Categories
cinema new york reviews

El Super

El Super - Blizzard of 1977

New York's bliz­zard of 1977 makes a riv­et­ing cameo appear­ance in "El Super," an indie (before the term was for­mal­ized) film about the hard adjust­ments that immi­grants make in com­ing to New York. The movie is great for many rea­sons, but the bliz­zard steals a few scenes as the main char­ac­ter — a Cuban super — walks around town. Snow is massed on cars, piled high in the streets, and pedes­tri­ans stum­ble through snow-walled side­walk canyons. Quite a scene, espe­cial­ly in the 70s, when New York looked crumbly and decrepit.Amidst the bliz­zard, the film is a melan­choly doc­u­ment of the lives of Cuban and Puer­to Rican immi­grants as they reck­on with the immen­si­ty of New York City and their dis­mal prospects for work in the bad old days of New York. The dia­logue is great, often fun­ny, just as often poignant. Good stuff. I had to resort to extreme mea­sures to find it, but you can buy it on VHS from Ama­zon. Or you can let me know, and I'll hook you up.Speaking of the bliz­zard, you may have won­dered whether Bar­ney Miller ever dealt with the bliz­zard. Of course he did. Worth watch­ing just to hear the theme song again.

Categories
food new york

Beefsteak!

Even though I'm gen­er­al­ly a West Coast kind of guy, I devour books about New York — its chaot­ic begin­nings as a law­less, crazy quilt of neigh­bor­hoods and gangs; its trans­for­ma­tion into a mas­sive mod­ern city; the pecu­liar dynam­ics of its organ­ic growth. If New York didn't destroy me every­time I vis­it, I think I'd prob­a­bly live there.A few weeks ago, the New Yorker's Twit­ter stream point­ed me to an excel­lent Joseph Mitchell essay about a (most­ly) van­ished New York tra­di­tion, the beef­steak. Mitchell laid out the basics in his clas­sic 1939 essay, "All You Can Hold For Five Bucks:"

The foun­da­tion of a good beef­steak is an over­flow­ing amount of meat and beer. The tick­ets usu­al­ly cost five bucks, and the rule is "All you can hold for five bucks." If you're able to hold a lit­tle more when you start home, you haven't been to a beef­steak, you've been to a ban­quet that they called a beef­steak. From Up in the Old Hotel, an amaz­ing col­lec­tion of Mitchell's New York­er essays

We've missed out on the beefsteak's prime, so to speak, but the Bea­con Restau­rant start­ed a new tra­di­tion 10 years ago. The New York Sun's account of the 2004 edi­tion includes cours­es very much like those Mitchell describes — tiny ham­burg­ers, bacon-wrapped lamb kid­neys, dou­ble-thick lamb chops, and of course steak — "huge roast­ed Cer­ti­fied Angus shell loins that had been cut into thick slabs and doused with melt­ed but­ter."This year's beef­steak is in Feb­ru­ary. I'm intrigued, though I'm sure it will destroy me.

Categories
baseball

The man of steal

Base­ball great Rick­ey Hen­der­son recent­ly gave the Hall of Fame induc­tion speech to end all induc­tion speech­es. He was a larg­er-than-life fig­ure in my child­hood, and he had a per­son­al­i­ty to match, often refer­ring to him­self in the third per­son. For exam­ple, "There are pieces of this puz­zle that Rick­ey is still work­ing out," in a dis­cus­sion of age and base­ball in an excel­lent New York­er pro­file. There was no third-per­son in the speech, but there was plen­ty of Rick­ey being Rick­ey:

As a kid grow­ing up in Oak­land, my heroes were Jack­ie Robin­son, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Reg­gie Jack­son. What about that Reg­gie Jack­son? I stand out­side the ball­park in the park­ing lot, wait­ing for Reg­gie Jack­son to give me an auto­graph … I said, 'Reg­gie, can I have an auto­graph.' He would pass me a pen, with his name on it.

The best part is that Jack­son is sit­ting behind him, crack­ing up, along with Robin Yount and var­i­ous oth­er liv­ing leg­ends. You can watch the whole thing, in three parts, on YouTube: Part 1 has some awe­some com­men­tary by Tony Gwynn and Torii Hunter; Part 2 is the begin­ning of Rickey's speech; Part 3 is the con­clu­sion.

