Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Volga Flows Through Brooklyn.

Once again I'm kvelling! (I told you what that means a long time ago.  Shame on you if you don't remember.)

So, what's got me all aflutter?  Well, I'm sure you've all heard about the whole Russian Spies in NY/NJ thing, right? (Oh, Google it, ya big baby.  If you came here for straight news, I don't think I really want to talk to you.)

Anyway, I was feeling all left out.  The couple living in Montclair, NJ had a neighbor (15 years old), who was SHOCKED to hear that spies had been living next door.  “They couldn’t have been spies,” Ms. Gugig said. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”

The NY Post, of course homed in on the most crucial point; one of the arrested spies is a babe!

Well it seems that my nabe, Ft. Greene wasn't left out after all.  The husband of the babe, (I think -- There's some debate about who was actually married and who just lived together for half their lives and I didn't read any of the articles that carefully anyway), well anyway, one of the guys seemed to like my neighborhood a lot for clandestine drops.  The FBI has him on tape with his contact sitting at Tillie's drinking coffee and bitching about his working conditions.  Tillie's is just two blocks from me!  I've bitched about stuff in Tillie's before!
Tillie's Coffee Shop: Hotbed of Espionage and organic bran muffins.
And it didn't stop at Tillie's either!  They arranged drops in Ft. Greene Park, too.  And one of them bought a phone at the Verizon store up on Myrtle Ave. (The address the purchaser listed was "77 Fake Street"!)

I'm telling you, I've been totally wasting my time reporting potholes and illegal dumpers.  I'm gonna have to pay better attention (and get out of the house more), if I'm gonna land the big fish.

At least this gives me a new ambition!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mildly Troubling Developments In The 'Hood.

Why has this poor sandbag been abandoned on my block?  Hmmmmm?
I don't recall any recent filming on my block.  Even if we were expecting a flood, this is the wrong kind of sand bag.

Was it just there to prevent that napkin from blowing away?  We'll never know.  But it's troubling, isn't it?

And then, just around the corner...
Will the carnage never end?

I just can't imagine what this poor lovable unicorn ever did to deserve this shabby treatment.
I hope you're all as troubled as I am!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grokking The Inexplicable.

Thank God that whole World Cup thing is over.  Sure, I know, they'll still be painting their faces and rioting and vuvuzela-ing for a while longer over there in --- well, everywhere but here -- but with the U.S. Team's loss at the hands (feet?) of those Ghanans, we no longer have to pretend we understand or give a shit.  I haven't cared about real football since I was about 8 years old; I have no intention of pretending fascination with futbol!  In fact, can we go back to calling it soccer?  I get the difference when I see it written down, but when I only hear it, I assume you're speaking about the same sport I envision -- just with a funny accent.

Alas, as I'm sure there are some of you who have caught some variety of Europhilic malady, I thought I would pass on something that was explained to me yesterday.  Here's what happened.  Ken Levine wrote a little piece celebrating some of the historic moments he's been witness to in various Ballparks. (Note: As I'm an American, I'm speaking of baseball here.) An example of memorable scenes he's had the honor of observing -- He was there the day Seattle outfielder, Kevin Mitchell ate a chili dog during a game and threw up in the dugout so violently that he went on the disabled list for two weeks with strained ribs.  You can't put a price on memories like that!

Anyway, the comments began to come in.  Brit, bemoaning an apparent lack of understanding about balks, opined, "This is why the rest of the world doesn't get baseball - jargon!" (Another note #1:  Having seen a ton of balks called over the years, I have my doubts about some Umpires understanding of the concept, too.)(Another Note #2: Brit doesn't provide a link with his/her name.  I'm sure I'm supposed to assume that it's meant as a moniker for someone of the British Persuasion, but I choose to believe I was conversing with Britt Ekland -- who spells her name with less T's and is communicating from roughly 1967.)
Since I'm a smartass, I responded, "Of course, Cricket, on the other hand is completely accessible to all.  Sheesh!"  

It's entirely possible that you've never thought about cricket at all, so you're not even aware of the fact that you haven't got a clue what it's all about.  Here's a helpful diagram intended  to demonstrate your utter incomprehension of the sport.

Here's some further proof that you haven't the least understanding of cricket.  The following pictures were found by Googling images of "Cricket - Funny".  If you don't get the humor either, it's just another indicator that you don't properly appreciate the game!

See? There's no way in hell you get any of those jokes if you don't spell "humour" with a 'U".

Thankfully, Brit decided to explain Cricket!
Brit(t) explains Cricket!

Here's the entire explanation.  I'm sure this illuminates things for you as it did for me.

"You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side thats been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!"

Well played, Brit! Well played, indeed!

P.S. If that post didn't quite do it for you, here's a post about a missing cat.  Whether you're rooting for the cat, or for missing, you're sure to appreciated it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Math. It's Not So Hard.

OK, I admit it.  I've been a whiney, whining, whiner about math...always saying it's hard and stuff.  The error of my ways has been pointed out to me.

It turns out to be really simple. My sincerest apologies to all of you. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Brush With Greatness Death

 In 1988, I worked on a movie called Atuk.  It's entirely possible that you've never heard of this movie.  That's actually quite understandable.  It's never been released.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn't even enough film shot to cut together into a single scene.

First, let me tell you the very little bit of information I ever knew about this movie before the notion struck me to Google it this morning.  Atuk was to be a 'fish-out-of-water' story with an Eskimo forced into comical situations in NYC. The star was to be Sam Kinison. I was hired to be a Locations P.A. on the movie and, since this job came immediately on the heels of shooting Crocodile Dundee II, I saw some obvious parallels.

I never saw a script, which in hindsight, may be a good thing (I'm foreshadowing here, guys.)  The only thing I knew about the story was the Eskimo-in-NY part and that we were going to shoot a scene, at some point, with Atuk riding a dog sled down Fifth Avenue.  That would have been tres- cool to do. (And it's also an example of one of those scenes where I wouldn't have cared in the least if it made for a good scene in the movie; what was important was that we were going to take over Fifth Avenue, cover it with snow and run a bunch of yappy sled dogs down it!) 

