Saturday, December 30, 2006

A quotidian amount of pastry pain

NYC has a very good bakery called Pain Quotidien --- but the people who wait on you are uniformly stupid and evil. You might even say that it's the Kim's Video of pastry. The other day, I went into the east-side branch to get my wife a French Cream Bun. I asked the guy behind the counter what was inside the bun. "FRENCH CREAM,'' he snarled, pointing at the sign. This cream bun was beautiful to look upon --- two wedges of pastry with a finely sculpted layer of goo inside it --- but when I told the shmuck that my order was to go, he took out a little plastic cup and squashed the pastry inside of it, literally pounding the cup with his fists until the pastry flattened out and spewed its custard-cream guts all over the packaging. It was still edible but looked very bad by the time we brought it home. If you go, bring your own packaging.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Company On Broadway,'' and why won't my neighbors just leave?

Everyone should see the great new production of Sondheim's "Company'' on Broadway. Raul Esparza, as Bobby, may be the Broadway performer of the year. His Bobby is shifty and enigmatic and you can't quite get a bead on his sexuality. I loved the youngish performer doing the Elaine Stritch part (when she's in the piano bar, feeling bitter, ordering vodka shots and singing about the 'ladies who lunch,' and it starts out sultry and sarcastic and turns into a shriek.) My parents took me to see this, and I worried they wouldn't like it because they've seen it twice before, but they liked it a lot. Esparza, playing piano and singing "Being Alive,'' near the show's end, was incredible to watch. Also stunning, but in a bad way, are my nightmare neighbors who blast Enya-type music so loudly and thump around and play Loreena McKinnit-like Eurodirges and have mercifully short (10 seconds is their all-time world record) bouts of lovin' upstairs at a million decibels -- "ook, ook, eek!" --- and use the floorboards as a trampoline at three in the morning, and drag their furniture hither and yon like Troglodytes. Naturally they are sticking around during Christmas break to make life miserable for everyone else in the apartment building. It may take a village to stop these noise polluters.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Preview of "Shipwreck, Coast of Utopia.''

The first half was quite boring and too expository. Too much blah-blah-blah. The second half was outstanding. I think Brian O'Byrne is a marvelous actor. He carries the entire thing as far as I'm concerned, especially near the end when he delivers a wrenching speech about the death of a child. Ethan Hawke did very well, too -- portraying a gruff, boisterous scalawag (forgive me, Russian history buffs; I can't remember which scalawag), and I thought he was very engaging, although my wife thought he was doing a Jack Nicholson imitation up there. This one has gunshots, betrayal, nudity, flag-waving, you name it. In case you haven't heard about the plotline, the play (by the great Tom Stoppard) is a prequel to the Russian Revolution; you get to know the six friends who helped set the thing in motion. Or something like that. I liked the second half because politics, romance and friendship get conflated in ugly and unpredictable ways. In case you are wondering (both of my readers) how a grad student can afford to go to Broadway so much, the answer is: I wait out in front of the theater and wait for desperate theater goers to sell me their extra seats for dirt cheap.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Whaat a horrible computer keyboard s ystetm this is1

Dear bloog reaaders, (the boththt o of you) I am atatempting to file a message to my own blog, uusining a terrirble computer keyboard w ith sticky keys. As you can see, the result is kinid of embarrassing... thte compuutter keeps insertinig all kinidds of rididculoous erroors, addititionaal l etters and strange spellings i nto the text. Anyhow, I hope thattp eoplel whoho check the blog don't think I'm typing while drurnk. You'd thinkn the city governmentn would spring for a a more sopohiisticated computer system!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Columbia University's friendly rat

It's true --- my university has a friendly rat. He lives in the bushes outside the School of the Arts, and I see him every single day, just chilling out in there, enjoying the fall weather. He doesn't really bother anyone.

I still can't come up with an ending for my experimental fiction

What can you do. My experimental fiction remains unfinished, and it's now reached the seven-month mark. Maybe I should try to write something that has some sort of logical structure.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Experimental fiction and more rats

OK --- I just got some good advice from a couple of people about my experimental fiction. Make it longer. That makes sense -- the piece is very, very short. Nothing happens. The question is --- how do I make it longer? It's hard to lengthen something that is virtually plotless, but my writing professor and two of my fellow students gave me the same advice. Also, you wouldn't believe the rat I saw yesterday at the corner or Broadway and 125th. It ran out of the street, collided with some guy's shoe, and then raced right back out into traffic! I hope the rat is OK. (Live in this city long enough and you start sympathizing with everyone who shares space with you, even vermin.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

'High Fidelity' on Broadway with high-low results

We liked the Nick Hornby book and the Jack Black/John Cusack movie very much so the idea of a Broadway version seemed appealing -- especially since my graduate school doled out 150 free tickets (close to the stage.) The sets were amazing (a nicely apppointed Brooklyn walk-up apartment transforms before your eyes into a scungy record store, complete with The Clash, Sex Pistols and Springsteen posters, a beat-up cash register, and, above the glass front window, a fake NY skyline rising up. The actors were all good -- the lead was terrific, and one of his sad-sack pals (the skinny one who is not trying to reprise the Jack Black role, and who could transform himself into Snoop Dogg) was hilarious --- but the song lyrics were often excruciating to the point of distraction. You have only just recovered from one groan-worthy line when, boom, another plops in your lap. One character emotes that the record store "smells like ass.'' The female lead, complaining about her brand-new, tantric-hippie boyfriend, sings that "when he's mounting me, I feel a mounting sense of insecurity!'' Ugh. That's what you call Au Bon Painful. While it was an enjoyable evening, I can't help but worry that someone's going to lose a bundle on this one.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hand to hand combat with rats -- a true story

