Most Southeastern Conference football teams have alumni clubs here in New York. And most have "their bar" where they congregate to watch ball games on Saturday afternoons.
But be aware: You're going to stand out like a blackfIy on a white goat. Football up here is a "Sunday" thing. If you're not wearing Giants or Jets jerseys, or if you're wearing big blue foam Auburn fingers or barking like a Dawg on a Saturday, people look at you as if you just spilled hair in the milk jug.
Saturday I found the designated Volunteer bar joined 100 or so friends wearing Orange and clogging to piped in versions of "Rocky Top" every time Tennessee scored a touchdown -- which was just barely enough times. It was a good gathering that helped me once again find my "inner hillbilly" that sometimes gets lost during the week.
But boy, the looks I got as I clogged out of the bar and kept high stepping up 2nd Avenue ...
You have now. Levain Bakery, around the corner from me, gets five-star reviews on Yelp and other foodie websites here. And I was shocked when I found out each cookie was $4.
After trying one out, I felt like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction commenting about a 5 dollar milkshake. It's a pretty darned good cookie. I'm not sure it's worth four dollars. But it's close. It's a pretty darned good cookie.
Wow. Lewis Grizzard used to say "don't bend over in the vegetable garden, granny, those taters have eyes." He'd be blushing bright enough to signal airplanes if he saw this marketing stunt by downtown New York's Designual, a Spanish-style fashion store. Today Designual gave free clothes to the first 100 people in line outside it's SoHo shop. The two rules were: Each person only got to pick two articles of clothing, and they had to show up in their underwear. And they did:
Before you ladies get offended, there were guys in lines too, wearing everything from boxers to long underwear. You can check out the details at Racked. My favorite quote from those standing in line:
"At least seeing everyone already in their underwear thins the dating pool easier."
One of the major cultural differences between New York City and the South is how you interact with the neighbors.
Quite bluntly, in New York, you don't.
As any dyed-in-the-wool Southerner knows, interaction across the fence with the neighbors isn't just a tradition, it's required as part of the social code. You may hate your neighbor, but you'll kill them with kindness by pointing out with a fake sense of sadness how their rose garden is rapidly dying, subtly suggesting that it's their lack of care or dearth of horticultural knowledge that's doing them in.
In the north, we've lived in our apartment building now for six weeks. There are 12 apartments and I've seen three neighbors as they passed in and out of the front door. I've said hello. Introduced myself to two of them. Nothing.
Neighbors in New York City are ships passing in the night. Even the mere act of holding a door open for them brings about odd looks. Actually conversing beyond "hello" is immediately greeted as suspect. Apartment doors are quickly closed so that neighbors can't peek in and see who has the nicer apartment, or who might be busy dismembering corpses in their kitchen. But according to The New York Times, this trend might be changing.
So being a sociable hillbilly, me and the misses are going to try and change that. We're sending out invitations tomorrow for a "meet-the-tenants" social at our place in two weeks. We're going to avoid freaking them out by having a pig-picking or a catfish fry, and attempt something more urban and less threatening: a little wine-and-cheese get together in the evening.
We'll see how it goes. If I start feeling comfortable, who knows -- I might put the NASCAR race on the TV.
Everywhere I in New York, this hillbilly is a trendsetter. First New Yorkers were discovering the joys of moonshine. Then they started putting racoons in Central Park to make me feel welcome.
Now I discover that my beagle Marshall, and my two backup beagles, Maisy and Magnolia, are celebrities.
A walk in Central Park doesn't go by where we don't get pointed at, marveled at, and even admired. Apparently one beagle isn't a big deal here. Lots of people have them. Two is unusual, but not spectacularly so. But a pack of three beagles for some reason achieves a canine critical mass that drives New Yorkers -- and the tourists that visit New York -- into a hound dog frenzy.
I have people almost every day stop to pet them. Children warily inch forward and I have to tell them the only danger they face from my dogs is that they might get licked to death. I've had tourists from as far away as Columbia and France ask if they can have their pictures taken with my hounds, because they have beagles at home and miss them.
