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.