Monday, February 28, 2005

No More Ruby's

The gallery opening did have cheese, and about half a dozen painters from the abstract to the photographic realist. The performance part consisted of a jazz combo of guys from Bulgaria.

What was really notable for me was the space the gallery was in. It was in a renovated industrial building on 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, the kind of neighborhood where you would have been afraid to walk around a couple of years ago because there was nothing there at night and on weekends, and now is full of multi-million dollar condo lofts. You still have a long walk to the nearest Duane Reade, though.

Another neighborhood that seems to have been sprouting condo lofts lately is Chambers Street, which separates Tribeca from the Wall Street/World Trade Center area. I look into the windows of buildings that for as long as I can remember had housed sweatshops, sleazy insurance companies, notary publics or learn-to-drive places, and suddenly I'm a Peeping Tom in somebody's granite-and-stainless steel kitchen.

An unfortunate casualty of this transformation is Ruby's Book Sale, which is closing a week from today. They saw some of their business affected by the shutdown of that area for several weeks after 9/11, and then the gentrification is finishing the job. Ruby's not only sold half-price and discounted books, but they would (selectively) buy your stuff in exchange for store credit.

And not only books. They were the only place I knew of in the city that would buy and sell recent back-dated magazines. Sometimes you would often find the current issue of some magazine that would have been eight or nine dollars at full price. When I worked in an ad agency, we would be inundated with multiple copies of every publication that could possibly carry an ad. Every couple of weeks, I would bring Ruby's as much as I could haul down on the No. 1 subway train, and use the store credit towards half-price computer manuals and mass market paperback mysteries. And they were, like, the place to get something to read on Jury Duty.

They'll be having a 50% off sale until they close, and I still have a little store credit and some room on my bookshelves. Meanwhile, I will continue to hunt down other small places to buy and sell books and magazines. Or else I'll brave the crowds at the Strand. Or keep using Amazon Marketplace or, thereby spending even more time sitting at my desk and getting a big butt from eating all that cheese.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Art Show

Tomorrow I'll be seeing my friend Mark Wiener's new paintings at a group show at The Curb Artspace (on West 34th between 10th and 11th). Mark is an abstract expressionist whose work has appeared all over the world, and on stamps.

Invitation says "Reception and performances from 3 to 8." Must be some kind of performance art.

I hope there will be cheese.

It's My Fault

It's occurred to me that the Democrats lost because I use big words. It's elitist. From now on I should use real little words. And giggle a lot. People like giggling.

Also, I broke up the Beatles.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Movie Night

The management of my division, in order to boost morale, has started showing free movies one night a month after work. Last night's choice? Office Space.

Watching Office Space in front of your boss is like watching a sex movie in front of your parents.

Next month, I hope they don't show The Real Blonde. I really like that movie. It's a hip New York movie that extols some good old-fashioned "Red State Values" like responsibility and monogamy. Also, it has sex.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Last week, my husband and I were watching documentary footage of the Beatles' first American tour and spouting cliches.

"That was the last innocent year."

"That was really the beginning of the Sixties."

So the next day, I'm browsing in the History aisle of the library and what do I see? "The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 : The Beginning of the 'Sixties' " by Jon Margolis. Tonight, remind me to talk about finding a million dollars.

I'm about halfway through this book, and it's like looking at an ultrasound for the way things are now. The narrative goes chronologically from the day after JFK's assassination to the 1964 Presidential Election, and along the way it encompasses the rise of both the New Left and the modern Conservative movement behind Barry Goldwater's candidacy, the repercussions of the Civil Rights Act (which was originally going to include bias against gender as well as race), the emergence of an anti-war movement to protest our participation in a war of "questionable necessity," the creation of BASIC programming language, and milestones in sports, culture and entertainment, including, yes, the Beatles.

There is even a foreshadowing of "Red State and Blue State America," although this book was published in 1999 and this term would not be coined for another year. It's here in this analysis of a New York Times Magazine article from the end of 1963 entitled, "What Sort of Nation Are We?":

Not a bad one, came the answer. "We are, first and foremost, a democracy," the article said, but a special kind of democracy. Noting that popular majorities no doubt opposed many of the country's political institutions--free speech, the presumption of innocense--the article concluded, without using the offending word, that this was something of an elitist democracy, in which only a select minority held liberal values.

Or at least the ideal democracy your teachers held up to you in Civics Class or during "Brotherhood Week." ("I want to live in a friendly world, A friendly world, A friendly world...")

Instead, American democracy was "a social rather than a political phenomenon," based on the fact that more Americans "have been able to ascend to a level of material security and a consciousness of personal worth" than the people of other lands, to such an extent that "social classes play...a small role in our national life."

