Monthly Archives: December 2011

Lame Adventure 258: Let’s Discuss Holiday Cards

Due to my growing like kudzu contempt for the US Postal Service for their consistently crummy delivery of my favorite magazine, The New Yorker, I had decided that 2011 was the year I was going to join the legions of former holiday card givers and end my tradition of sending holiday cards out of spite.  I briefly considered e-blasting Jib Jab e-cards but I decided against that since most of us are already inundated with too much crap on the web.  Luckily for the US Postal Service, my dear friend, Milton, talked me into sending holiday cards this year.  He is right; recipients like to receive hand written paper cards, but considering that he was sending sixty, I’d be inclined to sign my name with a rubber stamp.

Around Thanksgiving I embarked on my annual search for the appropriate card in questionable taste.  Milton feels very strongly about sending traditional holiday cards.  Pictured below is his elegant greeting of the season that he found in his favorite card store, Papyrus.

A holiday card dripping with elegance, taste and a ton of glitter. The crease comes courtesy of my letter carrier, Alice Sneer.

Milton sent sixty of these beauties and in each he hand wrote a personal note.  In mine he composed this heartwarming sonnet: “Have a truly cynical Xmas!”

When I opened it half a pound of glitter fell out and I anticipate I’ll be seeing shiny stuff sparkling in my humble abode well into 2012.  That’s cool with me.  I much prefer it to the large economy size jar of 183,217 popcorn kernels that I spilled in my sanctum sanctorum’s kitchen 28 years ago.  I’m still finding those kernels through today which is amazing since I even had my kitchen floor replaced.

Traditional holiday card tied with swatch of real ribbon from my best friend from college, BatPat.

There used to be a hole-in-the-wall greeting card/gay male novelties shop on Christopher Street I frequented for all of my greeting cards called Alternate Cards.  The guys that ran the place were very quiet men of South Asian decent.  Forgive me for being so narrow-minded, but they did not strike me as the type of chaps that reveled in selling penis-shaped pasta or cards captioned, “My left leg is Christmas.  My right leg is New Year’s.  Come up and see between the holidays.”  Yet, this shop was the best source for off-the-beaten-path holiday cards in New York.  Unfortunately, they suddenly shuttered about three years ago.  I don’t know if it was for the usual reason terrific businesses cease to exist — their rent was raised obscenely high, or if they were actually a front for al-Qaeda.  I do know that I miss them terribly.

Card from my boss, Elsbeth, with note on the back, "This Card was Printed Letterpress by Hand on a 100-Year-Old Chandler & Price Platen Press." Excluded note, "This card was not purchased at WalMart."

Then I realized I could send holiday cards based on cartoons that were published in The New Yorker.  I decided I would do this forever, but forever ended this year when production of tee shirts, mugs, and greeting cards featuring New Yorker cartoons ceased.  That was another devastating loss.

Adorable card from my sister, Dovima, that instantly triggered my cat allergies.

Last summer, the fine folks at Café Press gave me a sweet deal on their Stranger’s Day cards by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.  I decided that they would be my new go-to source for holiday cards, but there was one barrier to this brainstorm.  Most of their cards were “eh” at best, and the few I liked said, “Merry Christmas” inside. I have several Jewish and atheist friends so that was a no go.

Hand-selected just for me card from my friend Martini Max.

Many of the funniest holiday greeting cards I’ve sent through the years were published by Noble Works, but I was at a complete loss as to where to find their cards.  I Google searched them and within a nanosecond discovered that they’re based in New Jersey, they have a vast library of a variety of greeting cards available online, I could buy my holiday cards directly from them tax-free, and if I needed any further incentive to hit my enter key, they were including free shipping, too.  As much as I would like to say that Noble Works online is my new go-to source for holiday cards, I have learned the hard way that this type of completely satisfied customer thinking invites a curse.  Therefore, I will offer my endorsement of Noble Works – and hope that this company outlives me.

