Saturday, October 29, 2005

Halloween Hunt

To celebrate Halloween without the crowds -- or the costumes -- I went on a "Ghosts of Greenwich Village" scavenger hunt with my church. We had two hours to find the answers to 20 questions; we finished in just over an hour and got everything right except for one dyslexic type error (writing "106" instead of "109"). So we got 19.5 out of 20, and came in 3rd place out of 12 teams. Rats! Then again, the prize was t-shirts advertising the hunt company, so we didn't mind. It has been strange to watch Watson Adventures grow from a cool idea that a guy named Brett Watson did on the side into a business complete with liability waivers and products such as "corporate teambuilding" exercises. The price has gone up too. In general, I prefer the museum hunts, where you race from exhibit to exhibit and have to actually observe (albeit briefly) the objet d'art to find the answer -- for the neighborhood hunts, you are basically just running from plaque to plaque. Here is a candid shot of my team looking at one of the plaques:

Afterward, we went to the Coffee Shop for dinner. I always thought the place was just a diner with outdoor seating. It turns out they have an actual bar (or two) inside and a very cool restaurant area hidden away in back. Among other things, we discussed the sad state of affairs at our beloved Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. An allegedly cuckolded husband has sued not only our married senior pastor (who allegedly began a four-year affair with a parishioner while counseling the parishioner and her husband on how to work out the problems in their marriage), but also the church and the presbytery. Considering that the senior pastor doubtless had confidentiality obligations regarding the counseling itself, and that he and the parishioner allegedly denied (until this spring) whatever was going on between them, it is unlikely that "the church" knew. And if the church didn't know, it is difficult to imagine how the presbytery -- which is much further removed from the situation -- could possibly know. The alleged faithlessness is despicable -- but we are not talking about failure to recognize a pedophile here, we are talking about two religiously sophisticated, church-going adults who apparently chose or allowed themselves to break some promises (and a commandment) they no longer considered convenient. On January 17, 1999, the senior pastor gave a sermon entitled "Is Morality a Public or Private Matter?" His answer to that damns him here, if the allegations are true. It does not damn the church or the presbytery. I simply cannot see why the allegedly cuckolded husband should enrich himself at the expense of the church.

On a lighter note: I saw a bluejay on my window sill this morning -- just four feet away from me, at eye level. Maybe I will have to buy a digital camera after all.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

One, Two, Three! (1961)

Well, the birthday celebrations continued throughout the week: Monday was Gabrielle (2005) featuring Isabelle Huppert at MoMA - one highlight was Ms. Huppert herself addressing the audience live, another was getting to see a friend who's been a bit scarce recently; Thursday was In My Life, the forgettable (I'm hoping) Broadway production and a relaxing dinner with another good friend in the East Village; Saturday was incredibly fun, productive & celebratory (I spent 4 hours traveling to and from Long Island and picking out a granite countertop, then played mahjong for a few hours until my friends whipped out a luscious birthday cake and homemade hot chocolate).

Then today, after church, I traipsed into Astoria, Queens, to see Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three! What a hoot -- it's a madcap rush, very funny at times, and an interesting contemporaneous take on the Cold War. C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney) is an inveterate philanderer and a frustrated Coca-Cola manager, stuck in Berlin with dreams of heading up the company's entire European operations from the London office. He and his wife end up in charge of the CEO's impestuous 17-year-old daughter, Scarlet, for two weeks (she has been shipped off to Europe to get her away from her latest unsuitable fiance). She stays for two months, but during that time, she appears to have been domesticated -- she is attending museums and concerts, and accepting her chaperones without complaint. On the eve of her parents' arrival in Berlin, Scarlet's subterfuges are laid bare -- she has been sneaking out every night into East Berlin to meet up with a new young man, Otto. This new man is no fiance, however; he is now her husband. On MacNamara's watch, Scarlet has managed to marry a knee-jerk anti-Capitalist. There go MacNamara's dreams of the London office!

Of course, it gets better than that. MacNamara scrambles to keep the lovers apart and get the marriage anulled ... only to find out that Scarlet is pregnant. So now he needs to spring Otto from jail (after the foul Stasi have used "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" -- is there no limit to their fiendishness? -- to torture Otto into confessing that he is truly an American spy) and then transform him into a suitable husband for Scarlet (this involves providing him with an aristocratic lineage, expensive clothing and makeover, and a managerial job at the Coca-Cola plant).

MacNamara's frantic efforts are rewarded, sublimely, not with the coveted London job, but with the promise of marital bliss (and a return to Atlanta) for MacNamara's long-suffering wife.

I'll be back to see more Billy Wilder films -- the retrospective runs through Nov. 13, 2005.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

In My Life (Broadway 2005)

The sign outside In My Life shows a blue sky with puffy clouds and bright yellow lemons. Despite some initial debate (will the musical be about people making lemons into lemonade, or lemonade into lemons?) that sign more or less sums it up. Or at least the flat surface of the sign (despite the wavy lettering) accurately reflects the depth of thinking that went into the musical.

