Archive

Archive for April, 2011

The Science Of Pringles

The inexorable march of progress, as embodied in a potato chip.

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Categories: Nom

The Bones Could Stay

Inside McSorleys

Part of the first 100 beers of the night

Every year around this time, I like to take a trip to McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village. It’s kind of a tradition. In fact, McSorley’s is a place that’s built on tradition. The bar has been in existence since around the time of the civil war. No one knows exactly when they first lay down sawdust. It could have been 1854. Maybe 1861.

It doesn’t matter, because the purpose of a good tavern is to promote legend over fact. It is a place where memory necessarily gets hazy. Stories merge on retelling.This is role of a pub. History and bullshit are slapped together like bumper stickers.They overlap and give each other unintended context.

When the sun is out, McSorley’s gets plenty of daylight, pouring over top of the Orthodox church across the street. But at night the light comes from low wattage lights along the walls. The chandelier that hangs above the front room doesn’t put off any light. For the past hundred or so years, it’s been holding wishbones, left by soldiers on their way to war. Some say they started during the Civil War, but most likely it was WWI. Either way, the dust was thick. Every year, every war, more got kicked up. Problem is, sometimes it came down, and it looks like the health department didn’t appreciate that.

Joseph Mitchell, the inimitable chronicler of old New York, once wrote that the founder, John McSorley, simply liked to save things, including the wishbones of holiday turkeys. But Mr. Maher, who has worked at McSorley’s since 1964 — he predates some of the memorabilia — insists that the bones were hung by doughboys as wishful symbols of a safe return from the Great War. The bones left dangling came to represent those who never came back.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, a city health inspector gave the establishment a grade of A, but strongly, strongly, encouraged the removal of those wishbones above — or, at the very least, removal of the dust enveloping them.

“The chandelier had numerous strands of dust,” said a health department spokeswoman. “The inspector encouraged the operator to clean the dust, or at least avoid storing or serving open drinks directly beneath it — to avoid the dust from falling into the drinks of their bar patrons.”

The way Mr. Maher heard this was with a faint touch of hope: At least the bones could stay.

The dust was a tradition, but not the important one. The real meaning was in the bones. A soldier leaving for WWI didn’t think about the dust that would end up there. Somehow it got tied into the myth, took on a life of itself. Going into McSorley’s is gonna be different now, no doubt. But I wonder what it’s gonna be like, seeing the bones, not the dust.

Categories: Dive

Watching The River Flow

The Rolling Stones new track Including Bill Wyman. Covering Dylan in tribute to founding member and eventual road manager, piano player Ian Stewart.

I once heard Keith say that whenever they played Wild Horses live, Stu would defiantly lift his hands above his head at every minor chord. Because there should be no minor chords in rock and roll.

Categories: Uncategorized

Stories From The City

Kind of an interesting article about the history of apartments in NYC, as seen mostly through the eyes of the fabulously wealthy. This being NY Magazine, of course, the way the common folk lived is referenced only insofar as it relates to how the top 5% or so. But the article is interesting none the less, mostly because the New York described seems so foreign.

There are still plenty of people who genuinely prefer living in single family homes, but we sort of take it for granted that to live like that, you have to get out of the city. Many years ago we divided our world up into Urban, Suburban, and Rural, and we don’t really recognize any grey areas. The demarcation we use is density. You get to choose between sprawl and life in a box. In what has been a pretty big reversal, many people are generally moving towards little boxes, and away from cookie cutter ranches and opulent mini-mansions. I’m too lazy to Google the actual demographics, but it seems pretty clear that people of my generation have found the last vestige of rebellion against our hippy parents. We moved to the city en-masse.

Anyone my parent’s age who’s been payment attention for the last 50 years must be pretty cynical by this point. There’s not much they haven’t seen. We’re talking about a generation that was responsible for the Weather Underground, key parties, and Ronald Reagan. If there is a way to piss off a parent, then someone I know must have tried it. From drugs to tattoos to joining a cult, nothing seems to phase these people (unless you’re lucky enough to have a type A parent who goes ape shit about everything). The only thing that could possibly get them is to reverse what I think they see as their greatest achievement: getting the fuck out of the city.

