Thursday, August 30, 2018

What a Con Wants ...

... is Ivy League graduates, apparently.

Allow me to explain.

Donald Trump is an obvious fraud, a con man (Trump University, anyone?) to everyone and anyone who either isn't a complete moron or a racist supporter. He lies and cheats and steals. But one thing a lot of people, even those who detest him, is that, because he's so crass, he's not a snob. How can he be? He loves the "poorly educated", he's personally gross, and promotes himself as a savior to middle America.

This is, of course, nonsense. He cuts the taxes of rich people while the factories he promised to save keep closing. But he's also a snob! Apparently, he doesn't want to hire anyone except Ivy League graduates -- and only those who graduate from the top, top Ivies. He apparently loathes his AG Jeff Sessions, not only because he refuses to un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation, but because he went to the University of Alabama Law School and not, say, Harvard. 

As this article points out, Trump is the exact kind of coastal elitist that so many of his supporters claim to detest -- he looks down on the poor, the poorly educated, the non-elite. He's everything that this supporters accuse his opponents of being. 

He's a snob! Of course, he says he's not because he's a con man. But really, for everything else you might call him (narcissist, racist, liar, etc. etc.) he's just a big fat snob.

And that might be his most unforgivable sin.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Is Louis CK Back?

Digital Gentrification: The End of "Taxicab Confessions"

Gentrification isn't just happening to the NYC streets, skyline, and pocket books -- now it's hit our TV.

Specifically HBO.

Like most legacy premium cable channels, HBO has featured uncut, uncensored, commercial-free movies, big-time sporting events (like boxing), as well as original programming (e.g. The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, as well as documentaries). They also featured "adult" fare, including shows like Cathouse, Real Sex, and others.

One HBO show, however, defied easy categorization. 

It was called Taxicab Confessions. It started on HBO in the mid-1990s and ran, off and on, for another decade or so. Taxicab was a brilliant, innovative program, an early "reality show", where regular people were filmed in the backseats of cabs, talking with their fellow passengers and the "drivers" (who worked for the show). These cab ride vignettes were usually filmed in the middle of the night, and all sorts of wacky characters and behavior would be revealed. It was an amazing "keyhole" into a moment in time, into simple interactions and conversations among people, a literal rolling revelation of human behavior. At the end of each show you'd see the drivers reveal to the passengers that they'd be filmed for Taxicab Confessions, and they'd freak out and then happily sign a release form. The show invented the whole genre of people talking in cars (Jerry Seinfeld even ripped it off!). 

The show originated in NYC, and most of the early shows were filmed here (before moving to Las Vegas for a while, and then returning to NYC). As you might imagine, the people featured in the cab rides were often dirty -- dirty mouthed, dirty minded, dirty moving. They were funny, weird, sometimes delightful, sometimes sad, sometimes confused and confusing, sometimes shockingly normal, but they were always interesting. Always. 

And now they're gone

Why? Because even though a new episode of Taxicab Confessions hasn't been produced in a while, up until recently, the past episodes were available to watch on HBO On Demand and HBO Go. You could go back in time to the 1990s and early 2000s, and see these parade of lovable freak shows in cabs. You could see NYC (and, yes, Vegas) in the middle of the night, for real. You could see a whole other strange, sometimes dangerous, sometimes sexy, sometimes just odd, world. But no longer. HBO has removed it from these streaming services, along with the rest of their "adult" programming. 

Taxicab Confessions is not only over but now it's gone, totally gone, a blatant garbage-canning of part of the city's past, a kind of digital gentrification. It's another dirty part of NYC that's been sacrificed to "taste" and cleanliness.

And it's wrong! While it certainly had "adult" moments (people removing clothing or getting frisky in the back of the cab), Taxicab Confessions was not necessarily an "adult" show like its other shows -- 99.9% of the time it was people just talking. It was a great show, a wonderful time capsule of humanity and NYC, and now it's vanished into the electronic ether.  

Farewell Taxicab Confessions. This one New Yorker will remember you fondly. 

