Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Woody Allen @ 80

Today one of NYC greatest living film directors, every body's favorite nebbish Woody Allen, turns eighty years old. 

Eighty! Who knew he was so young?

After all, Woody Allen has been a cultural force in this country and around the world for over fifty years. Since his days as a TV comedy writer in the 1950s, to his days as a stand-up comedian/actor/game-variety-talk show presence in the 1960s, to his now legendary filmmaking career which blasted off in the early 1970s and lasts to this day, Woody Allen has done so much to shape comedy, movies, and American popular culture over the decades that it seems like he has always existed -- and always will.

Only Keith Richards seems more durable. 

For a man who's so obsessed with and afraid of death, Woody seems impervious to any kind of mortality -- either physical or professional. He has just kept rolling along, producing a new movie every year, decade in, decade out. So many others actors and directors have risen and fallen during his time, coming and going like presidential administrations and TV shows, being "hot" for a time before fading away -- and yet Woody endures. How much longer he will endure is anybody's guess but, for the time being, he's still here, making movies. 

P.S. You might enjoy this 1996 profile from The New Yorker about Woody Allen. Even though the article is almost twenty years old, even then he was almost four decades into his film career and already legend. And to think he still had some of his biggest success, and another Academy Award, in his future. Amazing. 


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Memo from NYC

In the history of art -- music, literature, painting, sculpture, film, etc. -- blogging is a very new arrival. In fact, it's so new that many people might not think of it as Art at all. How much skill, you might wonder, does it take to sit down at a computer, pound out a few words on the key board, link to a few sites, upload a few pictures, and hit "Publish"? Not much, you might presume. However, making an interesting blog takes a certain amount of thought, talent, and attention, therefore blogging is more of an skilled "art" than you might think.

In this era of the Internet, art of all kinds is widely disseminated online. How artists get paid for work available at the click of a mouse is an endless, almost maddening point of contention between artists and consumers. This is not a subject that I will belabor here because it is, quite frankly, a hopeless and unsolvable bore. But I do want to make one point: companies expecting artists to give them free work is a goddamn outrage! 


Remember Wil Wheaton?

If you're a child of the 1980s, like moi, you certainly do. He was in the 1986 movie Stand By Me and then the late 1980s/early 1990s TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Kind of a big deal back in the day. As a grown up, Mr. Wheaton continued to act but he also worked in tech. He also is a blogger and, apparently, he recently posted something on his blog that was so interesting that the Huffington Post asked if they could re-post it on their site. He asked, quite reasonably, how much they would pay him for it. Their answer? Nothing! Oh no, they told him, the compensation is that we give you a ... "platform" ... which will give you ... "exposure" ... so that somehow ... somewhere ... someone down the line will pay you for ... something ... But, in the meantime, a big wealthy company gets free content.

Mr Wheaton was livid. They wanted to post his work and not pay him for it. He was pissed -- and rightly so.

This happened to me very recently. I thought about blogging about it earlier but didn't because I assumed no one would care. But the fact that this happened to Wesley Crusher's doppelganger shows how over matched us humble artists are against the corporate behemoths that would exploit us like 19th century plantation owners.

This is my story.

Several months ago I got a message from Uber.

Yes, that Uber -- the corporate giant that wants to take over the taxi industry in every city around the world. They wanted me to blog about how great Uber was. I had never actually used Uber but, hey, if they wanted to pay me for a writing gig, I was willing to listen. Give me a free Uber coupon or something, give me some dough, and I'll write something. I'm happy to be a sellout -- for the right price. So I told them this (well, I left out the "sellout" part but said that I could write something) and asked how much money I would get.

Their answer? Oh, we can't pay you a dime but we'll link to your blog on our site and won't the "exposure" for you be great?

I didn't bother to answer Uber and deleted all their messages. Expletive them.

The noive.

