NYC | Inhuman Swill | William Shunn
Inhuman Swill : NYC : Page 14

Neighborhood threat

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About an hour ago, the police blocked off a section of East 32nd Street just west of the building where I work. They were turning pedestrians back at the yellow tape, and there was vague talk of some kind of threat, maybe at the subway station on the corner (though, thinking back, the blocked-off section didn't seem to include the 32nd Street entrance to the 6 train station). There was no call to evacuate, but with the boss out of town most of us decided to leave the office anyway. I'm home now, but can't find anything on any of the news channels or web sites.

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What in the world happened to New York while we were gone? There are huge banner advertisements hanging over staircases in the subways and billboards affixed flat to the pavement on street corners. Is the city trying to make up for lost Olympic revenue?

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Mondo RIAA

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I had heard last week that Mondo Kim's on St. Mark's Place was raided by the RIAA NYPD for trafficking in mixtapes and bootlegs. Five employees were arrested. Kelefa Sanneh's piece in yesterday's Times fills in the gaps in the story informatively and with outrage. Read it while it's still free.

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New York arcana

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New Yorkers seem to know things that people in the rest of the universe don't. For instance, New Yorkers know that all sorts of unseen contaminants and nastiness might be lurking on the rims of your canned beverages, so any time you buy one in this city the vendor gives you a straw through which to drink it.

That's why I like it here, dammit. Because we're so much cleverer than anyone else.

In what ways have you noticed that New Yorkers are the cleverest?

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Eugenics Corner

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What gene is it that humans share with dogs that compels us to dash across a busy street just before the cars arrive?

I call the intersection where Broadway, Columbus and 64th all come together Eugenics Corner. To get across to Lincoln Center, you effectively must cross three streets, with two small islands between. Except in the middle of the night, it's almost impossible to get all the way across in a single cycle of the traffic lights, but that doesn't stop dozens of people from trying every day. Almost any time of day, you can go to that corner and watch people attempt to improve the health of the gene pool by running out into traffic.

I don't know whether people don't see the traffic coming, don't think it's coming in their direction (it is a confusing intersection), or think they can beat it. But inevitably someone steps off that second island and then has to bust a move to get to safety. My favorites in recent memory were the very well dressed, very portly couple on their way to the opera who apparently thought that their social status rendered them superior to the laws of physics. In the middle of the street, when they realized they had stumbled into the path of a predatory yellow taxi, a base flight instinct snatched the reins away from the conscious mind—sort of. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to picture these two fine corn-fed specimens hustling their asses to the safety of the opposite shore.

I wish people like that would be more considerate of those of us waiting patiently for the light to change, the ones having small heart attacks every time the jaws of Darwin miss by a fraction of an inch. It's too bad they usually make it to the other side alive. (I've only seen one person struck by a car in all my life, up at 125th Street. That's if you don't count the time I was hit myself, at the age of eight, which probably explains a lot about this pet peeve of mine.) There are often children watching this spectacle, and how can a parent teach his kids to cross the street properly when so many adults are setting such a piss-poor example?

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Celebrity sightings

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I mentioned a couple of celebrity sightings a few posts ago. We used to have a whiteboard here at the office that listed the nearby celebrity sightings for everyone in our group. We also had an elaborate set of rules about what counted as a celebrity sighting. Public appearances didn't count, of course, nor did celebrities encountered in the line of the job (Sesame Street actors, for instance). The sighting had to take place in the neighborhood of the office, or else during the commute directly to or from the office. Certain celebrities seemed to like being seen—their entries didn't count as much as less visible celebrities. Folks in this catagory included Danny Aiello, Paul Shaffer, and Richard Belzer (who, for a while, was a particular attention-whore, always hanging out at a sidewalk table at Fiorello's).

Sadly, someone from upstairs saw our whiteboard ventured back here into the cave once and decided that we were using company resources for something frivolous (I guess). Our VP told us that he was receiving vague pressure to eliminate our celebrity sightings board. There was much grieving, but we complied.

I had a great list going there. Personally I had Farrah Fawcett, Ryan O'Neal, Mandy Patinkin, Kevin Spacey, Pat Metheny, Kenny Garrett, John Goodman, Michael Moore, Dan Hedaya, and many more. Elsewhere in the city, I've garnered David Strathairn, Fisher Stevens (twice), Susan Sarandon (with her son in the Union Square green market, both riding Razor Scooters), and John Turturro (twice in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, which I've written about elsewhere). My coworker Geoff recently spotted Kurt Loder at Fiorello's, and before that Richard Grieco with a woman who might or might not have been Yasmine Bleeth. (Obscure sightings score very highly.) My friends Andrew and Stephanie spotted Isabella Rosselini in the Village, wandering around lost asking people for directions. Repeatedly.

