BEST ARGUMENT FOR Best Argument For Staying In …

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New York City
has always required certain dispositional traits from its citizens. You can
spot New Yorkers in crowds elsewhere. They’re the ones plowing ahead, pushing
through the throng with umbrellas or briefcases and standing off the curb, defying
traffic, waiting for the light to change. "Hi! How are you? Get out of
my way." First horse out of the gate, that sort of thing. You have to be
driven; otherwise, why live here?


For years now,
we’ve been maintaining that the last months of the 20th century will resemble
nothing so much as the last 15 minutes of Natural Born Killers. The prison-break
sequence, remember? We especially liked the director’s cut version, where
the inmates wound up parading the warden’s head around on a stick. We firmly
believe that New York City is that secret passageway that transports the Lovers
under and through the maelstrom to freedom and bliss. We have always been this
way. The rest of the world is playing catch-up.


People don’t
go postal here. The only people who go postal in New York City are tourists,
like that nutcase who shot up the Empire State Bldg. a few years back. People
are going postal every day now out in the hinterlands; it’s a routine
thing. We have friends in Jersey City, once in a while we go and visit them.
Whenever we’re over there, in Jersey, we’re watching everybody. You
never know when one of them is going to snap. This is not a concern here in
the city. There are too many weapons around in New York for going postal to
be a valid option. It’s like Vermont that way. It’s better than Vermont,
because you don’t need a car and there’s less Nature around.


Nature is getting
a lot scarier. This summer’s drought caused snakes and bears to come closer
to Ken and Barbie’s little house in the country. There was a nasty Ebola
scare in Germany several weeks ago, and now mosquitoes spreading encephalitis
here. That shapeshifting Pfiesteria critter running loose in the Chesapeake
is a very creepy thing. We used to be a committed beach bum. We stay out of
the ocean these days. Haven’t been in the ocean since 1987, when we saw
a really awful thing swimming in a wave. It was about three feet long, with
a segmented body like an earthworm and zillions of tiny legs rippling horribly.
The lifeguards didn’t know what it was. That same year, people were coming
out of the water with weird infections and rashes. Nature saying, "Hi!
Dump some more of your crap out here, it’s good, we like it!"


In Kansas,
they barbecue and think God made the world in seven days. In Utah, they know
it. New Orleans beats us all out ever so slightly in the religion and indigenous
cuisine departments, but New Orleans is number one in murder among the world-class
cities of the USA. It rains like hell all over the Northwest and the place is
overrun with both Nazis and treehugging hippie kooks. There are Gila monsters
and Mansonoids in the Southwest desert. Forget California, the place is doomed
by geology and a multitude of sins including but not limited to bad taste. Texas
is different. There are 68,000,000 guns in Texas. They are very polite. Still,
that’s no reason to leave Manhattan–unless they secede, in which case
we may immediately defect.


Chicago is
unbelievably racist; a white man can’t walk the streets without being hassled
by some lame-ass gangsta wannabe with a dick problem. The climate is unbearable,
and they seem to be laboring under the impression that a pizza is actually some
kind of casserole with a crust. The Midwest in general is frightening, a prime
example of the avant-garde of the impending Balkanization of the United States,
a nightmarish corn-fed reflection of the darkest anti-Semitic fantasies of depraved
Hollywood. Columbine, Elohim City, teenage vampire cults and militant Born-Agains.
Here in New York, Balkanization is not an issue. We have neighborhoods. The
pot always simmers, but it rarely boils over. Columbine can’t happen in
a high school where most of the students are well-armed.


The route to
Florida is fraught with peril, bullet-headed white racist cops and dangerous
truck stops where people stop to piss and are never seen or heard from again.
Florida is now within the malaria belt, severely polluted, overpopulated, subject
to hurricanes and mutant DEA fungi, and may at any moment be rendered forever
uninhabitable by some highly classified bonehead nuclear maneuver by NASA, our
once-benign military-industrial space venture.


