Thursday, July 22, 2010

Deep in the heart of the Houston suburbs

Tomorrow morning, I'll be embarking on a (in my opinion, richly deserved) vacation. As I won't be tethered to a keyboard 8 hours a day, I don't think I'll be doing much blogging. However, I promise when I return I will come bearing the gift of photos and stories from Mexico. That's right--I'll be journeying to Mexico City to visit friends and explore the city all of next week. But this weekend, I'm excited to announce I will be enjoying the equal richness of the suburbs in beautiful Spring, Texas.

In honor of the occasion, I google image searched my hometown to see what nostalgia inducing images I could cull from the grand reaches of the internet. Many of them did not inspire familiarity at all...
Case in point: This was one of not two but three seperate photos of in-line skaters that came up on the first page of results. I don't recall seeing many in-line skaters much growing up. But now that I'm thinking of it, I remember suddenly a faction of the homeowner's association of my neighborhood trying to block the addition of sidewalks because they thought they would cause skateboarders and hooligans to come. If only I'd understood their presience then.

In May of 2005, ghost hunters in Spring Texas conclusively proved the existense of paranormal activity in our suburban hamlet. These pictures, taken in a location the ghost hunters call only "Cemetary #1," are undoctored orbs which any ghost hunter knows prove the presence of other worldly beings. I was shocked too.

This one confused me at first because I thought it was actually a picture of the Hollywood sign outside of Los Angeles, California. By clicking on the link this picture came from, I found out that this was from a relator in Spring, Texas looking to sell houses by playing up the Spring, Texas/Hollywood connection. Did you know musician Lyle Lovett was from Spring, Texas? What about actor Matt Bomer who not only lived in Spring but went to my high school? I haven't heard of him either, but apparently he was named one of People Magazine's "Sexiest Rising Stars." It's enough to make me want to buy a house there.

I don't know what this is about.

Finally! After going through 10 pages of results, I come upon one thing that reminds me of home. This statue is of the talented Arabian race horse Morafic who spent his entire life in Egypt and never set foot in Texas. And yet for some reason this statue is at the entrance to my neighborhood in front of a large shopping center. Beautiful. Majestic. Just like Spring, Texas.

Ah, the memories. I can't wait to head home!

Monday, July 19, 2010

An ape's world: a review

This isn't strictly speaking a "book blog," but in as much as I do read and have opinions, and for no other reason than because I'm looking for something to write about--I submit for you: a book review. Since I've moved here, the overwhelming majority of my reading has been done on public transport, which usually means getting through a 600 page tome like The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore would be a long process undertaken in 30 minute increments. However, in the case of this book, I found the pages turning themselves quite quickly both on and off the N train.

The book, by recent Iowa MFA graduate Benjamin Hale, chronicles the life experiences of a chimp who learns to speak and gradually gains many human life experiences through his ability to communicate--including how to both befriend and love humans (accounting for some of the book's....queasier sections). His memoirs are told in first person retrospect from a research facility where he is held for life for murdering a man. The conceit is one that easily could have gone either way, but because of Hale's deft use of language, Bruno's oddly pompous ruminations spin a fascinating and believable tale. In the process, through Bruno and the people and animals he enounters, the book examines what it means to be human.

When I first started the book, I was excited about recommending it to people because I found the idea so innovative and the writing so fresh. After I got a little further in, the number of people I would recommend it to dropped off slightly. It was still just as interesting a book, but the bluntness of language during some instances was mildly disturbing. If you can measure the strength of a book by how visceral your reaction or how long you remember certain images, then this book is a herculean one. That said, less than 30 pages in, after a certain scene involving a frog, I realized I could no longer, in good conscience, pass this one on to my mother's book club.

Overall, this was an extremely well-written story that I found both thought-provoking and enjoyable. Usually when I hear about a young, first-time novelist who inspires a bidding war or gets published by Twelve (the fairly recent publisher that only publishes one book a month, to great success), it fills me with jealously, increduilty, and bitterness (what can I say...that's who I am). This is especially true if the novelist is a psuedo celebrity of reality tv fame, but I digress. In this case, the praise, the accolades, and whatever the payout was were richly deserved.

(This review was written from a review copy from the publisher. The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore is to be released by Twelve in February 2011.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The night I almost died

Last night I had a rather harried evening. I was planning to meet a (newly Astorian) friend for dinner at 7 and came home from work to relax and hang out with Dinah for an hour or so before heading out. Unfortunately, I'd left behind a pivotal ingredient to these plans on the desk at my office--namely the keys to my apartment. Luckily, my roommate was just getting off work and was able to let me in after about a half an hour. Not wanting to inconvenience my roommate when I went out later as well as realizing I probably needed a spare set of keys anyway, I set out to make a copy at the dollar store a block away.