People here want a new celebrity sightings board. I keep meaning to whip up a secret online version in my copious spare time. Instead I write journal entries. :)

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Halloween didn't seem quite like Halloween yesterday—not to me, anyway.

First of all, Laura and I got the costume thing out of our systems on Saturday. We went to a terrific party at our friends Andrew and Stephanie's house in Astoria. Laura dressed in an Indian sari—and so did Steph, which led to a strange cataloguing of all the hitherto unguessed things they had in common. I dressed as Bilmo, the only official Sesame Workshop Online Muppet, with a red fleece sweatshirt, a red knit cap, a read foam rubber nose, and the rod from my Venetian blinds depending from my wrist. (That was, you know, the stick my Muppeteer uses to control the movement of my arm.) We drank lots of spiked punch, and I ate a space brownie that didn't have any effect on me. (Same result in Amsterdam, dammit. Some day I'm just going to have to smoke the stuff.)

When the 31st finally arrived, it seemed like Halloween was already weeks past. When Laura and I saw a little boy in a baseball uniform walking to school that morning, our first reaction was to wonder why the baseball season hadn't already ended. Then I spent the morning with Ellie at Sesame Street, which exists so much in its own make-believe world that Halloween seems irrelevant. (In fact, neither Ellie nor I batted an eye when we saw a boy dressed as a girl and a dominatrix out smoking in front of the studio. It didn't occur to either of us that these were costumes. Hey, it's New York.) What's more, walking back to the N train, Ellie and I realized that Christmas decorations were already up on the streetlamps on Broadway in Astoria. This did not contribute to any sense of the cold-chill-in-the-air that is Halloween.

Things did not begin to seem sinister until nightfall, when I was walking from the train to Laura's apartment after work. I emerged from underground to find Astor Place crawling with goblins and ghoulies. There were visiting aliens with their faces painted green. There was an angel, a devil, and a zaftig Elvis with a low-cut jumpsuit and huge push-up breasts. There was someone in a black cloak and a "Scream" mask, carrying a plastic knife. Dark blood ran down the runnels of his mask—it actually pulsed from a concealed valve somewhere above his forehead. Masks all around. Masks everywhere. So many masks it creeped me out. So many masks, seeming so potentially normal for this town, so de rigueur, I got nervous. I started to wonder why I'd wanted it to be more Halloweeny. I like to be scared, but I like to be scared when it's safe to be scared. I suddenly didn't feel safe on those streets.

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So I commented to Laura at about 8:00 pm last night that we were having a perfect and quintessential New York evening. She had come uptown to meet her friend Liz for some skating training in Central Park, but, rained out, she and Liz went to Starbuck's at 70th and Amsterdam instead. I was at the office a little late, so I wandered over and met them there, and then Liz's boyfriend Jim wandered by, and it was a real . . . well, I hate to say it, but it was kind of a "Friends" moment, a real New York yuppie moment, hanging with our gang at the coffehouse, wandering in and out of each other's evenings like characters in a harmless sitcom.

Laura and I grabbed some soup at a nearby restaurant (Soma Soup—they have a fabulous cheeseburger soup on the menu, and yes you read that right), and we were descending into the subway station at 72nd and Broadway when I mentioned this sentiment to Laura. She was having a brainstorm about e-business, and she completely agreed with me.

Thirty minutes later, we stood outside the gaping doorway of her sixth-floor walkup apartment in the East Village. The metal door was crumpled at the edge, and it stood open. Laura went in—I held her back and entered the living room, then bedroom, first. This was no easy task, since most of her possessions had been dumped onto the floor, in both rooms. The living room floor was covered with CDs from the shelves and purses from inside the coffee table's storage space. The bedroom was littered with clothes, sewing supplies, and costume jewery. The drawers from the dresser were lying everywhere, and the contents of the shelves in the closet were all over.

A quick inventory showed that the television was still there, although it was lying face down on the floor. The DVD player I gave her for Christmas was gone, and so were any plans of watching the Dark City DVD that I had bought from Urban Fetch just that day. The VCR was gone. The portable MiniDisc player/recorder I gave her for the 100-day anniversary of our first date was gone. The digital camera she gave me for my birthday last year was gone. The stereo receiver and the 5-disc CD player were still there, and still functional, but the cordless phone/answering machine combo was gone. One of Laura's suitcases from the bedroom was open on the living room floor. Half a stick of butter on the floor in the kitchen indicated that the fridge had been opened.

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