People-watching


Dinette set

Sitting behind me on the LIRR, a clearly appalled girl in her 20s exclaims to her friend:

“She advertised it as a dining room set, but it’s a dinette set at best!”

Now, I get as infuriated by classified-ad exaggerations as the next guy, but judging by this girl’s obnoxiouly loud voice and completely-void-of-irony indignation, I’m guessing she doesn’t have enough friends to require the extra leaf and two chairs she’d been expecting.


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Fleet Week 2009

It’s Fleet Week in New York and, like most New Yorkers, I love seeing scores of sailors in bright white exploring the city, and not just because this blog takes its name from “On the Town,” the underrated musical about three U.S. Navy sailors who find love and excitement while on the loose in New York.

My favorite staples of Fleet Week, in no particular order:

  • The requisite photos in the local papers of sailors in full uniform with Times Square mainstays like the Naked Cowboy (yesterday The New York Times had some guys with the Naked Cowgirl on their front page).
  • The Fleet Week sailors on the morning shows. (Friday morning they were on pretty much every channel, and on Saturday The Today Show will feature Navy vs. Marines tug of war.)
  • The large group of uniformed sailors at the Mets game (or Yankees game). I love the big applause they always get from the rest of crowd almost as much as I love the chants and cheers they do when one of their own throws out the first pitch, or gets shown on the big screen. It’s too bad they can’t do it this year, because the Mets were out of town and the Yankees are just too damned expensive.
  • The jokes about Fleet Week on late night television. Highlights of Letterman’s “Top Ten Things I’ve Learned During Fleet Week In New York City” last night include “Katz’s Deli has knishes that’ll make you plotz” and “I spent a month’s pay on Yankee tickets.”


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Seinfeld commercial filming

Part of living or working in New York is being occasionally inconvenienced by the street you need to use having been shut down for the filming of some movie or episode of Law & Order. And part of being a New Yorker is sneaking a peek at the actors at work. Both happened to me today, but just outside of New York City.

Jerry Seinfeld has spent the past couple of days filming a TV commercial right around the corner from my house. And with all the news the past couple of weeks about mishaps during the filming of a movie in Times Square, I figured this was close enough to mention here. The photo above is from today’s shoot, as is this one of Seinfeld chatting between takes:

Seinfeld on Cedarhurst Ave


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For those of who left a bit confused by this, Murray Hill is a Manhattan neighborhood, roughly defined as the East side of Midtown from about 34th Street to 42nd Street, depending on who you ask. I worked in Murray Hill twice, for a total of about 6 years.

(Side note: My favorite nickname for a neighborhood is for the several blocks just south of Murray Hill on Lexington, informally known as Curry Hill because they house so many Indian restaurants.)

If you haven’t spent enough time in Murray Hill to appreciate the song, well, come back here tomorrow when I have something new posted.


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One of my favorite things about New York is that everyone knows the rules. The subway and elevator are perfect examples: generally speaking, people stand aside to let you off the train before they get on. Same for elevators. People are so good about this that you get spoiled. I had the misfortune of working in Hoboken for about a year, and the most frustrating part of the horrible commute was relearning every morning that people who live in Hoboken do not know the rules. You’d think that they’d pick up a thing or two working in Manhattan every day, but no: every morning, to get off the PATH train in Hoboken, I had to push through a crowd of people trying to get on before I got off.

The one rule that not enough people follow in New York is the escalator rule. Maybe it’s because we’ve got too many elevators and not enough escalators so we’re not getting enough practice, but whatever the reason, not enough of us know that if you’re going to stand on one step of the escalator, you should stand to the right so the walkers can pass by on your left. This is a great rule. It’s simple, it allows for variety (lazy people in no hurry, right lane; restless and/or late people, left lane), and it turns escalators into mini pedestrian highways.

I had a friend who took a two week vacation to London, and when he came back one of the first things he said about his trip was how impressed he was with how everyone in London follows the rules, and stays to the right when riding escalators. I’ve never been to London but is sounds like paradise.

No discussion of escalators would be complete without mention of Mitch Hedberg, the late comedian who said:

“An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You would never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.’”

I couldn’t find a video clip of his escalator joke, but here’s a couple of minutes of Hedberg on Letterman.


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times-square

I’ve been on the subject of NYC landmarks lately, so let’s talk about Times Square.

It sucks. That’s right, I said it. Times Square sucks. Now, some of you may want to defend Times Square as a can’t-miss-it tourist destination, the Crossroads of the World, etc. To you I say: WRONG!

