Monthly Archives: September 2010

Lame Adventure 105: Tile and the Packing Peanut

Anyone who works on the serf-side of the tile and stone world will tell you that this is a material where, if it can go wrong, it is guaranteed that it will because tile, a product that is often beautiful, is also synonymous with mental anguish.   Hand crafted artisan tile in particular is essentially a bitch goddess.

For example, a customer approves a sample of a ceramic tile that is white, the material is ordered, but what the customer receives looks yellow.  The sales associate is asked to explain this phenomenon.  A flurry of phone calls are made, samples are shipped back and forth, the customer grows increasingly frustrated and the sales associate descends into the second coming of Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend.

Or, something can go terribly awry with the installation.  The customer that paid a king’s ransom for a gorgeous stone goes irate, and even though the material was perfectly fine, he screams it is defective when it was the sub-contractor that did not supervise his crew, five brothers named Clem, that lied through their missing teeth to get the job.

My role in the tile universe is to oversee the tile samples displayed in all of my company’s retail showrooms.  Our showrooms are shrines to tile so it is imperative that what we display looks perfect.  The second I sniff the scent of anything peculiar, I hop onto my Acme brand pogo stick and propel myself into my superior’s office.  Recently, I noticed that a color code differed between a sample and a tile vendor’s literature.

Many times when I contact our vendors what I spew is the first they’ve heard of the situation.  My company has a reputation for being insanely anal.  In this instance, the vendor is a guy I’ve known for many years.  He is not sure if our sample has since been reformulated or the label was mistyped.  He offers to send us a mini-sample kit with a condensed version of his entire line at no charge.  Free is my liege’s second favorite four-letter f-word.

Liege brings to mind a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.”  I must urge my sidekick, Greg, to reference that bit of poetry to Elsbeth, our boss, but it might prompt her to ask me confidentially if Greg has masturbation on the brain.  I could suggest that she must have he and I confused, and also remind her that he is the one with the longer sideburns and I, the flatter chest.

I am sitting at my desk crunching numbers for a sample order I must place.  This task is so underwhelming that I fill the concert hall of empty space in my head with my total recall of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire.  Greg approaches me.

Greg:  Hey, Elsbeth’s mini sample kit arrived.

Me:  Stella!

Greg:  Should we open it?

Me:  Sure.

I follow Greg into our warehouse and see a large box.  He slices it open with a box cutter.  We are now staring at a massive pile of packing peanuts that reminds us both of Cheese Doodles.

Packing peanuts for all!

This inspires us.

Me:  Let’s melt one!

The chosen one.

Greg scoops out a peanut, pops it into a drinking cup, and then pours hot water from the water cooler into the cup.  It dissolves instantly and our office reeks of corn.  All of our colleagues rise out of their stupor.

"I'm melting!"

Ling:  How bored are you that you’re melting packing peanuts now?

Under Ling:  I want to see the melted peanut!

Under Ling eye view.

The Quiet Man, the rock star working in the back of our office, removes his headphones and speaks for the first time since last Thursday.

The Quiet Man:  That biodegradable packing peanut you melted there is made from cornstarch so that explains why it smells like corn.  Technically, it’s edible, but I wouldn’t recommend you eat it since it’s unlikely that it was produced in food-safe conditions.  I’m sure they have no nutritional value, either.

Greg and I absorb this speech.  We resist the urge to applaud.  The Quiet Man reinserts his headphones and resumes ignoring us until October.

Me:  I’m sure they taste better than that bowl of organic twigs I called breakfast.

Looks like breakfast to me!


Lame Adventure 104: New York Film Festival SNAFU

It is New York Film Festival season, a favorite time of year to Milton and me.  Although we have ordered tickets in advance to several screenings, when we learn that tickets are still available for certain films we had not planned to see, we occasionally pick up a pair at the box office.  That was how we got tickets to a three o’clock screening of the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.  As I am walking to Lincoln Center to meet Milton to attend this screening, my cell phone rings.  The caller is Milton.

Me:  I’m almost there.  I’m five minutes away.

Milton (eerily calm; always a bad sign):  I just looked at the festival’s calendar.  The three o’clock screening is for Le Quattro Volte.

Required reading: New York Film Festival calendar.

Me:  Le what?

Milton:  The calendar says that Uncle Boonmee screens at nine.

Me (morphing into a parrot):  “Nine”?

Milton:  Yes, nine.

Me:  How is that possible?  We’re seeing Angels in America at 7:30.

