Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top 20 albums

After an unusually quiet week last week I had a exciting and stimulating weekend filled with music, performances and friends. Friday night was my company's annual picnic, but since Puck couldn't make it this year, I didn't stick around for very long. I bid on a few silent auction items, but didn't win anything, and I didn't do the drawing this year (which resulted in a free hair cut and color appointment for Puck two years ago).

Saturday started out cloudy and cool, so I walked over to Ess-a-Bagel for brunch and then took the subway down to The Rack to pick up another dress on which I had alterations done. I walked through the Greenmarket in Union Square and picked up some cider and pickles before heading home for a nap before it was time to meet Kristina to try the Hedwig lottery. Kristina was very optimistic going in, and I was the third name picked! Our tickets were fifth row orchestra left, and a few seats in from the aisle.

We came back to TSMC to chat for the 90 minutes before the show and then headed back down at 7. Such are the advantages of living three blocks from the theater! The show was fun and the music was great, but I had some trouble following the plot as it was difficult to hear some of the dialogue. But it was a solid rock show and I'm glad I got to see it. We went out for dinner at John's Shanghai afterward - our usual adventuresome choices of soup dumplings and beef tongue and tripe in chili oil (Kristina's first time eating beef tongue).

Sunday Liz invited me to Union Square for Diana Oh's "My Lingerie Play" performance that consists of about 30 women wearing undergarments standing in a line on their soapboxes and holding up signs denouncing rape culture and supporting female sexual empowerment. Kacey, Becker and Storm were also there to document the event. Liz performed in a cute (and modest) yellow polka-dot nightgown. I could only stay for about half an hour before I had to leave for Williamsburg to attend Classic Album Sundays, which featured one of my all time favorite albums this month, Jeff Buckley's "Grace."

As a special bonus, the event featured Gary Lucas, the co-writer and guitarist for the first two tracks, "Mojo Pin" and "Grace," who signed my vinyl copy of the album and performed after the listening session with singer Caroline Cotto. They did live acoustic renditions of the two songs from the album, and Gary performed a few additional compositions of his own on guitar. It was such a privilege to listen to the artist that contributed to such an important work as "Grace." Since of course Buckley perished in a swimming accident after recording this singular debut album, this is about as close as we can get to an authentic performance of this work.

CAS this month inspired me to think about making a list of my top all-time favorite/most influential albums. Also, it's been fueled by all the lists of movies and books that have been making the rounds on Facebook recently. So for my album list, I wanted to include those that are more than just a bunch of hits (e.g. Michael Jackson's Thriller) and lean more toward albums that are constructed as a coherent work with an overarching theme, both musically and topically. Not every album on the list is like that, but when it came to choosing one over another, I put more weight on albums that met this criteria. I also tried to limit it to one album per artist (which is why there's only one Beatles album).

So my Top 20, in ascending order, looks like this - it's a pretty even mix from my old and new lives. Comments about each are below the list.

20.  Bridge Across Forever – Transatlantic
19.  Weather Systems – Anathema
18.  Deadwing – Porcupine Tree
17.  Very – Pet Shop Boys
16.  Talk – Yes
15.  Rain – Joe Jackson
14.  Hotel California – The Eagles
13.  Purple Rain – Prince
12.  Paramore – Paramore
11.  Remain in Light – Talking Heads
10. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
9.  Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morisette
8.  Ten – Pearl Jam
7.  Synchronicity – The Police
6.  The Beekeeper – Tori Amos
5.  The Joshua Tree – U2
4.  Avalon – Roxy Music
3.  Disintegration – The Cure
2.  Grace – Jeff Buckley
1.  Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club – Beatles

20. Transatlantic is kind of an All-Star progressive rock supergroup, featuring big names in the Third Wave of Prog: Neal Morse (keyboards/vocals, Spock's Beard), Roine Stolt (guitarist/vocals, Flower Kings), Mike Portnoy (drummer, Dream Theater), and Pete Trewevas (bassist, Marillion). I love all of these bands, but this album that blends the elements of Spock's Beard, Flower Kings, Dream Theater and Marillion is my favorite complete work among all of them.