Exacerbating my beagles' celebrity is the current bedbug epidemic facing New York. Most pest control companies here use trained beagles to sniff out the pesky critters, making Roscoe, Squirt and Freedom into local celebrities. I regularly have New Yorkers ask if my dogs are trained to sniff out the painful vermin that have tormented apartment-dwellers, theaters and retail stores. I have to admit they aren't, but they still usually get a nice petting and smile anyway.
They are however, trained to track down squirrels in Central Park, and once they spot them, skillfully bay and leap forward, dislodging my right arm from its socket.
Found this nice link to an illustration and story on the National Geographic website on what goes on underground in New York. Every time I go down in the subway station, I wonder what it would be like to roam around in some of those subterranean caverns.
Not only is gun ownership in New York City strictly regulated, the ownership of toy guns is pretty much a no-no too. Why?
Because there's been too many instances of small children playing with toy guns and policemen accidentally shooting them when they thought their lives were threatened. Fortunately, most parents are now smart enough around here not to consider buying their six-year-old a plastic toy Glock for Christmas.
Which means that now the only people you see with toy guns are criminals who are too poor or too stupid to buy a real one on the black market. Stupid? Why stupid, you ask. Well, check out these three rocket scientists who tried to rob a Brooklyn man's home at 2 a.m., carrying only fake guns.
Guess what? The retired schoolteacher had a gun. And it wasn't an FAO Schwartz model. So he managed to severely wound one of the thugs while the other two fled.
My favorite part of the story -- other than the criminals getting clipped -- was the quote from a police official about how authentic the fake guns looked:
"If someone pointed them at you, you would light them up too."
Now, to be clear, not all thugs wear Yankees gear. And not all Yankees fans are thugs. But this clearly is yet another area where Mets fans are falling way behind their AL counterparts.
Since 2000, more than 100 people who have been suspects or persons of interest in connection with serious crimes in New York City wore Yankees apparel at the time of the crimes or at the time of their arrest or arraignment. By comparison, only a dozen or so were wearing Mets apparel.
I find it hard to believe that anyone a fan of or associated with the Yankees would intentionally violate the rules or attempt to deceive to get something they didn't deserve.
What would the world be without PETA protesters? Yesterday the ladies are lined up across from Lincoln Center to protest Fashion Week here in New York. (AP photo) Don't forget to order your Anna Wintour voodoo doll!
Reminds me of an old joke my daddy used to tell:
A Irishman and his idiot friend go out hunting and stumble across a naked woman in the woods.
"Aye, lass," the Irishman leers and propositions the woman. "Are you game?"
That's the question that keeps rolling through my head.
Saturday, riding the E train back to my apartment with wife and two college-aged children, we had a pack of nine kids enter the train. They were ages 15-18 I'd guess, and they were loud. At first, I thought, no big deal, kids are loud, they're having good fun. They're obnoxious, but no biggie.
Then they got more animated. And more foul-mouthed. They started shouting back and forth through the car about "f-ing someone's mother" and other offensive stuff I'd rather not type. My wife was sittingthere. My 19-year-old daughter was sittingthere. I was getting more and more ticked off.
Those who know me well know I'm the most non-confrontational guy there is. I hate confrontation. I'll walk out of a bank if my wife's arguing with the teller about a problem. I just don't like it.
So 999 times out of a thousand, I would just let these kids go on offending everyone in the car, keep my head down and let it go. Like almost every New Yorker does.
Except I didn't. I stood up.
I thought the simple of act of standing up and glaring at several of the kids would be enough to make them realize they were out of line and tone it down. No such luck. 16-year-olds are many things, and one of them is oblivious. More obscenities. So I walked to the corner of the car where four of the nine were standingand asked one of them under my breath, not to call them out, "Hey, I know you kids are just having a good time, but would you mind taking your party up to the next car?"
