Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Though Dad had a point, he also had eighteen denim shirts and zero friends. Restaurants are a fact of life, and there's no way to avoid them. For years I managed to justify the rather exorbitant expense: I didn't have to wash dishes. I didn't have to grocery shop. It was almost worth it if the chef put in a lot of work.
And then came the latest food movement: quality ingredients, simply prepared. That's the motto of every restaurant in New York these days. And that's where I draw the line.
You know that story about how you kill a lobster? Put it in cold water, and slowly bring it to a boil. The temperature rises so slowly it doesn't realize it's in trouble until it's already dead. That's what the restaurant scene is like. First they charge you $50 for dinner, and then they try to get out of cooking it. It's like asking the lobster to crank up that burner himself.
See, the last thing I want is my food "simply prepared." I want the chef to show me what I'm paying for. I want the end result of dozens of cooking processes. I want my steak deep-fried and french-dipped and fricasseed. I want my fish seriously fucked with. Before my chicken hits my plate, I want that dead flesh to sit up and say, "Okay, okay -- enough al-fuckin'-ready!" I want the chef to drive my chicken to Rockefeller Center to meet Bernadette Peters before he plops it on my plate.
Needless to say, I heard Dad's voice in my head while reading Pete Wells' review of Hearth in the New York Times.
[W]hen I think of Hearth, ... I also picture the platters for two. The spatchcocked chicken with flavor in every scrap of its flesh and golden skin, the whole roasted fish stuffed with lemon and rosemary, and the côte de boeuf are all treated like the classics they are. Unlike other restaurants, where trendy platters for two are an old-fashioned opportunity for price gouging, Hearth sells the chicken and fish for about as much as two regular main courses.
"Spatchcocked"? Isn't it slightly pretentious to have an entrée that sounds like the landlord in a Dickens novel? "Chicken with flavor in every scrap"? I don't know about you, but I'd be a bit more surprised if the breast was meaty and toothsome but the wing tasted like soggy tofu. Heading to Hearth's online menu makes Dad drop his soldering iron:
Can't. Give. In. Must. Fight. Back. Pete Wells is right! If stealing a glove compartment is a misdemeanor and stealing a tire is a misdemeanor, stealing a Mercedes should be a misdemeanor too. The meatballs are $29. The pasta is $30. So $62 for a chicken isn't crazy at all! Seasoned and stuck in an oven. Served with two cents worth of lettuce and three cents of corn. Not price-gouging! Frantically searching for justification I find Hearth's philosophy.
It doesn't help. They find inspiration "in the strangest places"? Are they trying to say their beer comes from Belgium, or they bought their champagne at the Dollar Store? Dad would head back to the garage to grind the lens of his telescope, but I don't have to be stuck in a long-dead past. I'll stay and compromise. In the future, my food is also going to be "rooted in the modern traditions of the American kitchen."
I'm going to buy an $8,000 stove and then live on take-out.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Harry Potter Fans Prefer Bootleg Wizard Paraphernalia Because It's More Like What An Actual Wizard Would Have
While the store sells licensed merchandise like wands, books and sweater vests for those who want to re-create the boy wizard's look, much of its stock is unofficial and merely reminiscent of objects from the wizard's universe.
Customer Caity Knox, 27, said it would be a shame if the legal dispute forced the store to close, because she prefers the store's unlicensed merchandise to the real thing. "If I am going to dress up as Harry Potter, I am not going to buy something that has a logo on it," she noted. "I want to buy something that an actual wizard would have."
Monday, October 21, 2013
Art Appreciation: Tom Of Finland Woodcut Masterfully Captures The Pathos Of The Sinking Of The Titanic
Tom of Finland's woodcut of the sinking of the Titanic falls masterfully into the latter category. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this adage is never truer than when one is talking about a sailor's ass. Like Manet's Olympia, the central figure's body language shocks us with its crudity. Is this poor lad fevered and thinking that rather than clutching an oil drum he's humping his girlfriend Stella? Or did the sinking leave a void that he finds manifested in his ample buttcheeks?
Mr. Finland displays his mastery of allegory by omitting all the flotsam and jetsam of a typical maritime disaster to cause the reader's eyes to focus on the sailor's dookie maker. Where are the lifeboats? Where is the iceberg? Mr. Finland seems to be saying that all the gory details of the modern world don't amount to a hill of beans when one has a booty that could crack Brazil nuts.