19. I discovered Anathema from their label's sampler CD. K-Scope is the same label as Porcupine Tree and lead singer/solo artist Steven Wilson. Here's a great song-by-song review of this remarkable album.

18. The hardest thing to pick is a favorite album from your favorite band, but this one is probably the album I would give to anyone as an introduction to this awesome British prog rock band.

17. I've been a fan of the Pet Shop Boys since they released their first album "Please" in 1986, the year I graduated from high school (yes, I'm that old, biologically speaking). Over the years my interest has waxed and waned, but this album (regrettably, I lost the original pressing in the fire that included an EP called "Relentless" that is out of print and quite valuable as a rarity) has always stuck with me as the group's most fully realized work. Read a great track-by-track review written for the album's 20th anniversary last year.

16. The only Yes album I owned for the longest time was "90125" and that was pretty much all I knew about this timeless prog-rock band. But when I met Tara, she changed that completely by introducing me to "The Yes Album," "The Ladder" and this album that came right after 90125 but didn't do as well commercially. The final 15-minute song is what really sets this album apart, spanning three distinct movements like an symphonic tone poem that echos the rest of the songs on the album.

15. Most people only know piano man Joe Jackson from his 80s hit, "Steppin' Out." But this more recent offering from 2008 is a terrific work that evokes life in New York with irresistible musical hooks.

14. One of the pure concept albums on this list, "Hotel California" tells the familiar story of the new kid in town seeking fame and fortune, being seduced by the perils and perks of rock stardom. It's a uberstatement on celebrity excess drawn with such skill it becomes a surreal grotesque. One of the top all-time sellers in music history as well.

13. "Purple Rain" is arguably the best movie soundtrack of all time. It's too bad the movie is so awful. I wish someone would remake the movie and just use the stage performances to tell a different story that doesn't require the rest of the cast or the plot. Prince is pure energy on stage.

12. Paramore's self-titled latest album is a musical tour-de-force, and a breakup album reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors" (a near miss for this list). The band lost its original rhythm section and emerged with its most mature and consistent work, punctuated by short confessional interstials performed on ukelele by lead singer Haley Williams.

11. This was one of the key milestones in last year's musical renaissance for me ("How Mischa got her groove back" - April 25, 2013). It's one of only a handful of albums I have actually purchased on both CD and vinyl (#s 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 12 and 13 are most of the others).

10. This is actually the first and only Pink Floyd album I've ever owned. It covers the same theme as #14 - perhaps even more intensely and subtly.

9. "Jagged Little Pill" has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful debut albums ever made. This hugely influential album has a knack for bringing listeners into the center of the storm of the singer's anger. Listen to that bass line in "Hand in My Pocket" - it's one of my favorite moments on this unrelenting album.

8. One of the vanguards of the 90s grunge movement following the path blazed by Nirvana, this rousing debut by Pearl Jam is inspired by Eddie Vedder reflecting on his own life. When he was a teenager, his mother told him that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather, and that his biological father had died years before.

7. One of my all-time favorite bands, and one of only three artists that I've owned every commercially released album they've ever made (Paramore and Taylor Swift are the other two), "Synchronicity" marks the apex of a journey that started with the post-punk reggae beats of "Fall Out" and "Roxanne." What's more notable is that after this album and becoming the biggest rock band in the world, the trio concluded it had exhausted the artistic possibilities and they walked away. But they proved that a rock band could pursue challenging, defiantly non-commercial musical ideas and still thrill an awful lot of people.

6. I'm a recently acquired Tori Amos fan, so I didn't grow up on her edgy, angry phase that most of her longtime fans enjoy. This lush, lyrical album was my introduction to her music, and remains a standard for showcasing diverse musical styles on a single cohesive work.