You'd have thought I'd asked him to shoot his sister. He gave me a look like he couldn't believe what I'd said. Then he cursed at me. Then as his friends figured out what had happened, they joined in, cursing and telling me they weren't going anywhere.
"You apparently didn't hear what I said," I said, more loudly now, and more ominously and threateningly. "I know you're just having fun, but go do it in the next car."
Now all hell broke loose. I had a pack of kids all yelling an screaming about how they weren't going anywhere. I was called a cracker. I stayed calm, knowing from my training as a football official not to let the situation escalate. As we pulled into the next station I looked over the shoulders of two of the kids through the doorway window into the next car, acted like I'd made eye contact and made a subtle gesture with my finger calling some nonexistent person up and pointing at the kids. It was subtle but convinced at least three of them that an enforcement officer might be in the next car and might be heading our way. They took the bait, and at least half of the kids jumped outside the doors and started calling for their friends to join them.
After a lot more name-calling and yelling -- none of which I returned or responded to -- they were all outside the door and I waited for it to close. But before it could, one of them reached down into their pocket and pulled out a small one-inch buck knife and started waving it at me through the open doorway. He made one slashing movement at me, which I didn't even have to dodge and then the door started closing. The train moved out and I calmly sat back down at my seat.
My wife was more amused than startled by the whole incident. My son had stayed calm on the other side of the car until he saw the knife, then had jumped up to cover my back. My daughter was quite shaken up, and scolded me -- perhaps rightly -- for getting involved rather than just letting the whole thing go.
So that's the internal debate I'm still having. Was I brave? Was I stupid? Was I right to get my hillbilly sensibilities up and shoo the toughs off the train? Or did I risk my life foolishly. I'm pleased to note that at no time were my wife and kids in any danger. And at the time, until the knife showed up, I didn't really feel I was. I was calm and in control. But it was so unlike me that I still don't know why I did it.
But was I brave? Or stupid? Hit the comments section and let me know what you think.
Spent my first September 11 anniversary in New York yesterday, and it was a sobering experience on a number of levels.
First, I took my children the day before on a tour of the World Trade Center site and the Tribute WTC Visitors Center that's currently located on the Southeast corner of the site. Very sobering. I've been there before, but my son, who had never seen it, was struck by the sizet of the space, and when the size of the buildings were described to him, the enormity of the twin towers and how devastating the attacks were.
Next, we went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and were reminded looking back at the Manhattan skyline of how different it seems without those two towers perched near the southern tip. An outdated photograph on a display on the island showed what the view looked like prior to that awful day in 2001.
Saturday, we watched the ceremony that began at 8:46 a.m. on television, and the reading of the names was as lengthy and painful as it always is. Having the children of the dead read their parent's name and send words of love and loss is gut-wrenching.
Afterwards, there was a hate rally two blocks away, and I couldn't help but be struck at how those who insisted "my God is better and more important than your God" were thinking the same thoughts the hijackers did as they plunged their planes into the towers. I am constantly amazed at how we humans as a species can learn so little and be so blind.
Finally, we finished the day near midnight nearly 60 blocks away, taking in a awe-inspiring view of the city at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, where I took the photograph at top of the twin beams of light that shine skyward every Sept. 11 night from the WTC site.
I wasn't in New York that day nine years ago. But as then-governor George Pataki said at the time, "Today, all Americans are New Yorkers."
Yes, there's been a couple of tough days during my first month living in Manhattan. But I've never been so despondent that I've considered taking a dirt nap.
But apparently a lot of people in this city do. And sadly, they make news when they do it -- or when they try and fail. (As an aside, how bad is that you feel enough of a failure to try and kill yourself -- and then you fail at that! That's gotta hurt.)
So you'll be interested to know that jumping out of buildings is the No. 2 way of killing yourself in New York City, behind "hanging, strangulation or suffocation." A full 23 percent of suicides in New York are people flinging themselves out of tall buildings, compared with just 2 percent nationwide. Granted it's kind of hard to leap off a building in Cordele, Ga. You could fall off the roof of your barn, but at worst all you'll do is break an ankle.
