you tickets to NYC scavenger hunts (conducted entirely via your cell phone) for between $20-$60.  although it sounds kind of fun, i wonder whether it's really worth paying for a very minimal service (automatic clues sent to your phone).  so i've decided to take the advice of a clever friend (a, this is for you :), and create my own.

so here is the game: this is a NYC holiday scavenger hunt.  it will involve visiting some of the majorly touristy sites (i recommend playing on a weekday) as well as a few more idiosyncratic locations or pictures that could be taken almost anywhere in the city.  in keeping with the spirit of the depressed economy, this scavenger hunt will be entirely free.  thus, rather than collecting random trinkets, bring a camera and get a picture of each of the following*:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

changed my mind

the whole idea of holidays in NYC was charming at first.  we visited the toy stores (on weekdays - we weren't going anywhere near them during the weekend crazy), where we blew our budgets shopping for our youngest nephews.  we elbowed our way through the crowds to see the tree at rockefeller center, enjoyed the department store windows (mostly - the windows that just had holiday scenes on flat-screen tvs were kind of lame), and escaped the midtown madness to return safely home to the village.  and that was all fine and great and lovely.  we've frequented the Christmas markets in grand central and in union square (where i played with the little stuffed donkey ornaments ("charlie! candy mountain charlie!") to the great amusement of the couple behind us).  also wonderful.  so what is the problem, you ask?  those outings were undertaken on relatively sunny days when the temperature was at least into the forties (a respectable, but not oppressive, wintry range).

today i intended to finally complete my stocking stuffer mission.  but ... a mere 3 or so miles walking to a doctor appointment, to the pharmacy, to a store to pick out wrapping paper, and a brief visit to the MoMA store did me in.  the walk involved a temperature of 22 degrees, getting hammered by the wind, and freezing my face off (oh yeah, and my heels are still missing a layer of skin - i had to supplement them with gauze and resort to wearing (actually functional) running shoes (j thinks maybe we bought the boots a half size too big and that is why my heels were slipping around a bit ... i hope he's wrong because i really don't want to break in another pair anytime soon)).

thus, since returning home today, i've now reconsidered our choice of NYC over LA.  i think maybe we should have negotiated separate winter arrangements.  i've also changed my mind about spending the holidays in the cold northeast.  dear loved ones, our holiday rendezvous point will be kauai.  to those who would like to see us for the holiday, we look forward to meeting you there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

new boots

j and i went out to find a pair of boots to replace an overly loved pair - it was well past their expiration date.   i am really loving boots lately - much more than is probably healthy, especially given that women's shoes are nothing more than glorified foot binding (i love them, but let's be honest - they are not made for walking).  nonetheless, after many weeks of searching (i guess i'm a bit picky about shoes), we finally succeeded and made a purchase last night.  but of course, you can't just buy the boots.  you also need the spray stuff to protect the boots from the elements (okay, fine, i'm willing to accept this).  and you also need the silly little stickers that make the boots almost functional.

you see, when we were checking out, the tricky little salesman pulled out stickers, demonstrated affixing them to the bottom of the soles, and asked j if he wanted those too "so she won't slip."  tricky, tricky, tricky.  the salesman didn't ask me - he asked j. because what kind of heartless jerk wants his girl slipping and falling down all over the city?  j responded that i am capable of healing myself should i fall over, so why should he pay extra for a feature that came with me?

just kidding.  he told the salesman that yes, we wanted the silly anti-slip stickers.  as i peeled them off and stuck them to the soles, we did wonder why the soles could not have been manufactured in such a way as to have tread already on them.  nonetheless, i also sprayed them and took them out for a walk today as i continued my stocking stuffer quest (which, so far today, has been wholly unsuccessful because the "city that never sleeps" actually sleeps in pretty darn late, and none of the stores i wanted to visit were open until 11.00 or even 12.00 ... so i'll have to go out again).  as further evidence that women's shoes are built to constrain, in the course of the 2 or 3 miles i walked this morning, i lost a couple patches of skin from my heels.  yet rather than return the boots and buy sensible shoes, i'll wear them a couple more times until they are broken in, and then continue traipsing about the city in completely non-functional heels.  because they are so cool.  so rather than freely walking about now that the stores are finally open, i am instead chilling in my teeny tiny apartment until j comes home for lunch, bearing gifts of neosporin and gauze.

dear little shoe salesman, i think you should start peddling moleskin "so she won't lose chunks of flesh from her heels."

Sunday, December 12, 2010


my oldest nephew came to visit about 2 months ago with my mom and sister.  at one point we all went out to eat at galanga, a thai restaurant in the village.  it never ceases to amaze me how my nephew just happily eats his vegetables - even broccoli or spinach (i'm a vegetarian, and i'm not sure i was nearly that good about it at his age).  but there he was, happily eating his veggies. and i noticed he was particularly enjoying using the brightly colored chopsticks ... and he was still holding onto them when the waitress came to clear the table.

now, these chopsticks were seriously just brightly colored plastic.  how expensive could they possibly be?  i was hoping she would just let the kid take them home with him.  but after clearing the table, she stood just staring and waiting until we figured out what she wanted (it was pretty awkward, actually).  and as silly as this probably is (they were just a pair of chopsticks), i've been feeling a little sad about it.  so i have decided that as a little compensatory side Christmas gift, this nephew really needs his own special pair of chopsticks.

thus, yesterday, j and i walked to Chinatown in search of a special pair (braving the masses of drunken santas).  we went to Yunhong Chopsticks (partly because NY Magazine promised it would be a fun gift shop, and partly because the store's website is "" so surely they would have enough happiness to compensate for the sadness of the earlier loss).  we succeeded in obtaining chopsticks with the appropriate sign of the Chinese zodiac for him.  the shop itself was fun and had quite the spectrum of chopstick options, from cheap plastic ones for kids to silver tipped pairs ... though I can't imagine ever spending several hundred dollars on a pair of chopsticks.

in any case, because i've been so frustrated by my inability to find a nice, compact list of where to buy exciting stocking stuffers in nyc, i've decided to add a page to the blog to start my own ... and am adding Yunhong Chopsticks to that list.  (most of these places have websites ... so for any non-new yorkers who need exciting ideas, this list could potentially be useful if you are willing to pay for shipping).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

the east village hates children

i spent the morning on a quest for stocking stuffers (and for the record, let me just say i found the wild and wonderful world of the internet barely more than minimally helpful in directing me to unique, quirky little places to find stocking stuffers .... i ended up just bundling up, opening the door, and walking in the directions that i intuitively sensed would have what i was looking for ... so it was more of an adventure than an exercise in efficiency, but it's all good).

my trek took me into the heart of the east village, where literally hundreds of mr. and mrs. santa clauses (and, here and there, the nonconformist reindeer or elf) were pouring into the streets or disappearing from the streets into little shops (though when i looked closer, they appeared to be disappearing into little pubs more often than little shops).  every corner i turned was speckled in red and white.  ordinarily, i would really have to argue that the west village is much cooler than the east village (because i am, of course, quite biased).  but maybe there would be less enmity between the villages if the eastern side were to share its "dress like santa claus" memos with the western side.  you know, invited us to play too.  or at least just let us know so we would have taken our cameras on our stocking stuffer expeditions.

nonetheless, should i someday become a nyc parent, i'm going to not only have to explain why santa claus looks different depending on which store my kid sees him in, or why the miracle on 34th street parade santa claus is publicly quite drunk, or how there can be multiple santa clauses at once, but also why hundreds of potentially drunken santa clauses annually flood the city.

okay ... so apparently this was not just an east village thing.  i have just discovered it is a city-wide convention - the drunken santas were still going strong at 9.00pm and had indeed more than infiltrated the west village. (and oops ... they say "every time you call santacon a bar crawl, a sugarplum fairy dies" ... i hope my above insinuation results in nothing more than maiming).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

holiday party season

the first holiday party has arrived ... and i am enjoying my new hobby way too much.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

bread and circuses

last night, j and i went out to eat in soho before braving times square to see a broadway show.  we went for thai at a hip little joint called peep.  apparently, transparency is their m.o.  the front of the restaurant is one giant window and mirrors cover the ceiling and the walls.  the kitchen is open and you can see in (or spy on the kitchen through the ceiling mirrors).  but the best (yet, for me, least functional) parts were the bathrooms.