5. "The Joshua Tree" is U2's vision quest of sorts when they outgrew their scrappy underdog image that fueled their early crusading albums like "War" and "The Unforgettable Fire." With this album, U2 redirected its crusade from outrage at external forces to confronting the existential void inside the human spirit.

4. Still the best make-out album for my money, this album recasts the pop song as a realm of lush, never-ending tactile pleasures. Roxy Music's final offering is one of the most sumptuous listening experiences to come out of the 1980s - hypnotically, gorgeously languid and striking for its depth. Listening to my rare, out-of-print Super Audio CD multi-channel copy of the album brings these qualities to even greater depth.

3. From #4's sounds of love we come to The Cure's paean to loss, possibly the most deliciously depressing album by any singer who didn't commit suicide (e.g. Joy Division). The Cure mastered the formula pioneered by The Smiths of the gloomy lead singer backed by an incongruously breezy band playing catchy, pop-friendly tunes. Despite the overwhelmingly gloomy tone, almost every song is instantly hummable and a perfect balance of pain and musical joy.

2. "Grace" stands alone in 90s rock. It's a showcase for an unforgettably poised singing voice, locating a fertile ground between classic rock and post-grunge. Buckley took the outbursts of Nirvana and surrounded them with the elegant, yearning melodies reminiscent of the late Beatles. Lost to a swimming accident in 1997 at the age of 30, we can only speculate how much more this singular talent could have influenced the musical universe. With only this one full album completed before his untimely death, Buckley showed several generations that profoundly new rock music doesn't have to reject wholesale what came before.

1. This album was probably the first rock album I ever heard as a child because before I actually started collecting music I listened to library records. Most of the records in my local library were classical recordings, and this was probably one of the few popular titles available to check out. Of course the psychedelic cover proved irresistible for my young eyes. Certainly it's hard to listen to this album now with fresh ears, shed of the "All Time Best" estimations and the endless accolades that have attached, like barnacles, to it and encounter it on your own terms. But if you can do it, there's nothing more creative and satisfying in rock music - from its iconic and innovative gatefold jacket to its haunting leadout groove after the final track, "A Day in the Life."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Staycation 2014

I've been battling a sinus infection the last couple of days which has really spoiled my Labor Day weekend. I started to feel it on Friday when Kacey and I visited Papacookie for the last time together. It was three years, four months and five days prior on Easter Sunday in 2011 when we first met there, so it was fitting that my final visit to this seminal space should be in her company.

Jonathan is moving out within the week and he is giving away a lot of the extra stuff that has accumulated over the many decades his family has lived there. As I've said to Jonathan before, I find Papacookie endlessly fascinating because everything is so old and vintage, and very few of my belongings have been in my possession for more than a few years (because of the two fires in 2005 and 2007) and my distance from my birth family. Probably the oldest possession (other than photos in storage) I have is my friend Snoopy on the couch, who just turned 20 this past Valentine's Day. I also have a Raymond Weil wristwatch that is probably about as old as Yoshi (and probably similar in value by now), both about 15 years old.

Earlier in the day, Kacey and I had a late lunch at our hidden Shanghai restaurant in Chinatown for soup dumplings and then went shopping. I found a huge 8.5 liter tea kettle at a restaurant supply store and Kacey showed me her new time lapse video app. After dropping things off at TSMC we met up with Becker at Papacookie and then we went to Battery Park City to see Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

But going back to last weekend, I had a nice visit with Puck in Boston. We visited the Museum of Science, which had a pretty amazing Lighting Show using a giant Van Der Graff generator.

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We had an early dinner in the North End at a restaurant called The Daily Catch, which was featured in Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman, that serves Sicilian-style seafood caught within the past 24 hours. The menu is entirely written on a chalkboard that is updated daily. And the kitchen is smack-dab in the middle of the restaurant that only holds about 20 people.