Like all great artists, Mr. Finland takes us into a world we've never entered before, and the wealth of detail he includes is astonishing. The ship hasn't even finished sinking, yet the sailor is far from it, with no other passengers in sight. We're drawn deeper into his world of secrets as we wonder: Is he a fast paddler? Or did he leap off the deck before the ship sank because he saw an island and had a yearning for coconut?
Though he's floating aimlessly, the sailor isn't wet. Though ship disasters can be messy affairs, he isn't dirty. In fact, he hasn't even lost his hat. Gradually we begin to wonder: is this sailor, in fact, a victim to the ship disaster, or was he just floating by doing the Sump-Pump Shuffle when the tragedy occurred? Judging from the expression on his face, he looks like he's next in line for Go Ahead And Chute Me! at the Dorney Water Park. Is shock the reason his face struggles to convey something more than, "Man, I could sure use a Pepsi Light"?
To the artist's credit, the work still serves as an educational instrument, because without it we wouldn't have known that the Titanic sank exactly on the horizon, and that, judging by the steam pouring from the smokestack, the engines were still going full-speed ahead even though the prow was pointed down.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
It's a pop-up avant-garde queer space, which means no cupcakes.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Thursday, October 10, 2013
MAXXI, the provocative modern art museum? Good luck finding it. The controversial Renzo Piano towers? It's like they didn't exist. EUR, the suburb infamous for its colossal fascist architecture? From the total absence of information it could have been in Africa for all I knew.
I took the subway to the EUR stop anyway, with my fingers crossed. Instead I found nothing. Vast, wide open horizons with no clue where to find the interesting stuff. Where was the "square Colosseum" Mussolini built? Where was the culture museum, a ridiculously overblown piece of propaganda the fascists hadn't had time to finish? Where was the stadium encircled by marble statues of half-naked Aryan muscleman? I zigzagged for a mile or two but didn't run into anything. Finally, exhausted and mad, I hopped the subway back.
I tried to keep my spirits up. Rome still had a lot of attractions. Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Donatella Versace: the place definitely had the market cornered in one department. Unfortunately arm hair doesn't have the cultural cachet that it used to.
Men in Italy are very stylish. Some have sport coats that very nearly match their pants, and a few go quite well with their tennis shoes. They wear mesh t-shirts that look like fishing nets strung between their shoulders. Sometimes if you get close you can smell the mackerel. It's easy to remember that Italy gave birth to drama when a somebody casually takes off their shirt and all of a sudden you're in "Streetcar Named Desire."
Italian women also have their own special style. This year it's bare shoulders. They're sexy, they're sassy, and they're the only body part that can't get fat.
Both sexes chain-smoke. It's part of their allure. It's illegal to smoke indoors, so now in the middle of the day Roman streets look like the moors in Wuthering Heights. Imagine the synergy when two grand Italian passions, smoking and style, collide:
As a whole, Italians are a very expressive people. Just look at the faces you see on the subway. Love, rage, frustration, peace. And that's just the folks who are picking their zits. They're also refreshingly unpretentious: In America the only place you'd find this model is on GetThatAwayFromMe.com.
Still, I was a bit startled by the sexism. Men still harangued attractive women with leers, whistles and catcalls. Even the advertisements clearly delineated the gender roles.
"Like women, catching men," the billboard says. The good news is, with all the cigarettes and jewelry, the women can't get up to six miles per hour in a week and a half.
The streets were full of American tourists clutching maps and grimacing, seemingly close to their limits frustration-wise. You don't want to get within fifty feet of them, because they're dying to share their stories. They can't wait to tell somebody about their lunch, their hotel, their flight here. After days of talking to Italians, they yearn to once again speak English without having to yell.
Mere seconds after taking a seat at Ivo, a sidewalk cafe in Trastevere, an American couple started nattering away at me. I ate my pizza and drank my wine and eventually the woman stumbled upon an intelligent thought. "I was touring the Sistine Chapel with my parish priest and he told me how the Vatican works. Any time there's evidence of something embarrassing -- a sculpture of a saint who's been discredited, a painting of a pope with eighteen mistresses -- it's hidden in a corner of some hard-to-find room and all the lightbulbs around it just happen to burn out."
That explained everything, I thought. I paid my bill and hit the road. All in all I liked Rome: the food was great, the streets were alive, and there were still some cool people around. So what if they wanted to control what people saw or didn't see? What was wrong with that? I followed the road to the top of the hill and snapped one last photo just in case I forgot.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
My cousin giggled. "It's so you don't hit your head and hurt yourself," she said. "I want to make sure you see them."
