Monday, April 26, 2010

Cherry Blossoms, Turtle Thoughts

Tourists don't usually come to Brooklyn. That's one of the many reasons that I like living here. Before I came to New York, I'd spent three years in Waikiki, in the heart of the tourist ghetto. It was like living in a train station (no offense or levity meant to the people who actually live in Penn Station or Grand Central). Strangers coming and going all the time, never the same face twice, cameras everywhere. Sometimes I wonder how many photo albums I'm in.

The first time I was in New York, me mum and sister and I were trying to get to the United Nations. We were scheduled to have lunch in the diplomat cafeteria and were dolled up in our native dress. Aloha attire is, indeed, always appropriate. But we got on the L train and ended up in Queens by mistake. As soon as we popped up streetside and took a look around--"Crap, not in Manhattan. Back on the train, troops! Don't make eye contact."

I expect most visitors to New York feel this way. Manhattan is pretty easy to figure out, geographically, and even getting lost isn't so bad because there's really no place to go that doesn't have a lot of tourists walking three abreast and blocking the sidewalk. Not so, the outer boroughs, where there be dragons. LOCAL dragons. I think that most tourists have a tourist-radar, or perhaps give off pheromones to demarcate their safe zones. If they stray, they know it instantly, like a little crab scuttling across open sand, horribly exposed to predators.

Incidentally, this is why the ideal party situation is slightly too many people in slightly too small a space. Otherwise, your guests get the scuttle-crab feeling as they go from the bar to the bathroom. Very bad for party morale.

I digress. Tourists. In Brooklyn. Not so common, except at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, where the BF and I went last Saturday to view the cherry blossoms. Free hours are on Saturdays from 10 to noon, and the weather was as perfect as the acoustics in St. Vitus's Cathedral in Prague, so everyone and their same sex partner was out enjoying the foliage, including more Japanese and Chinese tourists than I've ever seen in any part of New York. I felt like I was back in Waikiki.

The tulips were lovely as well, but the most crowded exhibit was the Japanese garden, constructed in 1916, where the BF and I stood transfixed on a wooden bridge for ten minutes, staring at the turtles sunning themselves in the koi pond. They were so fascinating I forgot to take pictures. Made me wish that I was a turtle, no cares in the world, sunning and swimming and thinking my turtle thoughts...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dance Dance Conspiracy

My theory of why people in New York don't seem to dance at the events I attend was that dancing was illegal in most establishments. The Man used the excuse of cabaret licenses to shut down places with too much drugs and gay people.

This is a little paranoid, even for me.

The BF's dad came up with a better conspiracy theory. He says that people in New York are great dancers. They're so good, in fact, that they don't bother to dance. If someone does dance, it's because they're trying too hard to prove that they can, which means that they really can't.

If you spend enough time in New York, you'd know why I believed him until he told me he completely made it up.

So here's the real reason, according to the BF's father, that people in New York don't dance: the venues I go to, Knitting Factory and Siren Festival and Highline Ballroom, they're showcases for Talent with a capital T. The bands that play these events are two steps away from their big breaks, and the people who go to see them play know this. Dancing while the bands are playing would, in fact, be quite rude, because it would indicate that you aren't listening to the music.

"You don't go to the Metropolitan Opera and waltz, do you?" BF's dad asked. "No, you sit and appreciate. Same thing."

So while I'm pleased with myself for creating an elaborate conspiracy involving crooked cops, drugs, homophobia, and dancing, I'm happy to be set straight.

Now I'm off to write the most awesome noir detective story ever.

Mustaches at the Knitting Factory

On Saturday night, it was back to the Knitting Factory for another round of Street Teamstering. We've been here before, remember? With the silly putty and the indie rock and the sound check that absolutely WAS NOT part of the band's set? I'm more experienced this time around. To preserve the thin shreds of dignity I have left (trust me, they're there), I never clap at the end of songs now. Ever. I've decided that the Knitting Factory does not, in fact, have concerts, just three hour-long sound checks, none of which are worthy of my applause.

The Knitting Factory is now part of the Village Voice's regular Street Team rotation, so they generously bequeathed us a table and some chairs in the corner by the band merchandise booths. It's always better to have a table between me and the general public (f**k you, Electric Zoo). And the Voice bequeathed us a proper photographer, with a camera the size of her head, to wander through the crowd and take pictures of hipsters with mustaches. The mustaches are part of the Street Team's new, bold initiative to lure people to our social networking websites via paper facial hair. One side of the mustache is a mustache; the other side is a business card with our Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LikeMe addresses. Once a week, our Facebook page posts a Mustache of the Week picture, and while I think I'm excluded from the contest because I work there, how awesome is my mustache lei?

