Monday, March 31, 2008

jimmy's away message

Jimmy's Gchat away message currently notes that he slipped the following past his intrepid editors:

"She hasn't had a dog since her last one, a mixed terrier named Nestor (after the long-eared Christmas donkey, not the ancient Greek statesman who dispensed wisdom in Homer's Iliad), died in the early 1980s."

Take that, Malcolm Gladwell.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

(via Triumph of Bullshit)

Friday, March 28, 2008

oh really, emily bazelon?

Emily Bazelon, a Slate senior editor, is a journalist whose work I consistently admire. (She joins - off the top of my tired head - Elizabeth Hamilton, Lynne Tuohy, Lisa Chedekel, Dahlia Lithwick, George Packer, A. O. Scott, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Jason Horowitz and others in an ever-evolving but always prestigious lineup.) Bazelon has a law degree from Yale and writes clearly on complex legal issues, often exploring moral implications of policies, outlooks and research pertaining to women and child development. She's clever at using her sons as illustrative examples.

It's all great except a recent Slate piece called "The Genius of Webkinz." Bazelon makes an argument as to why parents, wary of allowing their kids' neurons to rot in an internet abyss, should laud Webkinz - it helps teach kids that what's inside, be it a soul or an online incarnation, is more important than the furry packaging. It's all tidy Western, Christian metaphysics. But that's not why I first wondered what possessed her to write the item - it was, rather, her start(l)ing premise critiquing childhood attachment to stuffed animals.

The intro uses The Velveteen Rabbit as the classic kid-loves-furry toy scenario. "[W]hen the old bunny in the story becomes 'a mass of scarlet fever germs' threatening the health of a sick and actually real little boy, the lesson is that his bunny should not be safely replaced by a nice, clean, new bunny. Oh, no. This would be an act of betrayal, because as every good child knows, you are supposed to love your stuffed animal no matter how worn and dirty, and reject any shiny cheap-date substitute," Bazelon writes. "[W]hen stuffed animals get lost or destroyed, they are damningly hard to replace. Kids don't buy that they're fungible, just like a green Lego."

The Velveteen Rabbit says that when a child loves a stuffed animal hard enough, it become Real. For a child, "real" reads as an inanimate object morphing into fur and bone. For the older set, it refers to the strength of the love children feel for their dolls and stuffed animals. The real aspect is not that kids actually think their stuffed animals are alive (though, a la Sara Crewe, they may imagine it so) but that they endow them with individuality. Childhood objects remain a tangible connection to our more innocent selves. I knew at age nine when I convinced my mom's friend to buy me a stuffed dog that he was a common model that came in multiple sizes. That stuffed animal has been everywhere with me for the past 14 years. He isn't fungible.

Bazelon's argument hinges on an anecdote about a friend's daughter dropping a Webkinz bunny out the window and the girl's older sister convincing her that the "real" bunny isn't gone because its soul is in the computer. They ordered a new plush version without further tumult. This reads more like another example of how screen-based entertainment is killing childhood imagination than praise for pixels. Webkinz killed a chance to use a family car ride to discuss life (and death) using a toy alive in the child's mind as catalyst.

I prefer a friend's account of her ten-year-old daughter's approach to the toys: "[She] and her friends still play with them just as they would conventional stuffed animals, the online part has lost its luster, but the toy part remains!"

Thursday, March 27, 2008

new life

I signed a lease for a studio apartment in New London today. Here's the publicity photo (taken, obvs, in nicer weather) of the front of the building. It once housed a phone company:

Should I be overwhelmed? Because I might be overwhelmed.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

pal promotion

My friend is one of the actors in this YouTube clip:

It's a compelling few minutes (and also hilarious if you know how the guy in the do-rag dresses in real life. In high school he was sometimes mistaken for a substitute teacher).

Friday, March 21, 2008

warm and fuzzy

I had a small birthday/I-got-a-job/moving party last night. It made me so happy to see friends who had never met enjoying each other's company. I have the greatest, smartest, wittiest, quirkiest friends on the planet, and I feel very lucky. Here's the perfect, double-layer RED VELVET cake one dear friend baked for me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

martin sheen! swoon, went my inner teen.

