Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Au Revoir NY Press

I'm a little late in blogging about this but a week ago today the last issue of the NY Press was published.

I'm sure your shrug of shoulders or your "What's the NY Press?" thought is one of the reasons why it's gone under. The era of free "alternative" weekly newspapers is so very twentieth century. In this media age, such papers are dinosaurs. That asteroid called the Internet came crashing down and eradicated its kind.


Personally I'm not that sad. Actually, I'm kind of happy about it. I know on this blog that I rant about how depressed I am whenever anything in this city closes or disappears -- bits and pieces of old NYC going away -- but this case is an exception. First, the NY Press was not a great, or even a particularly good, newspaper. It was little better than a college newspaper and, compared to some college papers that I've read, even worse. So this is no great loss to the culture. Second,  I sent them an article several months ago, hoping they'd run it, but they never did. It wasn't any worse than most of the stuff they put out so I don't know why they chose never to run it, and I never got an explanation (not that this was any great loss to the culture either). So I'm glad that whoever chose not to run it is probably out of a job. Obviously it'll never run now but I wasn't holding my breath anyway.

However, putting my feelings aside, the NY Press did have a pretty good run (1988-2011). Twenty-three years for any publication to last ain't bad, particularly in an expensive and crazy media environment like NYC (it was around almost as long as The Phantom of the Opera). 

The newspaper began as a New Journalism-contrarian-conservative-mean spirited "alternative" to the  "alternative" Village Voice. No liberal pansies them -- oh no, they were "real Americans" giving it to NYC "straight." Needless to say, their glory years were the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president and they loved, loved, loved savaging the otherwise popular in NYC commander-in-chief. Like all good conservatives, the paper was also totally hypocritical too -- when they weren't screaming about liberals undermining "traditional values," they were publishing graphic articles on sex and running ads for escort agencies. 

Sadly for them, however, the 2000s brought tougher times. The presidency of their much beloved George W Bush turned into a disaster -- it was one thing to attack a president they hated but it was another thing to have to defend a president everyone else hated -- thus exposing the bankruptcy of the conservative ideology they had been peddling all those years (which I'm sure disillusioned their readers). Their best sex writers left. The economy sucked. The founder and owner Russ Smith eventually had to sell the paper and the new owners had no vision, no plan to keep it relevant in the Internet age. Worst of all, the NY Press was one of those papers under constant crises -- writers and editors were constantly coming and going, they had feuds with one another that went public; it got vicious. Then the money ran out.

And the rest is history. 

So au revoir NY Press. You're a victim of circumstance. You're not the first and certainly won't be the last to bear the brunt of these tough times. But I'll admit it -- the only thing that makes me sad about your closure is that you're not taking the New York Post with you. 

The 9/11 Decade

"There's nothing intelligent to say about a massacre." -- Kurt Vonnegut

Ain't that the truth. The proliferation of words, words, words -- to steal from Shakespeare -- eventually drench and make muddy whatever meaning they are meant to convey. 

The banality, senselessness, pure stupidity of great evil acts speak for themselves. 

So is the case with 9/11. In the years since the event that changed the world, billions of words have been written about what it meant then (tragedy, national unity), what it led to (war, divisiveness, neo-McCarthyism, etc.) and what it means now (who knows?). But who knows what any of it means?

That is why I applaud New York Magazine for it's 9/11 Encyclopedia. It takes the tragedy and breaks it down -- person by person, event by event, issue by issue, controversy by controversy -- and gives snippets about each while, at the same time, not bombarding the readers with psychologising. Instead, it's just the facts -- and it lets the readers find the meaning of 9/11 for themselves.

Kurt Vonnegut would be proud.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Classic Mr NYC

Remember Seinfeld?

Of course you do. Even more than a decade after it went off the air, you can still hear New Yorkers quote their favorite lines to one another. Its spirit will never die.

So it was more than appropriate that, back in 2007, one of this blog's first interviews was with Kenny Kramer, the real life man behind the legend.

You can read it here -- and one or two things that the real Kramer reveals will surprise you.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's over

Hurricane Irene has come and gone. Now NYC goes through the process of assessing the damage, pumping out as much of the water as possible, and getting back to normal.