Even members of racial minorities could attain this wealth and consciousness, the article said, for the real division of the country was based on neither race not class; it was...well, it wasn't education, exactly. It was more like degrees of enlightenment, or what would later be called "lifestyle."

The division was between a "provincial America," mired in the past but well represented in Congress and in local government,

Both the liberals the the conservatives could make this statement now: The liberals are stuck in the Seventies in many ways, and the conservatives want to roll back the clock to at least before the New Deal.

and in the future-oriented "metropolitan America," whose voice was heard in the big corporations, the universities, the new suburban developments, the communications industry, and the presidency.

So broad was the Vital Center--just before it split apart more and more into opposite poles--that big corporations and the "cultural elite" could be spoken of under the same umbrella.

What distinguished these two Americas, said the author, was "our [there was no doubt as to which side he was on] commitment to a democratic society and to technological innovation." Nor was there much doubt that "we" would prevail. After all, suburbia, the corporate economy, and the power of the presidency could only grow, and as more people got college educations, there would be more of "us," fewer of "them."

So not to worry. The Dallas fourth graders who cheered the assassination were remnants of the fading "provincial America." The murders in Dallas were "unpredictable and unpreventable." To be sure, America has its problems, the article said, but "our problems are those of success."

I was in fourth grade in the Bronx when JFK was assassinated (see "Brunobaby, the Prenatal Years.") The shock in the classroom when the principal made the announcement over the PA reverberated in my nightmares for the next two years. If someone had told us that a classroom of kids like us had cheered the news, we would have thought that class was in Russia or Cuba.

Yet, we wouldn't have been surprised to hear it was in our own Southwest. Anyone of us who could turn on a television knew that everyone below the Mason-Dixon Line was a hillbilly, a moron or a bigot, despite the fact that we could find their counterparts without leaving the New York Tri-State Area.

And "they," in turn, thought we were the Commies, for wanting "our" Godless government to force a change in their deeply traditional, deeply entrenched social and economic order, without regard for the consequences that such necessary changes might leave in their wake.

Our parents read the Daily News and the Journal-American, but for those of us whose ambitions went beyond the neighborhood, there was no doubt that we aspired to be the ubiquitous "we" of the Times article. In that last innocent year, we were little world-beaters waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, Red America lay in wait.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Play It Again, Libs

You should know that my favorite book on contemporary history is E.J. Dionne's "Why Americans Hate Politics." This 1992 book contends that the failures of both liberalism and conservatism caused most Americans to feel that elected officials could do nothing to help them and instead they choose a candidate on the basis of whether or not they would lose what they already have, like their guns, abortion rights or tax dollars. Thus, the country was stuck in a "Politics of False Choices" where issues went around in a circle, problems never got solved and nothing moved forward.

The key to breaking out was to connect with "The Politics of the Restive Majority." The Clinton campaign practically used this book as a manual in 1992.

I've just read the avuncular Washington Post columnist's latest, "Stand Up Fight Back," published last June. It could be a sequel to the first book. Only this time, the foe is not a "Politics of False Choices," it's "The Politics of Revenge," and in this round, the Republican Toughs are beating up Democratic Wimps.

As in the first book, Dionne is even-handed in assigning the culpability. The conservatives did their part after 9/11 by painting anyone who disagreed with the Bush Administration as being treasonous. But the liberals did their fair share in setting up the situation by their political correctness, fear of being judgmental, and by spending so much time defending themselves over what they are not that many people no longer know what they are.

Thus, liberals have let the Bushies co-opt their message of freedom and opportunity, when it resembles the conservatives' real mission statement as much as I resemble Rex, The Wonder Horse.

Here's the part that resonates with me:

After Bush defeated Dukakis in 1988, the quest for toughness became a high
Democratic priority. In December 1991, I wrote an article arguing--only partly
tongue-in-cheek--that the Democratic Party and liberalism had never been the
same since Humphrey Bogart was lost as the symbol of what it meant to belong to
FDR's party and to support his worldview. Woody Allen, Robert Redford, and Alan
Alda were all very amusing, but Democrats and liberals were dying from an
overdose of irony and detachment. In Bogart, they had a perfect symbol: a tough
guy with a heart, and convictions.

The serious point was that Bogart
symbolized a different kind of liberalism from the sort that was so easily
parodied after the 1960s. It was liberalism that asked something of citizens
(even, as I pointed out back then, hard things like giving up Ingrid Bergman in
Casablanca). Bogart's message was that you didn't do the right thing because you
wanted to be nice or feel good. You did right because it was right. And by
usually winning in the end, Bogart provided that doing the right thing was

Hey, I'm into it. If you want me, just whistle.