I smiled. She clearly thought it was sweet, but I wasn't so sure. The more I thought about these idiot stickers the more insulted I felt. Did she think I was clueless? That my eyes didn't work? That I was too stupid to see these giant dark wood things stretching the length of the room, or that I was too dumb to duck?
We chatted for a while over tea and scones, and at nightfall she drove me back to the station. I told her I'd take care of her if she ever got to New York. Pick her up at the station, give her a snack, tie a towel around her neck in case she drools. "Isn't that thoughtful?" I'll giggle. "I mean, I'm sure you'll be absolutely fine but we don't want to get the carpet wet."
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Monday, October 7, 2013
This is the center of the dome at St. Peter's Basilica. The building is definitely one of the wonders of the world, made all the more astonishing because it was altruistically constructed as a monument to man's love for God. The golden motto in the center reads "S. PETRI GLORIAE SIXTUS PP. V.A. MDXC PONTIF. V.," which roughly translates to "'God's the best!' says Pope Sixtus V who totally built this thing."
This is a sculpture in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It's some dude holding a beehive on his lap. The beehive is an allegorical device that features prominently in Vatican artwork. It represents the papacy. It's really the perfect symbol since they too have lots of drones and workers but only one queen.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Friday, October 4, 2013
I yank on his leash and drag him farther down the block, past a new apartment house they're building. I've got a love/hate relationship with it. It's an oversized concrete box surrounded by classic old brownstones, but since it brings ten hunky Polish construction workers to the neighborhood it could be the Gates of Hell for all I care. Whenever I pass one of these guys on the street I'm tempted to strike up a conversation. I usually go for flattery as a pick-up line, but I'm not sure "You can sure stack concrete blocks!" will prompt eyelashes to bat.
Snowflake and I are almost to the corner when we find an enormous brown pile in the middle of the sidewalk. It's about enough to make me lose my lunch, but to Snowflake it's like finding vintage Gucci. He tiptoes up to it, circles a few times, sniffs. He can't take his eyes off it. If he had opposable thumbs he'd be snapping pictures.
I'm tugging on his leash when a construction worker appears. He's picked up a Snapple at the deli, I guess, and now he's headed back to work. He's one of my favorites, reminding me of a guy I used to date. We went all hot and heavy until his birthday came up. I still get defensive about it: I mean, if mango shower gel is a crime, color me guilty.
"Hey," he says, in a thick Polish accent, "you gotta clean up after your dog."
I show him my hand, stuck inside a plastic bag, and think about making it talk. I decide not too: I mean, if there's a profession that less sexy than accountants, it's puppeteers. "I do," I say. "He hasn't gone yet."
"Then what's that?" he asks, pointing to the sidewalk. Like an idiot I look. It hasn't changed. "Your dog took a dump."
"It's not his," I say. "It was here when we got here."
"Of course it's his. He's standing right next to it."
"You're standing right next to it and nobody's claiming it's yours."
He starts his next sentence with "Listen, wise guy," which doesn't bode well for our future together. I don't date anybody who reminds me of Dad. "I just went to the store, and it wasn't here when I left. Look around -- you see any other dogs? Who else could have done it?"
I don't see any other dogs, but this doesn't prove anything. "My dog's poo is nothing like this," I maintain. "For one thing, this is bigger than his head. Snowflake ate a whole pizza once and barely crapped a cannoli."
"I'm not even listening," he says. "I'm not buying your excuses, and you're not leaving until you clean that up." He's just dripping with macho swagger. It's only hot when you're sure the guy's not going to kill you.
I come to the conclusion that I can't win this argument by myself. I need backup; I need a character witness. Surely some of the neighborhood folks have seen Snowflake poo before, and can testify that this monstrosity isn't his.
Like the answer to a prayer, the guy who lives upstairs from me is fast approaching on the other side of the street. I've kind of got a crush on him too: he reminds me of a guy I used to date in college, who dropped me when I gave him a ring. It wasn't commitment he was afraid of -- some folks just don't get Cat's Eye. "Hey!" I yell. "Excuse me! Have you ever seen my dog take a crap?"
"No!" he hollers, and he darts across the road like the Clash are playing on our side. He takes one look at the sidewalk and scowls. "Damn," he snaps. "Did I miss it?"