Categories
politics

These are our core beliefs

What I know about the inner-work­ings of pol­i­tics I learned in The Pow­er Bro­ker, and there­fore I don't claim to know much oth­er than the sausage-mak­ing involved in build­ing the Tri­bor­ough Bridge. Still, I was struck by the fol­low­ing pas­sage from Ryan Lizza's New York­er pro­file of Peter Orszag, the Direc­tor of the Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get.

The first bud­get, [Robert Nabors, an OMB vet­er­an] told me, "was being designed with an eye toward what do we need to do to put the econ­o­my back on a more sus­tain­able path? What do we need for eco­nom­ic growth? And what do we need to do in order to trans­form the coun­try? Those were our over­ar­ch­ing prin­ci­ples." The bud­geteers took a hyper-ratio­nal approach, attempt­ing to deter­mine pol­i­cy and leave the pol­i­tics and spin for lat­er. He went on, "One of the things that would prob­a­bly sur­prise peo­ple is that this wasn't an effort where any­body cre­at­ed a top-line bud­get num­ber and said, 'This is the num­ber that we have to hit, and that's just that, and we'll fit every­thing else in.' Or, 'We can't go high­er than x on rev­enue,' or, 'We can't go high­er than y on spend­ing.' It was more of a func­tion­al bud­get than any­thing else: 'This is what we need to do. These are our prin­ci­ples. These are our core beliefs. And as a result this is what our bud­get looks like.'"

This is prob­a­bly the kind of thing that gives night­mares to the teabag­gers, but I love the idea of goal-ori­ent­ed bud­get cre­ation. Why not try to keep your eyes on the prize of actu­al tan­gi­ble out­comes like sus­tain­ble eco­nom­ic growth when you're wran­gling the world's most com­pli­cat­ed spread­sheet into sub­mis­sion?

Categories
ideas ixd lit

To forget oneself is to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas

Last night I read the New York­er pro­file of Matthew and Michael Dick­man, poets from Port­land, Ore­gon who hap­pen to be iden­ti­cal twins. (Here's the abstract). In their work, they have very dif­fer­ent voic­es, but there's a strange sort of twin telepa­thy that seems to exist with­in it. They also edit each other's work, pro­vid­ing insight and feed­back to each oth­er about works in progress. Dur­ing one edit­ing ses­sion, one of the Dick­mans recalls an inter­view with for­mer Amer­i­can poet lau­re­ate Mark Strand in which Strand cau­tions against rely­ing on "clus­ters of words" that pop into your head … This sound­ed to me like a good rule of thumb for writ­ing. (It also added fuel to the fire of my dis­like of Twit­ter and Twit­ter-like tools that encour­age peo­ple to offer half-cocked, cliche-rid­den mini-opin­ions about every­thing.) I plun­dered the Inter­net in search of the inter­view. Turns out that he was refer­ring to a 2003 piece in Post Road Mag­a­zine. It was con­duct­ed by writer Michael O'Keefe. The rel­e­vant bit is the last pas­sage from Strand, but the con­text is help­ful:

Mark Strand: Nobody wants to arrive because that's the end. One wants to have open­ings con­stant­ly before him so there are places to go.Michael O'Keefe: Do you believe that some­times words can get in the way when you write?MS: Words do get in the way when you have heard them used in a par­tic­u­lar man­ner before. When you write all you've got are words but they both get in the way and serve as a sal­va­tion.MO: Do you avoid using any kind of com­bi­na­tions of words that you could remem­ber eas­i­ly?MS: Yeah, I mis­trust them because it means that they exist­ed in that way before. The idea is to use a mod­i­fi­er-noun com­bi­na­tion that may nev­er have been used before. Oth­er­wise you may be just quot­ing oth­ers or quot­ing your­self. The excite­ment comes when you have done some­thing that was unthink­able before.

Amen, broth­er. Mis­trust ease. Seek the unthinkable.In my dig­ging, I also found some excel­lent Strand resources, includ­ing a nice inter­view in a 1975 issue of Ploughshares and a very help­ful page at the Library of Con­gress that even­tu­al­ly led to my dis­cov­ery of the above inter­view.

