12.06.16

fantastic movie theaters and where to find them {in new york city}

the venue: nitehawk cinema, williamsburg
the perk: everything. nitehawk is our favorite theater, and we've been there at least once a month for the past few years. a few doors down on metropolitan, skinny dennis serves up free hot peanuts, honky tonk, and spiked frozen coffee; it's the perfect place to meet before a movie. nitehawk's house popcorn (made with citric salt and truffle butter) is delectable, its pre-show content is clever, its drinks are reasonably priced, and its indie programming is consistently on point. you can't reserve seats and need to line up at least 45 minutes before your program starts if you want to be sure you won't be in the front row, but since you can bring a drink in line and the house opens for seating and orders 30 minutes before showtime, that's not really a problem.

the venue: alamo drafthouse, downtown brooklyn
the perk: assigned seats and decent table service. the location is new and alamo's servers are still getting their feet under them, so they aren't especially quick about picking up food and drink orders and keeping them straight, but i imagine that'll change. house of wax, the lobby bar, is alamo's version of philly's mütter museum, which is both cool and kind of unnerving. its layout is a little tricky, but that too might change in a few months (i hope). like nitehawk's, alamo's pre-show content is fun.

the venue: metrograph, lower east side
the perk: sex appeal. this is the kind of place you bring a first date to see a newly-restored version of, like, voyage dans la lune. the snack stand sells scorchingly-expensive but charming refreshments (think cold-pressed juice, artisanal sodas, turn-of-the-century candy, and champagne gumdrops), and the bookstore and restaurant upstairs (modeled after an old-hollywood commissary for studio employees) from the theaters are both gorgeous. metrograph's tickets guarantee specific seats, like alamo's, but their film offerings are quirkier (we saw little sister, a melancholy comedy about an ex-goth nun with a killer soundtrack).

the venue: ipic, fulton market
the perk: seriously decadent seats. a premium plus ticket is no bargain—with a mysterious "VIP fee," each one rings in at $28—but for that price you get a leather recliner with a pillow and a blanket, as well as tableside service and unlimited popcorn. a cozy pod of two chaise lounges, in turn, is $16 per person, but you have to pack your concessions in from the lobby like a commoner. we went for premium plus on our first visit, but i think i'd swap over to a pod if we go back; ipic's servers don't quite have their game together, and ours kept sneaking up behind our lounges and bugging us when we didn't need him (fine at a restaurant, annoying when you're trying to watch a movie). he also called me "my love," which would be awkward coming from my date, even.

the venue: sunshine cinema, lower east side
the perk: humble excellence. though it's part of a 56-theater group, sunshine feels like a one-off in the best way: the 1898 building is beautiful, the munchies are local and quirky, the films are consistently high- and middlebrow arthouse (in my mostly-civilian opinion, sunshine's screens are significantly larger than those at other nyc theaters with similar lineups). i rubbed shoulders with many of the staffers when i volunteered at the lower east side film festival at sunshine this spring, and they were universally delightful. a ticket stub knocks down the price of one of the eighty jillion craft beers at fools gold next door on houston, at least until the theater is shuttered and turned into condominiums (which neighborhood blogs have been howling about every other month for the last few years). get there before it is.

12.05.16

the dirty dozen {notes from my hometown police blotter, as reported by the oc register*}

Suspicious person/circumstances. 7:18 a.m. The caller said he saw two people possibly create a false ID while sitting at a table inside McDonald’s.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 2:55 p.m. The caller reported a 13-year-old boy in front of 7-Eleven who asked the caller for $2.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 9:05 a.m. The caller reported a man who was cleaning mailboxes in the neighborhood and is now sitting against someone’s garage door.
Disturbance. 6:30 p.m. The caller reported a drunken man making customers uncomfortable by throwing money at them, sitting at different tables, and telling them he’s sponsored by Vans.
Disturbance. 6:25 p.m. The caller reported hearing a loud obscene radio show from a neighbor’s house.
Disturbance. 10:43 p.m. The caller reported an argument with a friend.
Disturbance. 3:06 a.m. The caller said one of her sons hit the other son in the face.
Disturbance. 1:06 p.m. The caller said she had been cleaning all night and her husband was not helping her and then her daughters trashed the house.
Welfare check. 9:47 a.m. The caller asked for a check on her daughter who was sending suspicious text messages that don’t make sense.
Suspicious person in a vehicle. 2:53 a.m. The caller reported two people on motorcycles looking into mailboxes on the street.
Missing juvenile. 9:20 a.m. The caller reported 17-year-old son who didn’t return home after a family discussion.


