Wednesday, March 26, 2014

There's a new SkyMall!

My magical tour of Long Island has come to an end, sadly. On the last day we went to some antique stores, posed with some roadside statuary, packed, and had a nice Italian dinner out. I saw a nice complete set of Pyrex Friendship mixing bowls that I almost bought, but they had a lot of wear for the price she was asking and then I'd have to pay to ship them on top of that, so they stayed right where they were, and I totally didn't spend the rest of the day sighing about how right I was not to buy them.


Because I would never do that.

Yesterday I woke up, got ready, finished packing, had one last New York bagel, and went to the airport, where US Airways proceeded to spend the rest of the day jerking me around, rescheduling me, cancelling my flights, and getting me home three and a half hours late. Yesterday I managed to hit four different airports in one day for the second time on this trip, and only one thing managed to make me smile throughout my odyssey:

There's a new issue of SkyMall!

The last issue of SkyMall was filled with insane crap that no one needs, and when I started reading this issue I was almost disappointed to see that it seemed kind of toned down. Where was the crazy? What was I supposed to laugh at? Had they somehow become a regular, commonplace catalogue rather than a warehouse of insanity?

It turns out that I just wasn't reading closely enough on my first pass. That's the only way I could have missed things like...

The iPhone Sterilizer

skymall objects (1)

Do you ever look at your iPhone and think, "God, I wish I hadn't smeared that with feces"? Do you worry about the effect of harsh chemical disinfectants on it, but have to keep using them so that you can play Candy Crush while performing surgery? Did you let your child touch the screen with their jamhands? For only $50, SkyMall can make all of those problems go away.

Maybe you face some other, more terrible problem. Maybe you live a life without backup music, where you have to enter rooms quietly without a signature sound to alert your supporting cast that the star has arrived. Maybe you need...

A Door Guitar

skymall objects (2)

Yes, a door guitar. Sure, anybody can hang a bell from the doorknob, or walk in playing their own jaunty tambourine, but a door guitar will make you the envy of all of your friends and family members. The advertising copy advises you to "tune it to your favorite chord", but we all know that if you had any idea how to play that thing then you'd already have a guitar and you'd have better things to do with it than mount it over your doorway, so I say you just go ahead and use whatever tune it carries right out of the box. Hell, go all out and order it in a dark, rebellious black. Let everyone who visits know that you're a stylish loner, the kind of stylish loner who shops in the SkyMall catalogue.

If your visitors seem unimpressed with your door guitar, you may need something that really wows them. Something like...

A 2 and a Half Foot Wide Eagle

skymall objects (3)

It's not just vaguely patriotic, but also dangerous! Your lifelike, lovingly sculptured eagle statue features sharply pointed talons that extend "more than eight inches from the wall", creating an artistic menace like no other. If your guests aren't suitably impressed with your door guitar, all you have to do is scream, "Look over there!" and watch gleefully as they turn too fast and accidentally gouge their own eyes out on your eagle's "intricately sculpted" talons.

"But wait," you're probably thinking. "What if my offending guest isn't standing next to my deadly eagle?"

SkyMall has you covered. There's a special discount if you buy two or more. Why leave a spot uncovered by eagle glory?

Maybe you have other problems, though, besides a filthy phone, lack of entrance music, and a lack of dangerously pointy sculpture. Maybe you have too much self esteem, and don't feel bad enough about your body. Maybe you need...

A Globe Poncho

skymall objects (4)

For all those moments when you've thought, "God, I don't feel fat enough," SkyMall has just the thing. It's not just a poncho, the least flattering garment ever invented (and yes, I'm including the caftan, the muumuu, and the paper hospital gown with the flappy back), but it's a poncho with the entire planet printed on it. You'll be amazed at how much bigger you think your butt is when you realize that it's supporting the entire continent of Asia and that there still might be room on the side for some of Europe. Not only that, but wearing it to class is a great way to pass your geography final. The only thing you won't find on your poncho map is a belted waistline.

SkyMall: full of gifts that keep on giving.

Monday, March 24, 2014

By the way, your parade sucks...

After our busy, exhausting day in New York City (see previous), Sean and I decided to have a light day yesterday. We planned to sleep in, go get some breakfast, drive out to Montauk to see the lighthouse, go see "Divergent", and get some dinner.

Sleep in: Mission accomplished! We didn't get out of the apartment until close to lunch time, and even then it was slow progress.