I forgot to mention that three smallish rats somehow got into the apartment over the past year and a half. I hate violence in all forms but it was them or me --- and they are vicious, so what could I do? Since I don't believe in chemicals, I finished off one of the creatures with a copy of a famous work of borrowed experimental fiction (a thin one, not a fat one like Infinite Jest hardcover, which would have been easier to use.) The question is, how did three rats get inside the apartment in the first place? It makes me wonder if the rats were there all along, just biding their time, or if they were living in the walls and somehow got out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Guggenheim-Spain/James Bond

Everyone (if you are here) should see the Guggenheim's Spain exhibit (huge, overwhelming, arranged by strange themes instead of chronology, i.e. crying women, skulls, dead animals on display, saints, martyrs, etc.)The only difficult part of the exhibit is the fact that it is on a slant and, therefore, tiring. Afterwards we walked through the park, got on the C train and went to Soho for tapas at Pixshos, which was fantastic, and we were the only ones there. In fact, there were no harrowing New York experiences afterward, no loud cell phones, screaming couples or filthy creatures to hamper my enjoyment of that day.

The new James Bond is worth seeing although it has about four endings, one after the other, and the script has some silly aspects. For example, I don't understand why they have the worst villains competing against and sometimes killing each other to provide deux ex machina escape opportunities for the good guys. The best part of the movie is the extended gambling scene, and I liked the heavy who looks like Freddy Mercury and cries blood when he is upset --- he is creepy and striking, like a young Udo Kier --- but I thought they could have done more with him.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Philip Roth's visit

Philip Roth visited the program to talk about his latest book, "Everyman.'' I thought his reflections on this dark book were inspiring and bleak at the same time. When asked if his vision, with every book, is getting darker, he said, "well, I know more people who've died -- colleagues, friends, family members falling off the ledge. If you're a writer, you are in tune to what is around you. I'm just trying to stay on top of my experiences. It's strange how you fail to understand things throughout your life, how you fail to understand deeply what you haven't experienced, even if you've watched somoene go through something and felt empathy toward them. Your (direct) experience piles up.'' In his book, he has the narrator 'converse,' or think he is conversing, with lost loved ones. "We do know (these conversations) take place all the time but they are imaginary,'' he said. "People push aside the fact that this is themselves talking to themselves.'' He also has a scene in which the narrator has a "moment of buoyancy'' when his best, most sensual memories flood back to him just before he goes under for an operation, and dies. One student asked if those good memories help to end the book on an 'optimistic' note. Roth said no. "The joke's on him,'' he said. Though the subject matter was bleak (because his latest book is so bleak), there were some (somewhat) lighter moments when he talked a bit about his process. For one thing, as most people know, he writes standing up, at a stand-up desk. "I walk around a lot,'' he said. "I walk a mile for a sentence. When you're a writer, you're kind of like a beggar, begging for the next sentence. You should walk around with a cup in your hand.'' He also spoke about the writers that formed him. (Henry James, ''elaborate style, ridiculous and grand,'' Faulkner ('a devastating discovery, rich, comic, and mean' ) Thomas Wolfe ('elegiac, lyrical, sometime bombastic, a great portraitist)'' and dozens of others.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Grey Gardens, loud snack eater, and Kiki Smith

Hooray. The inconsiderate bozos upstairs have stopped stomping around on our ceiling! They have stopped moving their stupid desks and chairs and dragging their big mattresses all over the place for no reason at three in the morning! In a celebratory mood after defeating the "Thump-a-linas' once and for all, my wife and I went out to see a Broadway musical called "Grey Gardens.'' We were way, way, way up in the oxygen-mask seats --- New York theaters are strange in the sense that they are often small but have ceilings that soar so high above the main floor --- but "Grey Gardens'' was still fantastic. Christine Ebersole's performance is a sleight of hand. She plays both the social-climber mom and, later on in the play, the older, decrepit daughter, making retro-flapper outfits out of curtains. The first half shows the Grey Gardens house in its East Hamptons heyday; by the second half it's a hovel, overrun by cats and raccoons. As usual there was a not-very considerate person seated near me -- in this case, a young, but by no means petite, woman who elbowed into me and kept checking the time on her cell phone, eating gloopy snacks with crinkly crankly wrappers, murmuring to herself and loudly leafing through the pages of her Playbook (!) She also spoke loudly to her pals through most of the first act. Mustering all the diplomacy I had within me, which is not much, I asked her to please stop it, and she did.
Today I also saw the incredible, if disturbing and sometimes quite disgusting, Kiki Smith exhibit at the Whitney. It is not to be missed, and makes amazing use of space and craftsmanship. Her various papier mache, glass, plaster, paper and wax creations dangle from the ceiling, crawl up the walls, crouch on the floor and make insanely clever use of space. I think it's one of the most powerful 'body as metaphor' exhibits I've ever seen, though I must admit that it freaked me out and will probably give me nightmares, with its images of wolf children, intestines rendered in ductile brass, and mounted beeswax figures in uncomfortable poses. There is a 'Little Red Riding hood' installation in which the girl herself is part wolf. When you walk past the installation, the sculpture -- equipped with a motion sensor and a hidden music box-- starts playing loud and atonal chamber music tape. See this exhibit now, even though you might need therapy afterwards.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More about historic cannibals

On the other hand, if I was in the same situation as the aforementioned pioneers, (i.e. the Donners from last month's blog) I can't say for sure what I'd do. At the International Studies library, I found a hair-raising book called the "Cannibal Within,'' which claims that cannibalism is "evolutionarily sound'' and that "everyone has cannibal potential." The book also makes the case that Americans, in particular, are preoccupied with cannibalism. In America, there are cannibal-themed rock bands, a one-hit wonder band from the eighties (Toto Coelo) with a stupid song on the subject ("I eat cannibals'' -- remember it from KROQ?) and thousands of zombie or cannibal movies (Silence of the Lambs, Soylent Green (famous line: "Soylent Green is PEOPLE!!'', Cannibal Holocaust, Shawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead, etc.) There are at least half a dozen cannibal-related episodes of "Gilligan's Island,'' and at least one movie -- the not very good "Ravenous'' -- that is directly inspired by the Donners. So it's possible that I'm being unfair about the Donners when I say they are "not true pioneers." Maybe they were pioneers in terms of pop culture.