This turned into a greater saga than it might initially appear because, as it turns out, keys made at the dollar store are not necessarily the highest functioning keys. Getting four keys (there are a lot of doors and locks to get into my apartment) that all worked ended up entailing three seperate trips back and forth between the dollar store and my apartment. It was on the second of these trips that a potentially life-threatening (or at the very least: potentially concussion-producing) event occured. For you see, next to the dollar store is a fish market with an artisically ambitious display involving fish, an assortment of shells, and what I can only describe as a large mermaid tail (either that or a headless fish). See picture below.
As a note: I can't take credit for this picture. I found it by google image searching "fish market astoria" and sifting through the results. All I can say about this picture is that it came with the label "a good fish market." Astorian Dream can neither confirm or deny this claim. The "mermaid tail" in question is directly between the two palm trees.

Anyway, as I was approaching the dollar store (which you can see in the picture is actually a 99 cent store), the entire mermaid tail fell off the building landing in a cacophonic crash of concrete base and rabbit wire approximately 6 feet in front of me. Oddly enough, this was percipiated by nothing. It rained a lot that day, and the weather has been undeniably humid, but there was no inciting force (a landing pigeon, perhaps, or enthusiastically discarded herring) to cause the crash. Luckily, both for me and the liability team at the fish market, I sustained no greater injury than a little cement dust to the eyes. Still, had I not been in a rush to get my keys, I might have been a little more shaken by the incident.

I regret that I didn't get a picture of the fallen wreckage. I was even accompanied by a talented photographer in possession of an iphone (albeit not the newest model). Were my blogging and journalistic instincts keener than my awe of my own mortality and the urgency of my quest for keys, I would have tried to get a good photo to post here. To their credit, the people at the fish market were very quick to clean everything up. They had put the pieces of mermaid tail in a dumpter and were already throwing (unfortunately fish-reaking) water onto the sidewalk when I returned for my final trip to the dollar store. I did take an "after" picture this morning of the changed decor, which you can see below:

Frankly, I think it's an improvement.

Now, just as a note, for those readers worried about my well being--Astoria is without a doubt a very safe neighborhood. I've lived here for the bulk of the two years I've lived in New York and never felt anything other than secure here. Aside from the odd mermaid tail falling here or there (which could really happen anywhere), I don't think my life has ever been in danger. Feeling safe and secure in your neighborhood despite paying low rents is all part of the Astorian dream.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Writing, (mostly) not my own

I'm going on vacation in a couple of weeks and was hoping to blog a lot before I leave to help get all of my dear readers through the tragic, and all too quickly approaching, week when I will be doing more interesting things than blogging. Then again, I'll actually be traveling with one of my most loyal commenters, and I'm sure the rest of you can get along without my words of wisdom for a time.

At any rate, my efforts to post frequently this week have been thwarted by an unfortunate case of writer's block. I have a lot of ideas, but no good ones. However, last night when I was looking through my "files" (a fairly loose designation for the plastic tub containing everything from my birth certificate to the lease to an apartment I lived in almost a year ago, all my tin whistle sheet music, and every birthday card I've ever received) and found some books written by the kids I work with at 826. 826 NYC is a charity devoted to tutoring children and encouraging creativity and writing. They also provide superhero supplies to the people of Brooklyn. For more information (and a very unflattering picture of me) you can check out this blog:

Anyway, I got to reading some of the kid's stories. I realized I probably should have started blogging when I was 8 because there is no greater cure for writer's block than having the unbridled creativity of a child. However, I'm still stuck. So instead of writing anything real, I'm going to give you a couple of quotes from my favorite stories. Trust me, these kids are good.

"The place was an abandoned apartment. Her name was Rosy. She was tall, lean , gorgeous, blond--probably had tons of boyfriends. She was wearing a white sweater, short skirt. Probably a cheerleader, you could tell. She had on the local school colors and dirt under her fingernails, plus her voice was a little hoarse."
-Justin, Age 10

"One day, at 12:00 am, when Billy Bob was getting honey from his bee cage, like he usually did four times a day, his arm jerked, because he's not that strong, and the honey fell all over his face and he fell into the closet, straight into the cages, and his shirt unlocked the cages for the python and the lion. The bees escaped. The python escaped. The lion escaped. Everything escaped."
-Tyler, Age 9

"Every morning when he wakes up, he runs over to check his safe of money. He then puts a big red check on his pajamas and throws them into the garbage (he wears different pajamas every day). He is 57, good-looking, nice, and cool and smart."
-Greg, Age 10

And my personal favorite (in honor of my home state and one of the places I'll be vacationing soon):

"In Texas, everyone helped one another. There were no worms, and families loved each other."
-Sebastian, Age 13

Thursday, July 8, 2010

If you give it away, they will come

Summer in New York means the shedding of drab winter coats for brightly colored sundresses and (for some) underwear-length shorts, a nightly soundtrack of people laughing at sidewalk cafes and the tuneful jingle of the Mr. Softee truck outside my window, summer Friday beach and camping trips, and (in the case of this summer) 101 degree heat waves. It also means a seemingly endless array of free entertainments throughout the city. Every park has a list of popular movies to show and/or a selection of concerts and dance performances. There are street fairs and firework shows aplenty. On the one hand, this is all wonderful, and I enjoy the plethora of free summer events as often as possible. But on the other hand: so do everyone else.

