All articles, tagged with “new york fuckin' city”

in loving memory

 

ghosts

cry the beloved city

One of the subtle joys of being a relative newcomer to New York is that once your immigrant status has been ascertained, you are immediately made a subject for the inevitable “New York used to be so much better back when…” rants by your native or older-immigrant friends. Of course, nostalgia for the past is hardly a unique attribute to this city, but what is a little eyebrow-raising for the recent arrival is that the locals here often reminisce fondly about how much worse things used to be.

To hear many of my friends say it, New York in the Giuliani-and-after era has had all its rough edges filed off and has been sanitized for our convenience, like some pale shadow of Seattle or Boston only with bigger buildings. The Gap and Starbucks have crushed the life out of the city, Times Square is an abomination, and you call those hookers? Kid, in my day, you couldn’t get off the train at 42nd Street without a pack of armed trannies blowing you at gunpoint…

I tend to take this all with a small grain of salt: there’s a certain ritualized formalism about the complaints that makes you suspect that they’re as much an eternal feature of life in the city as the occasional waterbug in the kitchen sink: probably 90 years ago Manhattan’s hipsters were lamenting the loss of the real, vibrant, dangerous New York of the Tammany Hall era. I’m frankly a little dubious that anyone actually was that fond of the pre-Disney Times Square, the sex workers and clients very much included. And frankly, anyone who thinks that Manhattan (never mind the other boroughs) has become a sea of faceless corporate consumerism really needs to take a small vacation in, say, Ypsilanti, Michigan for a quick shot of perspective. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, but my social cohort is, on the whole, running headlong into out mid-30s: the city seems less hip and vibrant because we’re getting old.

Which is not to say that Giuliani wasn’t a thug, or that the current bar and nightclub regulations aren’t moderately to largely insane, it’s just that those are at best somewhat orthogonally related issues to the grand tradition of ritual kvetching about how much better things were in the bad old days.

But that all said, I have to confess that I was brought up short by the news headlines this morning. Because it seems that the Mayor of New Paltz, NY, has decided to begin issuing marriage certificates to gay couples.

NEW PALTZ?!

(For those not from anywhere near the area: New Paltz is a tiny town in midstate New York that primarily exists as an appendage to one of the larger branches of the State University of New York.)

Okay, I could accept that San Francisco was going to beat us to the punch on this one. It’s been a long time since Stonewall, and Sodom-on-the-Bay has pretty much been the Batman to our Robin for the last 20 years and there’s nothing to be done about that. I can also accept — barely — that Massachusetts was also going to beat us as well: legally, marriage is really a state question, and Mass, being a smaller state, has a much more consistently liberal judiciary. And I’m going to completely ignore the New Mexico thing because it’s a fluke and it ruins the flow of my rant.

But New Paltz?! Has it really come to this? Have we really been shown up on the sodomy and decadence front by the pipsqueak Mayor of a town that most of us couldn’t find on a map? Have we fallen so far?

For shame!

We are going to have to take drastic action if we are to preserve our hard-earned, centuries-old reputation as a pit of sin and depravity. Mandatory gay marriage now! If we can’t force Mike Bloomberg to tongue-kiss Ed Koch on national television within a week, the terrorists will truly have won.

snip snip snip

So, with a weekend of revelry fast approaching, I realized today that I really, really needed to re-do my hair. I can pull this off in 36 hours, but it requires some doing. Step one, of course, is to get it cut.

Unfortunately, having recently moved, I no longer have easy morning access to my favorite Crusty Old Brooklyn Barber, and today I needed to be at the office early, so taking a leisurely morning to scout out the options in my new `hood was not a viable plan.

So fine, I’ll get my hair cut on my lunch hour, right? Well… that’s not quite as easy as it sounds. My office is perched precariously on the farthest northwestern reach of TriBeCa, a neighborhood still largely industrial in nature. Once you get out of the range of the docks and the Holland Tunnel entrance, you’re suddenly in, depending your direction, SoHo or TriBeCa, both of which are full to the brim of extremely chic hair salons, but not exactly well-stocked with Crusty Old Italian Barbers offering $10 clipper flattops, which is what I’m after.

