The great New York pastime of hating and loving the holidays
Last year I was waiting for a bus on Main Street in Flushing when the guy on line next to me began complaining.
“You see that snowflake, right there,” he said to the woman he was with, referencing a large snowflake make of lights suspended over the heavily trafficked street. “That represents everything wrong with society today.”
While it was definitely too early to put up holiday decorations, the snowflakes over the street are not the ultimate illustration of our society’s ills.
Holiday decorations before Thanksgiving are definitely bad taste, but complaining about the holidays to prove how edgy you are is probably worse. I have no idea if the guy bitching about the snowflakes over Main Street celebrates any holidays this time of year, but judging by his appearance and the language he spoke the odds are good that he gives and receives gifts in the month of December.
Years ago I worked in a department store and the store had its own full-time staff that were in charge of all decorations. No matter what the season or the sale, they were always hard at work taking down or putting up something different. I remember seeing them put up a giant wreath in either August or September and I thought it was ridiculous, so I asked one of the guys about it. “It’s not that we want to be putting up holiday decorations this early,” he said. “It’s that there’s so much of it that if we don’t start on it now, we’ll never get all of it done by Black Friday.”
I’m as jaded about the holidays as the next New Yorker. People take them way too seriously. It’s supposed to be such an enjoyable time of the year that people go into it expecting perfection, when perfection just isn’t part of normal or happy life. Last year people bitched that the Starbucks cups weren’t heavy enough on the Christmas theme (I remind people that 7 Eleven has green and red coffee cups all goddamn year).
The proper response to the flurry of early holiday decorations is to not bitch about them and just go about your normal life. The holidays will be there for you when you want to pay attention to them.
One of the things I’m looking forward to most this holiday season is watching Bad Santa 2. The original Bad Santa became my go-to holiday movie after I saw it in the theater in 2003 and it cracked me up with a depraved holiday cynicism that ought to resonate with any skeptic.
And I’m sincerely looking forward to the holidays this year. It’s been a long year in a lot of ways. The world is indeed a dark and depressing place most of the time and there are a lot of things to be worried and anxious about. But if you have family or close friends you can spend time with and have a roof over your head and food in your stomach this holiday season, you have a reason to be glad.
And New York is beautiful over the holidays. Even the most jaded denizen of the Big Apple can find beauty among the schlocky tourist crap that permeates everything. Enjoy.
First World Problem of the Week: New York street parking wars
I was fortunate enough to be invited by some friends to join them at a restaurant on Long Island to watch some Ultimate Fighting Championship fights. There are better tributes one can pay to these great fighters than enjoying them beat each other bloody while stuffing yourself with chicken wings, but hey, we’ve got to start our own road to the octagon in our own way.
I went to where my beat-up pickup truck was parked on Willets Point Boulevard near Parsons Boulevard. I was shocked to see a sticker on the passenger’s side window.
THIS VEHICLE IS PARKED ILLEGALLY AND IS HEREBY SUBJECT TO TOWING AND IMPOUNDMENT.
YOUR LICENSE NUMBER WAS RECORDED
New York City street parking regulations can be a Byzantine labyrinth of conflicting signs and notices, particularly in some of the more popular parts of Manhattan. Owning a car in New York City is a rare privilege and I am lucky I’m able to keep a car in the five boroughs, but it comes with a mountain of problems one must negotiate. Many of my fellow New Yorkers are horrible drivers. Parking in some parts of the city impossible and just about every non-millionaire who owns a car in New York has had their car damaged in some way without any justice or compensation.
In the more residential areas of Eastern Queens, the rules are normally much simpler. There are spots that are legal except for a window of time on a given weekday morning, when in theory a street sweeper will come and clean that section of street and curb. The Sanitation Department used to affix one of their infamous neon orange stickers on your car if you violate alternate side of the street parking.
In my neighborhood of Flushing bordering Whitestone, there are also some bus stops that may be legal on the weekends but then become illegal once weekday bus service resumes.
I was parked in a choice spot that was not in an alternate side spot. I’ve parked there repeatedly for years without incident. If any part of where I was parked was illegal, I would have received a parking ticket by now. This sticker was not a Sanitation Department sticker, not an NYPD sticker, nor any other kind of official sticker. Some asshole put it on themselves because they didn’t like that my truck was parked there.
