Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: nyc (Page 1 of 5)

Hey, Look!

It’s the hockey players from last night! Current best theory is that they’re in town for the 2011 World Police and Fire Games.

Thanks to Croft for the link.

Hockey in the Moustache of the Storm

Greetings from the last couple of hours before Hurricane Irene hits NYC.

I just walked back to Don’s after finishing a shift at the Gray Lady. The weather right now is mostly OMG Rain as opposed to Aieeee Hurricanocalypse. Lots of rain but very little wind; not so much the teeth of the storm as the moustache of it. Passing through Times Square I discovered a bunch of Canadian guys playing a shirts-vs-skins hockey game in the pedestrian mall. Their laughter echoed through the square; they were almost the only people around, beyond a few random folks standing around watching them play and taking pictures.

Judging by the matching outfits I’d say they’re a team visiting from Vancouver (it said “Vancouver” on their jerseys, which were black with red flames) who are staying in one of the nearby hotels. Or possibly more than one team: a few women played on the shirts side, in jerseys of their own, equally official looking but different from the men’s. I stood and watched for a few minutes — hey, shirtless guys in the rain, how could I not — and as the runoff got deeper on the blue-painted surface of 7th Avenue the athletes fell down more often and the bright orange ball started to kick up an impressive fantail as it scudded along. Everyone seemed to be having a grand time.

Were I more used to thinking like a journalist I’d have figured out a way to use my phone as a recording device without shorting it out in the rain, and then I’d have interviewed them. Who were they? What brought them to New York? Had they been stranded by the closing of the airports this afternoon? How bad did the weather have to get before they’d pack it in and go somewhere dry?

But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and so eventually I just got tired of how my boots were filling with rainwater. I walked on, the hockey players’ shouts and laughter ringing out through Times Square over the sound of the downpour. They kept calling each other seagulls, but I never found out why. That was okay.

Yup, still love it here.

(EDITED: Video footage in the follow-up post.)

High Wire Act

Let’s begin with an open letter.

Dear Julie Taymor:

I get it. I totally get what you’re doing with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Don’t let the haters get you down.

Yours, &c. —
Andy

I was skeptical when I showed up at the theater today, I’ll admit it. It’s hard to avoid the tales of mayhem and creative rudderlessness that follow this show. But here’s the thing: there’s a lot of really smart stuff happening in the new Spider-Man musical, and this idea propagated by the Lords of Broadway Reviews that this is the worst musical evar is total hogwash.

The show, particularly in its first act, tackles some a big idea of perpetual interest to Taymor — the nature of myth, and the role it plays in human culture — through a spandex-tinted lens. She quite rightly pegs the iconic, archetypal figures that parade through the comics world as descendants of the figures who have triumphed and suffered and struggled and been punished since we first started telling one another stories of heroes around the fire. Her framing device — a “geek chorus” quartet of kids working on their own homegrown Spider-Man comic — is brilliant, linking the old oral tradition to a fundamental act of modern comics fandom in which participants mix canonical themes with new characters as it pleases them.

There are some amazing moments of Taymor stagecraft in this show, mask work and puppetry and transformative costumery that have to be seen to be appreciated. I loved seeing the horrible Lizard make the Hyde-out-of-Jekyll leap from the body of Dr. Kurt Connors, and the golden weaving constructed as the story of Arachne is retold at the top of the show marries a crazy technical achievement to a moment of beauty and simplicity that I won’t spoil here. From beginning to end, the sets tilt and flip and generally repurpose themselves over and over to create moments of outsize, stylized invention that serve the graphic roots of the story well. And, of course, there’s the extensive wire work, which is dazzling. The catch there, though, is that by now we all know about the times the system has failed, injuring actors or stopping the show cold while some poor soul is left dangling forty feet above the eighteenth row. I wish I could have blotted out that foreknowledge, the little voice saying please don’t fall, please don’t fall, please don’t fall every time a man in the red-and-blue uniform swung through the house, and just enjoyed what I was seeing for what it was. I couldn’t, though.

Regardless, I suggest that you give it a go, if you’ve got the scratch. It’s true, the music and the pacing are uneven. It’s not a perfect show. But it’s for sure not a bad show, and there’s some juicy stuff to savor in there. (Comics fans will enjoy any number of little shout-outs through dialogue and allusive imagery. The names of the scientists who worked for Norman Osborn, for example. Good stuff.) And it’s being closed down for a month soon for “improvements.” I can’t imagine that they could remove Taymor’s analytical understructure from it even if they wanted to, but I’m very glad I’ve seen it before the revamp.

Well, That Was A New One

All downtown traffic on the downtown E/F was halted for several very long minutes this afternoon because (the conductor eventually explained) “the control-tower guy locked himself out of the tower.”
Huh.

While I Were Out

Right! Blog! Where were we — June? Yes. Summer was lovely, thanks. I’ve begun working on that novel I’ve been yammering on about for years now and we’ll see how that goes. I dunno how much I’ll talk about it here, at least until I’m through the first draft, but now you know. Light a candle for me. As a plan-obsessed control-freak sort of writer, thundering through a draft where it’s not only acceptable but also expected to have a paragraph end with something like THIS IS WHERE YOU’LL NEED A TRANSITION BEFORE YOUR HERO AND THE BODHISATTVA WALK OFF TO GET FALAFEL has been both liberating and terrifying. Lots of work to do on that ms today; I skipped town a little while back to turn 40 in Minnesota on a lake with my relations and then to go to Burning Man, and my momentum took a big hit and needs to be rebuilt. So today is a Get Your Groove On sort of day, much as I’d rather be at the Maker Faire.

