Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The James Francos of

Last year, around this time, I wrote about attending Erasers for Breakfast, 826 NYC's annual film festival to showcase the kids' masterpieces from the summer film program. This year, around this time, and specifically last night, I attended Erasers for Breakfast 2011 and was yet again blown away by the talent and creativity of the young'uns. This both inspires me to work on my own creative pursuits and makes me jealous of 10-year-olds for having seemingly endless time and a fountain of fresh ideas. I probably should have written more down when I was 10 because I'm pretty sure I had better ideas back then, and I certainly had more of them.

But enough stewing on past regrets! I wanted to share some of the kids' stories and film ideas because I enjoyed them so much and because they deserve credit before I try to pass them off as my own. My favorite film this year (almost on par with last year's favorite "There's One I in President") was called "Shhhhh!" and told the story of a fairy tale village in Prospect Park beset by an evil librarian (I hope no umbrage will be taken by any of the wonderful, far-from-evil librarians in my life). The villain of the story was on a mission to capture all the world's sounds in little jars and thus the townspeople were reduced to speaking with signs and resorting to silent movie over-acting. Her mission would only be complete when she captured the final missing sound, which, as it turns out, was that of a ukulele. The cleverness of the film was mostly in the details. In the librarian's evil layer they had taken the time to label all the canisters of sound behind her including everything from "ringtone" to "birds whistling" and my personal favorite "Bieber." Not to spoil the ending, lest "Shhhh!" should ever receive the wider audience it deserves, but suffice is to say it involves bagels, an army of ukuleles, and just the right amount of karmic justice.

The evening included two other "feature length" films and two short films which were all equally charming. One of the shorts "Old Ninja" was about an octogenarian ninja who fights crime in mostly serendipitous and stereotypic old-man-in-New-York sort of ways. It was made even more delightful through the use of a catchy theme song. There was also an excellent story involving a set of interns who have to take over the news show after all the real anchors are beset by donut-induced food poisoning. This could seriously be a Judd Apatow movie by next summer, only it will sadly lack the raw authenticity.

One of the films scores was done by a musician who is apparently well known (by Brooklyn hipsters) as evidenced by how many people took out their iphones to record him. However, being hopelessly unhip (I still mostly just listen to that wrong?), I've never heard of him. In fact, I thought based on the few words he spoke that he had a southern accent, but apparently he is Norwegian. At any rate, I liked the song he played, so I will leave you with that.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Raining on my parade

Three weeks ago, my friend and I though it would be a fun idea to go wine tasting in North Fork at the east end of Long Island. There is a large cluster of wineries there, and it seemed like a lovely end-of-summer activity to drive or bike around them. We planned far in advance, knowing the difficulty of working around the plans of other New Yorkers, and even convinced five other people to go with us. Alas, I am not currently swirling wine to aerate it in an austere tasting room at this moment because instead I am sitting in my apartment on hurricane watch.

Up until yesterday, I was still naively convinced that this trip would be doable as, until yesterday, there was only a 30% chance of rain today. However, now it's an 80% chance of rain, and they've also closed all public transit, so I'm essentially stuck in Astoria (not that I would ever say that on my blog as a negative thing!) until Monday morning. Luckily, assuming the power doesn't go out, I can spend this time on a sort of writer's retreat. I have a book due in a couple of weeks that is ironically on the subject of rising oceans due to climate change. The entire introductory chapter was about New York City's precarious position in the event of a storm surge. I submitted this introduction to my editor two weeks ago as a sample chapter with the note: "Too apocalyptic for 5th grade? Let me know, and I'll tone that down a bit." He told me he'd get me feedback this week, so we'll see how that goes.

I went to the store last night and was not surprised to find it mobbed. Flashlights were out, but I got a few candles. Today, I realized a few items I forgot at the grocery store, but I was scared to go back. Luckily, there is a small organic grocery store between the two larger supermarkets. There was barely anyone in there as apparently, hurricane or not, people are not willing to pay twice as much for organic canned ravioli. At least not in my neighborhood. A friend who lives in Brooklyn said there are no gallons of water left in her neighborhood so she became the "caricature of a New Yorker, walking out of the store with 2 big bottles of Evian under my arms."

Dinah's contribution to the storm preparedness effort.

