Thursday, May 28, 2015

David Letterman's Last Show - May 20, 2015


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

NYC in the Movies

Interesting article about the movie tours of NYC -- where buses cart lots of tourists around to look at spots in the city where classic movies were filmed -- and how the "idea" of NYC that we see in the movies is so very different from the reality of NYC in real life. 

For me, that's the greatness of this city. It's a place where dreams are realized and harsh truths are revealed. It's reality and fantasy all at once. What could be better?   

Monday, May 11, 2015

De Blasio's Vision for NYC

Rolling Stone recently published a very long article about Mayor De Blasio and his progressive vision for NYC.

Elected in 2013 with 73% of the vote, Mayor De Blasio put the issues of economic inequality at the center of his campaign and governing strategy. So far, he has given NYC universal pre-K (which, as a parent, I love), paid sick leave, launched a municipal ID card, and unveiled plans for more affordable housing units. More controversially, he reduced the use of "stop-and-frisk" by the police but has largely maintained the "broken windows" policing that has kept crime low.

His agenda is mostly, to my mind, uncontroversial. Who can argue that parents don't need pre-K? That paid sick leave is a humane policy? That a municipal ID card that helps people access services is bad? And the need for more affordable housing? That last one answers itself. 

These policy achievements might be viewed as "progressive" but, for me, they are just common sense improvements to the quality of life in NYC in the 21st century.

And yet, as successful as he's been (so far), and despite his huge mandate, De Blasio has faced vicious push back from the state government, the media, the wealthy, the so-called (corporate) charter school movement, and, naturally, Republicans. De Blasio wants to fight inequality and these various groups instead want to fight him. In fact, they are scorch-earthed in their hatred for him and his agenda, as this article explains. Just read some of the comments that accompany the article -- they are really, really nasty.
 
Clearly, instead of wanting to reduce inequality, these people want to preserve it. They don't really hate De Blasio -- they hate the people he represents (namely, the sick and disabled, the poor, minorities, Democrats, and basically anyone who isn't rich, white, and Republican). Really, what the De Blasio haters hate is democracy itself. For them, it doesn't matter that De Blasio and his policies won big and have huge public support -- they want to destroy him and his policies and the people that these policies help. They believe that De Blasio' policies threaten their socioeconomic dominance -- and they can't stand it!

Whether or not De Blasio is successful in the long run remains to be seen. He may have future policy and political stumbles. He may get caught up in some kind of scandal. There might be a  rises that arises that he is incapable of handling. And, of course, the corporate/Republican/media/state government jihad may ultimate succeed in defeating his planned re-election bid in 2017.

But, for now, I'm grateful that, at this moment of history, NYC has a progressive mayor that actually cares about the people and is succeeding.           

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Interview: Rachel Kramer Bussel, "Come Again"

One of the most popular posts of all time on Mr NYC is an interview that I did way back in 2007 -- the first year of this blog -- with Rachel Kramer Bussel, the sex writer and social observer. It got such a positive response that I thought it would be a good idea to check in with her again to see how her career and the world of sex writing has evolved. I was also interested in her opinion about such cultural phenomenon as "slut shaming" and women speaking out against the predatory behavior of powerful men.  

Rachel has also edited a new book of essays called Come Again that you should definitely check out.   

Still as sexy and prolific as ever, Rachel continues to publish articles (recently in The New York Times), blog, host events, write and edit books, and even teach classes. Rachel was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to give us another great interview. 

Since we last chatted in 2007, how has the world of sex writing changed or evolved? Has social media had an impact?

