Tuesday, March 27, 2007

NYC's top five

Reader Blue writes:

Yo Yank!
Please give me the top five things to do and see and avoid in NY City. Me and the little lady might visit The Big Apple in April.

Glad to oblige. April, you say?

Yankee Stadium: The guiding principle of New York City is, Stick to the things that will actually exceed their hype. (By way of what to avoid, stay away from Soho, avoid Canal Street, Fie on Chinatown.) Yankee Stadium--with its royal blue seats affording a view of the emerald playing field, the monuments to Ruth and Gehrig, DiMag and the Mick in Monument Park, the bleacher creatures in center field chanting the names of the starting players (one after the other, each until the player being whose name is chanted turns and waves), and, above all, a few minutes before that ritual, the pleasure of seeing Jeter, Matsui, Damon, Robbie, Georgie, and A-Rod trot confidently to their stations at the top of the first--is such a place.

Remember the end of For Love of the Game? The best line, the only meaningful line in the whole movie, was Vin Scully's, after Billy Chapel's perfect game: "The cathedral that is Yankee Stadium belongs to a Chapel." The cathedral that is Yankee Stadium. Yes, and yes again. Also, the House that Ruth Built has only two more seasons to go before the new playpen opens across the train tracks.

Broadway: My this-year's discovery. Check out the ticket kiosk that offers half-price tickets in the basement of the hotel--I forget the name--on 48th Street. The only drawback is that the kiosk only takes cash, which can be a problem, in that New York City is one of the three cities in the country where you find yourself returning again and again to the ATM machine. New Orleans has Bourbon Street, Las Vegas has the tables, and New York City has the cabs, the cloakrooms, the street vendors, and the bars that have been standing since 1848, the place you go in for one drink, so keeping a tab is a pain. (This I discovered: Easterners break a twenty for their first drink, and leave the change on the bar in front of them, taking what they need until they leave.) On which subject:

The bars that have been standing since 1848 (or so): Absolutely no guesswork at all. Wait until after five, but go before dark. Walk down a street, look for a wood-front tavern featuring a green awning, or else a corner place with its name spelled out vertically, and just walk in. Maybe it'll be noisy, maybe quiet, maybe sports, maybe Wall Street, maybe theatre. The bartender next to you will lecture you on whether or not the Yanks should trade A-Rod, Mr. Brown Class of '01 on the stool next to you will tell his friend (but loudly enough--on purpose--for you to hear) whether the market is due for a correction. You never know.

This method was how I discovered Rosie O'Grady's--the bar, not the steakhouse--on Broadway and 50th. And, in five minutes, with the help of the owner and a bond salesman, fixed the BCS.

Battery Park: More or less compulsory. The boat to Liberty Island can be a pain: go early, early, early. A few blocks north, Ground Zero. Not a lot of joyousness, but . . . you have to go. (Take the 1 Train to South Ferry, end of the line, get off, work your way north.)

The best walk in the world: From a memory of twenty years ago this spring. Sunset. The walk down Sixth Avenue, from Rockefeller Plaza to the Empire State Building. Has to be seen, etc.

Leave you with one memory. On a whim, Saturday, I walked from my hotel to the Ambassador Theatre, where (as I wrote already) Bebe Neuwirth was finishing her last week in the revival of Chicago. The man at the box office was quintessential New York: bald, muscular, compact, gray blazer, yellow shirt, red tie. New York.

"Uh . . ." I asked. "Anything for tonight?"

I thought he might laugh at me. Instead, he tapped out a few keystrokes on his computer.

"Ahhh," he said, and squinted at the screen. "Got sixth row. Y'want sixth row?"

I want sixth row.

"Ah," I asked, feeling warmed-to, "tell me, please. Is it pronounced Babe Neuwirth or Beebee Neuwirth?"

Now he smiled, in the same way a Soprano smiles, mid-whack. "Beebee," he said.