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I had these enormous cherrystone clams on the half shell, and a Clams Casino, plus a squid-ink pasta with anchovy butter, onions and peppers. Everything was tasty and wonderful, in that rustic homemade way when you're visiting a friend's house for dinner.

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After the museum closed, we walked around the riverside park near the St. Charles River while enjoying some pastries we bought at Modern Pastry. As nighttime fell, we went back to the museum to visit the Hayden Planetarium and watch Laser Floyd, a laser show to the soundtrack of Pink Floyd's album "The Dark Side of the Moon."

Sunday we visited the Museum of Fine Arts, and their wonderful collection that included a magnificent J.M.W. Turner called The Slave Ship. There were also gorgeous frescoes by my favorite American impressionist, John Singer Sargent, and a nice collection of modern art as well.

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We had dinner at Legal Sea Foods, where Puck had their first Bananas Foster, a classic Creole dessert of bananas flamb├ęd with brown sugar, rum and banana liqueur and served over vanilla ice cream. This was hardly the best version I've had, but the ice cream. at least, was excellent.

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Afterward, we went to the Skywalk of the Prudential Tower and took in the views of the city. We came back early and watched The Adjustment Bureau at the Magic Treehouse before turning in.

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Monday I came back home and in the evening Lourdes came over for dinner of scallion pancakes and dumplings and to watch Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society - a good choice for her since she's a teacher and has never seen it.

Tuesday I took a trip up to the Bronx to visit Sylwia near her workplace and we had lunch at a Salvadorian cafe nearby. She met up with me later at TSMC and we went to the Open Love NY meeting together. I led a discussion with about 40 attendees about Poly 201 skills, or what I called 3 C's and an H - communication, consent, commitment and honesty. We went to the Theater Row Diner afterward as usual, and I had a nice catch-up with Katie M.

Wednesday Lori and I had an adventure in upstate New York. We packed a picnic and drove through Harriman State Park to find a picnic spot near a lake.

We drove to Woodbury Commons outlet mall and spent a few hours shopping. I found a few nice deals at the Tommy Hilfiger, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor Loft stores. We even bought some macarons (dairy-free for Lori) and drove to nearby Bear Mountain to enjoy them along with the view.

We walked around Perkins Memorial Tower and found a group of juvenile deer along the road, who let us get very close to photograph them.

We also watched a lightning storm roll in over the Bear Mountain Bridge until it got too close for comfort. We were standing on a mountain, after all.

We drove down Bear Mountain and visited Palisades Center, Lori's first visit to this gigantic mall. There's a five-story high rope course that was pretty awe-inspiring, and we did some more shopping before having a late supper as the stores closed. I managed to drop Lori off in Elmhurst and return the Zipcar with less than 10 miles and 30 minutes before my reservation limits.

Thursday I brought a couple of dresses to Nordstrom Rack to be altered and then Natalia came over in the evening to watch Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. And then Friday was my day with Kacey and Becker. As far as staycations go, it's been a pretty busy one.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Update enroute to Boston

There’s nothing like a four-and-a-half hour train ride to Boston to get the blogging motor going. This is Puck’s last weekend in Beantown before they move on to their next assignment in Philly, so since I said I would visit them this summer, I’m taking the last opportunity to do so this weekend.

It’s been a fairly quiet week and a half since Tori, mostly because I’ve been sick for the first time in a while. I very rarely get sick and when it happens, it usually doesn’t last for long. I’m exceptionally lucky that I have such a strong constitution since I spend a lot on medical bills because of who I am. So last Saturday I reached my nadir and spent the whole day dozing on the couch, with barely enough energy to get up and feed myself and go to the bathroom.

Thankfully I was well enough by Sunday to go to the hair salon, where Kelly did a fairly subtle (for me) auburn red color around my rear hairline. So you can see the red peeking out behind my ears when my hair is down, but when I clip it up it looks like the crown of plumage on a phoenix, a blaze of orangey brownish red.