Anyway, on the first day of filming (which was my second day of employment), we were filming interiors somewhere in Mid-Town.  To this day, I don't know what the shooting location was because my assignment was to hang out in the Extras Holding Area...a banquet room they had rented in The Plaza Hotel.  I got there early and made sure the room was set up and I hung around watching the other P.A.'s deal with signing the extras and then escorting them to set as they were needed.

The other P.A.'s and I gossiped about the fact that Sam Kinison had, apparently, been making all sorts of demands for script changes and showing up late to rehearsals when he bothered to show up at all.  The word was that we were on a Troubled Production!

From my viewpoint, in the holding area, the morning hours were taken up by a whole lot of nothing.  That's not really surprising since the set is where all of the action should be happening.  But another odd thing occurred to me; there was the closest thing to Zero chatter on the walkie-talkies.  There's usually a fair amount happening on the radios whether it applies to you or not -- warnings to have an actor on set in ten minutes, questions about whether or not all of the extras had showed up, requests for craft service to bring a fresh cooler to set, and, of course, hearing the A.D. yell "Rolling" and "Cut" whenever they shot a take.  Now some sets (and the radios on them) are quieter than others, but radio silence was a new one on me.  I honestly don't recall the A.D. calling "Cuts & Rolls" more than two or three times all morning.

Eventually, we broke for lunch.  It was a "walk-away" lunch, so I still didn't get a chance to hear any gossip from anybody who had been on set during the morning.  About 1/2 hour after we got back from lunch, the A.D. announced on the radios, (as if it was a completely normal sort of announcement), "That's a wrap, folks.  There will be no call sheets for tomorrow.  Please see your department heads to get a call time and location to unload trucks tomorrow"!

I still don't know the details, but it was decided that the movie couldn't be shot with it's current cast and the studio had decided to pull the plug.  We had exposed less than 100' of film.  D'oh!

I didn't have a truck to help wrap the next day, so I handed in my walkie-talkie and went home having worked one day of prep and one day of shooting on Atuk.

Now, here's what I gleaned this morning from the geniuses at Wikipedia.  It seems that Atuk is CURSED! Yeah...CURSED!  The first time the script appeared, John Belushi read it and was very enthusiastic about making the movie.  He died of a drug overdose before the movie could go into pre-production.  The version with Sam Kinison, you just read about.  According to Wiki, the studio later sued him for walking off the production, leaving him destitute when a settlement was reached. Shortly after that, in 1992, he died in a car accident. John Candy was the third comic actor approached to play the role and he died of a heart attack while he was reading the script!  Chris Farley is said to have been approached to star in the film, but in 1997, when he was rumored to be ready to accept the role, he too, died of a drug overdose.

The curse is also alleged to have killed others, just for having read the script or for being friends with actors slated to play Atuk. 
The movie was also referenced in the commentary track for 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, in which Adam McKay repeatedly pitches a screenplay called "Eskimo in New York" to Will Ferrell. Will remarks several times that he doesn't think it will make a good movie, and refuses to be a part of it.

I'm not particularly superstitious but I'm glad I've never seen the script.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Amazing Brooklyn StringBean Tree!

Honestly, I have no idea what kind of tree this is.  I walk by it all the time a couple of blocks from my house.

Look at the shape of those leaves.  And those string bean things hanging down.

If you can't tell, the string bean things are about eighteen inches long right now.  I can't remember if they get any/much bigger.  Anybody have a clue what kind of tree this is?  There's one more of the same type tree on the same property and I don't remember seeing another one anywhere else.  Ever.

What is it?

This, on the other hand, is a little girl after graduating from whatever little girls that age graduate from.  Her family looked awfully proud.

She needs another pose in her repertoire, though.  But she was still adorable.

It Sounded Like A Great Idea When I Heard It In My Head.

This would be an absolutely hilarious and ironic post...if only I'd gotten a little cooperation!

Yesterday was a 24-hour crackdown on people using cell phones while driving. I'll admit that I'm never sure why they announce these things. It makes sense to announce DUI checkpoints for things like New Years Eve; it tends to make people think twice on a night known for its amateur drinkers.  But is June 22nd some traditionally known day for high cell phone use?  I don't know.

Any way, since I'm constantly seeing cops driving around while happily gabbing away on the phone, I thought I'd get a bunch of pictures of that!  Hilarious and ironic...get it?

Pheh!  First, I took my camera over to a stretch of Myrtle Avenue that should get a disproportionate share of police traffic.  Twenty minutes.  One cop car drove by.  Not only was the driver not talking on his phone...he was staring straight at me with a malevolent glare as I experimented with keeping focus on a moving target.  That actually would have made an amusing picture if I had only clicked the shutter.  I didn't.  The only thing I got out of that was a reminder that cops get a little pissy when you get in their faces with cameras -- even when it's only by means of a 105mm lens.

I moved on to Dekalb Avenue.  Dekalb had three advantages I could think of.
1. It's a one way street so I could position myself to get clean shots of drivers instead of viewing them across a lane of traffic.
2. It's a direct route from the Precinct house, so it should get a lot of police traffic.
3. (And this might be the most important advantage) -- There's a cute little place to get an iced coffee and sit outside while I was waiting for my photographic coups to come to me.
The iced coffee was delicious.  Otherwise, the outdoor seat was in the sun - bad.  Two cops drove by while flagrantly not talking on their phones!

I decided to move on to a third vantage point -- a vantage point guaranteed to supply me with fodder for this most amusing of posts.  I decided to walk up Willoughby as a route to my next hunting ground.  Willoughby has the advantage of being a one-way street leading toward the Precinct.  Surely, as I walked, I'd catch a couple of uniformed scofflaws.  Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Finally, I staked out Myrtle Avenue across the street from Kum KaoKum Kao is the best, or, at least, the busiest Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood.  It's a friggin' cop Mecca! So many cops stop there for take-out that the street usually looks like a Used Police Car Sales Lot.  Surely, I'd see a huge number of cops arriving and parking their cars at those weird angles in the crosswalk they favor.  Surely, one of them would be on the phone conducting Vital Official Police Business like, "Hey Sarge.  Did you want pork fried rice or Happy Family with your Sesame Chicken"? Surely, I'd hit paydirt here!

