Lame Adventure 455: Fifty Shades of Estrogen

Last Friday, the thirteenth, I celebrated Valentine’s Day early, when my dear friend, the cinemaniac, Milton, treated me to the movie adaptation of E.L. James’ blockbuster novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades of lip biting.

Fifty Shades of lip biting.

Neither of us had read these books, which have sold over 100 million copies and have been translated into 52 languages. Friends have declared that these three novels were terribly written; they’re rife with repetition and dripping with dull dialogue, the epitome of hackwork. Considering James’ wild success, Milton and I respect her achievement. She cranked out a trilogy at warp speed while I agonize over writing a single 790 word blog post for two days that’s destined to be read by 37 people, a beagle and two cats.

My boss, Elspeth, read all three volumes on her Kindle, but she mis-downloaded the third installment, Fifty Shades Freed. She was halfway through reading about a battleship, or possibly it was a paint catalogue, when she noticed that the writing had improved significantly. Eventually, she wondered what happened to the protagonists, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, and why was it taking so long for another sex scene?

Milton and I kept our expectations for the film low, at bottom of the ocean level. He was hoping that it would be a campy movie pleasure like his favorite, Valley of the Dolls. My preferred trashy film is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! When I told him that Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia Steele, is the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, and her grandmother is Tippi Hedren, he began fearing the worst, including that I might reconsider joining him. I remained committed, so off we went to the AMC multiplex on the Upper West Side.

Milton holding our tickets.

Milton holding our tickets.

When we arrived at the theater about an hour before show time, the line was so long, we had to wait in a second line in the lobby outside the entrance. The vast majority were women in their twenties through forties who had come in packs. There were literally herds of women. Standing directly in front of us was a married couple in their seventies prompting Milton to suggest sotto voce:

Milton: There are some nipple clamps in her future.

When we were admitted entry into the theater, a cavernous space that filled quickly, we were able to score excellent seats in the center section. Late arrivals appeared stunned that the theater was jam packed. Apparently, these lunkheads missed the memo that the film of an insanely popular sadomasochistic love story on opening weekend is a crowd-magnet. The energy in the room was pure electricity and female hormones. Milton was the only male, not only in our row, but in the row behind us as well as in front of us. He observed the ladies:

Milton: They’re just so excited about being beaten up!

The ads prior to the start of the film were for Revlon and other products that were geared directly for this audience. The marketing was brilliantly calculated. Most of the trailers were dreadful, but we enjoyed the one for a Judd Apatow comedy due out in summer called Trainwreck.

As for the film, which has garnered predominantly negative reviews, we thought that both leads, an Irish actor named Jamie Dornan, who plays the billionaire boy wonder with a helicopter, hang glider and flogger, Christian Grey, and the aforementioned Dakota Johnson, shared chemistry. Both had genuine charm, but Milton had the impression that Dornan was struggling to suppress his Irish accent throughout. The pacing was long. It could have easily been cut by half an hour. The screenwriter, Kelly Marcel, did a decent job eliminating much of the horrendous dialogue in the book. There was genuine tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. But our loudest laugh was at a line uttered in sheer torment that is a play on the series title. That bit of dialogue was unintentionally hilarious.

Our biggest criticism, other than the slow pacing, was the big build up sex scene that takes forever to arrive where Christian unleashes his dominant side. He’s been yammering about his kink for two hours of film time or maybe it was two days in real time. When it finally happens, it’s so bland. I thought:

Me: He’s got a red room packed with tools of torture, why’s he practicing T’ai Chi on her with a feather duster? Huh?

Milton surmised:

Milton: It’s the Madonna of movies: it promises a lot but delivers nothing.

We left in silence until Milton declared:

Milton: I can’t think of anything more boring than straight white woman fantasy.

There are many pretty grey silk ties like this one.

There are many grey silk ties.

It’s on track to take in $500 million at the box office worldwide. That’s a lot of green.

Lame Adventure 454: The Black Hole of Film-going

My friend Milton saw 168 films in 2014. I barely saw 35. My film-going energy is not what it was when I would see two or three films every week. In recent years, I have developed film-going apathy. So many movies are disappointing and tickets here in New York cost about $15. Some theaters offer discounts before noon, but I’d rather power sleep on my weekend than watch Selma at 9 am for $8.49.

Great cast. Zero interest in this.

Great cast. Zero interest in this.

The Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 22nd. Thus far, I have seen half of the films nominated for Best Picture: The Grand Budapest Hotel (on a plane for free), The Imitation Game at a test screening (also for free), Birdman and this past weekend, The Theory of Everything. Milton has told me that if I set up my DVD player, he will order the Best Picture nominee, Boyhood, using his Netflix account. We have been having this conversation for a month, but I have yet to set up my player. Why I have been dragging my heels on doing this, when I purchased a flat screen TV last July, confounds him. When I think about figuring out what plug goes where, I want to take a nap.

Last week, a fairly new friend wanted to get together with me this weekend. She suggested that we play ping-pong. Clearly, she does not know me that well yet. Because I sorely lack any ping in my pong, I suggested that we see a film instead and listed several nominated for Academy Awards. We settled on The Theory of Everything that has five nominations: Best Picture, Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Actress (Felicity Jones), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.

We decided to go on Saturday, when it was frigid cold.

It felt much colder than 24 degrees.

It felt much colder than 24 degrees.