I went straight from the salon down to the Kraine Theater to meet up with Katie M to see a Fringe Festival play, MMF (a reference to a male-male-female triad in poly terminology). The play was pretty good, well-acted and one of the more realistic portrayals of a poly situation. I wish it had a little more awareness of polyamory, but this was a scenario where people just fall into it without the education and support of a community. From that perspective, “The Three of Us,” the winning play in my playwright competition, was a far superior play because at least one of the characters actually understood what polyamory is and acted with intention. Those are the stories that will be far more interesting than the accidental threesome stories we’ve seen so far in the vast majority of drama.

After the play we had an early dinner at the Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken place and talked through our usual litany of updates and stories. She actually did most of the talking since my voice was still pretty raw.

Monday night I hosted Natalia and Matt for a screening of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,”the latest in our martial arts series Natalia and I have been doing. Tuesday I had a needed night off at home before Wednesday’s Poly Women’s Group at Sabrina’s place in Forest Hills, Queens, where we had several new members join.

Thursday night I was back in the outer boroughs in Crown Heights to have dinner with Piper, Gette and Elisa, who is visiting from Seattle. Piper made grilled chicken thighs with roasted parsnips and apple-onion compote. She also served a raspberry and mint cream semifreddo for dessert. It was the first time I’d seen their new place, and only the second time I’ve visited Crown Heights (Emily used to live there).

Today I worked from home so that I wouldn't take a chance on missing the Boston train because of my always unpredictable work commute, so I had some extra time to pack and get to Penn early. I’m also off all of next week and have many things planned with lots of people, so I’ll report on those next time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tori Tori Tori!

Sometimes it's hard being an activist, especially if you don't have a natural temperament for it.

Case in point: On Monday I was in the subway on my way to Poly Cocktails and it was a crowded rush-hour train. I was already running late because of a brush fire in the Meadowlands delayed trains by an hour. As we passed it by, a plume of flame about 30 feet high was burning right beside the track. Crazy.

Anyway, a woman was talking with a group of friends and leaning up against the pole in the subway car and holding onto it with her arm bent behind her back. Even a transplanted New Yorker like me knows this is a big no-no in NYC subway etiquette - it hogs the pole and keeps other people from grasping it comfortably. When one woman had to fully extend her arm above her head to hold the pole, I decided to take out my earbuds and say something.

Me: Excuse me, you might not be aware of this, but by leaning against the pole, you're causing this woman behind you to have to reach way up to hold the pole.

Her: (glances behind at the arm above her head) Oh, I'm holding the pole with my hand here, behind my back.

Me: Yes, but you're leaning against the pole and keeping other people from using it.

Her: Oh. It was more comfortable.

She continued to hold the pole the same way, but put about an inch between her hair and body and the pole, so it didn't make much difference. They got off at the next stop. I can't believe how inconsiderate and self-centered some people can be. But I'm glad that I said something, even though I wasn't the one directly affected.

Tuesday night I met up with Lori for dinner and the Tori Amos concert at the Beacon - it's the first concert I've seen since The Gloaming in June, and my first time back to the Beacon since that awesome Pet Shop Boys concert last year.

I'm not a huge fan of Tori's, but what I realized is that my favorite of her albums (The Beekeeper) is not a favorite among her core fans like Lori. And that's because The Beekeeper is the album I grew up with five or six years ago. I've heard her other albums (American Doll Posse, Scarlet's Walk, From the Choirgirl Hotel, and Under the Pink) and there are some songs that have stuck with me, but taken as a whole, I'm still a fan of The Beekeeper the most. I did buy a vinyl copy of her newest, Unrepentant Geraldines, along with a set of buttons from the merch stand. The women sitting next to us couldn't believe they still made vinyl records - they were amazed to see a real record, and impressed that I (still) owned a turntable!