the bathrooms were hidden behind two-way wall mirrors ... so you lock yourself inside the bathroom, and you can still see everything going on in the restaurant.  j told me about it when we were at our table.  i was a bit skeptical, slightly more than a bit disturbed, but mostly curious.  i noticed a young man enter the bathroom while we were eating, and it took every ounce of self-restraint i had to not stare straight at the mirror that hid the bathroom and make shocked or disgusted faces until he came out.

i managed to behave throughout the meal (which, by the way, was excellent).  i couldn't leave without investigating the bathroom, though.  when we finished eating, i pretended to need to use the bathroom (let's be honest, even if i had really needed to go, there is no way i would have been able to do my thing while half the restaurant was staring in my general direction - though i didn't see any miscreants deliberately making faces at me).  i don't know whose idea it was (though i guess it was the idea of the same person who decided to name the restaurant "peep"), but despite the morbid novelty attraction factor, two-way mirrors in bathrooms are horrible ideas. the psychology labs that tend to have two-way mirrors are also the labs that tend to have hidden cameras ... and sure, peep might not be a lab ... but is that a risk you are willing to take?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

next great baker

it was with great sadness that i watched cake boss: the next great baker on tlc last night.  i applied to be on the show.  i even got a call and was invited to submit a video.  and okay, sure, my video probably kind of sucked.  for some reason, i thought i would be able to defend my dissertation and celebrate on thursday, attend meetings and then drive an hour and a half on friday, and then bake, decorate, and put together a video that same weekend (while working in a kitchen that was not my own and painstakingly working around others' schedules).  needless to say (despite my valiant sacrifice of sleep), i was not selected as one of their 20 finalists.  and sure, i'm very much just an amateur ... i don't own or have access to a bakery, nor have i been "trained" in any official capacity (and i'm aware this is shockingly evident in some of my earlier creations - you'll find them on the "free time" link).  but some of the contestants seemed to be amateurs too.

hmm ... maybe it's better i didn't get cast, though.  i would like to think i'm generally a respectful person ... but i couldn't help thinking a few very acerbic thoughts when contestants received feedback from Buddy, Mary, and the big guy (no, i guess i never watched enough of cake boss to learn all of the supporting characters' names).  and i'm not sure how graciously i would have handled some of the ridiculous feedback (some of the feedback was warranted, if mean (and whatever, the mean remarks are par for the reality show course), but seriously, in what world do you award someone immunity and then when they need to use it, do you ask them if they want to give it up because their cake sucked?  wasn't that the whole point of giving the reward of immunity?  that if their cake sucked, they would use it?  and what possible incentive was there for the contestant to give up immunity and go home?  as though they were offering the contestant a real opportunity that the contestant might actually want.  it made no sense - i think it must have been the most schizophrenogenic feedback i've ever heard).  then, of course, there was the cake that was crowned with the head of a wolf carcass.  and it was chosen as one of the 3 best.  i have a feeling that had i been on the show, my commentary probably would have been edited out.

i have a sneaky suspicion that these contestants look much worse than they actually are only because of time and equipment constraints.  i'll be curious to see whether time limits for projects increase as the show goes on.  that is, if i continue to watch it.  i'm finding it to be a bittersweet experience ... i can watch the contestants 'improve" and try to learn to love them as time goes on until one of them eventually wins ... and then try to be happy for the winner as s/he goes home with the $50,000 i wish i had a chance to win.

in the meantime (as i patiently wait to find out if there can be any hope of a season 2), i'll be making a cake this week for j's lab's holiday party.  for no reward other than the happiness of knowing that, at least for the time being, i have prevented a few graduate students from starving to death.

birthday bump

j and i were out walking and enjoying some of the city's attractions on my birthday (the ones that you don't want to be anywhere near during more touristy times for risk of suffocation - like the top of the empire state building.  seriously, from the time of entering the building, it took maybe 15 minutes total to buy tickets, walk through miles of roped off sections that would have been packed with people during the summer, and take the elevator to the top (j asked if i wanted to take the stairs ... so i asked the lady ushering us into the elevator if i could take the stairs; she firmly declined permission (which, in retrospect, was not entirely surprising).  then the people in the elevator laughed at me).

in any case, while we were walking, i got hit by a van. and you know, i think the whole experience was just a bit unfair.  i may not always (usually?) be totally aware of my surroundings (because let's be honest, surroundings can sometimes be a bit impoverished compared to the mischief my mind is wont to produce when left to its own devices), but i do generally pay attention when crossing the street.  i even waited for the walk signal before stepping into the street and crossed on the crosswalk.  how was i supposed to know that the driver of a van that had already pulled out into the intersection would suddenly change his mind and accelerate backward down the one-way street at the very moment that i was crossing?

j told me i should not write that i was hit by a van in case my mother reads this (she doesn't even like the idea of me having a bike in the city).  he called the experience a "love tap" instead.  however, i maintain that the fact that i was graceful and agile enough to stabilize myself shortly after getting knocked over should not minimize the force of the blow (okay, fine, my recovery had less to do with grace and agility than it did my desire to quickly escape the humiliation and stares of strangers ... semantics).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

cashier #9

trader joe's seriously has 20 cashiers on duty at a time.  and someone on staff to direct checkout traffic.  it is crazy and efficient all at once.  i'm a fan.  i'm also a fan of cashier #9 in particular for taking a strange request from me into full-fledged ocd.

trader joe's is a mile from home, and i regularly walk there for groceries because a) i like that they sell organic stuff cheaper than all the other stores sell their non-organic stuff, and b) it seems far too easy to just walk out the door, cross the street, and go to the closer grocery store.  i like to get a little more physical activity because, let's face it, everyone in my neighborhood wears a size 2 and it's quite intimidating.  if i don't keep moving, i think i'm going to get deported.

the challenge is that, as everyone knows, when you carry something, it gets heavier with each step that you take. the second challenge is that j really likes their orange peach mango juice ... and those get especially heavy.  for those reasons, i have to make sure groceries get packed such that i can manage to carry them without one arm getting more of a workout than the other (it's important to train muscles evenly ... both arms must get the same workout, lest one arm feel less loved).  usually, i just stop by the door on the way out and double check how the cashier packed the groceries before starting the trek home.

when checking out during my last trip, though, i decided to preemptively ensure that the two bags were relatively balanced.  so with a straight face, i informed cashier #9 that the two cartons of juice were having trouble getting along with each other.  i then asked him if he could please separate them when bagging the groceries.  cashier #9 not only smiled, but really went the extra mile.  he also separated the two oranges, the two peppers, the two containers of broccoli, and the two boxes of j's cereal.  he even separated the tofu from the chicken (which i secretly appreciated quite a bit - the tofu really doesn't get along with the chicken).

and that is why i love trader joe's.

ms. fuzzy head update

well ... ms. fuzzy head, maybe you should have listened a little better to what people were trying to tell you when you were ostensibly looking for feedback.  apparently the movie, miral, didn't do so well at the venice film festival ... and it looks like the release date is delayed.

mr. julian schnabel, my offer still stands.