Being from Houston, I'm inclined to feel this will probably just blow over with a bunch of rain and wind and not too much else. Nevertheless, it never hurts to be prepared! Especially when this means buying canned junk food in the name of preparedness. Another item on the hurricane survival list: red wine. It's one of those things that tastes just fine at room temperature. I might not be in a vineyard in North Fork, but hurricane Irene can stop me from enjoying Long Island's finest.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hamptons holiday

This weekend, I traveled eastward on Long Island to visit some friends in their summer house in East Hampton. By virtue of generally being friends with people in my own tax bracket, weekending in the Hamptons at someone's summer house is not something I generally do. Luckily for me, one of my friends is working as a production editor on a movie (I won't go into details, but it may or may not be the sequel to Men and Black II), and the director wanted to do the director's cut at his summer house. Naturally, as would explain the large expense that goes into making big studio films, room was found in the budget to rent houses for the staff to live there for the summer. Columbia Pictures' largesse is my gain. I might even repay them by spending the $15 to go see the movie in the theater. Then again, by Memorial Day 2012, my Hamptons tan will undoubtedly have worn off, and I might not feel so magnanimous.

So what are my impressions of the Hamptons as seen through the eyes of someone who regularly summers in the same place I winter, spring, and fall? East Hampton is quite a lovely small town with very clean beaches, huge houses, and a not so subtle air of entitlement wafting through the summer breezes. It's also very dark there, making for excellent star gazing. On Saturday, we went to the beach at one of the nearby state parks. Apparently it was one of the few beaches that didn't involve some expensive permit to set foot on. That said, you still needed to pay $400 a summer to park there. We chose to park in town and walk the mile or so instead.

Thanks to the shade of this beach umbrella and some SPF 45, I was came away from this beach experience unburned.

My new favorite New York beach. That said, if I had millions of dollars to invest in summer real estate, I'd probably get a place on the Riviera.

Isn't that quaint? They even let you rent bath houses. For the hoi polloi who don't have houses right on the beach, that is.

After returning from the beach, we'd considered going to a polo match apparently held every Saturday afternoon in East Hampton. None of our group were particular polo aficionados, but it seemed like a very Hamptons pastime. Unfortunately, not all of us could fit in one car and they charged by the car to park. We considered parking in a nearby K-Mart parking lot (I'm as shocked as you are that a K-Mart could be within walking distance of a polo field or allowed by the zoning laws of East Hampton all together). However, despite being in close proximity, it appeared on google maps that the walk entailed crossing some train tracks and possibly wading through a shallow marsh. In the end, we forewent polo in favor of an evening of grilling, eating mass amounts of potato salad, drinking vodka lemonades, and playing board games.

In the rental house, we found a game called Identity that was made in 1988. Basically, you get a card with a the name of a famous person (that is: a person famous prior to 1988). You have to get the other players to guess the name of famous person by answering questions they ask you. These questions range from the fairly obtuse "If you were a doctor's medical speciality, which would you be?" to the query-on-a-1980s-personal-ad-video "If you were a message in a bottle, which would you be?" All questions were formed with the grammatically rigid "which" as if there are a finite number of messages in a bottle out there and you simply have to pick one. Based on the level of dust on this game, we suspect we are the only Hamptons house renters to attempt playing.

On Sunday, after the most delicious pancakes I have ever eaten, we decided to try another upper crust Hamptons activity: croquet. There was a set in the basement, so it seemed logical to dust it off and stick some wickets.

Part of the rules of our croquet game was that the shooter had to wear this straw hat. Don't let my superior croquet form here fool you, I came in second to last.

Most of the weekend was spent grilling food of some sort. Everything tastes better on a BBQ, and it is one thing I sorely miss about living in the city and not having a backyard. Above are some delicious kebabs being made. Not pictured, but also consumed this weekend: hamburgers, loaded baked potato salad, spinach stuffed shells, breadsticks, 3 bags of potato chips, cookies, cucumber salad, one rainbow cheesecake, pancakes, bagels, and a number of s'mores. These things are what I truly miss about the Hamptons.

Now I'm back in the city listening to the rain and thinking about how even if the clouds were to clear, I could not see the stars. Much thanks to my friends for a lovely weekend away! Also, thanks to Barry Sonnenfeld, without whom, none of this would be possible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A little WWII era Florida in Queens

I meant to write about this sooner since it was something I went to this past weekend. But then I got busy. And here we are, Wednesday, and the only words I've added to the blogger annals in the last week or so are about my cat. But yes, Wednesday or not, I can't not post about this because it is something I did in Long Island City which is Astoria adjacent, and I so rarely do things that come close to approximating my blog's original non-mission-statement.