Oh, and on Monday, I have no idea where we were or how to get there, but as Astro-Girl and I worked our way from Chinatown home to the hotel, we stumbled onto a collection of Federal Buildings and courtrooms, and up one impressive set of gray steps, a filming of an episode of "Law and Order." Tom Berenger and Armand Assante were the featured performers that day.

My first clue was the 18-wheeler with the enormous PARAMOUNT PICTURES logo on the side.

"You know what this means?" I asked Astro-Girl.

A man walking behind us, carrying a violin case and a backpack, answered me.

"Yeah," he said as he passed. "I know. And it f%&*s up the traffic every day. It sucks."

Nearer to the set, a real-life ADA, who seemed all of twelve, and all of ninety pounds, and a real blonde (cut short), was more helpful.

"It was kind of exciting at first," she admitted. "But then it got boring. They're here every day."

Astro-Girl, who lives for all things "Law and Order" (all but the first team on "Criminal Intent"--D'Nofrio bugs her) was disappointed.

"I wanted to see McCoy," she said.

"Saying something profound and laconic as he and this season's McCoy-babe walk from the courthouse?" I guessed.

"Exactly," she said.

Monday, March 26, 2007

NYC Take Two

Astro-girl and I, on Sunday, head out for the next section of our Manhattan Adventure:

*Gyros from a street vendor. If that isn't an adventure, what is?

*Bloomingdale's. Who would Astro-girl be without her shoes?

*A matinee: Mamma Mia at the Winter Garden. Two things are going to take place in the 21st century: Oscars are going to be handed out for actors offering impersonations of famous people of the 20th century (so far we've seen Katherine Hepburn, Ray Charles, Truman Capote, Idi Amin--or rather their alter egos---so honored), and every popular musical group and performer of the 20th century is going to to empty its catalogue in an attempt to strike it big on Broadway. Who have we had yet? Queen, the Four Seasons, Frankie Valli, Billy Joel--and, in Mamma Mia, Abba. The story, of course, is a piffle (a bethrothed young lady's search for her father* among three candidates), yet oddly touching toward the end, and the three performance numbers at the end ("Dancing Queen" chief among them) are socko.

*Macy's. Which no longer advertises as "The World's LArgest Store," oddly enough.

*The Capital Grille. Steak!

And to all a good night.

(*Corrected from "Husband," thanks to SundDevil-Joe)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Give My Regards to Broadway

Remember me to Herald Square--which, come to think, have been the two spots in New York City that Astro-Girl and I have occupied since the cab from La Guardia dropped us off at the 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue Hilton in Midtown. In, as they say, the heart of Broadway.

Let me be clear: I am starting to get a little bit fed up with the notorious waste of money associated with these college conferences. The leading higher education luminaries schedule these blessed things in the most expensive hotels in the country, confident in their ability to hector their institutions into subsidizing travel and accomodations. Last year's conference was at the Palmer House, in Chicago; this year's conference is at the Hilton, located halfway between Times Square and Central Park, ran hotel bills into four figures for each of the participants, a figure they would never pay if forced to pay themselves. There is very little we could accomplish here that we could not accomplish at the best Embassy Suites in Springfield, Illinois or DeMoines, Iowa; it is the confidence that people have in reimbursement--reimbursement from money that comes from tuition fees and state aid--that allows them to hold these events in Chicago last year, New York City this year, and San Francisco two years from now. (Next year was scheduled to be Orlando, but was switched to New Orleans--a bad idea for an entirely different reason.)

But? But here we are.

I have turned this into my all-cliche tour. Thursday afternoon, I treated Astro-girl and I to hotdogs from a street vendor. Thursday night, I treated myself to a slice of pizza, past midnight, at La Famigla 24-hour takeout on 52nd and Broadway. Yesterday was coffee and bagels for breakfast, followed by my presentation, followed by sinner at the Havana Club, hosted by Longman Publishers. Today, down to Macy's with Astro-Grirl (she complained of motion sickness on the subway), and a shopping spree covering seven floors. Then, tonight, a walk to Rockefeller Center and dinner at the Sea Grill, with a table looking onto the skating rink. Then a walk to Ambassador Theatre on 49th, for sixth-row seats to Chicago, featuring Bebe Neuwirth--only this time as Roxy instead of Velma.

