Monthly Archives: March 2011

Lame Adventure 172: The Burden of Bearing Bad News

Shortly after I arrived at work on Wednesday, Greg, my sidekick, told me that he just heard on the radio that Elizabeth Taylor had died.  I waited about an hour before casually mentioning it to Ling and our boss, Elsbeth.  Neither of them knew and both felt a twinge of sadness for the passing of this Hollywood legend.

12-year-old Liz with the original Lassie in 1944.

The only others I would be inclined to tell would be Milton and Coco.

In the case of Coco, one of her minions is a chap that’s so gay, he is practically the rainbow flag on feet.  I deduced that he was a likely source of spreading this news her way.  If not, she doesn’t live under a rock so she could have easily figured it out for herself a million other ways from taking a glance at CNN on her iPhone or overhearing someone talking about it at work since her desk is right next to the bathroom.  It seemed highly likely that when someone was not asphyxiating her with a heavy finger on the Oust, she could just have easily overheard someone talking about this event.  Therefore, instinct told me that Coco knowing was not a problem.

Yet Milton … That had potential problem written all over it.

Whenever there is the “bring out your dead” segment at an awards show, Milton often remarks how he was unaware that someone had died, and I will say:

Me:  You didn’t know that [insert name of dead person] died?

Milton:  No, I didn’t.  You did?

Me:  Yeah.

Milton:  Where was I?  How did I miss that?

It’s simple.  I read the obits.  Milton doesn’t.

Unlike my grandmother who was the type that would shout from the rooftop the second she heard that anyone had kicked, I always found her exuberance as Allan Greenspan would say, irrational. I am glad that a guy as subdued as Greg told me about ET this morning.  He knows when news is big whereas my grandmother would have made a career out of being the blatherer of bad news 24/7 if she could. She lived to talk about who died daily; even if it was someone she had never heard of in her life such as Terry Kath, a member of the band Chicago.  Since she knew I was a huge music fan she thought she had reeled in a fat fish of disappointment for me when she told me he had committed suicide.  I tossed that fish right back at her when I said:

Me: I’m not into that band. I have no idea who that guy is.

I later learned that he did the guitar solo in their hit 25 or 6 to 4.

This is not from my 45 collection.

I have no idea what that song is about.  I have never owned a Chicago record in my life.

Yet, I knew that Liz Taylor checking out would be monumental to Milton, but I was hoping that somehow he’d find out through someone else or Facebook.  After a few hours I forwarded him her obit in The New York Times and by then everyone else he knew had contacted him.  I felt immense relief.

That evening Milton met me as I was leaving work.  He had spent the weekend integrating New Hampshire, so I asked him how his trip went.  This was the first time he had flown in a plane since the nineties.  He enjoyed seeing his friends, but was apoplectic over the aircraft, describing it as follows:

Milton:  It was so small; it couldn’t even fit Diana Ross’s luggage.

Me:  It was a propeller plane, right?

Milton:  It was a propeller plane!

Me:  Albee told me that.

Milton:  Albee knew I would be flying on a propeller plane and you didn’t tell me!

Me:  He told me I shouldn’t tell you because then you’d probably cancel your trip.

Milton:  Yes, I would have canceled had I known I would be flying in a propeller plane!

Thanks to Albee urging me to keep the bad news about Milton’s first flight a secret, coupled with Milton surviving that flight, Milton has a new appreciation for jets and might actually fly again in less than fifteen years.  Maybe he’ll even fly to wherever Liz is buried to eat a donut in her honor at her grave.  As Joan Rivers once quipped about Liz’s frequently high weight once she reached her middle years,”Is Elizabeth Taylor fat?  Her favorite food is seconds.”  On Wednesday, Joan was Tweeting about feeling as lousy as the rest of us knowing that Liz is gone.

Lame Adventure 171: Everything’s under control, we’re high!

While Elsbeth, my leader, was lost attending a tile trade show in Las Vegas earlier this week, I was left behind overseeing the troops in my low-key, conflict-free, hands-off, don’t-give-a-crap-unless-I-really-must-take-action style because:

a) This stupid thing you’re doing could lead to bodily harm – mine or yours.

b) This stupid thing you’re doing could lead to a lawsuit and since I’m a lot older than you and far less employable, I need this gig so don’t screw it up for the rest of us.