This is such an allegory for my life, I think. Two men I'm interested in, and the topic of discussion is whether or not my dog took a dump. Under other circumstances I'd probably have caved, but the dog that left this muffin was clearly not in good health. Let's just say it'd be easier to pick up apple sauce.
From four different directions bystanders approach. In a quiet Italian neighborhood like this, a giant crap is like Cirque du Soleil. I get the newcomers up to speed, hoping somebody'll back me up, but everybody takes Construction Worker's side. "If I wasn't going to clean up after my dog," I ask, "why did I bring the bag?"
"You were gonna pretend to clean it up," a chubby kid replies. Right, I thought -- now I'm the Sociopathic Urban Mime. He's just mad because I gave out Swiffer refills last Halloween.
"You know," somebody says, "I'll bet he's the one who's been carving graffiti into the trees."
"And setting off the car alarms at four in the morning."
The crowd murmurs like a posse on "Bonanza," accusing me of everything from destroying the ozone layer to reusing postage stamps, and the circle around me starts to close in. By now I'm thinking, hey, maybe Frankenstein didn't have it so bad. Sure, he was chased around by villagers with torches, but it wasn't in a hip neighborhood, and he didn't have to worry about ruining flattering clothes.
Just as I'm deciding on the best direction to run, an old lady in a faded housedress breaks through the circle, wielding a cane like a tire iron. Somebody explains the situation to her in Italian, and I'm guessing they offer her first whack. Instead she takes a look at the dog, the poo, the plastic bag over my hand, and puts it all together like a Sicilian Miss Marple. "So your dog hasn't gone yet?" she asks. I nod. "Then make him go."
A gasp of surprise erupts from the crowd. It's like we're all gathered in the library and she's just picked out the killer. Even I'm impressed -- I mean, I wouldn't have expected anything more than interesting than curse words and tasty gnocchi from her. "Easier said than done," I complain. "I have to massage his lips to get him to eat."
All eyes turn to the dog, who's shivering like a chilly chicken. "Poor little puppy," somebody says. "He's too nervous to go."
Now this was just flat-out wrong. Snowflake's never cared who was around when he went. In fact, he seemed to be spurred on by attention from attractive guys. It was the bane of my existence: I'd meet somebody, we'd flirt, he'd try to make friends with the dog, and before we could swap numbers we'd be scurrying for gas masks.
A lightbulb goes on over my head. "Hey," I say to Construction Worker, "pet the dog. Pretend you like him."
He stares at me like I'm crazy but follows my instructions. Not two seconds later Snowflake is proudly standing over his own, markedly-smaller creation.
The crowd grumbles and I beam like a new dad. "See?" I say, gesturing like it's a game show prize. "There's a huge difference."
They nod reluctantly. It's a rollerskate next to a Humvee. "Sorry," Construction Worker says. "I guess I jumped to the wrong conclusion."
"No prob," I reply, and then comes our first awkward silence. Pause. "You can sure stack concrete blocks."
He smiles and his brown eyes twinkle. "Thanks. Well, I gotta get back to work. Maybe I'll see you later."
"Yeah, that'd be nice." We all watch as he walks away.
Snowflake and I head back towards home, and he runs to the safety of his tree again, circling like a Spirograph. I still can't claim to understand the little pooch, but he's a chip off the old block in a couple ways:
Great taste in men. Really not so great with gifts.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
“Open up!” a gravelly voice growled as I glared at my clock in disbelief. “I’m here to fix your air conditioner!” I threw on a towel and opened the door and if I wasn’t fully awake before I certainly was now: the sight of this guy was as bracing as a double espresso. I don’t mind old or out of shape folks provided they wear something to hide it -- like baggy clothes or the Houston Astrodome -- but he had on less than Britney Spears.
I tried to avert my eyes as he lumbered in but I couldn’t help but notice corduroy short-shorts, scuffed brown boots and a tool belt, with lots of blotchy red nakedness in between. He zigzagged through the place until he found the air conditioner, and after the removal of his tool belt sent his shorts plunging to new depths I fled to the shower. When I returned the air conditioner was still grinding like a cement mixer and he was sitting on my bed reading an old copy of Drummer.
Oops. “I’m a musician,” I lied. “I thought that was an instruction manual.”
“No,” he said thoughtfully, “I don’t think so. Though some of the guys look a little like Ringo.” I hadn’t picked up an accent before so I was surprised when he pronounced it “Reengo.” He was from somewhere weird, I thought, but unless he said “Blimey,” “Ah, so” or “Zeig heil!” I wasn’t in a place to guess.