The place is overcrowded, overpriced, and overhyped. It’s overrun with tourists who believed whatever guidebook told them they’re getting the real New York experience, but any real New Yorker knows to avoid the place whenever possible.

Yes, Times Square has big–enormous–billboards and TV screens and stock tickers and news tickers, and yes, even the police station has neon lights. But all that gaudy, phony commotion just makes it Las Vegas East. I mean, the biggest billboards there are for stores and banks whose nearest outlets are miles away. Miles.

Also, no matter how small the buildings and billboards are in your hometown, what self-respecting human being takes a vacation to look at advertisements? I’ll save you a bundle by letting you stay home and watch some click-through ads online. They even blink, just like many of the ads in Times Square. You may not be aware, but there’s a lot of other stuff to do in this city.

Yes, Times Square has big–enormous–stores and restaurants. And there’s not a single one you’d even think of walking into in your hometown (and they’re ALL in your hometown, BTW). I mean, Bubba Gump Shrimp? Because nothing says New York like a pseudocreole chain restaurant inspired by a fictional New Orelans-based fishing company in a fictional movie and created not really to feed people but to sell them some logoed T-shirts and shot glasses. It’s so ridiculous that it makes the Billabong store (as in surfing gear and surfer fashion–not exactly the heart and soul of Manhattan) look like a venerable NYC institution.

Real New Yorkers don’t eat at Bubba Gump because they know a great little shrimp place. Real New Yorkers go to sample sales, not to Billabong. And real New Yorkers know that New Year’s Eve is better spent indoors, where you can drink legally and avoid frostbite.


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Even if you’re not a baseball fan, bear with me on this for a minute.

The triple is widely considered the most exciting play in baseball. Why? Well, a home run is exciting, but it involves, at most, three players: the pitcher, the batter, and the helpless outfielder. It excites only the fans of the batter’s team, and the outcome is known within a split second of the batter’s swing. It’s an exciting split second, but it’s no triple.

A triple is exciting for everyone. Fans of the batter’s team are watching to see if he can really get all the way around to third base. Fans of the defensive team are hoping they can get him out, turning a big hit into an out. And everybody on the field is moving: the runner is churning at top speed; the outfielders are chasing the ball; one infielder covers second base in case the runner stops there (or turns back); one runs out toward the outfield to take the cut-off throw; the third baseman gets ready for the throw and tag; the pitcher runs to back up third, and the catcher gets ready just in case a wild throw allows the runner to try for home. Even the umpires all have to hustle into position, ready for any of several possible outcomes. The stakes are high, and everyone on the field knows that if they do their job perfectly, they just might be able to make things come out in their favor (and, simultaneously, that even if they do their job perfectly, it still may not be enough).

New York City is the geosociological version of a triple. I don’t just mean that it’s the most exciting city in America, though you’ll have a hard time convincing me it’s not. I mean that everyone’s in motion, the stakes are high, and the outcome is unknown. Everybody’s got a job to do, everybody’s got a place to be, and there’s no time to lose. Some of those jobs complement each other (the guy wheeling stacked trays of fresh-baked bread from his delivery truck across the street is throwing the ball to the cut-off man who runs the 24-hour deli on the corner), some of them compete (crowds trying to get on and off the subway at the same time). And everybody knows that their actions may tip things in their favor, or may go for naught. Just like the movement of fielders, runners and umpires, it looks like chaos to the casual fan (i.e., tourist), but in actuality everyone’s got a specific purpose, a specific destination, a specific task–everyone’s part of the play.

Some days, you hustle and you manage to slide in safely. Some days you take your eye off the ball for just a split second and you get burned. Some days no matter how hard you play and how well you execute, things just don’t go your way. But the best days … the best days are when you somehow manage to stop paying attention to whether you (or the runner) are safe or out and, instead, just enjoy watching the play unfold in front of you and appreciate the poetry of it all: the music of the honking car horns and the vocals of the guy handing out AM New York outside the subway station; the dance of the dude from Guy & Gallard pushing a cart full of muffins and fruit platters to the breakfast meeting that placed the order; the bright colors of the fruit guy; the thunder of the pedestrians rushing to work or home; the smell of the coffee carts in the morning and the halal carts in the afternoon. Some days you just look around, soak it all in, and think to yourself, “New York is a triple.”

Today was not that day. Today I got thrown out at third. @#$%^&!


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