Here in New
York City, we don’t even have a manufacturing base, let alone idiotic things
like rockets and nukes. Yes, we may be overpopulated, but that’s a very
relative term, here, and there is still plenty of cheap, good real estate available
north of 125th St. Hurricanes come, but like all other weather events, we shrug
them off. There is not enough sky here for Nature to touch us. We have closed
Her out, locked Her into the zoo and the Discovery Channel, where She belongs.
We paint our young with PABA and DEET to ward Her off and repel Her avatars.
We avoid the raccoons.


No, there is
no sound reason to venture out of the boroughs. Thinking the matter through,
there is no sane reason even to leave the island of Manhattan. Various insecurities
may drive social climbers and careerists to the Hamptons to be exposed to equine
encephalitis and the possibility of being stranded at Puffy’s house by
bad weather, but all of Long Island is haunted, the ghosts of the DeFeo family
reach out from Amityville and Ricky Kasso’s demon hitchhikes to and from
Montauk in search of animal tranquilizers, shrieking, "Say you love Satin"
in a keening, whining tone a la Slayer. It’s an Indian burial ground. Long
Island will one day be eaten by the sea, everything will be engulfed: Queens,
Brooklyn, toxic Mineola. Staten Island will become some hideous George Romero
dystopia, eldritch batrachian landfill mutations shambling from one end of the
island to the other in a blasphemous mockery of human activity seeking preadolescent
human endocrine extracts in an ever-expanding quest for what used to be called
"kicks."


Here in Manhattan,
we have everything we need. We have Kmart, we have Prada, we have Trash &
Vaudeville. We have a mayor who acts just like we do. We have 416 B.C. and Bistro
Les Amis. We take no shit from anyone. If we need one, we can get a hand grenade
just a few short blocks from home for just $100. We can get nearly anything
delivered, from rainforest psychedelics to sushi, at any hour of the day or
night. Opportunities abound here, anything can happen. There is no more exciting
place to be west of Moscow. It’s The End Of The World, and we have the
ringside seats. Buy guns, stockpile water and Spam, don’t even consider
leaving. It would be slow suicide. This is Ground Zero, the eye of the cultural
shit-storm that is the impending Millennium.


WHEN YOU LEAVE
MANHATTAN, YOU’RE GOING NOWHERE.



Best Cartoonist
With No Sense of Humor

Ted Rall
Latchkey
Guy Goes Postal. We’ve known Ted Rall for years, he’s written a few
articles for us in that time, and we’re appalled by the lawsuit he’s
brought against Danny Hellman, a regular NYPress illustrator. To recap:
Rall, whose cartoon strips run in a bunch of newspapers and magazines, wrote
a weirdly bitter but interesting cover story for the Aug. 3 Village Voice
denouncing cartoon guru Art Spiegelman. In the small world of cartoonists it
created quite an uproar, which included Hellman’s creating a prankish parody
e-mail discussion group, "TedRall’sBalls," distributed to a list
of 30-odd insiders, virtually all of whom would’ve tumbled to the prank
instantly–Hellman’s known for these things in that crowd. As near
as we can tell, the one outsider who mightn’t have caught on was Nicholas
Blechman, who picks art for the op-ed page of The New York Times, where
Rall’s had work in the past.



It was, we
think, an idiotic prank for Hellman to pull, but a harmless one, and we find
Rall’s response bizarre and reprehensible: He’s suing Hellman for
"libel, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress,"
asking $1.5 million in damages. To us, this is a classic case of litigation
as passive-aggressive thuggery. It’s hard not to think that Rall intentionally
stirred up a lot of controversy in the cartoonist community, decided he didn’t
like Hellman’s opinion and is punishing him for it. Rall’s accompanied
the lawsuit with a flurry of p.r.–a pompous press release, interviews,
a self-defending column on the Alternet news service–that we think has
largely backfired, making him look less the aggrieved artist than an egomaniac
and hysteric ("I was like, my career is in total meltdown," he was
quoted saying in The New York Observer). Definitely his oddest
act to date has been a comic strip in which a character stabs and shoots a "prankster";
if, as was ludicrously claimed in Rall’s press release, Hellman somehow
represented a threat to his "life and property," what was this strip?


