Sunday, November 19, 2006

Jury Duty

Having postponed jury duty twice, I had no choice but to show up to 60 Centre Street at 8:45 on Tuesday morning. There's actually a nasty little notation on my summons that read POSTPONED 2X--MUST SERVE. I had this scene all planned out where the cleric would look at my summons and snark "Thanks for showing up this time, sir." And I'd snark right back without missing a beat, "Thanks for scheduling me for a time when I'm actually in this time zone, bitch." Alas, it didn't come to that. But weird (ultimately) unavoidable things like this always makes me very anxious because 1) I fear the unfamilar 2) I hate doing things by myself and 3) the potential of my actions indelibly affecting someone else's life makes me really uncomfortable. I also feel semi-autistic in situations like these because I'm not that great at interacting with strangers. I have a congenital case of Stranger Danger.

Ostensibly, everyone on jury duty is in the same boat--not knowing anyone else and feeling somewhat resentful for being there in the first place. It's like the first day of kindergarten, only with bigger chairs. It's a great social leveler, and you can expect to meet people from a broad cross section of society. This is what makes our justice system so infallible. But I'd really like to know how people leave the waiting room at the end of the day with new found friends.

There were these four women sitting in front of me who all went out to lunch together the very first day. They were all laughing and joking with each other the whole time. I was in the elevator when they on their way to lunch (they were heading to some Chinese restaurant behind the courthouse, in case you need details) and one of the ladies said "Hey, remember when Nadia answered her cell phone and Lynn was like, 'that's my ring, too!' and then the proctor yelled at us, but we thought it was because Lynn was so loud, and not because Nadia was on the cell phone? Wasn't that funny?" Then all the women laughed, heartily agreeing that it was, indeed, funny (it was merely annoying from where I was sitting, but I guess that's my problem). I mean, am I wrong in assuming that these people only met four hours ago? Is that really enough time to have a "Hey, remember?" story? At this rate they will have slept with each other's husbands by mid afternoon. Also, do you think they had some kind of chromosomal disorder?

QUESTION: Do you think stupid people are more or less likely to find someone guilty? I think more likely, because while they're more susceptible to that silver-tongued defense attorney, they're also very angry because the world confuses them and someone must pay.

Anyway, the important thing is that I didn't get picked for any trials and that I've fulfilled my civic duty. The earliest they can call me in again in 2009, and I'm sure they won't waste any time because they've already established that I'm a sucker for showing up in the first place.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

First of all--what a great title, right? While I'd love to take the credit, Imperial Life in the Emerald City is a fantastic book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran from Knopf. But don't just take my word for it, this puppy's been nominated for a National Book Award. Now what is the Emerald City, you may ask? Well, I would tell you, it's Green Zone in Baghdad--everyone's favorite war torn metropolis.

As you'd expect, it's a lambasting of the American (mis)management of Iraq in the months following the invasion. There are countless details about some of the dozens of bureaucratic clusterfucks that characterized the occupation, and they're all fascinating in a tragi-comic way. But Chandrasekaran also interviews dozens of Iraqis, and this really helps to remind us that this isn't merely some kind of inept social experiment or foreign policy gone wild, but people's lives that are being ruined. He really does a great (and relatively well-balanced) job at examining the positions of many different factions .

But don't for a moment think that he's saying that all the Americans there are malacious idiots. In fact this was the element of the book that most stuck with me--and that was how most of the Americans were depicted as being really innocent and blinded by their ideological good intentions. This was another real tragedy--that so many of these people gave their hearts (and often their lives) to rebuilding Iraq in America's image without being able seeing the forest from the trees.

Of course, this simply means that they weren't suited to the job, and never should have been send eight thousand miles away to rebuild a country they knew nothing about. Chandrasekaran makes it clear that the only qualification shared by the majority of the folks sent down there by Uncle Sam were that they were well connected neo-conservatives. In one case a 24-year-old was put in charge of reopening Baghdad's stock exchange (when I was 24 I was busy answering phones and photocopying--but don't think for a moment that I was less qualified than this kid).