My 2011 questionable taste holiday card:

What is not widely known is that this wabbit is a direct descendant of Bugs Bunny.

Lame Adventure 257: ‘Tis the Season for Anger Management

So I was in my market, the original Fairway on the Upper West Side, patiently waiting my turn at the deli counter.  My number, 83, is called by a deli worker; a woman that’s so short she might have been a circus midget in her previous job or a previous life, but I would never hold lack of height against anyone.  Hey, I’m short, too.  I tell her I would like one third of a pound of the roast pork loin.

She doesn’t know what that is.

I can see it but it’s on the far side of the glass cases.  It’s the weekend so the deli counter is a mob scene.  In addition, I’m standing near a meticulously made-up wisp of an elderly woman swimming in a giant fur coat that some guy probably gave her in 1950 when she was a knockout.  My buddy, Coco, who is rather petite and a knockout 2011-style could be this person in sixty years.

Christmas decoration to me from Coco.

This elderly woman also has a shopping cart blocking the entire lane.  It holds a single head of lettuce.  As I try to maneuver around her, her cart and a crowd of fellow shoppers, to point out the pork loin to the clerk, the elderly lady starts moving her cart at a snail’s pace blocking me further.  I make an effort to get out of her way.

Meanwhile, Angry Man, a guy about my age – over forty and under death — and coincidentally the winner of the Paulie Walnuts You’re Gonna Die and I Mean You award, won’t move an inch to let the old lady pass.  Now I have to move around him, her, and her shopping cart to show my pint-sized clueless clerk what’s the roast pork loin.  As I’m making my way around these three obstacles, she, equipped with half the strength of a newborn hamster, brushes him from behind with her cart.  This slight contact packs as much power as an infant’s fart.

Christmas decoration to me from Coco.

When I get to the side of the counter where I can finally point out the roast pork loin to my baffled clerk who’s so short I cannot even see the top of her head behind the glass case so I’m not even sure she’s standing there, Angry Man starts shouting threats.  It takes me a while to realize that he’s directing his tirade at me, prompting me to ask:

Me:  What?

Angry Man (screaming):  You shoved me!  Now it’s my turn to shove you and believe me, you’re not gonna like it!

He steps towards me ready to commit assault.  I step back.

Me (incredulous):  Huh?  Why do you want to shove me?

Angry Man (insistent):  You know what you did!  You’re rude!  You shoved me!

I know that there’s no point telling him that it was Miss Subway 1942 that was the culprit since she is also half-blind, long gone and he wouldn’t step aside to let her pass.  I decide to just pretend that I’m guilty of the offense to placate him.

Me:  I’m sorry, Sir, I wasn’t aware that I shoved you, but since I did, I apologize.

Angry Man (obsessed):  You shoved me!

Me:  Look at me, I’m tiny, I would certainly never intentionally shove anyone, much less a guy your size.

He’s at least a foot taller than me and 75 pounds heavier.   That frazzles him, so he pipes down.  Then, out of the blue, Miss Buttinsky, just the type that Coco would call – but not in these exact words, a “vagina-bag” standing next to Angry Man — and they weren’t together , volunteers her two cents:

Miss Buttinsky:  You shoved him and you know it!  You can’t get out of this by acting innocent now!

I instantly think:

Me (thinking):  Who the [sexual intercourse] are you?

Miss Buttinsky clearly wants to see blood and preferably, mine.  Her spouting off reinvigorates Angry Man.

Meanwhile my miniature clerk is now also yelling at me wanting to know if she’s holding the right deli meat.  I say:

Me:  Yes, one third of a pound please.

Angry Man is screaming at me again, the same nonsense about me being rude:

Angry Man:  I’m gonna make a fist and make you pay!

I think:

Me (thinking):  Pay for a blow job and relax!

I say:

Me:  That’s not necessary to threaten to assault me.  I’ve apologized.  It certainly wasn’t intentional.  Look around, this store is crowded.

I gesture around us at the mass of humanity and I stifle the need to murmur a scatological term meaning excrement knowing full well that I’m surrounded by enemies I never knew I had.