Taking it away from us is just ... un-fare. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Memo from NYC

Another title for this post might be "Profiles in Shame, Weirndness, and Dignity."

Today we live in a culture defined by these three competing, sometimes overlapping, existential worlds.

Here's the shame.

Here's the weirdness.

Here's the dignity.

And they're (mostly) NYC related.

Hear hear. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Neil Simon RIP

Few playwrights were as prolific, successful, and intrinsically New York as Neil Simon.

His plays were funny, moving, and exposed the jumbled mess of nerves, anger, humility, vanity, greed, hope, and love that makes up the human experience.

A boy from the Bronx, Simon's plays were NYC to their core. His most famous play was The Odd Couple (it became multiple movies and TV series), and his most acclaimed one was Lost in Yonkers (it won him a Pulitzer Prize) but other plays like Brighton Beach Memoirs, Prisoner of Second Avenue, and Plaza Suite (part of an unofficial trilogy of plays that told different stories in the same hotel suites), his plays were about the people that make this city the bizarre, difficult, and wonderful place to live.

Rest in peace Neil Simon. An American master. Heaven just got a little funnier.

US Open @ 50

The US Open has started out in Flushing, Queens and this is the 50th anniversary of the famous tennis event. Here's some fun facts about it.

John McCain RIP

Never voted for the man but he was a giant of American public life and a great patriot.

He was about service and country ahead of everything else. 

NYC mourns you. Rest in peace. 

Back from Arcadia

The radio silence has ended.

The blog is back in business.

I've returned from my personal nirvana or, as I like to pretentiously call it, "Arcadia", and I'm ready to blog again.

I know you've been waiting with baited breath. Onwards! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Fusion Craziness

So much of NYC and New York State politics is crazy but a lot of it has nothing to do with politicians but the structural forces they operate under.

Namely, Wilson-Pakula.

This is a law that allows "fusion" tickets in elections, where candidates can run for the same office on multiple ballot lines. It creates confusion, opportunism, and all sorts of other bizarre goings on in our elections -- and most people, even the politicians themselves, understand it.

Here's a handy primer about the history and current workings of this law and other oddities about elections in New York. It's a fascinating, if also depressing, read. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

NYC Blackout: 15 Year Ago Today

"They're all drinking, thinking that they've got it made ..."

Thus crooned Bob Dylan in his masterpiece song "Like a Rolling Stone."

And this post is (partly) about drinking: specifically, Four Loko, the once-upon infamous energy/alchohol drink that burned hot and fast in 2010 and then was outlawed (it was literally killing kids). Okay, it wasn't really outlawed (it was required to change its formula) but it ceased to be the dangerous, exciting beverage that shot you with energy and got you wasted at the same time.

If you want to read all about the history of Four Loko (and who doesn't?), read this.

I never drank Four Loko but I remember, as a kid and a teenager, the twin phenomena of Jolt Cola ("All the sugar, twice the caffeine!") and Zima (the clear alcoholic beverage that tasted like bitter Mountain Dew). Oh man, did we kids think we was raging when we pounded back the Jolt and chugged the Zima! (If you were hanging around Central Park or Riverside Park late one night in 1994 or 1995, you probably saw me and my dopey friends drinking this crap). We were such a bunch of nerds who thought consuming this hyped-up stuff somehow made us bad ass. It's not surprising then that some folks would think to combine high-caffeine with booze for the ultimate "get blazed" drink. Glad I never tried it. I learned my lesson in giving into hype.

And speaking about rolling stones, speaking about REAL cool dudes ... here's what Lester Bangs thought about the greatest band in history back in 1980 and what Ronnie Wood was up to in 1987. 

I somehow doubt that Lester Bangs or Ronnie Wood or any of the Rolling Stones ever drank Jolt, Zima or Four Loko because they were probably too busy being, you know, actually cool (except for Lester, who was already dead).

"How does it feel?"

Monday, August 13, 2018

Classic Mr NYC

Several years ago I blogged about the ubiquity of security cameras all over NYC that record nearly everyone's coming and goings. In this era of heightened tension, such is our reality.

