Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: nyc (Page 2 of 5)

People’s Parties

So another couple of months pass, and it’s August in NYC. It’s muggy and hot; it rains every now and then; we go to the beach when we are able. When you go to swim practice you don’t have to wedge eighty-leven pounds of overcoat boots hats gloves sweater flannel-lined trousers into the locker, rumpling your work shirt beyond redemption.

Life here is good. The job proceeds apace, and there are even suggestions that I might get my contract extended by a couple of months to work on another project. We go to the beach when we are able, and find ways to amuse ourselves when we are not. I have been taking in more theater and crazy performance stuff than is typical, too — a side effect of hanging out with the charming D.

Take a recent evening, for instance. D and I went to go see John Kelly perform the entirety of Joni Mitchell’s album “Court and Spark” down in the open-air performance space of Castle Clinton in Battery Park. Kelly, for those of you at home, has had a long and varied career as an artist, but has found a weird sort of fame performing as Joni Mitchell. The hair, the clothes, the mannerisms. Or what I’m assured are the mannerisms. Before this summer my file on Joni Mitchell was mighty thin. Actually, lacking familiarity with the template does make your mind go looking for some other something to compare it with on first exposure. I ended up at a cross between Janice from the Muppet show1 and Hedwig, which was totally wrong and made me laugh inappropriately. But that’s the mindblowing thing about his performance: it’s not camp, it’s not drag, it’s not parody. Even if you wouldn’t know Joni Mitchel if she asked you for directions on 63rd Street, you can tell after about 30 seconds that Kelly is totally committed to what he’s doing. There’s nothing arch or ironic about it. Which makes it a whole ‘nother flavor of awesome.2 And the crowd plugs right into it.

In fact, it was the strength of that commitment that made the next thing that happened such a stunning moment of theatre. We sat in the VIP section, which had a great side-on view of the stage, and everybody’s grooving right along and we’ve hit the album’s fifth track, “Down to You.” And everyone’s having a fine time, and Kelly’s band is crazy tight, and one of the backup singers, who’s decked out like she’s been a dedicated flower child since back in the day, keeps looking over toward someone in the VIP section with this smile on her face like it’s the craziest gig she’s ever done, or the best, or possibly both. And we hit the long instrumental part that makes up most of the second half of the song and Kelly starts to pick his way back through the band toward the back of the stage, and crouches down to root through a duffel bag. He’s vanished from the view of the audience, except for some of us in the VIP section.

He drops the shawl he’s been wearing, folds it up. He slips the velvety green dress from over his head: there’s a black one beneath it. Hey, costume change! But after a moment’s thought he pulls that one off as well, and the silvery one that had been beneath that. And then the wig. He takes a cloth from the bag and wipes off his makeup as best he can. He stands, slowly, returning to view: he faces the back of the stage and the walkway running behind it and turns his face to the sky, a 49-year-old guy in a pair of black Calvin Klein underwear. He stretches, breathes deep. He returns to the bag, pulls on jeans and a T-shirt, and goes back to the mic. The band has been playing the whole time, and the song reaches the end, and they go into “Just Like This Train,” the sixth track. And he looks like Alan Cumming, but drained of that faint undercurrent of malice; he looks a little like Terrence Stamp. And the music goes on.

Not a new thing, the transformation. It has been done in any number of other acts. But for some reason, in this instance, it is profound. It hits you like a delivery van. D is crying. But there’s no time to linger, because Kelly doesn’t need the wig to sing the hell out of the material. There’s a woman in the second row: flowered pants, coral-to-pink-grapefruit blouse, curly dark hair, big sunglassess; someone’s Jewish grandmother from Staten Island. She’s been rocking out from the start, she knows all the words, and the exultant smile on her face stays exactly where it has been and like everyone else in the audience she stays right with Kelly and the band right through to the end of the show, having a fine time as the sun sets over the harbor and gleams off the silver towers of the Financial District. And I think: I fucking love this town.

1 Janice’s main claim to fame, of course, is that she delivered the single greatest line in film ever.

2 This summer has also been the Summer of Awesome. I have no idea why this word is suddenly my favorite adjective, and I’m not sure I’m happy about it, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do but wait for it to clear up on its own.

Julie & Julia (& Nora) (& You)

I was going to post something about the Weimar cabaret orchestra that’s doing drop-dead fabulous covers of New Wave tunes, but this is even better.

Julia Child started cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in the late 1940s. She published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, her first, revolutionary cookbook, in 1961, and began her equally revolutionary television program not long thereafter. In 2002, a woman in Brooklyn named Julie Powell started a blog, The Julie/Julia Project, in which she cooked a different meal from MAFC every night in her teeny tiny NYC-style kitchen in a neighborhood with no decent grocery store, gradually working her way through the entire book. In 2004, Julia died; I found Julie’s blog through the lovely essay she wrote reflecting upon the yearlong experience and how Julia had transformed both Julie’s life and her own. In 2005 the blog became a book, as they were wont to do at the time. In August 2009 the cookbook that became a blog that became a book will become a movie, staring Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl freaking Streep as Julia Child. Written and directed by Nora Ephron, of course, because who else could it have been?