I don't know what it was like overnight but, from our vantage point, the storm didn't seem all that fierce. There were certainly some heavy winds and rain but nothing that seemed life threatening. I heard some reports about power outages and such, but apparently there was nothing massive.

Last night, around 9 PM, I went out in my neighborhood to see what was going on. It was raining and windy but nothing severe. However, you could feel a weird vibe in the air -- people were waiting, scared, nervous, even exciting -- everyone wondering what the impact of this hurricane would be. There were some people on the streets but not a lot, some businesses were closed but most that would be open at that hour were open -- bars, laundromats, even a burger place (that had a sign in the window that said "Don't be a bitch, Irene -- which I'm sure hurt the storm's feelings). By the time I got home I had a feeling that everything would be alright -- and, so far, it seems to have been.

Anyway, the great storm of 2011 has come and gone. We live to tell the tale. Sadly, however, mass transit is still suspended so many of us might be stuck into tomorrow. Go here to find out what the status of your subway and bus lines is. Hopefully, by tomorrow, everything will be back to normal.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Come on, Irene

Actually, please don't.

But it will anyway. Yes, Hurricane Irene has made landfall, currently battering North Carolina and Virginia and is, at this moment, headed towards NYC. Tropical storms will be beginning soon and, tomorrow morning, the hurricane itself hits the city. Yikes.

Millions of fingers are crossed around town that somehow this storm will be blow east at the last minute and spare us -- or, at least, spare us the worst of it. But at the moment that seems unlikely. Right now the wife and I are hunkered down, with food and flashlights and drinking water to spare.  Also, we have a good-old fashioned Walkman and emergency radio on hand. Let's hope we won't need any of this stuff. We shall see.

The state and city governments are, at the moment, currently going crazy trying to prepare the city and evacuate people for this thing. Sadly, some nudniks are staying put, insisting that the storm won't be that bad and that they'll just ride it out. Let's just hope they're right -- but I don't think so. 

Remember: only call 911 for emergencies. For any other stuff, call 311. 

Also, check the right-side of this blog for links to the state, city, and federal governments for more info. (I knew when I put them there four-plus years ago they'd come in handy one day. Go me.)

Obviously you should keep watching NY1 or listening to the radio for updates. Mayor Bloomberg and other officials are doing a good job keeping the city informed about what's going on. I'll try to jump on here as often as possible and, once the storm is over, I'll certainly blog again. In the meantime, stay safe, stay dry, stay sane; let's prepare for the best and hope for the best (or wait, for a moment I thought I was Georg W. Bush -- I mean ... you know ... you know what I mean).

The creepiest local 1980s ad you'll ever see

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


About an hour and a half ago, NYC felt a tremor from the earthquake in Virginia that sent a ripple up and down the East Coast.

People were scared!

Buildings were evacuated!

The mayor went on TV!

It was a really doozy!

Actually it wasn't. It was more like a big sway. The Big Sway of 2011. After about 45 minutes calm was restored. Heck, the subways didn't even stop running -- and considering that the subways get snarled the moment a drop of rain touches it, you know it really wasn't that big a deal.

So all in all, the earthquake here in NYC wasn't all that, you know, earth shaking.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Views from the High Line - Friday, August 5, 2011

Hugh Carey RIP

Word today that former New York State Governor Hugh Carey has died at age 92. Carey is regarded by many as one of the best governors of the modern era, saving the state and New York City from the fiscal crises of the 1970s. He was an adroit politician, negotiating and cutting deals that kept NYC from going bankrupt.

Last year, when the dysfunction in Albany was at its highest, I opined on this blog about how this state needed a Hugh Carey now more than ever. Well, we got Andrew Cuomo so perhaps out prayers were answered. We shall see. 

Reading about his career, I'm struck at how people like Carey couldn't get elected today. He was not flashy or exciting. He wasn't born to great wealth or into a political dynasty. He wasn't a party machine hack. He was just a public servant to wanted to serve. And his record of service was outstanding.

Most of all, Carey failed the "guy I'd want to have a beer with test." He was a very odd person, fathering lots of children, married a very creepy woman for his second marriage, and eventually alienating all of his friends and allies. He was downright weird and, after he left office, faded from the public eye. Carey was all too human but he saved this city. And for that we should be eternally grateful.   