*previous installment here.

12.04.16

at robina town centre in queensland, a christmas tree made of pelicans.

at the australian reptile park in sydney,
George, a common wombat, was found at just four months old after his mother was hit by a car in Scone, in the Hunter Region of New South Wales.

"A passer-by stopped and pouch-checked* his mum and George was in there," [keeper] Renee Gomez [said].
george's home is the only zoo in australia with a spider and snake venom-milking program, by the by.

from animals australia (a group working to end factory farming and cruelty to animals), plush creatures and symbolic adoption certificates. surely a few can make it to the states in time to meet my nephews and niece for the holidays (the chook, the chook!). if plush creatures aren't your thing, they also sell cruelty-free chocolate and macadamia nuts.


*from the wombat protection society of australia's accident & emergency wombat first aid page: "Wombat joeys can live for many days in their mother’s pouches after the female is killed. If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident with a wombat it is unlikely that the adult will survive but it is very likely that the joey will." the page features detailed instructions on everything from what to do if you see a wombat at the edge of the road to how to alert the proper authorities to and/or provide care for injured wombats and orphaned joeys.

12.03.16

i have half of a set of scrubs. i have a scrub? i have scrub pants; i found them on the giveaway table when i worked at ye olde ladymag, where i imagine the photo department abandoned them after a shoot for a health story. they floated around in our closet until i started volunteering at the bird hospital; i showed up in street clothes for exactly one shift, was shat and puked upon with gusto, and remembered them. sort-of-hoarding is the best! i wear them with old crew tees from the tribeca film festival, a pairing so automatic at this point that i'm always surprised when people want to talk movies with me in the underground treatment room. i also tend to forget that my scrubs aren't volunteer-colored (staffers and rehabbers wear navy, while most volunteers wear shared sets of lime green scrubs or their own clothes; my pants are royal blue, neither here nor there) and jump each time newbies introduce themselves and ask me for tasks. A, a staffer i've now known for a few years, asked me if i needed another volunteer's help as i tube-fed pigeons yesterday afternoon. no, i said, i was cool with doing it on my own, but thank you. would i be okay with help, though? she wanted to give the new guy a job. sure, i said, he could weigh my pigeons. i will admit i made it through the BIDs and SIDs faster with his help.

an hour or two later, i held a fat little red hen as A unwrapped her for a bandage change. she wriggled as we poked at her bumble foot; "hold her like a baby," A instructed. "she'll calm down, sort of like sharks do."* i had to think about that for a minute; ah yes, in the crook of my arm, on her back. "i think i've held more chickens than babies," i said.

scrubs are the best, is my point, though i would never wear them anywhere other than at the bird hospital, nor would i turn them inside out and wear them a second time before washing them, even though they have a butt pocket on the inside, too; i know where those scrubs have been. when i arrived for yesterday's shift in a marinière and jeans, a vet and a staffer were installing shelves in the bathroom (which doubles as the changing room). i ended up turning away from columbus avenue and ducking into my tribeca tee under the picture window of our second storefront, still under construction, and wriggling into my scrubs on the floor when foot traffic on the sidewalk thinned for a moment (i tried not to meet anyone's eyes). it was worth it. i love those pants.


*my friend phil just finished a two-year stint working with sharks in the bahamas; one of his fellow dive pros was so good at inducing tonic immobility that he could balance sharks' snouts on his own face.