Come on, how can you not see this? With a group of dear friends who like to eat. And then you go out for a fabulous meal afterwards. Or — even better! — cook one together.

That’s all for tonight. For my part, I have completed the laundry and am going to bed.

Culture time!

I’m presently singing with the Dessoff Symphonic Choir, which is the giant economy-size version of the Dessoff Choirs, a long-running NYC amateur chorus. We’re preparing for a pretty spectacular series of June performances with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.

First, Britten’sWar Requiem”,” his spectacular antiwar piece from 1962. Composed for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral in England (destroyed in a World War II bombing raid), the piece sets two soloists singing English-language poems by Wilfred Owen about the experiences of soldiers during World War I in juxtaposition to a massive choral performance of the traditional Latin Mass for the dead. It is harrowing and fabulous, sometimes angry, sometimes achingly sad, sometimes transcendently gorgeous. June 11, 12, 13.

Then, Mahler’s [Symphony No. 8)], which will feature about a skillion singers and instrumentalists packed so densely on the stage that frame-dragging phenomena will be measurable in local spacetime. Big, bombastic, wonderful. Probably the more listener-friendly to those arriving unfamiliar with the music. June 24, 25, 26, 27.

For tickets to either performance — going fast! — or more details, see the Dessoff website. (You may need to scroll down to get to the actual text; there’s something wonky in their stylesheet.)

Fun With Cimicidae

And today, on Things You Didn’t Know You Should Be Freaked Out About: Bedbugs!

Oh, but I hear you say it: we are New Yorkers, and we already know about the whole Bedbug Thing. In the 20th century, bedbugs went from rather common to almost unheard of in much of the industrialized world. But over the last few years, a combination of increased international travel, the disuse of DDT, and increased resistance to the weaker insecticides used instead has led to their global resurgence. They hide in folds of fabric, they hide in suitcases (and the baggage-return conveyor belts at airports), they hide in the upholstery of the furniture you find on the sidewalk, and then they move into your house. Getting them out again is a massive undertaking. And then there’s the itching and the scratching and the welts and the oh my god they’re sucking my blood while I sleep and suddenly we’re all losing our minds. They’re running amok in Park Slope.1 We are already freaking out about bedbugs. Those of us who are prone to (a) worry, (b) hypochondria, or (c) itching are just about out of our heads.

Ah, but did you know this? They’re hiding in the crevices of the wooden benches on the subway platforms.

So don’t sit down, folks. And for god’s sake, stop scratching. You’re fine. Maybe.

(Thanks [I think] to Sari, for bringing this to my attention.)

1 The bugs, not the Brooklynites.

the fanboy loses his tongue

Tonight I shirked my responsibilities and delayed my dinner in order to hear John Crowley read at the 92nd St Y. Crowley — opening diphthong as in cow, not as in crow — is one of my most favorite writers in the world, and unquestionably a big influence on my own writing. I discovered his most famous novel, Little, Big, upon the lending shelves of my high-school Shakespeare teacher’s classroom,1 and I was never the same. The 1986 trade-paperback edition I bought not long thereafter is one of my few treasured books not currently in storage; I reread it every year or two in full, and bits of it when the mood strikes, and needed it to be close at hand. Someday the rereadings and the carting-around will cause it to fall to bits, a victim of its own power. A while back, feeling flush, I ordered a copy of the 25th-anniversary edition to take on some of its burdens, and it should arrive around Christmas. But the battered old book is one of my Talismanic Objects, and I took it to be signed.

Crowley read a selection from his upcoming novel Four Freedoms, which is slated for publication in June of 2009. It’s one of his historicals: not a work of fantasy or speculative whatever, but something more firmly rooted in the real history of America in the 20th century. The selection was great, of course, articulate and touching and smart and funny and full of moments of lapidary detail. Unexpectedly, it was also full of sex, telling along the way with sensitivity, humor, insight, and enthusiasm the story of a young man’s maturing awareness of adult sexuality and the loss of his virginity to an older woman.

There weren’t many people in Crowley’s book-signing line after the reading. Most of the crowd seemed to be there for Marilynne Robinson, whose stuff I’ve never read but whose reading was equally enthralling. If much more chaste. I would have liked to make trenchant comments, ask insightful questions, done the cool chitchat thing, but the squeeing fanboy and the semi-intelligent reader and writer of fiction got locked in some sort of deathmatch in my head, so that was right out. It saved me, I guess, from having to blurt out that I’d been using the name of a minor character from Little, Big as an online handle for 15 years — hell, had commented on Crowley’s own LiveJournal under that name. But it also kept me from talking about experiencing New York for the first time as someone who had only known it previously through its strange and fantastic depiction in Little, Big; and from asking the question I was dying to ask, which was whether anyone had told him going into the reading, or if indeed he had noticed as he read, that a huge mob of high-school English students was in the back of the auditorium, their eyes widening, the faces of their teachers turning ever more scarlet.