Breakfast: Mission accomplished! Sean took me to a nearby diner, where I had delicious pancakes and bacon cooked exactly as crispy as I specified. Diners get kind of a bad rap sometimes, but I've never understood this. I've never, ever had to send my bacon back at a diner.

Drive out to see the lighthouse: Mission accomplished, but this turned out to be a little more adventurous than the quick drive we planned.

Along the way, I finally got to see the rich part of the Hamptons that they claim to show on "Revenge" and other TV shows, except that those depictions continue to be not quite accurate.

"This street, right here, this is where Jack's bar is."

"Wait, what? That can't possibly be correct. The bar is on the water, and there are boat docks behind it, and Emily/Amanda can walk there from her house..."

Television, you continue to be a harsh, disappointing mistress. Now that I've seen the Hamptons K-Mart and the track where the school bus races are held, I kind of feel like I'd really rather watch a version of "Revenge" that actually is set in the Hamptons, where Emily/Amanda and Victoria exchange seething repartee over a slice of "Fudgy the Whale" from their local Hamptons Carvel and then struggle to the death in a dramatic finale atop the local historic windmill, which seems ubiquitously located in the center of every town here.

As we got closer to the end of the island, where we would find the Montauk lighthouse, we suddenly came upon a roadblock:

montauk st. patrick's day parade

The town of Montauk was having a St. Patrick's Day parade, a week after St. Patrick's Day. We cut around it, and continued to the lighthouse:

montauk lighthouse (1)

Doesn't it look exactly how you would expect a northeastern Atlantic lighthouse to? We went to get tickets to visit the lighthouse, which you must be this tall to climb:

must be this tall

and where, for reasons that were never articulated, cell phones are banned, and that's when we ran into the surly lighthouse keeper.

"You boys go to the parade?"

In a technical sense, yes, since we drove through it, but Sean answered, "No, we didn't know about it."

"Didn't know about it? What kind of a rock have you two been living under?"

I guess they don't give out a lot of customer service training at surly lighthouse keeper school.

"Well, I'm from South Hampton, and he's visiting from Tennessee, and..."

"EVERYONE knows about the parade. Everyone."

I bet there's a good reason why you work alone at the tip of a rock that's slowly eroding into the ocean, lighthouse keeper. As for that parade, let me just tell you...

"Let's go see the lighthouse!" Sean suggested, derailing my combative train of thought.

The lighthouse has, I guess, everything you want to see in a lighthouse. There are memorials:

memorial at the lighthouse (1)

memorial at the lighthouse (2)

ocean views:

ocean view (1)

ocean view (2)

ocean view (3)

ocean view (4)

(I like that picture a lot)





Wait, no, actually. Nobody wants that in a lighthouse. I was kind of amused, though, that the tick warning signs were all behind the fence, as if the grass we were standing on four feet away was free of ticks because they wouldn't dare cross the fenceline.

There's also the lighthouse itself:

montauk lighthouse (3)

which contains a small museum and which you can climb.

And by "you" I mean "other people who are not me", because there's no way I'm climbing a spiral staircase with metal steps that you can see through where the only "railing" to hold onto is a rope that moves when you touch it. Even if forced at gunpoint, I guarantee that I would be about halfway up the lighthouse before I huddled in the fetal position on the staircase and wailed for someone to come carry me back downstairs. Sean climbed it, though, and I climbed to the first window (five steps up) because I thought it would make a good photo:

lighthouse interior window

After Sean climbed back down, we headed to the gift shop, where we were again asked if we attended the parade.

"No, we didn't."

"Really? It's the second largest St. Patrick's Day parade in New York."

Lady, are you kidding me? I don't mean for this to come out the wrong way, but do you expect me to believe that more people truck out to the ass-end of Long Island in the off season to see a parade a week after the holiday than go to the parades in Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, or, hell, even Watertown or Rochester? I've seen more people at the Cortland County Dairy Parade, and at least at that there's more than a parade. You know what I didn't see at the Montauk St. Patrick's Day parade? ANYTHING OTHER THAN A PARADE. No crafty booths, no Irish dancing, no corned beef and cabbage stands. Just a bunch of drunk people with red cups (not even green ones!) walking around getting drunker and a parade with only one marching band. And that one marching band was in kilts. KILTS. And it had bagpipes. Presumably because Scotland is so close to Ireland. Your parade sucks, gift shop lady and surly lighthouse keeper, and I'll not be judged by you for not attending.

