Archive for the 'NYC' Category

My Perfect Day

Asian American pop culture mag Giant Robot has a fab regular feature called My Perfect Day, where a so-and-so (sometimes well known, sometimes not) gives a recounting of a recent smile-packed 24 hours. Here’s mine:

10:01 Wake up in the Upper West Side. Holy shit, is that clock right? Scramble for the shower, then the door. Gotta be in the Village by 11.

10:34 Enter the 103rd St. subway on Broadway and a train pulls up. This is fortuitous. Local-express-local with perfect transfers down to Christopher. Clearly divine intervention.

11:04 Petite Abeille for brunch with friends. I love those get-to-know-your-neighbor cramped space cafes. Mmmm… Belgian waffles. Mmmm…ham and gruyère omelette. Gotta walk through the kitchen for the bathroom? Call that extra food quality insurance.

1:12 Walk in the Village, through the tree lined streets and cobblestone pathways. 80 degrees and just overcast enough to make it gorgeous. Wonder aloud if there’s a more beautiful neighborhood on Earth. Curse those living here under my breath. Troll flea markets. Find a Chuck Mingus test pressing and Quatar Airlines business card holder — score!

2:00 Lunch at Gray’s Papaya. Fried fish sandwich (sacrilege!) and french fries. Fried and fried = double plus.

2:25 Catch A Jihad for Love at the IFC Center — a film about being gay and Muslim. Courageous, beautiful stuff. Walk into theater on a whim, walk out of theater inspired.

3:50 Kenny Graham’s West 4th Street Basketball Tournament at The Cage. Seriously wicked skills on display. But the best fun is mocking the goofs with the peanut gallery and haranguing officials, who jaw almost as much as the players do.

5:10 Walk into the Christopher St. subway station, and a train pulls up. (See a pattern here?) Head back uptown. Read Out of Poverty on the trip, a stunning new approach to empowering poor people.

6:00 Cleanse the apartment of bachelor debauchery — where most of the debauchery involved working all Friday night and Saturday. The place is piled high with takeout containers and books. (Okay, this wasn’t so perfect.)

8:10 Get out the bike and hit Central Park. I love night biking. It’s still light enough to see folks camped out in the Sheep Meadow for dinner. Second time around, the meadow fades into darkness, save for the click-clack of horse drawn carriages and the disembodied giggles of young couples. Lovely.

9:30 Back from the park and my wife is home from her business trip. We eat cheese and sip wine. We eat Thai and watch BSG. We marvel at how much better episodes are when there’s no Baltar to overact them into oblivion.

11:55 Boy Friends. Nightcap it with a little half stupid/half genius from Team Genius. Favorite lyric: “Sometimes life is impossible / Like that one level / With the thorns and shit.” But life ain’t impossible, it’s awesome! At least Sunday was. The thorns are another story, though.

So that’s the perfect day. And it just happened by accident. Considering the hellish 70 hour workweeks I’ve been turning in for the past month, maybe it’s cosmic payback.

Make sure to visit Giant Robot and their tiny-awesome NYC art space/store. Thanks to them for the inspiration.

top image via xpressbus, middle via my phonecam, bottom via team genius

Why Darth Went Dark

Annie, are you OK? Not particularly. I’m out at the Javits Center attending Virtual Worlds 2008 and run into this. Genius.

While the “break glass and use” light sabers showing up in bus stops around NYC are hugely clever and the “Chewbacca: the Original Wingman” ads have a lowbrow appeal, this one has to be my favorite. Hey, maybe I will watch Star Wars for the 2000th time after all.

Riverside Fall

Riverside Fall

Manhattan’s Riverside Park is fabulous pretty much year round but Fall is particularly special. And with the cold weather kicking in late (okay, that might be a little ominous but we’re trying to see the bright side), we’ve been able to enjoy it longer than usual.

I bought an SLR (bit the bullet) and this photo test came out well enough that I figured I’d share. There’s a larger version if you like.

Battles Rock South Street

As ambient punk crew Deerhunter finished their set at South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan, the concert promoter grabbed a mic and wondered aloud: “I have no idea how they’re going to top that.” Ooops!