The Signature Theatre Company has revived Angels in America.  Milton and I purchased those tickets two months ago.  We purchased our Uncle Boonmee tickets around eight o’clock the night before.  We were surprised that there were any tickets left to such an acclaimed, albeit difficult film, written and directed by soon-not-to-be-a-household-name, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.  Our friend, Judy, had warned us that it is best to be well rested and heavily caffeinated for this one.

Milton:  Look at our tickets.  What time is the screening?

I look at the tickets.  The musical cue is the downbeat.

Me:  Nine.

I proceed to note in language invoking images of the deity, mothers, sexual intercourse and excrement that we are in quite a pickle since this is a no exchange/no returns situation.  I bellow for the entire Upper West Side to hear, as if speaking to the Son of God himself, “Jesus Christ, do you realize that we’ve donated $40 to the Film Society of Lincoln Center?”

My stomach acid soars like a rocket to Mars.  Moments later when I see Milton smiling I open my mouth to greet him, but instead, I singe his face with flames.  In response, he morphs into a Jewish mother and blames himself for this predicament recalling that he was one-and-a-half sheets to the wind when he noticed the sign that said tickets to this alleged three o’clock screening of Uncle Boonmee were still available the night before.  I remind him that I was stone cold sober and standing next to him looking at that exact same sign.  It did not occur to either of us that the announcement was for a three o’clock screening that had happened earlier that day, i.e. a past screening.

I bounce up to the box office window like a featherweight boxer determined to make mincemeat out of my opponent, in this case a sleep-deprived woman somewhere in her forties.  Feigning calm, I explain our situation to her.  I play the humility card and admit that we were boneheads that did not look at the show time on our tickets while standing at the box office window.

Alice Tully Hall box office window; a window we now know well.

Ticket Seller:  There are no refunds or exchanges for tickets purchased for same day screenings.

Me:  This was an honest mistake we made.

Ticket Seller:  Would you like to see what’s screening today at three o’clock?

Me:  No.  It’s not Uncle Boonmee.

Ticket Seller:  Yes, Uncle Boonmee screens at nine.

Me:  We’re seeing Angels in America at nine.  If we knew Uncle Boonmee was screening at the same time as Angels, we would not have bought these tickets.

Ticket Seller:  Would you like to see something else at another time?

Milton (elated):  We can make an exchange?

Ticket Seller (completely worn down):  Yes.

Milton:  I can live with that!

We select The Strange Case of Angelica, a ghost story written and directed by 101-year-old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira.  De Oliveira directed his first film in 1942, his second in 1963, his third in 1975, three more in the eighties, five in the nineties, and nine in the 2000s.  If he lives another 101 years, at this rate, he’ll be cranking out features weekly.  Before leaving the box office window we double-check the date and show times on our tickets forty-three times.

Lame Adventure 103: Head Moves

Earlier this month, on a Friday when I was on my way to work, I saw a large construction crane outside the 73rd Street entrance of the 72nd Street 1, 2, 3 subway station.  A worker, with the thankless job of directing foot traffic, was shouting repeatedly to everyone trying to enter the station, “Stay to your left away from the monument!”  A defiant elderly woman shouted back at him, “Why should I?”  The worker gave this (likely) native New Yorker a weary look.  Grumbling about how her tax dollars are wasted, she stayed to her left.

To people exiting the station he just shouted at them to stay away from the monument.  It occurred to me that he should have shouted at them to stay to their right, but surely someone who should have stayed left, would have moved right, and someone who should have stayed right, would have moved left, chaos and confusion would have reigned, and suddenly the crane operator would have been hoisting a few dumbshits along with the sculpture.

I stayed to my left and took this image:

Everyone, just get the hell out of the way!

The monument the worker was referring to is the Manolo Valdés sculpture Odalisca (2006), which has been on display as part of a public arts project up and down Broadway since May that lasts through January.  For more details about her installation see Lame Adventure 46: Free Art on Broadway.

At first, I was concerned that Odalisca was being removed early.  Up close she does look a tad weathered for a four year old, but she’s cast out of bronze and I know she is supposed to be out in the elements all day.  I am certain she is not a wimp.

I arrived at work still thinking deeply about the fate of Odalisca.  Then, I entered my department’s bathroom, and was distracted by the toilet paper.  Someone, not amongst my colleagues, was pulling this idiocy for about a week.

Balancing act.

It seems possible to me that whoever was doing this was also a member of the dim bulb club that would move left when needed to move right.