But one the things I also blogged about was City Drive Live, a cable channel that, using these cameras, broadcasts images of roads, highways, and streets all over town, in real time, without music, without commentary, without any frills. At first you watch it and you're like "Who cares? Who wants to watch this?" 

The next thing you know you're hooked, mesmirized by the simplicity and genius of this channel.

I'm not the only person who's written about City Drive Live (go here and here). Also, the phenomenon of people watching stuff like this has become worldwide. In Norway, they call it Slow TV and you can even watch it on Netflix.

If you ever want to watch TV and de-stress, you can watch this channel (or Slow TV) and you'll feel calmer. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

NYC Caps Uber

"Heat" - A Great NYC Movie (Sorta)

Recently I was happy to find that one of my favorite movies from the 1990s, director Michael Mann's great crime epic Heat, was available on Netflix. I hadn't seen it in years but was surprised that it not only holds up but is better than ever. It's easily one of the greatest cops-and-robbers movies ever made. 

But the movie is about so much more than the story of master thieves and the police who chase them: it's about relationships -- between men and women, friends and lovers, but, most of all, people who work together.

Heat is ultimately a movie about work -- about how it makes us who we are, about how it changes the course of our lives, about how our work is both our pride and our tragedy. In this case, the work is crime and fighting crime, and how they play off each other and ultimately merge. Heat is really a tale of existential angst in the guise of a crime drama.

If you've never seen Heat -- do it now. It's nearly three hours long and has a complex plot but you can follow it if you pay attention. It's so visually stunning, so beautiful in its imagery and music, so thrilling with its action sequences (it has arguably the best shoot out ever captured on film), that you become hypnotized. Then, of course, there's the once in a lifetime cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Ted Levine, Natalie Portman, Tim Sizemore, and many more giving haunting, intense performances. Heat is a masterpiece, an action movie for smart people, a totally American movie with a very European feel. It's a miracle that it was ever made and you don't really see movies like it today.

I especially love the beginning, when you see a train pulling into a steamy nighttime station, and De Niro exits, a man on a mission that we don't know about yet. (Everything about it sets the solitary, melancholy tone of this film.) You see him descend from the station and walk into a hospital, you hear the beeping of machines, the clinking of tubes and the rolling of gurneys, voices in the background, and he gets into an ambulance and drives off. He's alone, always alone, and from there the story begins. Throughout the movie there are moments like these where -- between the action, between the confrontations, between the plot -- we get moments of contemplation, moments of being alone with the characters, moments where we get to reflect on the story, the characters, their dilemmas, and our own feelings about them. When so many other movies play down to our intelligence, Heat goes the other way -- it forces us to think, to feel, to ponder, to care. The movie gets under your skin, into your soul, in a way that few ever do.

The backdrop for this movie, for this web of complex personal and working relationships, is Los Angeles. Heat is about a city as much as it's about people -- about how this vast place contains and causes lives and relationships both to thrive and die. It's not enough to say that Los Angeles is a "character" in this film -- Los Angeles is this film. Heat and LA, like their cops the robbers, need each other, meshing into a complex whole.

There have, of course, been countless crime movies made about NYC but never one quite like this.

And yet, in a way, Heat is a New York movie: it's two main stars, De Niro and Pacino, are New Yorkers, and their distinct New York sensibilities, their quick wits, their no-nonsense attitudes, their senses of humor, their toughness, exude throughout the film. The characters they play -- De Niro's thief and Pacino's cop -- are, like the actors themselves, men displaced, men away from home, men searching their ways through a wild, vast, mysterious place. Being a New Yorker isn't just about living in this city -- it's about being an explorer, a person on the move, a person going after something. One of Pacino's lines in the movie is, "All I am is what I'm going after." What's more New York than that?