Angry Man again defuses.

Miss Buttinsky (self-righteous even though she did not see anything that happened involving either the now long gone elderly lady or me):  You should have said ‘excuse me’ to him!

I suddenly regret my life-long loathing of the NRA.  If I owned a pistol, I easily could have whipped her on the spot.  I choose to say nothing further and continue to completely ignore her.  Angry Man starts whining about me to another customer.  The tiniest clerk on the planet then gives me one quarter of a pound of deli meat even though I repeatedly requested a third.  I just take it and split feeling lucky to be alive and less mentally ill than my fellow customers.  I head over to the bakery hoping that Santa gifts my deli-peers anger management courses as stocking stuffers.

Since I’m on a downhill slide, I again encounter that elderly lady, who I have now decided is my own personal jinx.  In a plastic bag, I put both a sandwich roll and a sour dough roll, but I am oblivious to the bag being defective.  It has a hole.  My sour dough roll slips through and falls on the floor, but I don’t notice this.  I feel lucky that Miss Buttinsky and Angry Man did not witness this.  Surely, she would have tried to have me arrested for vandalizing the store and if this case would come to trial, both would vote in favor of execution.

I return home and hide beneath my bed for the remainder of the day.

Poster illustrating the few calm people that shop at Fairway.

Lame Adventure 256: Holiday Tales in Manhattan

Normally I dedicate my weekends to my top three career pursuits — power sleeping, beverage guzzling, and overall aimlessness, but this past weekend the forecast called for clear skies and perfect late autumn temperatures in the forties and fifties – excellent weather for shooting pictures here in the Big Apple.  The perfect pictures to take?  The window dressing decorations courtesy of the major department stores that put on a show every holiday season — Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s, Bloomingdale’s and whoever else has an interesting display to share with the fawning masses.

Forty-five minutes after the alarm kicked me in the head at seven thirty on Sunday morning, I was riding the downtown express train to Herald Square.  Even though Macy’s does not open until nine, crowds were already gathering outside the entrance to Santaland and the Puppet Theatre.

Beating the rush.

I suspect that New York Times’ top theater critic Ben Brantley will resist reviewing that show.  Macy’s theme this year, as it has been for a while, is Believe.

In case anyone misses it, Macy's has Believe plastered on the side of their flagship store.

Macy's Believe meter. Macy's believes. Seriously.

All this believing initially activated my gag reflex, but I quickly ascertained that this believing goes back to the Virginia O’Hanlon story – the tale about the quizzical girl writing the reporter to ask if there is a Santa Claus.  I am certain that any woman named Virginia must so wish that girl had been named Lucinda or Adelaide or Hiawatha instead.  I imagine that it must get head-banging-into- the-wall-excruciating having to constantly hear “Yes Virginia …” throughout one’s life … if I were cursed with the name Virginia.

Macy's "Yes Virginia" window display.

Macy’s also managed to tie in Jessica Simpson and Martha Stewart with their other windows illustrating the secret behind how ornaments are made.

Macy's animated Jessica Simpson ornament display.

In Martha’s window, I did not notice any mention of Teflon being a key ingredient as I considered her felonious past.

Macy's elaborate ornament ingredients display.

Overall, Macy’s delivered.  I give their windows a solid B for jaded adults and an A+ for the people that count most, the small fry.

I hightailed over to Fifth Avenue where Lord & Taylor’s flagship store is located between West 38th and West 39th Streets.  I arrived before the stampede, but this character clad for the season was clearly captivated.

"I love this so much I wish I had thumbs!"

Lord & Taylor is another department store with displays that aim to delight the kids and possibly inadvertently, the critters.  Everything looked like a dollhouse on steroids to me, but if I were decades younger or walked on all fours, it would probably rock my world.

The Cadillac of dollhouses.

Dolls skiing.

Gingerbread house.

Winter wonderland with Santa scene.