Grey Gardens nosebleed seats and imploded rat

Every once in a while I get to take advantage of "hot'' events at NYC, though usually I need to sneak in, get a student discount or wait in the rain for rush tickets. This time I am going to see "Grey Gardens,'' about eccentric Kennedy in-laws living in a hovel with cats (did I get that right? I hope so.) The theater is small but the ceiling is very high -- and we will be up near the ceiling, with binoculars, and wearing oxygen masks. I'm also hoping to see the new "Spain'' exhibit at the Guggenheim (the one that's been in the news; one of the Goyas was stolen en route to the museum!) The city is its usual combination of incredible opportunities and stomach-churning squalor. Just as I was walking home with the New York Times, its 'events' page crammed with amazing gallery shows and performances, I almost stepped on an imploded rat with its innards strung out in the street -- easily the most disgusting thing I've seen in months.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thumpo-Lena Hell

In case both of you readers were wondering, the Thumpo-Lena problem (new arrival in my apartment building moving chairs, furniture, etc., at 3 a.m. above our heads, shoving things around, banging, pounding, ) continues. It's just like "What's He Building In There'' by Tom Waits, but in an urban environment. One night at 1 a.m. I went upstairs and knocked on the door. I non-giant -- actually a petite woman --- answered. I asked if she was moving furniture around. Meekly, she said yes and apologized profusely. The next evening at 11 it sounded like a couple of rhinocerouses were consummating their relationship upstairs. Thump stomp crash kick stomp stomp crash. I went upstairs and this time it a defensive, but, fortunately for me, a thin and not very tall man, answered. He said he was "quite frankly surprised'' that I was hearing so many noises. "Really, I truly am surprised,'' he said. "i mean, what could be making the noise? Us dragging a chair around? It just doesn't make any sense.'' He was taken aback and wondering if the sounds ''were coming from the floor above me and somehow reverbertating downstairs,'' which strikes me as Voodoo Physics --- if that is true, why wouldn't he hear the thumping -- but finally he said, "Sorry, guy. We'll work this out, man. If we make a noise, just thump us with a broom handle.''' I love that sort of reassuring language, and the problem was solved -- for a few minutes. Last night the stomping and banging woke up my wife at 1:30 a.m. Indeed, we got out the broomhandle and thumped their floor pretty good and the banging stomping etc. stopped for a while. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Some guy, probably a big, dumb, hulking giant, moved into the apartment right above our heads. Every night he stomps around so hard up there that our whole bedroom shakes and dust falls out of the ceiling. It sounds like he's up there crushing grapes with his feet. The problem is that NYC is not designed for neighborly communication --- or any kind of interpersonal communication whatsoever. No one talks to anyone for any reason in this city. I plan to knock on the door and talk to the guy but it worries me; there is no context for this around here. This is not California, where people dump their personal issues and encounter-group stories on complete strangers. Last year I knocked on someone's door just to borrow a half-cup of sugar and he looked stunned, as if no one had spoken to him for the last 20 years. But it's gotten to the point when the thumper is waking us up. Stay tuned. If you read in the newspaper this week that some guy on Morningside Heights got stomped by a big, stupid giant, look for my photo next to the article.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More about Del Toro

I forgot to mention that Mr. Del Toro had quite an animated response to an audience member who asked, "So, who is your target audience? You've just made a movie with a child protagonist, but it's scary and there's lots of gore.' Del Toro responded: "(Who cares about) the target audience. I am the target audience. If I thought about such things, I'd be out there making 'X-Men Part Four. The rules of commercialism are pleasurable to subvert. If you try to 'appeal to both quadrants,' if you let that lingo seep into what you do, you will domesticate your imagination. In the long term, all that is false anyhow. Besides, you can see a lot of Jennifer Aniston movies that failed to appeal to any of the 'quadrants.'''

By the way, I was very impressed that he storyboards his entire movies himself -- including his own elaborate pen-and-ink drawings of every character. But he also says that 'preparation should not be a straitjacket. Film is about capturing the accident even at its best, while orchestrating a bunch of things that do not seem to relate to each other.'

Columbia MFA story in latest Poets and Writers

Columbia got written up in the latest Poets and Writers study of the top 5 MFA programs. The article was highly entertaining, and there was a great quote from Michael McAllister. All in all, it was a great read.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sneak preview of "Pan's Labyrinth''

One of the great things about Columbia's MFA program is the free events at the School of the Arts building (Dodge Hall.) The Film Division, for example, has screenings almost every week, featuring first-run movies, including many that are in the sneak-preview phase. The film division lets us know about these things, in the form of flyers and emails, but we get so many emails about goings-on that it's easy to miss the best offerings. Last week I saw Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth,'' a strange but potent blend of horror-movie images, Grimm-style fairy tales and Franco-era fascist nastiness. The movie focuses on an 11-year-old girl whose stepfather is a cruel and overbearingly macho Franco supporter. He's in charge of an outpost on the edge of a vast forest, where guerrillas are hiding out and mounting attacks against the Fascists. Trespassers and curfew breakers --- including two hapless rabbit hunters -- are gunned down on sight. The interweaving of fantasy sequences (from the girl's imagination), and the Fascists-fighting-the-guerrillas sequences, is extremely well-done. The girl's imagination takes her to some increasingly dark places, including the lair of the "Pale Man,'' a cannibal with eyes in his hands. He presides over a banquet table. If a guest dares to take any item of food from the table -- even a single grape -- the Pale Man, a dead-ringer for Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Children,' springs into action and devours them. De Toro himself was on hand to talk about making the movie. In an eye-opening and profanity-laced interview, he said he was trying to create a film about disobedience in the face of an overwhelming power. This movie is a "Harry Potter'' for adults. (Impressionable kids should steer clear. It's full of sudden violence, torture sequences and some pretty off-putting horror imagery.) If nothing else, it's a reminder of a nasty (and recent) episode in Spain's tragic past. De Toro spoke of Generalisimo Franco "dying happy, in bed,'' in the mid-1970s.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Rename Donner Pass