As for the performance, I greatly admired her artistry as a seasoned performer, and the crowd was over-the-top in love with her. I thought it was kind of distracting, all the hollering over the music. Her music isn't heavy metal - it deserves to be listened to without interruptions. I'm afraid the highlight for me were her covers of George Michael's "Faith" and Chris Issak's "Wicked Game" (mashed up with "Blue Jeans" by Lana Del Ray) that she performed in the "Lizard Lounge" portion of the setlist. Still, I had a nice time with my dear friend, and we're going to try and plan something for the week I'm off work at the end of the month.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Katie's music mix #2

On Sunday I had some one-on-one time with Katie B for the first time in about four months. She got really sick for about three weeks over the summer which kept her from coming to my birthday celebrations, so it was wonderful to see her and catch up on things.

I made her a new mix CD, mostly of songs that I've played for her at my apartment over the past eight months, plus some other things that I've been listening to lately. It's the second mix I've made for her ("Katie's music mix" - Nov. 12, 2013).

Here's the track listing and a few thoughts about each one below.

1. Black is the Colour – Cara Dillon
2. Peel Me A Grape – Diana Krall
3. When Can I See You Again? – Owl City
4. Sleeps With Butterflies – Tori Amos
5. Pass In Time – Beth Orton
6. Dark In My Imagination – of Verona
7. Lightning Song – Anathema
8. This Girl’s in Love With You (live) – Ella Fitzgerald
9. Lovesong for a Vampire – Annie Lennox
10. Kryptonite – 3 Doors Down
11. Song 44 – The Gloaming
12. The Raven That Refused to Sing – Steven Wilson
13. Settling – Tara MacLean
14. The Rose – Amanda McBroom & Lincoln Mayorga
15. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square – Harry Connick, Jr.
16. The Nearness of You – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

1. I showed Katie this song from a DVD performance called "The Redcastle Sessions" where Dillon performs in a beautiful space with her band in Ireland. The song was originally made famous by Nina Simone, but where Simone changed the pronouns to male, Dillon performs it with female pronouns.

2. This song is from Krall's splendid "Love Scenes" album, which I have on SACD, a high-resolution audiophile digital format. Katie and I listened to the entire album together the night we saw our first Shotz together and after watching "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and this is my favorite track. In fact, if you read my Amazon review of the album, it references that night.

3. Other than being from the soundtrack of my favorite Disney movie since Beauty and the Beast, the lyrics pretty much speak for themselves. I did quote this song once upon saying goodnight to her.

4. I played this song in our hotel room at Wicked Faire - it's from one of my all-time favorite albums, "The Beekeeper," and I'm going to see Tori in concert next week with Lori, so I'm excited about that!

5. The ambling waltz "Pass In Time" shares the advice the singer's mom gave on her deathbed. This duet with jazz singer Terry Callier spotlights Orton's cracked and pleading voice, calling Billie Holiday to mind.

6. I actually found this song for free on iTunes, and it's dark and pounding rhythm just made me think of Florence + the Machine's "Heavy In Your Arms" that Katie liked on my last mix.

7. Here's another song from Anathema's "Weather Systems" that showcases Lee Douglas' pure and sincere vocals. I have to say, I don't like their newest album, "Distant Satellites," quite as much.

8. I first found this four-song EP album "Sunshine of Your Love" untold years ago at Half-Price Books in Houston, and I've loved this song ever since. Lady Ella gives a powerful live performance, filled with dynamic emotion and precise jazz notes, backed by a full orchestra.

9. I wrote a bit about this song in a previous post - "Songs of Annie Lennox" - April 15, 2014

10. When we were at Wicked Faire waiting for Voltaire to perform, this song came on the PA and everyone in the room started singing along. It was one of those cool moments, like what happens at a rock concert, when everybody is in sync.