Bah!  One cop circled  the block a couple of times and then parked in a legal space before going in to pick up her eggrolls.  Another car went back and forth on the cross street three times, but those cops seemed to be looking for something or somebody -- stupid cops being vigilant when I'm trying to catch them with their pants down!

A third cop drove by in one of those dorky Cushmans.  He made a U-turn and drove by a second time, and then he pulled over at the corner so he could use the payphone!  A payphone?  What's up with that? Who uses payphones anymore?

So, this idea which sounded great when I heard it in my head turned out to be a total bust.  You don't get a single hilarious and ironic picture to marvel over...just the sad story of my complete and utter failure.  But I'm not discouraged.  I'm just bubbling over with brilliant ideas! I've got one I'm working on about how frustrating it is trying to change typewriter ribbons. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And Another Thing! Now With Other 'Nother Things Goodness!

Yes.  I know I've been bitching a lot lately.  And I promise to stop just as soon as I prevail over all of the small and large things that annoy the living crap out of me.

Happy now?  On with the bitchfest.

One of the great things about the internet is that it's full of specialized sites designed just for your area of interest.  There are a fair amount of sites dedicated to getting employers and employees in various fields together.  There are a number of such sites related to working in film and TV.

I'll admit that most job listings you'll see on them are for low-budget (or no-budget) productions, so if you're someone who's been a professional for a while, you're not likely to see many listings that interest you.  That's fine.  I think it's great that people just getting started have somewhere to hook up with people willing to make allowances for lack of experience.

Every once in a while, however, you do see listings that are clearly looking for people who do have experience.  Now, there are a lot of potential jobs available on any particular production, so, once again, you may look at a lot of listings before you see one that might apply to you.  No problem there either.  I'm not a Director of Photography or a Make-up Artist or a Prop Master or a Key Grip or...a whole lot of other things those jobs might be looking for.  The one thing every listing has in common -- regardless of what position they're looking to fill -- is that someone is looking for an experienced person and they want to pay that person so they can benefit from that experience.

Everybody wins!  People with jobs to offer finding qualified people to hire.  What could be better?

But here's the thing that's been pissing me off.  I keep seeing posts from Producers who want to hook up directly with a Location for their shoot*.  Without hiring a Location Scout or a Location Manager.
The posts say things like, "Producer needs cabin on a lake for a 2-day shoot", or "Filmmaker will pay you for one-day shoot in your Executive Office".

They want to cut out the middle man -- and that middle man is me!  And it annoys the living crap out of me because these websites tout themselves as being beneficial to both employers and employees.  I've responded to a couple of this type of listing (just for the hell of it), and offered my services as a scout or manager (uh...for pay, of course).  In the one instance where the producer responded, it was to tell me that they were just looking for the Location...not someone to find the Location.

I don't see any other listings looking for the product of someone's experience without the bother of paying that someone to work and I feel betrayed every time I see one of those posts.  Am I wrong?

* It's totally different if we're talking about a private message board for Location Managers and Scouts.  I'm on a couple of those and there isn't anything wrong with a bunch of professionals helping each other out with leads.  It's a two-way street -- Today I may give someone else ideas for his show; tomorrow I may be the one who's stumped.

Edited to add:

Eric chimes in with the first comment, a comment that is worthy of comment (possibly from the Department of Redundant Redundancy).  He says:

"...What I keep hearing from filmmaking friends is that a pretty sizeable proportion of people making no-budget movies are looking for experienced people but don't want to pay for it. And I don't mean "want but can't," I mean that there are some people out there who don't see why one of my best friends shouldn't be willing to DP for free or why another one shouldn't do a script rewrite out of human kindness (and this weekend I encountered friends of theirs who'd had similar experiences in their respective areas of expertise).

Not sure that's really on point with the rest of your post, but thought I'd float that anyway."

In fact, it's a different, but related subject.  Doing some cheapo jobs or even freebies is an accepted part of the business in most quarters and it's not really a problem until/unless it becomes abusive.  The requests to work for free or cheap come in a variety of types.

1. You get a call from out of nowhere, from someone you've never heard of (and who doesn't know you or anyone that you know), asking you to come work on their project.  It's a "labor of love", so there's not really any money, but you'll get lunch and ...blah, blah, blah.  The kiss of death is if they finish their sales job with a cheery, "Hey! It' gonna be tons of fun"!  This sounds like the kind of calls Eric's friends are getting.  I have no idea why they think you'll go running for a chance to get in on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but, OTOH, they aren't really risking anything by asking.  You're always free to say, "Thanks for thinking of me, but...no." Two things to bear in mind:  1.) They invariably do find people willing to work under those conditions -- otherwise this scenario wouldn't be such a commonly known tradition.  And 2.) Even if it's a bunch of people you've never heard of, they might be making the next Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along! (Produced with $200,000 of Joss Whedon's own money, this certainly would have qualified as a low/no budget production.)

2. You get a call about a project and you have heard of the people involved --- oh, for example, maybe it's Joss Whedon?  If you've never worked with Whedon (or even any of the people involved), you'll consider that one, because one or more of the following situations may ensue:  It may, in fact, be "tons of fun" to do; it may be a really cool project to have on your resume; it may get you on Joss Whedon's radar for future work.  If you're not busy, you'll certainly consider doing the job.

3. Someone you've known for years (maybe a Grip or an Office P.A.) has written a script and he's producing a short (or a trailer) to use to try to raise money to make a full-length feature.  You'll probably strongly consider doing the guy a favor in spite of the fact that these projects happen hundreds of times and they almost never translate into the movie being made, or you getting any future work as a direct result.  This one is mostly just for good Karma --- or maybe, at most to build up some good will.