Lately I've been doing a lot of research about California (my home state) and the emigrants who made their slow, miserable way across the Great Salt Flats in the 1850s. After reading quite a few books, I'm puzzled by one thing: Why is Donner Pass named after the Donners, the murderous, quarrelsome and (some would say) stupid group of people who left too late, brought way too much stuff, took an ill-advised 'shortcut' and wound up marooned in shanties in the Sierra Nevada, where they were forced to eat axle grease, dogs, mice, coyotes, rawhide, and, eventually, each other? It's not just the fact that Donner party behaved in reprehensible ways. On top of all this, they were not the first emigrants to cross the pass that bears their name. A homely -former blacksmith and fur trapper named Elisha Stephens crossed the same pass a full two years before the Donners clawed and gnawed their way across it. In fact, Stephens did not lose a single man, woman or child in his wagon train while half the Donner Party died of starvation and exposure. Stephens got very little glory for his role in all this. He ended up a beekeeper in Bakersfield and died alone and obscure. It's strange, how people who make a mess of things can become household names. Sometimes, doing your job properly, and quietly, confines you to the dustbin of history.

Beauty in a rat-infested courtyard

Sometimes you can find beauty in seemingly disgusting places. For example: my wife and I live in an attractive Pre-War apartment building, and Columbia owns the place so the rent is way cheaper than it would be if it was market price. Anyhow, there is a dungeon-like courtyard where we must go to do the laundry. It's in the basement of our building. To get there you must descend some rusted-out stairs to an enclosed flat area with large stinking Dumpsters (registered trademark) where some of the fattest burliest rats in the world live and thrive. In fact, every other time I get there, a huge honking rat runs right in front of me, looking terrified. It's kind of strange, the way rats run in terror every time I approach. It's not like I'm going to try to pet them or eat them. Anyhow, I was dragging our laundry down the stairs of that rat-infested hellhole when, all of a sudden, I heard this unearthly sound: a woman singing, mezzosoprano, perfect pitch, perfect tone, and the sounds of it were wafting through the air, out of an open window on one of the upper floors. It was one of those moments where everything seems to stop for a while. I just stood there with my laundry basket balanced on one of the stairs and listened for 10 minutes. It was like front row seats at the Met. Then the singing stopped and the courtyard was quiet again. Only in New York.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hair-raising True Stories about the Natural World

Yesterday I asked my students to come up with some stories about the natural world, situations that challenged their assumptions about man and nature. They came up with all kinds of amazing stories. One of them talked about having to fed off a horde of crazy raccoons when he was in elementary school. Another told me that his surf break was temporarily rendered off-limits when wildlife officials tried to 'bury' a dead whale at sea, attracting the attention of enormous white sharks. Another was shocked by the murderous behavior of his feral cat. One student was shocked when he moved to New York and saw that the shy, retiring squirrels of his countryside home were nothing at all like the vicious aggressive squirrels we have here in the city. It's all part of a class section in which the students will be reading essays about man's uneasy relationship with nature. We started things off with a screening of "Grizzly Man,'' Werner Herzog's strange and hair-raising documentary about Timothy Treadwell, the grizzly enthusiast who was, eventually, eaten by one of his ungrateful (and hungry) beneficiaries. The class mostly thought he was well-intentioned but a total kook. We're going to put these experiences in context by reading Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Bill McKibben and others. I'm hoping to develop this (eventually) into a semester-long course. Another instructor in the writing program helped me out immensely by suggesting an essay about William Cronon, which challenges the American view of "man'' and "nature'' being separate realms. He claims that city parks and city trees are just as 'natural' as their counterparts in the forest.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A more positive outlook about experimental fiction

This is a revised version of my previous post about experimental fiction. The previous post was -- in all seriousness --- kind of a joke, the result of some exasperation. I sent out my strange little story to a couple of magazines and got some perplexed responses. However, I will continue my publishing quest while trying to flesh out this story. I wrote this piece for a class in my writing program. The other day, I ran into the writer who teaches the course. I told him I was having a bit of trouble finding a home for this thing and he said, "Well, it should be a book.'' That was pretty cool to hear him say that. However, I'm wondering if people will buy an entire book about Golem-like slave children made of terracotta and wood, with raisins for eyes. The cool thing is, after I published that last post, a couple of classmates have emailed me with some thoughts on this matter --- many thanks.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thank God for Po, and lack of subway tweakers

This is an unbelievable restaurant (in the village.) There were gnaw-marks on my plate by the time they finally dragged me out of there. It's on Cornelia Street, just off Bleecker. My wife wanted to go there because she just read "Heat,'' a book about Mario Battali. Battali doesn't actually work at Po anymore, but the restaurant is doing just fine without him. We had the gnocchi and the cod. For once there were no loud tweakers on the subway to kill the mood. And there were no tuba trios or rats on the way home. I've been extremely busy lately so this was a nice break. By the way, uneventful subway rides are a rarity for me this month. Why, just the other day, I was taking a southbound 1 to somewhere or other. Some guy stepped on another guy's foot and, instead of apologizing, made kissy-kissy noises at the offended party!! I kept thinking, just apologize and shut up and stop giving this guy air kisses, please, but he just kept doing this. I was sitting right between them and was sure they were going to throw punches but I waited it out and nothing happened.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Raging tuba headache