Uber is currently valued at $51 billion dollars. The Huffington Post is valued at $1 billion. And yet, somehow, these BILLION DOLLAR companies can't afford to pay bloggers a few bucks to post their content? As De Niro exclaimed in Goodfellas: "What the matter with you? What's the f@#$@#@#ing matter with you?"

I get that we now live in a so-called "disruptive sharing" economy (whether we like it or not), but when big companies like the Huffington Post and Uber ask writers for free content, that ain't sharing -- that's theft. Plain and friggin' simple. Links that provide "exposure" on "platforms" is not compensation -- at most, it's a favor. Not compensation. Get the difference?

This blog is written by moi as a labor or love and its content is free. This is my choice. And what (very) little money that this blog generates goes directly into my pockets -- cause I created this blog and all its damn content. That's my business.  But if I write something for a big for-profit company like Uber that exists to enhance their business and not mine, then that is not a labor of love -- that's just good old-fashioned capital-L Labor. And, for most of the last couple of centuries, people have expected to be paid for their Labor. Civil wars have been fought and revolutions started over just this very point of contention. But now these big tech and Internet companies think they're so special that they should be the exceptions to this rule that undergirds most of civilization.

Some might think that people like Wil Wheaton and yours truly are just big greedy complainers. But no, this is not greed. This is about respect and proper compensation for "services rendered." Capitalism is about the exchange of goods and services. Asking people to give you free stuff ain't capitalism. It's not an exchange. It's not fair compensation. It's just nasty, mean-spirited theft and exploitation. And nothing more.

If getting people to work for free is part of the "new economy", then count me out. Call me old-fashioned, call me a troglodyte, but I think people should be paid for their work. I think big wealthy companies exploiting people is wrong. I've never sat at the cool kids table so if my attitude on this subject is "uncool" then so be it. The uncool never bothered me anyway. 

As a person I onced worked with said, "I may be a whore, but I will thank you that I'm not a cheap one."

Or, in this case, a free one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

HEY, WHERE DA' PORN AT? The New Times Square


So Goes Times Square, so goes NYC ...

I've blogged countless times over the years about the transformation of NYC from a bustling, fun, dirty, dangerous city into a sanitized fun-house mirror of itself catering to tourists and rich foreigners. The cost of living in this city, while never cheap, is now astronomical, and the vestiges of old NYC - like coffee shops, rent controlled apartments, corner drug stores, and porn theaters - are fast disappearing. Because NYC is so vast, because it's a hodgepodge of over 300 neighborhoods (many of which are bigger than most towns and cities in the rest of the country), it's impossible to point to one spot in NYC as representative of greater whole changing dynamic. However, if you had to look for one example, then obviously Times Square, Crossroads of the World, is the place. It has changed so dramatically over the last quarter century, done a complete 180 in the city's and the public's imagination, going from "scary" to "boring", from "gross" to "respectable", that's it's almost impossible to comprehend. Times Square basically is NYC -- only more so.

This lengthy article from this week's New York magazine reviews the transformation of Times Square over the years, from a den of moral inequity to a den of economic inequality. Times Square, it reminds us, has always been the nerve center of the city, representative of it in so many ways. So when it changed, the rest of the city was destined to follow it.

Also, you might be interested to read (or read about) a new book called City on Fire about NYC in the last 1970s era, when the city was dangerous -- and wonderful.

Then, finally, read this article about the boom in 1970s New York nostalgia. Apparently, it's a "thing" now.

If you get a time machine and travel back 40-something years and tell New Yorkers what their city would become, most of them would ask to get into the time machine and travel back to the future with you. But for many of us, if we could go back to that old NYC, some of us, including yours truly, might choose to stay there ... for a while at least.

As Fran Leibowitz said: Times Square today is like a gay bar in the 1970s -- no one admits to going there.

Preserving the Past


Sure, lots has changed in NYC over the years but two things in this city seem immune to the ravages of time: Chinatown and the Dakota building. How have they survived while so much has been changed?