I'd like to go on the record right now that if I get killed because I'm walking on the sidewalk and somebody else lands on me trying to off themselves, I'm gonna be pretty pissed.
Another interesting stat: While women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men, they really suck at it. 74 percent of successful suicide victims in this city are men. The reason given is that women are more likely to use drug overdoses, a method that provides more opportunity to be saved.
If you're one of those poor souls who are thinking ending it all is the only answer, I encourage you to read this article from The New Yorker from a few years ago. It was a fascinating profile of the Golden Gate Bridge and the people who jumped off of it. Especially poignant were comments by the few who survived, many who instantly regretted their decision well before hitting the water. Consider Ken Baldwin's comments:
“I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
Went to the taping of the David Letterman Show yesterday. It's an interesting process, and although my brush with greatness was brief, Letterman and his team were all business, pushing through the taping of the show in just 60 minutes. It was entertaining, but at times seemed more like a high-speed assembly line than a comedy show taping. Here's the backstory:
Getting the tickets -With a mess a young'uns a fixin' to descend on us over the next couple of weeks, we were looking for ways to entertain them without spending a ton of money. We found out about signing up for ticket lotteries for various TV shows -- Letterman, SNL, Jimmy Fallon -- and decided to try our luck. You can even put your name in the drawing for random tickets to watch The View, but if I wanted to watch five hens fight I'd go to my Uncle Frank's chicken coop. Low and behold, they called us with tickets for Tuesday, two days before the kids got here. We had to answer a simple trivia question to get the tickets.
Picking up the tickets - Picking up the tickets was easy. We waited briefly on line and then gave our names and showed our ID's. I brought the Missus (I'm the king of the cheap dates) and we were able to enjoy a nice 60 minute cafe lunch while we waited to return for the taping.
Inside the Ed Sullivan Theater - It's pretty heady to sit in the same theater The Beatles and Elvis made famous, but while I was told it was a big theater, it's nowhere near as big as the Fox Theatre in Atlanta or the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville. Once inside, we got a nice warmup comedian and some coaching in how to applaud (loudly and often) how to laugh (as loud as you want, as often as you want, the more the better) and what not to do (no "whoo-hoos" or catcalls). Needless to say as a hillbilly, the restrictions were like asking a sign language interpreter to sit on their hands.
Final Warmup -After the comedic warmup, we were treated to several songs by Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra -- which is a darned good band. Then Dave came out and told a couple of jokes. He was clearly sizing up the audience and testing how well and how loudly they were going to respond to jokes. At first, I took it as a sign of insecurity, but in retrospect it was the work of a professional. He was sizing up the crowd to anticipate how good jokes and bad jokes were going to play, so he could time his responses perfectly. One quick audience question (Question: "I live in Iowa and what happened to the 'home office in Sioux City, Iowa?" Answer: "We burned it down for the insurance money.") and we were off with the intro music playing.
Taping - Our hands were sore from the applauding thus far, but we did a pretty good job as an audience clapping and laughing at the monologue. The Top 10 list had a special guest: Ellen Degeneres, who was much smaller in person than she looks on TV. First guest Katie Holmes (Mrs. Tom Cruise) was nice, but you could feel Letterman was going through the motions. He was much more interested in the second guest, Rick Harrison of the TV show "Pawn Stars."
Commercial Breaks - The most interesting part of the experience was what went on during the commercial breaks. Scores of producers and writers would surround Letterman's desk. You couldn't hear what they were talking about as Paul Shaffer's band played hard, but clearly they were reviewing what worked and what didn't in the previous segment, as well as discussing what would happen after they came out of commercial break.
Done and gone -Once the final segment was done, there was "goodnight" and the band played the out music. Then -- bam -- you're done. Ushers are gesturing for you to stand up and herding you quickly out of the theater. You look at your watch. Wow. Sixty minutes and done. Very efficient, almost a comedy-production machine. Letterman seems like a good 'ol boy, doing his work, wasting no time and gettin' everyone out the door. You might feel a little cheated -- until you realize you didn't pay anything for your seat. And with Wicked around the corner charging up to $300 a seat, you recognize you have nothing to complain about!