On Monday, Ling, Greg and I shared the following exchange while I observed The Quiet Man’s empty desk:

Me:  Is The Quiet Man here?

Ling: No, not yet.

Me:  Did he call out sick?

Ling:  He didn’t call me.

Greg:  He didn’t call me.

Me (looking at my unlit voicemail sign):  He didn’t call me.

Greg:  What do we do?

I pondered this question short and soft:

Me: Nothing.  Maybe he’ll show up tomorrow.

He did.  When Greg asked me why The Quiet Man was not in on Monday, I said:

Me:  I don’t know.  If you’re that curious, ask him.

Greg didn’t.  I reasoned that if The Quiet Man had a sore throat, or was pleasuring himself with a live chicken, or if it was some combination of the two, it was off site and none of our business.

Possibly to celebrate the advent of The Quiet Man returning to The Snoring Room, or Elsbeth gifting Greg with a tile she loathed so much she ordered him to remove it from the premises any way he wanted to — just do so immediately:

Following orders.

Or, possibly because after unpacking a delivery of seventy-six boxes of sample tile, the last box he encountered was this one containing contents true to its label:

Truth in labeling.

Greg informed me that he wanted to try Pharma Kava, an over-the-counter elixir available at Whole Foods for $12.

World peace in a bottle.

Greg is a musician, and always willing to do whatever it takes to enhance his creativity, so tranquility in a bottle seemed right up his alley or at least ready to conquer his central nervous system. I said:

Me:  Go ahead.  Report back to me about it.

If it had been our young video gamer Under Ling who mentioned wanting to indulge herself with this same potion to me, my response would have been a tad different:

Me:  Are you insane? This is not the place where we need you to go slack and pee yourself.  Do it, but do it on our own time and off site, okay?  Make sure that your mom, the nurse, is on standby, too.

Yes, I have double standards when it comes to musicians pushing thirty versus gamers barely into their twenties.  Fortunately, when Greg showed his Pharma Kava to Under Ling, she recoiled.

The kava kava portion is grown chemical-free in the South Pacific island of Vanuatu.  The rest of it is 83-93 proof alcohol.  A few drops on the tongue later, Greg’s mouth went momentarily numb.  Over the course of the next two hours my sidekick was labeling tile as if he was lying in a hammock nestled between two palm trees in Vanuatu.  Although I personally prefer my usual state of stress, fatigue, and anxiety, I did hear this intriguing sound playing every time I walked past Greg:

Click here to hear intriguing sound playing every time I walked past Greg.

Since I have taken the day off today and Elsbeth is not in, before leaving Thursday night, I told Greg:

Me:  Okay, you’re in charge of what goes on here in my absence.  Do things the way I do them – as little as possible and at a distance.

Greg smiled, thrilled.

Me (walking out the door):  But that doesn’t mean you can spike our water cooler with that stuff.  Just spike management’s.

Some little drops'll do ya'.

Lame Adventure 170: “Maahvalous!”

Last week Coco and I attended a preview screening of Bill Cunningham New York.  When my pal was in the third grade, she was assigned to write a Thanksgiving essay about what she was most thankful for.  Unlike her classmates that were thankful for their parents, grandparents and pets, Coco tossed her thanks to Macy’s because they carried Jordache jeans.  Fast forward twenty-odd years later to the present where this grown-up fashionista is so excited about attending this screening, she’s sprouted a rather eye-catching full beard resembling a maroon dyed raccoon.

Coco petting her Abraham Lincoln beard with a studded cashmere Michael Kors glove.

Bill Cunningham is a New York Times treasure, an intrepid man on the street photographer whose On the Street columns (and in recent years, videos) chronicling fashion trends and the New York social scene are reliable highlights of the Sunday Style section.  This is a film made with love, wit and deep respect for this reluctant star.  Directed by Richard Press and produced by his partner in work and marriage, Philip Gefter, this dynamic duo gives the audience an intimate glimpse into the life of an extremely gracious, painfully modest, very active and eternally optimistic artist as he approaches age eighty during the course of filming (Bill’s now 82).