Monday, October 11, 2010


for someone who doesn't really care about celebrities, i seem to be seeing an awful lot of them lately (okay, okay ... we did buy tickets to see steve carrell at the new yorker festival ... and yes, that was my choice, i admit it).  yesterday, i was a mere foot away from stanley.  you are probably wondering who stanley is.  so did i for a very, very long time.

when watching movies like spiderman or iron man, i have had the frequent experience of various other people pointing at the screen at a random point during the movie, and shouting, "look, it's stanley!  did you see stanley?  that was stanley!"  sometimes i've smiled and nodded.  other times i've just said no.  at one point, i finally asked who the heck stanley was.  for any of you as clueless as i was, it turns out "stanley" was actually "stan lee".  so you can see my confusion.  ironically, yesterday, i pointed stan lee out to a crowd of his fans.

stan lee was in town and doing some signings.  j, who actually knew who he was, decided (at 11.30 the night before) that he'd like to go.  so, 5 hours later, i found myself in a culture i still don't fully understand for a few hours yesterday morning. j and i waited in line for hours, sandwiched between a very nice (but also very drunk) twenty-something from atlantic city and a group of equally nice and equally high twenty-somethings.  then we got into the convention center where we were supposed to wait again after having received tickets to see stanley.  fortunately, rather than following the hundreds of people who were forming a mob on the bottom floor of the convention center, i wandered around a bit, and stumbled on a line of about 5 people who were lined up outside the room that actually had a sign on it identifying it as the stan lee signing room.  so i called j, and we enjoyed a quiet waiting time until the masses eventually must have followed someone to where we were.  i met a very friendly high school junior who really, really liked comic books.  really liked them.  he kept talking about ... well ... i'm not really sure what.  i picked out "the red hulk" and "first appearance of venom" ... but to be honest, i couldn't follow his conversation.  he was retelling story lines from the comics he read, i guess, and asking everyone who their favorite characters were.  i didn't really feel like i was in the proper company to report that i've never read a single comic book and i had no idea who they were talking about.  i smiled and nodded when possible, and deflected any conversation that actually required me to possess some kind of knowledge of their culture with a joke about my little ponies.  or halle berry.

at one point, i realized it was really silly that i had waited there empty handed while j waited to get something signed.  after all of the waiting and effort involved, i figured i should probably also ask for a signature.  so i was very thankful that my new little comic enthusiast friend and another new friend who was in front of me in line took good care of me and helped me obtain a spider man comic book while j held our place in line.  and now, i have a spider man comic book signed by stan lee that will be on its way to my nephew in the morning.

and yes, ironically, i won where's waldo yesterday.  when stan lee and his small entourage snuck by the masses to get settled into the conference room, i, of all people, was the one who pointed him out and said, "look, it's stanley."  crazy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

update on traffic tim

so i have recently been informed that traffic tim's real name is john.  i'm kind of devastated.  i had gotten so used to calling him tim in my head when passing by.  but it turns out he's a local celebrity:

so, here's the next challenge: can anyone find the tabouli drooler?  is she also so infamous as to have an official article already dedicated to her?  in any case, until she is apprehended (and even if she isn't), i recommend taim instead.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

new toys

thanks to a few very kind family members, i recently had some graduation money to indulge some of my hobbies.  and thanks to a slight delay between finishing the phd and starting a "real" job, i have also had time to indulge them.

NY Cakes acquired a respectable portion of my bounty.  i don't even like cake (maybe it's the frosting - the massive amount of sugar tastes like diabetes in a bite ... but then again, sweet things aren't my own personal vice - i've got others).  but i do like attempting to turn cakes into a pretty creation.  or a strange one.

i have never had so much ambivalence about a store before.  on one hand, the place is stocked well beyond even the best of the basics.  it has gadgets for baking and decorating that i never knew existed.  so at first, it was quite exciting to take in the impressive collection of tools and to pick out which new toys i couldn't live without - paints to color my own fondant, new pans, glorified modeling tools, etc.

but then, as i realized the vast amount of available shortcuts, some of the magic of decorating disappeared.  you see, i went from doing everything the hard way (e.g., using very basic cake shapes and carefully carving them into the shapes i needed and assembling the shapes into 3D objects, always covering cakes by rather painfully squeezing out little drops of buttercream icing at a time, etc.) to obtaining tools to do much of it the easy way (e.g., collecting a variety of usefully shaped pans, stocking up on fondant, etc.).  so now i feel like i'm cheating - that some of the challenge is gone.  and then when i think about how many more shortcuts would be available if i were willing to drop a few hundred dollars or more into this little side hobby (and buy things like machines that would do the heavy labor of rolling out the fondant for me), i admit i get a little bit jealous of bakeries.  suddenly the cake shows that champion their crazy confections are less impressive - yes, practice and skill are still very important, but it is so much easier for them.  dear santa claus, i would like a bakery for Christmas so that i can make birthday cakes as needed.  thanks.

so in any case, i have begun to sell out and am playing with my new toys.  this past weekend, the project was a volcano birthday cake for my geology major sister.  p.s. here's a tip for all you pyromaniacs out there - putting a bunch of birthday candles in very close proximity makes for a delightfully large flame.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

self checkout

when J and i were deciding what to do and where to go when we finally finished school, our choices boiled down to NYC and LA.  on one hand, the thought of becoming a california girl had been very enticing - a perpetual tan, the southern california coastline, eternal sunshine, and some really great friends in the area were exceedingly difficult to turn down.  but deep down, i kind of always knew that as much as i might really, really like the idea of being laidback and carefree (and as much as i like to tell myself that if the world weren't so demanding, i would be), the reality is that NYC does serve my personality better (not that this was the reason for the move - the decision was primarily job- and family-related).  but personality-wise, i need efficiency almost as much as i need air.  here, most everything i could possibly need (and just about anything that i could never imagine needing) is a short walk away.  and service is generally quite efficient.

take this morning, for example.  i ran a couple errands in preparation for yet another trip (because no, J and i cannot seem to stay in the same place for more than a week or two at a time this whole summer ... hence, i hardly feel like i live in NY at all).  first, i walked to Bagel Bob's to carry on what has quickly become a tradition for us: exporting fresh, yummy NY bagels to our hosts when we leave the city.  despite a rush hour line from the door to the counter, i was in and out in a matter of minutes.  so i proceeded to CVS to get J some gatorade for the trip (personally, i'm deciding between ginger ale and sangria (for prevention of motion sickness)).

CVS is where my morning got really interesting.  i was second in a line of 3 people (with one person checking out at the counter), and i was even managing to be patient while waiting my turn (because, let's face it, the Bagel Bob efficiency was unfortunately lacking).  i was thinking about the bagels - they were so warm and fresh and i wished i could have given them to our hosts while they were still right out of the oven.  the fifty-something woman in front of me started behaving a little erratically (we'll call her Erratica).  Erratica began mumbling a few words here and there and making partial movements as though she were going to reach for something or walk somewhere, but suddenly changed her mind and stopped mid-movement.  she then left the line twice - once to wander off and grab some nutritional shakes and once to put them back.  and okay, i admit i may have gotten slightly annoyed when Erratica left the line because i didn't want to have to wait any longer if the cashier became free while she was gone ... but the annoyance was fleeting because i decided i would go ahead of her if she didn't make it back in time.

as it turned out, Erratica did manage to make it back in time AND i went ahead of her.  the cashier dealing with the customer at the counter must have been having some trouble.  so another cashier, standing by the self checkout counter, stepped up and said "next."  silly me, i thought Erratica would proceed with her purchases, and i would wait for the next available cashier.  but Erratica responded as though she feared for her life.  she quickly and loudly protested, "no!"  she paused for effect, and only continued when the cashiers exchanged startled expressions.  "i do not wish to go there! i do not wish to use those machines! i am waiting in line - " i didn't quite make out the rest of the tirade (something about a human?) because although i was amused by the event, i had other errands on my list.  so my ears were primed to pick up cashier #2's response: "okay, that's fine.  who is next in line?" and i proceeded to the self checkout (that incidentally, wasn't self checkout - the cashier scanned the gatorade, took my money, and handed me my receipt ... so i can only conclude there must be something ominous about the machines themselves).  i completed my purchase.  as i took my receipt and cashier #2 uttered, "next," it was deja vu.

Erratica protested again, "no!   i do NOT wish to use those machines!" she was oblivious to the cashiers' assurances that they were talking to the person behind her.  Erratica continued, "i do NOT wish to use those machines!  i wish to wait in this line (for a human being?)! where is the manager?  is there a manager? i want to talk to a manager!"

i don't know what happened next because my Type A triumphed over my curiosity this time and i walked out the door.  i can only hope those evil cashiers didn't drag that woman, flailing and screaming, to the self checkout machines, scan her retinas instead of the bar codes, gag her with a receipt, and stuff her into a plastic bag.