So I was hanging out in Soho with my wife the other day, and we were eating Portuguese food at a restaurant with outdoor seating, right next to the Ear Inn. It was a nice, balmy evening, a hint of breeze, and the servers ladled out this great big pile of bacalao fried up with onion and egg on my plate. So far so good. Amy ordered some crazy dish --- shrimps with lemon shellfish bread pudding. Then suddenly out of nowhere I heard the blaring squawking shriek of a trumpet, a tuba and a snare drum. A trio of street musicians called the Stumblebums started cakewalking down the sidewalk, shrieking and wailing and making all kinds of faces while dressed up as tinpan alley tunesmiths from Prohibition times. They sounded like a cross between the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tom Waits and an industrial gas-powered leaf-blower. I kind of like them --- they have style --- but I wish they wouldn't play so loudly. When they moved close to our table, it was just so ungodly loud, it felt like my skull was going to unhinge itself from my spinal chord. Waiters and diners watched helplessly as the Stumblebums squawked and wailed, with the drunken encouragement of Ear Inn patrons, who were lining up outside to get in to that bar. I'm wondering if the Stumblebums are one of those weird only-in-New York traditions that I'm supposed to know about already. I just hope this roving wind ensemble doesn't read this and somehow figure out where I live and show up to my apartment at three in the morning with drums and tubas a-blaring. That would be a horrible thing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My claim to fame revisited: obscene tree article link available on this blog

The story on this link is about a woman who turned her tree into an obscene sculpture to enrage her neighbors. This story caused a very brief stir and got me on a bunch of Howard Stern wannabe radio stations across the U.S. This may well be my high watermark, so here is the link, and keep in mind that the story has an accompanying photo that is absolutely not workplace friendly, even though the photo just shows a tree. But what a tree!!! Let me know if this link doesn't work. Being a Luddite, I could not figure out how to just post the article straight up on this blog. This will be the last entry for a while because I want everyone (in other words, the both of you) to see this stupid article first.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Last chance to see Patty LuPone play the tuba

We just saw the incredible restaging of "Sweeney Todd'' on Broadway with Michael Cerveris and Patty LuPone. Scary, pitch-perfect, wonderfully imaginative. It's not every day that you get to see LuPone act and sing and shake her booty while dressed up like a 19th Century London slattern and, at the same time, playing a drum kit, a tuba (actually, a baritone) and triangles. In fact, all the actors play instruments --- flute, violin, cello, etc --- which explains why it's almost impossible for this production to find understudies for any of these parts. I guess that if someone gets sick, the producers just pump them full of Biaxin and shove them out on the stage. It is amazing that we got tickets at all and that I could afford them; my budget is so limited that my theater going experiences are usually restricted to off-off-off-off Broadway productions such as "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well And Living In Paris'' performed by trained squirrels and a gerbil in somebody's basement on the outskirts of Queens --- so it's great that we actually saw a bonafide production. They even moved up our seats so we were way close to the stage, at the front of the balcony. See it while you can. It's in its last 17 performances and closes Sept. 3. The only drawback of the day was almost getting into a brawl in the southwestern edge of Central Park with a horse and carriage driver who was hassling us to take his stupid tour and wouldn't take no for an answer. I can't stand the hack drivers. They are mean to their horses and look ridiculous with their chimneysweeper hats. Anyhow, I told the guy to get stuffed, or the rough equivalent of that. The actual words I said to him are "work inappropriate'' so I won't repeat them here.

Last chance to see

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Some guy is trying to earn money off this blog

I just got a message from some guy, saying he was disappointed to read this blog and find no great advice about making money. Believe me, i am the LAST person you would want to consult about money. I am your go-to guy if you want advice about doughnuts, Entertainment Weekly, pop culture, fast food, etc., but if you're looking for advice about investments, you should probably read that Lee Iacocca book if it's still in print. I think I saw a nasty coffee-stained copy down at the Strand.

Only in New York --- felony hit and run narrowly averted

You won't believe this. We hired a car to take us back to Harlem/Morningside Heights because we were traveling with a cat. It was air-conditioned, comfortable, leather seats and everything. What could possibly go wrong? The black Lincoln Sedan cruised through Harlem with us in the back seat, and the driver had just banked a turn onto Amsterdam Avenue, when a kid (on foot, a toddler) runs right into the moving car! The car was going about 20 mph and we heard this horrible bone-crunching "kronk" and we turn around and the kid is yelping; he's been knocked off his feet from flinging himself into the still-moving car (which should not have been moving at all. The driver clearly saw the kid running around like crazy in the street and he should have stopped and waited.). So the driver finally stopped. A moment passed, and the kid was wailing but it turns out he was unhurt, so the driver , after checking whether he was all right, scolded him --- "Watch where you are giong!'' Then the kid's mother shows up with anger in her eyes --- but instead of raging at the driver, she rages at the kid: "Yes, watch where you are going!!!'' It was weird to see so much blame cast on this little toddler who didn't know what he was doing, especially in litigious America, where you can sue a fast food place just because you burned yourself on some coffee. I'd better watch my step when I'm jogging through traffic this year!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Summer reading: from memoirs to margarine