Being a smart lad, I did a little research, and ten minutes of careful picking through citysearch and google turned up a New York Metro article extolling the virtues of Sal’s Barber Shop at 209 Mott Street, just north of Spring. That’s a brisk five minute walk from my office, so I set out at noon with high expectations of straight-razor-wielding Italian guys and dusty skin mags in the corner: a proper barbershop.

Well, after slogging my way through the snowdrifts on Spring Street, I took a left on Mott and immediately spotted a battered old barber pole two doors down. Sorted! I walked in and found: no old Italian guys. In fact, no guys at all. The two-chair shop was being attended to by one fashionable middle-aged woman, giving a perm to another woman, who had her 6-year-old son in tow, happily reading comic books on a chair. (For the nitpickers in the audience: you have to be 13 to qualify as a “guy”. Because I say so.) The store was airy and brightly painted, with fashion magazines strewn about.

But I figured to myself: little Italy is changing, they’re keeping up with the times… maybe this is Sal’s wife? So despite the fact that she looked at me a bit strangely when I walked in, I asked if she had room for a walk-in.

“Sure,” she said, and then raised her voice a bit toward the back. “Gen, could you come help this young man?”

Gen emerged from the rear, a razor-thin young woman with immaculately styled platinum hair, an off-the-shoulder sweater and jeans. Couture, couture, couture. In my life, I will never be as fashionable as this woman. Neither will you. (Well, okay, excepted.) And, perhaps oddly: not a fleck of customer hair on her. She sat me down and asked me what I was looking for.

“Really just a shampoo and trim: number four clippers on the sides, take all the dyed bits off the top, blend it up, flatten it a little and clean up the ears and neck.” I’ve said this so many times I’m just on autopilot.

“Well… we don’t have clippers. Mind if I just cut it close?” No clippers? How can you have a barbershop without… oh, nevermind, I’m here and I need to get my hair cut. There’s a six-year-old kid here. How bad can it be?

“Sure, whatever works.”

“Would you like some green tea?” This was a new one on me: I’ve been offered coffee while waiting, but herbal tea while I’m having my hair cut? But whatever: a few minutes later I was shampooed and conditioned, and Genevieve, after strapping a very chic little hairdresser utility belt onto her waist, was happily snipping away. And snipping. And snipping. And snipping. The other woman chatted with her client. I sipped my tea when I could, and fell into a pleasant trance.

Fast-forward twenty or so minutes: after cutting off what seemed to be an acre of hair, all with a tiny pair of styling scissors, Gen rinsed and jelled me, and handed me the mirror. It was, I will state right now, an excellent haircut. She let me know that I could come back in two weeks for a free touchup, and that they also offer dyeing services if I ever get tired of doing it on my own: I politely demurred on the latter, but liked the sound of the former.

“That’s very nice of you,” I said. “How much will that be?”

“Sixty dollars.”

Ladies and gentlemen: two years of regular poker games at Bob’s cabin in Lincoln. Four years of high school and college drama club. Six months of the world’s most long-winded boss (another story). It all came down to this, and I’m pleased to say that I passed with flying colors: I kept a perfectly straight face, smiled, didn’t miss a beat, pulled out my wallet, paid cash and tipped 12%. I said my thanks, put on my coat and hat, and went outside.

And then proceeded to choke and gibber. It wasn’t until 20 minutes later, when I’d secured a cup of Vosges Aztec Cocoa that I managed to regain my composure.

The moral of this story: if you want to get a haircut in NoLita, no matter how harmless the place looks at first glance, you really, really might want to inquire about the prices before you sit yourself down.

But it is an excellent haircut.

it’s raining cash!

If you live in New York, you really, really want to go to this web page, and enter your name in the form.

It turns out my old auto insurance company in Boston owes me a refund. Who knew?

Now I just need to find a notary public.

two horrid tastes that taste horrid together

God, where to begin with this?

gehry monstrosity


Short form, for those of you too lazy to read the article: a Brooklyn real estate developer is pitching an idea to buy the New Jersey Nets NBA team, and move them to Brooklyn. To house them, he suggests building a massive sports center over the Atlantic Avenue transit hub. And god help us, it looks like it might happen.