A very private man by nature, even Bill’s closest friends and colleagues admit they know next to nothing about his personal life.  Some facts about Bill are obvious, such as his distinct patrician accent every time he utters his favorite word, “Maahvalous,” betraying that he was born and bred in Boston.  An unanswered question is raised asking if Bill is the product of wealth.  During the q&a Press said that Bill revealed to him that his father worked for the US Postal Service, but did not elaborate further so he had no way of knowing if pere Cunningham was a common letter carrier or the postmaster general.

Bill does possess a very strong philosophy about money that borders on contemptuous.  He refused to accept any payment for his photos published in Details magazine where he worked during two of the happiest years of his life.  He was allowed complete control and was in his bliss.  He reasons, “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.  That’s the key to the whole thing.” Fiercely independent, Bill shoots all of his photographs on film and he owns all of his negatives.  He is the last photographer on the Times staff that shoots film adamantly refusing to go digital.  The Times allows him what appears to be complete autonomy, as well as a bevy of assistants he drives crazy.

During the year Press and Gefter followed Bill, he was faced with having to vacate his bohemian utopia, a rent-controlled studio apartment in Carnegie Hall, where he has resided since the early fifties.  Bill’s room is a simple sliver of space (with no kitchen and a shared bath in the hallway) that’s cluttered with metal file cabinets packed with his thousands of negatives.  He sleeps on a narrow cot atop piles of magazines. His clothes hang on wire hangers on the cabinets’ drawer pulls.  His longtime neighbors include his colorful friend, 96-year-old portrait photographer Editta Sherman.  Hopefully, someone will soon film a documentary about her.

This apartment has clearly been the key to Bill’s unique degree of independence.  Very low overhead and paying next-to-nothing rent would be a godsend to all struggling artists and hack bloggers today if this dream option still existed in New York, but it doesn’t.  Therefore, if you’re not born into wealth, you fail to wed a rich spouse, and you’re not on the winning side of a pot of lottery ticket gold, try to find a day job that is not entirely soul-sucking, and when need be, a source of material.

Bill’s never had a life partner but in a very moving scene, he answers some blunt questions about his disciplined personal life.  He doesn’t own a TV, and claims he does not have the time to see films or go to the theater, but admits he does enjoy music.  He gets his fix when he attends church on Sunday.  He has no interest in fine dining and subsists on cheap deli sandwiches and take-out coffee.

As monastic as his private life is, Bill is possibly the hardest working, most inspired member of the Times staff as he navigates Manhattan on his thirtieth three speed bike.  The previous twenty-nine were all stolen, but he has an almost zen-like acceptance about that.  He is not a guy that sweats the small stuff.  The street is where he wants to be as he hunts for subjects.

Almost everywhere he goes, he’s welcomed warmly, but there is a hilarious moment when two identically dressed teens he photographs turn on him, curse him out and threaten to break his camera.  Instead of fleeing in fear from these angry kids more than sixty years his junior, he is entertained, giggling impishly as he pedals away.

A man who thrives on beauty, Bill has an expert eye for detecting trends.  From one of his favorite perches, the four corners of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, often outside Bergdorf Goodman, he waits with his camera poised for prey — anyone stylishly dressed.  The clothes he photographs need not be expensive.  What’s required for a snap from Bill is that a subject looks original.  He takes his photographs with an unabashed enthusiasm lithely chasing objects of his admiration as they cross the street, scampering for a better angle, and occasionally directing a subject.  He is a guy who is most in the zone when he is clutching his Nikon.  He even snaps shots while pedaling from one location to the next.

His work ethic is so dedicated that it borders on obsessive.  Bill’s typical day usually starts around 8:30 am and ends at midnight.  He is also a walking encyclopedia of fashion trends past.  Since he is disinterested in pop culture, and his main focus is clothes, he is equally indifferent to celebrity.  In Paris, during fashion week, photographers swarm fashion icon Catherine Deneuve as she enters her limousine.  Bill stands back with his Nikon at rest.  Later, he matter-of-factly explains that she wasn’t wearing anything interesting.  As he waits to enter another fashion show amongst a horde of press, a minion questions Bill who waits patiently wearing a bemused expression.  When her boss appears, he brushes past the youngster, and gives Bill instant access declaring, “He’s the most important man on earth.”