(side note: many people erroneously believe Type A personality is associated with cardiovascular problems.  but Type A is actually a big collection of traits that includes not only preference for efficiency, being driven, perfectionistic, etc. (the traits that perhaps are typically thought to make up Type A personality) but also things like hostility and cynicism.  we've known since the 70s that it is only hostility/cynicism portion of type A that is associated with cardiovascular problems (okay, well, someone has known since the 70s - i didn't exactly exist then, but the data have been around that long).  so no worries, NYC will not be giving me a heart attack anytime soon.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

red means go

it's hard to feel like i'm really a new yorker when i haven't lived there in nearly a month now.  from defending the dissertation to visiting my family to visiting J's family, i was home for a mere half a day in the last few weeks.  which of course leaves me with two choices, should i feel like writing today.  1. make something up.  but i just promised you that you can trust everything i ever say because i'm an expert now.  i'd hate to start of on the wrong foot by misleading you.  2. exploit older blog fodder until i return this coming week.

so today's topic is driving in the city.  i'm sure you are all aware that different states have different driving laws.  responsible citizens are apparently expected to investigate differences in state driving laws before crossing state borders.  however, because i don't know that many responsible citizens who actually regularly indulge this expectation (probably because in the vast majority of cases, the laws aren't too different), i'l save you all some trouble in case you should decide to take a road trip to my fine city.  from what i've observed, the laws within the city borders are drastically different than anywhere else i have driven.  so today, i have prepared a little primer on interpreting traffic lights.

perhaps the most confusing aspect of driving in new york is figuring out what those pesky traffic lights are trying to tell you.  people everywhere appear to disagree about whether a yellow light is a cue to suddenly slam one's foot down on the brake or the gas pedal.  in the city, err on the side of the gas pedal.  this is easy enough.

when you approach a clogged intersection, you may, at first, attempt to patiently wait your turn.  when you find that you are sitting through cycle after cycle of changing lights and your vehicle has not moved more than the inch or few when you impatiently crept up on the bumper in front of you, you may begin to feel agitated.  this is normal.  it is merely a symptom of your lack of familiarity with city driving customs.  after becoming agitated, you may soon catch on  to the fact that the other drivers aren't playing by the rules - but this is only if you expected everyone to play by the same rules that you learned at home.  specifically, that green means go and red means stop.  i know it must sound painfully incongruent with everything you know about the world, but in the city, red means go and green means go if you can weasel your way into the moving traffic.

you see, when your light is green, the intersection will be full of street cholesterol (the cars that are perpendicular to yours, attempting to  cross or turn onto your street).  if you can maneuver your car into the gridlock, go ahead and do it.  just inch your car closer and closer to the other side of the intersection, even if you get tangled up in the cross traffic.  things sort themselves out.  if you can't move during the green light, pass the time by honking your horn.  but before you do, look around and try to guess how wealthy the neighborhood is.  if the people on the sidewalks are well dressed and the buildings look fancy, you are probably going to encounter a "no honking" sign because the people who live here have not yet developed the immunity to noise pollution that has been cultivated in less affluent areas.  you may be fined if you oppress them.

when the light turns yellow, drivers suddenly realize just how frustrated they are because the gridlock has prevented them from moving when they believed they were entitled to move.  thus, yellow means accelerate further into the gridlock to ensure you don't get cheated again.  so begin to accelerate on yellow, and then when the light is red, keep creeping toward the direction you want to go because now that you and all of your similarly directed friends have moved into the intersection on a yellow light, you are all blocking the cross traffic, and they are getting agitated.  try to be considerate and keep moving out of their way during the red light.

wash, rinse, repeat.

after 4-5 cycles, what will emerge is a pattern in which the "go on green, stop on red" pattern has been completely reversed.  this system works best when every driver plays by the appropriate nyc driving rules.  the system will break down into chaos and cause delays for everyone if anyone attempts to selfishly drive by rules their own egocentric rules (e.g., braking on red).

Thursday, July 29, 2010


yup, i'm a doctor.  and defending the dissertation was even kind of fun.  and in that magical hour and a half i was transformed from a lowly student into one of those mysterious "experts" that people are always talking about - "experts agree ..." "according to experts ...".  that's right, you can all start citing me now.  not anything i wrote prior to today i guess - i didn't know anything then.  but anything i write beginning today must be true ... because the experts say so.  this is going to be fun ...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

back to school

and now the real dissertation fun begins ... currently saying a temporary good bye to the city and traveling back to grad school.  will hopefully return with a few extra letters beside my name.

Monday, July 26, 2010


in my several years as a graduate student, i have witnessed more than a few students complete the rite of passage that is the dissertation defense.  most have seemed harried and frazzled in the final days. they frantically polished their work in preparation for presenting it to their toughest critics.  for most, the final days are a stressful time.  it is a time when the digestive system suddenly fails.  sleep becomes evasive.  skin loses pigment.  hours staring at computer screens pass like minutes.  preparing to defend is often a miserable experience.

but - in case any of my recent antics have failed to communicate this - i am not one to be overly concerned with conventions for the sake of conventions (i am a fan of politeness, but that is because politeness usually serves functions i consider worthwhile ... but what possible positive function can be served by excessive stress or anxiety?).  and besides, i already achieved (arguably, more than) my quota of graduate student misery - i have been ready and waiting to defend for a very long time.  so what am i doing a mere four days before my defense?  i started the day with a mommy/daughter manicure/pedicure in the village.  we met j for lunch and then spent the afternoon shopping.  we walked several miles, and i enjoyed skin-bronzing, hair-lightening sunshine.  when thoughts of the impending defense crept into my consciousness, the movie legally blonde came to mind.  i may be the first student in the department to (if all goes well) become a tan, freshly manicured/pedicured doctor.  

the manicure/pedicure was an awkward but fun experience.  i assume that the receptionist said hello when i called, but i can't be completely sure.  it wasn't in english or in any of the languages i understand well enough to detect a greeting.  i didn't hear the name of the nail salon in the greeting either.  but we had a nice chat anyway.  i asked if it were the salon.  she responded in non-english.  i apologized for having the wrong number.  she said something else in non-english.  in retrospect, the fact that we politely spoke, stopped speaking while the other was talking, and repeated the process several times is highly entertaining considering neither of us understood a word the other was saying.  not that this doesn't happen when people are speaking the same language - haven't we all had a conversation with that person who is just too busy thinking about what they want to say next that they don't feel the need to listen to what their conversation partner is actually saying?  and haven't we all resorted to speaking utter nonsense and then laughing on the inside when the person just keeps talking as though a real conversation were taking place? (e.g., "i just love this restaurant." "yes, i completely agree.  i once owned a scuba-diving donkey." "they have the best sushi.").  oh ... or is that just me? 

i prepared to hang up, but was greeted again (in non-english) by another voice.  thoroughly confused at this point, i paused.  the voice then said, "hello?"  so i asked again if it were the nail salon.  i then heard, "hello, [name of nail salon here]. how can i help you? hello?" and i somehow managed to set up appointments for us.  the place had great reviews ... and we didn't want to waste half the day choosing a replacement from the remaining 3 million nail salons in manhattan just because of a slight little language barrier.

during the appointment, we communicated mostly in gestures and smiles, with minimal intermittent translation by the youngest manicurist.  while small talk can be awkward at times, the absence of it was even more conspicuous.  it was a strange experience to not be able to communicate anything of even small talk substance with the person who was painting my nails.  it probably didn't help that we decided to tip using stacks of the newish gold dollar coins.  my mom told her manicurist that she was giving her pirate gold as a tip (a type of comment that had been well received by other vendors in non-language-barrier contexts).  her manicurist smiled and nodded.  she said something to her coworker that i can only assume meant, "these girls are lunatics.  just smile and they will go away." 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

where's waldo?

when touristing, many people hurriedly take pictures in crowded locations.  it can be a flustered experience - snapping the picture quickly before someone steps in front of your camera and before competing groups elbow in to get a picture in the same coveted location.  then, if your loved ones had posed for the picture, they might want to swarm the camera to scrutinize their own appearance and to make sure that whatever perceived flaw they possess was minimized in the picture.  else, they may want you to take the picture again.  the entire process can be a stressful ordeal.

