June 26, 2005

Pretty much the canonical example of a full day

Yesterday was the kind of day that makes having an unlimited Metrocard a good deal. Rose and I started the morning by waking up at 7:00 -- which, and this should already give you a sense of our schedule, was a half hour later than we had intended to get up -- getting ourselves together at top speed and heading out at 7:30 for the top end of Central Park, where we were both running in the five-mile Lesbian and Gay Pride Run (by which I deduce that "gay" is really coming to mean "homosexual and male" more than it means "homosexual in general"). I didn't blow any of my previous times for that distance out of the water by a long shot -- I ran it in 43:12, which comes out to just under 7 miles an hour, about average or a hair below average for me. But I did achieve my main goal, which was to run the whole race without walking. (I'd run longer distances than that without stopping on the treadmill, but the longest I'd run without needing a walking break on my Prospect Park runs was 3.4 miles; as previously mentioned, running in the real world is very, very different than running on a treadmill.) I did feel tempted to walk at one point, but I told myself, "Come on, Francis, do it for the lesbians. The hot, sweaty, fit lesbians." After the race, they gave us rainbow-colored popsicles, and man, a popsicle has never tasted so good.

Then we went to check out an art show that our friend Dean had recommended to us -- Across and Down, a set of works (by Edwina White) that each take their titles from the 56 clues of the New York Times's January 1, 2005 puzzle (by Raymond C. Young). Rose and I adored the art, which was very witty: "Bland quality" was a plain T-shirt whose tag read "tee total; regular; wishy washy; drip dry" and a fifth thing I forget; "Properly deals with after an exhumation" was a menu of fancy dishes that incorporated truffles; and "Ham's equipment" was a video of the artist using two chopsticks to help herself make overly broad facial expressions while she was talking. Terrific. Sadly, we only heard about the show on Friday, and it closed Saturday (which is why we had to squeeze it in on our overbooked day), and we totally failed to try to get more of our fellow puzzle people to see it. Odd that I hadn't heard about it before. I know Will Shortz knew about the exhibit; wonder why he didn't post about it to the National Puzzlers' League list?

Anyway, after we were done at the gallery we sped home (as much as one can ever be said to have "sped" on the R train) to get a fast shower and turn right around to leave for the Mermaid Parade. We ended up leaving later than we'd intended -- we didn't even get out of the gallery until close to noon, which was ostensibly when we had been planning to leave for Coney Island -- but managed to get there before everything started, and find the people we were trying to meet. I didn't get nearly as many good pictures as I did last year, mostly because this year, for some reason, there were tons more people milling around in front of the police barricades between us and the marchers (and only on our side of the street, oddly). And the pace of the parade was wayyyyy off -- there was a point when there were no floats or marchers in sight and lots of people assumed the parade was over, but then about five minutes later marchers started appearing again. Taking photographs became a bit more feasible after that point, since most of the throng in front of us had cleared out.

We all wandered around the boardwalk for a bit and strolled on the beach, which is a thing that other people seem to enjoy, strolling on the beach, but that I've honestly never really seen the appeal of. I don't like walking on sand, I especially don't like having sand stuck to me, and I'm not a big fan of the whole concept of putting my body in the ocean either. Although, come to think of it, I did have a good time clambering around on rocks and looking in on tidepools out by Cape Cod that time that Rose and Todd and Debby and I went out there to eat clams, so maybe what I really object to is the throngs of people and the associated screaming children that most beaches feature.

By the time we left Coney Island, it didn't seem like there was a point in stopping back at our apartment to regroup, so we went straight to Prospect Park (with a stop to grab some takeout at the Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood, Sushi Yu) to get in line for the free New Pornographers concert. We had been figuring that there would be throngs of people there, what with the show being plugged in just about every conceivable newspaper, magazine, website, and e-mail newsletter, so we got there around 5:30 to assure ourselves and the people we were trying to meet of getting good seats. This turned out to be a really early time to arrive, as there were, like, maybe a dozen people ahead of us in line. Unfortunately, none of the people we were trying to meet actually arrived before they started letting people in around 6:30. We scored three prime seats in the front row (or, rather, the front row of the seating area that wasn't reserved for contributors to the Celebrate Brooklyn series) and saved one seat for our friend Bridget, who's in town for the weekend (and who we were delighted to meet up with, because we haven't seen her in ages!), but felt uncomfortable trying to save seats for four other people -- and that would've been tricky anyway, because there turned out to be more people arriving with the two couples we would've been saving seats for. But we did chat with people before the show and between acts, and I ran into a few other folks I know -- Nick Nadel, a fellow former contributor to Modern Humorist and now a contributor to the Onion (and if you haven't seen the 2056 edition of the Onion, go now); and Doug Gordon, one of my Who Wants to Be a Millionaire co-workers and a soon-to-be-if-he-isn't-already groom guru.