While in Paris, Bill receives a prestigious award, a chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.  He seems to much prefer photographing the guests, but he does deliver an acceptance speech mostly in heavily American-accented French that he emotionally concludes in English, “If you look you can find beauty in everything.”

As Coco and I left the screening we marveled at Bill’s devotion to his craft and the overall purity of his spirit.  I vowed:

Me:  I’m going to further downsize my life!  I’ll completely commit myself to the written word!  I’ll be the Bill Cunningham of blogging!

Then, we hit a bar where I proceeded to drink my weight in sake.  I screwed off for the remainder of the week and did not publish another post until the following Friday.

Coco, had a more sober reaction:

Coco:  I’m going to hang out at 57th and Fifth every chance I get.

"We all get dressed for Bill," Anna Wintour. "But some way more than others," Lame Adventures Woman.

Bill Cunningham New York opens today for a two week run at the Film Forum in lower Manhattan, and will roll out in major cities nationally.

Lame Adventure 169: Hello Gorgeous!

My usual mode of transportation is a $104 Metrocard that is sucked out of my weekly paycheck in $26 installments.  Toward the end of every month, Bronislava the Expressionless from Accounting, visits me and performs the somber Handing Out the New Metrocards Ceremony.  Only recently, did I Google search her name and discover that in her native Russia it means “glorious protector.”  Over here, I guess it’s been revised to Glorious Protector of the Metrocards.

Bronislava quietly creeps into my department where I am usually sitting at my desk before my computer heavy lidded, slack jawed, drooling and occasionally, snoring.  To gain my attention, she might mumble in fluent monosyllabic a sound that I think doubles as my name if my name were pronounced “Va-heen-na-ha.”  Or, depending on where she is in her fertility cycle, she might gesture silently with a sheet and pen that I am supposed to use to sign that sheet indicating that I have received my new card.  After I scawl my atrophying signature onto the sheet, she proceeds to hand me my new card.  This transaction always takes place with an economy of words where I often do all the talking when I say:

Me:  Thanks.

Over the weekend, I was walking from the East Village to the West Village enroute to meeting a friend for a beverage when I nearly suffered whiplash throwing out my neck at the site of this adorable 1970 Fiat Abarth 695 parked on Mercer Street.

Come home with me.

If I had ever seen one of these cars anyplace other than in a Fellini film, I don’t recall it, and my pulse has always quickened for compact European vehicles.

Hey, who's been fondling your rear engine?

It is a nice caboose.

This one was such a beauty!  Oh, to ride this to work in lieu of the crowded 2 Express train or, better yet, to ride it to someplace bucolic and far from the daily grind and full of fun.  <sigh>

Let's get lost!

I wanna see your instruments!

Of course, bucolic has always triggered my nasal allergies, parking in this city is a major pain, and I need to own a car, even one of the sexiest cars in the world like this one, about as badly as I need a brain tumor.  Yet, this one sure was a delight to ogle and photograph and a lot prettier than my Metrocard.

No "zoom zoom" here.

It was so much fun until reality got in the way.

Probably not a cheap date.

Lame Adventure 167: Why didn’t I think of that?

One evening last week after work, I met Coco for a beverage.  After parting ways I headed to my sanctum sanctorum realizing that the hour was not ridiculously late and I could pursue something uncharacteristic, a decent night’s rest.

As usual, when I entered my apartment, I had to look at the eyesore that Konstantine, my next-door neighbor, has had cluttering our shared bit of hallway since January when he celebrated his birthday.  Late that night, there was a loud commotion in the hallway.  The next morning, when I opened my door I saw this site.

Not like a good neighbor, shared hallway clutter.

Cinderfella's slipper.