But first! Let me tell you about last night, spent hanging out in piano bars with Velma, because she’s a bad influence. There was Old School Theatre Queen Action at Marie’s Crisis, where I had not set foot since my first week in NYC, back in 1993. And thence to the Duplex, which has somehow fit a baby grand piano into the downstairs space. And then V and I invented the next big filksinging genre: Lovecraftian R&B. That would be Rugose and Batrachian, obviously.

The first greatest-hits collection will contain:

  • “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg (To Be Eaten First)”
  • “Ain’t No Mountain Mad Enough”
  • “I Say A Little Prayer to You”
  • “Respect (For the Old Ones)”
  • “Not Just My Imagination”

I welcome any reminders of songs we’ve left off the list.

Things You Can Do With the Internet

  1. Play lots and lots of Echo Bazaar, an online RPG set in Victorian-London-that-has-been-dragged-into-a-cavern-beneath-the-Earth.
  2. Enlist your friends’ help to prevent two visiting Russian women from becoming victims of human trafficking in New York City.

The first option is absolutely engrossing, if it’s the sort of thing you find engrossing, and can be done solo. The second option is… well, just read the link. A member of the MetaFilter message board posts a cry for help; over the next 24 hours, friends, acquaintances, and total strangers rally to keep two women from vanishing into god-knows-what. Astonishing, inspiring reading, and I only found out about it after the dust settled. I can’t imagine what it must have been like as a MeFi reader caught up in events as they unfolded. It makes you wonder how many stories end differently right here in New York every week because the victims don’t have a squad of internet people looking out for them.

Books/Baked Goods/Memewrangling

So I went to Books of Wonder, the best kids’ bookstore in NYC or anywhere else in the universe, so far as I can tell, the other day. My niece is turning 7 shortly, and I had duties to perform. (She recently saw Coraline, and expressed a desire to read the book. How can I say no? She’s also getting the fabulous Clan Apis. Science!)

Anyway, you can’t go to BoW without stopping at the cupcake counter. Or I can’t, anyway: it’s run by the fabulous Cupcake Cafe people. You can keep Magnolia Bakery’s vapid and oversweet efforts — the only reason people eat them, far as I can tell, is because they saw them on Sex and the City. For my money, CC’s dense cake and heavenly buttercream frosting whomp MB’s efforts into next week. And that’s without mentioning how totally beautiful their creations are to look at. Almost a shame to eat them, almost.

I told a friend about my visit — okay, I gloated about it — and he asked, “Did you take a picture for that website?”

“What website?”

Dudes with beards eating cupcakes.”

No, I didn’t, for the record. Maybe next time. But I was pleased to note it as an addition to an emerging internet meme: blogs entirely devoted to juxtapositions of three things. The other two sites I’ve seen are Selleck/Waterfall/Sandwich and Bea Arthur/Mountains/Pizza, which offer endless collections of weird surrealist landscapes. Dudes/Beards/Cupcakes doesn’t have the others’ zen-bouquet quality; instead it feels more like somebody’s personal fetish run amok. It’s noteworthy, I think, that they’re all tumblr blogs, but whether that tells us something about tumblr or the state of web culture in general I’m not sure. As to the inevitable why? In the words of Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing, “Because INTERNET.” And that’s the best explanation we’re likely to get.

Wheels on Fire

So. Last night Hugh and Randall and Jim and Bill and I went to the opening night of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby. Last night’s card: the Wall Street Traitors vs. the Queen City [Buffalo] Furies, then the Gotham Girls All-Stars vs. the Charm City [Baltimore] All-Stars. It’s tremendous fun and we’re going back in a month or so.

On the one hand, it’s a spectator sport, in which a bunch of women who, in many cases, have only been playing the game for a year or two, go like hell and take no prisoners. Imply that this is some sort of silly cheesecake thing and they will fuck your shit up. And there’s real strategy going on beyond the body-checks, and it only takes a few minutes to appreciate the rules enough to start seeing that. But on another hand, it’s also a spectator sport with a tremendous sense of humor — I mean, how can you not love a game where players are expected to make up awesome skater names? How can you not cheer and scream yourself raw for Ginger Snap, and Carmen Monoxide, and Donna Matrix? And Joy Collision? And Beyonsláy? (For my part, my heart belongs to Em Dash. As her entry in the 2010 souvenir program states, “There’s a new serif in town.” Word.) And we ate hot dogs, and the people-watching in the stands was superlative, and the jeerleaders (yes) were great.

Consider joining us at the May 22 event, at which the Queens of Pain take on the Manhattan Mayhem.

So What? I’m a Rock Star.

Okay, I’ll shut up about this soon, I swear.

Things I learned about appearing at the Ed Sullivan Theatre last night:

  1. The studio is tiny. I guess it would have to be, to fit into your television.
  2. It is cold in there. I mean, you hear that sometimes from the guests or whatever. But they don’t mention that it’s chilly enough for the air coming out of the ventilation system to turn into fog that gently drifts down from above.
  3. You can try to be blasé about these things, but eventually the realization that you, a random choir geek, are singing rock and roll on television for an audience of about 20 million people hits you, and at that point what D describes as “my big shit-eating grin” becomes inevitable. Despite the fact that you cannot hear yourself sing at all over the sound of the band and you’re just taking it on faith that you’re hitting your marks.

[this video has been deleted, alas]

Man, what a gas. Although at that temperature, it nearly condensed into a liquid.

I’m Gonna Live Forever

So, um, I’m going to be on Letterman tonight, part of the chorus backing up Ray Davies and doing Kinks songs. Set your DVRs, or check it out on the Letterman show website when it goes up tomorrow. The performance is to support his current tour, which has two nights’ performances at Town Hall on Thursday and Friday. I’ll be in those too. (Tickets still available!)

Still can’t quite believe this is happening.

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