Every summer I read as widely as possible. This summer, I read "Mountains Beyond Mountains'' by Tracy Kidder, (terrific, though it makes you feel like a heel for not helping other people as much as you should) "Candy Girl'' by Diablo Cody (a memoir by a stripper from the Midwest; a page-turner, funny, out-there and irreverent. She slathers on the similes like butter on a heel of sourdough bread, but then again, so do I. I love similes. ) "My Lives" by Edmund White (terrific, though parts of it shocked me so much that it made me feel prudish) a large chunk of "Remembrances of Things Past'' by Marcel Proust (sure, his writing, at times, is a tsunami of logorrhea (example of metaphor, not simile!) but his endless novel captures the beautiful misery of infatuation better than any other writer. The thing about Proust is, you have to read him secretly and in total darkness with a flashlight or else everyone will think you are pretentious. But it's safe to mention him on a blog that no one ever reads.) I also read a manual, from the middle-1950s, about margarine and butter production. It was one of those situations where you are at a library, bored, and you vow to go through a row of books and blindly pick one out and force yourself to read whatever you put your hand on. The book wasn't half bad but there was way too much "demographics of oleo consumption'' in the middle half. It mucked up the pace with statistics and bar graphs. Fortunately the book perked up again when the author started talking about butterfat ratios toward the end. The book has been in Butler library for 53 years --- and I was the first person on record to ever check it out!! They had to create a barcode just for me.

Will you please leash your unwashed rodentish hound puppies?

A terrifying flat-faced puppy of unknown origins paid an unwanted visit to Rio Del Mar beach and wreaked all kinds of havoc. It was ugly as a bat and had fangs at least a foot long hanging out of its mouth. It came after me and my borrowed beagle yesterday, and guess whether or not this beast was on a leash. The answer is NO. Anyhow it came snarling through the sands and was just about to attack my beagle for rent when I gathered up my courage and performed an intervention. I created a human shield between the beagle and the monster puppy and told it very loudly to 'turn around and please go home.' Just then a woman appeared behind a mound of mouldering seaweed. She accused me of speaking in an undiplomatic voice to her puppy. She was slathered head to toe with tattoos and her yawns smelled like Bourbon. Let's just say that I'm bringing the bear mace to the beach from now on. What's next? Dingos? Hyenas?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

We're the subjects of an article

We are the subjects of an in-depth article today with a glamorous photo of Amy. The link is

If you think this is the end of the Amy publicity onslaught, you are wrong. Mattel is releasing a whole line of Amy swag next month --- Amy tote bags, Amy compacts, Amy hairbrushes, etc.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Today I received a message!!!!

This is incredible. Today, my blog received an actual message!!!!!!!!!! you will have to scroll down to find it, but this now proves that I have at least one reader again. I'm sorry if I alienated my readership before, though there is no way of knowing this for sure because of the zero messages I received. I don't want to end up like the Dixie Chicks, alienating their whole fan base. I don't disagree with the Chicks' politics but it's silly to insult absolutely everyone who buys your records, down to the last person. It's kind of like Barney going up on stage in England and saying, "Guess what, I hate kids secretly. They are dirty and smelly!'' So if you're still out there, I promise to pander to your tastes and wants. Unfortunately this means that I will have to take feedback.

Guess WHAT --- starting today, people can now write into this blog more easily

I often notice that no one ever writes into the blog. Aside from the fact that the blog is, at times, quite boring, there is another reason for this; it is almost impossible to post your messages on the blog!! For some reason, my blog is set up to make message posting extremely difficult. Before today, you had to create a blog of your own (how boring) or join the Witness Protection Program just to get a message to Cactuseaters. But no longer. After some minor tweaks, my Web designer has opened up the feedback floodgates. Now absolutely anyone with an opposable thumb can write into this blog. So go ahead and let me know you are out there (or don't, and that way I will know for sure that the blog is boring and that I must pander) best wishes from Cactuseaters

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Everyone wish my father a happy birthday

My father is rolling up here to celebrate his 80th birthday tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law have something special planned for him. Moving to NYC has given me a chance to trace my father's footsteps. I had a great experience walking around his childhood haunts in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with him this year. He's originally from the Alphabet City area but spent his formative years in the Lower East and later in the South Bronx (he still has a very faint accent from those times) We toured the Tenement Museum, which features a perfectly preserved set of rooms that look almost exactly like the ones in which he grew up. For extra authenticity, they don't bother with such fripperies as air conditioning. The neighborhood has changed --- no more pushcarts, stickball, and nag horses pulling loads of shmattes. A half-century ago, Mayor LaGuardia had a huge chunk of this neighborhood pulled down in a slum clearance project. Now, 26-story projects have taken the place of his tenement. We couldn't even find the intersection on which he lived. There is a quite a disparity between hip wealth and old-style Lower East now. In certain sections of the Lower East you can buy $6 chocolate bars and $9 tubs of gelato from the storefronts on the street level of old brownstones --- but you can still see the zig-zagging fire escapes , the live poultry traders and the cheap-suit hawkers. Katz's is still there, they still glare at you when you order but give you free samples of pastrami. We ate huge corn beef sandwiches and had Brooklyn Lagers there a few months back. Katz's, when he was growing up, was an unimaginable luxury for him. "I was aware of it but never ate there,'' he said. Now he's getting a chance to see the world and enjoy his retirement. Father is a terrific raconteur, full of dramatic and funny stories. In spite of his urban background, he also introduced me to backcountry trekking in the mountains. I'm looking forward to some good wine and snacks with him tomorrow.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I am slathered with hot coffee!!!

One morning, I took the borrowed beagle out to Full Of Beans Coffee House, near the beach, to get two huge take-away cups of coffee for me and my wife. The dog was going crazy inside the store, and sniffed a box full of Keebler peanut butter fingers and tried to eat a scone. The owner gave the dog a milk biscuit --- which the borrowed beagle did not like at all--- and then handed me the two beyond-molten coffees without even offering me a tray. So here's what I did. I tied the beagle to one of the belt loops of my jeans and staggered out of the coffee shop, with the beagle sniffing every spot of gum and every gross food item on the sidewalk. Every time the beagle would rush forward to lick or sniff something or somebody, my coffees would lurch forward, spewing their brown contents all over my shirt and pants and all over the racks of newspapers in front of the Pixie Plaza. I lurched down the street, my beagle running loops around my legs, my coffee flying all over the place. By the time I got back to my wife, my large coffee was a small and her medium was gone.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mom, please skip over this message. It's about dingos. The message just below it is about your birthday.