We’d like
to think that Rall will come to his senses and not drag Hellman through a ruinously
costly face-saving exercise. The publicity has done neither of them any good
already, and we can’t see how Rall could pursue this thing and not look
like a pussy and a dick. If he does go forward, we’ll be supporting the
Danny Hellman Defense Fund.



Best
Surprise

Seeing Lili Taylor in Person

Hold the Gilding. We’re
crossing Greenwich Ave. when we’re almost killed by a woman on a bicycle.
We look up to admonish her–it seems like we’re always almost
being killed by these wheeled sociopaths–and it’s Lili Taylor. Granted,
we initially think, "Damn, we run into an indie queen and it’s not
Christina Ricci?"



But our second
thought is, "Lord, how did a movie like Dogfight ever get the green
light?" She’s tan, relaxed–her hair is highlighted, probably
by the sun. Here’s the woman whose beauty has only been hinted at in Illtown
and Pecker, but she’s one seriously fine chick in person.



Best Use of Synecdoche
In The Subway
"The Mat and the Steel"

Language of Luv. We’re
shuffling of a winter’s night through the dank, chilly concourse that links
the 14th St. 1/9 with the B, D, F and Q. It’s early February, and every
street performer, beggar and bum in the vicinity has moved underground. We dodge
piss puddles and empty beer bottles on our way westward while, a few paces ahead
of us, two homeboys swig from 40-ouncers they don’t bother concealing.
A quarter of the way down the corridor A declares, "Shit yo, tonight I’m
goin’ down to the mat with Tanya."



Not certain he’s
heard his friend correctly, B stops in his tracks.


"The what?"


"The mat."


"The what!?"


"The mat!"
screams A. "M-A-T! Dugout, clam, puss-ay. I’m gonna lick me
some puss-ay tonight, get my snatch on."


A’s remonstration
echoes, then falls like a spent firework in the corridor’s mephitic air.
The two stand five feet apart. B swigs, then breaks the silence.


"Never heard of
the mat."


"Who cares, yo?
The mat’s the mat. Gonna suck Tanya’s sweet slice dry."


Intrigued, we pull up
abreast of them. But by now A’s riffing inaudibly about the flavor of Tanya’s
mat while B whacks the side of his walkman in an effort to get it working. At
the far end of the corridor some disheveled yutz with an eyepatch pulls a bow
across the untuned strings of a violin, serving up a gruesome screech.


"The fuck is that?"
screams A.


"Shit’d better
stop quick," yells B.


"Christ! Stop that
shit!"


For the next 20 paces
A and B scream ahead at the violinist who–oblivious or drunk or retarded–keeps
playing. The screaming continues and the screeching gets louder until, finally,
A has had enough.


"That’s it,
yo!" he screams. "I be grabbin’ the steel on this muthafucka
if he don’t shut the fuck up!"


A motions as though
he’s reaching for a gun, and we all breathe deep. At that, the violinist
lifts his bow, places the violin under his right arm and looks up at the ceiling,
blinking his eyes like an impatient maitre d’. A and B pass, glaring at
the fiddler. They walk a few more paces and then pause while A lights a cigarette.


B looks back at the
fiddler and then at A. Then–sheepishly, almost whispering–he asks:
"Grabbin’ the steel?"



Best Hated Local
Sports Figure

Hideki Irabu
Inspectah Deki. We’ve
liked Irabu since he first showed up here with his pompadour, beer belly and
shitty attitude. Who ever heard of a famously lazy, underachieving, hotheaded
Asian immigrant? Irabu’s windup says as much about him as anybody Stateside
has been able to figure out–it’s bizarrely informal and relaxed. If
the guy had round eyes and spoke English he’d be considered born to wear
pinstripes, because he’s so obviously a natural, with a unique, coolly
against-the-grain style. Since June, when he started racking up wins, Yankee
fans and Steinbrenner have gotten off Irabu’s case, but you seldom hear
anybody cheer for him. He’s a lone-riding cowboy ace, but treated like
some migrant worker who needs to be kept an eye on and sent back home the minute
someone catches him sleeping on the job. It’s a shame. We suspect that
if more New Yorkers resisted their distrust of Japanese imports and got to know
Hideki, they’d find one hell of a rugged individualist underneath that
inscrutable, foreign exterior.