First, in Chinatown, the community, politicians, and business leaders have made a concerted effort to keep this classic neighborhood intact. It's a wonderful example of how vision, intelligence, political will, and good old fashioned hard work and fight huge forces -- like big money and the real estate industry -- to keep a great neighborhood alive.


Second, the Dakota -- this old fashioned building has stood the test of time. Why? Who can say? Perhaps it's because it's just such a gorgeous building that the idea of demolishing it or changing it substantially seems incomprehensible. Perhaps the residents have kept its integrity intact (unlike the Apthorp). Who knows? The only thing we do know is that it still stands -- and probably always will.

Did you see this?

A couple of weeks ago, DNAInfo published a map of NYC neighborhoods -- the borders of which were drawn by their readers. 

There are several hundred neighborhoods around the five boroughs, all leading and bleeding into one another. Where the boundaries of one neighborhood end and the others begin has been -- and probably always will be -- a matter of debate. 

And what this map proves is that, while we may all agree that we live in NYC, exactly where in NYC is open for discussion. 

You know, us New Yorkers, we love to argue, even about where in the city we live!

Back

Apologies for the long absence. Since I last blogged, Mr NYC has reproduced yet again -- my second Little Miss NYC was born two weeks ago and, as you might imagine, that took precedence to blogging. However, I'm still sentient and will try to blog as much as possible. Till then!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Mighty New York Times -- and Its Future

If you watch the TV show Game of Thrones (or have even read the books its based on) then you know all about Lord Tywin Lannister. He's the richest man in the "Seven Kingdoms", has served as "Hand" to two insane kings (one of them his own grandson), has won many battles and crushed many rivals, and who also controls the most feared family in the fantastical realm of Westeros.

In season one of the show, King Robert Baratheon, supposedly the most powerful man in Westeros, constantly moans about how much in debt (both literally and otherwise) he is to Lord Tywin. Tywin helped make Robert king and Robert is married to Tywin's daughter, Cersei, creating what has become a miserable alliance between Houses Lannister and Baratheon. At one point, a drunk and resentful King Robert calls his menacing father-in-law "the mighty Tywin."

Tywin is the ultimate "power behind the thrown", someone who supposedly does not wield the real power in the land but who controls the kings that do. He is in fact more powerful than the kings he's supposed to serve. He can make kings -- and destroy them -- like Tywin did to Robert's predecessor. Power brokers like Tywin do not get any glory but are deeply, deeply feared by those who do. And, as Machiavelli said, "'tis better to be feared than loved."

In New York City & State, and in the country at large, we elect governments to represent and rule us. Democracy is supposedly about the people controlling those who have power over them, but, as we know, a political system awash with money means that those with money really control our government. There are also "bosses" who can throw the weight of a political party apparatus behind selected candidates -- thereby choosing who gets elected and who gets shafted. But there is one thing more powerful than money and bosses -- the media. The people who "buy ink by the barrel", who broadcast and broadband to hundred of millions of eyeballs and ears around the country, who are the ones who really control the leaders we supposedly elect to rule us. They can make and break reputations and thereby empower or destroy the careers of our rulers. And in this town and country, no media outlet wields more power and influence over our governments than The New York Times

Oh, the mighty New York Times. The "newspaper of record" is easily the most feared news outlet in NYC and one of the most feared in the country. It wields enormous power and influence. 

Just some examples: In 2003, it published story after story saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The result? It gave mainstream, respectable legitimacy to the Iraq War which, of course, turned out to be one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in American history. (The stories turned out to be bogus, the Times later acknowledged, but the damage was done). Another example: the Times' power can directly affect the fortunes of politicians, especially in NYC. It can endorse candidates for office and make (or unmake) political careers. I recall seeing a TV interview with Scott Stringer in 2005 when he was running for Manhattan Borough President. He had just gotten the Times endorsement for his run that year and he looked like a guy who had just lost his virginity to a supermodel while being spoon-fed Beluga caviar from a crystal goblet. He won the borough presidency that year, he is now the Comptroller of NYC, and he very well may become mayor one day. Such is the power of the "mighty" New York Times.