From the instant the thunderous bass loops of Tij hit speakers, it was clear the challenge had been taken up. By the time Battles hit the first impeccably timed break in that opening number, there was little doubt who the winner was. Goosebumps.

The hourlong set was filled with stand out moments: from John Stanier bashing drums so hard on Atlas, he didn’t particularly need amplifiation to the virtuosic live sampling that allowed Ian Williams to accompany himself on the dizzying riffs of Race: In. But what impressed most was the degree to which the band won over a crowd of such a wide demographic — hardcore teens to random middle aged tourists — some of whom stumbled in purely by chance. Since when have the constant time signature shifts of math rock reached so many? The sea of people bounced to otherworldly syncopation of Ddiamondd.

Being a fan of math rock pioneers Don Caballero for some years, I was pretty depressed when guitarist Ian Williams split following their most accomplished effort: 2000’s mind-bendingly melodic American Don. Battles, though, makes it clear who got the better of the deal. Where Don Caballero regressed badly with World Class Listening Problem, Ian’s new band Battles takes math rock someplace entirely new with this year’s instant classic Mirrored. But hearing those tracks live is a whole different thing. It gets into your bones. You close your eyes and absorb it. Your head bobs uncontrollably. Come the end of the show, I was smiling ear-to-ear. File under best shit ever.

Find more Battles at and wikipedia. Kudos to the River to River Festival for ending on such a unconventional note. We last wrote about math rock in Audio Autumn.

photos by jalapeño and epicharmus; many thanks to flickr

Sound and Silence: Night Biking New York City

Night biking New York is amazing, but maybe not the way you’d expect.

As dense as it is, NYC is still in many ways a city divided — by geography, income, race. But there are two places where those barriers break down. One is the hustle and bustle of the post-apocalyptic subway system. The other is an 840 acre swath of green painted down the middle of the biggest metropolis we got: Central Park.

I’ve been biking in Central Park for some time but, through the summer, the rides have slipped later, later, and then beyond sunset. That’s when Central Park starts to feel a good deal more intimate and more isolating: turning what were vast rolling hills of green in daytime into soft islands created by street lamps after dusk, surrounded by a blackness where only fireflies remain. It changes the mathematics of distance.

Doug Aitken captured it nicely when talking about his video piece Sleepwalkers:

The work was focused very much on this idea of the city as an energy source, and its constantly changing rhythm. I saw it as this relationship between the individual and their environment; how at times you fuse completely with the world around you and other times you separate and carve out your individuality in isolation. (via soundcheck)

I found that was a recurring theme in my nightly travels — feeling connected, then apart — diving into the blackness only to emerge in islands of light and sound that the night makes seem otherworldly. From lover’s whispers to a woman yelling into her phone “Well whose baby is it then?!” to the impassioned proclamations of an impromptu summer play, illuminated only by flashlights.

Coming up the East Side, you emerge from the night to the big sounds of Summer Stage: a Malian singer, a flanged out guitar, Horatio Sanz getting big laughs. The instant you recognize the sound, it vanishes into Doppler and you’re in darkness again. A group of bikes rush out of silence, impossibly close, rattle past, and disappear in the shadows ahead. Silence again. Then, in a pool of light, the remains of a soccer game; stragglers jokingly yelling Spanish obscenities at each other as they kick the ball, wandering victoriously home. And they’re gone.

Just beyond is the great downhill (accompanied, as always, by Jane’s Addiction’s Mountain Song) as I wind my way at high speed past the last embers of light from Lasker Pool. The rush of wind hits my face like a thousand feathers. Then climbing over the now quiet rock-cast shadows of Heartbreak Hill, through the amber light of a bench-strewn path, and suddenly *snap* into the once dim, now blinding lights of 100th street — where neighbors, families sit outside talking late into the warm nights. Then home.

Riding anytime in Central Park is a wonderful thing, but night riding has a kind of deep beauty that sticks with you. It’s the same kind of mood that Dayton and Faris captured so expertly in Milky Way. Nights when you don’t need to sleep to dream.