(Digression. Most people remember Neuwirth as the frigid psychiatrist Lilith, first on Cheers, then as a recurring guest on Frasier, a show whose re-runs Astro-Girl and I have turned into our end-of-the-night ritual. Neuwirth is one of those performers--Jerry Orbach is another--so entrenched in non-singing and non-dancing roles, usually on TV, that it becomes a shock to people to discover they can sing and dance. Velma was the part Neuwirth brought to life in the Chicago revival in the 1990s, and should have been the role Neuwirth rode to a Best Supporting Actress Oscar when the musical was made into a movie in 2002, but Neuwirth was passed over for Catherine Zeta-Jones, who can neither sing nor dance, a problem for a role that is ninety percent singing and dancing. It is one thing to dub another's singing voice in a movie; it is quite another to hire someone who can't dance, and try to cover up her deficiencies by way of quick cuts and reaction shots, a strategy Chicago attempted, and which fooled a sufficient number of Academy voters.)

Anyway, Neuwirth was sufficiently wonderful as Roxy, as I thought she would be.

And I had the added bonus, when I bought the tickets this afternoon. See, the door to backstage at the Ambassador is hard by the stage door, so as I emerged from the box office onto 49th Street, I passed by a door, and a voice that was unmistakable.

The voice sang the seven-note warm-up known to seven year-olds: "La-la-la-LA-la-la-la." Up and down the scale.

Throught the stage door, the voice was Neuwirth's.

A good moment. A New York moment.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Spelling Bee for the ages

No kidding.

Wednesday afternoon, as a judge, I had the best seat in the house for one of the most emotionally wrenching experiences one could imagine, not involving death or bloodshed. Wednesday afternoon was the day of the East Texas regional spelling bee.

No, really. Read:

Monday, March 19, 2007

(X) Blue Jays 9, Yanks 1

Karstens chic continues.

Dunno. 4 1/3 innings, 4 runs? I guess I'm missing something.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

(X) Phillies 3, Yanks 2

Pettitte, looking sharp.

Pavano, not so much.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

To those who would ask, "What law would you pass if you could?" I always have two responses:

1. Make Opening Day for baseball a national holiday.

2. Eliminate all other holidays (not the time off, just the holidays), save Thanksgiving and St. Patrick's day.

Christmas has become more trouble than it's worth. I find myself going to sleep early on New Year's. Valentine's in tolerable, but expensive. Easter is fattening. The Fourth of July is sweaty and an interminable wait for the fireworks. Halloween is fattening.

President's Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day are times off from work with nothing else special. Perfect.

Tonight, time to hoist a tall one to Nanny and Pop-pop.

(X) Astros 4, Yanks 3

A ho-hum game for both teams. Wang: sharp. Woody: the same, working around a few errors.

If Mo Ensberg (third home run) is as sharp in the regular season as now, the Berkman-Lee-Mo-Scott middle of the order will be scary.

March Madness, day three . . .

. . . and all of my Great 8 teams are still alive.

I'll enjoy it. Never happening again.

March Madness, day three . . .

. . . and all of my Great 8 teams are still alive.

I'll enjoy it. Never happening again.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

(X) Yanks 3, Braves 2

Igawa,three shutout innings.

Wang, Moose, Pettitte . . . Igawa, Karstens?

Could happen. No joke.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

(X) Thuh-uh-uh-uh Yankees win!

Details here.

Honest to God, I've forgotten yesterday's opponent already.

Is this kid Karstens (four shutout innings) the real thing? Will Proctor and Kardiac Kyle (scoreless innings both) be able to comb their hair come September 1?

And how will this Yankee team do against left-handed pitching? The Yankees achieved Boston Massacre II by feasting on a Boston bullpen that couldn't deliver up a decent lefty for a lefty-lefty match-up.


Most things that happen in sports are a stunner.