The Baby Boomers didn’t invent the suburb, exactly. But they honed them into a lean, merciless culture destroying machine. Neighborhood shops were bulldozed in favor of Costco’s and Walmarts. Soccer practice became America’s pass time. Kids learned to drink and to drive at approximately the same age.

Even those who don’t plan on moving to Manhattan can dip their toes in the water. A lot could be said, both positive and negative, about the recent redevelopment in some growing parts of NJ but part of the reason that it’s exciting is that these towns are allowing walkable urbanism. They’re creating mixed use areas, where someone can walk downstairs from their apartment and find places to right there, so close you could spit. For years that was a foreign idea in most places. That was what the people who ran these town councils were trying to get away from. They wanted their front doors to open on bland, cookie cutter America.

Now making areas designed so that you don’t need to power a couple tons of steel just to go pick up some Slim Jims is a good idea in and of itself. It’s better for the environment, and it’s safer in a lot of ways (cars are dangerous).  The question is, once the last generation is too old to care, will we have the stamina to keep moving forward?

Categories: Uncategorized

Mastering

If you’re like me and mostly listen to music recorded before Bonzo first went to Bitzburg you’ll probably notice that record labels believe you’ll keep re-buying the same albums as long as they keep “remastering” them. Remastering can, in some cases, lead to better sounding records, but it’s sadly become a cynical cash-in rather than a way of putting out better music. Columbia has released a remastered Dylan’s Love and Theft , which came out less than 10 years ago. I’m pretty sure that mastering technology hasn’t changed that much in the past decade.

The message I’m getting is that the record labels feel that no one knew how to properly master an album prior to about 2005. Or maybe this is all a conspiracy to explain the delay behind Chinese Democracy. I can only hope it’s the latter.

Categories: Uncategorized

What You Gotta Learn For Yourself

Do you remember that guy who kept insisting, loudly, whenever someone looked like they might have been having the least bit of fun, that Dec 31st 1999 was not the last day of the millennium? Instead, we had to wait until Jan 1st, 2001 for the new millennium to begin? He may have been technically correct, but mostly you just nodded until he stopped talking so you could go for another champagne and Jack.

By that logic, I have just hit my 30’s now. It seems strange. By most cultural measures, you could probably say I’m an adult. I’ve got a steady job, I’m in debt, and often buy cauliflower on purpose. So when my parents offered to take me out some place for dinner for my birthday, I thought maybe it’d be fun to go some place in the city. Some place fancy. I found myself thinking it’d be fun to dress up like a grown up and go to restaurant that doesn’t offer “buffalo” anything.

Of course it’s a bit silly to be 31 years old and still think it’s subversive to pretend to be an adult. But then I realized that what they don’t tell you when you’re a kid is that there’s no one thing labeled “adulthood”. It’s goal you eventually reach. It’s just a continuum and if you play your cards right you can end up finding a spot that’s comfortable for you. But that comes from trial and error more than anything.

Shortly after college, I fucked up an important relationship, in part because I had these terrifying notions of “growing up”, and what that would entail. I didn’t know how that happened to someone, but I I couldn’t abide any little instance of change, fearing that any given step forward would end in a mortgage and 2.5 kids. I had bought into the idea that just because most of the people I’d seen over 30 were empty shells, then settling into a stupefyingly dull middle age was as natural as puberty.

The reality is that there are different ways you can choose to live. You just need to stop being as much of a fuck up. Even if you find yourself in a situation that would have seemed unimaginable to the 14 year old you, it is essential to find your joy somewhere. You may feel encumbered by accidents of fate or piss-poor decision making, but there is plenty of beauty in this world for you to take with you. Hold on to that and you won’t feel old.

People find that not everything worked out for them as planned. Then they blame that on growing up. If only it were so easy. The truth is that that’s life. We all have challenges and regrets. The trick is to not get bogged down in old expectations. In the end, the only way to truly be an adult is to accept that there’s no such thing.

Categories: Uncategorized

Motorama

Not much time to blog today, but apparently you can watch Motorama, one of the great hero myth retellings of our time, in full on YouTube. Here’s the beginning (trust me, keep with it):

Categories: Uncategorized