I do not know the significance of the Vienna poster, especially since he is Greek from Greece.  Possibly the felt slipper was added for amusement – certainly not mine. As for the inoperable intercom he has now plastered to the wall, I am sure that our landlady, Cruella LeGree, will fleece him for defacing the premises when the time comes for him to move out.  Then, I might have a hearty chuckle when she smacks him with that charge.

Several weeks later, around three in the morning I am deep in Dreamland, but not quite as deep as Elsbeth, my boss, who recently revealed that she dreamt that she was Japanese:

Elsbeth:  What do you think that means?

Naturally I asked if Stu, her husband, was in it as a samurai.

Elsbeth:  He wasn’t in it, but I had a daughter.

Elsbeth has a daughter, Charlie (yes, short for Charlotte).

Me:  So Charlie was in it?

Elsbeth:  No, my daughter wasn’t Charlie.

Me:  Did your dream have sub-titles?

Subliminal message in Elsbeth's dream.

Then, The Boss’s phone rang effectively ending one of our more interesting discussions of the week.

Unlike my superior, my dream, selecting a toothbrush at my neighborhood Duane Reade, was a tad less imaginative, but I suppose that explains why she owns the company and I’m just her serf.

My dream toothbrush.

Just as I was about to reach for a soft bristled Oral B, I was woken from my sound slumber by voices bickering, scuffling and loud banging in the hallway outside my door.  The weekend before, there had been a physical altercation in my next-door neighbor’s apartment.  They were throwing each other at the shared wall and as my books vibrated on their shelves, I thought to myself:

Me:  This sounds violent.  Should I do something?

I did.  My laundry.

Konstantine, my neighbor, was once again on a rampage, or possibly on the receiving end.  I went back to sleep.  The next morning when I opened my door to leave, I noticed that the Vienna poster was gone.  This pleased me.  For anyone who might be wondering, the slipper was removed the day after it first appeared in January.

As I headed down my building’s stairs en route to my Journey Of the Broke, I had one more encounter with my neighbor’s Vienna poster, this time in the hallway of the floor beneath us on its side dented in half.

Not exactly fold-friendly.

Why hadn’t I thought of that?  Oh right, I am not a temper tantrum tossing nut job.  Apparently, I just happen to live next door to one.

Lame Adventure 166: Bait and Switch or Just Bait?

Now that it is March, Elsbeth, my superior, is planning a mid-month business trip to a tile show in Las Vegas.  Actually, how Elsbeth plans her trip is that she tells me to plan her schedule.  If the economy were not recovering so sluggishly, I would accompany her as I have on these trips many times in years past.  She usually enjoys this trip immensely while I play mush hound, panting hard and towing the load.  That trip is the hardest I work all year, so the fact that I am not going and she is, is almost a vacation for me.  Yet, if I were tagged to don my mush hound guise, that would also mean that my dismal wages would have finally increased exponentially.  In that case, I would gladly embrace complete mental and physical collapse with uncharacteristic gusto and glee.

Here I am taking it easy leashed but master-less.

One of our tile vendors forwarded me an invitation for my lord and master to attend a private viewing of their new products away from the convention center where this event is being held.  Posted below in the graphic that decorated the invitation.

Invitation also known in some parts as, "WTF were they thinking?!"

Ling instantly voiced her objection to it the second she saw it on my screen from both a graphic design and self-esteem perspective.  Next, I shared it with Elsbeth, who suggested maybe she should don the same getup as the model when she visits.  Some years back, this vendor tossed a party where attendees were encouraged to dress as rock stars.  I was asked who my boss would be.  I deadpanned:

Me:  Z. Z. Top.

Next, I shared the invitation with my colleagues and Coco.  I asked Coco to don her Dr. Ruth hat and explain it to me.  My fellow N(ot) Y(et) U(seful) graduate succinctly surmised:

Coco: Forbidden fruit balanced on a stiletto with a woman fisting her ass.

I shared this insight with The Quiet Man and Greg.  Both appreciated the Coco-ian wit, but The Quiet Man added:

The Quiet Man:  Can I keep this picture?

Apparently, the more he stared at it throughout the course of the day, the more certain he was that he was looking at an image of Charlie Sheen’s next wife. He has yet to explain to us how this image can possibly sell tile.