I think there are more venues where people are writing about sex, and sex is more accepted as a topic worthy of discussion alongside pop culture or news of the day. I can’t speak as much to print, but online, new sex columns seem to be thriving, everywhere from Vogue.com (http://www.vogue.com/contributor/karley-sciortino/) to Feministing (http://feministing.com/tag/fucking-with-feministing/), and sites like Fusion and Buzzfeed and countless others are doing innovative takes on it, rather than just sensationalism. I think the world is figuring out that sex isn’t just about what takes place in the bedroom, but that it impacts all aspects of our lives, and that it’s so much more complex than just “sex sells.” So many of our cultural assumptions about sex, gender, dating and relationships are being questioned and upended and we are making more space for people who perhaps don’t fit into an easy label or have fantasies or interests that might not be considered “mainstream.” I hope that we are moving away from the idea that there’s “normal sex” and then everything else. There’s not. Just because what you’re into is less common (or seems less common), doesn’t mean it’s not “normal,” and I think the proliferation of sex blogs, columns and articles is helping people realize that. Social media has made writers across the board more accessible to readers, for both better and worse. In terms of erotica, Fifty Shades of Grey not only made readers more aware of the erotica market, it opened up so many opportunities for writers, many of whom read Fifty Shades and were inspired to start picking up their own pens.

I see that you've moved to the suburbs (like me). Has that changed the perspective of your writing?

The main thing it’s done is give me more time and space to write, which have greatly improved my focus. When I lived in New York, I did way too much socializing at the expense of my career. I loved living in the city, but by the time I moved in 2013, I could tell that I would never accomplish the goals I’d set for myself if I continued to live there, because my FOMO would win out and instead of staying home, I’d be off to this or that event. Since I’ve lived in suburbia, I’ve published an ebook, Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays, started sex columns in Philadelphia City Paper (http://citypaper.net/blogs/lets-get-it-on/) and DAME (http://www.damemagazine.com/shameless-sex) and gotten published by the Washington Post and New York Times, so I think it’s safe to say suburbia and writing agree with me. What I don’t get as much of is talking to people on a daily basis; I’m largely alone when I’m working, as opposed to at a cafĂ© or observing people on the subway, but most of my work happens via online sources, whether that’s editing anthologies or researching articles.

How would you define "slut-shaming" and the damage it does to people?

There’s so many shapes slut-shaming can take, from outright being gossiped about or bullied to more subtle ways. It can happen plenty in the dating world, and I don’t think it always has to be over-the-top and sinister to have an impact. When I was single, I remember several times where no one called me a slut, but it was made clear that my behavior was pretty much too slutty to consider dating me. It can be blatant, but also so subtle we don’t realize we’ve internalized those messages, whether it’s about how soon we have sex or how many people we have sex with or what kinds of sex we have, or even what we wear or how we talk about sex. It’s almost impossible for many girls and women to keep up with the “rules” we are implicitly and explicitly told to follow in order to not be “sluts.” I think the psychic damage is one of the most dangerous aspects, because it can prevent us from exploring sex free of judgment, even our own judgment of ourselves.

What's the best way for women (or anyone) to fight back against "slut shaming?" (As the father of a young daughter, this is something I'm afraid of).

This is a tough question, because sometimes you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I think age is also a factor, because once you’re an adult you have more autonomy over your life, but if you’re being slut shamed in junior high or high school, you’re probably seeing the people doing the slut shaming every day, both online and offline. I think finding a support network of people you can trust to talk about it, and figuring out what approach will make you the most comfortable and true to yourself. I also highly recommend checking out The UnSlut Project (http://www.unslutproject.com/), which Emily Lindin started as a way of sharing her own school dairies about being slut shamed, which has morphed into a community around the topic.

Do you feel that women are less afraid these days to speak out against the sexual misconduct of powerful men (i.e. Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein) and is this a new kind of feminism?

I definitely think there’s strength in numbers, especially with some of these high profile cases. Again, it’s probably much more challenging for a student to come forth with an allegation, whether that’s in middle school, high school or college, and trust that they will be believed and given a fair chance to tell their story and pursue charges, should they want to. I do think there’s been renewed feminist activism around the topics of sexual assault and sexual harassment, but we have a lot more work to do in terms of making sure these things don’t happen in the first place and giving women space to discuss how to proceed if it does happen. I was very disturbed to hear Katie Cappiello, author of the play SLUT and co-author of a book of the same name, tell me when I interviewed her for DAME (http://www.damemagazine.com/2015/02/12/does-word-slut-have-power-ruin-us), “
We know so many boys who don’t see coercive sex as the same thing as sexual aggression or violence. So they don’t see a problem with forcing a drunk girl to have sex with them, but they would never rape them. That’s a problem; that right there is an indicator that we need to have deeper conversations.”