I wish the people who live near me would respect leash laws on the beach. I understand that Santa Cruz is made up of people with libertarian impulses. However, it's unfortunate that libertarians all own 250-pound untrained dingos that should be pacing the Dangerous Animals enclosure of some scumbo roadside zoo instead of hanging around on the beach, eating other dogs and people. My borrowed beagle puppy is getting sick of big pooches coming up from behind and sniffing her in ungainly areas and then trying to jump on her and then trying to eat me. Today the ugliest dog I've ever seen came stomping over to us, no leash in sight. I tried to be polite so I stopped running with my borrowed puppy and let the walking dishrag sniff and snort and belch at my puppy for a while. Just then, the dog's owner stopped and scolded me loudly for letting his dog sniff my beagle. "If you're out for a run, then keep on running, pal,'' he said. Yesterday, two Pekingeses shoved me into the water and tried to take my sandwich.

It's My Mother's Birthday Today

And, since I am living in New York (though not at the moment) I want to thank her for imparting a fascination with, and appreciation of, great art, especially modern art. She introduced me to the work of David Smith, Isamo Naguchi, Jasper Johns, Georgia O'Keeffe (I always butcher her name), Otto Dix, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, Red Grooms and many others. Because of her, I have a good sense of things like Dada, action painting, pop art, etc. She's a highly regarded docent at the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art. LACMA was recently mentioned as a 'locals recommend it' spot in the Frommers travel magazine.

Monday, July 03, 2006


cactuseaters --- how do I remove the stupid thing that says "O comments'' at the bottom of each entry?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Neko Case

Aside from the fact that I got shushed for good reason for talking during the opening act, and aside from the fact that the fellow sitting right in front of me had a rather wide skull and a lot of hair, and sometimes fidgeted, I had a splendid time at the Neko Case show at the Rio theater. Her music sounds like the jukebox in the last bar on earth. Her voice is powerful and scary. I like what they've done with the Rio. It used to be a shut-down movie theater with the words "Capitalism Kills'' on its fly-blown marquee. Now they have bands there all the time. Another sign that Santa Cruz has returned.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Maple Leaf Falls

Yesterday we took a hike into the Forest of Nisene Marks, down a set of steep canyons and second-growth forests, on an eroded path over planks that were railroad ties long ago. We dropped into a ravine and ended up hiking straight into a creek, dead-ending at a waterfall into a pool full of twigs, boulders and newts. There were tripping roots, redwoods forming rings and overhangs with shaggy grass and moss dripping off them. We saw a lot of oozing banana slugs along the way (they look like slices of under-ripe mango) and blue-winged moths in the ferns. Not a soul was out there, and I found a spot where you can lean into the sunshine and feel the mist in your face -- and if you keep still enough, dragonflies will land on your shoulder and stay there until you shoo them away.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I was just kidding about asking my four readers to stop reading my stupid blog

OK readers where did you go? I was just kidding when I told you that my life is not an open book. It is!!!! Give me some sorta sign. Look alive.

Widen Highway One --- and make it taller, too

I am in Santa Cruz for the summer. It's a wonderful experience, except for Highway One, which is crammed with people all of the time. Out here in Santa Cruz, widening Highway One is a very controversial issue. In fact there is a contingent of people that wants to reduce Highway One to just one lane, with a special diamond lane for unicycles running straight through the middle. The result is a sludgy highway. Yesterday it took me four and a half hours just to go a couple of kilometers. So here is my idea: widen Highway One from two to 18 lanes (18 on both sides.) Also make it taller by adding monorails and suspension bridges on top of it and tunnels underneath. All houses on either side of the highway will be seized by Eminem's Domain. (that's when you play bad music so loudly that people will leave their houses forever.) No more delays. Just do it.

Downtown Santa Cruz is less skanky than before ...

I like the new stores. The street musicians have most of the strings on their instruments now. Last time I was there, I saw just one frightening person, with a big beard and wild eyes. He was standing on a bench, yelling, "I am a little baby. Waaaaaaahhh! Waaaah!''

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


My readership has returned to zero!! I will now feel less self-conscious about future posts.

A blog with zero readers is, technically, a 'zlog.'


My readership has returned to zero!! I will now feel less self-conscious about future posts.

A blog with zero readers is, technically, a 'zlog.'

Monday, June 19, 2006

Beagle, one. Miscreant, zero

The other day, I left my recyclables container out for a few hours after the garbagemen came. I won't do that again. The neighbors are mostly very nice here but there is a house nearby with aging frat boys. One of them unzipped his pants and was, apparently, about to pee in our recyclables container (!!!!) but our borrowed beagle leapt up and howled through the fence, scaring him pretty badly. He zipped up and went elsewhere. I retrieved our recyclables container and it seems OK.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How to make MOLE and then have a bad hangover