Best Political Columnist
Paul Gigot
The Wall Street Journal
Edging Out
Michael Kelly. Paul Gigot has the life. He works at the world’s finest
newspaper (sorry, Daily Telegraph fans; while Britain’s press outpaces
America’s by miles, the Journal is our Pedro Martinez), writes a
column every Friday from DC that’s placed right next to smart and courageous
editorials and has a rolodex that could be auctioned off for a lot more than
Ty Warner’s rarest Beanie Baby.



Gigot is conservative,
but his opinions aren’t robot-like, in contrast to those of his liberal
colleagues, and he’s careful to point out the GOP’s mistakes and foibles.
And there’s plenty to criticize, the gutless "leadership" of
Trent Lott and Denny Hastert being just the most obvious example. We often don’t
agree with Gigot’s conclusions, but, like David Tell at The Weekly
Standard
, he makes us think. On Aug. 20, he wrote a piece examining the
ramifications of Gov. Bush’s ham-handed response to reporters’ questions
about his possible cocaine use. Gigot believes Bush, once he lifted that manhole,
should’ve made a clean sweep of everything in his past. We don’t agree:
Granted, the 7-15-25 hut! strategy was a miscue, but Bush has successfully (at
least for now) stamped the issue into the ground. Trotting his mother out to
say what a wonderful son George is was a smart move; even Geraldine Ferraro
came to her defense when another guest on a talk show said something to the
effect that Bush was hiding behind Mommy’s apron. Ferraro said–and
remember, she’s a very partisan Democrat–don’t you dare say a
bad thing about Barbara Bush, she’s the best politician in the family and
I like that she’s standing up for her son.


But Gigot explained
his position well. He wrote: "If you’re going to run for president
as the anti-Clinton, you should know that Democrats and their media friends
will do whatever it takes to make you look Clintonian… The most deceitful
president since Nixon is paradoxically defining the standards of ethics and
candor back up for other candidates, at least for Republicans."


On Pat Buchanan’s
likely bolt to the Reform Party, Gigot worries (unlike Democrats, who are rejoicing)
that the GOP’s representative caveman might screw up the presidential race
for Bush. He writes on Sept. 3: "His recent fifth-place finish in Iowa
means that as a GOP candidate Pitchfork Pat is now an American Gothic. Steve
Forbes and Gary Bauer are fresher voices on the right. Yet Richard Nixon’s
favorite writer still sees himself as a man of political destiny–and debating
Eleanor Clift isn’t it… [Buchanan’s] strategy only works, of course,
if conservative voters don’t mind turning over the Supreme Court to liberals
for oh, say, the next 40 years. A Republican candidate ought to be smart enough
not to give conservatives reason to walk, which probably rules out an abortion-rights
running mate. (Sorry, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.)"


That’s
one school of thought. Our own take is that the Buchanan carnival will die down
in due time and he’ll wind up winning maybe six or seven percent of the
vote. Five of those points are pilfered from Bush, but he should have enough
padding to withstand the loss. We think the addition of a pro-choice veep like
Ridge makes even more sense with Buchanan taking Reform Party money and
continuing his narcissistic bid through November of 2000. A number of hard-line
conservatives–those who are plain stupid, and some who are ideologically
pure–will vote for Buchanan. Still, with Ridge on the ticket Bush has a
greater chance to grab suburban Democrats, especially women, which he’d
lose if he picked a pro-life running mate.


On Aug. 27,
Gigot summarized Elizabeth Dole’s futile campaign in 800 words. Writing
that she’s relying too much on gender, on the novelty factor of a woman
president, he says: "Mrs. Dole’s reluctance to take political risks
only fuels the suspicion, perhaps unfair, that she is really running to be vice
president. After one Iowa event, a reporter asked why voters should prefer her
to Mr. Bush. ‘My experience,’ she replied and began running down her
resume. After a minute or so of this, another reporter asked if there were any
‘issues’ on which she differs with the Texas governor? ‘I don’t
want to get into that,’ Mrs. Dole said, heading back to the tall grass
of biography. This isn’t how Margaret Thatcher made history, needless to
say. Mrs. Dole doesn’t have to be another Iron Lady, but it wouldn’t
hurt if she showed a little more iron and a little less lady."