Tell us about your new book Come Again. 

Come Again is a collection of 24 sex toy themed erotica stories, and probably one of the most humorous erotica books I’ve ever edited, though still plenty hot. I wanted to make sure all the sex toys in the book were different, so readers got variety, and the authors came through big-time. So there are traditional sex toys such as vibrators and butt plugs and nipple clamps, as well as household items like ice and very inventive fictional toys, including a special bike, as well as a story told from the point of view of a vibrator. I was so impressed with the different ways toys play a role in the stories; some are very tender and loving, some playful, some down and dirty, some futuristic, all extremely creative. I had some expectations for the kinds of toys writers would cover, but the authors in the book went above and beyond my wildest dreams. You can learn more about it at comeagainbook.com and also read Q&As (http://www.comeagainbook.com/#!comegainqanda/c370) with many of the authors about their writing inspiration. We’re doing our first reading from the book in one of my favorite cities, Portland, Maine, the night of June 3rd at restaurant LFK – stay tuned to the Come Again site or LFK’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LFKportland) for details. I’m also tweeting @comeagainbook about the book itself and sex toy news and reviews.

Any plans for the future?

I’m editing the anthology Best Women’s Erotica 2016 for Cleis Press, which is open to women authors; I’m accepting submissions through June 1st and have the guidelines on my site (http://rachelkramerbussel.com/submissions.php). I’m teaching erotica writing online via LitReactor.com (https://litreactor.com/classes/between-the-sheets-with-rachel-kramer-bussel), a wonderful site I highly recommended for all writers—they host classes and post about writing and book news and have active message boards, and will also teach in-person classes June 2 at Nomia in Portland, Maine and September 11at CatalystCon West in Burbank – see my website (http://rachelkramerbussel.com/calendar.php) for details. Outside of erotica, I just had my first article published in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/fashion/oh-those-clever-librarians-and-their-bookface.html), and will continue to write about pretty much anything and everything that I’m interested in. I love (for the most part, when I don’t hate it!) that every day is different when it comes to my work—some days it’s writing, some interviewing people, some editing, some teaching, some walking around brainstorming story ideas. I post daily @raquelita on Twitter and post news and do giveaways in my newsletter, which you can sign up for at rachelkramerbussel.com.

Thanks Rachel! And I hope it doesn't take me another eight years to interview you again!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Patti Smith inducts Lou Reed into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame


Review: "Wolf Hall" Parts I and II‏

History was forever changed by the reign of King Henry VIII (1491-1547). The six-time married monarch broke from the Roman Catholic church, defying threats of ex-communication from the pope and the authority of the Vatican, to establish the Church of England with the monarch as its head.

The historical legacy of this schism has been profound. In the centuries since, Catholicism and Protestantism have divided the Christian faith, sometimes coexisting peacefully, sometimes leading to violence (like in Northern Ireland), but never easily. Without this split, the history of our own country would be very different. After all, our 18th century Founding Fathers were all fiercely Protestant and it wasn't until the waves of late 19th/early 20th century Irish and Italian immigration that Catholicism even became a presence in the USA. It took more than 170 years for the USA to elect a Catholic president (John F. Kennedy) and we haven't elected one since (although we do currently have a Catholic Vice-President, Joe Biden). In Britain, the schism is much more acute: until just a couple of years ago, it was illegal for the British monarch to marry a Catholic (he or she could marry a Muslim, a Jew, a Wiccan, a Mormon, a Scientolgist, whatever, but not an RC).  Most of Europe is still Catholic to this day but Britain is the country that got away. And all because of Henry VIII.

"Wolf Hall" consists of two plays, based on the Man Booker Prize-winning historical novels by Hilary Mantel. The plays and books tell the story of how Henry VIII, whose Spanish wife Catherine of Aragon had been unable to give him a male heir and was getting past child bearing age, decided to divorce his wife and marry the much younger Anne Boleyn. Problem: only the pope could grant the king's divorce (really, an annulment) but the pope did not want to anger the powerful Spanish monarch and therefore denied the king's request. Frustrated and embarrassed at the limits of his own power, King Henry did the unthinkable:  he defied the pope. He broke with Rome. He gave himself a divorce. He married Anne Boleyn and then, when she too fails to give him a son, cut off her head.