So who controls the newspaper that controls NYC?

For over a century, the Times has been ruled by the Sulzberger family. Sons and grandsons of its founder, Adolph Ochs, have been running it for 119 years. The position of Executive Editor at the paper is the ultimate designation for the Power Behind the Throne of New York and American power. The current "mighty" Sulzberger is Executive Editor Arthur Sulzberger Jr. who is now in his 60s and is beginning to think about who might replace him when he retires. As this article points out, there are currently three leading candidates, all members of House Sulzberger, who might very well one day become the next Executive Editor. Currently, America is in the madness of a yet another protracted presidential election which will culminate in November 2016. However, something that will be less noticed by the populi but is no less in important is who will become the Times' next EE. Whoever that is will have tremendous power over our city and country for years to come -- as many mayors, governors, and presidents come and go.

Right now the Times is using its power and influence to unmake one potential president -- former US Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They have been writing creepy, oddly-sourced stories about how she "might" be a criminal, about her complex marriage to former president Bill Clinton, about any controversy, real or imagined, concerning her life and presidential campaign. Anyone reading the Times' nasty coverage of Hillary Clinton can only reasonably conclude that "the paper of record" wants to prevent a potential Hillary Clinton presidency and destroy her and her family's reputation. The paper tried and, uncharacteristically, failed to destroy Bill Clinton's presidency. When he was in office, in the 1990s, as this article points out, the paper issued story after story, editorial after editorial, slamming the Clintons and their administration. Of course, Bill Clinton wound up becoming an incredibly popular two-term president still much admired to this day. But the Times' tried to stop that and they are trying to prevent what might become yet another incredibly popular two-term Clinton presidency. Many quoted in this article believe, quite rightly, that the paper has had a twenty-year plus vendetta against the Clintons, that they are the Times' White Whale, that to destroy the Clintons will be the ultimate demonstration of the Times' power. Of course, those currently leading the paper protest, way to much, that this is not so. But anyone rational person knows that it is.

So as we look forward to a change in leadership both in America and at the "paper of record", the question is simply put: will The New York Times remain mighty or has it, like American power itself, started a slow, long decline? 

Monday, August 3, 2015

KIDS @ 20

Twenty years ago this summer a low-budget movie about teenagers hanging out in Manhattan hit theaters. The movie had no stars and was shot in a documentary, cinema verite style (basically it was a 1990s American version of an Italian neo-realist film). It also had an unassumingly simple title: KIDS.

But oh ... the kids in this flick were doing very un-kid like things. Oh my, they were hardly paragons of youthful innocence. They were doing very nasty and quite disturbing things, like having sexual intercourse, and consuming drugs, and getting into street fights, and even skateboarding in a very dangerous manner. It was an expose, a "shocking" look at young'uns in America (or at least NYC) gone wrong. It was, as one reviewer at the time put it, "a wake up call to the world."

Yes, right under our noses and on our streets and in our buildings, teenagers were behaving very badly.

The "plot" of this film concerns a teenager named Telly who likes having sex with virgin girls when he's not hanging out with his friend Casper whose main interests are drinking 40 ounces of malt liquor and sticking tampons up his nose. Together, they spend a day "cold chillin'" in NYC with various friends. Meanwhile, a girl named Jenny that Telly previously de-flowered discovers that she has HIV -- and that means Telly, her only sexual conquest, was the culprit. She spends her time during this day trying to find him but can she do so before the self-described "virgin surgeon" strikes again? Oh my indeed.