11. Sung in Gaelic, this is the first track from The Gloaming's self-titled CD that I saw performed in concert earlier this year. The song is so named because the lyrics come from a 500-year-old poem that was titled Number 44. Here's a Livestream of the concert (I'm in the front row on the right, wearing a polka-dot top) and it's the second song on the concert, at 23:19 timecode.

12. The story of this song is based on a fairy tale about a man asking a raven to bring his dead sister back to life. This is also one of the best-sounding DVD-Audio surround recordings I've ever heard, and Wilson is one of the industry's leading engineers in multi-channel sound.

13. This is an old song that Tara introduced me to on one of her old mixes, and I just thought it felt appropriate here.

14. Sung by the original songwriter McBroom and made famous by Bette Midler on the soundtrack of the movie of the same name, "The Rose" is from McBroom's album "Growing Up in Hollywood Town," one of my Sheffield Lab audiophile CDs that I played for Katie once.

15. This album, "We Are in Love," has been one of my sonic references since I used to sell stereos at Circuit City. The recording is so clean and lifelike; through a good system it sounds incredibly realistic. The song itself is an old one, and one that I fell in love with when it was used in an obscure 1986 movie called "Every Time We Say Goodbye," starring a very young Tom Hanks.

16. I wrote about this song in another recent post - "Songs and stories" - March 26, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Coney Island

I've been meaning to visit Coney Island for years for basically two reasons. 

Reason #1 was to pay homage to the original Nathan's hot dog stand on the corner of Surf and Stillwell, the subject of numerous hot dog shows and my personal favorite brand in the grocery store for many years. I used to make them in a skillet with Wolf brand no-beans chili (seemingly only available in the South - I have to order it by the case from Amazon if I want it now), shredded cheddar and diced white onions.

Reason #2 was being inspired by Kacey's Coney Island Playwright Competition that she raised money for a few years ago. I think I pledged about $100 at one of the fundraising events at Papacookie. She made it sound like such a magical place, full of mystery and adventure. Since it's a direct subway ride from TSMC, there's really no excuse for it to have taken this long to visit.

So when my friends Chris and Bruce came in this past weekend from Harrisburg for a visit to celebrate my birthday and Bruce said he wanted to sample the most authentic New York style pizza, I saw a chance to cross a few things off my bucket list. Puck was also in town, so the four of us went out Sunday to visit the fabled playground on the shore.

I was surprised how close everything is to the train station - the famous original Nathan's is only one block from the station. In retrospect, we probably could have skipped breakfast before the 50 minute subway ride out there, because we didn't have much appetite for more than one dog apiece. But oh! was that a delicious hot dog! I also got some fried clams and Chris and Bruce ordered fries. But it's great that we got to eat them outside on a beautiful summer day, which also happened to be a day with small crowds (since it had only been a week since the insanity of July 4th).

After our first lunch, we took a walk down the boardwalk, and Chris and Puck indulged their craving for funnel cake.

We turned around and walked the other direction to the parachute tower and walked out to the very end of the fishing pier, where I took some pictures of the shore. Kacey's dad saw them on Facebook and stitched two of the shots together to form this beautiful panorama that is now my desktop background at work and cover photo on Facebook. I like it better than any of the postcards I saw for sale, but then why wouldn't I?

We stopped in the Coney Island Museum and were pleasantly surprised by the experience. We were the only visitors for most of the time we were there, and there was a guide named Jay who told us lots of stories about the history of the area and the ride and attractions that were on exhibit. It was especially interesting to me because I have been reading "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, which takes place in a Depression-era train circus, and I just finished the book today. It was a really worthwhile visit and once again, I marveled at how uncrowded it was that day. Truly, I might make this an annual thing on my birthday weekend.

After the museum we went to fulfill Bruce's desire for authentic New York style pizza by visiting Totonno, the oldest continuously operating pizza parlor in New York, for our second lunch. It was actually very reasonably priced, with a large pizza being only $18 and we got half cheese, half pepperoni. It didn't quite have the same impact for me as Frank Pepe's that Puck and I visited last year in New Haven ("9th birthday" - July 16, 2013) but it was a good pizza. Plus the walls of Totonno are lined with all sorts of interesting news articles and memorabilia, so it was a nice atmosphere as well.