It turns out that heaven is just like earth, except more boring. It is a gleaming, antiseptic place full of filing cabinets. (What is this obsession with filing cabinets? They were prominently featured in the movie Disclosure, as the supposedly high-tech virtual reality computer system known, ominously, as "The Corridor" was used solely to create ... a 3-D filing system. Yawn.)

To liven things up in heaven, people watch the proceedings on earth. And people are no wiser or more mature than they were in life. In fact, sometimes a wacky unsupervised angel may interfere with life on earth by staging wacky (soap) operas using real earthlings as the characters!

Meanwhile God, who is listed in the program under his preferred moniker, "Al", is a shabby, shuffling, unimpressive guy who likes to sing commercial jingles. (It is conceivable that this tripe was underwritten by Dr. Pepper or Volkswagen -- what better product placement than to be the subject of God's chosen jingles?) In one quick aside, Al apparently disavows Christianity. (Clever, that, eh? Slips right under the radar screen. It didn't get a laugh, or any reaction at all, on opening night. I think most people didn't even catch it.)

Moreover, Al is easily manipulated by a bunch of surgeons, angels and a lover singing "Not this day, not this night" to save the life of a boy with Tourette's syndrome -- the boy's life had been conscripted by the wacky angel for a tragic "opera" so he was scheduled for death. Don't worry, the Tourette's switches on and off as needed for the story to proceed and thus doesn't interfere with exposition. Supposedly, what Al is saving the boy from is not Tourette's, but a brain tumor pressing on the optic nerve to cause blindness rapidly followed by death. However, the MRI scans shown prominently to the audience do not actually show any abnormalities, so it is not clear why divine intervention is needed....

Well, I suppose it is heartening to see true love triumph. You can tell that it is true love between the Tourette's boy and the OCD girl because she goes to a diner to meet him after hearing his songs on the radio and informs him immediately that he's her soul mate, they immediately go to her apartment and have sex, and they sing separate post-coital songs about how they think this could be love. These things are rapidly followed by shacking up and then not one, but two marriage proposals between the pair. Then Al himself marries them, natch.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Weekend at the Zoo

My brother, sister-in-law and niece came to NYC this weekend to celebrate my birthday with me. I was initially very disappointed that my boyfriend bailed out at the last minute (something about having to work on Saturday -- clearly this whole "employment" thing is overrated). But it worked out really well. Without him, the four of us were at full liberty to explore Prospect Park and Central Park at our own pace.

At the Zoo, the monkeys were a huge hit with my niece, who called them "mama" (this is not a reflection on my sister-in-law) and kept crying out excitedly "Ooo, ooo, ooo!" (My niece does much better with animal sounds than with animal names.)

The monkeys stayed on a rocky island and mini archipelago, all enclosed by a wall. As we watched, the monkeys retrieved a bound journal or sketchbook that was floating near their main island. After an initial tussle, the biggest, baddest monkey ended up with custody of the book. He opened it and began flipping through, looking for all the world like a patriarch reading the diary of one of his errant offspring. This image soon ended, as he tore out several pages and ate them. The paper turned out to be a real treat for the monkeys, much more exciting, I suppose, than boring old bananas.

The zookeepers stood by glumly during the proceedings. Apparently, although the paper will probably make the monkeys ill, the keepers can do nothing to take the paper away fom them. It seems that these monkeys are quite vicious, and carry herpes B. So the keepers can only deal with the monkeys when they (the keepers) are wearing full-out protective gear, when the monkeys come in for the night to a controllable area. The keepers noted that -- having gorged themselves on paper -- the monkeys were unlikely to come in for their supper that evening.

After a tour of my office and a long journey home on the subway, we stayed in, enjoying Thai food and white wine.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Constant Gardener (2005)

I freely admit that The Constant Gardener went on too long. There were too many flashbacks to how Justin (our hero) and Tessa (his murdered wife) met. Major plot devices were contrived along the lines of Swiss cheese. Not to mention that the Big Pharma bad guys are entirely too easy a target. And there really wasn't enough gardening or constancy on the part of the hero to justify the title.

So why did I love this movie? Three things. First, you have to realize that the Big Pharma story is just a means to an end: the revelation of the true nature of a marriage after it has ended. Second, I loved the Tessa character -- she was passionate and lived life to the fullest, and drew men into her orbit easily without even trying to. Yet she was true to her husband, and loved him madly. Third, the African backdrop was beautiful and harrowing, so true to life.

What more do you want?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Sure Thing

Well, after yesterday's debacle (The Skipped Parts), I figured it was time to watch a movie that was guaranteed to be good, a sure thing. So of course I rented (what else) The Sure Thing.

I dimly recall that one of my ex-boyfriends loooooooooved this movie, but told me it would be too sexy for me or something. But maybe I am confusing it with the movie that was made from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

In any event, it was a cute movie, and better than I expected. John Cusack is pretty good, though he always plays the same role. I listened to part of the director's commentary -- apparently he was (at age 34) going through the same revelation as the Cusack character does in the movie.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Skipped Parts (2000)

Now, here's what happens when you pick out movies at random at Blockbuster. You end up watching something along the lines of The Skipped Parts, featuring Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a very young Mischa Barton, and Bug Hall (who, despite his unfortunate name, reminds me of a guy I've had a massive crush on ... I can absolutely see it, just fast-forward him 15-20 years). Ms. Barrymore plays a role which is oddly reminiscent of her role in Donnie Darko.