in fact, it can be such a flustering experience that many people miss other things that are going on around them.  for example, when your friends swarm the camera, they may be focusing so intently on their own appearance that they will probably fail to notice anything out of ordinary in the crowd pictured around them.  this is called selective attention.  you pay so much attention to some information that you overlook other information, and can even overlook comically salient information in the world around you.  (try this out (or, show this video to someone without telling them what selective attention is): ).

if you have recently traveled to the city, you may eventually discover something odd about your pictures.  you may find that a new new yorker and her mother are also posing in the picture.  go ahead and play where's waldo with your recent photos - look for two heads of blonde hair, a flower headband, and the slightly sticking out tongues.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

theater etiquette

this week has been especially exciting because my mom is visiting ... and the visit, so far, has probably given me enough blog fodder for about two months ... but more time spent out playing means less available writing time.  in any case, today, for example, she treated us to mamma mia on broadway.  much fun.  let's just say that men + bright spandex + abba is sure to entertain.

however, today's topic is theater etiquette.  listen, new yorkers and guests to our fine city, let's give everyone an opportunity to enjoy the show.  have you ever sat through a movie or show and had your theatrical experience enhanced by the not so rhythmic kicking of your seat by a child sitting behind you?  that can be so annoying and can really put a damper on your evening.

i'm so glad that the only child near me was sitting to my left, and was truly a model of perfect behavior.  she was probably 12, sat still throughout the performance, and was even privy to, and complied with, the little known secrets of the appropriate times to clap during a performance.   i was fortunate to not have any annoying little adhd cases kicking my seat.

the tall, most likely swedish family sitting in front of us was nearly equally charming - a mom, a dad, 2 teenage/young adultish boys, and a teenage girl.  mom and daughter were obviously engaged in the show, whereas the boys appeared to be good-naturedly indulging the ladies' interests.  during intermission, dad commented (in english) that he was glad his daughter was enjoying the show, but she was probably enjoying it more than he was.  but he said it with a big, genuine smile.  it was kind of charming.  he seemed like such a nice man.  i felt kind of badly that i had to subject him to a little theater discipline.

if you've ever been in a theater, you know that seats are staggered.  there is a reason for this.  by staggering the seats, one can (theoretically) see between the heads of the two people sitting in front of them.  it's a good system ... if people cooperate.  however, it defeats the purpose when someone leans slightly to one side and cocks their head about 90 degrees in the same direction.  and you see, when dad did it, he moved his cranium directly into my line of sight.

at first, i became extremely annoyed, sighed loudly, and motioned to j, who whispered he was sorry i couldn't see and offered to switch seats with me.  i declined because i didn't want him to miss out and because i didn't want to be disruptive to everyone behind me.  i sat, vainly hoping dad was just stretching his neck and would return it to a more natural position.  unfortunately, it soon became clear that the rightward head lean was dad's preferred show-watching stance.  so i sighed again, craned my neck, and most likely obstructed the view of those behind me.  i employed this strategy for about 10 minutes.

and then an idea struck me, and i nearly kicked myself for not having thought of it earlier.  instead, i placed my foot gently against the back of dad's seat.  i slid my foot as far to the left as i could (recall, a child was my neighbor to the left).  then, my foot in place, any time that dad crooked his neck to the right, i ever so gently kicked his chair .. and kept giving him little taps until he straightened out his neck. in the beginning, sometimes i had to amplify the little love taps to a full-fledged kick - but only a couple times.  dad was a pretty quick study.  by intermission, he was sitting with head in proper orientation to body for the vast majority of the time.  following intermission, i only had to tap his chair a few times.  

this, my friends, is called operant conditioning.  i conditioned the man to behave in an appropriate manner by punishing (i.e., providing an aversive stimulus to) him every time he misbehaved, and removing the punishment when he behaved properly. not only did i manage to maintain the integrity of the staggered seating system, but as a special bonus, i also helped dad avoid the killer tension headache that might have otherwise emerged from his neck-crooking behavior.

to the well behaved girl beside me, i really apologize that your sterling image may have been the casualty of my experiment.  you really were such a model citizen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

ms. fuzzy head

i don't know if i intended her name to refer to her frizzy, crimpy, blonde 80's hair or her seemingly perpetually confused state of mind.  but it fits both, so i figured i'd run with it.  i met ms. fuzzy head on the street yesterday.  ordinarily i take fliers from strangers as often as i take candy from them.  but ms. fuzzy head was offering the chance to screen the movie Miral before final editing would take place.  i read the film description and decided it was something i would pay for, so it was definitely something i'd see for free (unfortunately, i can't talk about the movie itself - apparently such information is top secret).  but i can talk about my experience with ms. fuzzy head.  she was friendly enough, and i took her flier and i saw a free movie tonight as a result (biting my fingers to keep from writing anything about the film).

i encountered ms. fuzzy head again as j and i stood in the line (oops, that is "on line" here in the city - haven't quite got my vernacular down).  the sun was beating down on stagnant air and stagnant, sweat-dripping bodies.  the masses were joking about giving the film bad reviews just because they had to stand outside so long (as you'll find out, ms. fuzzy head might insist people don't do things like that). imagine a fly trapped in a car, buzzing incessantly, flying from one window into the next, only to turn around and fly into the first window again.  that was ms. fuzzy head pacing up and down the line.  she was looking for people to be in the focus group.  she invited me ... but only because she guessed my age wrong - when she found out how old i was, she took her invitation away.  my age group was already represented.

the price for the free screening was filling out a survey at the end.  in the past, the thought of anyone writing something about "survey methodology" on their resume made me laugh - because truly, the subject could be covered in one well-written chapter ... not even a whole book.  but tonight i learned why "expertise" in this field is important.

after the film, we had about 5-10 minutes to fill out an extremely lengthy survey (remember those ovals from the SAT?  they're back) - lots of ratings and just as many short answers.  we were given dull miniature golf scoring pencils (yes, they write like crayons) and were given half of a line (each) to name and describe our favorite and least favorite scenes.  we rated each of the main actors: one rating each on a completely uninterpretable question (not that there would have been time to read the directions anyway).  were we rating how well the actor played the character?  the believability?  how much we liked the actor?  how much we liked the character?  we also rated the film on how sympathetic the film was.  no, not how sympathetic we felt to the film's message.  no, not how sympathetic we felt to particular characters.  we rated how sympathetic the film itself was (and no, not how sympathetic the film was with regard to any particular topic or issue).  apparently i missed the instruction to tell the film how i was feeling and observe its response.

the only things they will possibly get out of that survey is a vague sense of "liked it" or "didn't like it" from frazzled film goers, and a couple scribbled notes on selected questions ... if they are lucky, legible scribbled notes.  it could have been a single-item questionnaire.  if the survey design weren't bad enough, ms. fuzzy head and her helpers buzzed around the room while people were taking the survey, asking them what they wrote for one of the questions (asking them to say this out loud in the midst of all the other survey takers). i was asked four different times.  after the first time, i knew that if i chose a particular underrepresented overall rating of the film, i would be invited to participate in the focus group (one of ms. fuzzy head's helpers buzzed around repeating "we need people who rated it ___."  and i did want to be in the focus group ... but after an intense moral struggle, i gave it the true rating i thought it deserved.

after completing my survey, i had a brief chat with ms. fuzzy head, in an apparently misguided effort to give her a little professional advice (i.e., give her a little information that, frankly, i'm shocked she didn't already know given that this is her job ... oh youthful idealism, you fail me again - causing me to expect people to know how to do their jobs ... but i would have thought in the business world, if people are motivated to produce profitable results, they would get a position like hers only if they actually knew what they were doing ... but the senseless real world crashes in on me again).  i kept it simple - i just tried to explain the merits of anonymity - how if you want honest, relatively unbiased answers, you can't shout at people and ask them to shout their responses back to you (i used softer words than this).  and that is when i saw a thin coat of glaze trickle down ms. fuzzy head's animated eyes.

