Thursday, June 30, 2011

Punch Brothers

I had secretly hoped that the Punch Brothers were inspired by - or at least aware of - Mark Twain's short story A Literary Nightmare (a/k/a "Punch, Brothers, Punch!"). The story discusses M.T.'s supposed encounter with a jingle ("Punch, brothers, punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!") that embeds itself into his brain.[fn1]

It's a cute - if predictable - story, in which the narrator starts by quoting the virus-like jingle, explores the horrors experienced by those infected with it, and concludes with the following lines: "Why did I write this article? It was for a worthy, even a noble, purpose. It was to warn you, reader, if you should came across those merciless rhymes, to avoid them--avoid them as you would a pestilence." (Ha ha ha.)

I didn't see anything at all about the M.T. story on the Punch Brothers' website -- even after running a google search on the site for words such as "twain", "clemens" and "passenjare"[fn2] -- but in this instance, wikipedia gives me the answer I like, so I will of course assume that wikipedia is correct.

But the Punch Brothers' music is reasonably infectious in its own right, and their concert in Prospect Park was a good excuse for a farewell picnic for Lauren, who is also leaving New York.

What's up with all these departures, anyway? Is it a sign?


fn1: I recall becoming aware of the M.T. story and a modern version of it simultaneously, in early elementary school (the mental image is of our kitchen in Ohio). In the modern story, there is a catchy rhyme about donuts which similarly hijacks the narrator's brain. It's something like "There's not no nuts in you-know-whats. Because a wholly whole hole with a hole bitten in it is a wholly whole hole, and it just plain isn't!" But I haven't been able to find this online in a google search, so I don't know the author or title of this piece.

fn2: For example, the google search passenjare returns ZERO hits (same result if you substitute in "twain" or "clemens"), whereas the search bluegrass returns 189 hits.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

DiFara's Pizza

For Tricia's last day in New York, we trekked out to DiFara's Pizza in Midwood, Brooklyn. It's actually pretty easy to get to - one block away from the Q train. But there's not a lot in the area, for example in terms of parks at which to sit and enjoy a slice of pizza. (There is, however, a second pizza place in the neighborhood, right next door to DiFara's. Not as famous though.)

DiFara's is open only for two hours a day, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. This guy makes all the pizza personally by hand:

After he pulls the pizza out of the oven, he grates some fresh parmesan on top, and cuts some fresh basil right on to the pizza.

The first slice was absolutely amazing - a delight to the palate. Wow!

But because we'd made a special trip for it, and because we weren't going to schlep anything home, I had a second slice and a few bites of a third sliver. I don't usually eat more than one piece of pizza at a sitting, and I was sorry I did this time. On second taste, the cheese was too rich, and the crust wasn't quite the way I like it (I like it either thin and crispy or thick and deeply saturated in grease; this was simultaneously light, thick and burned).

So for me, I don't think it's worth the trip. It's a long way for a single slice, especially when there's a lot of very good pizza much nearer my usual stomping grounds.

Afterward, we wanted to celebrate Amanda's birthday. Lo, and behold! Just two doors down we found a combo Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins establishment! Amanda picked out a red velvet ice cream cake, and the guy came out from behind the counter to unlock the padlock that secures the frozen wares. (Does this tell us something about the neighborhood, that they have to use a heavy chain and padlock to prevent looting of birthday cakes??)

None of us had had "red velvet" flavored ice cream before - but it was really good. (Great choice, Amanda!) The scene above shows us in our barbaric state before Wendy had the brilliant and highly civilizing idea of asking the guy for bowls in which to eat the cake. (We had initially made the mistake of asking for plates, and the guy told us - truthfully, I believe - that he didn't have any. It did not occur to him to offer bowls. That requires some creative thinking with a focus on the ultimate goal which, in this case, was to eat cake in a manner that is relatively hygienic and un-messy.)

All in all, a great send-off and birthday celebration.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Week In Review - entertainment highlights

Some beautiful sunny weather recently made for a great photo op:

So here's what I've been up to in terms of entertainment over the past week:

Wednesday - drinks at the Boat Basin Cafe (sunset over the Hudson River)
Thursday - jazz (Robbyn Tongue's band at the Miles Cafe playing his own AMAZING original music) followed by a late-night chat in Hanover Square Park
Friday - Othello at Inwood Hill Peninsula Park
Saturday - brunch at Chantelle's followed by movie night (The Lightning Thief)
Sunday - potluck & hymn sing in Brooklyn followed by Measure for Measure in Central Park
Monday - started the day with a free "group" yoga class that turned out to be just me and the instructor, finished the day with outdoor movie on the East River (The Godfather II)

Picture from the a cappella hymn sing (the young one enjoyed munching on various fruits and vegetables -- and trying to feed them to her parents -- but was not up for the singing portion of the program):

Today I just chilled out.