4.) If you work in commercials, odds are that you plan on working a few days every year for free or cheap.  Ad Agencies produce Public Service Announcements for diddly budgets.  Production Companies want to get in good with the Ad Agencies, so they're happy to do some PSA's for diddly money. (The same agency that needs a commercial to educate the public about the scourge of teen "sexting", also needs commercials for Budweiser or McDonald's or Apple i-Everythings.)  The Production Company calls a bunch of people who work for them a lot and they're happy to do the job because they're doing a favor for a regular employer...or the Company calls somebody they never or rarely call and that person is happy to get a foot in the door.

So, Eric's question really applies to one of these situations (and I'm sure there are a couple more that aren't occurring to me at the moment).  All of them have varying possibilities for a future upside and all of them also leave you with the option of turning them down. (Turning them down can take the form of the above-mentioned "Thanks for thinking of me, but no", or "Sorry, I'll be out of town that day/week/month", or "I wish I could, but I'm booked those days".

Or, last but not least, there's the situation A.J. mentioned in the link above -- the guy you do a freebie for, and then he loses your phone number when he has a paying gig, and then, miraculously finds your number again for the next freebie.  In that case, the recommended response is, "Holy Crap, you're a scumbag of unbelievable proportions.  You don't mind if I use your name when I blog about this do you?  And, of course, I'll start a FaceBook fanpage for you too.  That's O.K...right?"

An Update To My Totally Reasonable Freak Out!

The bastards passed the new tobacco tax.  See my update at the end of the original post.

BTW, it's not the fact of the increase that pisses me off so much.  It's the fact that they're only targeting one unpopular group of people.  Do you honestly think the figure of $1.60 per pack was plucked out of thin air? As opposed to, say...80¢?  or $1.20?   No.  Some numbers cruncher was assigned the task of figuring out how much cash they'd need to raise from smokers if they wanted to avoid pissing off any other voters.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Piano Update

I told you the other day about the pianos spread out all over the city intended to temp nascent showmen out of hiding.  Well, it's a mixed bag.

They've been playing up the story on the local and national news, featuring people playing pianos in more crowded spots.  The ones in Times Square and near Lincoln Center seem popular.

So far, the folks in my neighborhood are a little more shy.  There are two of them at Ft. Greene Park.  The first one is at one of the park entrances on Myrtle Avenue.  That one had a little crowd -- maybe eight people hanging around.  One of them had on a yellow T-shirt with some kind of logo.  I'm assuming she might have been one of the "piano buddies".  There was a guy playing a guitar and a girl playing a violin.  Nobody was playing the piano.  (The two who were playing weren't terribly impressive either.)

I took my book and my camera up to the piano located up near the monument at the top of the hill in the park.  I planted myself in a shady spot waiting for the impromptu concerts to begin.  I gotta tell you...I think there may have been some sort of force field installed around this one.  Not only did nobody touch the keys during the hour I sat there reading -- people actually gave it a wide berth, stepping out of their intended path to avoid getting too close.

I'm sure they'll start getting some play soon.  The people in my neighborhood are inveterate exhibitionists, so it's only a matter of time.
P.S.  The only excitement that took place while I was there was that a big-assed limb fell off of a tree about 100yds. from me and frightened a bunch of pigeons who had been roosting there.  Those must be some heavy pigeons.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Maybe They Should Just Go Ahead And Shoot Me! (Although, I Suppose That Doesn't Pay As Well.)

Fine! I get it! I'm a pariah and you can do anything you want to me without fear of censure.

Unless some miracle happens, New York will avoid a government shutdown by passing a budget with an adittional $1.60 tax on a pack of cigarettes.  NYS already has the third highest taxes on cigarettes in the country and N.Y. City tacks on another $1.50 per pack.

 Now I don't want to sound intemperate, but FUCK YOU ALREADY. Every time one of these taxes passes, someone makes noise about how the additional cost has the added benefit of getting people to quit.  At best, I'll call that argument disingenuous; at worst, it's the foulest bit of bullshit going.  Their purpose, plain and simple is to raise revenue from the least sympathetic group they can lay a target on.  If the tax really had a significant effect on how many people continued to smoke, they'd sell a lot less cigarettes and there wouldn't be any budget balancing benefit. Getting everyone to quit is the last thing they want.

Maybe I'm being cynical about their motives but I doubt it.  If their primary goal was to improve my health, they'd pass a law that makes me go jogging for 15 minutes before I can buy a pack. Every store would have to check to see that I got my heart rate up to some target before they could sell it to me.  The fact is, they could pass practically any law they want regarding smokers and get away with it.  I won't be surprised if I automatically get sentenced to one hour of Community Service for every pack I buy in 2012.  Ooooooh!  Look at the smokers' chain-gang cleaning out those nasty culverts!

There was, or maybe there still is a plan to add a 1¢ per ounce tax to sodas and other sugary drinks.  It doesn't have a chance in hell of passing because these people have a much better lobby than smokers do.

God-forbid you deny Junior a bottle of YooHoo with his keg of pork rinds.

I'm probably too late bitching about this, since apparently, the legislature is scheduled to pass this thing tomorrow.  I honestly didn't hear the first thing about it before the middle of last week.  But regardless of the futility of the matter, please allow me to suggest some alternative sources of revenue.
1. An additional tax on the first, second and third printings of any new Diet Book.

The purchasers of these books have demonstrated over and over again that they'll buy (and try) whatever new fad appears on the market regardless of cost or demonstrated efficacy. If there was a Diet Book that worked, there'd only be one Diet Book.  They've been selling new bullshit in this genre for ages.  The government should get its share.

2. There should be an additional tax on any product that encourages you to buy it while simultaneously warning you that, should you choose to use the product...all bets are off.

 Now, granted...I don't see anything in these ingredients that make me particularly concerned about their safety, but if you're willing to risk a hospital visit for your milk bath, you're probably willing to pony up a few extra pennies for the honor.