I’ve also always been a sucker for micro-sized Etch-a-Sketches and was pleased to zoom in on this one.

Scaled down perfection.

Another deft Lord & Taylor touch is that they have framed holiday drawings by children plastered all over their displays. Even though you see one kid drawing, you’ve essentially seen them all, if I were a youngster, I’d be thrilled to have my artwork on display on Fifth Avenue.

Six-year-old Kristen's masterpiece.

Artwork by kids.

For that alone I rate Lord & Taylor an overall A+.

I pounded the pavement up Fifth to Saks Fifth Avenue’s display that gives a cursory nod to the kiddies with an animated mannequin riding a bicycle through each window featuring couture fashion.

Together at last - animated mannequin riding bicycle and an Oscar de la Renta gown.

I thought their display’s mechanical theme was rather perverse.  Saks clearly has an eye on more sophisticated girls and boys.  It’s also where my hardcore fashionista buddy, Coco, shops.  She recently revealed to me that she was invited to the opening day of this display.

Me (pouncing):  You were invited to the opening day of a window display like it’s an exhibit at the Met?  What the hell is that about? It’s a department store!

Coco (defensive): I didn’t go!

Unlike Coco, I did go, but unfortunately the glare bouncing off the picture windows limited the number of pictures I can share.

Ackerman design with wheel in well-thing.

Stella McCartney design on mannequin on scale. Huh?

Olivier Theyskens design on another mechanical mannequin that turned wheel that did who-knows-what.

Overall, they scored a B with me, good, but not mind-blowing.  The fashion on display deserved better.

Lots of Old Glory flying outside Rockefeller Center.

I crossed the street and visited Rockefeller Center.

Angel Gabriel blowing his horn in Rockefeller Center.

Do the tens of thousands that visit Rockefeller Center know this?

As usual, they pull out all the stops on the tree and it sparkles even in daylight.

This tree is much more impressive in person.

As I inched my way up to the skating rink, the ice from below made me feel like I was standing in a freezer.  That got old quickly, especially as I consider that is how the air will feel on a daily basis for months on end soon enough.

Rockefeller Center drummer boy not hitting anyone in the head.

Rockefeller Center flags blowing in breeze over skating rink.

I resumed walking up Fifth Avenue; stopping to annoy a chocolatier at Godiva who I am certain would have loved to smack me with a spatula.

Dipping strawberries in chocolate.

Yum!

Once I lift my camera and start taking photographs, this prompts others to take notice and start snapping shots.   I have determined that picture taking is definitely an STD – a socially transmitted disease.

Next, I passed Henri Bendel, an eclectic department store I used to shop at regularly when I was fit and made an effort with my appearance.

Apparently the holidays means Rockettes Season at Bendel's.

Bendel's Rockette tribute continued.

As I glanced at my reflection and shuddered, it dawned on me that I probably have not set a toe in there in twenty years.

Towerless Trump Tower shooting stars at ground level.

Other pictures I shot in the area included Trump Tower shooting stars, and Fendi’s odd belt buckle celebration of the season.

Fendi's buckled building.

Maybe this is a subliminal message to shoppers to loosen up?

Then, there are the monuments to expensive jewelry that Marilyn Monroe memorably sang about in Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blonds:

Tiffany’s!

Cartier!

Black Starr!

Frost Gorm!

Talk to me Harry Winston.

Tell me all about it!

Tiffany's

Tiffany's merry-go-round-themed window.

Cartier - show her you love her, give her the entire store wrapped in red ribbon!

Harry Winston's advice, "Get that ice or else no dice!"

Finally I reached 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and this year’s version of (to get Moulin Rouge! here) their Spectacular, Spectacular.

Bergdorf Goodman - the Louvre of holiday window dressing displays.