There's more to say about some of the above events and activities, but tomorrow's another day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Notes in search of a post

There are a bunch of topics that have been bouncing around my mind for a while in search of a blog post. I'll just set them down randomly here while I'm thinking about them. Be warned: this is more or less stream-of-consciousness stuff.

Inoffensive Jokes:

One of my colleagues told me his friend had challenged him to think of a joke that was truly inoffensive to all potential classes of joke-hearers. My colleague was able to think of one (about a 3-legged chicken) and won the bet. But still, he was only able to think of one. So he concluded that inoffensive jokes are indeed a rarity. But it seems to me there are others. Here are the first two that occur to me:
  • EXAMPLE #1:
A termite walks into a bar and says, "Is the bar tender here?"
  • EXAMPLE #2:
Q: What is the question to which the answer is "Doctor Livingston I presume"? (Highlight the dark space below to see the answer)
A: What is your full name, Dr. Presume?

[Hat tip: PDQ Bach's "Knock-Knock Cantata" in Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities.]

Of course, the second one is probably better classified as a riddle, so maybe it doesn't count. But I do know quite a few story-type jokes, of varying levels of humor and sophistication.

It seems to me that joke-telling went out of style long before my time, perhaps due to political correctness (i.e., fear of causing offense). I told jokes for a brief period when I was in my early teens; it was a way of currying favor with adults. Other than that, I just remember one evening on a ski trip many moons ago, telling jokes back and forth with my friend Madhu until we'd exhausted our respective repertoires! That was a fun time. Very silly.

Many of the jokes I know play on audience expectations. Typically, this means that it sounds like the set-up to a dirty joke, then the humor comes from thwarted expectations. I am not sure if these would meet my colleague's friend's total inoffensiveness test though.

I suppose this topic is more, er, topical than it used to be - given a newscaster's recent well-intentioned but ill-fated attempt to tell a Dalai Lama joke to the Dalai Lama.

Close Encounters of the Medical Kind:

I don't go to doctors very often (except my dentist, whom I see every 3 or 4 months).

There are a number of reasons for this - including generally good health (so far) and sheer laziness, and the fact that "my" GP doesn't take my current insurance.

Then again, I don't think I've seen my GP (whom I do like) since I asked her about finding a doctor who specialized in a certain line of work. Rather than directing me to anyone in particular, she pointed out that some of her partners are in that line of work. So I chose one of my GP's specialist partners at random and made an appointment.

The specialist kept me waiting for an hour, and did not even acknowledge the delay when she saw me. That rudeness created a bad impression on me right off the bat. She looked at my patient information form (I had been VERY patient, come to think of it) and then began to give me advice. Throughout the course of the appointment, she kept saying things like "The general recommendation is that this test should be done every year starting at age 35. You should have this test." Each time she said it, I felt a pang of dismay. Why did I have to have all these tests early? After going through this routine several times, the nail in the coffin was when she said, "This test can be taken any time between age 35 and 40, so if you'd like to wait until age 40, that is fine." I just looked at her and said, "Maybe I'll just wait until I'm 35."

She took another look at my information form, where I had obediently filled in not only my complete birthday (day, month, and year) but also my numerical age. Which she had misread as "37". She was a little embarrassed, but shrugged it off with a matter-of-fact observation that "I thought you looked young for 37."

And now that I think about it, my first-ever attempt to go to some sort of annual medical checkup as an adult was also somewhat ill-fated. I told that doctor (in response to her questions) that I tried to eat healthily, and that I especially made an effort to avoid fast food. Then when I mentioned that I chopped up carrots and celery in advance so that they were always conveniently on hand when I wanted a snack, the doctor immediately seized on this "inconsistency" - I think she actually said "Aha! So you do eat fast food!" I remember just looking at her in amazement. First, I was astonished that she was so eager to find fault with me and show me up. It struck me as strangely unprofessional. And second, it was clear that she had totally missed (or was deliberately misunderstanding) the point. Did she really not understand that the term "fast food" refers to McDonald's or other such commercially prepared food that is pre-packaged, high in calories and low in nutrition -- as opposed to vegetables the consumer has chopped up for her own convenience?


When I mentioned that The Lion King was not a tragedy (even though a relative of the hero dies), my 4-year-old niece asked what "tragedy" meant. So we told her it meant a story that doesn't end happily ever after, but instead has a sad ending for the good guys.

I thought nothing of it as we gathered up our popcorn and wine and trooped off to watch How To Train Your Dragon in the screening room. How To Train Your Dragon is a great movie, and the girls really got into it, but there's a point in the movie where things look very grim indeed for our hero and his beloved pet. I could see that both girls were genuinely worried about how it was going to turn out - and of course very relieved and delighted when things worked out well in the end.