12.02.16

vegetarian soup, i: giada de laurentiis's winter minestrone. [use 1 tbsp butter instead of pancetta and vegetable broth in place of beef broth; add a rough-chopped italian field roast sausage in the last 10 minutes or so.] this is one of our favorite cold-weather bowls; the flavor builds beautifully via the rosemary sprigs and parmesan rind (any hard cheese rind will do, i've found), and using a pile of chard always makes me feel like a responsible adult. reheats like a charm, pairs well with a crusty loaf of bread.

vegetarian soup, ii: ina garten's roast potato leek soup. [use vegetable stock in place of chicken stock.] the barefoot contessa gives no fucks; i think i actually gained weight while preparing this soup, to say nothing of eating it, and both she and i knew it. she had a chef's table at the hearst cafeteria when i worked in the building, and she turned up for it in what was more or less a very fancy pair of black velvet pajamas. i did not deglaze my baking pan on the stove after roasting the potatoes and leeks, as i'd used a foil liner (rookie) and didn't want to make an even bigger mess. the flavor was still deep and luxurious; the glug of white wine and pile of parmesan you whisk in right before serving perfect it. i'd serve this as a non-holiday holiday meal - say, stealth-fancy dinner for incoming guests three days before christmas.

vegetarian soup, iii: red lentil dal with coconut milk and kale. [use vegetable stock or broth in place of chicken stock or broth.] this soup's lively debut convinced joe and me that we had a new favorite dish; the second iteration was so overpoweringly onion-y that even i ended up abandoning it. know, then, that if you can keep an eye on your alliums, a gorgeous, bright dinner can be yours. we doubled the red chiles like the fire-eaters we are, and joe wasn't interested in the reserved spiced onion mixture as a topping; i, in turn, think it adds a lovely textural note. serve with, say, a light-bodied asian beer (like singha or kingfisher).

non-vegetarian money: britain's new five-pound note, made with tallow. it's not going over well.

12.01.16

december will be a month of odd feats, i think. i have a dozen assignments due by the 21st; i'm running my last 10K of the year on the 17th; i'm going to run at least a hundred miles by new year's eve. i'd like to read another dozen books or so, and to have a complete first draft of one of the essays for my book proposal. i'm hoping to see the floor of the closet at some point.

condé nast announced today that it will shutter self's print edition. self's fact checking team was, is known for its rigor; as a magazine research chief, i looked to their guidelines the first time my managing editor asked me to draw up instructions for contributing writers. good night, ladies.

a high school acquaintance and i snarked at each other on a mutual friend's facebook wall yesterday morning and afternoon. we were talking about trump's flag-burning tweet, in theory, but at some point he noted that he'll "no longer read or accept the NYT as a valid source until they admit they helped CLINTON cheat and terminate those who proofed stories with her campaign." o facts; o, sources. my december assignments are all for websites associated with television networks, and they are as apolitical as assignments can be; social media and ye olde book proposal get all of my spiky feelings about journalism and truth for the rest of the year.

11.28.16

leaving the country the day after trump's victory felt, to be honest, like leaving a deathbed; on wednesday afternoon, the airport was crowded with tearful travelers clustered around televisions. i wanted to be with the marchers on 57th street instead of waiting for a plane. in the afternoon i texted a friend and asked if we could come to her place for thanksgiving after all; of course, she said, of course. none of us wanted to be alone.

europe had a little of everything for us. the milanese told us we'd elected our own berlusconi,* and that we'd survive, as they had. a frenchman at a wine shop had nothing but contempt for clinton: "better the bastard who stands up and tells you he is a bastard," he sniffed. "she hides." an older german woman in david bowie's neighborhood bar walked over and showed us her copy of der spiegel. tourists were photographing themselves in front of FUCK DONALD TRUMP! on the berlin wall. an older german man spoke of anti-american corners of berlin and begged us to take a cab home. we had long conversations with all of them, and hummingbird meals of news when we got home each night. who anticipated such bitter nectar?