Best Way
To Get Your Oversized Carry-On Onto the Plane

Check Something

Why They
Go On Strike. We figured this out after years of flying with guitars and samplers
and other stuff that might not respond positively to being hurled into a rickety
cart and buried in a mound of Samsonite. First, always make sure you check something–if
you’re one of those people who hate baggage claim and try to get everything
on board with you, you’re shit outta luck. Second–if it’s a guitar
or something musical or electronic, ask to hang it in the closet in business
class. Boo-hoo about it being the tools of your trade, your baby, etc. If the
stewardess is still all like, Sir that won’t fit in the overhead compartment
blar dee blar blar
–get mad. Say There’s no way I can allow
this delicate object of mine to be thrown haphazardly in with the luggage!
Then
whip out your baggage claim ticket for the one thing you checked and say: If
I cannot fly with this as carry-on luggage, I cannot fly today! I demand you
retrieve my bag from the hold and I will reschedule my flight!



Now, they load
those baggage holds up fast. And there’s no way they’re gonna
be able to go into the hold and look at all the tags of every single piece of
luggage in there, hold up the departure time, just to get you off the plane.
You may have to be insistent, but there ain’t nothing they can do about
it if you tell them you want off the flight immediately. They’re gonna
suddenly and miraculously find a little space in the stewardesses’ coat
closet, and boom, Bob’s your uncle.



Best
Magazine Yawn

"George Lives"

But It Still
Needs a Brain. Okay, you had to admire the Kennedy Clan family loyalty, Caroline
working out a deal with Hachette to save her brother’s George, the
courting of Stephanopoulos to come edit, all that. It made for lazy business
page headlines, numerous variations on "George Lives," which
maybe upticked the newsstand sales a pimple. But really, so what? They can "save"
George but they still can’t make people read it. George was
on life support months before JFK Jr.’s death; according to one source,
the flurry of resumes staff was faxing out was like a stream of rats leaving
a sinking ship. Maybe Caroline can sprinkle a little of that Kennedy
pixie dust on it to keep it struggling along a little longer, but the pertinent
question is why? It’s a money trap. As a magazine it’s never had a
purpose, a voice or an agenda, just a celebrity’s name and face. Now even
that’s secondhand. Pull the plug.



Best Sense
of Humor in a New York Journalist

Jim Dwyer
And C.J.
Sullivan’s a Fat Mick. Earlier this year Ned Vizzini wrote a humorous story
for NYPress with the odd little title of "Jim Dwyer is a Big Prick."
The article was about Vizzini’s late-night odyssey with two transit workers
who, when they found out Vizzini wrote for this paper, dared young Ned to title
his article with the insult of the Daily News columnist Jim Dwyer, who’d
written articles the subway workers didn’t like.



In May, during
the Abner Louima trial, we ran into Dwyer and asked if he saw Ned’s article.
Dwyer shifted his backpack from his arm, let out a belly laugh worthy of a stout
man like him and said, "I loved that title. I didn’t understand
why those two transit workers had a beef with me, because I’ve always been
pro-labor, but it was a funny article. I got it blown up over my desk at the
News so everyone can see it."


A week earlier,
we’d run a story about the Louima trial, in which our own big Mick, C.J.
Sullivan, observed that Dwyer was tearing into a bag of peanuts like he was
angry with them. Dwyer wanted to clear one point up about that story: "It
was a bag of trail mix I was eating, not peanuts." Here’s to you,
sport.



Best University Press
NYU Press
Reading Is Fundamental.
When they think of book publishing, many educated Manhattanites think entirely
and only in terms of the corporate midtown publishers and their product: "hot"
authors, bestsellers, inside-baseball columns in the Observer about this
marketing veep at HarperKnopf getting canned and that senior editor at Schuster
& Random moving from children’s books to the adult trade division.
But for people who actually care about books as books, much of the real action
has always been elsewhere. And as midtown publishing continues to aggregate
into a single GlobalMegaUniCorp Ltd., it’s ceding more and more publishing
territory to everybody else–the university and other institutional presses,
the small for- and nonprofits, the literary and specialty outfits. Smart university
presses, who’re being pressured by administrations to earn more of their
keep anyway, are seeing–as one old-dog marketing type we know loves to
say–"acres of diamonds" out there. Or at least opportunities
for expanding their lists.



