||Oh, we have it all today: pointless personal details about which no tinker could be convinced to part with a damn, reviews of products youd never buy, obvious insight-free political remarks, and the application of a cheese grater to the shin of a New Yorker writer who would be vaguely amused to learn that a Minnesotan is critiquing his Times Square piece on the internet, no less. Lets begin.
Sometimes you look at your shirts and realize: I dont wear any of these anymore. I cant imagine when I would. I bought a lot of shirts with collars in the late 90s and early oughts, back when I wore shirts and ties to the office. But I realized at one point that Im really not a shirt and tie sort of fellow. They make me look like a 3/4 sized adult. People expect me to produce a rolled-up declaration that the witch is indeed most sincerely dead. I know that some believe that the rise of casual dress is a sign of the decline of the American Adult - ties and collars make a man of you, particularly when its 85 degrees and the ubiquity of air conditioning is three decades away.
I understand this; I know that there is something brutish about the T-shirt, but frankly my dear, I dont give a damn. Ive never found a shirt that looked good on me. They billow up, they wrinkle, they have to be tucked in fourteen times an hour. The solution: either spend a lot of money on tailored shirts and look like something other than I think I am, or find my own mode. Oh, I'd love to be a white-shirt-loosened-tie guy with a fedora on the hatrack, but I know better. I wore a fedora for a while. I look at the photos now, and I am reminded of a junion high school drama class doing "Guys and Dolls." Can't carry it off, alas. It's jeans and a T. End of debate.
So today I culled the shirts. There was one from 1992 a shade of green that resembled an iridescent fungus. The color had gone in and out of fashion a few times since I bought it. I could date it to 92 by the tie hanging around the hanger: a classic street tie from a K street vendor in Washington DC. Three ties for ten dollars. All pure silk. Right. I had about 50 street ties. Some were made of a slippery fabric that prevented them from ever staying knotted; those were the best-looking ones. Others were as coarse as sandpaper, and while they stayed knotted you usually drew blood when you tied one on. The quality of street ties had a sudden decline in 93; whatever Hong Kong genius designed the ties must have gotten a job as a proper designer, and whoever filled his shoes had no imagination whatsoever.
So: did I throw away the shirt and tie? No. That one I kept. Just as I kept the blaze orange shirt with the autumnal-hued street tie, since that one I wear on Halloween. But twenty other shirts all went in the bag for charity.
Then I heard the voice of Faye Dunaway in the back of my mind, and I thought: No More Wire Hangers! At Target I loaded up on replacements, and now I have a closet with 25 fine sturdy wooden hangers . . . for T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts. It looks very California-movie-producer, to be honest. Very Steve Jobs. Very zen. Everything I'm not, in other words. Unless I am. Stay tuned.
Some product reviews.
Note to Crayola bath colors: please adjust the final hue of the purple tablet; its not only not purple, its pink, and its an alarming shade of pink at that. By which I mean when you step away from your child to answer the phone, you return shes floating in what appears to be TWENTY GALLONS OF BLOOD. Please make a note of it.
Note to Sennheiser, maker of ear-clip headphones: the package is not deceiving in the least; how could it be? We see the product through the plastic cover, and we see how they work: you clip them around your ears to listen to the music. One could expect that theyre an improvement on those #$%*#5 earbuds, which stay in place only if you never Q-tip your ears and use accreted wax to hold them in place. One could expect theyre better than the headphones that fit around the back of the head, in that theyre less conspicuous. But surely when testing the product, you noted one key line in the focus group results: 100% of the respondents said they sucked. When queried, respondents said the *$%#*$' things dont stay on your ears, and noted also that in the rare instances that they did stay on, the sound quality approximated a 1965 Impala dashboard speaker down which a child had poured a frosty mug of A & W rootbeer. You knew this product was wretched, yet you were willing to waste brand goodwill for short-term gain. Your company contains fools. Please make a note of it.