she explained that they only asked after people had answered the question.  when i pointed out that i was asked 4 times before i had answered it, she still seemed to insist they didn't do that, so i changed the topic, making only one more last ditch effort to help.  i switched my approach to explaining that even doing this could bias their later responses and could bias the people around them.  ms. fuzzy head looked genuinely surprised.  she said "well, not if they are honest ... you or i would never do that"  i tried to explain that (a) some people might feel pressured, despite wanting to be honest, (b) some people are slower than others to form an opinion, and (c) that more often than not, people are influenced by things without knowing that they are influenced.  there is tons of research about this!  people are influenced by things they don't even consciously perceive ... let alone influenced by things that, although perhaps perceived, influence them in ways they do not understand.  many filmmakers are aware of this (or seem to be, judging by the the painstaking process they go through to make sure the music is just right, the selection of background details, etc.).  ms. fuzzy head chalked it up to needing to get surveys done quickly (i didn't bother to explain that you don't give people 4 pages of questions, crammed into 2 pages, half made of short answers if you want the survey to be quick - you do a little math and figure out the reliable questions ahead of time) - she said, "trust me, i used to be in advertising.  everything has to be quick."  i smiled politely, as i watched the glaze continue to coat ms. fuzzy head's eyes.  and when ms. fuzzy head asked if i had ever read the fountainhead by ayn rand and proceeded to change the conversation to a book recommendation, any lingering questions of whether the road between ears and brain was open to traffic had subsided.  so i smiled and politely ended the conversation.

i tried.  i tried to help Mr. Julian Schnabel get more accurate information before Miral hits the big screen everywhere.  instead, he is probably paying a lot of money for not very good, haphazard data (and this is not to mention how they could possibly analyze anything they collect from that survey in an accurate way ...).  Mr. Schnabel, for future reference, there are much better, more accurate ways of getting valid information (even getting it quickly, as seemed to be ms. fuzzy head's only concern).  call me.  i'll hook you up.  just pay me in proportion to how much more useful the results are.  p.s. thanks for the free screening.  i'd say more, but i know you want to keep it hush, hush.  i'll revisit this when your movie comes out.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

when cabs attack

apparently, the parents of some new yorkers really dropped the ball.  the first few years of life are referred to as "formative" for a reason.  it is during those years that good parents set about the business of instilling a healthy dose of fear regarding behaviors that could endanger one's own or others' safety (not too much - just a healthy dose).  for example, when a car drives over your child's basketball, it will sound like a gun shot, and you may think this is frightening enough.  but you would be wrong. it is a parent's duty to scream and yell at the child who would have otherwise chased the ball into the street.  and when you parallel park, and your child is far from reality, busy entertaining herself in her own internal world, and develops a habit of just opening the car door without looking to see if other cars are coming, you need to reprimand her.  but as i said, some parents have really dropped the ball.

we were walking on bleecker street last night (on our, what must be weekly, trek for the best frozen yogurt in the world).  we got to the gelateria on the corner of bleecker and carmine street (where people are spending a fortune for about a tablespoon of gelato ... if only they had walked less than one block further, they would have discovered the frozen dessert bliss that is phileo - we are spending the same fortune, i'm sure, but we are having a whole meal of frozen yogurt).   just as we were crossing the street, we heard the screeching sound of some wheeled vehicle skidding into a very hard metal object.  as it turned out, it was a bicycle crashing into a suddenly opened cab door.  someone's mother neglected to fully impress upon them the necessity of looking before one opened a car door.

we joined the other new yorkers in staring and whispering for a moment before deciding that everyone looked like they were okay (although i did seriously make sure everyone was okay before continuing to walk - there is this wonderful little phenomenon called diffusion of responsibility: if you are in an accident or hurt in a crowded place, the more people that are around, the less likely any of them is going to be to help you ... no one is sure who should help ... or no one feels the need to help because the responsibility is shared with so many other people ... nonetheless, we saw that the girl in the cab and the cab driver both got out and were checking on the bicyclist, and there were people waiting with him (presumably for some sort of help or authority to arrive)).

not two minutes after leaving the site, another bicyclist rode by.  he was steering with one hand on the handlebars.  the other hand was holding a paper plate and a slice of pizza.  a half-eaten slice of pizza that was moving toward his mouth.  we would have yelled out to him to be careful because the streets are full of cabs.  but there were so many people around.  we weren't sure if it was our responsibility to warn him or not.  someone across the street kind of looked at him, so we thought maybe she was going to warn him.  the poor guy.  lulled into a false sense of security with the knowledge that cell phone use while driving is a big no-no in the city.  he was happily enjoying his pizza while he commuted, and he must have thought he was safe from all those inconsiderate fools who text while driving.  little did he know that cabs can still attack.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"mainstream" fiction

as a small child, i definitely had some very, very girly tendencies - i was some version of a princess every halloween, happiest in my pretty little dresses, and in possession of about 100 times the FDA lifetime allowance of barbies and barbie accessories (the pink convertible, the barbie ice cream maker, the pool, the dream house, the pets, i could go on and on).  thankfully, responsible adults had enough good sense to also provide me with other entertainment like legos and many different types of books, to enroll me in a good variety of extracurricular activities (gymnastics, swim team, violin lessons, girl scouts, etc.) and summer programs (horseback riding, sailing, water sports, academic programs) and to take me to both artsy and sciencey types of museums.  they taught me to bake and (later) how to change my oil, check the fluids in my car, use jumper cables, change tires and air filters, etc.  plus, i had a brother who refused to play barbies with me (even when i pointed out that ken was a boy), so i learned to compromise in order to have a readily accessible playmate: we played outside, turning a plastic pool into a boat when a nearby stream periodically flooded (i'm pretty sure that one was not parentally sanctioned), i became vaguely aware of the world of video games and superheroes, and i learned to throw a football with a lovely spiral motion.  all of this is to say, i have spent much of my adult life feeling pretty grateful for the experiences that i had believed helped me become a well rounded person.  so you can imagine my surprise to find out that i am not nearly as well rounded as i had believed myself to be.

i discovered one major deficit while attending a panel discussion of a book of short stories that neil gaiman (one of J's much enjoyed authors) recently edited.  let me just say i am not sure i've ever had any strong feelings of like or dislike for genres like "science fiction" or "fantasy" (although i guess the word "fantasy" as the name of a genre does sound a bit pejorative).  i've never, ever liked star trek - but truth be told, i disliked it without (i think) having ever seen it.  in that case, i guess it was kind of like rejecting a religion based on the behavior of the followers, without having much understanding of the alleged belief system.  but that is how i rejected star trek.  i liked the x-men movies.  having watched star wars as a generally over-extended teenager, i am not sure i liked or disliked the movies (it turns out that napping during the middle third of a film makes for an inordinately difficult time making sense of the plot).  ultimately, i think i decided that i liked movies and books with well developed characters and an engaging plot, or basically, anything that made me laugh - whether elements of science fiction/fantasy were or were not included was not something that entered my consciousness.  however, it turns out that there is a whole subculture concerned with the state of the genre.  i met the new york chapter at the talk.

hundreds of people lined up to get in.  having never read anything by any of the authors on the panel, i only went because J wanted to go (and he indulges my idiosyncrasies - he is a very good sport about things like taking me to see spirit of the marathon and coming to races ... and eventually, running).  my first clue that i was not nearly the well rounded individual i believed myself to be was the culture shock i felt when i looked up and down the line.  while there were many "mainstream"-looking people, there were just as many people who easily belonged to their own subculture.  and there were at least a couple who could have easily been caricatures rather than real people.  i overheard one guy behind us who had trouble containing his excitement (i felt too sorry for him to turn around and see what he looked like).   every so often this guy would honk.  seriously, honk - like a duck.  i think he was kind of laughing while breathing in or something - and it made a honking sound.  there was a great proliferation of "dorky" glasses - not the thick, giant, round dorky of the past glasses.  rather, the angular kind that are meant to be "cool dorky" ... i think.  don't quote me on that.   there were skinny girls hiding behind many layers of clothes and knit hats.  there were t-shirts to identify cult followings (of what, i'm really not sure - but followers recognized each other).  i am sure that it is just the case that when people with a similar interest (any interest) get together, that interest becomes more salient ... and that anyone who knows very little about the interest is likely to experience a bit of culture shock.  but they were a very friendly in-group ... which minimized some of the culture shock.

