Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 25th, 2016

After many years of wishing I have finally received warm woolen socks as a Christmas present. Zoe is a free elf!


Sorry, Albus. Better luck next.... Sorry.

Happy Rod Serling's Birthday, everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Old Man Yells At Crowd

(Or: Peter Murphy Show: Cambridge: Middle East Downstairs: 12-9-16)


I have always struggled to understand why we go to shows and concerts (specifically of the rock and pop variety). At a live jazz show we can marvel at the art of improvisation. At the symphony we can appreciate the influence of the conductor and the power of the orchestra amplified in a concert hall. But at rock and pop shows the audience is effectively paying to listen to an inferior version of the songs whose studio masters we already know by heart.

Why? To stand in awe of a star’s presence?... To see a man fall apart on stage and shout at several persons throughout the night?

A month before the show, when Silvia informed me that she had acquired tickets for us, I was optimistic about the evening's prospects, despite my aforesaid reservations. I recalled enjoying myself at the other two Peter Murphy shows I saw well over a decade ago.

Middle East’s “Downstairs” venue hosts a monthly goth-industrial club, Xmortis, and the Peter Murphy show is synergizing with said club night on this occasion.

When we arrive in Cambridge all I can think about is the cold. The cold.

The girls suggested we’d have no problem getting parking near the venue, and I sympathized with the desire to defy pricey coat checks. So I didn’t wear an overcoat or hat. This was a mistake.

My outfit: a thin v-neck t-shirt, a decorative (ineffective) Parisian scarf, a jacket with the insular strength of cheesecloth, cheap skinny jeans and thin boots. My toes remained numb until two hours after we were admitted indoors.

This was after standing in a half hour line outside in 20 degrees Fahrenheit weather. I was shivering violently.

The queue should not have been necessary, but one person alone was handling the sale of tickets, the Will Call, and the checking of IDs. The tip of the iceberg regarding the venue’s incompetence and apathy.

Apart from the bartenders, anyone who showed up to work that night wished they hadn’t.

Would the show have intentionally started an hour late even if the venue had managed to get people indoors on schedule? I’ll never know.

Before the show begins Silvia tells me that she has discovered that for $200 a pop attendees can participate in a meet and greet with Murphy after the show.

Sound problems caused loud pops and hisses for the first half of the show. Sound checks? Bah!

How cadaverous Peter Murphy looks, I can’t help but observe from the back of the hall. Is that an affect or mere entropy?

At 9:45pm Murphy trails out of a song by shouting. A few security guards can’t be bothered to have any regard for some white guy from the UK so they are eating their lunch on the side of his very small stage. They are as much on display as Murphy’s two accompanists.

“Fuck off out of my sight!... Don’t yell at me!”

In our society, the worst thing that can befall a human is being disrespected, so rather than show deference the three security guards challenge and threaten Murphy.

It’s an irony I’ve never been able to reconcile, that those who are hired to act as ‘Security’ are inevitably those from whom one most needs protection.

“Security’s challenging me? Seriously?” Murphy removed his guitar and left the stage.

The small part of me that counts the minutes until outings are over – that wants to go home where it is warm and read a book – is secretly hoping that the evening might come to an abrupt end.

Behind me, just outside the venue’s glass doors, security is being made to explain themselves. I can’t make out a word, I can only read demonstratively defensive body language.

Nine minutes later Murphy returned. Venue management, having no choice but to get involved, arranged for no more picnics to take place on stage during the show.

“This fuckin’ guy kicks three thousand dollars worth of [indecipherable]!” Then he launches into ‘King Volcano.’

Later, Silvia and I would compare notes, both surprised at the amount of Bauhaus songs in the playlist.

Between encore songs Murphy is rehashing the security issue. A mealy-mouthed person from the crowd apparently accuses him of bias against security because they were black.

“Fuck you, you fucking Boston cunt!”

Then it turns political. “Like the English haven’t been fucking racist against the Irish for centuries?!” One girl in the back is impressed by this point.

The election is brought up. Murphy soon declares that the heckler needs to go if he’s going to continue.

Then, after yet another confrontation that might’ve left me shaking if I were in his place, he goes right into the next song on the list. Is he not phased? Is this hostility normal? Is the performance of these tunes such rote memory that no real presence is required?

‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ is the final song. Silvia wonders if the performance were meant to emulate the opening scene from The Hunger.

Nashla, who disappeared hours ago, managed to wiggle her way to the front of the stage. Her vantage point plus her double whiskey equal the decree that it was a great show.

I can’t help but reflect on the previous two Peter Murphy shows I had seen, which were graceful, beautiful, harmonious, and full of his solo work rather than dissonant Bauhaus classics. The clunky analogy I cannot get out of my head is Rocky to Rocky V. In the former an earnest champ performs valiantly and inspires. In the latter a punch-drunk has-been is getting into fights in the alley for nickels.

The DJ begins spinning tunes. The lights eventually dim. The club Xmortis commences. The goths and rivetheads begin dancing on a floor decorated with dozens of plastic cups and empty beer cans.

Silvia points out that the DJ actually uses folders of CDs rather than a laptop. I’m impressed. His selections are good. I can’t bring myself to dance but am happy that the girls can and are.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Except From My Dream Last Night

"Now you have to decide whether you want your ashes thrown away or placed with a dog."

"What do you mean with a dog?"

Enter image of Scottish Terrier with a small wooden cask hanging around its neck.

"And where is the dog going to go?"

"Wherever it goes; on its adventures."

"Sold."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Broken Glass Like Wind Chimes"

(Or: Travelogue: "New York With Kallie")

Kallie talks to animals and forgets to eat. She is musical by vocation and avocation. I like to think of her as the Snow White of Queens.

She has lived in New York for years and until she invited us I had never visited. Television and movies did a thorough job of filling my head with assumptions about the Big Apple all the same: litter skips down every avenue like tumbleweeds; in Central Park they hunt for murder victims like they were Easter Eggs; car horns are always blaring, day and night; and the populace is of a temperament ranging from hostile to feral.

Kallie allowing us to bivouac in her unusually capacious living room allowed me to seek an answer to these questions and another: why does anyone live in New York?


THURSDAY

New Yorkers' favorite hobby is honking car horns. They especially enjoy honking at a car in front of them if a pedestrian is crossing which someone has opted not to hit. Pedestrians are bad, and should be struck with every given opportunity. Honking a car horn in order to arrive at the next light 0.5 seconds faster is the only modus operandi conceivable.


Kallie has been hit by taxis. She tells us this after we park, settle in, and set out on foot in search of food. Nearly a decade ago, shortly after she moved here, she saw a homeless man get run down by a taxi.

"The cab ran over him, then backed up over him, crushing his limbs, then drove over him again in order to drive off."

She called 911 and waited with him for an ambulance to arrive.

"What a lovely place," is all I can think of to say in response.

Her neighborhood is very Greek, and so is the food. Per my request, we opt instead for sushi for our first dinner in Queens. Location: GoWasabi at 34-02 30th avenue.


Whenever feasible, I like to sample sushi when we travel, hoping that some day I'll find an area that combines the quality, selection and reasonable pricing I was spoiled with in Southern California. New England is an utter wasteland when it comes to edible sushi.

Both Kallie and I appreciate that Go Wasabi's sushi rice is the correct temperature - body temperature, not cold. It's sad how many sushi places serve cold rice. Most sushi places know they can get away with serving a mediocre product because most of the philistines who consume sushi in this country are drowning it in so much soy sauce and fake wasabi that they can't taste the difference between hamachi and saba... But I digress. The worst criticism I can level at a sushi place is if I touch the soy sauce, and I did not do this at GoWasabi.


Silvia opted for the bibimbap, her favorite Korean dish.


After dinner, on the way to Kallie's local for a nightcap, we pass a place she discovered is "a front" where her friend, while Kallie was in the restroom, was asked how much for Kallie; "yeah, we buy girls here." Moving on.

Kallie's local, which does not arrange companionship, is the Sparrow Tavern. It's a cozy place, albeit steeply priced, and has a good music playlist. We enjoyed hearing Total Coelo's "I Eat Cannibals" during our visit.