The multiplex we were seeing it at, the AMC Lincoln Square 13, is near my sanctum sanctorum. I hightailed down to the theater to buy our tickets in advance. The first thing I noticed was a tent outside the theater indicating that there was going to be a premier screening.

Tent city.

Tent city.

When I entered the theater, the lobby was so crowded, it posed a challenge to find the end of the ticket buying line. Two older women appeared to be standing at the end of the line, so I approached them. They insisted that the end was at another line. I moved to the end of that line. As I’m standing in this other line, they gesture at me.

Women: Come back! You’re in the wrong line!

I return to where I was first standing. They explain that the line they directed me to was for customers who had bought their tickets on the web. What incited that revelation eluded me, but I thanked them for realizing their mistake. A guy they’re with, who has a head similar to a packing crate, scowls.

Women: People behind us are mad that you’re cutting the line.

The only person who is mad is Cratehead, who surfaced after they insisted that I move. Was I cutting when I returned? These dingbats misguided me into losing my place. But I can tell that steaming Cratehead is the type who if he were a car, he’d be a Ford Pinto i.e., you rear-end him and he explodes. This was not a battle I wanted to fight. Once again I left the line in search of the end. When I finally purchased my tickets, the clerk rings up $29.98. I hand her $40.

Me: Why doesn’t the theater just charge $15 a ticket?

Clerk: I’d like to know that, too. Sometimes, it’s a pain making change.

She hands me a ten and two pennies. I figure that it’s retail psychology: charging that penny less to fool the buyer into thinking that the ticket price is $14, instead of the inflated $15. If anything, that 99 cents makes me more aware of the ruse.

As I’m leaving the theater, I notice a clerk with the crew setting up for the event. I ask what’s being screened tonight. She explains that the crew is breaking down.

Clerk: The screening was last night.

Me: What film was that?

Gala screening with Spongebob. Glad I missed it.

Gala screening with Spongebob. Glad I missed it.

This does explain why the red carpet was yellow.

This does explain why the red carpet was yellow.

The Theory of Everything reminded me of why I see so few films. It’s a standard uplifting paint-by-numbers biopic. The subject is acclaimed theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, who was stricken with motor neuron disease while a graduate student at Cambridge, but he beats the odds of succumbing to his plight through his marriage to Jane, who was instrumental to his survival and his success. Whenever the film strayed from the travails of Jane bolstering Stephen and tried to explain Hawking’s work, discovering the origin of time, I had difficulty grasping what any of that was about or why it matters to my existence when I have to struggle to simply find the end of a ticket buying line. I left the theater feeling dumber than when I entered, but the acting was good.

I will never spend my shekels on this.

I will never spend my shekels on this.

Lame Adventure 453: The Lone Yam of Winter Storm Juno

On Monday morning, while at The Grind, I looked out the window and saw what appeared to be a typical winter weather event. It was steadily snowing, but it was not a monumental amount. By afternoon, my phone was beeping dire warnings about the blizzard to come, but the worst was expected after 10 P.M. Then I heard that the subway system was beginning to experience signal malfunctions causing delays. That was when the usual stress-reducing mantra playing on a loop in my head switched from “bippity-boppity-harmony-hula” to:

Me: I wanna get the hell outta here.

With my usual diplomatic aplomb I approached my boss, Elspeth:

Me: Are we going to close or what? Cut us loose before the subway stops running!

Twenty minutes later, we closed at 3:30. My commute home was basically normal. I even got a seat on the train. When I exited the uptown express at 72nd Street, it was still snowing steadily, and it was windy and bitterly cold. I snapped a few shots of how the streets looked before the arrival of Snowmageddon 2015, figuring I might not step outside again for 24 hours.

West 72nd Street subway station under snowy skies.

West 72nd Street subway station under snowy skies.

Looking up Broadway from West 73rd Street.

Looking up Broadway from West 73rd Street.

As I walked up Broadway, the checkout line at my go-to grocer’s, Fairway, streamed out onto the street. Last minute shoppers were stocking up on provisions to see them through the storm; something I had done the day before. I picked up an extra banana. A guy exiting was hoisting a 48-pack of 24-ounce water bottles on his shoulder. That’s 72 pounds, within average range of the birth weight of a calf. I reflected that I also had 24-ounce water bottles in my refrigerator. Five of them. My seven and a half pounds of water equaled the approximate weight of five squirrels. I was not worried about running out. If I did, I could polish off my wine and the bottle of French champagne I’ve been saving to share with someone willing to do French champagne-worthy activities with me. At the rate my love life’s been going, that someone just might be a drunk squirrel.

Not wanting to duplicate the mistakes of past officials, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, were the oracles of doom and gloom. This tag team shuttered the lifeline of New York City, the entire transit system, at 11 P.M. on Monday.

It's official: no subway trains!

It’s official: no subway trains!

Motorists, including taxicabs, were ordered off the road. Broadway shows did not go on; movie theaters, restaurants, bars and businesses read the memo and closed early. At eleven o’clock Monday night, the city that never sleeps voluntarily went to bed early.

When I woke on Tuesday morning around eight, I looked out my window to assess the damage. Aside from the pile of snow that greeted me both outside and inside my windowsill, it didn’t look that bad.

Multi-tasking snow both indoors and out.

Multi-tasking snow both indoors and out.

I’ve even suffered more impressive piles of snow inside my sanctum sanctorum following past storms.