1 I bless your memory, Barbara Abbott.

a creeping certainty of impending doom

I am kind of underemployed right now — in fact I’m really underemployed, and if anybody needs a freelance editorial guy with smarts and the ability to learn quick, please contact me; résumé and enthusiastic references available on request — but up until today I was not worried.

Today, however, I realize that in fact I am probably going to starve to death.

RIP BurritoVille (1992-2008).

drag names I have considered

Not that drag is my thing at all. But sometimes you stay up much too late and find yourself inventing alternate personae as you brush your teeth. You know?

  • Semolina Pilchard Surrealist; not hostile, but certainly fierce. Like a warmer, fuzzier version of Strykermeyer, maybe. Assuming that can be done.
  • Miss Partridge Peartree Edwardian hostess. Only seen at Christmastime.
  • Alison Wonderland An innocent; a broad.
  • Bananas Foster Hostess with the mostess.

How about you? Who are you when your brain puts on heels?

On a somewhat related note, I finally saw the episode of Project Runway from a couple of weeks back from when they made outfits for drag queens. They got some big names to serve as models, too: Varla Jean Merman, Hedda Lettuce, Sherry Vine. Or at least they were familiar to me, which must mean they’re big, right? Regardless, was fun. And surprising — here in NYC, you pass men on the sidewalk every now and then and your brain immediately say, “Off-duty drag queen.” But at one point in this episode we saw the dragistes out of character and the vast majority of them looked like jus’ random guys. Sometimes with no eyebrows, but still. I mean, heck, Mr. Varla Jean is hot. Who knew? The best analysis of the episode, if you’re interested, will be found at Project Rungay.

Am in Ogunquit, Maine, for the weekend, with a bunch of my old a cappella cohort. Fun is being had. Hydration is key. Hope those of you celebrating Labor Day this weekend are having a good time.

ny moment #47,365

I have had quite a few moments of fabulous metropolitan culture in the last ten days or so: dancing until 3 at Habibi, the monthly bash for NYC’s gay Arab community (yes, really; the dance music, from Egypt Lebanon Syria et al, is fabulous, and the partygoers handsome); seeing Boeing Boeing on Broadway; Fleet Week. Oh, and the new Indiana Jones movie.

But none of them came close to seeing Greg play at the Duplex tonight. The crowd was tiny — me and Velma and Fred, a handful of drunken British tourists — so Greg got to make some calls that he might not have attempted for a fuller house. Including a whole lotta Kate Bush. He did “Wuthering Heights”; he did “Hounds of Love”; he did “Cloudbusting.” And then he went straight into “And Dream of Sheep,” which made me happy; and then he went straight from there into “Under Ice,” and we realized he was making some kinda banzai run through The Ninth Wave, and we didn’t know whether to fall out of our chairs from the shock or just howl with joy and laugh and wave our arms. Because Greg is a Kate Bush geek who plays a mean piano and has a lovely clear tenor voice and was fully capable of pulling something like this off. He did a quick here-are-the-highlights of “Waking the Witch,” he did “Watching You Without Me.” He went straight on into “Jig of Life.”

The other Kate fans in the room were in awe (and did all we could to throw in the umpty-leven other vocal bits). Those too young to know The Ninth Wave — which, because I’m sure my father is wondering, is the astonishing song cycle on the B side of her towering 1985 work Hounds of Love — had no effing idea what was going on or why we were losing our minds. Who the hell tries to perform The Ninth Wave on an upright in a West Village piano bar?

Anyway, just to be cheeky, he went about eighteen bars into “Jig of Life” and then segued gently into some Elton John tune that the Brits had requested. We hyperventilated quietly in the back; I ordered another ginger ale.

It rocked. Sure, I’m hopped up on ginger ale and it’s 3 in the morning, but I wouldn’ta missed that for nothing.

ny moment #44,201

Good evening, intrepid NYC eaters-of-food! Tonight’s cooking-at-home question: if you’re jonesing hard for “Tater Tots”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tater_Tots1, but all your grocery store carries is “Kineret Mini Potato Latkes”:http://www.kineretfoods.com/products/415.php2, are you bound for glory or disappointment? Stay tuned, because we’re going to find out!

UPDATED: Oh yes. Glory, my friends. Glory.

1 I love it that Tater Tots have a Wikipedia entry. But how could they not?

2 I’d really love to call these latkitos, because they’re, y’know, mini. But perhaps that’s getting a little too great-American-melting-pot-y. I dunno. I may just do so inside my own head.

ny moment #43,165

Okay, so, um, local grocery store? On the way home tonight? Buying ice cream? And there’s this sign over the little refrigerated sushi case? And it says:

SOME SUSHI
CONTAIN
RAW FISH

Um.

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