Note to Philips, Dutch electronics conglomerate: first of all, thanks for inventing the CD and all that. Second, I read in the Wall Street Journal how you were close to shutting down your American division unless it started to perform better. I can tell youre trying: youre making good stuff, and its well-designed; reminds me of Sharp in the late 80s, which turned out one good-looking product after the other. Today I bought your wraparound headphones instead of the Sonys, because yours had a feature that prevented the cord from being yanked out of the player. I dont know if it works, but its nice to know someones aware of the problem and is pretending to do something about it. Also the unified blue hue of your products is quite nice. I have thus far been reluctant to try your white-light bulbs, as I have outfitted the house with Reveal bulbs, but and this is the sentence that should gladden the hell out of your Dutch hearts the attractive quality of your headphones have led me to consider buying your light bulbs.
Note to Zippo: heres a hint about what you could do on your website: Sell Zippos. Just a thought.
Note to the Democratic Party: James Carville may not be the bridge-building base-expanding emissary you think he is. If youre employing him as the fellow who wheels the barrow heaped with meat to the lion den, fine; hes great for whipping up the previously converted, the faithful, the die-hards who like their rhetoric served up raw and red. But to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldnt want to be a member of a party that would have him for a member. Its not just the nature of his rhetoric why, both sides have people who dont just go over the top but set new world pole-vaulting records every election. No, its because he sometimes acts as though he hovered up a pound of meth before he starts his speech.
I heard four speeches this week one by Carville before some firefighters, screaming like cat that had been dipped in turpentine; one from Kerry about something or other (its hard to stick with it; he sounds like a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/, and you keep making revolving-hand motions in the hopes you can somehow, like a butterfly that flutters its wings in Brazil and causes typhoons in Tahiti, cause him to pick up the pace a little); one from Dick Cheney, and one from Bush. Cheneys speech was tailor-made for his speaking style, which consists of pressing the point of the sword into the opponants arguments and slowly pushing the entire blade in with steady force. Bushs speech had many thick sheets of boilerplate, but it had economy and optimism.
People like optimism. Yes, I know, the people are a mass of sheep numbed by that lying corporate media and Clear Channel mind-control beams. But people generally like optimistic candidates. Bill Clinton managed to transmute all the pessimistic strains of 1992 into an optimistic persona, because he seemed to be a cheerful guy. I think you nominated a lemon-sucker this time. Plus, the whole foreign-leaders-like-us-better angle tells me youre not getting out much these days. See all those people in the stands watching NASCAR races? Hard to believe, but they would rather the President did what they considered to be the right thing, and did it alone, than did the wrong thing with the full support of Le Mondes editorial board, including the cartoonist.
I heard an odd discussion on the radio this morning. My colleague Doug Grow wrote a column about a DFL (the Minnesota liberal party) ad accusing the Republican governor of not just permitting the release of sexual predators from jail, but practically jumping up and down in glee about it. Dougs a lib from way back; he gets flack from local talk radio guys and some bloggers now and then, but hes a good guy, a decent fellow, and I think most people pick that up from his work. Personally, I like him, for what its worth. He was criticizing the ad as a example of a party thats out of touch with most Minnesotans, because the stalwarts only talk to the stalwarts. The partys chief called up to debate. He made reference several times to the fact that the DFL was listening to its many female party members, as though these sexual predators were all headed for the Capitol building to stalk the women headed for cars with What Would Wellstone Do? bumperstickers. And then he said something quite revealing. He was flailing around for an argument, and said: I mean, we have a governor whos pushing to bring back the death penalty, a white male governor.
Hes so used to talking to the rest of the tribe that he doesnt realize white male is not, to most Minnesotans ears, a term of opprobrium. In his circle, white male is a pejorative term. It has to be. And its all the more amusing because he is wait for it a white male. But hes the right kind.
Imagine a local Republican criticizing the new welfare proposals by noting that the author of the bill is a black female. The reaction would make the last hour of The Passion look like a pedicure at Saks.