3. They could tax the hell out of "health supplements".

Talk about people willing to swallow anything without having a clue whether or not it actually does anything for them...much less whether or not it might kill them.  Those assholes should definitely have to fund the common weal.  As an alternative...and I'm not exactly sure how you'd enforce this one...the tax could be charged for instances of talking about their health supplement regimen. Truth be told, I don't actually give a shit what these people want to spend their money on or consume, but I definitely shouldn't have to listen to their holier-than-thou proselytizing.  If second-hand smoke is annoying, it's got nothing on these peoples' sermonizing.

4. As long as we're mentioning second-hand smoke, let's acknowledge the scourge of perfume.  Jumpin Jeebus on a pogo stick!  That shit needs a heavy surtax.

5. If you buy a car that gets less than, oh...thirty miles to the gallon, you should have to pay a big-assed tax commensurate with your big-assed ego.

(Allowances could be made to purchasers who can prove that they will carry a minimum of 75% of the vehicle's allowable payload 75% of the time they're driving it.  Yes, that has the drawback of getting a benefit from driving around with a posse, but fair is fair.)

6. Any item (or lifestyle choice) recommended by Oprah needs to have a monster tax added to it.

Thousands of people will rush out and buy anything if Oprah mentions it.  If some lady is willing to pay $800 for a fucking pashmina shawl, do you really think she'll care if the State gets a 20% kickback?  Hmmmm?  And it shouldn't matter if it's really Pashmina or not.  Anyone who pays that kind of money without knowing the difference should get soaked for every dime she's willing to shell out.

Ladies...Oprah is a BILLIONAIRE.  You can't have all the same shit she does.

7.  Cosmetic surgery for those who aren't fixing a real deformity or health issue should be taxed to hell and back. 'Nuf said.

8.  Last, but not least, if you paint your face for sporting events, you should have to pay a fee to the government.  The truth is...I just find these people highly annoying as a matter of principle.  Make them STOP.

I'm with this kid.

Granted, much of this post was frivolous, but I'm serious.  I'm really tired of being the go-to guy when the State goes broke and has to figure out who to go to for their pound of flesh.  I don't recall the part of good government that says go after the least liked group every time you need a few bucks.  Use a little imagination and some fucking balls and spread the pain out a little bit.  For whatever little good it does, I'm going to write to my Assemblyman and State Senator and let them know they're about to make of me something I've despised for years -- a single issue voter.
UPDATE, June 22nd:  OK, well they went ahead and approved the measure.  I haven't been able to find out what, if any, other taxes they increased to close the budget gap.  The articles I've seen this morning seem to indicate that all the other measures to close the gap were re-appropriations -- taking from  one agency to fund another.  I really hope my neighbors, statewide, appreciate having me and my fellow outcasts saving their asses.

In a slightly OT subject, but somewhat related...the Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently threatened to stop issuing free Student Metrocards. (NYC provides school buses for younger students but expects older ones to use city buses and subways.  The kids get free Metrocards.)  So, there was this massive outcry from students and parents alike to retain the freebie.  A few days ago the MTA announced that they had changed their minds.  The students had won!  Yay. This was followed immediately by the same parents screaming loudly about the possibility that fares might be increased for everyone else to pay for it (more than the 7.5% increase already planned for 2011). So, apparently, it's totally fair to increase taxes for one segment of the population by 68% (smokers), but unfair to increase a fee to everyone who uses mass transit (by 7.5-10%) so your little snowflakes can continue to ride for free. 

Hypocrite much?


Test Yourself Against I.B.M.'s Watson.

It's a trivia challenge modeled on a round of Jeopardy.  See how you can score against the computer.
I didn't keep track of the exact score, but I got beat...but only by a little. The machine won a little over 50% of the time against me.)

Take the challenge HERE.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Music In The Park? We Shall See.

So, what's this?

Has someone discarded a piano in the middle of Ft. Greene Park?

Is it there on purpose perhaps?

From Monday, June 21st until July 5th, there are going to be 60 pianos in various parks, streets and plazas all over NYC.  Prior to delivery (which I'm guessing happened this morning), a bunch of people painted them.  They were all donated from various places, many of them previously derelict and in need of servicing.

Anyway, each piano will have volunteer "Piano Buddies" hanging out with them to make sure they don't get beat to crap or disappear. (I'm told that they're also loaded down with cinderblocks to make them harder to walk off with.)  And anyone who wants to is invited to sit down and tickle the ivories.  There are actually two of them in Ft. Greene Park!  Aren't we special?

And apparently, this will be going on simultaneously in London.

I'll venture over once they're open to the public and get you some video of people playing -- for better (I hope), or worse, (I fear).  And while we're on the subject, I sincerely hope none of that alleged American anti-Brit spillover from the BP, uh...spill over, uh...spills over to this.  Not that there's such a thing as an American who has trouble figuring out appropriate targets for their protests. (That last was sarcasm, if you missed it.)

P.S.  There are a few things that have me particularly annoyed today, so I'll probably be back with more later.  But don't expect any pleasantries.

UPDATE:  I'll be holding off until tomorrow or Monday for the rants.  It's too nice of a day to let myself get all (further) annoyed.

Mr. Barnes & Mr. Noble Must Hate Me!

That's from the email they sent me this morning.  Glenn Beck?  Dean Koontz?  Tori Spelling?  You really think this is the stuff I want to read? (I don't know who the other author is, so I'll cast no aspersions her way.)

At least Amazon keeps track of what I've bought from them in the past and accurately suggests that I might enjoy a bunch of books I've already read, but purchased elsewhere.

Glenn Beck?  ORLY?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Does This Post Get Filed Under My (Apparent) Obsession With Garbage, Or Is It Another Post About Neighborly Douche-i-ness?

You know that little search window up in the left-hand corner of the blog?  If you do a search for garbage, trash, rubbish, or recycling, you'll find an inordinate number of posts that might indicate something of an obsession on my part.  I maintain that you'd be wrong; the amount of attention I'm forced to devote to garbage is entirely a byproduct of my glamorous career, and the fact that the NYC Department of Sanitation has its own police force.