Yeah, I saw that HBO special for about the twentieth time. And I thought about the 1996 New York Yankees, who were bounced in the first two games of the World Series and came back, 4-0--improbably, improbably, on the wings of a suffocating bullpen and a whole host of prospects (Bernie, Jeter, Mo, Andy) who decided to blossom at the same moment.

I'll give other people "Do you believe in Miracles?" I'll take Charlie Hayes gathering in the third out of Game 6.

I was thirty years old in 1995. I said, "If the Yankees never win again, I've enjoyed enough."

And then I was treated to four crowns in five years. Gravy. Gravy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

(X) Reds 6, Yanks 3

Box score here.

Mussina: 3 innings, 3 runs. 5 hits.

I feel a case of the March blahs coming on.

Damon and Cano look good, but beyond that . . . blah.

Monday, March 12, 2007

(X) Boston 7, Yanks 5

Pavano, two runs in three innings. But supposedly he looked good.

Got a call from, among other people, Robbie-Boy over the weekend. RB said, "I knew you were busy at work. I always know that when you drop your blog for a few days."

Bingo. I started this because I could never keep a diary for more than a few weeks. Somehow this made it all easier, and I hate myself when I let it go a few days. Blame the run-up to Spring Break.

It has taken me this long to realize that February and March are the best two months to be a college English teacher, especially at a community college, and for three reasons:

1) Spring Break!

2) Conferences, those out-of-town junkets that prove, once again, that nothing beats checking into a hotel someone else has paid for, sitting down to a meal someone else has paid for, and--best of all--boarding a plane someone else has paid for.

3) Mindful that April is usually the month for textbook aquisitions, publishers descend on us starting in February and treat us to, among other things, some really nice meals. It is quite a switch: I go ten months a year, hectored by secretaries, hounded by deans, and then for six weeks or so I find myself at the best restaurant in town, drinking a single-malt scotch older than most of my students as a prelude to the sort of dinner I can afford to treat Astro-girl and myself to maybe once a month.

The past two years, I have been doubly blessed. The past two years, I have been invited to present at the 4 C's (or rather, CCCC, an acronym for something I can never keep straight, though one C stands for "Composition" and the other "Convention"). It follows hard upon Spring Break, essentially (except for two days) keeping me away from my place of employment between March 9 and 28th. Thus the pile of work I did in the run-up to Spring Break, and the equally depressing pile that awaits me when I return.

Our college has a loose rule: get yourself invited to a conference, one conference a year, and they'll pay travel, accomodations. Last year, it was Chicago, and my introduction to the Palmer House, the El, the Chicago Art Institute, and--by sheer accident, as Astro-girl and I walked through the business district back to our hotel one stunning Sunday afternoon--the Billy Goat Tavern, the inspiration for Belushi and Ackroyd's "Cheese-bugga, Cheese-bugga" skit on SNL. Since it was a Sunday, and since the Billy Goat caters mostly to the business district types, the place was empty, and in fact AG and I were the only customers. That day's Goat employees, both men, seemed about twenty, surely the youthful descendants of the Greek proprietor portrayed so well by Belushi, and had well absorbed the insitutional DNA of the place. The conversation between one of them and Astro-girl went about as follows:

AG: "I don't know what I want."

Kid: "You want cheesebugga."

AG: "Well (scanning the menu above the counter), maybe I'll have . . ."

Kid: "You want cheesebugga."

The one salutory fact was that this was one of only two meals we purchased all week. Publishers, thank you.

This year, New York. I think I'll have the fish.

This is getting ridiculous

Or too easy. A polar excursion designed to draw attention the global warming has been called off because of . . . wait for it . . . extreme cold weather.

All explain-away-the-data global warming stories invariably contain this quote, or something like it:

"They were experiencing temperatures that weren't expected with global warming . . . but one of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability."

Because, of course, warm means warming, cold means warming, dry means warming and wet means warming.

And, of course, nothing is as unpredictable as freezing cold weather at the North Pole.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007

(X) Yanks 10, Phils 5

Big story: Carl Pavano pitches.

Two innings. One run.

Not exactly Ron Guidry, circa 1978.