Not surprisingly, I am not the only city dweller, or human for that matter, who enjoys some good bargain entertainment with my warm weather. Unfortunatley, due to the sheer volume of people here, most of these "free" activities get paid for in either time committment or willingness to subject oneself to physical discomfort. On the Fourth of July, I ended up waiting over an hour in line in the hot sun for the free ferry to Governor's Island for a free She and Him concert.

Likewise, the movies in the park always seem like a good idea, but in reality you have to get there at 5:00 to get a decent spot on the lawn. Then it doesn't get dark until 9, at which point you've been drinking wine and picnicing for so long that you almost have no choice but to pass out during the actual movie. This happened last year to me during Close Encounters of the Third Kind, although I can't say I regret it. Similarly, the free philharmonic concert I went to in Central Park last year caused me to sit so far back that seeing the stage was difficult, much less hearing any sound from it. It was not a great venue for hearing talented musicians, but, as it turns out, it was a surprisingly great venue for listening to frat guys and Wall Street interns (a nominal distinction) wax nostalgic about how great beer is.

And then there is perhaps the most elusive of all free New York performances: Shakespeare in the Park. I was able to go last year after sticking it out in the standby line, and it was a lot of fun. This year, however, the performance of The Merchant of Venice received a glowing review and contains Al Pacino (whose fan base is apparently incredibly loyal). Tickets for each day's performance are handed out a 1:00 PM. Normally, I can't spend my day waiting in line (the eternal curse of the 9-5), but on Monday, as I had the day off, it seemed like a good time to try my luck. I got to the line at 8:00 in the morning, armed with a deck of cards, a blanket, a book, and feeling pretty proud of myself. Any smugness was dashed after following the mile long line to its conclusion. The people at the front of the line were passed out on air mattresses. After waiting less than half an hour, a kindly employee of the Public Theater informed us that while they couldn't force us to leave, there was no possible way we were getting tickets that far back. Someone asked how early the people who had a shot of getting tickets had gotten there. The answer: 5:30 in the morning. And really, I don't even like The Merchant of Venice that much.

Worth spending 8 hours of my life in 100 degree heat for?

After leaving the line, I went to the Guggenheim so that coming into Manhattan on my day off at 8:00 in the morning wouldn't be a total bust. I got there right when it was opening and the line was minimal. It was incredibly refreshing to wait in a short line, knowing that for the simple price of $15, we would be guaranteed admission to wander the musuem for as long as we liked. I do love living in a city that has so many wonderful cultural events for free. But sometimes it's nice to have some personal space or to not wake up in the middle of the night to camp outside of Central Park on air mattresses. And you just can't put a price on that.

Friday, July 2, 2010

My First Fourth

Okay, today marks my actual two year anniversary of moving to New York City. Yes, yes, I realize I jumped the gun a little with this previous post: I just enjoy reminiscing so damn much.

Anyway, that and the fact that I've got nothing else to write, has me thinking about my first (and, so far, only) 4th of July here. Although I'm not without my patriotism, 4th of July is not generally the most memorable holiday for me. Usually it just brings back childhood memories of legs sticking to lawn chairs, being eaten alive by mosquitoes while eating barbecue myself, Cool Whip slathered cakes with flags made out of berries, and shooting off fireworks unregulated in one of the many pros of living in un-annexed Harris County.

However, two years ago was different. Probably because I'd just moved to New York and was ready for some traditional city mouse type experiences, I was determined to watch the Macy's fireworks displays. I remember carefully looking up the subway directions and setting off with my then roommate, who was also a very recent New Yorker. We didn't have much of a problem getting there. (Good rule of thumb for going to parades and fireworks displays in New York: follow the enormous mass of people.) However, on the way back, we (showing an astuteness far beyond our week long New York City residence) decided to leave the show a few minutes early. We reasoned the finale of fireworks would be very much like the preceding 20 minutes of fireworks, and that juding by the crowds, the subway would be incredibly crowded if we waited it out to the end. We took off in the direction the subway should have been (according to our notes) and soon found ourselves in a dark and desserted part of the South Street Seaport. I remember asking a cop for directions who just seemed intent on pointing us back in the direction of the fireworks. After a good five minutes of wandering around aimlessly, we made it back to where we started just as the show was ending. We contritely followed the crowd back to the subway and ended up having to let several trains go by before we could finally fit on one.

Hopefully, this is 4th of July will be a little different. For one, I now know things, like where the subway stations are located and why watching the Macy's Fireworks from right at the Seaport isn't a good idea.