Sometimes people like Martin Sheen get lifetime achievement awards - an excuse to hold a fancy gala, really - and people like me go to cover it. The press line at the entrance was small, but I was at its end. I'm happy to report that Mr. Sheen is (or acts) sweet and charming, ensuring each reporter got a few moments of his time. A couple girls (who were so inexperienced they thought I knew what I was doing) there for Details and GQ homepage, asked Sheen what "kind of guy" he was fashion-wise. He said he didn't know and was lucky to have a wife willing to pick out clothes, and that the suit he was wearing - he pulled open the jacket to find out the brand, Armani, which made the girls start gushing - was wardrobe from a recent film. It was useful, Sheen noted, because getting outfits from movies meant the work of making them match was already done.

I tried asking a question about how his acting philosophy influenced his feelings on being a Stella Adler reward recipient - he and Marlon Brando, whom he told me was the greatest actor "at least in the English-speaking language" both trained in her method acting technique - but the question wasn't simple enough and sounded muddled, so I stopped mid-sentence. "Take my question and make it coherent," I told him. Belly laugh!

Another good quote came from Stockard Channing, who went as a surprise award presenter and told me she was glad she arrived while Sheen was still in the media area "to completely embarrass him publicly." I asked for her thoughts on method acting and here's part of her response. Insert "journalism" and watch it resonate:

"I never studied acting. There’s many ways to go about it. But I think the more you can learn about the skills of an actor, how to represent the human condition, how to represent human relationships, how to be interesting and tell a story - all that stuff is a lot to learn, and why not learn it from the best?"

I went into the dinner just long enough to eat a salad with goat cheese crostinis and sauteed mushrooms and to listen to a fellow diner who ran a Hamptons-based magazine and was wearing a black stole with big tufted white furry polka-dots tell a self-professed McCain supporter that the candidate needs to find himself a tailor because "his shoulders look huge!" When she left, that old lawyer drunkenly turned to me and told me that he'd been single for so many years because most New York women are evil and have boyfriend requirement checklists, which he felt OK telling me because I didn't look like one of them, though I was clearly a raging liberal.

Monday, March 17, 2008

red velvet

Friends are used to hearing me yammer on about topics near to my heart: Kippy, puggles, coffee, Britney, journalism, children, the funny things smart people say and how commuting on foot totally counts as legitimate exercise.

Also, red velvet cake. My pet obsession for the dessert predates the Times' trend story from last year about how it's a popular New York pastry (what isn't?). Red velvet is unique and intriguing. Its flavor is subtle but unmistakable. With its red cake - the color of love, passion, heat - and its pure white cloud of frosting, red velvet is desire in its ideal material form. Once I stopped into a random Gristedes for some bananas and noticed a red velvet cake mix that I didn't feel like paying for that day. I tried to find it later at four different supermarkets in my neighborhood, including a couple other Gristedes locations. Not even a trek to Fairway delivered the goods. One afternoon when I had better things to do I traveled back to the Gristedes at 2nd Ave and 75th to buy a couple boxes. (That procrastination trip is ranked a distant second to that night in college before a final Spanish project was due when I went from Columbia to Chinatown to get some clay at Pearl, since I decided I didn't want to write an essay and was going to make a diorama with clay figurines commenting on Frida Kahlo's work on self representation. I made it in a box of Annie's and didn't even bother covering its outside. That professor was bad with names, but she knew I liked journalism so she called me Maureen Dowd.)

Anyway! Things rose to absurd new heights Sunday. I, in east midtown, and a friend who lives in Washington Heights were trying to decide how to kill a couple hours together in the afternoon. I had visited another friend in Alphabet City the day before and passed a bakery en route that had breathtaking red velvet cupcakes in the window. The creamy white icing was swirled just so over gleaming red. Walking by the crane accident site had killed my appetite, but the cupcakey aesthetics carved a spot in my psyche. My friend and I decided to meet at the bakery, Panisi, even though it was cold and wet, and we were both tired.

But cliches, bad for writing, are good for common sense. I judged that cake by its cover. It was beautiful but not nearly the best New York offers. To save others the heartbreak red velvet wreaks when desire and product diverge, here is a list of places I've been for red velvet and what I thought of them.

Buttercup Bake Shop (2nd Ave b/w 51st and 52nd)
Small, cute dense little cupcakes. The dough is smooth and heavy and more often moist than dry. Pleasing amount of cocoa. The icing's cream cheese is the dominant flavor. These are good cupcakes.