He smiled and showed a jumble of teeth splayed out like shredded wheat. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he said. “I am Greek. My people have been that way for thousands of years. Women are the mothers of our children, but men are for love and companionship. You see, in Greece young men are the tippy-top of beauty. You see that in our art and in our literature. The older men are expected to marry and raise children but also since they hold the knowledge they must share it, along with friendship and love, with impressionable youths. It is their civic duty.”
He tossed the magazine aside, extracted a screwdriver from his toolbelt and pried the front cover off the air conditioner. “Take the philosopher Aristotle, for instance. He was a very wise man. He invented geometry and logic and the VCR. He meets this kid Socrates and he embraces him like a son. He teaches him philosophy, introduces him to politics, and initiates him into sex. But, you know, it’s not just slam bam thank you ma’am sex. It’s a manly thing, like a big friendly hug. Except they were, you know . . . naked.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say. I didn’t know anything about gay sex in the past because I’d been trying to get some in the present. But long ago I’d visited a civilization where men bonded together and paired off and left the women to their own devices. It was called “San Francisco.” And while Castro Street wasn’t the Parthenon and a caftan wasn’t really a toga it was still fun enough.
He pulled the air filter off and a line of dirt sprinkled to the floor. “Me, I’m sad to say I have not found a boy to tutor. Maybe I’m not as smart as Aristotle, but I’ve learned a few things and I want to pass them on.”
Now, to say I wasn’t attracted to this guy was an understatement. Though he was butch as Hoss Cartwright’s left testicle he also had a belly domed like a turtle, and his hair was a shade of black found only on newborn mink and Wayne Newton. He had a thick thatch of chest hair that started halfway between his nipples and his navel, and his legs were lumpy and red. But his story made me nostalgic. I looked at the wrinkles encircling his eyes and started to yearn for a time when sex wasn’t just a temporary bond between strangers, something to kill a couple minutes between laundry cycles. When it meant sharing, and forming a bond so tight it could only be expressed by physical affection.
To make a long story short, he showed me how to adjust my thermostat and then we did it. He undressed me slowly and then yanked his shorts down, and with paint-splattered boots still tied to his feet he had his way with me. “We are like Socrates and Aristotle,” he panted. “I share my years of knowledge and then take you from behind.” He wasn’t particularly instructive, as I’d been in that position once or twice before, but knowing it was a time-honored tradition made it special. Before I even straightened up he was gone.
I woke up in a great mood the next morning, despite the fact this was the second day in a row somebody was pounding on my door at dawn. As I wrapped myself in another towel I realized something had changed. No longer was I a shallow gym rat with no connection to the past: now I was a shallow gym rat tied to history. I flung the door open like I was greeting a fresh new life.
“Hey,” my landlord said, grimacing at my pale pink flesh. “Did the guy fix your air conditioner?”
“He sure did,” I said, blushing. “It’s running great now. That Stavros is a terrific guy.”
He looked at me like a dog would if I asked it to mix me a martini. “Stavros? You mean the husky old guy who needs more clothes? That’s my wife’s uncle Patsy. He ain’t Greek -- he’s half Irish and half Italian. Funny you should say that, though, ‘cause once he told a guy he was Greek, and they actually -- “
By the time he saw my mouth drop open it was too late.
“Oh, jeez. You didn’t fall for that ‘mentor’ crap, did you? The Socrates and Aristotle speech?”
I nodded as blotchy red flesh flashed before my eyes.
“I gotta have a talk with that guy. But you can’t really blame him, I guess. That’s the only way he can get laid.” My mood was as limp as my towel now, and he was looking guilty. “Look, if you really want a mentor, I could give it a try. But I ain’t doing any of that butt-pirate stuff.”
I shook my head, smiling in gratitude despite slowly realizing that a seventy-year-old man had just turned me down for sex. “Thanks, Mr. Carmelo. But it’s really not the same without a Greek.”
“I know what you mean,” he said. “In the forties I sent away to Japan for a mail-order bride. They sent me a German Jew named Schotzi.”
After he left I stood in the dark, listening to the air conditioner’s calm hum and feeling the cold air swirl around me. Sure, he’d tricked me. He’d used me and thrown me away. But was it as bad as all that? Maybe “Stavros” wasn’t going to be my mentor but he’d taught me something important.
If I was going to get anywhere in this world, I’d need to fake an accent.