Okay, first of all, Frank Gehry must be stopped. I’ll grant that this design is actually relatively restrained by Gehry standards, but it’s still yet another imposing aluminum monstrosity with detail frills that are going to look completely ridiculous in 5 years or less. As anyone who’s ever spent any time around Atlantic Avenue at 2am will attest, the last thing that neighborhood needs is more ugly architecture that will look abandoned and menacing after dark. And frankly, one of the things I like about Brooklyn is that it has so far largely avoided the plague of faceless, ugly glass-and-metal buildings that are coming to dominate Manhattan’s skyline. And not to harp or anything, but what is with Gehry’s obsession with functionless, 6-story-tall wavy sheets of metal? It was, maybe, cute once. As a career motif, it’s just embarrassing: it’s like letting a 6-year-old with a Star Wars fixation design your monuments.

Next: everyone who actually believes that this project will actually come in under budget and without any emergency cash infusions from the city, please raise your hand. Right, okay, you’re excused to go to the library: you can look up the word “gullible” in the dictionary. It’s there, promise. Also, please note:
Gehry’s preliminary plans for a 19,000-seat arena would not require public financing, city officials said. Instead, the project would be funded by Ratner, his investors and tax revenue from 4,500 residential units and more than 2 million square feet of commercial and retail space.

One of these things is not like the other, one does not belong…

And finally, the article’s money quote:
…it will require the city to raze part of the adjacent Park Slope neighborhood, displacing businesses and at least 100 residents.

Yes, you read that correctly: we are seriously proposing to destroy large underdeveloped sections of what are probably the two fastest-growing residential and small-business neighborhoods in the city (Ft. Greene being the other) in order to build this white elephant.

Folks, the jury is not out on projects like this. It came in a long time ago, and the verdict was: not profitable. Sports centers are money-losers for everyone but the building contractors, and commercial spaces attached to sports complexes are… how do I put this? Have you heard anyone complaining that the problem with downtown Brooklyn is that it lacked convenient access to TCBY and a Starter Store? For that matter, have you heard anyone complaining about Brooklyn’s lack of available office space? This thing is the Renaissance Center, version 2.0.

The really infuriating thing here is that the Atlantic Avenue hub really is in need of some redevelopment help and beautification. But as will attest in great detail, the city makes it nearly impossible for a would-be small business owner to get started. But they’ll roll out the red carpet for a cynical scam like this.

You’d think that when you’re right next door to the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d be a little more suspicious of someone trying to sell it to you.

consumer distorts

Why do why did I think for even one minute that ordering anything from Gothic Cabinet Craft would be a good idea? I should have my head examined.

Big flowery hugs and kisses to the staff of GCC on University Avenue in the Bronx, for:

  • …nodding and grunting in the affirmative when we asked for a morning delivery, which turned out to translate to: “Actually, our delivery window is between 11am and 4pm, but we’ll let the delivery dispatcher tell you that on your answering machine the night before the delivery date.”


  • …being oh so helpfully willing to reschedule delivery for ten days later. Still in the afternoon.


  • …helpfully pointing out when I called them at 4pm today to ask whether my shelves were actually coming, that it was still 3:55pm by the clock in the store, and that therefore my order was not in any way late. Yet.


  • …having such courteous regard for their driver’s zen equilibrium that they would not dare to call his cell phone to disturb him with my trivial concerns.


Never, ever again. And if you’re smart, you’ll let my mistake be your instructive example, and never do it in the first place.

surrender to your inner fanboy


December 17th. 12:01am. Return of the King. A theatre to be determined shortly (most likely Battery Park Regal).

Who’s down?

Drop me a line, preferably in the next day or so to facilitate mass ticket-buying. Also indicate if you’d be into a ceremonial slog through the DVDs the weekend before, perhaps on Sunday afternoon/evening.

And don’t even pretend for a second that you’re not a big enough dork to consider this. Because you are.

yidfro

Quick late-night culture vulture run-down. I have just returned from the Knitting Factory, where and her friends took me to see:

1. A Hasidic reggae/dub band, Mattisyahu, with a lead singer who beatboxed about moschaich in full black-hat-and-jacket regalia.

2. An orthodox genderqueer slam poet, Matthue Roth. (Who has, apparently, appeared on Def Poetry Jam, which I would pay hard cash money for a video of.)

3. A Yemenite/breakbeat/free-jazz/punk/metal/klezmer band called Juez (pronounced, before you ask, “you-ezz“)…that covered the Trogdor song.

I freakin’ love this city. Love love love, do you hear me? (And how lame am I that my little sister knew about all of this and I didn’t? Very, apparently.)