I didn’t have time to peel it off, so I drove out to Long Island with the neon orange sticker screaming my alleged moral decrepitude to all the other drives of Long Island. I was the Uncle Buck of Flushing. I parked my truck in the parking lot of the bar/restaurant where I met my friends and hoped not too many people would notice the blazing orange sticker—the scarlet letter of parking scofflaws—besmirching the good name of all there at Hooter’s of Farmingdale to watch people pummel each other on pay-per-view.
That night, after watching Conor McGregor triumph without apology in his main event fight, I drove back home and found another parking spot on that same stretch of street. I didn’t want to tempt fate but no way will I let vandals determine where I park, and it’s convenient. Since it was near where the vandalism took place, it was convenient from the standpoint of reporting this matter to the law.
The next day I called my local police precinct and reported the crime. The officer on duty took my phone number and said officers would call when they were on the scene. A few hours later I got a call from the police and went to meet them where my truck was parked.
Three of New York’s finest were there to meet me. I showed them the sticker on the passenger window and noted that the truck had been parked completely legally on a public street only a few feet away from where it was not situated.
The police said they couldn’t report the vandalism as vandalism since there was no damage to my vehicle. I told them that this was indeed a crime, though not a serious one. That someone cannot just put stickers on someone’s property without their permission.
“It’s probably one of these property owners around here that don’t like you parking here,” said one of the cops.
I certainly didn’t expect them to assign their top detectives to this case or launch a task force to find the sticker vandal, but I at least expected them to report the crime, minor though it was.
Likely it was one of the homeowners that lives on that stretch of road. My neighborhood has quite a few very entitled homeowners who think they can claim portions of the public streets as their own parking domains. Some place traffic cones in front of their homes to claim parking spaces.
Being a homeowner doesn’t entitle you to claim public land. If you want to live on a street you own, become a millionaire and live on one of the private streets in Forest Hills.
After the police left, I got two cups of boiling-hot water, some paper towels and a scraper. I held the paper towels over the sticker while slowly pouring each cup over them, letting the hot wet towels sit for several minutes over the sticker and partially melt the clue holding the sticker onto the window. After it was softened up, I scraped the sticker off without any trouble.
Whatever jackass put this sticker on my truck surely thought I’d panic and try to scratch the sticker off my window like some kind of berserker. No such luck. I won’t let my First World Problems get the better of me, I’ll let the snotty haters in my neighborhood bask in the glow of pride that I have in my beat-up pickup truck.
A Dog That Didn’t Hunt This Time
The most deplorable thing about the general election was the awful choices voters were handed. The wife of a former President and a shady real estate mogul best known for hosting a reality television show? There was no way the outcome could be anything less than embarrassing. Each candidate deserved to lose.
There’s not much negative about Donald Trump that he didn’t say himself. He refused to even read the news during his campaign, brushing aside the pleas of his staff that he prepare for debates or learn about the world he was asking to lead. He’s arrogant and vulgar and his life is a monument to bad taste and delusions of grandeur. He’s been wrong about almost everything. But he was right on illegal immigration and crime and America is so desperate for people to speak at least partially honestly on controversial topics that this paid big dividends at the polls.
Hillary Clinton is an intelligent person with political skills and a mastery of the law and public policy. While there’s no doubt she got to where she was in large part because she is a former first lady, she’d be a formidable candidate and no question the most qualified by experience on the ballot. No one doubted her intelligence or her skill. But her career has been marred by repeated short-sighted judgements based almost solely on political calculation. In the end Hillary Clinton outsmarted herself.
The Clinton campaign followed the conventional wisdom of American politics that says accusations of racism is the Kryptonite of Republican candidates. Anyone so shamed with that scarlet ‘R’ is supposed to meekly apologize for whatever infraction they’ve committed, and sulk off to political purgatory. Trump threw that political calculus out the window and if fortune smiles upon our republic it will be his enduring legacy.
Trump set the stage early with his stand against illegal immigration. It was considered radical and extreme because he delivered a speech with his usual bombast. But the Democrats’ year-long overreaction to Trump’s stand against illegal immigration was their biggest gift to him.