Crumbs (Amsterdam Ave at 75th)
Their cupcakes, with colorfully textured toppings, are meant to be ogled. The red velvet has chocolate stripes and sprinkles, and the cupcake is gigantic and cocoa-y. It can be good, but Crumbs cupcakes can often be dry, and since they're so big there's not always enough icing to offset the dryness for the whole eating process.

Kitchenette (Amsterdam Ave at 122nd)
Very satisfying texture, like the cake the baker in your group of friends would bring to a gathering. That is, if the baker tends to make things stale and bland and you all secretly toss the second half of the slice.

Panisi (4th Street at 1st Ave)
The icing is too sweet and there isn't enough cocoa in the cake. It's moist and springy, but it's not really red velvet, just red.

Rack & Soul (109th and Broadway)
The red velvet here was my gateway slice. The cake was not as coarsely textured as most, but it wasn't too sweet and the icing is solid. I've never had food from here, what with Saji's two doors down, but the cake is worth a stop.

Two Little Red Hens (2nd Ave at 86th)
I don't remember anything great or bad about the cupcake, so it was probably a respectable example of the genre.

proud to live in the most boring city 'hood

Coverage of the crane collapse continues this morning with all the feature pieces about the dead and displaced, etc. Part of one metro article made me proud to have called the area home for the past months:

For people who don’t live in the East 50s, the address connotes a series of indistinguishable city blocks, unusual only in their lack of New York associations. The streets don’t comprise a theater district, or an upscale address, or a gentrifying investment opportunity, or a place where artists or students or bankers are known to hang out.

And yet for the people who live there, it’s an unusually tight-knit neighborhood, filled with longtime residents who experience the city as a place to live, not a stage set designed to highlight Manhattan’s millennial glamour. A bar like Fubar — friendly, familiar, blissfully nondescript — could still thrive in a neighborhood like that, even serve as a focal point for a certain young, mixed crowd.

In the past few years, however, developers have seized on the opportunity to build up this relatively untouched area of the city so close to Midtown. High-rise luxury buildings with names like “the Veneto” and “the Milan” have gone up, and new pricey bars with names like “Mantra” and “Redemption” have opened, competing with the dense mix of Irish pubs and sports bars already there.

“Some of these places have dress codes,” said John P. LaGreco, the owner, musing on the neighborhood changes the morning after the accident. “They try to be all downtown, let girls in, hold guys at the door. I’m like, who do you think you are? This is east Midtown.”

Even the name of his bar has decidedly old-school roots: It is a military term that, in its polite form, stands for fouled up beyond all recognition.

It’s hard to miss the symbolism: Old-time neighborhood hangout literally crushed by the force of development run amok. Or maybe the crane crash will come to symbolize the flimsy underpinnings of a dizzying building boom. Either way, it’s fubar — and in such times, what many people crave is not an indoor boccie game or a manicure with their martini but a stiff drink in the comfort of well-known strangers.

I've complained about living there, far from most of my remaining city friends. While a fatal crane collapse is horrific, I'm glad that, before I moved away, something made me feel proud of my adopted neighborhood. East Midtown is not quaint or trendy, but it's ours.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

my grandfather's first reaction... the Spitzer brouhaha:

"Your grandmother and I stayed at that hotel in D.C. once."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

dubious trend watch

Suddenly, they're everywhere: Rain boot/ballet flat/jelly hybrids. How would ballet flats keep feet dry? And if the point is not utility but aesthetics then I give up. Crocs makes a pair. Shouldn't that be a warning sign?

Friday, March 07, 2008

in which A.O. Scott continues to delight

Have I mentioned my fondness for a certain NYT movie critic's lively scribbling? Today he reviews "10,000 B.C." He insists on referring to bellicose woolly mammoths as though they were Sesame Street characters, such as, "But the big, climactic fight, complete with an epic snuffleupagus rampage, is decent action-movie fun."

The review's photo caption online, by the way, says ,"Steven Strait as D’Leh being chased by a mammoth in '10,000 BC,' directed by Roland Emmerich."

In print, the caption reads: "The good old days, around 10,000 B.C., when men were men, and beasts were right behind."

