Friday, April 30, 2010

Robert - Regular Coffee - Today

In September 1984, after a lazy summer in Paris, I moved to New York, where I slept on the floor of my friend Glenn's Upper West Side studio and looked unsuccessfully for my first job. I was also unsuccessful finding strong Paris coffee; although there were places that served Cappuccino, they weren't necessarily on the Upper West Side and they weren't generally open first thing in the morning. Where you went instead was a diner, there was one on every other block of Broadway, and what you drank was "regular coffee." Hot coffee with milk, no sugar. Depending on the diner -- and probably the luck of your timing vis a vis the brew cycle -- the results ranged from surprisingly savorable to expectedly ordinary. But the stuff always worked.

I probably never gave it any thought, but if I had, I would have guessed that the iconic New York coffee cup was created by an association of Greek coffee shop owners. (Although "diner" is the preferred New York term, we used "diner" and "coffee shop" interchangeably.) It turns out that it was created by one not-Greek man, whose life is sketched out in a fascinating New York Times obituary today. Leslie Buck, Auschwitz survivor, U.S. immigrant, and young professional on the rise, made a really brilliant marketing decision for a company that was "keen to crack New York's hot-cup market." And, of course, designed the damn thing himself, despite a lack of any such training.

It's a classic New York story, and although my own came later and shares nothing in common with Mr. Buck's except the ubiquity of Greek diners and blue Anthora cups, it makes me nostalgic for my first days in the city. If I were there today, I'd buy a cup of diner coffee and remember: that first cool blue October Sunday when you'd wake with a hangover, stop by a diner for a regular coffee, then walk down the street sipping greedily, breathing in the newly fresh air and coming gradually alive, growing more and more excited by the possibilities of the beautiful day ahead.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

J.D. Salinger - 1954

"You know, I'm the only one in this family who has no problems," Zooey said. "And you know why? Because any time I'm feeling blue, or puzzled, what I do, I just invite a few people to come visit me in the bathroom, and -- well, we just iron things out together, that's all."

This appeared in The New Yorker in 1954, and was the second part of Franny and Zooey by the time I read it in the '70s. This story, that book... I can't say enough about them. Along with Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Just Before the War With the Eskimos: pivotal to my understanding of and desire for life.

I thought that more glorious noise would have been made about Salinger's death -- front-page banner headlines, I suppose. Yes, the world is a mess. But we just lost the only major writer of my lifetime (even if he didn't actually write when I could read).

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Robert - On Tennis - Today

To the extent that Wild Posting is about anything yet, it's about what moves me. Tennis has always moved me, excited me, brought out my own instincts towards the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat -- mostly as a watcher, occasionally as a player (too much agony of defeat there). When I was in fifth grade, and for the next few years, I got to be a ballboy for the Virginia Slims tournament in Akron, Ohio. At the time, Billie Jean, Chris, Martina, Virginia Wade, Rosie Casals, and Evonne Goolagong (the sweetest woman in the world) were the big names. I believe Margaret Court may have showed up once or twice. But she turned out to be not so nice personally/politically, so it doesn't bother me that I can't remember.

I do remember who we rooted for as a family in the '70s: Evonne because she flowed, Stan Smith because he was an American jock and a gentleman, Arthur Ashe because he was an American and a boundary-breaker (and often an underdog), John Newcombe because he was an Australian jock and dashing, and Chris. (Everyone rooted for Chris back then. In retrospect, I think that most of them were rooting for her blonde hair and the freckles on her nose, but I was rooting for those vicious eyes.)

In the '80s and '90s, off on my own now, it was all Steffi and Pete. I loved how hard Steffi hit, loved her stoicism on court (and the dismissive thing she would do with her hand when she hit a bad shot), loved her legs. I loved Pete's hangdog expression before he fired yet another ace, and even more his running forehand. I loved that they were champions who were human and sometimes failed, and loved that more often they didn't.

For the past ten years, the list of players I am truly enthusiastic about has narrowed to one. Roger Federer will be remembered for the records, and for being the most gentlemanly of modern players, and everyone will be sure to mention his "genius." He does have genius, but the amazing thing about this isn't his raw talent, but rather the way it has transformed tennis matches. It's remarkable to watch him at his best -- not because he dominates, but because the matches look and feel different when he plays. You get to see all of these new possibilities in a very old game.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

George Saunders - Heavy Artillery - Today

Down, down, down... to convenience clerk

And smart as ever.

This is who I would like to be.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Robert - Aspiration - Today

There is what you want, and what you have. You want a digital camera to document your beautiful life, and you want a more beautiful life. Instead, your camera was stolen from your home in Indonesia, and your computer is so slow that you can't upload the photos you can't take anyway. But you're an American, an optimist, and so you take your Saturdays as they come -- and then vote against your own interests in the next election. Ha ha, just kidding, unless you are a Republican, which you are not. So...

You get up at 7:30 with the usual recent sinus pain. You make coffee (Trader Joe's Bay Blend) and hope that will do its magic, and then your special orange juice concoction: two squeezed oranges plus fizzy Poland Spring with lemon whatever-it-is-they-add. You end up with something just like the top photo above. (Not really, but since you don't have a camera, this will have to represent the deliciousness.)