You can’t solve a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist or trying to demonize those who want to fix it, even if your opponent is an ignorant blowhard. Illegal immigration on the scale we have now suppresses wages, brings criminal aliens into the country, poses serious public health risks, and often places unfair burdens on state and local governments forced to provide higher levels of service for populations that pay little or no taxes. You would have to be a reclusive millionaire not to see first-hand some of the negative effects unchecked immigration has had on our country. Somehow the view from Trump Tower was better than that from Chappaqua.
[N.B.: The idea of building a wall to solve the immigration problem shows just how clueless Trump is. Many if not most illegal immigrants enter the U.S. legally and then overstay their visas and Mexican cartels have shown themselves extremely adept at digging tunnels.]
Instead of serious policy solutions to issues of immigration and crime, Democrats delivered pompous moral lectures and in doing so they helped hand the election to Donald Trump. While it was impossible to cast a vote for either candidate, it was fun watching the premature Clinton victory celebration dissolve into a weepy pity party.
But what Trump supporters will soon realize is that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods. Trump is no real populist, and he’s aligned himself with religious conservatives hostile to science. It’s good to no longer ignore realities that were verboten in American political discourse, but Trump has never been interested in helping working-class Americans before. He’s a snake oil salesman. His willingness to speak a few harsh truths somehow overshadowed his bulwark of lies and empty boasts.
But the game has been changed in at least one positive way: The valid concerns of working-class Americans can no longer be shunted to the nether regions of the Internet by smearing them as “racist.” That’s the silver lining of Trump’s victory; it may be the only one.
Keeping New York cool on the ice
It’s hockey season and the best team to root for in New York is the New York Rangers. I have plenty of Islanders fans friends who disagree, but they can’t hide the fact that the Islanders sold their souls when they agreed to play at the Barclays Center.
But no matter, Rangers games are a great time. Even though tickets are expensive, you can sometimes get good deals. My wife is a superior planner and managed to find a compelling offer for tickets to watch the blue shirts take on the Winnipeg Jets. It involved having to friend someone on Facebook, send money through PayPal and then print out tickets at home, but it was legit and we had real tickets to a nosebleed-level luxury box at Madison Square Garden.
We got to MSG early because the luxury box area was going to have food before the game and we wanted to scarf down as much complimentary food as we could before the first puck dropped. With no mobs of people there, we walked directly one of the metal detectors. I emptied my pockets of all metal objects and walked through but I set off the metal detector anyway. I think it was the metal on my steel-toe boots (Joe Strummer said to always wear shoes you can run in or fight in, and I’m not good at running).
As the man waved his metal detecting wand over my boots, his colleague manning the metal detector took issue with my house keys.
“You can’t bring this in here,” he said, holding a key tool that lives on my keychain. The tool resembles a key but is a multi-tool that includes a bottle opener, two screwdriver heads, and a small blade. It would take you a week to stab someone to death with this blade. If you are immobile enough to be seriously hurt by the blade on my key tool, you are probably going to die soon anyway. I said if I couldn’t take it inside I wanted to check it and pick it up later.
The security guard called over a supervisor, an older man in a suit with an earpiece in his year. He was friendly and handed my keys over to a young woman who took off the key tool, and gave me back my keys. My wife and I followed her to a small security office with a Dutch door. I handed another security guard my I.D. and he wrote down my name and gave me a receipt written out on a baggage claim check. I saw that my small blade was going to be sharing some space on the top of a filing cabinet with a larger knife and one or two very small knives.
We made our way up to where our seats were and found our area. Half of the section was closed off before the game for Al Trautwig to do his pre-game broadcast. I couldn’t hear anything he was saying above all of the noise, but it was fun to see the behind-the-scenes of what is normally a mundane broadcast. Once he was done, everything was packed up quickly and we got seats on bar stools above the seating section. We had to stand to see one of the corners of the rink but otherwise the view was not bad at all.
The game was phenomenal as the Rangers beat Winnipeg five goals to two. Hockey moves at a brisk pace and Madison Square Garden erupts into song whenever the Rangers score a goal. We enjoyed the camaraderie of the fans, the inspirational moves of Dancing Larry and the cool taste of blue shirt victory. During the intermission between the first and second period we got to meet Mark Janssens, who was very friendly and gave autographs and posed for photos with fans.