Rather than say any of that, I bought some magnets and a bag of taffy, and we left.

But the sentiment still stands.

Go see "Divergent": Mission accomplished! It's a long, long movie. So long that I'm no longer sure I want to read the books.

Eat dinner: Mission accomplished!

Then we came home, where I watched half of "Revenge", a television show that takes place in a mythic version of the Hamptons where all of the stores look like boutiques and everything is very fancy and right on the water, and where none of the characters attended or even mentioned the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bright Lights, Big City

Let me tell you, last night was like a scene from "Grumpy Old Men" around here. Picture me on one couch and Sean on the other.

"My feet hurt."

"Mine, too."

"My hip just popped."

"I have a cramp in my thigh."

"I just wanted my shoes off."

"I'm wearing my slippers for the rest of my life."

You get the idea.

Our legs and feet were sore because yesterday we decided to go into New York City, and we walked everywhere, all day.

Our morning started with a sad dumpster staring at us at the Ronkonkoma station on the Long Island Railroad:

sad dumpster

We had to drive almost an hour to get to the train, and then the train ride itself was about an hour and a half into the city. Once we got there, the whole rest of the day was subway travel, which sort of looks like this:

New York City subway (1)

except that there are somehow no people in that photo. They must all be standing just outside the frame. I took that, and I don't think it's real, because the subway is nothing but crowds, crowds, and more crowds. And also stairs. Endless waves of short flights of stairs, with nary an escalator in sight. We may have encountered three, all day, but one of them was turned off, so it was also stairs. I'm not sure if this is true or just my impression, but the New York City subway system seems dated, suffers from obvious deterioration, and seems to be trying to handle way more people than it was designed for. I'm not an urban planner, though, so my impression could be completely wrong.

I bet it's not.

Our first stop of the day was one of the ones I was most excited about: we went to the High Line, and walked the entire length and back.

the high line (1)

the high line (2)

If you're not familiar with the High Line, it is an urban park modeled after one in Paris, France, constructed on the remains of an elevated train line above the city. It's very popular with joggers and tourists, based on what we encountered along it yesterday.

the high line (3)

It currently runs from Chelsea to the Meatpacking District, but there is another expansion planned. When you walk it, you get to see a lot of graffiti:

high line grafitti (1)

high line grafitti (2)

high line grafitti (4)

high line grafitti (6)

including this one, which baffled and intrigued me:

high line grafitti (3)

It's hard to see clearly in my picture because of the glare on the windows, but toward the bottom you should see a mouth, then a nose in the middle, and then eyes in the top sets of windows. I have no idea how they did that, but I saw it all at once and the image clicked in my head and I gasped an "Oh!" loud enough for Sean to come over and see what I was looking at. I don't know how they did that, but it's very striking.

The High Line also gives random glimpses of neighborhoods from a slightly different perspective:

random street view

and you can spot a few famous landmarks, too, although they're far away:

distant empire state building

statue of liberty

and it has some art installed along the walking path:

high line sculpture (1)

("Why is Colin Powell holding a vial of meth out like that?"

"I don't know. Are you sure it's not a crack vial?")

high line sculpture (2)

("Cover your shame, satyr.")

and, best of all, the High Line has benches!

resting on the high line

So many benches, great and small, in case you get tired from walking and from interacting with the crowds.

Everywhere should have benches.

After the High Line, we went to meet up with my friend Leo for brunch. Leo and I haven't seen each other in person for eight or nine years, so it was fantastic to sit down, catch up, and then walk around the city for a while together. She suggested the Tenth Avenue Cookshop, where the griddle cakes with apples turned out to be delicious:

griddle cakes

and I somehow managed to get a photo of them that's approaching food stylist quality.

After brunch, we took the subway down to Times Square, where Leo showed us the New York Times building:

New York Times

and the cafeteria:

New York Times cafeteria

which had stunning views of the city on all sides.

Times Square itself was pretty much unchanged since the last time I was here: flashy, noisy, and crowded:

times square (1)

times square (2)

times square (3)

times square (4)

but visiting it just seems to be one of those things you do when you come to the city. I have, every single time, even if I came to the city alone. We went into a few of the stores, but I didn't buy anything, and then Sean and I had to head back to the subway to get to our theater in time for the purpose of the trip:

Heathers the Musical

"Heathers: The Musical", which is based on my all-time favorite movie of the same name.