That evening, after work, when I exited the 72nd Street station on the 73rd Street side, I had the sick feeling that Odalisca had left the premises, but much to my delight I found her now perched near a newsstand.  Possibly it was decided that she was hogging too much space in the area where music is performed on weekends so she was moved a little lower and to the left of the station’s entrance.

Odalisca from behind.

Odalisca in her new location a little lower and to the left.

Considering that music was often played in that space outside the station on weekends all summer, and Odalisca was relocated at summer’s close struck me as rather post-mature timing.  Maybe it took three months to cut through 4627 miles of bureaucratic red tape to get clearance to move her, or maybe it took three months before someone saw daylight and realized she had been positioned in the wrong place all along.

Lame Adventure 102: Baseball Madness

Ow!  My aching bat!


Do you need a doctor? No, I'll take first base.

Last Wednesday, the sports world had its knickers in a twist when New York Yankee living legend Derek Jeter fooled an umpire into thinking that he was struck by a pitch when the ball only hit his bat’s head.  When I saw the video, it did not sound like the ball hit any Jeterian body part — unless his elbow is made out of titanium.  Since he was quick thinking, Jeter milked his “injury” to the hilt.  His Academy Award-worthy acting duped the umpire, Lance Barksdale (a name straight out of screwball comedy central casting), into rewarding him with a free pass to first base.  Tampa Bay Rays’ manager, Joe Maddon, erupted at Barksdale rightfully insisting that the ump blew the call.  Jeter should have been called out.  Barksdale ejected Maddon from the game.  The following Yankee batter, Curtis Granderson, then hit a home run.  For all Yankee haters, this story has a happy ending.  The Yankees ultimately lost 4-3.

It is no secret that the Yankees, possibly the most glorified sports franchise in history is also reviled by legions.  Illustrating the poles of emotion that this team incites are my close personal friends Milton and Martini Max.  Milton despises the Yankees as much as Max worships them.  All I have to do is utter “the Y word” to Milton and his knee-jerk response is a deep monosyllabic groan of contempt, but he does find Alex Rodriguez physically attractive.

Hi Milton.

If I say, “the 2000 World Series” to Max, his eyes mist.  This was the subway series between the Mets and Yankees that Max had waited all of his life to see.  We spent game one, Saturday, October 21st, together, missing that game in its entirety.

I was with Max, offering moron support.

Six months earlier Max had scheduled a movie event in New Jersey appropriately called “Horror on the Cliffs” since only three people showed, and they did not include Max’s wife or his mother.  They stayed home to tune in the game.   One attendee was the town idiot, a guy that liked to wear flower print frocks that he borrowed from his mother when she wasn’t looking.  I referred to him as Norman Bates.

Souvenir tee shirt.

Fittingly on a night when nothing was destined to go well, there was a power outage so there were not any lights illuminating the parking lot.  As Max and I were standing atop the Palisades in the dead of night, waiting for the lights to be restored, we were both looking longingly towards the Bronx.  Here is a transcript of our conversation:

Me:  Max, are we safe standing out here?  No one knows we’re here.  This is the perfect spot for a crazy killer to beat us to death with a bat.

Max (woefully):  Did you have to say “bat” to me tonight of all nights?

Me:  Maybe he’ll off us with an ax.  Standing in the dark in the woods is inviting a bad ending for us.

Max:  Who the hell is gonna kill us?  No one’s here but us!

Me:  Now that you mention it, it does kinda look that way.

Max:  See that out there.

Max is pointing at Yankee Stadium glowing in the distance.

Me:  Don’t think about it.

Max (screaming):  It’s all I can think about!  I’m standing on a fuckin’ cliff as my baseball team is playing the first game of the subway series I’ve longed to see my entire life!  Why did this have to happen to me tonight of all nights?

Me:  Take it up with the scheduler.  Get him a new Magic 8 ball.

For Yankee fans with deep pockets, old Yankee Stadium Monument Park bricks are now on sale for $179.99 from the Store on The New York Times web site.

The sort of object that leads to divorce.

For Yankee fans hit harder by the recession (that allegedly ended in July 2009 — who knew?) but prefer a more affordable piece of the old ballpark, Steiner Sports is selling key chains filled with used dirt for $19.99 on Amazon.

The sort of object that leads to humiliation.

Or, for fans that prefer to fake like the pros, just grab an old brick from a construction site or a fist full of dirt from your nearest playground and argue vociferously that it’s the real deal.