It’s not
just our New York jingoism showing when we say that of all the university presses
we know, NYU Press has probably been doing the smartest job of doing that. It’s
still pumping all the academic, scholarly and classroom titles, certainly, but
in the front of the catalog are increasingly canny bids to appeal to off-campus
intellectuals, all those intelligent and literate readers whom the corporate
publishers are abandoning as they dive to the bottom line. Sample titles from
the fall/winter catalog include Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney
Company from the Inside Out
; Berlin and the American Military: A Cold
War Chronicle
; Eve: A Biography; William M. Kunstler: The Most
Hated Lawyer in America
; Anti-Semitism, Past and Present; Would
You Convict?: 17 Cases That Challenged the Law
; Civil Rights Since 1787:
A Reader
; Understanding Troubled Minds: A Guide to Mental Illness and
Its Treatment
; Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House.


That’s
a lot of interesting-sounding titles for a university press to be cranking out
in the span of one catalog. Yes, they put out the obligatory kneejerk polemicist
titles as well, but the quotient is much lower than from many university presses.
Which is to say, NYU Press seems more interested in engaging the general intellectual
than in merely preaching to the campus converted.



Best
Off-Season Jets Headline

"31
Cops Needed to Sack Jumbo Elliott and pals" –
New
York Post
, July 11

Funky Nassau.
This one had absolutely everything: An attempted getaway in a silver limo; a
$300 bar tab; cop cars with kicked-out windows; a Giants Super Bowl ring in
the face of the doorman; a sucker-punched volunteer fireman; pissing in the
sink of the women’s room; and a stray Detroit Lion from Lynbrook. Plus
a trio of offensive linemen–two Jets and one Cincinnati Bengal–tipping
the scales at a collective 923 pounds or so.



Apparently,
these men of the trenches couldn’t contain their enthusiasm when the USA
women delivered the World Cup trophy back on July 10. That night, at Bogart’s
Bar in Long Beach, a sodden Jumbo Elliott and Jason Fabini, along with former-Jet-now-Bengal
Matthew O’Dwyer got a little too rowdy. Elliott tried to duck the $5 cover
charge at the door (that’s when he showed off his Jints ring), but by the
end of this little scrimmage with three dozen Nassau County and Long Beach cops,
Jumbo’d be forking out 10 grand in bail cash after a night in lockup. O’Dwyer,
who kicked out the window of the cop car, sending two cops to the hospital with
scratched corneas, paid $50,000 in bail and also spent the night in the Long
Beach stir.


Hey Matt, good
luck in Ohio. FYI, the bars close at 2:30 a.m., there’s a Bogart’s
bar in Cincy’s Clifton neighborhood, Jeff Blake still blows and good luck
getting a copy of Playboy or Penthouse anywhere in town, despite
the efforts of fellow heavyweight Larry Flynt.



Best Early
Onset of Alzheimer’s (Noncelebrity)

Call Me
Ishmael. We were in line at the drugstore, waiting to buy shampoo and candy.
The only person in front of us was an older lady with a basketful of your everyday
health and beauty supplies. As the cashier began to ring her up, the old woman
looked over her shoulder, back into the store, and shouted, "Stewie! Stewie,
c’mon, we’re leaving now!" When there was no immediate response,
she shouted again, "Stewie! Stewie! I’m leaving!"



Finally a mustached
man, probably in his early 30s, shuffled up next to her from the back of the
store and, in an exasperated whisper, said, "My name is Charles,
Mom."