Then you walk to Georgetown with two goals in mind: Buy the new Vampire Weekend and get a decent haircut. Vampire Weekend turns out to be a problem. Barnes & Noble is barely trying with the music thing, and the last "record store" in Washington is having an "everything must go" sort of sale. Actually, it's a bit surprising that not all of Georgetown Park is having an "everything must go" sale... you worked there 26 years ago, and it was pretty worthless even then. Your employer, the offputtingly named "Davisons of Bermuda," sold incredibly scratchy wool sweaters you couldn't possibly wear in Bermuda, should you ever find yourself in Bermuda, which you didn't and haven't and won't.

The haircut, on the other hand: not so bad. This is the first time in your life that you are dependent upon a salon, as opposed to a barber shop, but Guillaume at O cuts like a barber, so putting aside the cost (which is hard to do these days), you are generally pleased. And it is nice to have your hair washed by somebody else, with slightly tingly better shampoo than you would ever use at home. Today's happens to be a particularly stylin' cut, and you leave looking like the Beach Boy on the top right of the buggy.

On the way home, you go back to Barnes & Noble to buy a magazine, barely even bothering to be enraged about the COMPLETE ABSENCE of newsstands in DC. Of course magazines must be bought at a Barnes & Noble in a big city like Washington, and what could be less irritating? TimeOut New York has Vampire Weekend on the cover, plus lots of pictures of hearty winter stews, so wins by a landslide over Dwell, GQ, and every single music magazine in the world (or, in any case, the Barnes & Noble racks, and it's important to remember that this is a store that has done nothing wrong ever, like putting interesting small bookstores out of business with ruthless discounting, or contributing to the "people you meet in heaven" decline of American culture.)

...Where were you? Oh yes, home again. Time for breakfast, because really the thought of food in the first two to three hours of the day is basically unappealing. Scrambled eggs with horseradish and a piece of toast over a couple of moves on Lexulous. (You're ahead, but early days still...) And then a nap. Normally you are nap-averse, but sinus pain will create all sorts of new behavior. Your second big hit, after "Allergies, Allergies," will be "The Nose Knows What it Wants." An hour and another Lexulous move (for 31 points) later, you are off to your gym, which looks like photo three.

Actually, your gym, while empirically the most expensive gym in Washington, looks nothing like that. It has windows, which is a boon in basement-oriented DC, but the other members are surly and wear absurd clothing (how hard IS a tee shirt and sweatpants, folks?) and there is just a general aura of bad karma (hmm... along with the naps, you are using words like aura and karma, probably incorrectly). Of course, it doesn't help that it's in a Ritz-Carlton.

Hey, good news: Football starts in twelve. In the meantime, you've been struggling with your piece-of-nonsense PC to post this, and listening to one of your theme songs while you wait for your Vampire fix. You know, you can you will you do you must aspire. And while imperfection and irritation sit on either shoulder, holding hands, occasionally (when the temperature rises above freezing) a good day just rolls on in. And then you find that what you have is (mysteriously) enough. You may celebrate that now with an actual cocktail -- photo TK.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Robert - Ambient Music - Today

So I hear there is a new decade! Hurrah! But that'll get you thinking about what you might miss from the previous three or four.

What I miss is ambient music. By which I mean shared music. Unavoidable music. Music your parents made you listen to, music you heard on the clock radio, music on the streets, music in the car. Music you didn't search for: music that found you.

Now that the world has gone digital, and iTunes/iPods have replaced juke boxes (which were still everywhere in New York in the 80s -- the first sign of cool/not-cool in a bar), apartment stereos, boom boxes, and jacked-up car sound-systems as the primary way that we experience music... I miss what used to be like hell.

I like my iPod well enough (when it works), but I also know that I would never have encountered all of this rich oddity had it not been the currency of decades-past musical culture:

In my 60s early childhood, Mom and Dad played jazz, Roberta Flack (who they'd go see live at Mr. Henry's in DC) and the soundtrack to HAIR. (Extra nostalgia points for the way that Washington Square and Broadway looked in the late 70s, when this video was shot.)

Circa 1970, this was the big radio hit, and my first top-ten love. (Keep on past the song for some fascinating documentary about these brilliant weirdos.)

In the 70s, Al Green worked his way into my subconscious, Paul McCartney meant summer, and AM-radio stalwarts like Ambrosia (oh yes) drove me to school once I got my license.

In the 80s, there were bands like Heaven 17 that everyone could sing and dance to in college, and songs like this, this, and this that you heard everywhere (uptown, downtown, all around town) during those long, hot summers after you started your life in New York.

By the 90s, most of this was gone. But NYC, being hardcore, rallied around club and genius, so there were still some shared experiences. And in Europe, there was serendipity on the streets as late as 1997-1998.

One last moment in the ambient: When I lived on 106th Street circa 1990, I had a wild hallucination. I'd gone to sleep, not early, after a big night downtown, and was awakened by a strange sound outside my bedroom window. Looking down from five stories high, I saw a group of black men dancing all around a car with its headlights on and its doors open and its stereo blasting this.

Maybe there will be a time in the 2010s that we see a resurgance of outdoor music culture. Should I start a party? Has someone else begun the movement already?