If there is only one set of holiday display windows to see in New York City, I suggest flipping a coin between Barney’s and Bergdorf’s but this year, Bergdorf’s is in a league of their own — miles ahead of the rest of the pack and that includes Barney’s.  Bergdorf’s theme is Carnival of the Animals.  Couture fashion combined with antiques and exquisite set design worthy of a Tony award.  Bergdorf’s windows are opulent, elegant, imaginative and simply breathtaking – across the board A+; must-see I Love New York-style extravaganza.  These pictures are anemic offerings.

Breaking the Ice.

Detail of Breaking the Ice animals. Note the leather muzzles.

Testing the Waters - Alexander McQueen display.

Detail of McQueen design, a genius with feathers.

Paper zebra.

Literally, this zebra's head is constructed out of paper.

Super paper-trained dog made from paper.

Snowbirds posing.

As I headed east to Barney’s on Madison Avenue at 61st Street, I was still feeling high from Bergdorf’s production, but I could hear the Lady Gaga music and I was again feeling excited.  I knew Barney’s had recently opened Gaga’s Workshop, but I didn’t realize that it would consume every display window.

The Gaga Machine.

Gaga's Crystal Cave.

Gaga's Boudoir.

I did not find it particularly holiday-themed and thought it could have worked just as well in March or July.  It was imaginative and I do find her entertaining, but I was not knocked out.  It would have been very disturbing to me when I was a small fry.  I am sure I would have been haunted until age thirty by the naked hair-covered version of her lying on a hairy chaise.

If this would not have terrified me as a child, the hair surely would have activated my allergies.

Still, overall, I’d rate it A-.

Following Barney’s I walked further east to Bloomingdale’s.  Their display is kid-proof, but when compared to this year’s family-friendly titans, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, rather dull.

Good Deeds.

Penguins <yawn>

Santa and Reindeer boxed in.

Santa and Reindeer unboxed.

One novel aspect of Bloomingdale’s is an interactive component where you hit a button and a camera takes a photograph of you that appears on their Facebook page.  Personally, I think I’d rather appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, but that’s just me.  Bloomie’s rating B.

Although by now I was developing blisters on my left foot that were about the size of Donner and Blitzen, I continued with my hike in the hope I might see other sites worth sharing here.  It came as no surprise that Bergdorf Goodman’s men store offered more novel displays.

Santa Squirrel bearing gifts!

Reality Squirrel munching acorn near festive red bottle cap.

Athletic display of wolf making nice with penguins.

Talented display of cardinal in Alexander McQueen jacket.

As I walked west on Central Park South, I encountered the Columbus Circle Holiday Market.

Get. Stuff. Here.

How about puppets that look like Muppets?

Call it what it is, Material Things.

Surely, Santa was somewhere in this candy cane colored shopping megalopolis, if you had the mental fortitude I lacked to make your way through the maze of stands and the dense crowds.

Santa - nowhere to be found in here!

If there was a sign giving directions to Santa, I missed it.

The hour was approaching eleven thirty and I did not feel like walking over to Broadway to catch a bus or subway to my Upper West Side abode, but I was also too cheap to spring for a taxi. Therefore, I just continued to hoof my way up Central Park West with visions of liquefied juniper berries dancing in my head.  A few blocks north of the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, I noticed these feet.

Hmm ...

Then, I looked up at the owner of those feet, a very familiar cheery looking guy sitting on a park bench.  I thought I might be hallucinating.  To see if he was real, I approached him.

Me:  May I photograph you for my blog?

Very Familiar Looking Cheery Guy:  Sure.

Me:  Um … What’s your name?

Very Familiar Looking Cheery Guy:  Let’s not go there.

Me:  Can I call you Nick?

Nick:  Sure.

I took his picture.

"Nick"

Yes Lucinda, Adelaide, Hiawatha, and even you, Virginia, there is a … “Nick”.

Lame Adventure 255: Alone at Last with Siri and the iPhone 4S

Recently, I read an article in The New York Times online that Siri, the virtual assistant available in Apple’s new iPhone 4S, has glitches in the search for information that Apple insists are not intentional.  These glitches were discovered by (who else?) bloggers that were asking Siri questions about reproductive health services … Okay, I’ll drop the pretense — they were asking Siri to locate abortion clinics in Manhattan.  Siri informed them, “Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.”