Afterward, my niece explained she was worried during the movie because "I thought it was a tragedy." My heart just went out to her. I felt terrible that she even thought we would show her - a small child!! - a story in which the good guys failed and died after we had come to know and love them over the course of the entire movie. But how could a small child understand how much we try to shield her and other innocents from discomfort and harm?

(Then again, I will take her to see King Lear some day. Is that wrong?)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Waking Ned Devine

I am totally in love with C&J Trailways. They're showing one of my all-time favorite movies, and the sun has come out in celebration.

"They say money changes a man, Jackie. And there's no greater change than moving him from life into death." --Annie O'Shea

"You'll be missed. You've done well, no matter what people say." --Maurice

"You let Michael go in there on his own? Jackie, he's never told a lie in his life!" --Annie O'Shea
"Well, he's making up for it now, so." --Jackie O'Shea

"Ned doesn't want us in prison. But I can't believe he wants us to be multi-millionaires either." --Jackie O'Shea

"You're a country boy, Jackie. Do you think you can outsmart the man from the city?" --Annie O'Shea

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Must. Keep. Feeding. Shakespeare. Obsession.

Saw All's Well that Ends Well at the Delacorte on Saturday. The weather was misty and cool, getting colder and wetter as the evening went on. There were a few technical hiccups, but nothing Spider Man-level. A few times, the microphones picked up someone off-stage, and the first time it happened, they tried to shut off the offending mic and an actor got cut off instead. Also they stopped the production at one point to test the operation of their platform/elevator in the middle of the stage (which they used to bring in a desk or table for a change of scenes. It was a good production. The beginning invoked the spirit of the Bachelorette-type reality shows (though with a twist, of course, since the chosen one rejects the rose). The ending can be played many different ways - is Bertram resigned to his fate in a way that augurs well or ill for the now-inevitable marriage? Here, the ending came across as relatively optimistic; he at least seemed to feel a grudging respect for Helena, and perhaps will grow to love her in time (after all, he now knows he likes her body).

Today, I went to Hudson Warehouse's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, playing on the north side of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 89th St & Riverside Park. The recurring problem with this particular location is that random passers-by who come along must walk right across the stage; there's not really a way around. Overall, the performance was enjoyable, though a bit heavy with the slapstick and caricature at times. Perhaps they were over-exggerating to signal this is supposed to be a comedy - or then again, maybe they just know their audience. The folks near me laughed hardest when the actors took it over the top. It was nice to see young Anne Page and Master Fenton as punky rebels who stand out (by clothes and attitude) from the rest of the characters in the play - this touch made their romance more plausible.

Afterward, I went up to a "Whole Foods" market which I'm not sure is licensed to use that name. I was going to buy a batch of four mini-bottles of drinkable pro-biotic yogurt, but while I was standing with the box balanced on my hand, there was the sound of a champagne cork popping, and the top of one of the bottles flew off. The expiration date was set as July 2011, so I can only assume that it was a bad batch.

I walked up to the 96th Street station, where I really liked the mosaics on the wall:

It may be hard to see in this picture, but the loops are filled in. It's a 96, of course, but it could also be a fanciful cloverleaf design. So I like it.

Monday, June 06, 2011


This was probably my third or fourth year volunteering with the PowerLunch program. I love reading aloud - I spent so much of my childhood reading aloud to my mom (when I wasn't reading to myself or being read to) - but this condition does not seem to be contagious. Then again, maybe it's a good sign that my reading buddies are not nerds. They will probably grow up to be happy, well-adjusted and successful in all areas of life.

This year, I really tried to engage my student with the books, asking questions (especially with the Goosebumps series) about what she thought would happen next, sharing my own theories, etc. But she was reluctant to express an opinion on most topics, and I found myself wondering if I'd somehow left her with the impression that there was a "right" answer to any of my questions - I kept trying so hard to avoid that.

Honestly, I think what she liked best was when I told her about times I'd goofed up one way or another. For example, today, I told her about my ill-fated effort to save an elevator trip at work by taking the stairs from the 12th floor to the 10th floor. There's no real internal staircase except the fire stairs, so I saunter in, no problem. When I get to floor 10, it's locked. No way to get back in. I go down a level. Locked and alarmed. Down another level. Locked. Down another level. Unlocked, but alarmed. I keep going. Finally, I get down to the 4th floor. At last! A re-entry floor, and no sign of an alarm!! I gingerly try the door, and it opens... to the sound of WAUGH, WAUGH, WAUGH, WAUGH... Mortified, I head over to the security guard and explain what happened. I apologize profusely. ...WAUGH, WAUGH, WAUGH... I call the elevator (oh, bitter irony) to go back up to the 10th floor. ...WAUGH, WAUGH, WAUGH... The elevator is full of people who are wondering what's wrong, why is the alarm blaring. I tell them. I cringe. ...WAUGH, WAUGH, WAUGH... We can still hear the alarm up at the 7th floor, when most of my fellow elevator travelers exit. My "green" gesture has only extended my elevator ride - and left me green with embarrassment. My only consolation is that the alarm is not audible above the 7th floor....