When first I saw Heat back in the 1990s, I was away at college, far from NYC. I felt like a man displaced, a stranger in a distant land, finding my way, alone. It felt oddly personal to me. I realized then that you never feel more like a New Yorker than when you're away from it. The city stays inside you wherever you are. And this LA movie, in its various odd ways, feels like another kind of New York story. NYC and LA have always had a weird symbiosis. They're so different -- and yet so similar. In Heat, we learn that cops and robbers need and repel each other at the same time, that friends, lovers, and co-workers desire and detest each other at the same time, that the yin and yang of neediness and loneliness, the desire to be together and to run away, is perennial, forever in tension -- just like LA and NYC. Heat understands the complexity of people and how they relate to each other and their surroundings.

And whether its NYC, LA, or anywhere else, this story of human duality, like the movie itself, will never get old.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Interview: Laura Goggin, NYC Wildlife Photographer

Laura Goggin is an NYC photographer whose amazing blog is a cornucopia of original NYC street scenes and wildlife. In particular, her blog chronicles the lives of two gorgeous red-tail hawks named Christo and Dora who make Tompkins Square Park their home. For five years now, Laura has followed them, posting pictures of their comings and goings, and showing the love they generate in their community.

Just when you didn’t think someone could find something new to photograph in NYC, Laura has gone ahead and done it. The pictures of Christo and Dora, along with her other wonderful photos of NYC streets and wildlife, capture what a complicated, endlessly fascinating city this is for someone with a great eye.

Laura was kind enough to tell Mr. NYC more about her blog, her love for photography and NYC, and what made her want to tell the ongoing story of Christo and Dora.

What inspired your love of photography?

The streets of New York! I love to walk around and explore, so when I first came to the city, I spent all my time scouring the different neighborhoods, going places I'd never been before. I liked the architecture, especially the 19th century buildings and the history. Every block tells a story and I tried to capture some of that in my early photography.

How long have you been taking pictures?

I received my first Kodak Instamatic for Christmas when I was 11, but I didn't start getting serious until I was given my first digital camera in 2004. Before that, I was more into painting and drawing. When I moved into a tiny apartment that was too small to accommodate all my art materials, I found that using the camera fulfilled my need do something creative and it also motivated me to get outside every day and be inspired.

What made you want to create a photography blog back in 2007?

I was posting my photos on Flickr which is a great social community and a good way to get feedback from other photographers. However, I wanted to be able to attach narratives to my photos and say more about them, so that necessitated me setting up my own site. I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, but I knew I wanted to be more of a storyteller.

Your blog specifically chronicles the lives of two red-tailed hawks in Tompkins Square Park, Christo and Dora. What inspired you to track and photograph these hawks, and how long have you been following them?

The first hawk I saw in Tompkins Square Park was low in a tree near Avenue A and a crowd of people had gathered around to watch as it ate a rat. I'd never been so close to a wild raptor before, so I was mesmerized. I wanted to know all about it, so I stayed with the bird until it finished its meal to find out what it would do next. After that, I was hooked. I knew almost nothing about hawks, so everything that followed was a learning experience.

What struck me that first day, and what still amazes me, is how a wild animal can live in one of the most urban areas in the world and not only survive, but thrive. I never knew there was so much nature in the city until I started paying attention to hawks. Having the opportunity to walk a short distance from my apartment and witness wildlife that I would never be able to see in a rural area was absolutely thrilling. Suddenly, I had new inspiration and a desire to pursue a unique subject I that never crossed my mind before.

In November 2013, a pair of adult red-tailed hawks appeared in the park, which was new and intriguing. Until then, there had been mostly migrating immature hawks who would stay for a few days or weeks and then leave. This new adult pair quickly decided to claim the park as their territory and proceeded to drive all the other hawks out of the area. The pair would come to be known as Christo and Dora (named after the Christodora House on Avenue B and 9th Street), and the saga that followed is documented on my website.

What has been the most surprising and interesting thing in capturing their lives?