I was full of calories and wired. Fortunately, Kallie keeps an insomniac's supply of sleep aids on hand. I passed on the Valerian (ineffective) and melatonin (nightmares) but was intrigued by what she called "ID NyQuil." I had three (or so) capfuls and a few doses of diphenhydramine to hedge my bets. Once I reached a semi-conscious state the ghostly wails of the train and its clanging steel girders caused reality to tessellate into an alternating pattern of light and dark. It was a semi-synesthetic experience comparable to salvia, but not nearly as horrific.

FRIDAY




The Metropolitan Museum of Art is big. Louvre big. In 8 years Kallie feels she has barely scratched its surface.

The crowd on the front steps is bad and the crowd just inside the doors is much worse; a public bath of viscous, human filth.

That's another thing I learned about New York: the words "excuse me," "pardon," and "sorry" have not been uttered in the city for nearly a century, historians estimate. One is simply elbowed or shoved impersonally and without regard.

The general din diminishes further inside the museum. Within its depths the only bothersome trigger are the many people who insist on touching priceless works of art. Whenever I see a person do this I feel compelled to stab them in the face. The less malignant class of philistines merely block the works while taking selfies.

"Tomorrow is Never" (1955) by Kay Sage, one of the most prominent women associated with Surrealism in the United States. Sage committed suicide 8 years after completing this painting.

 Silvia loves Egyptian artifacts.




The Met is one of a few museums that border Central Park. Exploring its periphery, we did not find any murder victims tucked under bushes. Maybe next time.


SATURDAY



Good luck trying to read a map of the New York subway - someone is already sitting in front of it. Nary a diagram is seen outside an actual train car.

Kallie keeps herself in a constant state of under-hydration because of mass transit. She's been stuck in subway cars for hours on end. She's seen trapped girls with full bladders resort to crawling out onto the perilous gap between cars and squat, having no other recourse.



That morning we were taking the Q line towards one of the Pilates classes she teaches. En route she walked us by a few New York icons such as the Flatiron Building, one of her favorite New York buildings. At its base is an Argo Tea where she gets her morning fix. Though barely discernible, she pointed out that the building is topped with a stone angel, overseeing.



She took us through Gramercy Park - or rather, the neighborhood of which you must be a tenant in order to have a key to access Gramercy Park. Within the gate we spied a statue of Edwin Booth, brother of Lincoln's assassin, likewise an actor.



One side of the square is taken up by The National Arts Club, founded 1898.

We left Kallie to teach Pilates to those comfortable with doing so in a glass display case.


Silvia and I walked to Union Square to patronize the farmers' market and to be accosted by people screaming about Jesus and foreskin.

Silvia picked up a gluten-free muffin for Kallie. She's the only person I've yet met who legitimately cannot have gluten. Nor can she imbibe soy, yeast, oysters or mussels.

Kallie's class completed, we made our way through the East Village to one of the main attractions on my personal New York itinerary: Momofuku Noodle Bar, the first of David Chang's restaurants. Silvia and I shared a shiitake bun while she had a bowl of ginger scallion noodles and I enjoyed the signature Momofuku ramen.




David Chang is a Korean-American chef who traveled to Japan in order to bring knowledge of traditional ramen back to the States. It is as enjoyable as I hoped and full of umami goodness, but the real revelation of this visit was the Ssäm Sauce.


Ssäm Sauce drizzled on a steamed bun - with any protein - is just heavenly. I have already ordered myself two bottles through mail order from Momofuku Lab. As soon as it arrives I'm planning to teach myself to make bibimbap.


The remainder of our tour included such colossal sights as Grand Central Station.





It was the first time since Paris that I saw uniformed, armed guards patrolling a train depot



Kallie then took us to the New York Public Library, most of which was closed for refurbishment, depriving us of several sets from the original Ghostbusters. (I knew where we were as soon as I saw the stone lions out front, as seen in the first act of a VHS I watched a hundred times as a child.)


We did get to see one small hall of genealogical and immigration records, as well as a hallway I at first thought was an art installation until I realized it was merely being repainted.




We then took the cable cars to Roosevelt Island, which has its own softball field. Though tiny, many people live here. We rested our trembling legs for a few moments before taking the cable cars back.

Though stuffy and cramped, these floating glass boxes provide a staggering view.


Once the cars crest Manhattan you find yourself swooping past enormous chasms between cliffs of concrete, glass and steel. One after another. Each vehicle-saturated avenue is ornamented with at least one spot of glittering blue light - an ambulance, a police car - some azure flare denoting dilemma.