Anyway, the concert was terrific. It was Canada Day (or, rather, Canada Day as observed in Brooklyn), so there were two other Canadian bands on the bill with the New Pornographers: the Sadies and Stars. Stars were okay -- I might like them better on CD, where I could hear their lyrics better, but in person I found them sort of generically swoony in a My Bloody Valentine/Suede sort of way. Rose and Bridget weren't especially impressed either; the best thing Bridget had to say about them was that she appreciated the fact that they didn't have a consistent look -- and boy, did they ever not. Not that I thought they all looked dumb; I only thought that of three of them, indicated by asterisks. The lead singer looked basically neutral with a vague hint of Erasure; the woman on guitar was kind of gothy; the bass player* was wearing a sleazy suit and a white dress shirt open to his ankles, and sporting a terrible, terrible mustache; the drummer* looked like he'd stepped out of a poorly directed white hip-hop video; the keyboard player had a sort of "geek grows up, makes good" look, really the sort of guy I'd picture if I were asked to imagine the stereotypical quiet guy in glasses who likes to sit behind a keyboard but still looks like he has social skills; and the lead guitarist* was wearing a T-shirt that said ROCK, liked to stand in one place holding one fist in the air for a weirdly long time or making dramatic stiff-armed pointing gestures at the audience (two types of rock posturing that I really can't stand), and actually gestured to the work ROCK on his T-shirt as if to underline it -- all during songs that so, so did not rock as much as stand in one place swaying with closed eyes.

Still, we clearly liked them more than the people behind us, who we heard make a snarky remark about how they wanted one dollar of their three-dollar donation back (as part of a constant stream of anti-Stars commentary). They were the polar opposite of the group of people sitting to our left, who were singing along to every song and bouncing up and down in their seats. So we were halfway between loving and not liking Stars in more ways than one.

Honestly, I did like one of their songs quite a bit -- the one which I have been thinking of as "the one where they speed up the tempo and the lyrics are something like 'and I wanted to say / what I wanted to say'", and which I had a hard time finding the actual title of, because "Stars" is a fucking awful thing to name your band if you want people to be able to find information about you on the Internet. Anyway, it turns out the song I'm thinking of is "What I'm Trying to Say" from the album "Set Yourself on Fire", which also contains another song I found appealing (probably because I could mostly make out the lyrics), "Soft Revolution". So I may have to check that CD out.

In discussing the Sadies, who preceded Stars on the bill, there will be no such "I may have to" hedging. They were fucking awesome. I have mainly been aware of the Sadies because of their sometime status as Neko Case's backing band, but man, those guys can tear it the hell up; I particularly enjoyed their mastery of speed-twang instrumentals. Bridget loved them as well, and got a great picture of the violinist/lead guitarist Travis Good. Jon Spencer came out for a surprise guest appearance with his collaborator from his Heavy Trash side project, Matt Verta-Ray, and threw down a couple songs as well. Excellent stuff, although I did think to myself, "Dammit, this free concert just cost me, like, $50 in CDs I have to buy now." (And Robyn Hitchcock sings lead vocals on one of the songs on their latest album -- how did I miss that?)

As for the New Pornographers, they put on a good set; Neko Case wasn't there, but her replacement (didn't catch her name -- Katherine something? Can anyone help?) was no slouch, and they played some previews of songs from their upcoming album, "Twin Cinema" (which I have to wait until August 25 for??? grrrr); I always enjoy hearing new material from my favorite bands. The title track and "Sing Me Spanish Techno" were particular highlights.

But the most memorable thing about the New Pornographers' set was the audience. As I said, we were in the frontest row you could be in without being in the reserved area, which was separated from the rest of the audience by waist-high metal barricades. The aisle next to us had filled up with people for Stars' set, and then it filled up with different people for the New Pornographers' set. To my annoyance, the guy who had taken up residence next to me in the aisle had a baseball cap attached to his belt, which kept hitting me in the leg as he was dancing. A few songs in, he made a cell phone call to a friend of his between songs, telling him, "Yeah, I'm in the left aisle, all the way in the front!" I thought, dude! Are you seriously telling your friend to push all the way through the tightly packed mass of people behind you in the aisle? That is very rude! This somehow gave me the nerve to ask him, after the next song, "Hey, could you not have your baseball cap on your belt right there? It keeps hitting me in the crotch." (I thought "crotch" was more persuasive than "leg".) He apologized and was about to attach his baseball cap to the metal barricade instead when his friend turned up -- in front of the barricade.

I will pause for a moment here to point out that one unfortunate side effect of the barricade system is that even though there may be tons of people at a show, the bands don't get to have a bunch of enthusiastic fans up against the stage. The New Pornographers, for instance, had two people standing up by the stage, and a lot of people sitting respectfully in the first five rows. So this is the situation in which the friend of this fellow came up and said, "Come on! There's lots of room up here!" Baseball-hat-on-belt man and his girlfriend looked at each other and, after a momentary pause, went over the barricade. Well, actually, I think she went under. And that was all it took. Everybody in the aisle went over or under the barricade as well. (I was very impressed at the squeezing-through-small-spaces skills of some of the female fans.) In the space of a minute or two, the front of the stage was absolutely packed with people jumping up and down.