One thing that's interesting to see in this movie, and what makes it something of an historical document, is that cell phones/smart phones and social media are totally absent in it. They didn't exist yet. Heck, these kids don't even have beepers! (Remember them?). Remember, this movie came out in the mid-1990s so Jenny actually had to track down Telly in person to inform him of her (really their) plight. Doubtless, today, Jenny would call or text Telly (assuming she had his number or knew someone who did) or she'd just go on Facebook and flame "THAT TELLY MUTHAFUCKA GAVE ME AIDS!"

I remember when this movie came out in '95. It was the summer I went to college. The movie was very controversial and very much discussed in the press. And then it was pretty much forgotten about. After all, once the shock value wore off, people were just left with watching a rather gross, tedious movie. That said, the movie had its virtues. KIDS did not moralize. It didn't claim to have any answers about the youth crises in America. It was just a look at a bunch of teenagers living lives of boredom in despair in the richest most powerful nation in history ever to bestride the face of the earth. It reflected the mirror to nature, made us look at the world we had created. And it sucked.

However, now that the film is older than most of the actors who were in it, those of us who were teenagers back then seem to be remembering it. Here's one article that is a retrospective of KIDS, of what it meant to American society and popular culture at the time, and its legacy today. And here's another one about many of the locations in NYC that appear in the film (it was shot in 1994) and what they look like today.

One thing about this movie that really dates it: the teenagers in it are clearly lower-middle class kids, kids who aren't academic geniuses or great athletes, kids whose futures seem very bleak. Today, in post-Bloomberg NYC, there are barely any lower middle class people in Manhattan anymore. If this movie was being made today, these kids would probably be hanging out in some of the rougher parts of the outer boroughs. KIDS takes place in the era when the great bad old days in NYC were ending and the Comeback city was emerging. Take, for instance, Washington Square park. Back then, it was a run-down haven for young people and the disaffected to hang out, do drugs, and get into trouble (in this movie, a scene in Washington Square park turns into a violent melee). But today, the park is ... bucolic ... serene ... a friendly place for families and NYU students alike. Today, if a bunch of kids beat someone up there in broad daylight, they would be arrested and booked within seconds.

In many ways KIDS is ... old.

The crime is gone. The AIDS crises has largely receded. Teenagers are having less sex and pot use is virtually legal. The city has changed. Now being a non-having sex, book loving, computer using nerd is considered cool, even sexy. Being a druggie loser has lost its appeal for many young people. But in looking back at this movie and at the time and place and issues of the day it addresses, you have to wonder, won't kids always be kids?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Marc Maron in NYC

If you're like me, you're a huge fan of comedian Marc Maron's insanely great podcast WTF.

Originally started as one comedian talking to his fellow comedians, in recent years Maron has also been interviewing actors, singers, movie directors, and other high profile people. His podcast has become so popular and "important" that people are begging to be interviewed on it. Most recently, the President of the United States himself was a guest. 

Maron records WTF out of LA but he lived in NYC for many years and his show has a definite New York vibe. This article about Maron's past life in New York is very interesting and revealing about the man who America wants to talk to.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Eat at Seinfeld's

It's a testament to the eternal greatness of Seinfeld -- the ultimate New York show "about nothing" -- that now, almost two decades since it went off the air, people still watch, talk, and write about it.

Recently the Internet streaming service Hulu licensed all of the episodes, netting the creators and owners of the show a cool $150 million.

And now this nostalgic article in The New York Times about the New York food culture on the show -- the coffee shops, hot dog stands, restaurants, and soup Nazis that Jerry, Kramer, George and Elaine all frequented during their madcap, 90's adventures. Several of the places featured on the show have closed but many are still around and can be visited by any fan.

Great food, great comedy -- just part of what always make NYC great.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality Rocks America

Marriage equality is now legal throughout the entire country. This is a great achievement. Here is what I wrote about it back in 2011 when marriage equality was legalized in New York State. I think my comments then still stand now.


Bloomberg Back in Biz

Have you been wondering what former Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been up to since he left office in 2013?

Of course you haven't! 