I never knew much about birds at all until I started watching the hawks, so every day I learn something new. However, having the hawks nest in plain sight (the first two nests were on air-conditioners in windows), has given us an intimate view of their daily lives and shown us things we would never see in the wild. We've been able to observe net-building, courtship behavior, egg-laying, chick-rearing, hunting, and the roles the hawks play in their relationship. The male, Christo, is the provider, so he does most of the hunting and teaches the chicks how to catch food. The female, Dora, not only looked after the chicks in the nest, but she was the primary defender of the territory. I saw her fight Peregrine falcons while soaring high over the park.

What things about the lives of hawks or exotic birds in NYC that most people probably don't know about?

I think most people just don't know the birds are there. Look up! I can't tell you how many times I've seen a hawk swoop right over the head of someone who is staring down at their phone and they never notice a thing. You also post many pictures of NYC wildlife as well as street scenes. I started out photographing street scenes, but as the streets get sanitized and gentrified, they lose the magic that originally attracted me. Urban wildlife is beautiful, exciting and educational. As I learn more about it, the more involved I become in environmental conservation. I'm hoping other people are also inspired by the hawks to take action and work to keep our neighborhoods clean and safe for wildlife.

Do you seek out things like that to photograph or do you just see something and shoot it if it captures your imagination?

If there is something I'm interested in, I'll seek it out, but I usually like to just take a walk and see where it leads me. What else do you like (or want to) photograph? I like to photograph things you wouldn't find in any of those NYC souvenir shops. There are certain subjects I'm attracted to, like people sitting on fire escapes or stoops. These are moments of quiet and peace in a city of noise and chaos.

Tell us what you love about living in, and photographing, NYC?

I love the energy and the diversity of the city. No day is the same. I can walk out my door and find every kind of art, music, food, culture, entertainment and now wildlife. That's what makes NYC so great.

Thanks Laura!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Two Tabloid Town

But for how long?

The Daily News and The New York Post are both in crises -- the News just laid off most of its staff and is little more than a glorified web page now. And The Post exists purely due the largess of its almost 90-year old owner Rupert Murdoch.

Can they survive these convulsions and threats or will they one day vanish? 

If so, the only remaining tabloid in NYC will be gone and, with them, an entire genre of news-making, of muckraking, of telling the wild story that is this city. 

And we'll be devoid of the great headlines that catch our eye each morning.

Here's an example of these headlines and why hopefully both will continue to exist, in one way or another.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"No Passport Required": Queens

Preserving the Future

American society loves The New. It loves the "latest trend", the "fresh face", the "hottest" this-that-or-the-other-thing. Our society is constantly churning out bright shiny objects that quickly fade, that become, to quote that sage Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "so five minutes ago." 

But in NYC we've learned to love and preserve, not so much the old, but the forever precious. Ever since the old Penn Station was knocked down in the early 1960s, we've come to appreciate what we have as much as what we might get. And yet, in preserving things, they need to change.

Here are some perfect examples:

The Bowery, that wide remote avenue on the Lower East Side, used to be where deadbeats and drunk and peep shows and all sorts of wild stuff use to exist. Now? It's beautiful and respectable. It's been preserved and (arguably) improved – although CBGBs is long gone.

Same thing with Film Forum: this fifty-something classic movie house, an "elder statesman of New York cinema" is being saved from the fate of so many other revival houses through the efforts of its fans, including by another NYC elder statesman and well-preserved commodity, Ethan Hawke.

Finally, Madison Square: today it's best known as the location of the original Shake Shack, an absolutely incredible playground (if you have kids), and interesting art installations. It's been beautifully preserved. But did you know Madison Square Park is also where the Manhattan grid system and baseball were invented? Where the first sky scraper, the Flatiron Building, was built? Madison Square teams with NYC history and, as it changes and evolves, its history becomes all the more important -- and easier to appreciate.

And then, of course, there’s the Highline.

So while it’s easy to mourn the changes to our city, it’s also important to remember that some of its most valuable artifacts are being safeguarded for our future.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hello, Bulgaria

Every day I check my audience stats to see where in the world Mr NYC is being read: the bulk of the readership, no surprise, comes from the US but we also get a healthy dose of clicks from the UK, Russia, Germany, France, even China. 