Naturally, it was a lot more complicated than this, which is why the two plays together take up about six hours. Plots within plots, the vagaries of politics and personalities, the competition and balance of national, religious, and family interests, were interwoven in the historic schism that defines Europe, Christianity, and the world today.

Most importantly, while Henry VIII is remembered as the horny, tyrannical, pre-nup requiring monarch who divided Christendom, it was his chief counselor, Thomas Cromwell, who actually masterminded and piloted the direction of these historical events. He was the power behind the throne, the ghost in the machine (think Karl Rove/Dick Cheney vs. George Bush or Tywin Lannister vs. Joffrey). Cromwell is the main character of "Wolf Hall" and is as fascinating a character as Henry VIII. The son of a blacksmith, a working class kid who, through sheer brilliance and diligence worked his way into becoming Henry VIII's right hand man, Cromwell is a very sympathetic character. He loved his wife, was an amazing father, and served his king and country with absolute loyalty. In fact, he did so to a fault: Cromwell had anyone who defied the authority of the king tortured and killed. He blackmailed people, forced them to give false confessions, and ruined their lives. He did so, he believed, for a good cause -- namely, his king. And, I'm sure in the eyes of many an Englishman then and since, he rightly stood up to the pope. He believed, you might say, in the power of a unity monarchy, that kings should be able to rule and make their decisions 100% without papal interference. But, naturally, the results of the schism led to unpredictable problems, problems which "Wolf Hall" also examine.

This two-part play is a marvel. Performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Winter Garden Theater, it is a masterpiece of acting, staging, and storytelling. There is no real set: instead, it takes place mostly on a bare stage with just a few props, tables and chairs brought in at various intervals. There is also a very interesting use of fire that gives the play a wonderful atmosphere and many of the scenes are interspersed with beautiful dancing, and the costume are absolutely gorgeous.

But it is the British actor Ben Miles as the notorious Cromwell who is what makes these plays a joy. His performance is layered and complex, and the many emotions and thoughts of this complicated man are on full display but are only revealed through the actions of the plot. The writing is such that, just as soon as you you get to like Cromwell, he does something that horrifies you -- and yet you still like him. This is a play of surprises even though the history is well known. It is also, dare I say, a deeply feminist play (after all, it was written by a woman). Cromwell's wife is presented as the only woman who could command him, something the king very often could not do. Catherine of Aragon was a smart, strong woman who did not go quietly. And Anne Boleyn was no mere pawn but someone who ruthlessly destroyed anyone in her way.

History is created by the battle for power, the competition of interests, and the clash of personalities. "Wolf Hall" demonstrates this and more, and makes for thrilling entertainment.

P.S. If you can't make it to the Broadway production of "Wolf Hall" then you can watch it on PBS, starring the amazing Mark Rylance as Cromwell.   

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Da' Bronx

Interesting article from NY Mag online about the only NYC borough grafted to the American mainland: the Bronx. Titled "What is the Bronx Anyway?", it's a meditation about the borough, by a native, about what makes the Bronx both fascinating and yet, at the same time, so elusive to New Yorkers who live outside it.

The author raises some interesting points, and the article is worth a read, but I think there's more to what makes the Bronx such a difficult place to describe and understandd. Three main points I'd include:

1. Other than Staten Island, the Bronx is very isolated from the rest of NYC. In fact, it's even more isolated: you can ferry it from Staten Island to lower Manhattan very easily or drive across the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn. The Bronx, on the other hand, is only attached to the city by a few bridges and subway lines to upper Manhattan. So, for the rest of the city, the Bronx might as well be Westchester. Out of easy reach, out of mind.

2. The Bronx is not, shockingly enough, geographically homogeneous. Yes, the South Bronx is popularly thought of as a Bonfire of the Vanities-like urban hell hole, and other parts of it are very citified too. But remember, the Bronx is also home to the super-suburban area of Riverdale. Also, huge swaths of it are covered by park land: Van Cortland Park, Pelham Bay Park, Ferry Point Park, not to mention all of the space that the Bronx Zoo takes up (it's huge!). So the Bronx is hard to define since it's a patchwork of urban landscapes, suburbs, parks, and islands (like City Island).