The movie is enjoyable enough to watch, and it has its moments, but it is a little off.

It's trying too hard to be quirky, for one thing. 14-year-old Sam Callahan (Bug Hall) has a controlling grandfather and an out-of-control mom, Lydia, who doesn't want to be a mom. Sam doesn't know who his dad is, but thinks he has narrowed the possibilities down to the five photographs he found in his mom's panty box (which is literally a cardboard box). Grandpa, the keeper of the trust fund, banishes Sam and Lydia from their home in Missouri (or is it "Carolina"?) to the hinterlands (which turns out to be Wyoming), but his true desire is to send Sam to military school.

In Wyoming, Lydia rapidly hooks up with Hank and obtains a new out-of-control best friend, Dolores. The naive Sam, with some helpful tips from his mom, hooks up with his equally naive classmate, Maurey. Mom's tips include exactly one form of birth control -- the children should stop having sex when Maurey gets her first period.

By way of a startling contrast with his mom, Sam himself, it turns out, wants to be a parent. Which is fortunate, because he knocks up the seemingly pre-pubescent Maurey (she gets pregnant without ever menstruating, and she ends up not getting an abortion when she discovers her mom is a fell0w patient at the abortion clinic.)

So, by the end of the movie, Maurey and her baby daughter move in with Lydia, Sam, and Hank, Maurey's mom goes to the nuthouse, grandpa's evil plan to send Sam to military school is thwarted when Lydia gets a job at the local diner (apparently ousting the former waitress who was so nice to her -- or maybe business has expanded?), and ... are you still following this? There's way more quirkiness left unexplored, but that should give you a general sense of it.

It is not clear why the movie is set in 1963, and the inane commentary (by Mischa Barton?) sheds no light on this or any other issue.

Maurey's boyfriend is one of many perplexing characters. You might think that Sam (her best friend and the father of her child, who is living with her by the end of the movie) is her boyfriend. Not so. She is dating a seeming star of the football team (remember, they are all young teenagers). But she doesn't want to have sex with her boyfriend, or share any special places with him (e.g., her favorite Wyoming beach). Those are things she'd rather do with a good friend, so she can avoid heartbreak. Allllllllrighty then. We won't even go into his apparent propensity for violence, his gratuitously broken arm (apparently violence runs in the family), and his refusal to dump Maurey after Sam impregnates her.

It seems like the movie is trying to make some point about love, sex, and relationships -- although the point remains impossible to pin down. Lydia and Maurey both attempt to have sex without a "real" relationship. Of course, they end up choosing guys who are madly in love with them (oops).

Views from the Office

Since I spend a lot of time there, here are a few views from the office (actually from a conference room, I snagged a desk on a different, quieter side of the building).

For those who like coffee:

A motivational billboard? Or an ad for a cameraphone? You decide!

An ode to our mayor. With a presence like this, how can he not be elected mayor for life (as his predecessor certainly hoped to be):

My new favorite subway line, er, musical:

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Pilot's License for a Toddler

This weekend I took my 17-month-old niece apple-picking (where she showed a worrisome predilection for bad apples).

We also went sliding down a double slide (she was a bit uncertain about going solo, but I can see she will be a huge toboggan fan).

And we went flying! Yes, the highlight of the weekend, without question, was the game "airplane" (or as she calls it, for reasons known only to her, "mimi"). For those who may be unfamiliar with the tradition, you grip the hands/wrists of a small child with a firm grip, then spin around -- clockwise or counterclockwise, as suits your fancy -- while raising your arms and thus allowing the child to fly through the air via the miracle of centrifugal force. (Okay, I lied, it's really centripetal force).

I am pretty sure the FAA does not regulate this. After her first flight, I checked my niece for signs of undue dizziness, fear, jetlag, etc., and she seemed none the worse for wear. To the contrary, she was all smiles, jumping up and down and clutching my hands to encourage further flights.

We eventually worked out an enhancement to the traditional game -- I would take a few steps backward at first so she could start running forward (i.e., taxi for takeoff) before she launched.

In case anyone is considering other variations, I recommend against spinning a child around by her feet. It is not likely to be popular. My theory is that she felt a lot safer when I held her hands, because she was able to keep constant eye contact with me as we spun around.

* * *
Although we had a great time playing airplane, I actually traveled to and from Boston by train rather than airplane -- the Acela Express is more dignified and cheaper than traveling by airplane, not to mention more convenient and more relaxing.

I have also traveled from Chinatown-NYC to Chinatown-BOS on the Fung Wah Bus, which is a lot cheaper, but more cramped. (The bus is fine as long as you do not really need to get up from your seat during the journey.) Of course, there are multiple Chinatowns in New York City; the Fung Wah Bus leaves from Chinatown in Manhattan.