Manhattan Middle Finger: Density & Future Cities

More like dual middle fingers, actually. You see, a little over a year ago something new appeared through my window. A slowly extending slender metal finger of a building that shot out from the buildings around it like the bird. And another right across the street. They were too tall (more than double the height of surrounding buildings), the design was awful, and they drove a historic movie theater out of business. Double barrel f*ck yous to the Upper West Side called Ariel.

Lightning hit the west tower one damp morning while it was still under construction. Neighbors gathered and gawked — some even clapped. And the applause grew louder when the building started to smoke. The construction workers seemed genuinely shocked by both the lightning and our response. But, come on, lightning? That sure sounds like judgment from above. And don’t forget the building they built on top of fell into the street. You sure there isn’t an ancient Indian burial ground around there somewhere?

Cursed or not, the towers seem here to stay. What’s interesting is what this stir has to say about the future of cities, and the limits of human density. Density finds us more social, healthy, and (perhaps less obviously) ecologically sound. But, if the future points to ever increasing density, where does it stop? Sustainability expert Richard Fuller said as much in a recent BBC editorial:

So, it’s time to rationally debate these issues, and this is an issue that affects at least the nine out of 10 of us that live in cities. It is vitally important that we go into this new, high density era with our eyes open to the potential consequences.

Yes it has clear benefits as we build assertive cities for the 21st century, but by also making them compact cities, we must recognise the risk of isolating ourselves and our children still further from an experience of nature, as well as causing biodiversity around the places where we live to decline precipitously.

It’s a matter of finding a balance, then — sidestepping Ballard’s High Rise nightmare. And it seems that Upper West Siders found that balance (perhaps without realizing it) when they forced the city to rezone and end that skyscraper noise.

But, while the neighbors win a clear victory for their mental environment by keeping future buildings more in character with the neighborhood, it seems Ariel’s builders have won a victory for their cause, too. That’s because they can now guarantee perpetually unobstructed views in all four directions for their multi-million dollar apartments. Can you say price bump? And you have to wonder if they didn’t plan it this way from the beginning. Ugly, ain’t it?

For more on the whole Ariel mess, see the High Anxiety in the Times. It got so many heated responses, they posted a follow-up. And check the panorama to see just how much those towers stand out.

images via the Ariel discussion at Wired New York

Graffiti By Bike in Brooklyn

Recently, three well known NYC photobloggers headed up a bike tour of some of the best graffiti and street art spots in Brooklyn. It was a good time. Threats of bad weather scared off the masses and left us with a nice manageable group that wound its way from Williamsburg through Greenpoint and into Long Island City, ending at well known graffiti mecca 5 Pointz.

While that finale was certainly fitting (and tough to top for volume), what struck me throughout was the sheer diversity of styles: from iron work to paste-up to spraypaint to yarn.

Stories told during the tour revealed some interesting cultural tensions just beneath the surface. After all, looking back on classic graffiti documentaries like Style Wars, the scene then was once very different. Back in the day, most writers were inner city kids who, lacking the opportunities many of us take for granted, made their name by painting it on walls and trains that traveled further than they felt they could. Now that graffiti has become hip beyond those communities, though, formally trained artists from wealthier backgrounds have joined the fray. But it’s less clear how welcome they are. Tension 1: schooled vs. self-taught.

The second tension lies between established graffiti artists and the lesser known. Once you sell your first piece for big money, it changes things (and that’s happening more and more now). Some say you made it, others say you sold out. Graffiti artists expect artists to paint over with work of their own and that leads to much of the multilayered beauty of street art. But just straight up defacement is different. And we saw some of that when it came to the more famous artists. Sounds like jealousy. Tension 2: fame vs. underground.

Don’t get me wrong: the graffiti world is not drama-ridden so far as I’ve seen. The artists I’ve met have all been extremely cool and largely selfless. But I do find the fact that haves and have-nots mix so readily in this world fascinating. It changes how you think about art when you know a little more about the world the artist lives in. And the world they don’t.

Thanks to Jake, Mike, and Will for the great tour.