All of the above acts are well worth seeking out if they appear in your own city.

Also: http://www.jewishfashionconspiracy.com/ Just because.

weekending

Buncha interesting stuff going on this weekend, mostly in my old neighborhood, go figure.

Saturday, Oct 4th, 3-10pm: Renewable Brooklyn Concert at the Prospect Park Band shell, featuring Dan “The Automator” Nakamura and Prince Paul (AKA Handsome Boy Modelling School), UNKLE, and Death in Vegas. Despite the INSANE lineup, this thing seems to have gotten almost no promotion whatsoever.

Saturday, Aesop Rock and EL-P at the Bowery Ballroom. Which is great. Except that it’s sold out. Which is not. Grr.

Monday, Oct 6th: Chile Pepper Fiesta at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. What better way to load up on food before Yom Kippur starts?

Of course, I should spend the weekend unpacking…

caloriecoma

A few somewhat tipsy thoughts on Peter Luger’s Steakhouse, from which I have just returned.

On the whole, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so intimidated by a famous restaurant as this one. Sure, Nobu promised to be full of a million ingredients that I had never met before, Veritas had a winelist that could take a week to read, and Morimotos was run by a damn Iron Chef, but Luger’s is a beast onto itself: by reputation at least, even asking for a menu is enough to invite an entire evening full of abuse from the waitstaff, the reviews of it seem exactly split between those who felt it was the greatest steak they’d ever had and those who felt entirely ripped off, and it’s been in business for almost a hundred and fifty years now. Oh, and it’s cash-only. In Williamsburg.

That I was even going there in the first place was something of a happy accident. I don’t eat steak very often myself, and Miranda doesn’t care for it at all. It had therefore lain dormant on my to-do list for well over five years. But about two months back at work, I found myself trapped in the office for 24 very harrowing hours, because a certain vendor’s product, for which we had paid an obscene amount of money not six months ago, had decided to die in pretty much precisely the fashion their product literature assured us would be impossible, nay inconceivable for it to die. One very long night later, my boss and I found ourselves in possession of one of the more valuable favor chits one can receive in this business: the promise of a free meal. Anywhere. On their tab. Lugers it was.

Mindful of its fearsome rep, I girded myself for battle. I read the CitySearch comments. I searched the eGullet forums for advice. I buttonholed my friends who’d been there. I picked an outfit (new black jeans, shaded burgandy Perry Ellis shirt open over a grey tshirt, black loafers) that was substantially better than my normal disheveled appearance but still casual enough to not look overdone. And through careful study of prior patrons’ reports, even in the absence of a menu on the website, I was able to memorize the whole table’s order in advance: eight strips smoked bacon, one large shrimp cocktail, one tomato and onion salad, steak for four — rare, side of spinach, side of hashbrowns. I was ready to throw down with the testosterone. Rawr!

…most of which turned out to be entirely unnecessary. Don’t know whether it’s because we looked like newbies, or because it was a Wednesday night, or we just got lucky, but we were handed menus the moment we sat down. Well, offered menus anyway: it was certainly made clear that this was an optional frill. I looked at mine for a second and decided that the general consensus was right, and my companions let me order for the table. The waiter, a dapper older gentleman with a somewhat unidentifiable slavic or german accent named Harry, took my performance in good humor and even reminded me that I’d forgotten the shrimp. The table was evenly divided between people who wanted rare and medium, and he promised us a medium rare. (Lugers’ steak, no matter how many at the table, comes served on a single platter, all cooked at once.) For all of the complaints on citysearch about the service, Harry was attentive, good-humored and efficient. He was quick-spoken and slightly brusque, but not obnoxiously so, and seemed happy to answer all of our questions.

The decor is pretty much like having dinner in your german grandparents’ dining room: functional tables and chairs, low ceilings, dark wood panelling. There’s no dress code, and the atmosphere is pretty astoundingly relaxed for what is technically the most famous steakhouse in the country: plenty of people were there in jeans and t-shirts, and there seemed to be family dinners happening at various tables. Very expensive family dinners, but there you go. Even on a Wednesday night with an 8:30 reservation, the place was still pretty much full, with people waiting at the bar for their tables. I can’t imagine it on a Saturday night, and would probably not be willing to go.