I Google searched “abortion clinics in Manhattan” and in 0.23 seconds I got 104,000 results.  This does not mean that there are 104,000 abortion clinics here in Gotham City, but there are easily 104,000 pharmacies and 104,000 banks. Yet if someone gets knocked up in this part of the country and she’s now in the market to safely terminate a pregnancy, this is a good place for her to be.

In the comments section of this article one commenter noted that Siri responds, “I do not know,” when asked, “Which states legalize same-sex marriage?”  This made me want to do my own Siri test.  Although my cell phone is a Samsung dumb phone, my friend and colleague, Ling, was the first on the block to get an iPhone 4S.  Fortunately, when I arrive at work, fashionably <cough> late, Ling was already at her desk.  I spill my guts about the glitch.  This intrigues my buddy.

Ling: Do you want me to ask her about abortion clinics?

Me:  Let’s ask her, “Find me Chinese dissidents.”

Ling (to Siri):  Find me Chinese dissidents.

We’re expecting to at least hear about Ai Weiwei but instead, Siri finds us Chinese restaurants.

Where to take Chinese dissidents for dinner in TriBeCa.

Ling insists that she must be mispronouncing dissidents.  I assure her that she’s not.

Ling:  Why the hell does she keep giving me Chinese restaurants?

Me:  It must be the glitch.

Frustrated, Ling barks into Siri:

Ling (screaming):  Find me abortion clinics in Manhattan!

Siri:  Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.

Unbeknownst to Ling and I, Ruth, our company’s General Manager, who seldom visits our office, has slipped in behind us.  Ruth’s eyes widen and she cannot suppress her “gotcha!” grin.  She thinks she has just heard the Powerball equivalent of company gossip, our very private, very professional graphics manager with the co-owner’s snarky assistant searching for abortion clinics.  I can read Ling’s mind.

Ling’s mind:  Shit!

Ling flashes me the “get me out of this mess” look.  I simply explain to Ruth that we’re not looking for abortion clinics, Siri has a glitch with a political tint, and we’re asking Siri questions to find out if this glitch is for real.

Ling: She doesn’t like it when I ask her about Chinese dissidents, either.

Quickly, Ling asks Siri about the dissidents again.  I add:

Me:  And Siri also draws a blank about what states have same-sex marriage.

Quickly, Ling pops that question and Siri responds:

Siri: I do not know.

Ruth:  That’s interesting, guys.

I doubt that Ruth finds our Siri testing interesting at all, but the “gotcha!” cheer has completely drained from her face.

Must see theater.

Last month, Milton and I saw a terrific one-man theater piece at the Public Theater called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.  It stars Mike Daisey, the heir apparent to the late Spaulding Gray, a legendary monologist.  Unlike cool, slender Spaulding, Mike is a heavy-sweating bear of a man.  How they are both wonderfully alike, is that they are both riveting storytellers.  For anyone that owns an iPhone, this is an important piece of journalistic storytelling, an exposé about the link between human rights abuse in China and the production of this iconic gadget that has taken the world by storm.  I urge all iPhone users that are in Manhattan when this show returns for a five-week run starting January 31 through March 4 to check it out.  It won’t make you chuck your iPhone in shame, but iPhone-user Milton did crave copious amounts of alcohol following the show.  It will make you think about China’s role in the production of this coveted device – and it made me think about the curious blank Siri drew when Ling asked her about Chinese dissidents; cynical me thinks there must be some link.

Apple worshipper Mike drives home the point that Apple is the cell phone manufacturer with the power to reverse this situation overseas.  It’s the common iPhone user that has to pressure them to “think different” again and right a very big wrong that is currently happening in the production of this fantastically popular phone.  Mike tells this at times shocking story with a tremendous amount of humor and heart.  It’s must-see theater and I hope he’ll eventually take this show on the road and get this message out across the country.