This is how an ordinary Voice event should be: good seating, helpful comrades, mustasches, and inoffensive lilting rock.

Speaking of which, I'm a little disappointed in the New York music scene. I've been on the Street Team for just about a year now, and most of the events I've attended with them are concerts and music gigs, so I think it's fair to say that I get around. Occasionally, I hear something I like, but most of the time, the music is merely tolerable. Not once have I heard something that I love. It's both surprising and sad, because New York is to musicians what Paris is to depressed poets, or Tokyo is to disaffected cosplay lovers (I scored high on the analogies section of my SATs).

The BF and I were discussing this, because he doesn't think anything musically interesting happened after 1990 except Weird Al and I haven't been pleased with any new music since 2005 (Gorillaz, Demon Days). We decided that modern music--HUGE sweeping generalization to follow--is brittle and clear, like it's made out of plastic and glass. The indie music I hear at the Knitting Factory is a perfect example. It's somewhat rock n roll-ish, but blander and prettier, like someone drained the pulp out and left a see-through frozen sculpture behind. But the music of GenX, to make another sweeping generalization, was like raw red meat. It had substance, a heft and a squishiness you could wrap your fingers around. You could really gnaw on it, or throw it against a wall and hear it go splat without worrying that it was going to shatter.

I know that there's got to be really good music fomenting somewhere in this damn city, like I know there's got to be life on other planets in the universe: it's just statistically probable. On the other hand, I've never been anywhere else in the world where people don't dance when they see live music, so maybe my statistics are wrong. Seriously, concert-goers in New York don't dance. It was illegal for many years to dance in bars and clubs--something about caberet licenses, but really just an excuse for cops to close a place down if there was too much drug-taking and gay people. We're talking a few generations of New Yorkers going out and not dancing to live music. They've forgotten how. They all just stand in front of the stage and stare at the musicians, not even swaying a little (which has got to be unnerving for the musicians). Again, sweeping generalization, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. And the not-dancing has got to affect how New Yorkers feel about music. Not dancing produces a demand for non-dancable music, and a prevelance of non-dancable music leads further and further away from truly rocking out.

Please, everyone I know in the Inland Northwest, come to New York and teach them how to dance again. If they learn how to dance, they'll start demanding music they can dance to. Someone's got to break the cycle!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Working for The Man...

... who is actually a woman, but still definitely The Man. I went back into the phone booth this week and came out as Mighty Temp, this time playing assistant to a very high makamaka executive at some midtown company. The Man pretty much ignores me and lets me do my work, but hearing her talk on the phone and to her coworkers, I have determined that she is very powerful, very frightening, and kicks ass on a regular basis. Also swears a lot. Probably goes with the asskicking territory.

This is my first encounter with that New York creature of lore, the high powered executive, and while I don't ever want to be on her bad side, I wouldn't mind have a beer with her. You don't see a lot of women in power, and hearing her cursing in the office behind mine gives me a feminist rush like you wouldn't believe.

But the awesome doesn't stop there. I have a window--that's not the awesome, but it makes a nice change from the basement-and-brick-walls work station of my previous assignment--and the window faces a building with Batman logos and a decal of Superman in flight in the windows. I thought to myself, "Self, wouldn't it be great if that was the DC Comics New York headquarters?"

I checked. It totally is. I sit across from the DC Comics New York headquarters. A powerful woman as The Man and my favorite comics distributor across the way--and did I mention that my office constantly has free sandwiches and cake in the kitchen?

I'm so glad I went into that phone booth.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Jersey's trash wasteland

When I moved away from Hawaii, I was worried that I wouldn't have any mediocre neighbors to make me feel geographically superior (you heard me, Maui).

Fortunately, there's New Jersey. I can see New York's neighbor from the street in front of my apartment building, so every time I step outside, I flip it off and chortle with glee. If there's joggers in my line of gloat, things can get a bit awkward, especially if they're pushing strollers.