But a start.

(X) Yanks 4, Bucs 3

Details here.

Wang, Pettitte, Moose--with that offense, and Rivera in the bullpen--could be formidable.

We're back to where we've been the last three years.

Innings seven and eight.

Coulter: our Moore?

One of the most exasperating periods of my life was the two-week boomlet for Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11. The week the movie came out, I was staying at Evergreen State in near Olympia, Washington, for a conference on Learning Communities, and to understand this location, you should be familiar with 1) Chuck Klosterman's dictum that people attend Evergreen State to avoid attending life, and 2) Olympia is an hour away from Seattle.

The conference was run by a series of professors--ones that either taught at Evergreen or should have--and on the Thursday of that week, the night Farenheit 9/11 came out, a group of them drove an hour to Seattle to stand in line for two hours in order to see the movie. I should emphasize that, by and large, these people (two-thirds of them women) were wonderful and kind and and brilliant and hospitable to a fault--right up until the second when the subject turned to politics, at which time these people would turn into fanatics ready to lecture all of us on the stolen election, the corrupt Supreme Court, Chimpy McBushhitler, and Ho ho ho, wasn't it just hilarious that Fiji had signed off on the invasion of Iraq (leaving aside that 250 Fijian soldiers, who were placed in charge of currency transports through deadly territory, were roughly equivalent to 117,000 French, had France ever intended to stick an oar in, which it hadn't)?

One woman in particular sticks out: mid-fifties, attractive, and dressed in the de riguer Birkenstocks, she was one of those who had gone to see the movie, and on the Friday morning of that week, she described the movie to me, then realized that I was from Texas, then with utter solemnity said, "You'd better hurry and see it. You're in Texas. You know they're going to try and have it shut down."

When I expressed doubt that government agents would be charging into the River Oaks 3 to confiscate a documentary, she shook her head: No, no, Bush would be coming after the movie.

Once I returned to Houston, I emailed her that Farenheit 9/11 was playing in a movie theatre not four miles from the elder George Bush's house, she emailed me back, wondering, Well, how can he live with the shame?

Now comes the truly exasperating part. I saw Farenheit 9/11, not that I bought a ticket. (I purchased a ticket for something else and snuck in, not wanting Michael Moore to have a single dollar of mine.) Afterwards, in talking to people about it, I was struck by a certain debating tactic. Point out six falsehoods, ten, twenty, and wait for the response: "So? So he's our Rush Limbaugh. Big deal."

No kidding. I must have heard that line of argument a dozen times, everytone from dinner companions to Bill Press on cable news, repeating that line over and over and over until it became established fact. Point out blatant falsehoods in the first scene in the film, and get this: So? Our Rush Limbaugh, bro.

And so it has been with our side and Anne Coulter: living off her hyperbole, taking joy in the rage she conjured in others, excusing her hyperbole by saying, So? She's our Michael Moore. Or Bill Maher. Or Al Franken. Or, speaking of dissemblers, Bill Clinton.

So--I always imply--shut up.

Not any more. I give up.

The Sainted Soxblog makes the case.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Proctor: the real thing?

A nice little story about a kid who could make a difference.

Just pace him, Joe.

Since 2000, it has been the same story: the only thing worse than being a reliever Joe Torre doesn't trust is being a reliever Joe Torre loves. 'Cause you're going to get worked to death, son.

Tired arms cost the Yankees first-round losses in 2002, 2005 and last year; cost them the pennant in 2004 (the saddest sight in the world was Tom Gordon throwing those grapefruits to Ortiz and Manny), and cost them the series (okay, a lack of offense hurt) in 2003.

The current curse of the Yankees has been described as a franchise still looking for those last two outs they left in the desert in 2001. One might as well say that this is a franchise looking for the bullpen it had in the late nineties: Stanton, Nelson, Lloyd, Mendoza . . . and Mo.

(X) Yanks 6, Twins 1

And another exhibition season begins.

Giambi, Damon homer.

More importantly, Wang: two perfect innings.

The kid has got to be great this year.