The appetizers arrived in a perfect sequence: first the salad and shrimp, then the bacon. The shrimp and the tomato/onion salad were both good, but not memorably so. The bacon, in my opinion, deserves just as much notice as the steak: long, thick strips of hand-smoked bacon, which in terms of fat/meat content more resembled Canadian than American-style. If you crossbred bacon with really good nova lox and then grilled it, this is what you would get. I’d go back just for it. I wish they sold it in their store.

Steak for four comes on an enormous platter that appears to contain two whole porterhouses plus about half of another, pre-sliced, sizzling, and swimming in melted butter and its own jus. The waiter will serve each person at the table a two or three slice portion, drizzle some jus over them, and then you’re on your own. A word about portion size here: several people both on citysearch and egullet recommended ordering steak for the number of parties at the table plus one. I’m not going to go so far as to call this insane, but I’m going to gently suggest that if you’re the sort of person who does not eat red meat on a twice-daily basis, steak for N-plus-1 is overdoing it. A lot. Steak for N-minus-one might well be more than enough. Even with four healthy-sized males in our dinner party, we weren’t quite able to finish it, especially with the side dishes. And it was not for lack of trying.

So how was it? Was it a religious experience? Was it the best steak of my life? Would I try to drag Miranda there?

Well, for comparison purposes, the only two “high end” steakhouses I’ve been to previously in my life were both chains: Mortons (in Boston, for ‘s 30th birthday) and Ruths Chris (once in New York and once in San Juan). I’d feel silly even comparing Mortons to Lugers: the meat at Mortons was obviously not on even the same plane, and while the service at Mortons was more classically professional, the atmosphere (full entirely of 50-year-old executives and their 25-year-old trophy wives) was poisonous even before you noticed the cloud of cigar smoke. Ruths Chris is…worth the comparison, but so different it’s hard to know how to weigh them against each other. The two filets at Ruths I’ve had were more tender than the porterhouse at Lugers, but Ruths Chris…how to put this? Ruths Chris almost seems to make a fetish out of tenderness, and use so much butter in the cooking to ensure it that butter sometimes becomes the primary flavor. The steak at Peter Lugers, in contrast, felt more like pure, unadulterated steak: slightly crisp on the outside, pink-verging-on-red on the inside (they seemed to split the difference between rare and medium rare perfectly), and both the crisp and the tender parts were entirely qualities of the meat, its aging and the speed of its cooking. The best summary I can do in my current slightly sozzled state is to say that for a steak novice like myself, Ruths Chris is more instantly impressive, but Peter Luger has more depth and a promise of more reward for continued interest. The best steak of my life? Possibly. Very possibly. To be sure, I’d want to go back with a dinner group more foodie than techie, and play with the ratio of steak to sides a bit.

(One note I have to make in Ruths Chris’ favor: the service I got at their Manhattan restaurant was, not even considering the fact that my hair was bright green and my companions a little more than agreeably disheveled, the single best of any restaurant I’ve been to in my life. I wish I remembered our server’s name, because there’s a place for him in waiter heaven.)

The side-dishes merit a small mention: the hash browns were perfectly done, and the creamed spinach? Well, I hate creamed spinach. I got the creamed spinach only because it’s one of their signature dishes and I figured I should try it. I expected to hate this as well. I didn’t. I even sneaked a second portion. The secret, astoundingly for a heavily German-influenced kitchen, appears to be a noticable lack of cream. Go figure.

After this amazing cholesterol extravaganza, we ordered two desserts and coffee for the table, and that was at least one dessert too many. We got a hot fudge sundae and a slice of pecan pie, both of which were topped with “schlag” — incredibly dense Austrian-style whipped cream. (I suspect the presence of egg whites, or at least 3X as much sugar as most people put into whipped cream: this stuff was neutron-star dense.) The pecan pie was nothing to write home about; the sundae was good but holy god enough milkfat already. My boss pointed out that “schlag” is actually short for “schlagobers”, which literally means “beaten cream.” Schlag itself is just the verb “to beat”, so when ordering “mit schlag”, you are literally asking for your pie with a beating. There’s a joke in there about topping your coffee, but I am far too full to make it. (I say again: for a group of four, consider “steak for three”, or perhaps only one appetizer for the table.) True to their bare-bones form, there was no espresso or capuccino, just COFFEE, optionally with alcohol in it.

All in all, an excellent use of someone else’s money, and I’ll certainly go back on my own dime at least once.