Categories
lit the ancient past

Updike

John Updike - Time

I love writ­ing let­ters, but for some rea­son the only let­ter-to-the-edi­tor I've ever writ­ten went some­thing like this:

Dear Mr. Rem­nick, If you pub­lish one more sto­ry by John Updike, so help me God I will can­cel my sub­scrip­tion immediately.Sincerely, Doug LeMoine

The year was 1999. I had been dri­ven to what I saw as the brink — of patience! of san­i­ty! — by the New Yorker's inces­sant pub­lish­ing of Updike's fic­tion, which seemed (to me) not only inces­sant, but over-styl­ized, nau­se­at­ing­ly East Coast-ish, maudlin, wood­en. No mat­ter my mood, I found it insuf­fer­able and insult­ing, tone-deaf when it came to any­thing but old­er white guys. I don't like to speak ill of the depart­ed, so I'll stop there and I'll admit that I've soft­ened in the mean­time. Updike's lit­er­ary crit­i­cism is — who can argue? — instruc­tive and insight­ful. He knew his stuff, and I felt enriched (some­times grudg­ing­ly so) when I read his reviews. With regard to the afore­men­tioned let­ter, my hand was forced almost imme­di­ate­ly. Updike had pub­lished some­thing like 25,000 sto­ries in the New York­er to that point, so I might as well have told John Hen­ry to stop dri­ving steel, or for Jer­ry Gar­cia to stop jam­ming. By the time my let­ter was flut­ter­ing into David Remnick's trash­can, I was already being forced to make good on my threat, a task that was ulti­mate­ly embar­rass­ing in its cold, bureau­crat­ic exe­cu­tion. Con­trary to any engaged reader's con­cep­tion of the pub­lish­er-read­er rela­tion­ship, when you say "I'd like to can­cel my sub­scrip­tion," they don't trans­fer you to the desk of the edi­tor so that you can ream him a new one. You hear a few key­strokes, and then get asked if there's any­thing else you need help with. Upon reflec­tion, this expe­ri­ence was a life les­son in itself. Mr. Updike, I thank you, and I wish you well.

Categories
lit politics

My heart wanted to stab things but didn't have arms

(The title is from a poet named Tao Lin in a col­lec­tion called this emo­tion was a lit­tle e‑book).The Inter­net is like a small town, espe­cial­ly when there's some­thing to dis­agree about. Recent­ly, some of my favorite Inter­net cit­i­zens got into it over Obama's deci­sion to have poet­ry at his inauguration.I've always liked George Pack­er, the New Yorker's man on the ground in the ear­ly days of Iraq. I devoured his book about the first year of the occu­pa­tion, The Assas­sins' Gate. It tells the sto­ries of a few Iraqis who put their necks on the line to sup­port us when we arrived in 2003, and it comes to mind when­ev­er a con­ver­sa­tion turns to the need to find a way out of Iraq. I also read his blog, Inter­est­ing Times. He's the kind of jour­nal­ist who always does his home­work, which made it all the more puz­zling when he some­what flip­pant­ly crit­i­cized Barack Obama's deci­sion to ask Eliz­a­beth Alexan­der to read a poem at his inau­gu­ra­tion:

For many decades Amer­i­can poet­ry has been a pri­vate activ­i­ty, writ­ten by few peo­ple and read by few peo­ple, lack­ing the lan­guage, rhythm, emo­tion, and thought that could move large num­bers of peo­ple in large pub­lic set­tings … [Ed.: Ouch.] … Obama's Inau­gu­ra­tion needs no height­en­ing. It'll be its own his­to­ry, its own poet­ry.

Ouch. A blan­ket dis­missal? The activ­i­ty of "a few peo­ple?" I start­ed writ­ing a response to this, but Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic beat me to it. His blog rules. He called out Pack­er for being pre­ma­ture­ly judg­men­tal, and sug­gest­ed that per­haps hip-hop lyrics were suit­ably rhyth­mic and emo­tive for the occa­sion. Yes.Lo and behold, Pack­er just post­ed what amounts to an apol­o­gy, and he does so in the best way, com­par­ing the cur­rent poet­ry scene to the NBA in the 1970s:

Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can poet­ry has too many man­sions to be summed up under a throw­away phrase like "pri­vate activity.†Its mul­ti­tude of schools and forms is like the N.B.A. in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, when there was no dom­i­nant team but a con­fused con­test of war­ring tribes. And I should have read more of Alexander's work than appears on her Web site, and more care­ful­ly, before express­ing skep­ti­cism that she'll be equal to the occa­sion on Jan­u­ary 20th.

So, the real ques­tion is: Who will be the David Stern of 21st cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can poet­ry? Chris Fis­chbach, I'm look­ing at you.