BTW, my favorite Woody Allen movie is one he didn't write or direct: The Front, where he plays a schnook who fronts for blacklisted TV writers during the McCarthy era. When he's finally caught, after trying to fumfer around and be clever, he tells off the HUAC with a line that has since become my mantra. With Dr. Dean at the helm of the DNC, it looks like it'll become the Democrats' mantra, too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Brunobaby, The Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey

Last night I attended a cheese course at Murray's, which recently moved into a newer and larger store complete with classroom.

Each of the 20 or so attendees were seated in front of a plate of six cheeses ranging from a wet and curd-intensive Burrata to a hard, gold-nuggety Dutch Roomano. We also enjoyed two wines from Astor Wines & Spirits: a sparkling white and a robust red, plus a canoe-shaped dish of fruits and nuts and a platter of crusty baguette slices with which to experiment.

Owner Rob Kaufelt took us through the history of each cheese, how and where it's made, and why it looks, smells and tastes the way it does. Also answered that all-important question, "Do you eat the rind?" (Answer: It depends.)

He also told us that when you match the right cheese and the right wine, you get a third flavor. This reminded me of a documentary I saw on The Mamas and the Papas--PBS runs it ad infinitum during Pledge Week--where Denny Doherty said that when all four members were singing together, it sometimes created a fifth voice they called "Harvey."

So I'm going to get some wines and some cheese and go looking for Harvey.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

If I'm Ever Single Again...

...and you see me reading this book, make like an ayatollah and chop off my hands.

In fact, do me a favor and shoot me in the head if you see me reading any book that takes advantage of a single woman's loneliness and insecurity by talking to her as if she were a pea-brained child.

You know, I've seen hundreds of books for women on how to get and keep a man, and maybe two or three books for men on how to get laid. Apparently, none of them are That Into Us, so why do we bother?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Take This Job...

Bravo was showing the movie Office Space every two hours last Friday night. It's about three abused office workers who concoct a scheme to cheat the company and their jerk of a boss.

It's Nine to Five meets "Scrubs" with a little of The Producers thrown in, and provided me with a big cathartic laugh at the end of a work week from Hell.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


I've switched to Firefox and lo and behold, a formatting bar appeared. Now I can stick with my Mac.

I also reset the Preferences so that you don't have to have a blog in order to post a comment.

Who woulda thought there would be yet another learning curve?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Already, I Have Issues

So last night, I was creating my first post, and I said to myself, "Hey, how do I do all those neat things like bolds and quotes and linking?"

I actually looked in the "Help" section--if all else fails, read the directions--and found out that this option is not yet available in Safari.

I switched to IE, but the formatting bar still wasn't there.

I'm doing this post at the job, where I use a PC, whereas at home we have a Mac. So I'm concluding that this option is just not available on the Mac. I could post from the job, but it's, like, The Job.

So maybe it's time to pick up a PC notebook and be a cross-platform house, and just fight over who gets to use the cable modem. Unless anybody knows a browser to use that will let me format on the Mac.

Why I'm Blogging

-Because when I start talking about current events with my friends, my liberal friends start foaming at the mouth and barking "Bush! Bush!" like rabid pit bulls, and then my conservative friends go "Haw! Haw! Haw! You're just sore cause your guy lost!" and then they start doing Sumo mud wrestling and I keep talking to myself like a street wack.

-Because when I start talking about current events with my husband, I'll say "When the right wing blames the cultural elite for everything it reminds me of when I was dating this guy whose room was full of back issues of 'Soldier of Fortune' and he used to tell me..." and then from my husband's reaction I will see that I'm no longer talking about how to make America better, I'm talking about some guy I used to have sex with.

-Because when I talk, everybody mocks me by repeating what I say in a little nasal voice. Okay, not everybody, it was just this one guy and he was drunk and real mean.

-To write about my cats. I have the best cats in the world. Even if you don't like cats, you'll love my cats. You'll see. Yeah. Cats.

-To write about life here in New York City, so people from all over the world can read it the way they watch "Sex And The City" and they can say either "Gee, I wish I was there living that glamorous life like those girls" or "Gee, I'm glad I'm not there living like those crazy mixed-up sluts."

-To write about things that move me in some way, because maybe I'm not mental and they move you as well.

I'll be incorporating this blog into my new, improved home page when it's ready. Which is kind of like setting your desk down in the middle of a big field and building a house around yourself.

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