For more, see all our graffiti tour photos, check Jake’s shot of 5ptz, and visit Will’s tour info page.

Kids Got Guns: Selling War Young in NYC

I’ve always been afraid of guns. Something about the ability to take a life in an instant. But seeing a gun on a street cop is pretty different from being surrounded by them. That’s what happened to me this weekend.

Family was in town and Fleet Week is sold as a family event. Navy ships pull into Manhattan’s west side and civilians board them for a tour of the latest in US military might — from VR simulations to machine guns to choppers and tanks. Heck, they even had an Osprey.

As much as I dislike weapons, I probably could have brushed it all off if it weren’t for the kids. When I saw a 5-year-old ogling bombs as we boarded, I got annoyed. When we got to the deck and whole families were taking turns smiling alongside a Huey-mounted minigun, my breakfast started coming up. When we got into the belly of the ship and I was surrounded by kids younger than 10 scurrying up and down on tanks and trucks, putting on helmets, and manning high caliber guns (all while parents cheered) I decided to cash out.

Nothing like a real war to take the fun out of a little military fantasy. Nothing like single digit kids acting out military fantasies on real military gear to make you full-on disgusted with the thinly veiled recruiting exercise that is Fleet Week. Get ’em young!

Thankfully, Iraq Veterans Against the War staged a counter-event that brought the reality of war to the city in more honest fashion. And Joe shot a beautiful photo of it, too. Wish I’d been there instead. But, then, real war ain’t family fun.

We last talked about Fleet Week in Jet Fumes and Frosted Flakes.

Karaoke Revelation: Subscription Music in Games


Bleary eyed, vocally numb, and partially deaf, we emerged from Korean karaoke bliss in the early hours.

I’ve done my share of karaoke over the years but never have I been privy to the cozy confines of Koreatown’s fabulous karaoke rooms (aka noraebangs). In the past, we hit a karaoke DVD or two at a friend’s party and perused the massive but somehow lacking song books at loud, smoke-filled karaoke bars. So, I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of songs available on a whim in K-town — English, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Latin, Indonesian, and beyond. We’re talking everything from Free Bird to Shimauta to Ludacris’ greatest hits. We hit it all, tambourines in hand. And my hands have calluses to prove it.

Aside from fantastic friends and great atmosphere, then, what really made the night special was access to nearly unlimited music for just a few hours (50,000 Japanese songs alone). That got me thinking: While Steve Jobs clearly has a point that people want to own their music (85% market share can’t be wrong), the same may not hold true in gaming.

Recently, for instance, Karaoke Revolution creators Harmonix started selling song packs for Guitar Hero 2. You buy it, you own it, but only 3 songs at a time and you can’t pick and choose. While it’s a cool idea (and one I’ve been dying for since Frequency), this is one place where subscription could do better. That’s because on karaoke night having bunches of songs at your fingertips for an evening beats the shit out of owning a few songs forever. Variety bests longevity. Of course, licensing fees, bandwidth, and content creation cost are issues here. Still, I’d pay a nice sum to get a few hours with a library of downloadable songs for a Karaoke Revolution party, or even a monthly fee to have that access always. Would you?

I heart Karaoke Duet though I’m pretty sure their neighbors don’t. Image grabbed from Lost in Translation.

Jet Fumes and Frosted Flakes

I woke up this morning to the sound of a large plane flying extremely low over my apartment in the Upper West Side. That was around 9am. I didn’t see that plane, but saw the shadow on my wall and the 6 fighters that tailed it. For about a half hour, planes that looked like transports flew low over the neighborhood and fighters circled. Spooky as hell. Speculation flew about the midterm elections. (This is the UWS after all.) The shot above was taken from our window around 9:45, after the fighters had fallen into formation around one of the transports.

Apparently, it’s part of Fleet Week to scare the shit out of New Yorkers. Who knew? Honestly, it was an impressive display once we realized we weren’t under attack. Guess that’ll teach me to sleep past 9, eh?

Update: Gothamist posted my panicky email (it’s the second one). Glad I’m not the only one who needed fresh shorts.

E-mail It