But this very long article is a rough summary of what our former mayor has been up to since he laid down the burdens of running NYC and resuming the duties of running his company Bloomberg LLC.

It's an interesting read but it also shows that Bloomberg is, at heart, a businessman and that his 12-year detour in government was really an aberation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Past Tense, Future Perfect

Forgive the intellectual laziness of the following sentence but I can't think of a better way to put it: a big city like NYC has a big history. Big -- in that it is varied, complicated, and endless.

In fact, there are many histories to NYC: political, social, cultural, architectural, you name it. There are whole libraries devoted to the history of NYC, literal forests of felled trees devoted to capturing the complex biography of this place. The following are links to just a few resources and articles to learn more about the history of NYC:

A "Book Bag" that summarizes some of the best novels and non-fiction writing about NYC.

A recent segment on WNYC radio about the history of landmarks and the preservation of great buildings in NYC.  

An article about the legendary hangout and music haunt Max's Kansas City where Andy Warhol liked to go and where the Velvet Underground gave some of their last, great shows.

And a history of Roosevelt Island, that sliver of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens that has as long, complicated, sometimes scary, but always amazing history all its own. Recently it was the site of Hillary Clinton's campaign launch for president -- yet even more history being made in NYC.


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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

If you love NYC as well as the comedy stylings of the great Tina Fey, you MUST watch the brilliant new Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's funny, sweet, thoughtful, and a great new NYC show! And no, I'm not being paid to plug this (although I wouldn't mind if I was ...).

Best of NYC

New York magazine has published its annual Best of New York list that's always worth a look.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Crime Drought!

At 12:01 AM today New York City achieved a new milestone -- ten days without a single murder. Ten days ... and no one was intentionally killed. That's amazing. Historic.

Congratulations to the people of NYC for not killing each other. And congratulations to Mayor De Blasio for keeping our city safe.

Of course, I'm sure that Republicans, the NYC tabloid press, and other assorted haters are seriously depressed. After all, when De Blasio was elected they were shouting that NYC would soon spiral into a cauldron of murder and mayhem, a pit of hell of death. Instead ... crime has never been lower. And now this.

Sorry GOP and De Blasio haters  --  your worst fears are being realized. De Blasio is a good, competent mayor and the city is safer than never. You lose. And everyone else wins.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Gates @ 10



































Ten years ago one of the most fascinating art exhibits in NYC history debuted in Central Park. It was called simply the Gates. Created by the eccentric artists Christo and Jean-Claud, at over  twenty-five years in the making, the Gates unfurled for the public on February 12th, 2005.

The Gates was a massive sprawl of Japanese inspired "torrii gates", made out of saffron-colored nylon fabric, which covered the entire expanse of Central Park from 59th to 110th Streets. (Torrii gates appear at Japanese Shinto shrines and are symbolic portals between the physical and spirit worlds). For the last two weeks of February 2005, this public art exhibit transformed Central Park, pulled in over 4 million visitors, and generated over $250 million in revenue for NYC. It made the Central Park of our loving collective conscience into something different, something exquisite -- like looking at your child dressed up in a beautiful custom.

It was an amazing sight to behold.

Walking through the Gates, as I did one chilly Sunday afternoon with my mother, was a wonderful experience. Having walked through Central Park many times in my life (and many times with my mom), strolling through the Gates with her felt like we were walking in the park again for the first time. And, of course, we were not alone -- many other people were also milling around us, amazed by the splendor of the exhibit. And that's what was so incredible about the Gates -- it made you look at something you had seen before many times but differently, it created a unique experience, and it brought you closer to the people you were sharing the experience with. It was very special. 





And then ... it was gone ...







Obviously, the Gates was meant to be temporary. By the end of February 2005, they had vanished, never to return. And that was part of the experience of the Gates: its very nature was ephemeral. It wasn't meant to last. The Gates was meant to be an experience, a mom
ent in time to remembered and cherished. And now, ten years later, it still is.