But every day, almost without fail, Mr NYC gets at least two clicks a day from Bulgaria. The readership from other countries comes and goes, ebbs and flows, rises and falls, but someone (or someones) from Bulgaria is (or are) reading this here blog every single day.

I'm quite flattered. 

To my Bulgarian fan (or fans) I thank you and would love if you left some comments to tell me what you, in Bulgaria, think about this blog and NYC. Here's what I know about Bulgaria: my mom went there on a trip several years ago, told me it was beautiful, and took pictures of some of the most colorful and interesting architecture I've ever seen.

Also, my favorite bar used to be Mehanata 416 BC, otherwise known as the Bulgarian TV Studio Bar, that used to be located on the corner of Canal Street and Broadway. It was a cramped, dirty, funky dive that was unmarked and on the second floor of a ramshackle building. It had a sexy vibe and played Bulgarian TV shows on giant screens, and it even had belly dancers (the bar's motto was "Helping Ugly People have sex since 416 BC"). Sadly, in became a cliche of NYC gentrification and was evicted in favor of constructing a Ramada Inn. The bar relocated to the Lower East Side and became another Yuppie hang out. But it remains my favorite bar in NYC ever. 

Anyway, thanks for reading Bulgaria. You rock!

Ocasio-Cortez @ Netroots

Friday, August 3, 2018

Holy Schist!

Not far from where I grew up, smack dab in the middle of two townhouses on a side-street, sits an enormous boulder. It's just ... there ... lying dormant and unperturbed behind a fence. 

It's a piece of the past -- and here I'm talking like the billions of years ago past -- that's remained perennial as the asphalt jungle grew around it. 

For various reasons, it's never been dynamited or removed, it appears too daunting a task -- although in real estate hungry NYC, people see this piece of evolutionary history has occupying a precious location and want it gone.

I hope, for one, that it remains. This piece of pure earthliness is a reminder of where we came from and, in a way, where we'll return. 

Dare I say that this boulder is ... holy?

Ghosts of Mayors Past & (Maybe) Future

Right now former NYC Mayor Giuliani is shredding whatever's left of his reputation by acting as Donald Trump's lawyer and apologist for treason. Each week the thrice-divorced so-called tough on crime mayor pops up on TV spouting some new outrageous lie like "Collusion is not a crime!" or whatever.

Rudy's gone from the hero of 9/11, America's Mayor, to the Disgrace of Donald Trump, America's joke. The whole reason Rudy's is doing this is, let's face it, because he's long out of power, long out of relevance, a ghost of the past desperately trying to stay in the spotlight.

But the darkness of the past can't stamp out the lightness of the future. Check out Eric Adams, the Brooklyn BP, who's going to run for mayor in 2021. He's Rudy's opposite in almost every way. He's a ghost of sorts, a potential future that our city might slide into. And he couldn't be more different than the past if he tried.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Mr NYC x 2000

This blog post, the one you're reading right now, this very one, is officially the 2000th blog post to Mr NYC.

That's two ... THOUSAND posts since this blog's debut on March 27, 2007 -- 11 years, 4 months, 6 days ago. 

I can't believe it. Can you?

If you want to read any or all of them, just go to your right and browse thru the Previous Entries or Search this Blog. I promise you, you won't be bored (or maybe you will, I'll leave that to you to decide).

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Spike Lee Says ...

Spike Lee is one of NYC's greatest filmmakers and he's still at the top of his game. His new movie, BlackKlansman, is opening soon and the buzz is outstanding. I can't wait to see it!

Spike has been making movies for over 30 years, and his work has looked at the relationships between black and whites, men and women, and the New Yorkers with their city. He's a man who has lots to say, whether its through his movies, documentaries, or his very own words.

Talking about Spike talking, you should read this big interview that Spike did with GQ and also listen to this wild interview he did with Alec Baldwin recently. You can also find Mr NYC's Spike Lee coverage here

Spike Lee says ... a lot!