when we got back to the city last week, i resolved to talk to my family before announcing that we were bowing out of the holidays (my stepbrother became a trump supporter this summer, and i strongly suspected he was going to associate with trump in the future, so i was no longer interested in spending time with him). they both confirmed my suspicions and beat me to the punch, suggesting—ever so gently—that it would be easier this time if we went our separate ways.

joe and i also had train tickets, purchased back in june, for washington in january; i'd felt way back then that we were inviting catastrophe by assuming we'd be celebrating the inauguration, but i told myself that i'd be there as a protester if i wasn't there as a reveler. i adjusted the tickets this weekend and will be part of the women's march on washington.

my father and i met at columbus circle on saturday for a walk through central park. i proposed, spit and post-nasal drip ready at the back of my throat, we enter on the other side of the trump international building, but the police on the sidewalk turned us away; if we didn't have business inside, we couldn't pass. when we emerged from the southeastern corner of the park a few hours later, dozens of officers darkened the pavement above the apple store on fifth avenue. across the street, hundreds, thousands of birds sang above us in a single tree before the plaza hotel. a pendant in the chandelier of sound: "there's a cardinal up there," i said.



*related, from this week's new yorker: can women bring down trump?

11.01.16

conversations with doctor omnibus {heroes}

doc: so what's new.
LMO: not much. i'm writing a book! i mean, hopefully.
doc: [...]
LMO: i'm going to germany. to berlin, next week. i'm sure you've been there; any advice?
doc: don't go.

10.19.16

the dirty dozen {the last twelve books i read: part I}

01 the mirror thief (martin seay). i haven't had the best luck with mirror-related novels this year—city of mirrors, the final book in justin cronin's vampire trilogy, was a treacly mess—but this one was compared to david mitchell's cloud atlas, and i was ever so fond of cloud atlas. the mirror thief is set in three venices: old-timey [sixteenth-century] venice, italy, where murano is an island of mystery and murder (glassblowers were commanded to gather on murano so that their accidents wouldn't burn the whole city down) and alchemists prepare unspeakable solutions; midcentury venice, california, where a young hood stalks the dodgy poet who wrote a fictional (OR IS IT?) tract, the mirror thief, about one of the old-timey italian venetians; and present-day las vegas and the venetian casino, where everyone is looking for the old-timer version of the young hood, who may have helped a bunch of card-counters defraud a casino in atlantic city. the present-day las vegas portions of the story are engaging enough, the midcentury portions are touch and go, and the part set in the venice i love so hard that i want to skip all other travel and just go back and watch it drown is almost unspeakably boring. i looked so excited when i checked this book out of the library that the gal behind the counter asked me about it and then made me promise to tell her how it was when i came back. i'm still looking for her, to warn her. was she real? i watched about a third of the innocents (a 1961 adaptation of the turn of the screw) at the gym last night and was reminded that none of us can trust ourselves.*

02 the art of memoir (mary karr). i'm on a nonfiction-and-nonfiction-about-nonfiction binge because i'm finally going to start working on a book; there! i said it! (let us ignore the fact that i've said it before.) the subject and structure of said book came to me as i was trying to figure out where mcnally jackson hides its travel section (answer: downstairs in the back corner) so i could buy a bunch of berlin guides, and it felt so right i nearly cried. to be fair, i've been tinkering with race training and diet lately and just about anything can make me cry, but still. karr has some really interesting things to say about the way we remember; she tells an effective story about how, in her advanced nonfiction classes, she stages a fight with a colleague in front of her students (who don't know the clash is scripted) and then asks them to write about what they witnessed. their accounts are all over the place, as you would imagine; we are not to be trusted. i bristled a bit when karr talked about settling on the ultra-texan voice she uses in her bestselling memoirs, but she makes a strong case for how finding that voice unlocked her memories, and she made me revisit how i think about my own past. there's some great nuts-and-bolts advice about immediacy in there, as well. i think i prefer to read mary karr on writing than to read mary karr on mary karr (though i did enjoy the first half of lit, her memoir on alcoholism and becoming catholic); it's clear that she's a great teacher.