So yes, this past weekend a friend (a Brooklynite biker who doesn't shy away from cross borough travel) invited me to an event in Long Island City. It was called The Palms, and it was billed as an attempt to transform a parking lot and raw building space into a "1940s Boca Raton resort experience with music, spectacle, and hedonism." Also, there were dumpster pools.

Dumpster pools were a popular thing last summer when there were a handful of free ones in Manhattan, but I never got to try one. They are basically what they sound like: swimming pools created from fully lined trash dumpsters. I think I read that the dumpsters in question were never previously used for trash disposal, but that may be just a thing they tell you. Either way it was fun to take a dip in one of them!

Dumpster pools: bringing new meaning to the concept of "dumpster diving."

The Palms was essentially a parking lot with fake grass and fancy lounge chairs (sadly, all taken by the time we got there). There were some tunes playing and people dancing with hula hoops (which I guess was hedonistic by 1940s standards?). There was also a nice bar selling sangria and a truck selling lobster rolls at the very 2011 price of $18 a piece.

In terms of "spectacle" there was a man doing some sort of public art piece. He was laying in front of the bar wrapped in a carpet. A tip jar on the bar had a sign on it that said "Please step on me." He was very encouraging of people standing on him. In fact, when I accidentally made eye contact while questioning if he would mind being in a photo (this was directly before realizing my camera was out of batteries--hence why there are no actual photos of The Palms in this post), he kept gesturing at me to stand on him. Rather than assume I was abstaining because I didn't feel comfortable standing on top of a stranger, he thought it was because his sign wasn't facing outward enough. He even unrolled himself from the carpet to adjust it. I'm not sure what the statement he was making was exactly, but it did seem to add to a certain spectacle.

The Palms is open every weekend until Labor Day. My friend and I went in the afternoon, but apparently the party goes until midnight. Any Astorian readers out there should definitely check it out. Just remember to bring your own towel because they charge $15 for those. Also BYOWG (bring your own water gun) because for some reason they have those on sale for $65. $65! And they're plastic! Sometimes I don't understand New York.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I'll be honest, this is mostly about my cat

A friend sent me this a while ago, and today I felt like posting it. After all, I finally figured how to post videos a few weeks ago.

I think it's a fairly accurate representation of what my life is like. The creator ( has a number of videos that similarly capture the inexpressible joy of cat ownership: Okay, now that's it's uploaded incorrectly, I realize I don't have the power to get a video in the correct format on this computer. I'm leaving it there anyway as a testament to my attempt, until I can get it fixed. Until then, just follow the links above.

In Dinah news, she continues to delight with her feline quirkiness. Her favorite thing to do is to chew up headphones that haven't properly been stored in a drawer. She has been known to attempt to open a sliding drawer to get at headphones she knows are inside. She is nothing if not single-minded in hunting down and destroying them. Ear buds will be completely chewed up to the point that their tiny innards are splayed in a totally unusable mix of wires. Larger ear phones will mostly just get a thorough licking. I don't know why she does this, but it seems to also extend to ear plugs which we can no longer keep in the house.

I took her to the vet this week for her yearly check-up. The vet was someone filling in, who was much more of a salesman than her previous vet. He immediately detected a potential tumor while feeling my cat's, admittedly rather larger than it should be, belly (she's in the process of losing 2 pounds--but she doesn't like to talk about it). He asked to do an x-ray to double check. I'll admit, my first reaction was to want to ask " much?" But then, even though I was somewhat mistrustful of this new guy, I didn't want to be the jerk that let my cat's tumor go undiagnosed because I'm cheap. So one $95 x-ray later and we were able to see that what he'd thought was "maybe a tumor" was actually just a kibble baby. I guess because he thought we should get our money's worth the doctor was insistent about pointing out all the non-tumor-things on the x-ray. "See...that's some food...and that's also food. That right there is some fecal matter. This larger area down here is more food." Ah yes, money well spent.