To the New Yorker magazine: someone please take a small herring and use it to slap Adam Gopnik about the face, gently. I am trying to read his piece about Times Square, and every paragraph is an example of a writer refusing to stop while he is ahead. On the redevelopment plans of the 90s, he writes: The story follows, on a larger scale than usual, the familiar form of New York development, whose stages are as predictable as those of a professional wrestling match: first, the Sacrificial Plan; next, the Semi-Ridiculous Rhetorical Statement; then the Staged Intervention of the Professionals; and, at last, the Sorry Thing Itself. Having invented this sequence, he spends the rest of the paragraph shoehorning events into the stages. But Im reading Daniel Okrents account of the building of Rockefeller Center, which went through a few permutations in its time. Id hardly call the result the Sorry Thing.
Then theres the Promising Observation that Declines into Utter BS and Irrelevance. Talking about the new Times Square a place I love but have some ambivalence about, in particular the south side of 42nd street he writes And yet you dont have to have nostalgia for squalor and cruelty to feel that some vital chunk of New York experience has been replaced by something different, and less. True, somewhat. But I remember that stretch of 42nd when it was all porno shops and shuttered theaters, and sometimes less is more. Particularly if less is safer by a factor of 10, contributes millions to the tax base, rehabs the best old buildings instead of demolishing them, and stuns the out-of-towner with the sheer messy blaring power of it all. But I grant his point has merit in a much broader historical sense that completely forgets the 60s and 70s. He continues:
Its not filled by media images that supplant the experience of real things.
Neither is my back yard or toilet bowl or left kidney; lots of things are not filled by media images that supplant the experience of real things. Folks, let me tell you: when you reach a certain level in an organization, you can write things like that, and the copy desk shrugs and says whatever. Because its Opinion, its Creative, its the Star Writer on a tear, and you dont step in to point out the emperor is not only buck-fargin naked, hes wearing white before Memorial Day.
And what does that mean? I dont know! But if I wrote it in my column, it would probably go through too.
Lets be fair, and run it all:
Its not filled by media images that supplant the experience of real things. Its a tangible, physical, fully realized public square in which real people stare at things made by other people. Here I am seized by ambivalence: I am a New Yorker subscriber, so I should know if this is good or bad. But I dont! I must read on. The absence of spectacle, in that sense the escape from the domination of isolated television viewing is what still draws people on New Years Eve, in the face of their own governments attempts to scare them away. (Dick Clark, of course, is a simulacrum, but he was born that way.)
Incomprehensible, shallow, and clever: somewhere Maureen Dowd is reading this and thinking man, hes good.
So: the absence of spectacle is what makes people go to Times Square on New Years Eve. By this logic, Herald Square should be packed on Arbor Day. And how exactly has the government attempted to scare people away? As far as I can tell the government reaction has been hey, terrorists, I got your orange alert right here.
All the same, there is something spooky about contemporary Times Square. It wanders through you; you dont wander through it.
<gumby mode, grabbing brick, bashing head, shouting MY BRAIN HURTS>
Every time Im in Times Square I wander through it. If you did one of those Family Circus follow-Billys-anabasis-through-the-neighborhood my dotted line would snake through all the floors of the Virgin megastore, the Visitors Center (a rehabbed theater lobby) the magazine store with the 18-foot-tall shelves, Pancho Villas, Carmines, the Duane Reade, the other Duane Reade, a bad bar, a good bar, a Smilers, Toys R Us, the Bush Terminal bazaar I mean, what the hell is he talking about?
One of the things that makes for vitality in any city, and above all in New York, is the trinity of big buildings, bright lights, and weird stores. The big buildings and bright lights are there in the new Times Square, but the weird stores are not. By weird stores one means not simply small stores, mom-and-pop operations, but stores in which a peculiar and even obsessive entrepreneur caters to a peculiar and even an obsessive taste.
Fine. Granted. But was this ever Times Square, in the post-war era? Ive looked at the pictures: its bars and drugstores and movie houses and bars and cafes and Playland, and then it was all grim nasty crap. Just because the peculiar obsessive shopkeepers have decamped for cheaper neighborhoods doesnt mean Times Square isnt vital. I mean, GO THERE ON ANY GIVEN NIGHT. Its packed.
But for all the wrong reasons, I suppose.
Heres my Times Square site, if you never saw it. Have a fine weekend! I am 1000% certain I will.