Lame Adventure 101: Suspicious Package

On a recent evening, I return home and see a woman’s black leather clutch bag lying on the floor in the hallway across from my apartment’s door.  This is not a common site and I wonder if there is some crime scene element here.  With this in mind, I instantly feel a bit queasy.  I also think of the recording that I frequently hear while riding the subway:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is an important message from the New York City Police Department. Keep your belongings in your sight at all times. Protect yourself.

If you see a suspicious package or activity on the platform or train, do not keep it to yourself. Tell a police officer or an MTA employee.

Remain alert and have a safe day.”

What do I do in this post-9/11 world when the suspicious package is a woman’s purse right outside my door?  Telling a cop seems rash and mentioning this situation to an MTA employee is not an option since a subway stop has yet to be built into my brownstone.  Then I wonder if this is a Candid Camera situation?  I recall watching an episode where the camera was hidden inside a mailbox.  This was hilarious to my younger self.  At this moment, I am feeling zero levity.  Am I being tested to see how I react?  I look around, but have no idea where cameras could be hiding.

Back to the purse lying before me, I look at it, but do not touch it.  It looks plump. Is there an explosive in it from a reader that hates my blog so much, they’re channeling their inner Unabomber?  Or is it even worse?  Is it full of the current scourge of New York, bedbugs?

With these questions racing through my mind, I shoot a photograph.

Exploding with possibility.

As I am focusing my camera, I can hear someone inside my neighbor’s apartment.  In recent weeks, he has had guests visiting from Greece.  I knock on his door.  Whoever is inside stops milling around.  I knock again.

The occupant, a person of indeterminate gender, responds with an irritated, accented, monosyllabic grunt.  I think, “Great.  This person only speaks Greek.”  My neighbor is bilingual so he must not be in.

Me:  Can you please open the door?  I think you might have dropped something important.

The door opens and I am face to face with a handsome middle age woman.  I deduce that she is my neighbor’s mother.  It is evident that she resents my intrusion.  Although she does not look like she is going to throw a punch at me, she does have a “you better make this quick” look in her eye.

Neighbor’s Mother:  What?

As much as I’d like to exploit this opportunity to recite my favorite poem, Pointy Birds, I cut to the chase.

Me (pointing at the purse):  Is that yours?

Neighbor’s Mother’s jaw hits the floor and she emits a gasp so loud it echoes in the hall.  Instantly, I’m her best friend, maybe not forever, but surely at that moment.

Neighbor’s Mother:  Thank you!  I had no idea I dropped it!

I’m relieved that it’s not a bomb, so  I do not have to take any further action, but I do find this clip of Steve Martin reciting Pointy Birds to Kathleen Turner in this touching scene from The Man with Two Brains.

Lame Adventure 100: The First Centennial

Since I launched this blog late last January, I had no idea I would write a second post much less ninety-nine more, but here it is my one hundredth lame tale.

To illustrate how much the number one hundred is lionized, I Google searched it and was directed to links to sites hawking “100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know” (count me out), as well as another about “100 Women in Hedge Funds.”  I have no clue what a hedge fund is but my mind wandered to thoughts of the hedges that were in my parents’ back yard.  Along that same line of deep thinking, I mentally time-traveled to “lettuce prey,” images of grasshoppers crawling over heads of lettuce I would envision whenever the priest in the church of my childhood, Jesus Christ This is Boring, would declare, “Let us pray.”

Image is not to scale unless you're six-years-old and and in church.

Google also had an link to a book called “The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own.”  Pictured below is the contents of my closet that I call “The Thirty: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Would Deny Owning.”

Why closets have doors.

The only link that Google displayed that intrigued me enough to click was “YouTube – 100 Greatest Hits of YouTube in 4 Minutes.”  It’s packed with those two YouTube staples – cats and kids as well as numerous numbskulls falling down painfully and a slew of dancing fools.  I enjoyed watching these clips immensely.

Considering that there are bloggers that easily crank out twenty or thirty posts a day, this milestone is minimalist.  Then, I brightened when it occurred to me that if I continue to write Lame Adventures an average of three times a week until I am age 100 that might be something to crow about.  I ran this idea by Milton:

Me:  What do you think we’ll be like if I’m still writing my blog when you’re 97 and I’m 100?

Milton:  Dead.

If my dear friend and I defy the odds and we both happen to be around several decades hence, perhaps that tale will go like this:

Lame Adventure 7345: My Centennial

Today, I am 100.