One unending avenue flanked by titanic towers after another, always at least one casualty occurring at all times. Manhattan is a strange beast, nourished by a blood sacrifice paid continually to its streets.

What terrible Leviathan might rise from the Atlantic if this tribute were not bled?

SUNDAY




Breakfast at the Astor Bake Shop. Silvia had an omelette, I had a smoked salmon sandwich. The Astor Bake Shop, like its neighborhood, is Greek to its bones. Astoria is so Greek that the neighborhood fences are often plated platinum or gold.


Never have I imbibed so many carbs with such impunity, such is the pedestrian nature of life in New York; there are no obese persons to be seen.



Bronze, quasi-Dozers on the subway.

This was to be theatre night.

But first Kallie took us to the Chelsea Market where Silvia enjoyed the sampler from Beyond Sushi, a popular vegan sushi place.


She found it tasty, and I imagine more rewarding than the typical cucumber roll she's resigned to whenever she enables my sushi habit. I had a rather flavorless crepe from a neighboring stall. I try not to name mediocre establishments in my travelogues due to a lingering sense of playground honor: I'm not going to tell on them.


To wash down my disappointing crepe I treated myself to a half dozen oysters from Cull & Pistol. Satisfying.

To traverse the space between the Chelsea Market and the McKittrick Hotel Kallie guided us to the Highline: one of New York's greatest ideas.


Kallie likens it to a steam valve erected to release tension among New Yorkers, who are prone to shove each other onto subway tracks when hostility boils over the crest of atavism.






The Highline allows pedestrians to walk as much as a mile and a half without dealing with a stoplight or vehicular juggernauts. It is a re-purposing of an elevated rail line that once transported supplies for the Manhattan Project. The original rails are still intact.

Kallie and I running from an abrupt rainstorm.

We stopped into a bar for a pre-show martini for myself and a rosé for Kallie - at the first of three or so consecutive venues that could not make Silvia a White Russian for some reason - then proceeded to the McKittrick Hotel and 'Sleep No More.'

As photography and recording is not permitted, any image here representing the show is appropriated from the internet.

I was skeptical about 'Sleep No More.' Our friend Kate put a bug in Silvia's ear about it and I garnered the wrong impression regarding its nature. I was afraid it would be "interactive," like kind of hackneyed murder mystery dinner kitsch I loathe so much. It is, instead, "immersive;" but even that is an unsuitable adjective.

I run the risk here of writing an unending torrent of gushing details about 'Sleep No More.' I'm going to try to avoid this by writing as little as possible.

You are given a Venetian mask and led through a twisting set of dark passages. When you emerge a hostess politely advises you that beyond this point your masks must remain on at all times and there is no talking.

What follows is like being trapped in the most magnificent, beautiful nightmare.

You are free to wander about as you please and follow any character of your choosing as their paths crisscross. What you are witnessing is an elaborate, macabre pantomime loosely based on Macbeth. 



The music and lighting effects create a seductive atmosphere that would be captivating on its own without the dramatization unfolding.

In one small space I found a chess board with tiny trees glued to the spaces like pieces. Later, I inexplicably found myself in a barren forest with the distinct impression that the trees were closing in on me. ('Till Burnam wood remove to Dunsinane...)

Towards the climax of the show I somehow wandered into a room with a bloody orgy and strobe lights.

Silvia and Kallie followed entirely different fractal paths than I. Each of us saw a different show.

I cannot recommend 'Sleep No More' enough. As far as I'm concerned it is one of the great triumphs in the history of avant-garde theatre.

When the show ends - with such somber gravity that the audience does not think to applaud - you make your way back to the 1930's style lounge where a band is playing and all is revelry.

If you like you can take an elevator to the rooftop bar and compare notes with your companions in the night air.





I want to lay flower petals before the paths of those who created this show. I want to see it 20 more times, because I'm certain one could see it much more than that and never repeat the same experience.

MONDAY


I enjoyed my first halal cart food breakfast on the edge of Central Park. Delicious.

We spent most of the day at the Museum of Natural History, founded by the Roosevelt family. It is very large, as is its collection of dinosaur fossils. The size of the replica of Titanosaurus defies pithy analogy.