The Sanitation Cops have pretty much the same authority as any other cops including the authority to issue citations, make arrests, and to be armed.  They are authorized the use of deadly force! OK, they're not allowed to just run around shooting people any more than any other cop, but still! 

More often than not, they're driving around a block or two ahead of the streetsweepers ticketing cars that haven't moved.  But they also run around looking for people who aren't recycling properly -- I know that my neighbor on one side (the good one), got a $50 ticket because school kids threw empty soda cans in his trash sometime between the time he had put his trash out at the curb and the time the garbage trucks showed up to collect it. 

And you may recall that I had issues with neighborhood hooligans (hey, when you get chance to call someone a hooligan, you should take it!) had set fire to our trash cans twice in one month.  Being concerned about my trash cans burning down does not count as an obsession.  (My threat to put out a surveillance camera might have been edging into that territory, but I got over it.)

Anyway, people on my block are supposed to put out trash and recycling on Thursday nights.  So, last night, I go out to put our two trash cans, one bottles/metal recycling can, and one paper recycling can out at the curb.  Earlier in the day, I had taken a bag of trash out from the kitchen, and, at that time, none of our cans were more than half full.  When I went out in the evening, all four cans were overflowing.  And when I looked a little closer, I realized that it was all a really nasty mess of trash, bottles and paper all mixed together.

So, like a dutiful resident (who didn't want a $50 ticket for each bag of mixed stuff), I started separating everything.  Yes, I was pissed off.  And as I'm separating everything, I discover mail addressed to the 4th floor tenant next door!  Of course, after I finished dealing with the shit-piles, I presented the evidence to the owner next door.  She said she'd speak to her tenant, but even knowing that was probably as much as I could expect, it wasn't really terribly satisfying. (Is it really asking too much to want her to go out, apply for a gun permit, get turned down, get a new job in a "high-risk" field, re-apply, get her permit, go buy a pistol, spend time on the shooting range getting used to the thing, and then going upstairs in her building to give her tenant a real talking to? I don't think so!)

So, then, this morning, I looked out the window again (before any stuff had been collected), and sure enough, there's more crap out there, all of it completely mixed up and tossed into any damned can.  I was a little less conscientious about separating the stuff this time around, but I did move it to the cans where most of the contents belonged.

So far, our trash and paper recycling have been picked up without incident.  The bottles and cans are still awaiting their destiny.  There's at least one bag out there that could still get me a ticket.  I'm actually hoping I get one so I can take it next door and give it to them.

And just to reiterate how I really, really, really don't have an obsession with garbage -- it's not that I mind following the the Dept. of Sanitation rules, it's that I hate having to deal with my neighbor's nasty shit.  Next week, if I find stuff that I don't think came from our building, I'm going through the bags again -- and if I find evidence, I'm dumping it all back on their front porch.  See?  That's not the least bit obsessive.
Chant with me now.  "Attica!  Attica!  Attica!"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Quote of the Day

-"I have been tossed from that place hundreds of times. Many times I even deserved it." -Anthony Zachariadis on being ejected from Yankee Stadium with his vuvuzela.
I rarely have anything good to say about the Yankees and their management, but Bravo!

Marketing To Morons

Before I say anything, let me just fess up:  I loathe Chase Bank.  I abhor them.  I hate them with a burning passion comparable only to something that...uh...burns really, really hot.  See?  Just the mention of them makes me completely lose all ability to come up with similes.  When I first moved to N.Y. I opened an account with Chase.  The fact that they demanded more background information to open a checking account than my previous bank in Boston had required to give me a car loan should have been a tip-off.  Once I finally decided I'd had enough, I moved my account to another bank.  Chase bought that bank three weeks later.  I moved again.  That one remained independent for almost 6 months before Chase assimilated them.  Resistance is FUTILE!  Now, I'm at CitiBank, and I'm actually mostly happy with them.

But that's all neither here nor there.  I just wanted to admit that I'm not fond of Chase to begin with.  They've got a commercial on the air right now that really bugs me. The intent of the ad is to let you know about some new service that gives you a 3% refund(?), discount(?) on things you buy with your Chase Debit Card.  I haven't paid close enough attention to know the details, but, hey...that sounds like a fine thing.

But to make their point, they show a couple of brothers(?) who are constantly racing to see who gets to pay for stuff and therefore qualify for the cashback reward.  Brother #1 is constantly shown at the cashier when brother #2 swoops into frame and swipes his card through the reader before the guy actually buying stuff can pay for it.  SCORE! Brother #2 is always the one getting the 3% reward "on stuff you buy anyway"!

Except it's not stuff brother #2 is buying for himself.  He's picking up the tab for brother #1.  The real winner here isn't brother #2 who gets the 3% reward...it's brother #1 who is apparently getting 100% of everything he buys paid for by his idiot sibling.

Maybe the fact that the theme music from Deliverance is playing in the background should have been a clue that the commercial involves questionable breeding practices.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Short-Term Reaction To Obama's Oval Office Speech.

There were things I heard tonight and things I didn't hear.

-I (finally) heard that he's authorized mobilization of National Guard Units for clean up.  I'm not sure what took so long.

-I heard that he's planning to demand that BP establish an escrow account to be administered by a third party to handle claims.

-I didn't hear who that third party would be -- whether it would be Governmental or not, nor how it would be appointed or established.

-I heard that he was assigning Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus to draw up long-term recovery plans for the Gulf.  As a past-Governor of a Gulf State (Mississippi), and as one experienced with the U.S. Navy, he sounds, on the surface, like a good choice.  I'm sure his resume will be dissected more thoroughly in the next few days.

-I heard him promise that the Gulf of Mexico and its shoreline would be restored to a condition, not just as it was before Deepwater Horizon blew up, but before Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the Gulf.  A laudable goal, but I didn't hear how he intends to get BP to pay for a natural disaster that occurred years before they got caught with their pants down. If that's not what he meant...that he intends for a portion of this recovery to be paid for out of Federal Funds, I'm not sure I can think of a way to confuse issues further when it comes to assessing BP's obligations.  They're certainly sure to grow contentious on that issue as soon as the heat of the moment has passed, without the complication of agreeing to what is a ramification of the oil spill vs. what is a lingering problem from the Hurricane.