03 the girl on the train (paula hawkins). a hardcover, beautifully brodarted ex-library copy of the girl on the train offered itself to me for $3 at the charity bookstore at which i volunteer. one should occasionally read the mass-market stuff everyone talks about and carries on the subway, right?** my friend divine saw me add it to my pile and widened her eyes: "it's...not good." i trust her taste, but pulpy thrillers are pulpy thrillers, right? then i found myself reading it as quickly as possible—not because i cared about what happened to any of its characters or needed to know how it ended, but because i simply needed it to end (i am almost completely incapable of leaving books unfinished, especially when they're terrible; if i'm going to tell friends a book is shitty, i need to know that i've given it every opportunity to redeem itself). the girl on the train is so, so shitty: the first-person, present-tense, stream-of-consciousness style gives it the found-art feel of a trio of tweens' personal journals. the story is both predictable and utterly unbelievable. the characters are uninteresting. but, but—it'd be a great movie, right? the titillating setup (rear window's jimmy stewart is now a drunk girl getting her joe biden on while stalking her ex!) was ripe for the hollywood treatment, no? apparently not. that "apparently" is key; even i don't have the heart to confirm.

04 smoke gets in your eyes: and other lessons from the crematory (caitlin doughty). like girl, doughty's memoir crossed my path at ye olde charity bookstore cafe; unlike girl, it's utterly marvelous. doughty became terrified of and fixated on death after watching a little girl fall from a balcony at the mall when she herself was young, and after graduating with a history degree (deployed to great effect, as she weaves in stories of how the dead have been treated in other eras and places) she went to work at a crematory in oakland. these days she's the head of a death-positive group of pros, academics, and artists that embraces natural burial and decay—i'm inclined to agree with them, particularly now that i know exactly how cremation works—and founder of undertaking LA, an alternative funeral service. while i have never been especially squeamish about death (probably because it's touched my life quite lightly so far, and i understand how lucky i am to be able to say that), doughty's arguments and anecdotes made it even clearer to me that our modern, western approach to our dead is deceptive at best ("Modern denial strategies help focus mourners on positive 'celebrations of life'," she writes, "life being far more marketable than death. One of the largest funeral-home corporations keeps small toaster ovens near their arrangement rooms so fresh-baked cookie smells will comfort and distract families throughout the day—fingers crossed that the chocolate chips mask the olfactory undertones of chemicals and decomposition.") and monstrous at worst. this stuff isn't for the weak of stomach, as a friend gently reminded me when i tried to describe the smell of corpses*** to her over greek food on the upper west side this summer (my apologies, A), but it is fascinating, and doughty's a gentle, principled guide:
Every culture has death values. These values are transmitted in the form of stories and myths, told to children starting before they are old enough to form memories. The beliefs children grow up with give them a framework to make sense of and take control of their lives. This need for meaning is why some believe in an intricate system of potential afterlives, others believe sacrificing a certain animal on a certain day leads to better crops, and still others believe the world will end when a ship constructed with the untrimmed nails of the dead arrives carrying a corpse army to do battle with the gods at the end of days. (Norse mythology will always be the most metal, sorry.)
go read her, and come back and talk to me about the brazilian cannibals who eat their dead as a final act of respect.


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how long did it take you to figure out what's going on in the turn of the screw?
02 what should we be sure to do in berlin? (i have many historical and bowie-related outings planned, maybe even a tattoo in the works, but i haven't been to germany in a very long time.)
03 have you read and/or seen the girl on the train? what the hell?
04 was i alone in not knowing cremation machines are called retorts?
05 what was the last smell you masked?



*fun fact: i nearly wrote a long essay about the turn of the screw without realizing the children were not, in fact, possessed. my god but i was a hot mess in that undergraduate henry james class.

**one of the 3,411 things i miss about my morning commute to midtown (yes, i miss my commute): no more peeping at strangers' books. i still take the subway a few times a week, but the readers are few and far between at non-peak hours.