Want to live in President Obama's pad from his junior year at Columbia? For only $1,900 a month, you can rent the small Morningside Heights two-bedroom apartment that Barack Obama shared with a roommate in 1981.
The third-floor walk-up, unit 3E at 142 West 109th Street -- about 30 blocks north of my place -- has a windowless office, exposed brick walls and wood floors.
UPDATE: Too late. Interest in the apartment jumped once word spread of its former resident, and it's now rented.
New Yorkers hate cyclists. Up until my arrival here four weeks ago, I could take them or leave them. But I already understand why they’re despised in this city.
In Georgia, we rarely saw anyone on a bike over the age of 12. And my few adult friends who rode bikes followed the rules of the road. Here in Manhattan, cyclists are everywhere, although the estimates of how many are highly inflated. They’re on the sidewalks. They’re in Central Park racing through red lights as pedestrians try to cross the streets. They’re going 35 miles an hour. The wrong way down a one-way street. In traffic. At night. Wearing black. Anything stupid or obnoxious, and you can bet it’s a cyclist doing it. Lately, thankfully, the NYPD is starting to crack down on them.
Reuters blogger Felix Salmon has created the “Unified Theory of New York Biking.” In it, he points out that there are three types of transportation: Motorized, Pedestrian and Cyclists. He notes that the rules of the road for motorized-motorized and pedestrian-pedestrian interactions are pretty well defined. Cars follow signals, signs and rules of the roads. Pedestrians rarely collide on a sidewalk. Even motorized-pedestrian interactions are well-regulated, through crosswalks, crossing signals, etc.
But cyclists screw things up. They ride on the roadways, but they don’t want to obey the rules of the road, going the wrong way down one-way streets to avoid having to travel an extra block. Or they cut off pedestrians because they’ think they’re entitled like a vehicle.
They even screw each other over. In many instances, they’ll be in a bike lane but going against the direction of traffic (referred to as “salmon-ing”) and occasionally collide with each other.
In just four short weeks, I’ve witnessed two bike-on-bike collisions, watched a woman plow into the side of a car at full-speed, and witnessed an almost-collision where the cyclists turned and yelled indignantly at the driver who almost hit him – even though the driver had the light and the right of way!
Last night walking the beagles, I had one cyclist whiz by me from behind perilously close. I was a little late getting my left forearm out, but I’ll get faster. The missus asked why I would do such a thing, since if the close-skating cyclist hit my arm, it would undoubtedly give me a huge bruise.
“Yes,” I replied. “But I’ll trade my bruise for the loss of three of his teeth.”
Had my first outburst of rudeness at the Fairway Market yesterday. I’m not apologizing for it, or making excuses, but I’m not proud of it either.
Markets here are crowded places. I detailed this somewhat in yesterday’s post. So when I had to navigate down a narrow, crowded aisle to grab a bottle of grapefruit juice (part of my medication that allows me to cope with New York), I left my cart parked along the side of a main aisle, allowing enough room for people to get through and then worked my way toward the Ocean Spray.
I should note that I had my iPod headphones in, although at the moment I wasn’t listening to music. When I returned to my cart, I found there were now 18,000 people in the main aisle, and the whole area was hopelessly logjammed.
As I put my juice in my cart, a 5-foot-2, relatively elderly and extremely emphatic woman glared at me and said “You can’t do that here. You have to push your cart over the side!”
I blinked. At first I didn’t understand what this woman was saying. My cart was to the side. Then I tried to figure out who died and made her the traffic cop at Fairway Market. My consternation must have been obvious, and she took that, plus the face I was wearing headphones, to add this rejoinder: “I know you can hear what I’m saying!” Then she glared at me more.