-I heard an acknowledgment that "Alternative Energy" sources haven't gotten the priority required in spite of the discussion having gone on for decades.  I heard him compare the need to succeed at gearing up for war production at the beginning of WWII and the sense of "mission" for the Moon Landing to the determination that would be required to make the achievements required to wean us of dependence on fossil fuels.  What I didn't hear was anything concrete in those statements.  While Kennedy announced a time frame for the goal of landing a man safely on the moon, Obama neglected to articulate any clear goals.  Has this only now become a priority for this Administration?  Aren't there any targets for reducing the percentage of our energy fueled by coal and oil?  Aren't there any time frames? Haven't they had time to think about those questions?

One of the most common complaints about Bush's handling of the U.S. Military's entrance into war in Afghanistan and Iraq, was that he never articulated how it would impact the homefront. He never asked for any sacrifice on the part of average Americans...and therefore, sold the war as something that would go on over there, and life would go on as usual here at home.  If it's time for President Obama to set off on a bold course and to ask Americans to participate...and I think there's a case to be made that it is that time, then he's going to have to be a lot more specific than he was tonight.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I thought it was a fairly disappointing speech.  Please do better Mr. President.

Why Yes! This Is The Sort Of Thing That Keeps Me Awake At Night.

Not so long ago, I wrote about my ongoing issues with ordering a gyro.  (Scroll down to item 5 on the link.)  The issue is this -- do I pronounce something correctly and only achieve blank stares from the guy behind the counter, or even worse, have him try to correct me, or do I go with the flow and say what he's expecting to hear so I can just get my damned lunch?  If you have any question which option is my default, you should be aware that I've been known to argue with people in paper hats about the size of a drink I want.

Me: I'd like a small coke with that, please.
Paper Hat Boy:  We don't have a small.  We have "medium" or "Large".
Me: Uh...no you don't.  "Medium" means midway between two other sizes.
PHB: (stares at the menu board behind him.) But we only have two sizes. We don't have one between them.
Me:  My point EXACTLY!
PHB: (Stares blankly at me.  Picks his nose nowhere near as surrreptitiously as he thinks.)
Me: Fine!  I'll have the fucking Medium.
PHB: (Smiles as the planets realign for him).  Would you like to super-size that?

It's not that I don't realize the futility of my quest, it's just that I hate voluntarily participating in fucking up the language. 

Look, I have no problem whatsoever with new-word coinage -- there's often a need for new words and even when there isn't, sometimes they're just fun.  I, for one, intend to use malamanteau in conversation at my earliest convenience - conversational comprehension be damned!  I also have no problem with regionalisms.  There's nothing wrong with the fact that the very same thing is referred to differently in different places. It may sound weird to me to ask for a bottle of pop in the Midwest, but I'm more likely to get what I actually want by using that word.  On the other hand, I'll continue saying Y'all instead of the vastly inferior, Youse guys.  (My father used to say that your level of ignorance is directly related to which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you're standing on.)

Anyway, what got me started on this again is a post I saw this morning on (the customer is) Not Always Right.  If you haven't visited, it makes for a really good alternative to just laughing at cats, even though, sometimes it seems like the guy who sent in his anecdote is actually the stupid one in the equation.  The post in question was this one.  The noted workplace here is "Restaurant" without any real illumination as to the supposed quality of the restaurant, but it's placement in Orlando and the fact that they have an item on their menu called Bruschetta Chicken Pasta (I can't even imagine what the fuck that is), may be a clue.  I'll be generous and assume it's at least an Italian themed restaurant.  And it's entirely beside the point that the customer and the server both come off sounding at least equally dense.

No, the point is that, moron though he may be, the customer has pronounced bruschetta correctly.  Bruschetta is Italian, and Italians pronounce "ch" as a hard "k".  Always. Like Chianti, and Machiavelli, and church! (O.K., that last one only works for Scottish.) And I'm not even going to get into the whole thing about why bruschetta and crostini aren't the same damned things and that a tub of chopped up tomatoes with garlic and other stuff, but no toast of any sort is not bruschetta either -- please look that stuff up and use the correct appellations and feel free to argue with servers even if they're just victims of their own menus.  It'll be a solidarity thing with us.

Is it wrong that it galls the living shit out of me that this server is 1.) so proud of pronouncing a word wrong that s/he feels the need to make fun of someone who is actually pronouncing it the right way, 2.) goes out of his/her way to tell the entire internet, and 3.) while obviously having access to the internet, didn't bother to look it up before crowing about it?

I'm going to force myself to get over it by ordering some bruschetta from Anima.  Not only do they have really good food, but as long as they can figure out what I'm ordering, they'd never be so crass as to embarrass me by correcting my pronunciation.

On a different subject, but also something that can keep me awake at night...you guys never had the honor of meeting Connie and Chung.  They were the cats I had before I was blogging, so they had to settle for just being normal pets instead of Internationally Known Sensations.  They did a fine job of it.  When Chung died, I buried her in the backyard and planted a tree over her grave. (I'm pretty sure it's illegal to bury a pet in your backyard in NYC, so, Shhhh!--Don't tell anybody!)  Anyway, not long after Chung's funeral, I was walking down a side street and saw a tree that has haunted me ever since.  The tree had been planted above a pile of rubble, and, for some reason, as the tree grew, the roots forced themselves a foot or more above-ground and they brought the rubble with them, horribly embedded and clearly visible right there in the tree-trunk!  The tree I planted over Chung's grave is fairly slow growing, but I still have this horrible vision of walking into the backyard some day and seeing Chung's skeleton rising up to taunt me.  (I'm sure she'll be artistically posed with fangs bared in a silent snarl and claws reaching out to savage me.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hey! What's Up With That?