My head is pounding right now because I went to a mole-making party at our friend Fidel's place yesterday and had too much tequila. Keep in mind. This is an experiential meal. This is not an exact science. Don't ask me about tablespoons and exact measurements because they do not exist. A certain amount of trial and error is involved. your basic ingredients will be La Abuelita mexican chocolate, pasilla peppers, lots of garlic, cloves, about three pounds of chicken (drumstick and breast combination according to your preference) and about two pounds of potatoes. Here's how it works: the first thing you do is down a shot of good tequila so you can work up the gumption to go to the store and buy 16 ounces, at least, of dried pasilla (sp?) peppers. Then boil up about 6 drumsticks and two pounds of chicken breast in just enough water to cover them. In a separate pot, boil up about two pounds of yukon potatoes. Leave the skins on!! Take the peppers and remove most of the seeds from them, in between taking big gulps of Corona and Anchor Steam to give you energy to take the seeds out. Then throw the peppers (without the seeds. They will burn the hell out of your mouth and you will be sorry. Trust me. Do not eat them!!) in a big cast-iron pan with an entire bulb of garlic. Cook it up in a few dollops of vegetable oil. It will smoke and burn a bit so make sure you're running the fan as fast as it will go. Wait about five minutes until the pasillas start to change color. Then stuff them in the blender with about ten whole cloves and put the blender on 'pulverize.' Put a hockey puck of La Abuelita Mexican chocolate in there and keep on blending with about a half a cup of chicken soup. At this point, the blender will cease to function. Send someone sober back home to get another blender. Wait a half an hour for the guy to come back, then keep blending. boil up about 10 drumsticks and two pounds of chicken breasts, and in a separate pot boil up a bunch of yukon potatoes, skins on. Dump the contents of the first and second blenders into the pot. Salt to taste. Serve with warm tortillas and potato chips that have been well-doused with Chrystal hot sauce. Trust me, it's damned good.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Omitting critical pieces of information is not lying.

I am dog-sitting in a lovely house. (I don't own the house.) The other day a man came up and said, 'what a lovely paint job on your house! I especially like the sun design near the door! The place is just beautiful.'' And instead of saying, 'hey, this is not my house,' I just said, "Thanks,'' as if to imply I painted the house and own it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Doggie update

To all: The dog is doing very well -- she is happy and comfortable and is great company, too. Question --- do they make Altoids for dogs? (not just our dog but all dogs?)

My power will increase

I am very excited about my new job. I'm going to be the assistant lieutenant in the Santa Cruz-area division of a private nonprofit. Basically, I am in charge of secret operations in Aptos, making sure things that run smoothly. At this point I am pretty much an inspector but if I get promoted, my power will increase exponentially! I'll tell you how it goes.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Stepping away from this whole blog thing

Four readers. Fine. I didn't expect this to happen. I didn't ask for this to happen. And now, what do you know, it's getting too big. This means that I will have to step away from this whole blog thing unless one of you "cools it'' and stops reading the blog. Folks, I need to keep this sustainable, and to keep this sustainable means that the interest in it needs to be consistent, not 'out of control.' Signing off for now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I have decided to pander

After thinking a bit more about this, I have decided to go ahead and pander.

I will not pander

To my readership: After some soul-searching, I have decided not to include controversial content or attractive graphics to increase my readership. I now have THREE readers and if I get more, well, so be it, but I will not go out and court a larger audience.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I Have A Reader!

The readership of my blog just increased by 1,000 percent. I have a reader! I know you're out there, though your identity is shrouded in mystery. To keep this welcome trend on target, I plan to 'juice up' the content with controversy soon. Hooray. (I have some idea of my one reader's identity but will keep my hunches to myself.) I am glad for the increase in readership but will not let it go to my head. Pretty soon I will have more readers than I can handle and this whole thing will get out of control.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Cat's weight in a holding pattern

In case you were wondering -- and you probably weren't --- my cat's weight remains in a holding pattern (see title.)

Dullness of blog equals small readership?

I am starting to wonder if there is a cause/effect relationship between the penetrating dullness of my blog and the size of my readership, which remains in the low one figures. There are 277 million Internet users out there. They are all looking at other blogs but not mine. I have two options. 1. To 'spice up' the content or 2. To customize the blog so it appeals to certain demographics. I'm too lazy to pursue these options. If you aren't interested in reading about parking tickets, lethargy and pets, you might want to look elsewhere.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Feline obesity

I had to take my cat to the ASPCA for a check-up and shots the other day on East 92nd Street -- and he almost broke the scale. He weighs 16.8 pounds! When you are a cat, you can't convert carbs to energy. It goes straight to blibble. No wonder I can not breath when my cat sits on my neck or chest at night. Not sure what to do. I suppose I could switch him to the very stinky canned food -- the stinkier the better, as far as he is concerned --- but he eats one smidgen and then I put the rest in the refrigerator. There, in the corner, with a plastic lid that barely fits, the cat food stinks up all the other food items. He is a great cat but his laziness is pervasive.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

heading for Santa Cruz

It's for real --- I'm heading for Surf City in a week and a half. I can't wait to catch up with friends and family, stuff my gullet with Takara sushi, hang out at Pleasure Point, run the trails through the Forest of Nisene Marks, and, I hope, get a lot of writing done. I love New York City but I'm tired of dodging buses, crazed taxi drivers, and disgusting rats lurking around the laundry room of our building. Before I leave, I'll try to cram all the NYC experiences I've been putting off -- a reading at Symphony Space, exploding soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai, and a run down to the Battery. Then I'm going into my final round at Columbia -- thesis, teaching, and, I hope, training for the NYC Marathon if they take me in the lottery. I also went to the dentist, which was an unfortunate experience. They cleaned my teeth, all right, but one of my teeth (or most of it) fell out almost immediately after the cleaning while I was eating Thai food. Bummer. In the next three days, bits of my molar fell out one by one at inconvenient times. I stored all the pieces in an empty film cannister (which is starting to look like a medieval reliquary.) My advice to everyone is to put off going to the dentist as long as possible if you value your molars.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Leaving Manhattan Temporarily

My first blog entry ever. Inevitable, I guess. We're taking a roaches-n-rats break next week, heading off to babysit a beagle and live in a house by the beach. Can't wait. I hope to get a lot of reading done, support my wife on her upcoming book tour (She is featured prominently in a book about the secrets of marriage, with a story about yours truly), train for the New York Marathon (if they select me) and catch up with all my friends and family.