Thursday, July 7, 2011

Too Small To Fail: Real Things We Must Have

1. WD40: keep one in the toolbox, one in the kitchen, and one in the car.

2. Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder: in medicine cabinet, travel kit, in suitcase.

3. Bayer aspirin: baby (chewable orange) and regular, in medicine cabinet, travel kit, glove compartment in place of the gloves.

  4. a stick shift: in the vehicle of your choice, except a Mercedes.    

5. safety matches: for lighting the newspaper to light the coals to heat the Weber to cook the rib-eyes.

6. a Weber charcoal kettle grill, 'nough said.

7. Hellman's Real: in the fridge, an extra in food closet.

8. Skippy: smooth, chunky, or both.

9. a letter or card, with a stamp, in the mailbox, to or from.

10. a swim in salt water.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Walking Around: Manhattan

Outside Lincoln Plaza
1) Cinema: Some years ago, when I was supposed to be studying college texts, I spent a lot of time in certain cinema houses along Broadway's Upper West Side, not far from my college in Lincoln Center. This was not all truant behavior; I was studying the history and aesthetics of what we called "film" in the same way many studied literature.

Dr. Hayum, a Harvard-trained art historian, taught that course. She was very smart and very hip and was one of the most memorable teachers I ever had. That's saying something, as I had many, due to an an overextended matriculation issue, for which there was no miracle cure at the time. The new college's Dean, named Livingston Biddle, of the Livingston Livingstons and the Biddle Biddles had poached her and other very good  teachers  from nearby places to teach what were primarily small seminars.

The best of these old cinemas was The Thalia (now Symphony Space) at 95th St., but there was a new theatre on 62nd Street, which offered newer classics, Lincoln Plaza. I have seen some great movies there over four decades, and, I am pleased to say, saw one there this week. It is called Tree of Life, directed by Terence Malick and "starring" Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain. I use the quotes, because this is the rare contemporary American movie, in which the Director, the auteur as Dr. Hayum used to say with what I recall as perfect Parisian pronunciation, reigns over all. You'd have to go all the way back to American Beauty (1999) for one like this.

Tree of Life can be tedious, pretentious, and vague, but also stunningly beautiful, inspiring, and blunt. It is very much like a long visual-musical prayer or meditation attached to a story about an American family coping with love and loss. If you are concerned about the way things are currently going in the world, Tree of Life is not a cure-all app. On the other hand, prayer can't hurt and this is one whopper of a prayer/movie.

Of course, If you are not concerned, go back to sleep; we'll wake you for the end, which many say is near, but those are the optimists. Or, go see Midnight In Paris and bathe yourself in the expat 1920's and in Woody Allen's head, in which he speaks like Woody, but looks like Owen Wilson so that he always gets the right girl and manages to lose the wrong one just in time. This is strictly for Woody fans or would-be writers, who still think they could write a Hemingway-esque novel; for some reason, nobody ever wants to write like Fitzgerald, which is a shame.

2) Reading/Books: After a lifetime of reading I now separate books into two categories. No, not fiction and non-fiction: the ones that breathe and the ones that don't. We love the ones that breathe for the people stories they contain, instead of mere characters and plot.

Tabloid City by Pete Hamill is one of these alive books and I recommend it. It will make you remember many things now long gone from the city, and much of the pain of the last ten years. It is hopeful without being sentimental or simply nostalgic.

3) After Tree of Life I took an evening stroll before having dinner with my designer-daughter  (  )and found two very nice things that one can still do with a buck in Manhattan:

$1 Private Juggler

A very clever juggler who "activates" his show as soon as you place a bill in his hat.


...and a great rendition of Shadow Of Your Smile under the arches.

The city still has its moments beyond the Soho shopping malls,  the pretense of the "Meatpacking District," and the new Singapore-like rules. But, you have to look for it in the shadows, in the details...skip the L train to Williamsburg and ride the #7 to Latin America and Asia instead.

Ed Note: Curious, I tracked down Dr. Andree Hayum, who graciously agreed to having her name used here and confirmed that she was, in fact, the same Dr. Hayum who piqued my interest in film many years ago. Thank you!