Screenshot from Barnes & Noble's Website

I went looking for this book online, only to discover that even though it's only been out for a little over 4 months, the price for the hardcover is already down to about 50% of list price.  Now that's all fine and dandy, but why the hell is the eBook version still selling for 75% of list price?

It's not like the hardcover has been out long enough that it should be "remaindered" already (should it?).  I may not understand the ins and outs of the publishing and the bookselling businesses, but, as a consumer, I can tell you that I'm not about to buy an eBook for $5.00 more than a hardcover would cost me.

The end result of this is that I'll put off reading The Information Officer in spite of the fact that I liked the other book I've read by Mark Mills (Amagansett).  And, since I'm kind of forgetful about this kind of thing, it's not inconceivable that I'll totally forget about this book's existence and I won't end up buying it when the price falls to something I think is reasonable. I know I could put the book on a 'wish list' or whatever BN has to remind me of stuff I might want in the future, but I'm perverse about that sort of thing -- is it really my job to keep track of that sort of stuff, or shouldn't BN and Mr. Mills be working a little harder at selling me their books?

So, instead of me achieving a little more instant gratification, I'm going to hand the nook™ over to GF so she can read the Stieg Larsson series I've been raving about and I'm going to walk over to Greenlight Bookstore, and see what they have on their shelves.  My gratification will only be delayed for a little while and I like to spend money in the little Indie Bookstore in my neighborhood, so everybody wins!  

And as long as I'm over on Fulton (because it's slightly off my beaten path), I guess I'll stop in at The Greene Grape and see what they have for dinner!  They actually have their own butcher on site and lots of other really good stuff!

UPDATE:  So I'm back and I got a couple of books I'm happy about: The Scar by China Mieville and ... I realized that even though it's one of my favorite movies, I've never actually read  To Kill A Mockingbird!  This shall soon be rectified.

Also, regardless of how it compares to other items' prices, I don't think I'm likely to pay $18.57 for any eBook in the near future.  For 18 bucks, I expect something I can put on my shelf when I've finished reading it.  Sure, the eBook is theoretically mine and I can go back and read it again if I want to, but there's still something a little too ephemeral about it to make me want to spend that kind of money on it.  Also, there's always those collections of stuff I have on floppy disks and LP's on vinyl to think about.  I haven't experienced the joys of any of that content any time recently.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I Think I'll Just Skip The Meal And Go Straight To Dessert.

Last week, I told you about Stieg Larsson's series of books.  I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the third book and my opinion hasn't changed a bit -- I still think they're pretty terrific.  But I'd be dishonest if I didn't mention one little quibble I've got with these books.

Here's the thing.  When it comes to food, I'm highly suggestible.  No, really!  It's ridiculous how easy it is to make me want to eat something if you describe it or show it in a way that makes it sound or look appetizing. You know how some people will do something stupid over and over and over again, like pulling really hard on a door may look like its really heavy but it isn't?  And every time they open that door, it swings open really easily and smashes them in the face? And no matter how much they tell themselves they won't do it again, they still do the same damned thing the very next day!

Well, you know what?  I've eaten a Burger King Whopper.  I know it tastes pretty good until I'm about half-way through one -- and then it doesn't taste so great.  And then I get a little bit -- Urpey! And I swear I'm never going to eat one of those things again.  And every time GF and I drive down the Garden State Parkway, we end up stopping at the Cheesequake Rest Area (don't you love that name?) and, sure enough, I order a Whopper.  I know better but somehow I can't help myself.  I'm an idiot.  I'm easily suggestible.

The same thing happens when I'm reading.  Lots of authors take pride in including a bunch of meals in their stories.  And, assuming it's not one of the Hannibal Lechter novels, the food usually sounds pretty good.  Sometimes, I'll even run out and buy the right ingredients and make something for dinner that I've just read about.

Mr. Larsson's books have not had that effect on me.

I'll remind you that the books take place in Sweden.  Before you get the wrong idea, there are no scenes that have the characters eating lutefisk.  If you're not familiar with lutefisk, this is a preparation of cod or some other whitefish in which the fish is dried and saved in that condition for a decade or two.  A week or two before you want to eat lutefisk, you start a series of baths to reconstitute your dessicated fish.  The baths alternate cold water and lye.  Apparently, you have to be kind of careful with the lye bath portion of the process to avoid turning it into soap or just poisoning your dinner guests.  Anyway, the stuff comes out as an unrecognizable gelatinous glop that no-one will touch with a ten foot fork before the age of 65.  There is a further unsolved mystery involved since the elders will always try to coax children into trying it by saying they, themselves loved it when they were children -- which is a vicious lie since no-one under the age of 65 has ever been witnessed trying the stuff.
 Yum!  Doesn't that look good?

Anyway, there's no lutefisk in the book at all, since apparently, more lutefisk is consumed in in Minnesota and Wisconsin (in the name of Scandinavian Heritage), than is currently consumed in all of Scandinavia.  (Note to those celebrating their Scandinavian Heritage -- the people who stayed behind in the old country have discovered REFRIGERATION and they no longer have to eat that stuff.)

No, here's the thing.  Nobody in this book seems to give a rat's ass about food.  One character seems to live solely on "Billy's Frozen Pizzas".  There's a little bit of beer in the book, but otherwise, nobody seems to drink anything but coffee.  And another main character eats sandwiches at every meal.

Most of the time, that's as far as the description goes -- Blomkvist realized he hadn't eaten in three days, so he had some sandwiches and coffee.  On the few occasions that the sandwiches are more clearly described -- let's just say Yuck!  Do. Not. Want.

Here are some of the sandwiches our hero eats (and they are always plural and usually open-faced:
-sandwiches with cheese and pickles
-sandwiches with rye bread, cheese, caviar and hard boiled egg
-sandwiches with pickled herring in mustard sauce with chives and egg.
-sandwiches with cheese and liver sausages and dill pickles.
-sandwiches with liver pate and cucumber.

While some of these don't actually sound completely disgusting, none of them inspire any sudden cravings.  Maybe they're murder mysteries and dieting handbooks!