3. The Bronx has a very sad history. In the 1950s, wonderful middle class, largely Jewish, neighborhoods like Tremont were destroyed and blighted by the Cross Bronx Expressway. When Robert Moses rammed this enormous highway straight across the borough, the wonderful Marty-like ccommunities housed in the Bronx were wrecked and scattered. No one wanted to live next to a big noisy highway and neighborhoods were literallyy gashed apart. Abandoned buildings turned into drug dens. Filth and grime took root. People who could afford to live elsewhere did. Read the chapter "One Mile" from Robert Caro's The Power Broker to learn about how an entire borough of this great town was basically ruined by this evil highway. The Bronx has never fully recovered.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pizza and Times Square - How did we get here?

If there's one constant in New York life, one reliable anchor in the tumult of existence here, it's pizza. Ever since the influx of Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, this concoction of flat bread with tomato sauce and cheese has become one of the staple items for all New Yorkers, providing sustenance and comfort to the world's greatest city for over 100 years. How this did happen? How did it conquer NYC? How come NYC is pizza's city and we just eat in it? This segment from WNYC radio explores why.

And talking about the anchors of NYC, no place anchors our town more than Times Square. The crossroads of the world in the center of the world, Times Square has been remade in the last few years with the introduction of pedestrian plazas -- large swaths of the public square where New Yorkers and tourists can roam free and "chill" sans the threat of cars. This other segment from WNYC is about the transformation of -- and caused by -- the new Times Square.

This past weekend, the wife and I found ourselves in the Times Square area. We got some ice cream and plunked ourselves at the public tables smack dab in the center of the crossroads of the world to enjoy our treats. There we were ... eating ice cream ... sitting on chairs, at a table ... in the middle of friggin' Times Square!  Reeled the mind at how this isn't our parents Times Square. It's almost a cliche to say it now, but the hookers, pimps, drug dealers, vagabonds, ruffians, porn theaters, and dilapidated structures that used to populate the area are truly gone, gone, gone. Now Times Square is a buzzing hive of tourists and merchants, ablaze with LED screens advertising ... everything ... a family friendly gathering place. 

The transformation of Times Square prove the old maxims: the old becomes new, the sleazy becomes respectable, the rebel becomes the establishment. Like the old man said in Chinatown, if something lasts long enough, it doesn't matter how outrageous it's past: it becomes respectable.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Night City

A few years ago I blogged about my love for the romantic world of late night NYC. Since this is the one of the most exciting and romantic of cities, the allure of nighttime NYC takes on an especially sexy sheen. Nighttime NYC is a place of bright lights and dark streets, of people working to keep the city going while others are out there partying, of friends and lovers coming together, of crime, of craziness, of ... endless possibilities. All of us who were young (or old) in NYC have our special memories of this city at night.

That's why New York magazine now has a whole special section called After Midnight where various notable New Yorkers write about their memories and impressions of New York at night. This electronic "scrapbook" is interspersed with stories about NYC at night back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when things just as shocking (if not more so) when down in the nighttime environs of NYC.

I had many late nights in NYC back in my pre-child years. This included outings with various friends and significant others, most recently my wife. Back in 1994, I remember leaving a party at 4 AM in the Village and we walked up towards midtown, watching the city wake up (this was the same day, as it turned out, that OJ Simpson would go for "the ride of his life" out in LA). I remember all those nights in the early 2000s when, hopelessly single, my friends and I would go out to bars and, eventually, to places like Veselka and Caffe Dante for dessert. And, naturally, the many late nights with the special lady who would become my wife.

One night, back in 2008 (after this blog was created!) stands out. My wife/then girlfriend and I had gone to the They Might Be Giants concert at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side. I had mentioned this in passing to my brother who indicated that he and his girlfriend were also planning to go to the same concert. Afterwards, the four of us repaired to Big Nicks Pizza Joint for late night snack and there, for the first time, the now-wife and I got to the know the person who would become my sister-in-law (and mother to my niece and nephew). It was a lovely night and, in retrospect, a transitional moment in all of our lives.