Even though I can no longer see or hear very well, my D-cup nose remains fully operational, which is a blessing and a curse.  Right now I smell the fragrant aroma of toast, unless my Columbia grad student neighbor, Schenectady, is wearing a massive amount of perfume that smells exactly like toast – a very real possibility.

Over my ten decades, I’ve witnessed countless fads, the hippie look, the punk look, the preppie look, the grunge look, the Goth look, the hipster look, the cowboy look, the zookeeper look, and my personal favorite, the I don’t care look.  I did not anticipate that after every imaginable look had been exhausted, fashionistas would zero in on scent with a fervor that smells exactly like that obsolete form of currency, cash.

I know I’m an old timer when I find myself sitting next to a pretty young thing on the subway train who reeks of cheeseburger or a ten topping pizza.  What is even more amazing to me is how men of all ages appear to be drawn to women that smell like pancakes, fried chicken or pie.  Classic fragrances of my day are not only soundly rejected by anyone who wants to be considered fashionable, I recently read an article in digital Vogue comparing Chanel No. 5 to embalming fluid.  That strikes me as sacrilegious.

Milton, my dear compadre, who I have taken to calling “Miss Jane Pittman” since he reached 90, will turn 97 next month.  He called me today:

Milton:  Happy birthday.  I’m so happy that you’re still alive.  How does it feel to be 100?

Me:  I feel like the poster child for tai chi.  Ling called and wished me a happy birthday.

Milton:  How is she?

Me:  She’s okay, but having a crisis over her granddaughter, who’s wearing some perfume that smells like soup dumplings.  We’re completely on the same page about hating this ridiculous trend.  I don’t get it.  Why do kids want to run around smelling like a deli counter?  Can you explain that to me?

The line is quiet.

Me:  Are you there?

Milton:  This could kill our friendship.

Me:  Spill it.

Milton (sheepish):  I sniffed a guy on the bus that smelled like waffles drenched in syrup … I got aroused; I even drooled a little.

I absorb this admission.

Me:  The next time you ride the bus, Mrs. Butterworth,  wear a bib.

Lame Adventure 99: Ole!

This was not exactly the US Open men’s tennis final I had dreamed of watching when the tournament began two weeks ago when it still felt like summer in New York.  Back then, I longed to see Rafael Nadal battle Roger Federer.  Unfortunately, Federer fell to Novak Djokovic during a thrilling five set men’s semi-final on Saturday.  Yet, I was extremely pleased with Rafa’s victorious outcome in the exciting men’s final on Monday.

Pumped up Rafa.

I also welcomed the drama when Djokovic won the second set following the two-hour rain delay.  As much as I hate rain delays, I appreciated this one since it allowed me to see most of the match live on TV after work – one of the advantages of living on the East Coast that is right up there with superiority of the New York bagel.

After losing the second set, it seemed to me that Djokovic regained some sorely needed confidence he lost after dropping the first set, but Nadal quickly transformed into the Rafa Express subjecting his opponent to punishing endurance test rallies.  Rafa was practically spitting fire in his determination to win this contest.  Throughout these two weeks, he came equipped with both a radically improved serve and a level of focus that was so intense he all but beat the stuffing out of Djokovic with his laser beam mind.  As I watched them smash powerful backhand and forehand returns while emitting animal call-type grunts, I needed to pop an Aleve during a commercial break where Don Draper was once again hawking the gull winged Mercedes Benz.

In the fourth set, when Djokovic was down 3-1 and serving at 0-40, commentator John McEnroe wryly observed, “You have to endure the mental pain we’re watching Djokovic go through right now.”  Physically, he was looking pretty spent, too.  Yet, it is evident that Djokovic is an elite athlete and I agree with Rafa that Djokovic has what it takes to soon win another Grand Slam final – possibly while playing opposite Roger or Rafa.

After the match, ardent Roger fan Milton called to congratulate me on Rafa’s victory.  I asked if he watched.  He said that the rain delay was so prolonged he grew impatient and went to the gym, but he did catch some of the match there.  He thought it was an impressive final.  With Roger’s Grand Slam tennis season over for the year, I knew that Milton’s enthusiasm for this final was half-hearted.  It did not take long before he changed the subject.

Milton:  My brother broke my cast iron skillet.

Me:  How did he do that?

Milton:  I asked him that same question.

Me:  What did he say?

Milton:  He didn’t explain how it happened.

Me:  That’s really amazing.  How do you break a heavy cast iron skillet?

Milton:  I don’t know.  It’s not like a light bulb.

Maybe he smashed it in frustration like Djokovic did his racket?  Skillet abuse, anyone?