Best
Subway Station Not to Smell in Summertime

Delancey St. F Train

Ninth Circle Line. Honestly,
now, what does the MTA take us for? All empirical evidence to the contrary,
they continue to shill for their baleful service, expecting us to go all creamy
over the debatable financial merits of the MetroCard, figuring we’ll say,
"Whoops–shit happens!" when they bulk order a gajillion slippery
replacement floor tiles that later have to be scuffed up to prevent pratfalls.
Meanwhile, they continue to operate–at the height (or so we’re told)
of the longest peacetime economic expansion in the nation’s history–the
vilest public space in the civilized world. We know. We’ve ridden mass
transit all over the place, at home and abroad. And nowhere else is as consistently
repulsive, as absurdly jerry-rigged, as our dismal subway system. We’re
honestly shocked that, out in deepest Brooklyn, the rustbound elevated platforms
don’t teeter over and kill thousands every month. What kind of beaten citizenry
tolerates asphyxiating overcrowding and seats designed for 14-year-old bulimics?



We’ll
never forget the subterranean detour we were taken on by an inexperienced motorman
several years ago. We were transported down to an abandoned station (dank, consumptive,
forgotten); and after the doors were mistakenly opened and people got off
the conductor had to head them all back into the train, lest they be entombed
forever. We see the dudes in the orange vests emerging from the tunnels all
the time–so how come there’s always crap and filth and trash on the
trackbeds? Stalactites composed of diseased ooze? Roving bands of thuggish,
proto-evolutionary vermin? Worst of all, however, is the accretion of scuzz–the
legacy of derelict maintenance that, in all likelihood, cannot be erased.


So there you
sit, on the F train chugging in from Brooklyn, and it’s August and the
AC (Hallelujah! It works!) is cranked, and then you enter the Delancey St. station,
and the funk rushes in. It smells like the exhumed carcass of a sick cow has
been trampled to jello and rubbed into the spongy concrete. Rotten bovine flesh,
wormed through with maggots and suffused with steaming, noxious vapor, has been
rendered down to grease and smeared everywhere. The odor is enough to make you
swear off one your most valued senses. Oh, God, shut the doors, shut the
doors
, you plead, internally. Lots of brown and black people get on. Yeah,
natch–this publicly funded livestock sepulcher serves the ethnic
population of the Lower East Side. You can just hear the MTA Beelzebubs parsimoniously
allocating the cleaning crews: "Hey, those people like a little
fragrance in their lives." You cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief
and struggle to avoid appearing dainty, when you know full well that this stink
could curdle the milk in a pregnant woman’s breast. The doors close. Everyone
exhales, gratefully.


Best
New Fountainhead
David
Mamet’s
True
and False
Manly
Mamet. Mamet is a curmudgeonly old fucker, and his actor’s manual True
and False
has really just a few points–don’t ham it up, you’re
the piano, not the etude; don’t go to grad school, go to the theater
and learn your shit playing in front of audiences; don’t buy into this
Method hoodoo and think you have to remember busting a tooth on the kickball
court to convey remorse convincingly (Mamet puts it, "You no more have
to feel like…‘My sister has been caught shoplifting’ than you have
to feel like a sick horse when you visit the veterinarian"); there is a
difference between acting and what Mamet calls–with bitch-slap accuracy–"Funny
Voices." But if you’ve got a Mamet affinity, it’s almost like
you can feel the strands of his subconscious swiftly rippling under the surface
of the text.


True and
False
has been discovered as a strange new lifeline for us and a few of
our friends. Funnily enough, the bulk of its proponents–that I know anyway–aren’t
actors but video-game designers, rappers, instrumentalists, singers, dancers.
Most of them write their own material. Mamet’s advice to one performing–oh,
just for example–a text written by Mamet usually goes, Don’t
embellish. I’m the writer, squatsky, that’s
my job.


Mamet knows
that nobody needs a nice Mamet. But he can also–slyly–make
you feel good about choosing as your life’s work what a friend of mine
called "the most glorious form of freelancing available." Mamet says:
"Those with something to fall back on usually fall back on it; they intended
to all along. But those with no alternative see the world differently. The old
story has the mother say to the sea captain, ‘…my son, he cannot swim’
to which the captain responds, ‘well then, he better stay in the boat.’"