The weather prognosticators tracking winter storm Juno in the tri-state area forecast that New York City was going to get hammered. They predicted that up to three feet of snow could blanket Manhattan and the surrounding four boroughs, crippling the region for days, ensuring this blizzard the number one spot in the record books. But Mother Nature flipped them the bird when she headed forty miles away and pummeled Long Island instead.

I received a notification on my phone that the subway was going back in service on a reduced service.

Yay!

Yay!

Because my commute is easy, I decided to go into The Grind, and pocket a few loyalty or insanity points, depending on your point of view.

If I wasn't a pigeon I'd be inside your apartment watching TV and eating all your rice cakes.

If I wasn’t a pigeon I’d be inside your apartment watching TV and pecking at your rice cakes.

Lower Manhattan subway stop; not the best day to bench sit.

Lower Manhattan subway stop; not the best day to sit on a bench.

When I headed outside, I was reminded that schools were closed.

Easy rider heading to Riverside Park.

Easy rider heading to Riverside Park.

The rose bush made me want to fast forward to May.

Snow covered rose bush of January.

Snow covered rose bush of January.

Sun covered rose bush of May.

Sun covered rose bush of May. I’ll sneeze to that!

I walked up to Broadway, en route to my subway station, and saw that Fairway was open. The long lines were long gone, but if the guy hauling the equivalent of a baby cow in water weight needed Aleve, he had a place to get it. The bins that are normally filled with fruit and vegetables were completely empty.

You want fruit? You want vegetable? Get inside!

You want fruit? You want vegetables? Get inside!

All of the outdoor produce had been stored indoors, but I noticed one holdout: this lone yam. The winner of Survivor: Vegetable.

Super Tuber.

Super Tuber.

Hopefully, this frozen spud did not end up in the trash and it will soon be featured in some Upper West Sider’s hearty wintertime dinner.

"I know a great way to stay warm! Can we have your bottle of French champagne?"

“We know a great way to have fun in the snow! Can we have your bottle of French champagne?”

Lame Adventure 452: Hello, Old Friend!

As usual at quitting time, I bolted The Grind seemingly jet propelled. I was meeting a friend for dinner at a restaurant near my workplace in Tribeca. To get there, I had to trudge through the biting winter cold coming in off the Hudson River. Biting winter cold is a reliable motivator to pick up the pace, but when I eyed several Sixties-era sedans parked down Franklin Street, my feet slowed to a crawl so I could ogle like it was spring. Tribeca is a very picturesque Manhattan neighborhood with quaint, cobblestone streets and buildings constructed in the 19th Century resplendent with old world charm and costing stratospheric 21st Century ransom. It’s a popular location for film and television shoots — the reason why so many vintage American cars from my youth were parked curbside. As I passed a black Chevy Impala circa 1964, I recalled my mother’s four door 1963 Chevy Belair, the one we called “the blue Chevy” that looked exactly like:

This one!

This one!

There it was, parked mere paces away from The Grind, a monster of a car from my childhood that was solid as a tank. It had a two speed automatic transmission, weighed 3,424 pounds, measured 210.4 inches long, 79.4 inches wide and stood 55.5 inches tall. The trunk capacity was 19 cubic feet, perfect for stuffing a body. Mom preferred to use it for groceries.

A family of four could almost fit in this trunk.

A family of four could fit inside this trunk.

It had a 20.1 gallon fuel tank when gas cost 30 cents a gallon. The engine was a 230 cubic-inch six-cylinder with 140 hp. Mileage on this gas-guzzler was 10.9 – 13.9 mph in the city and 12.4 – 15.8 mph on the highway. It went from 0-60 in 14.1 seconds. It had two seatbelts: one for the driver and the other for the front seat passenger. Whenever I’d sit up front with my brother, Axel, we made that passenger seatbelt communal. We shared it and buckled up together.  Gas cost 53 cents in 1974, the year my parents traded it in for a Chevy Vega.

52 year old fender.

52-year-old fender still looking good.

My dad drove the Belair for two years before upgrading to “the brown Chevy” a snazzy gold 1965 Impala four door sedan with white sidewall tires.

No flashy white sidewalls here.

No flashy white sidewalls here.

He handed down the Belair to Mom who chauffeured me to and from grade school in it. Both of my siblings, Dovima and Axel, learned how to drive off of it. It was the car I rode in when Dovima drove Axel and me all over the San Francisco Bay Area to puppy shop on the day after Christmas in 1969. Dad only allowed our dog, Mean Streak, to ride in Mom’s car. Meanie loved to hang his head out the Belair’s rear window where he’d slobber with gusto.

When an air bag was Granny yammering about the old days.

From the era when an air bag was Granny yammering about the old days.

My most memorable ride in that Belair occurred in summer 1968 when I was nine-years-old. Dad decided that we should go on a family picnic to Curry Creek, a campground near Clayton, about 33 miles and 33 hundred light years outside San Francisco. There were towering oak trees with tire swings, a swimming pool, a dusty ball field, swarms of bugs and because it was the outdoors, dirt simply everywhere. I was a scrawny, city slicker kid who was only into this affair for the car ride and the food: my grandmother’s fried chicken and potato salad.

It seemed that all the kids at this retreat moved in packs and were natural athletes glowing with golden tans. I was albino white and so painfully uncoordinated I could barely climb out of the car without falling down. There’s a home movie of me running spastically in a circle and wiping out. Furthermore, I could not swim and I despised the sweltering heat. What I excelled at most in this hellhole was reading comic books in the shade and hiking dirt paths where I’d fantasize about returning home and taking a bath.

On this family outing, my father shunned long established protocol, and we headed there in the Belair. Typically, when we went anyplace incurring any distance, we took his car, because his was the better car. But, for some inexplicable reason he decided to drive Mom’s Belair.

Distinctive twin tail lights. the Impala had triple on either side.

Distinctive twin tail lights. the Impala had triple on either side.

About two thirds of the way there, with Donovan’s hit single, Hurdy Gurdy Man, playing on the radio station, 1260 KYA, the Belair began to overheat. Our car was smoking as Donovan was singing the trance-like chorus:

“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang

My mother, coincidentally, was smoking mad at my father. He pulled the Belair to the side of the road. He got us into this jam and it was clear that he was under a mountain of pressure to get us out. He opened the car’s hood. A massive cloud of white smoke billowed out. He used a beach towel to undo the steaming hot radiator cap. I stood near him, at the ready to do nothing, watching this family fiasco in fascination. Mom, who was always wound tight, was seething harder than our car’s engine. Dad had to think fast and improvise a miracle. He opened the trunk, took out the lemonade dispenser and poured a long drink into the radiator. Quenched, our engine cooled. We returned home where we ate the fried chicken and potato salad in the dirt-free comfort of our own kitchen.

Any mention of the song, Hurdy Gurdy Man, always guaranteed groans from my parents. But, whenever I hear that song, I recall the best picnic ever thanks to that Belair.

Ready for its closeup.

Ready for its closeup.

Lame Adventure 451: Appropriate Behavior

Recently I attended a screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center of Appropriate Behavior, a romantic comedy set in Brooklyn about hipsters. Shirin is an Iranian-American bisexual obsessing about Maxine, her cool butch lesbian ex-girlfriend, following their crash and burn breakup. The story time travels back and forth when they were happily together in the recent past with newly single Shirin disastrously coping in her miserable present. My expectations for this film hovered at the bottom of the ocean. Much to my surprise, I found this briskly paced debut feature by screenwriter-director-star, Desiree Akhavan, who plays Shirin, entertaining. It’s witty, she’s pretty and this edgy tale is packed with sex, angst and colorful glimpses into Iranian American culture and customs.

What’s not to like?

Something I wasn’t wild about was The Knuckle Dragger who stood directly in front of me completely blocking my view after the film ended, just as the q&a was about to start. Eventually, Lurch realized that they had more in common with a door than a window. Often, I find the questions asked in film screening q&a’s painfully stupid. For example:

Audience Member: How many of you [actors] were playing yourself?

Did this person think that Akhavan had directed a documentary?

Desiree Akhavan standing as she fields audience questions.

Desiree Akhavan (standing) as she fields audience questions.

Akhavan, who has extensively screened her film on the festival circuit, was an admirable pro fielding such an idiotic question that drew audience gasps or maybe I was just hearing the sound of my own less than silent GERD. I later realized that it could be interpreted as a backhanded compliment. Akhavan did a commendable job directing her actors who were very well cast. She and Rebecca Henderson, who plays Maxine, had palpable chemistry.

Akhavan has been referred to as “the Persian Lena Dunham”. Dunham is a major player in the zeitgeist and no doubt Akhavan would love to follow that “it” girl’s influential lead. The comparisons are obvious: Akhavan has screen presence, a clever way with words and she is very comfortable both behind and in front of the camera. For the fourth and current season of Girls, Dunham has written Akhavan into her hit series. That strikes me as a vote of confidence from Dunham to Akhavan.

During the q&a Akhavan admitted that her screenplay was influenced by Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. In lieu of revealing any spoilers, I detected some homage to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Appropriate Behavior also brought to mind an early Ang Lee film, The Wedding Banquet, a romantic comedy about an Asian American son’s anxiety over admitting that he is gay to his immigrant parents. Shirin is in the closet to her parents. The stress to come out contributes to her neurosis and adds to her problems with Maxine. Akhavan is blatantly and subtly borrowing from some of the best veteran filmmakers, but I also recognized a unique voice and perspective that is her own. I look forward to seeing what she directs next.

Desiree Akhavan

Desiree Akhavan – you go girl! (Dress from Opening Ceremony for those into knowing that sort of thing).

Appropriate Behavior opens January 16th in New York City at the IFC Center, and theaters in select cities coast to coast. Check local listings. It’s also available on iTunes. Sex, partial nudity, drugs and 90 painless minutes when q&a-free.

Lame Adventure 450: Water Cooler Torture

On my first workday morning of the New Year, I was the first member of my department in our office. I went through my usual machinations: turned on my computer, logged in and then approached the water cooler to make a cup of hot tea. Our water bottle was full, but only one drop of water dripped out of the hot spigot of our dual temperature cooler. I tested the cold spigot. Not a single drop emitted there. Bad sign.

I hightailed down three flights to the Accounting department where I filled my cup when no one was looking. Accounting hates my department, Design. They think we’re superfluous; my boss, Elspeth’s vanity project. I did not want to feel guilted into leaving a kidney and a dollar for them so I raced out their back door sight unseen. When I returned to my office, my colleague, Godsend, had arrived.

Godsend: Happy New Year!

Me: I think our water cooler shit the bed!

I bellowed for the company janitor on the Voice-of-God intercom that is heard throughout our entire six-story building and halfway across New Jersey. This was a crisis. He came quickly. I explained the situation. He disassembled our water cooler and discovered that it was frozen solid inside.

The big freeze.

The big freeze.

We unplugged it and waited a few hours for it to thaw. Once the ice melted, I plugged it back in and tried to run water out of it. Nothing flowed.

Debottled and dysfunctional (could double as a band's name).

Debottled and dysfunctional (could double as a band’s name).

The next morning, the water in the well had frozen again. Even though I am not a Water Cooler-ology major from MIT, I guessed that there was something wrong with the thermostat. This would be one of those repairs that would cost more than replacing the unit. It had been in use for the entirety of the ten years that I have been employed in the dual role of Minister of Tile and the Person Who Deals with the Crap No One Else Wants to Handle. It had probably been in continuous use for about fourteen years. I threw myself on the grenade and visited the immovable mountain that is the Accounting department to beg for a replacement. Spewing fountains of contempt, they’re fine if Design is parched.

I return to my desk, Google water coolers. Home Depot is a good source. I see one that I think will work perfectly for us. Elspeth tells me to order it.

Our new cooler arrives on Friday. Our shipping manager unpacks it and I proceed to conduct the setup. The only instructions are a red caution card hanging off the hot water spigot warning not to activate the cooler’s hot switch until after the tank is filled.

Heed this warning!

Heed this warning!

We plug in a new water bottle, wait for it to fill the tank and then I insert the cooler’s plug into the wall socket. Easy peasy.

Ta da!

Ta da!

A cloud of noxious vapor belches out of the cooler’s rear vent directly into my face. The fumes fill our office.

Even though it is nine degrees outside, Godsend opens the windows. I call our cooler’s manufacturer and get through to a technician. He diagnoses that a snafu occurred: it somehow shipped with the off-switch in the on position.

Hidden under this tape behind the black metal grate, the off switch is on.

Hidden under this tape behind the black metal grate, the off switch is on.

Because it seems to be working normally, he is keeping a file on it but will give us a replacement should it eventually malfunction. While I have him on the line, I ask how sanitary it is from the get-go. The conversation gets awkward.

Technician: Most people just pop in their water bottles and start using their coolers right away. [pause and translation: bad idea] They never clean them. [pause and translation: bad idea] No harm in running a few quarts of water through both spigots first.

I heed the message and flush out half the new bottle in a bucket. The stink in our office has faded, but Godsend remains traumatized from witnessing that cloud of vapor explode in my kisser. She has willies similar to the ones she suffered that time we noticed the copper-colored mineral buildup in our old cooler’s well.

Copper-colored much in old water cooler well.

Copper-colored dome in old water cooler well. Ew.

I’m not wild about personally doing a taste test of the new cooler’s water. I call Donald who works upstairs who agrees to be our guinea pig. Before drinking a cup of cold water and a mug of hot tea he tells me that if anything happens to him he has two words for me:

Donald: Screw you.

Me: Thank you for doing this for us.

Donald drinks. Godsend shudders. I check my watch wondering how long before it’s quitting time. He announces that the water tastes fine hot and cold. I get thirsty and try the water. I assure Godsend that it tastes good.

Same color as strychnine, but more refreshing.

Same color as strychnine, but more refreshing.

Me: It’s irrational to fear the water cooler.

Godsend remains unconvinced. I have ways to change her mind.

Psychological ploy.

Psychological ploy.

Lame Adventure 449: It’s the Most Familiar Time of the Year

New Year's Day hangover balloons.

New Year’s Day hangover balloons.

Sixteen hours into January 1, 2015, my holiday season officially entered the ether and the most familiar time of the year resumed. This happened when I encountered my first asshat of the New Year: a chap about my age at my go-to supermarket, Fairway. Fairway is a place where, a few years earlier on another New Year’s Day, the toes of my right foot were nearly severed by a girl not much taller than a walking stick burning rubber on a scooter in the produce section. Apparently, that moppet, with parental approval, was training to compete in the Dakar Rally via the broccoli bin. My market could serve double duty all year round as the Asshat Convention Center of America, or ACCA for short.

Fast forward to the ACCA around 4pm on New Year’s Day 2015. I am patiently waiting my turn in a cue of fellow shoppers to grab a hand basket. The man in front of me takes his hand basket that contains some detritus left behind by previous users of that basket. There is a trashcan nearby at the store’s entrance, but Mr. Asshat upends the trash from his basket into mine.

Me: Was that necessary?

Mr. Asshat looks back at me and cringes, possibly flashbacking on his nagging mother. I swipe out the detritus and dump it in the trashcan he chose to ignore. Sufficiently humiliated, he mumbles an apology before scampering down an aisle in a failed effort to turn invisible. But, I appreciated his civility, unlike the last asshat I encountered in the Old Year: a woman half my age reeking attitude.

She crossed my path on another reliable source of suffering: the New York City subway system. This episode in the series, Meet the Asshat, occurred on my second-to-last train ride before embarking on a two-week hiatus from The Grind.

Ms. Asshat was sitting on the crowded 1 local during the morning rush hour with her legs crossed, determined to give anyone near her the boot.

Shin kicker's boot.

Shin kicker’s boot.

Unlike Mr. Asshat in Fairway, my subway riding survival instinct warned that this was a Code Red Asshat, i.e., someone with the potential to detonate. Don’t provoke her. I got lucky and scored a seat allowing me to escape her foot follies. Everyone else near her came close to getting it in the shin. Her nasty expression screamed f-bomb. Fellow riders shared my cautious vibe and were mute around this volatile asshat. There are times when New Yorkers know to zip the lip.

Days later, I was in mellow mode visiting kith and kin in the San Francisco Bay Area. While in Sausalito with my best friend from college, BatPat, we strolled through a neighborhood of storybook-style houseboats docked on calm waters.

Mini mansions in idyllic Waldo Harbor.

Mini mansions in idyllic Waldo Harbor.

Many of these whimsical vessels belong to artists and writers.

Tim Burton-esqe style houseboat from behind.

Tim Burton-esqe style houseboat from behind.

Tim Burton-esque style boat from the front-ish.

Tim Burton-esque style boat from the front-ish.

I flashed on ditching the steady stream of petty irritations that are such a key ingredient in big city life in exchange for the tranquility of a floating nest and the camaraderie of courteous neighbors with cool cats.

Super cool houseboat cat Bow.

Super cool houseboat cat Bow.

Bow's super cool houseboat home.

Bow’s super cool houseboat home.

But whom am I kidding? Within a month, or an hour, my blunt force trauma temperament would surface and I could be the resident asshat in Shangri-la.

In front of my home, this bombshell might be active.

In front of my home, this bombshell might be active.

I am allergic to cats, I can’t swim and my astrological sign should be Seasick. I can do mellow by the shot glass, but my personality is frantic by the barrel.

Cool in principle but not for me.

The Neversail Ark: cool in principle but not for me.

Shortly after I returned from my California getaway, I was briskly walking down my block on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It was five in the afternoon, a time of day that looks exactly like ten at night in winter, when I found myself doing a double take on what else? A sweating package identified as fresh chicken.

Re-gift chicken.

Re-gift chicken.

I don’t know what gave me the willies more: knowing that I reside in close proximity to a New York City asshat who re-gifts fowl, or later that evening, when I went out again and saw that there had been a taker. A few years ago, New York City was besieged with a bedbug epidemic. Have we graduated to salmonella sharing in 2015? Meanwhile, a New Year has dawned once again replete with a new crop of New York City asshats. The time of the year may no longer be the most wonderful, but it is certainly back to being the most familiar.

Asshat New Yorker-style Christmas tree disposal.

Asshat New Yorker-style Christmas tree disposal.

Lame Adventure 448: Anatomy of a Cronut

One year ago today, on December 29th, 2013, I started riding a spin bike. I also began eating primarily organic while practicing dietary portion control in an effort to shed the equivalent of a bowling ball and seven bananas in girth. My effort paid off. I’ve slimmed down significantly and no longer sound like a sputtering steam engine when I climb up a flight of stairs. Over the course of this holiday season, I’ve indulged, but I no longer eat like a starving hog. I consciously avoid foodstuffs that are like crack to me: cookies and chips. Muffins and bagels are not welcome on the menu anymore, either. Sandwiches and deli meat have crossed the line into edible enemy territory. My intake of red meat plummeted, as my consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains skyrocketed. I quaff much less alcohol and pump gallons more water.

Even though I have transformed myself into a disciple of health and fitness, I remain fully capable of savoring a gourmet pastry every once in a while, especially one that is almost as elusive as a winning Powerball lottery ticket: the Cronut. Ever since the Dominique Ansel Bakery on Spring Street in lower Manhattan introduced this croissant-doughnut hybrid in May 2013, the eating public has been under the spell of these celebrated treats. For a while the only way to get one was to wait in a long line hours before the bakery opened at 8 am. Getting into a line at 5 am to pay $5 for a croissant crossbred with a doughnut was an act of masochism I could not bring myself to do. Ansel only bakes 350 a day so they sell out at warpspeed. Earlier this month I heard that Ansel has introduced an online lottery that happens every Monday at 11 am. I am always at The Grind at that time, so I suggested to The Boss that we do this. Elspeth gave this brainstorm her seal of approval and handed me her credit card.

The problem was that there is so much traffic on the Ansel web site, getting through borders on the impossible. All the heavily Photoshopped junk added to Kim Kardashian’s trunk had nothing on breaking the Internet when compared to ordering a Cronut online. The few times I thought I was getting through, my screen would hang or freeze and I’d get booted off the site. This was agonizing. As expected, the Cronuts were selling fast. Just when I was about to give up because Monday through Thursday’s allotment was sold out, I tried ordering two for Friday. A miracle happened and my order entered the shopping cart. But Elspeth is seldom at The Grind on Friday. I paid for the Cronuts myself and I gave my second one to my colleague, Godsend, as an early Christmas present. We had them on my last day in the office before I left for vacation.

The flavor for December was Valrhona Dark Chocolate Raspberry (with a splash of Chambord). What did it taste like? Immediate thought: the food equivalent of the most satisfying sex ever. Second thought: it’s perfectly balanced sweet and buttery layers of flaky pastry that’s simultaneously crunchy, chewy and messy. The delectable fillings, in this case chocolate and raspberry, have a tendency to spurt out. It’s best to eat a Cronut over a plate — what we did.

Suckers waiting on line for Cronuts.

Suckers waiting on line for Cronuts that might sell out before they gain entry into the bakery.

For those who order their Cronuts online, you bypass everyone waiting to buy theirs.

For those who order their Cronuts online, you have VIP status and can bypass everyone else waiting to buy theirs.

Tray of the pastry equivalent of gold bullion: Cronuts.

Tray of the pastry equivalent to gold bullion: Cronuts.

Gold tulip box containing our Cronuts.

Gold tulip box containing our Cronuts.

Voila!

Voila!

Godsend photographing the Cronuts.

Godsend photographing the Cronuts.

Godsend's Cronut shot.

Godsend’s Cronut shot.

Sideview Cronut.

Sideview Cronut.

Overhead Cronuts.

Overhead Cronuts.

Cross section Cronut.

Cross section Cronut.

Leaked raspberry Cronut filling.

Leaked raspberry Cronut filling.

I would consider enduring the torture of ordering Cronuts again online, but I am not in a hurry to do so. Since savoring my Cronut, I wondered about the calorie content. Woman’s Health Magazine reported last October that a single Cronut clocks in at a terrifying 1,330 calories with about 900 calories in fat.

Cronut nutrition facts.

Unpretty Cronut picture.

That is food for thought:

Me (thinking): Holy fried fat balls!

The sodium content alone contains enough salt to spread on a city sidewalk.  Good thing I’m riding that spin bike, but now I’m compelled to ride it to Mars.

The least pretty picture: Cronut grease stains.

The least pretty Cronut picture: grease stains.

For anyone adventurous who would like to attempt to make Cronuts at home, click here for the recipe.

Lame Adventure 447: Christmas Trees Of Gotham – Bitty, Beastly and Best

One of the most enduring symbols of the holiday season wherever you go in the country is the Christmas tree. Here in New York City, Christmas trees are not purchased in tree lots. New York City dwellers purchase their trees from sidewalk vendors.

Trees being pimped on Columbus Avenue.

Trees and wreaths pimped on Columbus Avenue.

For about a four week period from Thanksgiving to Christmas, New Yorkers not only sidestep the usual: each other, kids in strollers, elderly folks moving at a snail’s pace, dog walkers and walking dogs. Added to the daily dance of pedestrian navigation at holiday time is zigging and zagging around a forest of pine trees crowding the corners on what seems like every other block.

How tree-buyers get their trees home is another tale in the playbook of inconvenient. A Christmas tree cannot be delivered like a pizza. Christmas trees are takeout. In the thirty-two years that I’ve lived here, I have yet to see a delivery guy on a bike transporting a Christmas tree in my neighborhood, the Upper West Side. New York City Christmas trees are brought home in a variety of ways starting with Manual: the woman I saw walking on upper Broadway struggling awkwardly as she hauled her tree solo. Next up, there’s Happy Teamwork Style: a guy duo effortlessly carrying their firry [sic] friend in tandem.

Not to be confused with this furry friend who is surely wondering, "When is my tree getting here?"

Not to be confused with this furry friend who is surely wondering, “When is my tree getting here?”

Reported in Gothamist was Irritating: a guy riding with his tree on a subway train. I am sure that some people carry their trees home in taxis, or for the privileged with a car, the Traditional Method: tying it to the roof.

Many apartments such as my own thumbnail-size sanctum sanctorum are too cramped to house a tree, so wreaths and mini trees are very popular. My building’s vestibule is decorated with the trinity of holiday adornment New York City-style: a mini tree, a wreath and a poinsettia.

Holiday decorations in Casa de la Shangri-la.

Holiday decorations in Casa de la Shangri-la.

I do not partake in tree or wreath purchasing but I am an avid tree watcher. Pictured below are some trees, infinitesimal to massive, that I have glimpsed in my neighborhood, as well as that iconic one in Rockefeller Center.

Good luck with that.

Planter Tree: good luck with that.

Nice display of stoop trees, but anyone needing to hold onto the banister is out of luck.

Nice display of stoop trees, but flirting with a lawsuit if anyone needs to hold the banister.

Apartment near my laundromat; looks like a tree purchased on Columbus Avenue.

Apartment near my laundromat; looks like a tree purchased on Columbus Avenue or maybe all the trees are wearing red bows in 2014.

Co-op building tree; I'd prefer a lower maintenance over a tree.

La-di-da co-op building tree.

My building's tree.

My building’s knee-sized tree: what rent stabilized tenants rate.

Lincoln Square tree in Dante Park a.k.a. the tree cross the street from Lincoln Center. Next to no one was looking at it.

Lincoln Square tree in Dante Park a.k.a. the 27 foot tree across the street from Lincoln Center.

Radio City Music Hall's glitz - a light show rather than an actual tree.

Radio City Music Hall’s glitz – a light show rather than an actual tree.

To see the Radio City Music Hall holiday tree light show click here.

85 foot 27 ton Norway Spruce attention whore in Rockefeller Center.

85 foot 27 ton Norway Spruce attention whore in Rockefeller Center.

Is it me or does this year’s Rockefeller Center tree look like a massive, misshapen blob in need of a manicure? Smothered in 45,000 lights cannot hide that this behemoth looks like a shaggy oaf. Possibly I’m being critical because I’m not a fan of big and bloated. I naturally gravitate in the direction of small and lean. My favorite holiday trees are not in windows, rooftops, plazas or parks. They do not
attract herds of gaping gawkers from near and far. Here are my favorite trees of this holiday season: The Trees of West 73rd Street.

First up, a sturdy trunk tastefully swathed in red and gold.

First up, a sturdy trunk tastefully swathed in red and gold.

Second tree in blue and silver: a shout out to those that celebrate Hannukah?

Second tree in blue and silver: a shout out to those that celebrate Hanukkah.

Tree Three: a slender number in formal attire ready for New Year's champagne.

Tree Three: a slender number in formal attire ready for New Year’s champagne.

The fourth in the series: Purple Passion tree.

Tree Four decked out in purple and silver  for those celebrating eggplant and flatware.

The fifth and the finest: the candy cane tree.

The fifth and the finest: the candy cane tree lovingly embraced by a bike.

Each West 73rd Street tree exudes New York City attitude and style. If I could have a beer and socialize with a tree, these are the trees for me. If I were able to interview these trees and ask them what they think of the trees purchased on street corners or the trophy trees that stop traffic they’d likely say:

The Trees of West 73rd Street: Fuhgeddaboudit!

Every time I walk past these five trees en route to the subway, no matter how late I’m running or how irritated I’m feeling, seeing these festively dressed trees lifts my spirits. Whoever decorated them did this with personality, care and flare and probably at their own expense. Possibly they did it just because they like seeing them. I know that I sure do. This cool, quirky, “all natural” quintet of trees will not be piled high on the sidewalk in round two of street hogging. What’s round two you wonder? That’s when the Christmas trees of New York City prepare to be converted into mulch. That tradition resumes December 26th.

Tree speck in street: swatch of suicidal pine needles.

Tree speck in street: swatch of suicidal pine needles.

Lame Adventure 446: Radiator Cover Gift Giving

Now that my father is no longer walking the earth this holiday season, my family is reduced to its essence: my siblings, Dovima and Axel, brother-in-law Herb (with a silent h), and my college student niece, Sweet Pea. There are also the animals: Dovima’s dog, Thurber, Fred, her geriatric fish (he’s 9; a year older than Thurber), and Axel’s two cats: Blackie, the feral guard-cat at work, and Bandit, the pampered, at home. Seven of the eight rate holiday gifts from me.

Sorry, Fred, you're screwed.

Sorry, Fred, don’t look so glum, but you’re screwed.

I am famous for saying:

Me: If I can’t get it online, you’re not going to get it from me.

I like fast. I like simple. If I must go to a store, as I did for my sister and Herb’s presents, I go at off hours when I know the crowds will be just the way I like them: anemic. After I exited The Grind on Friday, I blew into a store, found exactly what I wanted to get my sister and brother-in-law, paid, and was back out on the street in six minutes flat Toyota jumping for joy. Almost immediately, I suffered a flash of five alarm fire, heart attack-inducing panic. That was because I brilliantly left their gifts in a convenience store aisle when I absently put the bag down to pick up an eight pack of pocket tissues. Then, I walked away. I made it back to get their presents before the four second window of retrieval granted to preoccupied stumblebums had slammed shut.

On Saturday, I shipped my gifts to my sister’s house on the West Coast. I’ll wrap them during my upcoming visit. The gifts that I’ve ordered online are being shipped directly to her; how I’ve been sending my gifts for years.

Now that Trader Joe’s Brandy Bean season is over, and with necessity being the mother of invention, I rewarded my gift giving accomplishment with a bottle of port and a chocolate bar.

Happy holidays to me!

Happy holidays to me!

As I was entering my building with my treats, I noticed a tire pump outside the door.

Home is where the tire pump is.

Home is where the tire pump is.

I thought:

Me (thinking): My building: the gift that never stops giving.

Once again some nameless tenant, possibly the one who places the cardboard pizza boxes in the recycling can meant for plastic and glass, left this hand me down up for grabs.

Does this person also wear their shoes on the wrong feet?

Does this person also wear their shoes on the wrong feet?

If I were inclined to be Tightwad Incarnate to those near and dear, based on what tenants have left on my building’s radiator cover through the years, there are many offerings I could have given.  I occasionally photograph them. Pictured below is a selection. Often, there are books and magazines. Sometimes, appliances, including computer hardware. Once, a glove I lost was left there and once, I placed a glove I found on there. Hey, pay the good deed forward. With great regret, I did not photograph the samurai sword someone left in the trash a few years back, but that artifact from feudal Japan, or more likely, China via a Canal Street junk store, was not gracing the radiator cover.

This is the radiator cover as it is seldom seen: naked.

This is the radiator cover as it is seldom seen: naked.

Here it is with a trinity of plastic what the hells possibly produced by Acme.

Here it is with a trinity of plastic What The Hells possibly produced by Acme.

Acme what the hells.

Acme What The Hells. But anyone’s for the taking.

Currently, there's a soup pot someone no longer wants.

Currently, there’s a soup pot up for adoption.

And a calendar with both November and maybe December!

And a calendar with both November and maybe December!

In September 2012 there was an empty binder and card stock.

In September 2012 there was an empty binder and card stock.

A month later, there was the ceramic blob.

A month later, there was this glazed ceramic blob.

One summer there was The Mystery Box. It sat around for about a week screaming volumes about the lack of curiosity.

One summer there was The Mystery Box. It sat around for about a week screaming volumes about the lack of curiosity amongst the tenants.

These magazine paper wrapped boxes sat in the vestibule for several days last spring.

Magazine paper wrapped boxes that sat in the vestibule last spring. A few were taken by some schmuck or schmuck-ette addicted to clutter.

The annual Christmas tree that makes my friend Milton's heart melt as if it's a puppy. But I don't think it's up for grabs.

The annual Christmas tree that makes my friend Milton’s heart melt as if it’s a puppy. But I think taking it is theft.