Being a new New Yorker, I don't know how this cross-state antipathy began, but I do know why it continues. I have friends that live in New Jersey, so I've spent many a weekend there. While the more rural parts are reasonably pretty for somewhere that isn't Hawaii, that first section of Jersey you see right as the train or bus surfaces on the south side of the Hudson River makes me feel like a combination of wet kittens, empty restaurants, and a band playing to an empty room. It's an industrial wasteland in the middle of a swamp and it makes me die a little inside whenever I see it. I have to get at least forty minutes down the train tracks before I start to see parts of Jersey that could classified as remotely liveable.

But this entry is about that post-forty minute part of New Jersey, not the Bruce Springsteen part. It's where I go when I want to tramp about the forest and pick berries like a gentle woodland sprite. Since we're just barely out of winter's icy grip here on the East Coast, last weekend's trip to the Jersey woods yielded not sweet berries, but rather pre-war trash from an unknown source. From left to right: a fancy liqueur bottle, a manischewitz bottle (has the Star of David on it), a brown bourbon bottle, and in the front, a bottle with a bulbous bottom that can't stand up on its own.

Behind a public school and over a couple of tiny streams lined with skunk cabbage, there's a wide swath of forest littered with pre-war bottles and other glass containers. Hundreds of them. Possibly thousands. When was the last time Clorox bleach came in a brown glass jug? They aren't heaped in piles, like one would expect in an illegal dumping ground, but rather scattered pretty evenly over about an acre of land, half-buried in the dirt and vegetation. I even saw bottles embedded in the roots of large trees that were knocked over in one of this past winter's many blizzards. There were also rotting tires, tin pots and kettles, shoe soles, and a few wooden ladders propped against trees, leading to nowhere. It was a seriously weird place: no house foundations, no old roads or trails, no indication that there was ever anything there except forest. So why all the glassware? Why all the bottles?

Here are the theories, ranging from ordinary to Batman:

-A general store that collected empties from its customers. Rather than send the empties back to the manufacturer or donate them to the state fair for the annual glass-eating competition, some lazy stock boy took to just chucking them in the woods. Flaws in theory: no building foundations, no bricks or wood planks, no large flat space where the store would have stood.

-An open-air speakeasy. There were a lot of hard liquor and wine bottles, as well as little cosmetic jars, so one could easily imagine this being the spot where people met to get drunk and have their way with each other. It would explain why the artifacts are scattered so far apart, because who wants to get it on in plain sight of that wino from the train station? Flaws in theory: no fire pits or evidence of fires. Who goes to a pitch-black speakeasy? Remember the wino?

-Rift in time and space through which only bottles, tires, and 8mm film reels can pass. Did I mention the film reel? Toward the back of the site, my friend and I picked up an intact, though badly damaged, reel of 8mm film. Its canister was nowhere to be found, and the first frames we peeled from the reel were too damaged to make out. So we took it back to her place and unwrapped it until we came to a slightly less damaged section revealing--wait for it--a boxing match. It was a black-and-white film of two dudes wearing old-timey boxing gloves, having out in the ring. One dude was way bigger than the other dude and was obviously going to kick his ass, but I speculate that the little guy had moxie and a can-do spirit given to him by his hardscrabble life as a Jersey steelworker, and if he can just win this match and the purse, his old grandmother won't lose her house and Molly will finally see he's a guy worth believing in, someone who's gonna be somebody, not just some schmuck from the neighborhood, so won't you please take him back, Molly? Please? Flaws in theory: Molly deserves better, so she's gonna move to the city, go to college, drop out to become a poet, have a wild, passionate love affair with Frida Kahlo, move to Paris, and finally settle down on a vineyard in Brittany with an older but well-titted patron.

-Secret scientific laboratory for turning ordinary humans into superheroes. And one night, the technicians broke out the bourbon and starting making sweet nerd love, because we all know that nobody parties like the science-minded, but in their haste they forgot to turn off the Bunsen burners or feed the radioactive mongooses or lock the cells of the death row convicts who chose experimentation over the electric chair because they were falsely accused and actually innocent of any wrongdoing. There was an explosion. Bottles flew in every direction. Everyone died. Or did they? Flaws in theory: None.

Sorry I didn't take any pictures of the actual site, but New York women tend to carry at least two purses wherever we go, so I was enjoying the naked feeling of walking around the woods with nothing but shoes and the clothes on my back. Of course, to compensate, I immediately filled a plastic bag with heavy antique bottles to carry around. Wouldn't want to get too used to the Jersey lifestyle.