By now I was insulted, hurt and angry. And I abandoned my Southern gentility for the first time since arriving here. Raised to always respect my elders, and especially ladies, I broke – and uttered my first New Yorkerism:
“Lady, you’re confusing my hearing what you said with my caring about what you said.”
One of the things you take for granted outside of the big city is grocery shopping. You hop in the pickup, drive to the warehouse-sized Publix/Kroger/SaveOn/Wanker Foods/Ralph's, load up your cart, have the pimple-faced boy wheel it out to your truck and you're on your way.
In New York, it's a totally different monster. Your challenges:
Size - Real estate is expensive in New York. So groceries are small. Selections are limited. You can either run around to the corner to the bodega for a quart of milk or a "soda" (what they call co-colers up here), or when you need a more extensive list of items, you head to the grocery. But don't expect a great selection of items, because floor space is at a premium
Tightly-packed shelves and aisles - Because space is at a premium, you don't get aisles. You'd better love your fellow man, because when you go shopping you're going to be bumping into him a lot. And he's going to be blocking your path to the Frosted Flakes, just like you're blocking his path to the deli counter. And when it comes to checkout, as you can see in the picture above, you are literally lined up 3/4 of the way down a food aisle before you can even get to a register.
Selection - You will have only one choice of brand for most items, but that doesn't mean you don't have selections. Because they only stock one of most things, they can care more things. Want poppy-seed cake? They have it in the bakery. Fresh olives? Whole bins of them. Cheese? They have one of everything, but they do have everything. The variety is truly staggering, but in as eclectic a city as New York, you should come to expect that.
Freshness - Quite candidly, this was an area where my expectations were exceeded. Prior to my arrival, I thought the produce would be rather poor, since the city was so far from the country. But apparently produce buyers bring in tons of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and the quality is in many cases better than what I used to get in Atlanta. Even the sidewalk fruit carts have good apples, peaches, berries and pears.
Getting home - This is where you suddenly realize you're not in Kansas (or Georgia, Tennessee or Texas) anymore. You grab your four, six or eight grocery bags and start walking. In my case, Fairway (my current grocery of choice) is two long and one short block away from my apartment. So you're talking a five- to eight-minute walk. With heavy bags making your arms longer and longer. If you've got ice cream, it's melting. You don't want to waste time. We've even invested in one of those carts that you see old people pushing down the street.
Get a thick skin - The worst time to shop is on Friday afternoons (when everyone gets off work and is shopping for the weekend) and midday weekdays when the elderly are in the aisles. If you think teens are annoying, you haven't shared an aisleway with an 70-year-old 5-foot-2 woman who's out for blood ... and babkas. These women will slam into you, cut you off, shove their carts into your shins -- if they had a knife, they'd cut you if you got between you and whatever is on the shelf that they want right now. One of these ladies actually created a situation where I committed my first act of New York-style rudeness. More on that tomorrow ...
At this point in time, there's discussion Hurricane Earl is going to skirt to the east of New York City on Friday evening. We should get some rain and a little wind, but nothing extraordinary. New Yorkers out on Long Island may get hit a little worse, but here on the Upper West Side, nothing unusual is expected.
Bring the rain. During the summer, the garbage smell in the city gets quite strong. The streets and sidewalks could use a really good washing right now.
As we approach the one-month mark of our New York City adventure, I get asked "what's the biggest change from living in the South?" There are lots of answers, from the food to accents to living space. But perhaps the biggest change is the pace.
Everything here is fast. It's movement. New York does not stand still. That's not a cliche. It's the god's-honest truth. Everything here is a convaluded ballet of energy. People walking. Dancing. Waving for cabs. Rushing to beat the crossing signal. Stutterstepping down stairs to catch a subway train. Pacing the platform. There may be moments of solitude, silence and stillness, but I haven't seen or experienced them yet.
Want to immerse yourself in this feeling? Check out this three-minute film shot by three members of the production company Stereoscreen. They were part of a German crew filiming a commerical here last month, and in their spare time they shot street footage and then edited it into what Gawker calls "perhaps the greatest New York home movie."