so ... after story time was over (after authors read excerpts from their contributions to the book), the cult followers asked questions at open microphones.  and this is where my upbringing failed me most.  what i have pieced together is this: there is something that is "mainstream" fiction ... and there is something that is "genre" fiction.  and while my inclination was to think that "mainstream" fiction would be applied to popular fiction - the fiction that the population at large is buying and reading, this is apparently not what was meant (? - again, don't quote me. i'm confused).  i got the impression that one panelist saw mainstream and genre fiction as blurry distinctions (and i can dig that - though i think categories can be used to simplify things that one does not need to process deeply, i am not a big fan of smacking labels on things, putting them in boxes, and then ignoring the pieces that hang out over the edges).  i also got the impression that some thought of "mainstream" fiction as the fiction that wins awards, but doesn't make money.  and genre fiction was something that people buy and read, but can't win awards (because snooty academics say it is not worthy).  and then someone argued that what people typically think of as mainstream is actually genre fiction and vice versa.  well, that threw me for a loop because i was still trying to figure out what they thought was mainstream (or what they thought i thought was mainstream).  but, really, i don't think i ever got the significance of the question - what is the concern or controversy?  some group of writers is excluded from the snooty awards?  the organization of book stores is troublesome?  anyone?

as a final aside, it is quite disturbing to sit feet away and listen to an author read a story that provides far too much insight into the (hypothetical) mind of a serial killer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

govnahs island

governors island, the former-military-base-turned-car-free park/artist-haven/biking-paradise recently opened for the season, and a friend's birthday picnic was a perfect reason to hop a ferry and check it out.  the majority of the island is park-like with grassy open spaces and a hammock-furnished picnic area overlooking the statue of liberty (ahhh, hammocks - truly a brilliant addition).  i guess the island was hosting an arts festival and we encountered quite the spectrum of performing artists from the more traditional (a 40ish year old woman in 80s spandex scratchily singing "everyone in new york is crazy ... yeah yeah yeah ... everyone in new york is crazy ... yeah yeah yeah ... everyone in new york is crazy ..." (keep repeating it for 10-15 minutes to get the full picture) to the perhaps less expected (the line of "greek gods" as one member of our group called them, who, perhaps dressed in bed sheets, were in single file making extremely slow exaggerated walking movements to the very slow beat of various handheld musical instruments).

i have yet to see water taxi beach - i didn't make a special point to see it this past weekend, partly because it rained, and partly because i expected the beach to be only a tease.  you see, although with some cognitive effort, i had managed to forgive the idea of importing sand to create the pretense of a beach, i did not want to get too attached to a "beach" where one might soak up one's fill of sun only to discover that splashing in the ocean afterward was verboten.  however, having recently learned that beach volleyball nets are in existence there, i have also decided to forgive the beach its lack of ocean access.  i'd like to call the island central park south, but it is relatively newly acquired and is still a little rough around the edges - the real central park would likely feel slighted (i do mean literally a bit rough around the edges- the path around the island is still a bit rough ... but i read plans for developing the island, and it looks like a new promenade is in the works.  nonetheless, it is a nice place to run or bike).  there were charming pale(ish) yellow victorian houses dotting part of the landscape (i suggested to J that we live in one because it would be fun to live on such a pleasant little island a 1/2 mile from manhattan ... and then i remembered that i wouldn't be able to swim in the ocean and changed my mind - visiting is sufficient).  i want to explicitly say that the island is lovely and a fun place to visit ... because i also want to say something that would obscure those thoughts, were they not explicit.

there were a bunch of red brick barracks-like (? - i'm no military expert) or almost dorm-like buildings, and the collection of architecturally similar buildings surrounding green areas had a campus feel to it - with one striking exception.  no signs of life within the walls.  a collection of seemingly abandoned buildings, particularly on a dreary, drizzly gray day, is creepy.  i think perhaps hollywood should jump on this island as a setting for a (non-gory) thriller before the abandoned buildings get auctioned and beautified.  then again, i also thought i was so clever because i thought it would be brilliant to build a college campus there.  and then i found out that apparently nyu already had that idea a long time ago.

all in all, govnah's island was an enjoyable place to visit.  it is even worth the short subway trip to south ferry, which is, of course, one of my highest compliments (unfortunately, i am not always able to convince those around me that that it really isn't too far to walk several miles to and from a destination (where more walking or other physical activity will take place) ... thus, i have found myself unwittingly frequenting the subway ... but my fellow new yorkers may be relieved to know that recent rides have continued to be uneventful - it seems that sangria promotes long term protection against motion sickness).

Friday, June 11, 2010


much stress makes for boring blogs.  blogging will resume when stress levels decrease.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


dear weather forecasters, why must you toy with my emotions?  no matter how many times you promise "severe" storms, sell your headlines, and fail to deliver, i keep believing you and hoping maybe this time you will change.  maybe there really will be a good, cathartic storm.  sure, i pretend to be skeptical when you carelessly spout your predictions  - but a little part of me still believes.  so yesterday, when you hinted at the possibility of funnel clouds, i was fairly certain you were exaggerating, but i thought maybe, just maybe, i might get to watch at least some small display of pyrotechnics over the park.  instead, i watched the fountain splashers pause for the briefest moment in response to the single crack of thunder ... and then i watched them return to their business of rinsing off the sweat soup that is city air.  it seems i am not the only one who thinks the weather channel should stop crying wolf.

watching the winds blow away the world science fair was of little consolation.  though it does make one wonder ...perhaps the winds were sent as a warning.  tents had been set up throughout the streets to attempt to indoctrinate innocent children with the belief that science is fun and cool:  free balloon animals, face painting, pictures taken in astronaut gear.  what they aren't telling these kids is that while building random structures with giant blue tubes and blocks at the imagination station is fun (and yes, i really wished i could have borrowed a nephew so that i could have played without looking like a pedophile), any further specialization has less to do with the joy of science than it has to do with the joy of listening to the letters p, h, and d roll off one's tongue (and closing one's eyes as graduate school chips away at one's soul).  until of course some day when one realizes that the scientists are in cahoots with the weathermen (no, i don't believe the friendly personalities who peddle their thunderstorm fables from blue screens are actually scientists).  give the children access to the knowledge they need to make informed decisions: for the record, i have never seen snow cones at lab meeting.

that said, i like the bio bus.  given that the bio bus didn't blow away, i'll suspend my skepticism and believe that some science could still be worthwhile.

Friday, June 4, 2010

the secret of nyc chic

so this is how they do it.  i just got my welcome to nyc care package from the city (it got delayed a bit). the care package came with my newbie uniform - apparently we are supposed to wear this shirt until we are shamed into looking lke this girl.

now, it all makes sense.  now i understand how they do it - it's not just because new yorkers walk on average 5 miles/day.  It is because of the shame of the uniform they had to wear when they got here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

special agent dribblets

okay 8th street tabouli drooler, i see that you have assembled your armies and have infiltrated not only 8th street, but also union square.  i witnessed your forces advancing on the sneeze guard at maoz vegetarian (sorry maoz, i was going to keep you out of this, but the tabouli drooler has waged war against you on at least two fronts now, and you are going to need reinforcements - i can't keep your secrets anymore).

you see, the sneeze guard is a brilliant little invention - the first line of defense meant to separate the food that people eat from all the nasty little bacteria and viruses in other people's mucus.  just because you keep your mucus to yourself (?) does not, however, mean you are upholding the spirit of the sneeze guard.  8th street tabouli drooler, you must be fully aware that dribbling saliva into the food is just as much an act of aggression against maoz as shooting snot rockets into the tabouli.  so you appear to have sent in special agent dribblets with just such a mission.