Yeah, I think she actually liked that story better than any of the ones we've read together all year. Oh well.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Mt Taurus Solo Hike

I bought my own trail maps for the East Hudson hikes on Monday, after a planned group hike fell apart. (Ironically, 4 people went anyway - two couples went alone without telling the others.)

Late in the week, I decided I must go hiking this weekend. I invited a few people to join me, but no one could make it. So - my first solo trip to Mt Taurus.

I took the train to Cold Spring, and walked a mile to the trailhead.

I've done Mt Taurus a number of times - though not always the same path, and never before choosing my own route.

I started up the Washburn trail (white blazes) until I reached the Notch trail (blue).

I listened to the last three chapters of The Golden Compass as I walked. It was narrated by the author, with actors reading the speeches of the various characters.

The next thing queued up was a sermon by Tim Keller on greed - perhaps the most insidious sin.

I took the Notch Trail until I reached a T intersection. Would I turn right, and commit myself to pushing on to Beacon, as I'd intended? Or would I treat this as the halfway point and turn left, making my way back to Cold Spring? I measured and re-measured the path to Beacon on the trail map, and it was really a lot further than I'd thought. Although I felt like I could do it, I'd finished my big container of water and one of my two sandwiches. It might be better to bring more provisions if I'm really going to push myself.

I saw a few raptors (hawks, I think), but they were camera shy this time.

I turned left on to the red Brook trail, then left again onto Undercliff (yellow), and finally Washburn for a big lollipop. (I could have made a loop by taking the Cornish trail instead of turning on Underhill, but I thought that would be too quick.)

Eventually, I listened to the chapters from The Red Pyramid that I'd missed as I fell asleep. It seemed to me there was a certain synergy between this work and The Golden Compass.

Ultimately, I was glad that I returned to Cold Spring, because as it turns out I was a lot slower after lunch. This was not the day to push on to Beacon.

I think this hike was about 7.4 miles including the road walking to and from the train station. I'm wishing I had a fancy pedometer/altimeter so I could say for sure - trying to measure the winding trails on the map is not very accurate!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Public Art

I watched for a few minutes as a crew installed the latest works in City Hall Park.

Based on the list of art on display in all the city parks, I gather the current exhibit features works by Sol LeWitt. Apparently, some assembly was required:

(The artist unfortunately died in 2007, so I'm guessing he is not the man standing with arms akimbo in the photo above.)

I really liked this sculpture. It reminded me of the crayons my brother and I (or maybe just my brother) left in the back seat of our parents' wonderful orange Volvo when we were kids:

I used to have a lot of dreams -- or more precisely, a recurring nightmare -- involving the orange Volvo, when we lived in Illinois. If I knew why the dreams started, I might be able to pinpoint when they began, but the only thing I know for sure was that it was some time between the ages of 8 and 12. Probably toward the older side of the range. The dreams always started the same way. I had learned somehow that there were bad guys around, burglars who were also murderers, who would take over the bodies of the people they had murdered. I needed to warn my family about this. Urgently. (For some reason, I knew our house was pretty much next on the list.) I would slip into the house to warn my family, and I would hear noises overhead, the murderers talking in the voices of my family, discussing their foul deeds, and I would realize, to my horror, that it was too late. I needed to escape and get help. I could never outrun them. My only hope was to drive away. Terrified, I would quietly open the door to the garage and get into the orange Volvo. I didn't have keys for it, and even in my dream I knew I didn't know how to drive. And maybe I was also worried about engine noise or something. So I would sit there in the driver's seat (in my dream), feet nowhere near the pedals, and my life depended on being able to will the car to move. And by focusing my mental energies really intensely, it would happen. The car would slowly float out of the driveway, two or three inches off the ground. I couldn't go off-road, but I would silently direct the car out of the garage, down the driveway, left onto the road (never right), and to safety. I think I always woke up when I got to the first intersection. The bad guys never caught me (in fact, I never actually saw them in my dream), but I also never found out if my family could be restored (this possibility was definitely left open, perhaps like Red Riding Hood's grandmother).

This recurring dream was very specific to the orange Volvo, even though my parents had a second car as well. The other car was a two-seater hatchback Triumph in British racing green, which I absolutely loved (in real life). But to the best of my knowledge, it never featured in any of my dreams.

When we left Illinois, we did not take the Volvo with us, and I never dreamed about the Volvo again. (Contrast that with the recurring dreams - not nightmares - I had about our house in Ohio, which continued for many years after we moved away. In those dreams, I floated through the house, probably six to nine feet off the ground, often up or down the main stairwell.)