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New York Then and Now

Recently on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show (although they had guests hosts this past week) there were two very interesting segments about our dear city. 

The first was on, of all things, the typography of the subway system. All of our subways signs have the same font: Helvetica. Yes, good old Helvetica, known in the world of typography as the font to end all fonts, the ultimate font. There was  actually a very good documentary a few years ago about this very font called ... drum roll, please ... Helvetica. You should listen to the segment and then see the movie. You'll never look at a subway sign in this city again quite the same way.

Next up: the Roaring Twenties! NYC in the 1920s was a crazy fun time. It was also a transformative era. The War to End All Wars (also known as The Great War and eventually World War I) had just ended, and America -- especially NYC -- was ready to party. Problem: booze had just become illegal. Prohibition. But the economy was booming and the Charleston was the rage and folks wanted to drink. Thus the rise of organized crime, the Mafia, which provided the booze and broads and all the fun -- and for which American society has paid a terrible price. Another legacy of the 1920s: the rise of the mass media. Radio. Movies. Gossip columns. Neon lights. The city we live in today was shaped in the 1920s so you should definitely check this segment out. 

Happy 100th Birthday Lucy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: "The Winter's Tale" at RSC

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company's production The Winters Tale. The RSC has come over from Stratford-Upon-Avon, England and taken up residence this summer at the Park Avenue Armory, transforming it into a Globe-like, Renaissance-style theater. Not only was it a pleasure to see some of the best Shakespearean actors in the world perform the Bard's work, but it was also amazing to see it as it used to be originally performed right here in NYC.

The Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's best if not most widely known plays. It's surprising because  it is also one of his sweetest and most accessible. 

Long story short: The King of Sicilia, Leontes, suspects his guest, the King of Bohemia, Polixenes, of impregnating his wife Hermione. Despite Polixenes and Hermion's protestation, Leontes imprisons his wife and forces Polixeneso flee home. Hermione eventually gives birth to a daughter that Leontes demands be abandoned. Overcome with grief, Hermione dies and Leontes, now humbled and seeing the error of his ways, vows to spend his life in atonement.

Meanwhile, the daughter has been rescued, taken to Bohemia, and raised by shepherds. Sixteen years later she has grown into a beautiful woman named Perdita and Polixenes's son has fallen in love with her, much to the King's dissaproval. I won't give away the rest but, needless to say, secrets and lies are revealead and love conquers all.

The Winter's Tale is an usual play because it is about, of all things, human nature and how it can deceive. How the irrationality of jealousy and bitterness can take hold of us and cause us to make bad decisions that hurt others. As the notes of this play in the program indicate, "This ... is a humanist drama of morality and how it fares when powerful people's emotions smash the fabric of connections that keep society's balance." There are no bad people in this play, only deeply confused ones.

This production is splendid. The actors are not famous but rather journeymen (and women) actors steeped in the Shakespearean tradition. Greg Hicks is a haunting and haunted Leontes, Kelly Hunter plays Hermione as a raw nerve of love and fear, and Darrell D'Silva is a tortured, overwhelmed Polixenes. The entire cast is wonderful and they project such energy and such love for the Bard's words, that it's hard not to be hypnotized. 

The RSC is in town until the middle of August so, if you can make it, you should go. They are doing several other Shakespeare plays and, if they're anything like The Winter's Tale, you'll definately want to check one out.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Al Jazeera English in NYC

Today the media landscape of NYC was quietly transformed. The cable news network Al Jazeera (the English language version that is) has debuted on Time Warner Cable and FiOS on channel 92. 

I've just watched a little bit of it and it is really, really good. This is truly a news network -- not a liberal or conservative platform for shouting heads, but a smart hard news service that deeply examines the issues and events changing the world. The channel used to be very controversial -- some people said it was anti-American and anti-Western -- but then others said it was anti-Arab, and many middle-east dictators and their apologists hate it. I think they must be doing something right if mindless ideologues are unhappy and smart news consumers like it. It holds up a mirror to the world (literally) and shows the good, the bad and the ugly (and pretty). 

A few days ago I blogged about the NYC media landscape and how it's actually, for the most part, moving in the right direction. With Al Jazeera now in our city, the movement continues afoot.