It was great. The show is funny and slightly campy, and it's a nod to the fans without being a scene by scene reconstruction of the film. This disappointed some of the people in the audience, who were discussing it at the intermission, but I was ok with it. The spirit of the film is there, and I hope it moves to a bigger venue soon so that they can release the soundtrack. I want to hear again and sing along with Martha Dumptruck's plaintive song of love and heartbreak before she flings herself into traffic, and that's not even the best song in the show. I'd say that's probably a tie between "Dead Gay Son", "Candy Store", and maybe "Dead Girl Walkin'", but the last one is the weaker of those three, so maybe it's not a three way tie.

Either way, it's a good show. You should see it if you can.

After the musical, we did the subway again and then a taxi to get to S'mac, where they only serve mac and cheese. It's kind of a long wait, and seating is very limited, but it was totally worth it for this Buffalo Chicken mac and cheese:


The plastic fork is a bit of a challenge, though. I get that they're using it because they don't want to scrape up the skillets, but the skillets are hot enough to bend and distort the fork, so you have to eat very carefully and never leave your fork in the skillet.

After dinner and more subway (and boy was I tired of being bumped and jostled and crowded by people on the subway at this point in the day), the sun started to set on the Chrysler Building:

Chrysler Building

and the lights came on in the Empire State Building:

Empire State Building

and we took the train back to Long Island, where Sean is still sleeping off our exhausting busy day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

An Assortment of Tiny Adventures

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but bagels in Tennessee are sad, dense little things. They don't get the right kind of crispy on the outside, and the inside texture is all kinds of messed up. I've been told that it's due to differences in the water, which I believe because hey, it's got to be due to something, and that explanation seems as plausible as anything else. Whatever the case, we started our day today with a breakfast of genuine New York bagels:

poppy seed with olive cream cheese

I always like to have mine with olive cream cheese, if it's available. If it wasn't available, I could have left a suggestion:

suggestion jar

but I just left a tip instead.

After breakfast we did a little bit of exploring on Sean's campus, where they have an osprey nest in their cell phone tower:

cell tower nest

and a possibly haunted windmill:

windmill (1)

where Tennessee Williams wrote a play to honor Jackson Pollock:

windmill (2)

and where a little girl is rumored to have tumbled down the interior stairs to her death. Allegedly her spirit haunts the lighthouse to this day, but we didn't see her.

We did see something else super special, though.

As you may remember from "The Great Gatsby", Long Island was once the playground of the wealthy of New York City, and parts of it still are. The beaches were littered with the impressive mansions of the Gilded Age, and while some of them still stand, some are now empty husks falling to the bulldozers of developers or rotting slowly in the shadows of once fashionable communities. Sean knew someone who knew someone who could get us into one of them, as long as we promised not to tell where exactly it was or who let us in. After a bit of travel, a promise not to take any photos of the outside of the building, and some patient waiting by a back door, we went in and walked around.

For the most part, it was just empty rooms:

abandoned mansion (2)

abandoned mansion (4)

abandoned mansion (5)

abandoned mansion (7)

and we avoided the basement entirely, because I've seen that movie more than once. We did find a few odd things, like a closet full of letters:

abandoned mansion (6)

and a chalk board on one of the upper floors where some kids were clearly trying to scare future visitors:

abandoned mansion (8)

or some spirits of the damned were trying to warn us to run and hide.

The most amazing thing we found was in the formal dining room. We turned a corner, and boom:

abandoned mansion (3)

Oh my God, look at that fireplace:

abandoned mansion (1)

abandoned mansion (9)

It's a little damaged, but they don't make things like that any more. Just seeing it, looking at the carvings and the workmanship, was worth the slightly creepy veil of secrecy involved in our house tour.

Just in case I was still creeped out, Sean decided that a few of us should go to Long Island Spirits for a sampling of their LIV, Long Island Vodka made from Long Island potatoes.

I had the unflavored:

vodka sampling (1)

the orange:

vodka sampling (2)

and the espresso flavor:

vodka sampling (3)

The vodka was good, very smooth and lightly flavored, with barely any afterburn. I never drink vodka straight, and I could have sat and polished off the orange all by itself over ice.

I may have to figure out a way to get some of it to Tennessee.