you are tricky, 8th street tabouli drooler.  at first glance, we would never have guessed that special agent dribblets had been sent in to do your dirty work.  she was sent in under the guise of a hungry, middle aged woman with bushy dirty blonde hair and dressed in some strange mix of hippie and amish attire.  special agent dribblets seemed harmless.  until she slipped underneath the sneeze guard with her half-eaten pita.  you are getting bolder, 8th street tabouli drooler, and your strategies are becoming more nuanced.  it was not just the repeated mashing of the serving spoon onto the saliva-drenched pita.  it was the tumbling of the contents of special agent dribblets' pita onto, and into, the toppings bar.  and her mastication over the toppings bar.  and the droppings from her open, masticating mouth onto the toppings bar.  have you no humanity, 8th street tabouli drooler?  there were civilians and children present.

as for you, maoz, have you considered taping a sign on the sneeze guard that prohibits these guerrilla tactics? i hear there are paper and markers dealers right in your very own neighborhoods.  yes, i fully expect the tabouli drooler and her armies will continue their attacks, undaunted.  but if you put up the sign, at least your less adversarial customers could pretend their food does not contain more than the FDA limit of 10% saliva by weight.  think of your customers.  feed us delusions before we feed ourselves falafel from the hundreds of other falafel joints in the city.

times square

i have no intention of growing up any day soon.  in fact, i stopped counting my age in numbers at 23.  then i started turning 23a, 23b, etc.  let's be honest, age is like height - approximate is good enough.  no one wants to hear that you are such and such and 3/4.inches tall.  you round to the nearest inch.  and so, i approximate my age.  maybe i'll turn 24 after 23l or so.  we'll see.

no matter how euphemistically i construct my age, even 23 could be considered a bit too old for playing in a toy store (without the excuse of an accompanying child).  but J and i had friends visiting over the weekend, one of whom had never been to times square and wanted to go.  and so, saturday was spent touristing.  shamelessly.  this included four twenty-somethings riding the ferris wheel in toys 'r us.  yes, it was absolutely a rip-off ($4 each to spin around in a circle 3-4 times? seriously?).  but we did it anyway.  and now, somewhere, there exist pictures of us in a pink barbie convertible ferris wheel gondola.  we made up for the rip off, ever so slightly, by attempting to snap a couple pictures of their precious giant moving dinosaur from our view in the convertible (yes folks, they want you to pay for a picture of the dinosaur ... and also for a picture with (who i imagine to be) an angsty teenager dressed in an extraordinarily plastic iron man suit).  but toys are fun.

times square is utter chaos.  emerging from the subway station is like trying to squirm out of a giant pit of plastic balls before the next person barrels down the slide and knocks you over.  times square actually feels like a different nyc.  i live in one nyc - the bleecker st. nyc with its hip little bars and restaurants.  the sun-bather, street-musician, chess-player, fountain-splasher washington square park nyc.  the nyc that lacks bedrock and, thus, lacks buildings possessing any hope of ever scraping the sky.  times square is in fantasyland nyc - the nyc that is a fiction created for movies, television shows, and new year's eve.  the nyc that also serves as a dumping ground for the excess green waste that fills tourist wallets. but taking periodic day trips away from reality is never a bad idea.  note to self: schedule some field trips to see some shows.

although i do generally enjoy the ability to stay on the sidewalk when traveling to a destination (rather than, say, walking in the road to get around a horde of dora the explorer enthusiasts waving their cardboard signs and ogling the costumed dora), i did appreciate the tourists in times square.  you see, at one time in my life, i am pretty sure i believed that a women's size 2 was a dainty little size.  however, i stand corrected by the city.  it seems a size 2 is merely average here.  dainty does not begin until there are at least two zeros on the tag.  i think there must be some process whereby you don't get your nyc citizenship until they measure your bone size and determine if you are (or have the potential of becoming) an acceptable match for your neighborhood.  but the times square tourists are, of course, exempt from any citizenship requirements.  and so, ironically, though they pack the sidewalks, stores, and restaurants of fictional nyc, they can be a welcome reality check.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

event of the day

today's event of the day is:

given today's sultry high of 87 degrees, i shall endeavor to find out whether wearing open-toed shoes in nyc is truly a big no no.  if it is, i am about to commit a faux pas (because failing to do so yesterday was miserable), and i shall scrub my feet appropriately upon returning home.

4.30PM UPDATE: rest assured, new yorkers DO wear flip flops.

sangria cures motion sickness

walking is easily my most preferred means of locomotion in the city.  easily.  however, i guess you can't be a new yorker until you have hailed a cab (and perhaps feared for your life whilst riding in it the first time) and until you have navigated the subway.

i crossed the cab off my list when J and i bought an ottoman in chelsea and were unable to (gracefully) carry it back to the village.  else, i have limited cab rides to trips home from the airport.  let's just say i would understand driving at a constant high speed to get to one's destination sooner (were it possible to actually drive at constant high speed) ... i do not, however, understand rapid acceleration from one stoplight followed by rapid deceleration to stop at the following light.  it is as though these cab drivers are bored or have an abnormally high drive for risk-taking behavior.  i mean, truly, how many people must, ahem, lose their lunches in your cab before you change your behavior?  fortunately for me, i am well aware of my own abnormally low threshold for motion sickness, and i have avoided entering a cab with either an empty stomach or without ginger ale (i have yet to discover why motion sickness is worst with an empty stomach - i just know it to be true anecdotally).  nonetheless, i have managed to keep the contents of my stomach to myself.  but, as i discovered from asking one cab driver how often passengers became ill in his cab (have no worries - i asked him this very politely and only caused him minor noticeable alarm), a lunch lost in a cab is not an especially uncommon outcome.  i noticed that as he answered, and for the remainder of the trek to the village, his driving became considerably less erratic.  thus, should you find yourself feeling ill in a nyc cab, i recommend pleasant conversation that directs the driver's attention toward a potential consequence of his/her driving (i inserted the "/her" to be politically correct ... but i have never seen a female cab driver ... i think perhaps this is a topic for another day).

subways, in contrast, are not nearly as likely to instigate an unpleasant visceral response.  i don't remember having any notable complaints with subway/elevated trains in chicago, dc, or boston.  and i don't remember the subway causing significant discomfort when i had visited new york in the past.  thus, although with three exceptions in my four month nyc residence, i have avoided taking the subway, i chose to do so not because i feared misplacing my lunch.  rather, i genuinely enjoy walking (and, admittedly, do not enjoy the occasional smell of urine in less than perfectly ventilated enclosures).  nonetheless, you can imagine my surprise this past friday night when one of the rush hour E trains to Queens slapped me with an unprecedented wave of nausea and J informed me that beads of sweat were dripping down my forehead.   perhaps it was because i stood during the entire trip so that older passengers had seats.  or perhaps it was because we were meeting friends for dinner and i had allowed my stomach get a little too empty.  or, who knows, perhaps the conductor had ADD (assuming the operation of the subway is not primarily automated - i have no idea how it works).  all i know is that the other passengers have no idea how narrowly they escaped a truly horrific visceral experience.  three more seconds and they would not have been so lucky.

the trip home was less aversive.  who could say why?  many factors had changed - many more seats were available at 11 o'clock at night than during rush hour, my stomach had something with which to keep it occupied  (digestion) and did not need to resort to nausea as a plea for attention, the train was less crowded, etc.  maybe these factors helped.  but let's be honest - there are few people who make purely rational decisions - few, if any, who conduct careful, controlled scientific experiments before adopting their beliefs.  so if in the vast majority of cases, most people adopt most beliefs for reasons that mostly just reflect the experiences they have already had (and perhaps ignore disconfirming experiences they encounter afterward), isn't it more fun to deliberately choose your irrational belief rather than to unwittingly adopt it?  i choose to believe that sangria cures motion sickness.  and so, my friends, i recommend a glass or two of sangria before setting foot on the subway.  i'm not sure whether it will diminish the scent of urine or, instead, diminish your ability to refrain from commenting on the scent of urine.  either way, perhaps your transportation will be more pleasant.

(as an aside, in theory, i wholeheartedly support public transportation - particularly the subway.  in practice, out of concern for the well-being of my fellow new yorkers and myself, i will continue to rely primarily on my own two legs.)