After the game, we made our way back to the security office and stood in line outside. We had to go into the office one at a time to collect our things once a bored security guard said, “next.” While we were waiting in line, who did we run into but my friend Poppy and his son Mike. What makes this even more interesting is that my wife had seen Poppy just the night before as his daughter Danielle hosted an outstanding art party for my wife and her friends. Our Gotham can be a small and amazing place at times.
Watching New York Pass by in Brooklyn
I’m standing outside of Hank’s Saloon on the corner of Third Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn on the Saturday before Halloween. I’m there to play some punk rock songs as part of Green Hell, the Misfits cover band that has somehow managed to have a few reunion shows this year.
Hank’s Saloon is a ramshackle dive bar that still hosts live music. It’s a miracle that the place is still standing as Brooklyn’s booming real estate market has created an almost non-stop construction zone all around it. There was once a Walgreen’s across the street. Now there is a luxury high rise, The Hendrik, being constructed. A two-bedroom apartment in the Hendrik will cost you nearly $2 million dollars if you want to slum it; the four-bedroom penthouse will cost about $4 million. The developers had the sense to list it as being on Pacific Street since Atlantic Avenue, the larger thoroughfare, doesn’t have the sterling ring to it.
Farther up Atlantic Avenue is The Barclays Center where the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders play. The Barclays Center was the death knell for Brooklyn culture for a lot of New Yorkers. Local artists and musicians were among those who fought tooth and nail against this stadium, which is a big ugly mark against the city and exhibit A in the corrupt influence of large developers on government. So far I’ve avoided setting foot in that place (I’m a Knicks and Rangers fan anyway).
Because it’s Halloween weekend, lots of people are coming by in costume. One such patron at Hank’s is a man dressed in brown with what look like several blond wig pelts hanging from his body and a face mask and head piece that look as if a giant tongue has replaces his head. As he enters Hanks, someone from a car stopped at the red light on Atlantic and Third shouts to him, “What is your costume?” He doesn’t answer because he’s not sure himself.
“You’re getting a lot of attention from motorists,” I tell him.
“Yes I know,” he says. “I took the subway here and people didn’t know what to do.”
“Are you a giant tongue?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I am. I don’t believe in being any existing character.”
He said he initially had some kind of Donald Trump costume in mind, thus his plentiful supply of artificial blond hair and emphasis on a large mouth. But he decided to do something completely unique instead. I ask him to pose for a photo outside of Hank’s and he obliges, crouching down and doing a strange dance like you’d expect a giant tongue-man to do.
There are still plenty of skels around to testify to the traditional low desirability of this area. Atlantic Avenue still houses several Islamic bookstores and places of worship. A few of these Mohammedans were in a heated discussion as I walked to get something to eat with Filthy Phill, lead singer of World War IX, one of New York’s finest punk bands. He used to live not far from the area in Park Slope, but hardly recognizes anything now. We were looking for a Halal cart for some dinner before the show, but didn’t find one and settled for Shake Shack; it was delicious.
We got back to Hank’s and the show started. People performed in costume and everything was fun. It was not a large gathering but a lot of longtime friends where there and the music was good. It was great to see many of my music friends.
Green Hell forgot to bring set lists but it was no matter. We figured out what to play and the crowd loved singing along to the Misfits covers. By the end of the night, people were happy to have seen us and we were glad to have played our two shows in the city for some appreciative friends and fans.
We loaded up my pickup truck with gear and brought it to Skum City’s rehearsal space on the Lower East Side. I dropped a truck full of friends on the Upper East Side before driving home. One of them asks me if I miss hauling people and equipment around the city at all hours of the morning. I do and I don’t. I can’t do this every weekend of course, but if I go a year without doing some music in some way I just don’t feel right. I told friends of mine on tour one time: The only thing worse than being in a thankless punk band is not being in a thankless punk band.
I got home at nearly four in the morning exhausted but extremely grateful that there are still places people can celebrate art and music, even among the construction of a future city we won’t recognize. We can go back to our regular lives a little better. As long as there is even some small critical mass of us, all is not lost.