On the way back to the train station we stopped at an Asian bakery for some dessert cakes and bubble tea, which hit the spot and once again, we were the only patrons in the dining room, which was nice. All my needless fretting about Coney Island crowds was for naught. So this is the secret to visiting Coney Island - go right after the big holiday weekend.

Here's a picture of the handstamp from the museum - it's a hot dog mermaid - just to remember this beautiful day of food, fair weather and friends.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

July 4th and High Line anniversary

I had a really memorable Fourth of July weekend, although I really didn't do too much. Puck came through the city on Wednesday night and stayed over, which was a rare treat. Thursday night I didn't get an early dismissal, but I had plenty of work to keep me busy.

Friday I made one of my bourbon bread puddings for a party in Bushwick that Liz invited me and Victoria to, a gathering of former theater friends and professional chefs. Their apartment was on the fourth floor of a building that seemed to lean a little to the left, but needless to say, the food was amazing - homemade pastrami carved off the bone; pulled pork, mango and cilantro tacos; grits with bacon and cheese; corn on the cob with a cheese and mayonnaise spread; raw oysters; and barbecued lamb ribs with yogurt sauce and mint. Plus, Liz made a mixed berry pie to go with my bread pudding for dessert.

The roof was set up with lights and a sound system, along with the barbecue pit and a beer keg. I had what they called an orange crush - fresh squeezed orange juice, orange flavored vodka and Sprite. The three of us kept diluting our drinks with Sprite since they were made with so much vodka - I pretty much drank one and half of them all night (Victoria didn't want to finish hers so I helped her out).

The apartment is about two or three blocks away from Kacey's old place where Lourdes still lives, across the street from this very pretty building off the J line at the Kosciuszko Street stop.

Our hosts shot off a lot of fireworks, and we could see many other going off all around us from other Brooklyn rooftops. We were too far from the Macy's fireworks show on the East River to see much of it over the buildings, but it was fun to see our own up close. Sometimes the wind was so strong it would blow over the cardboard tube launcher after the fuse was lit, so we had a couple go off on the roof, which was a little more excitement than we bargained for.

Saturday I spent most of the day shopping for dresses for my party this weekend. I was very fortunate to find a nice one at The Rack that will probably be the one I'll wear. It's a Adrianna Papell white wrap dress with a Tiffany-inspired stained glass floral pattern. On Sunday I cleaned the apartment in preparation for Chris and Bruce's visit, and then in the evening I joined Liz and Andrea for dinner and to see Andrea's roommate perform in a one-woman play, "The Other Mozart" about the life of Mozart's older sister.

Monday night I met Kacey up on the High Line to celebrate the three-year anniversary of our first meeting there, which was for me the start of our friendship after our meeting on Easter Sunday in 2011. We've never celebrated this anniversary before, but I had a mind to do it because as the years have gone by, I've come to realize what a milestone this event was in my life.

Meeting Kacey was really the start of creating the intentional family I have around me. Along with Puck and combined with meeting and becoming friends with Piper in February that same year at Wicked Faire, they have become my closest friends, and in the process, led me to meet other people who have also become part of my inner circle and many others who touch my life in all sorts of wonderful ways.

So Kacey and I had a nice long visit of about three-and-a-half hours, walking back and forth from 14th Street to the northern terminus at 33rd Street, talking about our history and the events of the past year. She shared her stories about her trip to Prague and Vienna. We talked quite a bit about our past relationships and created an intimate space by kicking off our shoes and facing each other on a bench in the middle of the trees surrounding the flyover bridge. Sometimes when the circumstances warrant, we can be very intense with each other. Other times it's more relaxed. But we continue to find new things about our friendship that makes it unique and nourishing in our lives.