Now that anyone can access reams of archived news online, the non-tactile internet realm feels more permanent than a physical paper copy which, if read at all, is chucked by the end of each day. Is this changing copy editors' view on writing headlines and captions for the print edition, or have they always been so tongue-in-cheek, and I never noticed before this? Yesterday in The Day - THE PAPER THAT JUST GAVE ME A JOB AND I'M STARTING NEXT MONTH AND I'M A REPORTER - there was a caption on the front page of the local section that included the phrase "wide stance." It was, somehow, referring to bowling. Another headline on the same page called Lyme-Old Lyme High School "LOL High School." I almost mentioned it when I met with the publisher (as in, "your copy staff is wonderful!"), but I didn't want to find myself in the position of explaining lolcats and lolruses to the man about to become one of my bosses. I think the the tale of the bukkit is compelling narrative, but then I also play house with three year olds.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

no really, watch the Maira Kalman video four posts down the line

Do it...

the uws, the world

There are fewer reasons daily for Upper West Side residents to leave the 'hood. Danny Meyer may be opening an UWS Shake Shack, that darling of tourists and i-bankers in Madison Square Park, which would join (off the top of my head) branches of the Hummus Place, Jacques Torres, Buttercup and Magnolia bakeries and Loehmann's.

And yes, clothes, cupcakes, hummus, hot chocolate, and frozen custard are among the few reasons I ventured below Columbus Circle during college. (And coffee.)

But since Shake Shack 2.0 won't come with free outdoor wireless and maniacal squirrels, it's still best to stray from the 1 line and gawk at the Flatiron building when the Eileen Fisher-clad, razor scootering moms and their tri-lingual offspring overwhelm.

on the job

I finally made the print edition at work today, with a little culture piece. I went to the Go Red for Women luncheon at the Waldorf last week, looked around at the rich, stout socialite women jammed around me, and wrote it up. Some of my delightful snark was edited, however. A fun game is "find the place where the editor took out a snide mention of second-wave feminism!"

On another note: Fact-checking can be a thankless job. I sit in the midst of young, ambitious reporters and force them to help me go back over what is generally a job well done. Most of them are good sports about it; some try my patience by fighting all the (light!) editing I do for clarity. I don't see the point of acting like a diva when someone is essentially my age and working at a paper that is famously NOT the top of the scene, but rather covers it. (I happen to love the publication. It's creative, unique, and high-quality. It has some absurdly fantastic editors. However, working there is not a reason to cultivate a giant ego.)

This is all by way of saying that my favorite reporter at the paper wrote a blog post that made my morning. In the process of skewering publishers discussing the latest memoir faker, she wrote that she appreciates fact checking. I appreciate being appreciated, especially by people who do good work.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

guilted by an elder

I got to yoga 20 minutes early last night, and the sign-in line already snaked around the studio. (Adam is a popular teacher.) It was an overwhelming sight, and I'd already weathered an overwhelming day. An old man leaving the studio - we're talking late 60s - noticed my expression and said, "You have to do it."

"No I don't. I could go to bed," I replied.

"You have to do it!" he insisted. "It's when your brain is telling you not to go that you need it most. Stay."

I looked at the still red-faced senior citizen. No doubt he could yoga circles around me in the 105-degree studio. I leaned down and unzipped my boots. He nodded his approval and exited.

Sorry for a cheesy kicker, but it was the best yoga class of my life.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

17:42 of bliss

if i can make it there...

Reasons to stay in NYC forever and ever
-I <3 NY
-my girls (and their parents)
-commuting is exercise
-fairway, madison square park, riverside park, cupcakes, hungarian pastry shoppe, eli's cookie window diorama, 57th street bus late at night, feeling alive, everywhere, at all hours
-absurd, delightful, ostentatious excess
-I like wearing black
-high culture and its aesthetic idea(l)s = nyc
-quirky and creative are routine
-having "sex and the city" moments because you live, love, and work here, not because you're trying

Reasons I may need to leave for awhile
-'I'm God's gift to man" syndrome
-settling, because it's new york
-I can't really actually afford to live here
-I'm still friends with my friends that moved away, and still would be if I left, too
-meaningful, consistent, paid work
-it's loud, dirty, and overwhelming
-everyone is prettier, smarter, thinner, and can walk faster in higher heels than I
-forgetting how much of the world lives entire lives beyond the boroughs
-"adventure into the unknown" can mean more than taking an unfamiliar path through central park