When visiting a new major metropolis I like taking in a ball game when feasible, especially if my team is playing. Silvia enables me. Thus did we make our way that evening to Yankee Stadium. Rather, the New Yankee Stadium, an underwhelming structure with a sterile, forgettable visage.

How dull and sedate the Yankee crowd (like the New Yankee Stadium) is. The one positive thing I can say about the New Yankee Stadium is that it contains the least horrifying restrooms of any ball park I've ever visited.


At Yankee Stadium hardly a gaze lifted from perpetual mobile device stupor. All except the six young Japanese women near us all sporting Tanaka jerseys (as Tanaka was pitching for New York that night).

Many New Yorkers can't be bothered to pay the game particular heed because of general self-absorption. Take, for example, the boisterous ginger wearing a suit directly behind us who spent the entire game yammering loudly to his neighbors about his professional and collegiate career, about what he was and wasn't willing to do with his law degree, about how Orthodox Jews horde cash, and a myriad other banal details expositing his shrewd magnificence. I was able to focus on the game and, for the most part, shut him out. At a certain point Silvia reached the limit of how much inane gibberish she could absorb in one day, turned and politely said:

"Excuse me, but I've had no choice but to listen to you the entire time we've been here, and all you talk about is basically price point - and yes, I understand that that's the world we live in, and you epitomize it, so I must ask if at any point you've given any thought to the idea of making a difference; of doing something worthwhile? It's none of my business outside of the fact that somehow at a ball park we've not been able to hear anything but you for the last 90 minutes. So you may as well get some feedback and be provoked into imaging that there is more to the universe than yourself. Take it for what it's worth."

Happily, that bought us a good 20 minutes of relative silence.

Yankee fandom related memory: a former boss was asking a former coworker about his favorite teams in various sports, and arrived finally at baseball.

"The Yankees! Definitely the Yankees" he answered.

"Oh," Boss said, "did you get to see them when they were in town for such-and-such series?"

"What?" Coworker was almost offended. "Oh hell no! I would never see a baseball game. I hate baseball."


In the end, my Halos did what they always do: hang on by a slim lead or margin until the bullpen destroys everything in the last three innings.

Overall appraisal: Yankee Stadium is for tourists and people who say things like "father says the smart money is in polo shirts."

TUESDAY

The day of our departure.

Our destination was Ditmars (Boulevard) in search of lunch.


"The East River has so much broken glass in it," said Kallie, "that the ripples on the shore almost sound like wind chimes."

So we stop to listen, and it does. She has made recordings of it.

We stopped at Taverna Kyclades, which has a queue into the street on the weekends, Kallie says.


Here I had the first grape leaves I've ever actually enjoyed, as they were warm and fresh. I had the lunch special fillet - a random broiled whitefish of some sort - and the girls each had a salad. Good lunch, all in all. Greek to the core, like its neighborhood, like the staff, like most of the patrons.

Then back to New England we drove.

I was left with an unanswered question: why do people live in New York?

Could it possibly be for all the reasons I think people wouldn't want to live here?

Kallie had said something peculiar: "if you get lost, ask for directions." Asking a stranger for help seemed counter-intuitive given every vibe emitted from this strange network of islands. She explained that New Yorkers like to show off how well they know their city and how to navigate it.

I'm unable to not think of a speech by another New Yorker, Andre Gregory, in the film 'My Dinner With Andre.'

"...And when I met him at Findhorn, he said to me, "Where are you from?" and I said, "New York." He said, "Ah, New York. Yes, that's a very interesting place. Do you know a lot of New Yorkers who keep talking about the fact that they want to leave, but never do?" And I said, "Oh, yes." And he said, "Why do you think they don't leave?" I gave him different banal theories. He said, "Oh, I don't think it's that way at all." He said, "I think that New York is the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing they've built. They've built their own prison. And so they exist in a state of schizophrenia where they are both guards and prisoners, and as a result, they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made or to even see it as a prison." And then he went into his pocket, and he took out a seed for a tree and he said, "This is a pine tree." He put it in my hand and he said, "Escape before it's too late.""
 
As appealing as I find this glibness, I know there's more to it. I'm just going to need more time.
 
Fortunately, Kallie is still happy to have us back and show off New York a little more.