***"For those of you who have not had the privilege of smelling Eau de Decomposition, the first note of a putrefying human body is of licorice with a strong citrus undertone. Not a fresh, summer citrus, mind you—more like a can of orange-scented industrial bathroom spray shot directly up your nose. Add to that a day-old glass of white wine that has begun to attract flies. Top it off with a bucket of fish left in the sun." this is precisely what the corpse flower smelled like, as it happens.

09.17.16

i printed out a september calendar, wrote in each of my deadlines, each of my races (four this month, why?), and felt like a functional human adult; then i managed to convince myself that we were supposed to drive to pittsburgh this weekend instead of next weekend and it all went to hell. actually it's been alright; i got a lot of work done on monday and tuesday because i was panicking about leaving town. the panicking wasn't the best, but i'm getting around to accepting that being a freelancer, for me, at least, means feeling queasy most of the time.

i've decided that the only way to approach the last race of the month, a relay in northern new jersey, is to buy really obscure camping gear; i'm vacillating between a marlboro sleeping bag and a david bowie throw blanket (really, how cold is it going to be in new jersey at the end of the month?). said obscure camping gear will come with me to washington in january when we head down for the inauguration, which seemed like an adventure when we bought train tickets a few months ago and is now contributing to my queasiness. such queasiness! time for my saturday run.

08.12.16 {in flight}

midwestern lightning storms are flashing through the cloud cover below the plane like the quadrants of a pinball machine's face. we're the dragon this time, which pleases me; it's nice every now and again.

joe put in a half day's work at the office before heading for the airport, so it fell to me to throw away itinerant old fruits and vegetables, address garbage cans and the litter box, arrange cat-tending supplies for the sitter. we'll be back in just over a week, but we've reached jungle-summer's peak, when you can feel the air digesting you a bit more each time you dart out of conditioned cover. i imagine our poor companion animals slow-cooking in our absence.

08.09.16

this will be the third alternating tuesday on which i've taken the train out to meet a friend at the beach, the freelance writer's amorphous schedule at its best. on the friday before last i took another train north to meet amorphophallus titanum, the new york botanic garden's stinking corpse flower (the first bloomer they've had since the late '30s, just after they had the first-ever blooming corpse flower in the western hemisphere; a. titanum's a native of borneo). staffers noticed the bud on the 15th, moved the flower to the enid a. haupt conservatory for exotic specimens on the 18th, and braced themselves for hordes of visitors (an estimated 25,000 turned up for a whiff). the gal at the ticket counter already had a haunted look in her eye when i arrived around noon; the garden had been open since half past eight, she said, and crowds had already tripled a typical friday's count. a television news anchor performed showy jaw-limbering exercises behind her as his cameraman fired up his equipment. a kid wandered around with a whole box of pizza, as if the flower had had it delivered to its waiting fans like a generous star at shakespeare in the park.

to my delight, i ended up queuing for the conservatory itself near the four twentysomething goths* who wandered into the garden just before i did (they were a few scores of visitors behind me, as they paused at the entrance to exchange corpse-flower-related exclamations with a few daywalking friends who were on the way out). this quartet had made the most of recent athleisure advances and were wearing lovely striped running tights under their lace-up boots and whisper-thin joy division shirts. and the tattoos, you guys, the tattoos! one woman's ink actually looked like tatting, a delicate layer of lace that gathered like epaulets at her shoulders, shadow at her clavicle, cobwebs at her temples. the fact that i need my tattoos to be on lines of symmetry has kept me pretty honest, but it can be hard to ignore the freelancer's amorphous dress code, sometimes. pagoda umbrella or no, the sun was too much for most of the goths, who took turns tag-teaming a place in line from beneath a shade tree. this was a popular strategy: "i'll go have a look at the peonies and you can call me when you start moving," one guy behind me suggested to another. "it'll be like the line for easter kielbasa at martin rosol's." "it'll smell like a weekend's worth of sewage. sewage on a monday," another guy said. the woman in front of me quietly caught a low-level rattata.



*one with a pagoda-shaped umbrella i must acquire immediately.