Yeah, that’s
the tough guy we paid to see. No nonsense, no hoodoo, no touchy-feely actor
stuff. But in the first chapter, Mamet lets on that maybe he’s fonder of
the hoodoo than he lets on. "Acting is not a genteel profession,"
he says, con-man-loving, bad-ass-envying Mamet. "Actors used to be buried
at a crossroads with a stake through the heart. Those people’s performances
so troubled the onlookers that they feared their ghosts. An awesome compliment.


"Those
players moved the audience not such that they were admitted to a graduate school,
or received a complimentary review, but such that the audience feared for their
souls. Now that seems to me something to aim for."



Best Political
Prisoner

Lori Berenson
Christopher Brodeur
Loses Again. The recent box-office failure of Brokedown Palace proves
a lot of things. It demonstrates that women’s prison movies aren’t
what they used to be, and that most Claire Danes fans have likely grown out
of their poor taste. Above all, it thankfully makes a case that Americans don’t
care about the plight of spoiled American girls who think they can blithely
break the laws of other countries. If they had changed the title to Let Them
Rot Slowly
, the film might still be #1 at the box office.



Fortunately,
we still have Lori Berenson as a real crowd pleaser. This Manhattan gal went
running off on a world tour where she routinely hooked up with terrorist left-wing
groups. Democracy was the enemy, and Lori had a fine time working against it
in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Then she–along with her arms dealer buddies–headed
off to Peru. She joined fellow terrorists in the Tupac Amaru, which was planning
to seize the Peruvian congress and hold members hostage. Peru got to them first
in 1995. Wise military judges promptly threw Lori’s ass in jail for a life
sentence.


Lori wasn’t
repentant, and you wish her family would go along with her revolutionary spirit.
But they insist on keeping Lori in the news as a poor, tragic victim. There’s
currently a petition asking President Clinton to take all necessary steps, "short
of going to war," to force Peru to free this terrorist. The sad thing is
that it’s signed by 200 members of Congress, most of whom must have no
idea of the facts in the case. Maybe they think Lori is like sweet little Claire
Danes in Brokedown Palace. Did 200 people go on the opening weekend?


Of course,
Congress does have a few terrorist-loving types like our own Rep. Nydia Velazquez.
Hers is likely one of the first names on that petition. It would be her right.
People are welcome to their own low opinion of Peruvians. We personally think
Peru deserves democracy. And on a lousy Manhattan day, with the heat coming
on and the stench rising off the street, we still take time to look around and
think that it’s a really good place to live. We’re free to walk the
streets, and Lori Berenson is safely locked far away.



Best Museum
Staff

The Cloisters

Fort Tryon Park
923-3700

They Won’t
Go Medieval on You. Back in the 1300s when Satan had real artists to front for
him instead of Marilyn Manson, people could happily scare the shit out of themselves
with the sculptures, paintings and other decorative arts meant to keep the peasants
on the path of rectitude. But times change. Now that Old Scratch is little more
than a get-out-the-vote gimmick for creationists and 700 Club types,
there’s nothing more peaceful than checking out the true old boy on an
afternoon wander through the dim and cool rooms of the Cloisters, the Metropolitan
Museum’s collection of Middle Ages art.



The hush of
tapestry-hung walls and the quiet grace of the ancient altars make for a meditative
and relaxing day. Complementing the experience is the Cloisters staff, some
of the most pleasant and helpful people we’ve met at a major museum–a
rarity in a city where you get attitude not only from the McDonald’s burger
flipper, but the $25,000-a-year Yale art history majors whining through their
days at MOMA. Example: The Cloisters allows non-flash photography; one staffer
not only helped us schlep a fat tripod and a heavyweight view camera, but even
suggested angles and interesting subjects. One day when we got there late–about
an hour before closing–the woman behind the desk volunteered to give us
a free pass to come back at any time.


Everyone there
from the guards to the eggheads is unfailingly polite, informative and welcoming.
Maybe it’s the monkish trappings that surround them, but the Cloisters
personnel never intrudes on the museum experience. And with its exquisite view
of the Hudson, the surrounding park outside and some fascinating artifacts from
the days of the Plague inside, the Cloisters provides the perfect 14th-century
refuge from the City of Complete Concrete.



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