Part of me thought this was cool, but another part of me thought, "Huh...now that the audience has gotten to this point, it is only a matter of time before someone tries to jump on the stage." And so I was disappointed but not surprised when one kid hoisted himself up stage center -- but I honestly did not expect him to try to stage dive. I mean, what the freakin' hell, people? Did you not notice the guy in the front row with the infant sitting on his shoulders? I don't believe anyone was hurt, but this is not safe behavior. If anyone was hurt, it was probably the diver, because it looked like most people just tried to get out of his way instead of trying to catch him. A second person -- who looked very mild-mannered in his big glasses and had a very I-want-to-be-like-the-cool-kid-who-jumped-off-the-stage! air -- tried to crowd surf, although he sort of rolled off the stage instead of jumping off. That worked better; people did actually push him around for a bit. A third person, an enthusiastic girl, tentatively climbed onstage, jumped up and down in place, once, and quickly climbed back down. By this time, security was descending, and after the song ended, the Celebrate Brooklyn organizer came out and talked VERY VERY ANIMATEDLY AND TENSELY to lead singer Carl Newman, who then turned to the audience and said, very calmly and wryly, "Hey. Don't dive." He went on (from here on I must paraphrase), "I'm from Canada, and where I come from we don't jump on people's heads. Especially not the heads of women and children. And when I see people jumping on women's and children's heads...well, it makes my blood boil. So please don't do that."

Things stayed calm for a while (security personnel had staked out portions of the audience and the edges of the stage), and then, towards the end of the set, keyboard player Blaine Thurier had some sort of interaction with the enthusiastic girl from before in which he actually waved her onto the stage, which seemed like a terrible idea. (I was actually starting to get concerned that the stressed-out concert organizer was going to cut the show short.) She climbed onstage and had absolutely no idea what to do with herself once she got there. She stood awkwardly, walked a couple steps toward the keyboard, busted out a clumsy one-second-long dance move, and then resumed standing awkwardly for the brief moment until the organizer and security guards got their hands on her and led her off. This all sooooo predictably inspired another young person still making tentative steps toward having a less inchoate personal identity to try jumping onstage as well, but he was swiftly removed. The troublemaking keyboard player shrugged and gestured as if to say, "We would simply love to have all you addled young people onstage disrupting our performance, but the Man won't let us; can you believe that shit?"

As the set neared its close, Carl Newman checked his watch and asked how much time they had left and was told they had time for one more song. He said, "Well, I guess we'll have to cut our set short," and then, in response to the disappointed cry from the audience, went on, "Well, maybe we'll do a medley." So they played two more songs, wrapping up with "Letter from an Occupant", which I suspect may have been intended to be their encore -- because there was no encore. After their set ended, stressed-out organizer guy came right out and was all "thank you for coming" and moving us along. Rose said, "I think it is a measure of how much I have become a grown-up that all my sympathy in this situation is with the organizer." I had to agree.

We walked Bridget to the train and chatted with her for a bit more; not sure if we'll have another chance to see her before she splits for upstate New York, but she's probably going to be taking a job in Paris for two years, so I think we just might find ourselves an excuse to visit her there.

We walked home from there, since it's not all that far (and seems even less far now that we run laps of the whole park on a regular basis) and it can be a long wait for the F train late at night -- sadly, Louie G's was already closed when we passed by it on the way -- and then collapsed into bed exhausted. But the good kind of exhausted.

Posted by Francis at 12:41 PM

As with your running saga, I'm exhausted just reading this.

I'll have a similarly jam-packed day Sunday of convention, beginning with the con closing, then visiting college friends in Sherman Oaks, then going to a party with high school friends in North Hollywood, then taking the redeye home out of Burbank. Since I don't drive, it remains to be seen how I'll get to all these places.

Posted by: Ellen at June 26, 2005 02:13 PM

That exhibit sounds awesome and I wish I had known about it. One thing I wondered about that particular puzzle in January was, could the C. in the byline have been a typo? There's a Raymond D. Young who's made amazing puzzles (regular and variety) in GAMES, and it would be an amazing coincidence if there were two Raymond Youngs who made wide-open crossword grids...

The answer to your next question is "no, I'm not sure why I thought you'd know that."

Posted by: Ken/Cazique at June 26, 2005 07:48 PM

Wow. Gotta love free (or $3 suggested donation) concerts.

And you just gotta love the general public too!

(I am so anxious to take over for Andy Rooney when he dies that I can hardly contain my cantankerousness.)

Posted by: Tom at June 27, 2005 12:12 PM

It is much more difficult to get away with reading your hilarious blog during work hours when the entries are so long! (and yet so entertaining...) I just wanted to let you know I staff-recommended Holy Tango at a B&N here in Minnesota and continue to force-feed it to unsuspecting, pleasantly-surprised English majors everywhere. Pure genius.

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