This is basically her life. That, and apparently, eating her entire day's allotment of kibble right before I come home to take her to the vet.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Apologies for writing under the influence of eggplant parmesan and a couple of glasses of wine

I might not be doing the same amount of writing here for the next month or so because none of my readers pay me and my freelance employer does. More importantly, they except me to turn in 23,000 words on subjects ranging from rising ocean levels due to climate change to Wikipedia founder and technology mogul Jimmy Wales in the next month or so. (And by "ranging from," I really mean just those two things).

But really what is my writing but empty words trying to express experiences much better captured in images? To that end, here are a couple of photos from my beach weekend. Well, not so much weekend as a single summer Friday followed by two days of clouds and rain. Which really was fine by me because I was (mostly) confined to my keyboard penning lines from what will become the definitive biography of Jimmy Wales. And I know it will be the definitive text because there are currently very few sources in existence in the New York Public Library system devoted to the man from which I might draw my research. My only recourse has been to pore over various interviews Wales has given over the years. Through which I've determined he's kind of insufferable. So this is going to be a long 15,000 words. But that is my cross to bear. At any rate, enjoy these photos from Long Beach, NY--the jewel of Long Island.

The fact that there isn't broken glass on the beach make it worth the $11 for beach access. The beauty is just a bonus.

I'm only this carefree and looking at the world through rose colored glasses when on the Long Beach boardwalk on my way to BBQ legend Swing Bellys

See that sky? Talk about blue!

Taking photos of the platform did not make the train back to the city come any faster.

Also, I promise not to blog while drinking in the future. It might not help my writing much, but it certainly makes reading quotes from Jimmy like "I make the Internet not suck" easier to stomach. Until next time, readers!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why the long face?: A Review

When I was 14, I innocently went to see the play Equus. With my parents. So vividly do I recall this experience that I had no need to see the Daniel Radcliffe incarnation when it was in town a couple of years ago. As such, I had not seen a play centering on the pain and suffering of horses in over a decade. That is until Tuesday night.

I had heard a lot of buzz about War Horse, up to and including its Tony win for best play. However, I hadn't really considered seeing it because, for better or worse, my Broadway dollars tend to go more towards comedies and musicals. However, my boyfriend had seen a talk about the puppets and puppeteers in the show and wanted to see it, so for his birthday this year, I got tickets.

Overall, it was a phenomenal show. It's amazing how they make the horses come alive. Even though you can see two pairs of human legs underneath and another person walking in front of the horse to operate the head--those three puppeteers completely disappear and all you see is a living, breathing equine. I'd heard the show criticized (I can't remember where, but, based on the criticism, I would guess the New York Times) for being too simple a story and being easily written off as a play for children. The story line is admittedly fairly straightforward and the twists and turns are pretty standard. War Horse is definitely a play that is driven by emotion and not by super memorable dialogue. That said, I don't see how this is a play for children any more than Equus is. (Okay, maybe a little more than Equus is.) Sure kids love horses, but I'm not sure at what age a child needs to start learning about trench foot, people being taken down my machine gun fire or tear gas, or a horse being put out of its misery with a knife through the brain. That, coupled with the fact that apparently in addition to the 10 million people who died during WWI, apparently 8 million horses were also killed. Outside of The Sound of Music, world wars make questionable children's programming.

One of the things I'd heard repeated about War Horse was that it caused audiences full of grown men and women to weep openly. The play was certainly a tear-jerker, but not in the way I thought it would be (which I hope isn't too much of a spoiler). Normally I instinctively dislike anything that I feel like is trying too hard to pull at my heartstrings. I'm still pissed at both 12-year-old me and Michael Bay for making me cry at the end of Armageddon. No tears should ever be shed over any dialogue issued by Billy Bob Thornton. But I digress. The fact that the play was working the emotional angle pretty hard didn't make me dislike it. In the end, I think because the horses were such captivating stage presences, I really felt that the relationship between a boy and his horse was worth all the hype.

Second to the fantastic puppetry, the show was aided by some excellent music. There was a somewhat maudlin singer, a violinist, an accordion player, and a number of other Irish musicians who tied the play together like a Greek chorus. Perhaps it's my soft spot for Irish music, but I felt like it drew me into the play far more.

Overall, I recommend this experience highly. It's very different from any play I've seen on Broadway before. I'm skeptical of the Steven Speilburg movie coming out later this year. I think it will be all of the histrionics and none of the spirit. And using real horses instead of puppets makes it run the risk of being just another WWI horse movie. Nevertheless, I'll probably see it. And I'll probably cry.

Here are some clips from War Horse: