Monday, October 26, 2009

Back In The High Life (God Is A Yankee Fan)

Whoever said that God must be a Yankee fan was indeed a smart individual. And I'm sure it wasn't me who first made this initial observation, although I have since repeated it many times.

In the interest of brevity, I'll simply state how entertaining it is watching the Yankees churn through the playoffs. That observation may not be sophisticated, impressive or particularly note-worthy, but each time I see detractors critique the Yankees for their off-season acquisitions, their professionalism or a multitude of other complaints, it actually entertains rather than irritates.

In dispatching the Angels, not only did the Yankees accomplish something they've been attempting since 2003 -- gain entrance to the World Series -- but they managed to irritate everyone that labeled them as "chokers."

Each time I hear the hardcore fans in any stadium deride another team en masse -- including those in Yankee Stadium -- I cringe. I remember earlier days when booing was a relatively light-hearted affair. Even in 1996, the year when Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire and was mercilessly booed by the Yankee Stadium crowd, it wasn't an evil, angry mob of people, it was just a bunch of fans expressing their opinions. With each passing year, however, it feels -- or at least appears -- that being a fan isn't so much about cheering for your own team but deriding and rooting against another team. I'm not sure that phenomenon is inherently American -- after all, the term "football hooligan" originates from the UK and its European brethren -- but it disappoints me, on some level, knowing that the Yankees winning and reaching the World Series makes some people feel as shitty as them doing so makes me happy.

Put another way, when did being a fan morph from rooting for a team to simply rooting against another one spewing bile, anger and disgust? When/if my team(s) loses, I don't feel the need to criticize the other team or somehow minimize their accomplishes by ridiculing the names of the opposing team, its players or the city in which said team originates. So anyone that feels it's appropriate to use the labels "Skankees," "Red Sux" or something similarly creative, try focusing on your anger and the cause of the derision rather than simply focusing your derision, blame and unhappiness on something other than your own unfortunate dysfunction.

Oh...and go Yankees!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Nothing ever indeed goes as planned. That's not to say that making plans is a bad thing, but it's how you roll once your plans hit the toilet that leaves its mark.

We had originally planned to do some fall fun out of the city, including another visit with friends to the Woodbury Commons Outlet in Harriman, a visit to an Apple/Pumpkin Orchard for some bushel-fulls, and wrap it up in Sleepy Hollow with even more friends at the local Haunted House in celebration of Halloween. We set everything up -- including the schedule -- and then the shitbird meteorologists went and screwed it all up.

We were going to have a terrible storm, including low temps, driving rain, and even -- possibly -- snow. So we opted to skip out on the plans and rethink our Saturday.

Of course, it was incredibly cold the last few days in NYC; winter was near and the storm on Saturday theory made lots of sense.

Except it never happened. There was some rainy drizzle throughout the afternoon and evening, but not only did the weather fail to meet the hype, the Yankees were able to play both Friday and Saturday night games with very little real interference from the weather.

Having said all that, rather than an outdoor-filled fun Fall day, we wound up reworking our plans. We slept in and hung out until early afternoon, headed down to Soho to hang with friends (Mercer Kitchen, North Face, Kid Robot, etc.) and then wound our way to midtown to see Paranormal Activity.

And then, to wrap up the evening, we watched the Yankees beat the Angels in Game 2 of their ALCS (in 13 innings).

First of all, we had a blast, even though everything became a bit disjointed. We only had a few hours to hang with friends in Soho at Mercer and Kid Robot, etc., but we had a nice -- albeit brief -- hang. Then we headed to 42nd and 8th to see the film.

Without revealing any spoilers, the mini-review is in: entertaining, not nearly as intense as Blair Witch, but fun nonetheless; and some free advice -- don't see it in a theater where the people are completely obnoxious douchebags, better to skip it than see it in a crowded, crappy theater.

Finally, we made our way back home and watched -- well, I did -- the Yankees pull out a 4-3 victory in 13. Granted, Kaia's still doing the post-jet-lag recovery, and I was more than happy celebrating silently and watching yet another pie-in-the-face care of AJ Burnett.

As I write this and wrap up, Kaia's sleeping quietly, Fox's postgame coverage is humming along quickly and I'm ready to head to bed and enjoy yet another day. I won't mention the Giants/Saints as we're likely going to be floating around again tomorrow, and I figure if I plan on watching the game, said plans will go to shit yet again. I learn from my mistakes ;-)

Despite the fact our plans went to shit, we had a great time with great people and had a nice day. Hopefully our plans will get fouled up more often. While we were all disappointed everything didn't unfold as we'd hoped it would, it really couldn't have gone any better. So aside from the assholes shouting during the film, everyone made today a great one for us, and we look forward to making Plan B our main option again soon ;-)


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gomorra - The Inside View

Increasingly, with the increasing immediacy of the sharing of data and images and with the world seemingly becoming smaller each day, we seemingly benefit from an influx of knowledge and information that once crawled along at Amish pace but which now cruises towards -- and, invariably, past -- us at highway speeds. As a result, it's likely beyond our capability to process worthwhile nuggets of significant news that get lost among the varied and repetitive garbage we face each day. To wit, most of us could recite with relative precision the details surrounding Michael Jackson's death and his internment(s); how many among us could discuss the details of Robert McNamara's life, if not his death?

I happened upon the film Gomorra almost by chance. I'd seen its placard advertised in a small, independent theater that always features foreign-language films that are invariably about things with which I'm unfamiliar. Whether or not these films have value to me is largely irrelevant, because I typically avoid them. I do so not because they're not worth seeing, but because the hours in a day seem fewer and fewer and I find myself with decreasing interest in chasing something down which might be so weird I'll regret bothering in the first place. However, when I see awards from Cannes bestowed on a foreign-language film that happens to catch my eye -- and I get an opportunity to see such a film -- I try and go out of my way to do so.

I'm glad to say Gomorra proved extremely worthwhile.

I obtained a copy of Gomorra on Blu-Ray awhile ago; with Kaia heading from NYC to Europe this afternoon, I had some work to finish and then I found myself in the odd situation of being in limbo. Not having her here this coming week will be a bit strange, but when she heads out on a weekend, it's sort of like time stands still until I know she's landed where- and whenever said landing occurs. I didn't feel like heading out tonight -- between hockey, work, her flight and a half-dozen other factors, I didn't think much about doing much of anything, frankly -- so I finally fired up this film.

First, the title of the film -- Gomorra -- is a veiled reference to the twin biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which, in theory, were destroyed by God for their extreme, brazen wickedness. The play on the title of the film is in direct reference to the mafia in the region of Naples known as La Camorra; if you've ever considered visiting Naples in person, avoid seeing this film until you've done so. Failure to heed this advice will likely kill your desire to visit Naples and, perhaps, Italy in general.

When I think of "mob films," three in particular come to mind: The Godfather (the first and its sequel) and Goodfellas. Gomorra, however, bears neither the polished elegance of the Godfather films nor the raw charm and charisma of Goodfellas. What it features, aside from an entirely Italian dialogue (with English subtitles), is a stark, intense depiction of life in Naples under the Neapolitan mob. It tells a variety of stories: of children growing up and learning to be criminals, of people attempting to avoid making deals with the devil -- in the form of Camorra enforcers and local bosses, and the stark, intense nature of crime, money, drugs, toxic dumping and people treating one another in repulsive ways. The film is, in some ways, an ode to off-kilter story-telling as nowhere in the film is the term Camorra used. However, it demonstrates -- with frankness -- the lives of the people the Camorra destroys, either by leaving them or their family members as corpses, imprisoned, or even worse, in the path of this criminal machine.

I wasn't aware this film was focused on the Camorra, and frankly I wasn't aware of the Camorra's formal existence until after seeing this film and reading about the subject matter in detail afterward. However, knowing that the events depicted in this film are, relatively speaking, commonplace is disconcerting, to say the least. We all know, in general, of man's inhumanity to man, and we know these things take place with regularity. However, this film's dark, unyielding depiction of these events is intense and troubling. Further, few -- if any -- of the characters in this film are "good guys," and none of the people herein are people you'd really want to meet. However, the film shows their lives in such plain, unbiased detail you can't help but be amazed and disgusted by the events as they unfold.

In hindsight, the sheer intensity and disturbing imagery contained herein make me glad I watched this film alone and without Kaia. There is a lot of blood, but that's not really the troubling imagery which I referred to earlier. The imagery is knowing these repulsive things are happening out in the open, under dark, ominous, sunless skies in a place that I always believed to be an ideal destination. Part of the film addresses the Camorra's penchant for illegally dumping toxic waste throughout Italy. Aside from the fact that the agent profiting from this activity shows no concern whatsoever for the lives he adversely affects by doing so, it forces us into these untenable positions. What if we're offered silver, for complying with -- actively or passively -- criminal behavior, or lead for refusing to be complicit? The film shows -- in remarkably nonjudgmental fashion -- these situations and demonstrates, in a subtle way, that there is no easy answer and no easy solution.

The film is intense, encompassing and essentially forces the viewer to be a witness to this brazen, repulsive behavior. The biblical comparison aside, it's an impressive feat for a film to educate and enlighten about material so dark and disturbing without being condescending or judgmental, and that in and of itself is reason alone to see it. The fact it's riveting in its stark depiction of these lives and this activity is yet another. None of these actors -- many of whom were "real" people and not actually actors -- are or will be household names. Yet, the story they all work together to tell will remain with the viewer for some time. It's far easier to wag a finger or read an article about how a criminal machine like the Camorra sucks in its prey and predators alike. It's far more difficult to ensnare the viewer with this type of "insider" bird's eye view. I'm glad to conclude director Matteo Garrone has not only attempted the latter but succeeded with stellar, if not disturbing, results.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Little Extra Change

Unfortunately or otherwise, being that we're -- for a little while longer -- on separate coasts, Kaia's excursions into or through NYC are always pleasant events. Despite the fact they -- like everything else in life -- typically occur at peak busy seasons, having her in town is always -- without question -- far better than not having her in town.

Having said all that, we typically have our arrival routine down pat. Almost always, rather than have me meet her at JFK -- which is certainly more than fine with me -- she likes a little down time in the form of a typically eventful cab ride. Either the driver's BO is legendary -- a feat many of us have experienced, no matter the weather or the open-window jaunt that rarely helps to ebb that flow -- or the traffic is similarly legendary, and nearly as offensive.

However, last night's journey was one for the books.

Apparently, Kaia's driver had some issues. First, the ride should have taken less than a half-hour from JFK at midnightish to my place right off the Triboro. Somehow, it took longer. Being that said driver wasn't sporting legendary BO or something akin thereto was a plus. Nor was his cab replete with smells only sanitation engineers could accurately describe.

Unfortunately, however, the ride did have a quasi-lasting impact. Apparently, the flat-rate fare thing needs to be more indelibly explained to people possessing questionable literacy skills.

Turns out that the "Flat Rate Fare" from JFK to NYC is $45, and apparently that does not include tolls. However, each trip we've taken from JFK to my building has never required us to pay tolls. Until, however, last night.

Kaia kicked the driver a $50 because that's all she had handy in cash. Upon her arrival, the driver -- after inexplicably going a block and a half further than necessary -- turned around and stopped in front of my building. Unfortunately, the dispute resulted when she handed him a $50 and he killed the meter -- and then demanded payment of the toll across the Triboro. By doing so, he effectively made it impossible for her to take back the $50 and pay for the ride, and the tolls, with a credit card. I had no cash on me and my wallet was safely ensconced in my apartment, so neither of us had any cash beyond the $50 said driver had already pocketed. So his demand of additional funds, plus a gratuity for his extra-genius-like driving, odor and personality skills.

Since there was no extra money to be exchanged, said driver was -- clearly -- tweaked. I can't blame him to some degree; apparently, the "flat rate to NYC" does NOT include tolls.

However, since neither of us -- as indicated above -- has ever been asked to pay said tolls, it was our natural suspicion that the guy was jerking us. So we gave him the $50 and wished him a good night. He wasn't satisfied, however, and -- well after midnight, with both of us weary from the day, the night, her from the flight and me from work -- he wanted to have a discussion about the entire incident.

Neither of us, frankly, were interested in extended discourse, and we wished him a good night. Apparently his logical next step was to hurl the change -- something in the range of about eighty cents -- in our direction at my building. None of the change hit us or the building, but we figured that for a money-conscious driver, throwing change at customers isn't the ideal way to move forward.

A recommendation for the prospective cab driver: if you enter into a dispute with someone, throwing a temper-tantrum -- and change -- at said customer is generally the wrong way to go about handling the matter. By law, technically, he's guilty of assault. Frankly, he saw neither of us wasn't trying to screw him, and had he said "Look it up online, you'll see you're responsible for the toll." Had he done that, I would have gotten his medallion number off the receipt which I insured we kept, and I would have found a way to kick the guy a $20 after the fact. However, had I decided to return the favor -- and the change -- his way, I'd call the Taxi Limousine Commission and let them know they have a kook behind the wheel.

I'm sure they'll get right on it and insure he stops driving. Right after, of course, they manage to track down Santa's sleigh as it crossed over the Queensboro.

So a few morals to this extended story. First and foremost, before you hit the road in a cab, make sure you know for what he or she expects you to pay. If something sounds off -- say, a dashboard air freshener charge -- you're probably being jerked. If it sounds a little questionable, check it out online if you have 'net access on your phone, and if not, consider the time of day/night and decide whether you want to wait for another cab or just go along with the bullshit rather than waste any more of your time. And finally, if and when possible, try and use a credit card in your payment so you can dispute any extraneous charges. I used to avoid charging cab trips, but invariably it's a lot easier disputing/canceling a charge than trying to track down Bocephus the Magnificent, aka Ned from Eastern Romania, in some midnight to 8 shift in a taxi garage in Queens in an effort to get your fiver back in your pocket.

Otherwise, it's nice having her home and it's even nicer knowing that we have some spare change floating around. Nothing like having a little extra change.

Oh, and for those of you hoping for salacious details about her first night in NYC, you'll have to wait and see the movie.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hockey, Football and A Chilly Fall

Cliches aside, the grass is indeed greener on the other side...especially if the owner of the property on the other side of the fence has a dog who shits a lot.

Invariably, the Fall is typically -- in these post-Bush days of global warming and weird weather -- a short-lived affair. More often than not, we experience sultry summer days well into the second week of October and then bickety bam -- like a Zombie-fied Emeril Lagasse cooking some brain stew, Winter arrives before Fall has had its chance to come and go. We're moving from shorts and medium-weight t-shirts to jeans, boots, down jackets, scarves and knit hats with silly logos.

Not so this year. This year Fall is slow to arrive and the progression is actually nice. Rather than going from summer to winter in a few scant days, Fall has apparently dug in like an Alabama tic and we've got a few weeks -- if not more -- of an actual fourth season. When people from other regions -- say, Idaho -- speak well of New York and the changing of the seasons, this is of what they speak. Nice to see it's actually coming to pass for a change.

Speaking of passing, hockey season and football season are both newly-arrived to herald the onset of cooler weather. The New York Giants have won their first four games and the New York Rangers -- well, they're not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet. As the baseball season winds down with the Yankees well-situated to return to -- and, dare I say, win -- the World Series, I can't help but in some small way focus on the meaningless Ranger games now that every pitch of the baseball season has long-term significance.

Football season is quick. Baseball season is not. Entourage on HBO -- that goes by in a flash, as did True Blood. And I know in eight weeks from now when Dexter wraps I'll be wondering how the entire season of that show skipped past me without me even noticing it.

In either case, without making any pithy, snarky, cranky observations, I know I'll be bitching before November about the weather. I know there will be snow or some other form of non-human-friendly weather littering my commute to or from the office with obscenities and the smells of New Yorkers sweating beneath their winter gear and I know I'll bitch about it. However, in the meantime, I'm just going on record here and now to indicate that the cooler weather is a nice thing every so often...until -- like a houseguest with awful body odor and a penchant for Polish polka tunes -- it's stuck around for far too long and we all wish it would just go away.

To wind this particular post down, I opted not to quote Yoko Ono's "Is Winter Here To Stay?" but I felt that would be an affront to all good decency, even according to my twisted, limited definition thereof.

Stay cool.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hockey, Blue Dick(s) and $20/$40 + Two Hours from Ben Affleck

We headed to Union Square to attend Kevin Smith's book signing at Barnes and Noble and I have to admit I'm mighty impressed.

If you didn't know, Kevin's the writer/director behind Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and -- um -- Jersey Girl.

Among other things, Kevin's also behind a variety of other things, including two great books, the View Askew forum, and -- to be frank, in my humble opinion -- the building of the careers of Jason Lee and Ben Affleck, for starters. His cinematic style is straightforward and blunt, but his stuff is extremely solid in a way that belies the humor and the lightness of his material.

And despite the fact he'd most likely react to the following by telling me I'm completely full of shit, I think he's an incredibly talented filmmaker.

But at the core of what impressed the hell out of me was not his resume, his films or the fact that the terms "finger-cuffs" and "Berserker" are indelibly stamped on my brain much like his signature is tattooed on several peoples' asses (a story for another time), but that the guy is normal. He's not overly infatuated with his essence or his own presence. In fact, he's not even remotely self-impressed. He's a hockey fan -- he and I were talking about Theo Fleury and Brendan Shanahan and the reality of being a fan (torn between two lovers indeed, he of the Edmonton Oilers/New Jersey Devils triangle and me of the Rangers/Red Wings triangle) and the long-term significance of Billy Crudup's exposed penis in Watchmen.


In either case, I thumbed through both his books and -- with no surprise at all -- was impressed yet again by the fact that this is a bona-fide dude. He's not some machine, he's not an eclectic, eccentric weirdo with an oddball film fetish and an encyclopediac ability to quote Scorcese -- which, incidentally, may or may not be a good thing -- he's just a really good guy who makes really good films.

So inasmuch as we three had a blast, it wasn't because we got a chance to meet someone famous but that we met a guy who was even cooler and more fun to hang with than we'd expected, and in this day and age of the reality being so much worse than the expectancy, that's far more than that for which we could have hoped.

However, I still expect $20 and a couple hours from Affleck -- and an apology if/when possible. And btw, to The Man, if you're reading this, you're pretty funny too. In the immortal words of Brody, we can smell our own ;-)

And here's a link for a mutual hockey fan.

Thanks to Kevin and the staff of Barnes and Noble Union Square for being awesome.