No matter what your position on the war, this is a really interesting read. I feel sad for everyone involved--sure, some were more responsible than others, but in retrospect it's very easy to see what a little more effort at mutual understanding and appreciation of the big picture could have achieved. Here's to hoping we'll fare better in North Korea and Iran!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hush Plane

Having spent entirely too much time on planes over the past few days, I was pleased to read that a team of researchers are working on a silent and extremely fuel efficient aircraft. Less noise and less fossil fuel use! Everyone wins (except Middle Eastern dictators)! The innovative design blends the fuselage and wings, making it amazingly streamlined and a dead ringer for Queen Amidala’s spaceship. Unfortunately, the plane isn’t expected to be built until 2030, which is too bad because I plan to have a personal rocketpack by then and will no longer be flying commerically. Read about it.

ASIDE: I haven’t flown JetBlue in ages, and I had a great time. DirectTV, animal crackers, leather seats, friendly stewardesses, tons of leg room. Oh, and it’s really cheap.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

British Halloween

The NY Times has an uncharacteristically hilarious article about how many Britons are unhappy about one of our recent cultural exports---the celebration of Halloween. No matter how you feel about cultural imperialism, you have to admit that it's pretty funny that according to one poll, 58% of homeowners will hide in the back of their house with all the lights turned off in order to avoid marauding bands of sugar-high children. The best line? In the effort to dissuade trick-or-treaters one person said “I’ve thought about removing the cover from my doorbell so they electrocute themselves.” Wow, it makes me feel lucky that the worst I ever had to worry about were razorblades. Read about it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday: fun things that got me through the day

According to FBI statistics, The 'Lou was declared the most dangerous city in America. Violent crimes increased by 20% in one year. Impressive! This had resonance for me because I got into a big argument once with a terrible person who shall remain unnamed who asserted that St. Louis's reputation was the product of a liberal media conspiracy (I'm pretty sure he's also the one who was certain that Charleston's mass transportation system was better than NYC's, so it's clear that his relationship to reality was somewhat casual). I've never been to St. Louis, so I'm not placing any judgments, and I'm sure that a lot of nice people live there (though statistics dictate otherwise). Read about it.

Wow! Dear old Lady Liberty turned 120 yesterday. Can you believe that the guy who sells souvenirs and food on Liberty Island makes $15,000,000 a year? That's a lot of plaster statues and hotdogs! Read about it.

Reese and Ryan have separated. Seriously, who thought this was going to last? Ryan's just too obviously alpha male to handle the fact that Reese brings home the bacon. Flags of our Fathers' box office tank must have sent him over the edge. But I do feel bad about the kids, because they both seem to be pretty involved and loving parents (especially compared to all those other Hollywood types). I also feel a little bit guilty because about a year ago one of my friends had a dream in which I was the cause of Reese and Ryan's break up. We were all at the Oscars and Reese was pissed because Ryan was drunk--again, and he heckled her during her speech and was all touchy feely with Joaquin so the cameras were spending more time on his antics than on Reese's sweet and touching speech (in which she was thanking him, goddamnit. "He always has to be the center of attention", she told me later). So Reese grabbed me and we drove to Malibu for a passionate weekend (the kids were at the sitter's). So, okay, I'm guilty and maybe a little bit excited. Read about it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Costumes Mandatory

I was dragged to the world's most crowded Halloween party yesterday at the Hotel Giraffe on Park. It was actually a pretty diverse assembly of inebriated Caucasian 26 to 27 year old analysts from Virginia and Connecticut. I wasn't having the best time, and the reason for this is three-pronged, and I will take full responsibility for 2/3rds of these prongs.

First of all, I wasn't drinking. And you don't need me to tell you that this was a colossal mistake. Being a fifth of vodka behind six hundred wildly dressed yuppies breaking it down white-boy style to Guns & Roses is not the makings of a fun night. And the reason I wasn’t drinking is because I’m just getting over a cold and my body and I have signed a temporary ceasefire in my slash and burn campaign of self-destructive behavior.
ASIDE: Normally I’d be just thrilled to make a fool of myself out there with everyone else, so I’m not being judgy, but as a result of abstaining last night I’m feeling healthier and am totally productive this morning, so I have no regrets. Also, Halloween is so insane here that it’s kind of nice to have sharp recollections of it for once.

Secondly, I made a really bad costume choice. This one is totally my fault and I’ll know better next year: Harry Potter. I know, I know, I realize it was a huge mistake. I decided to go with Harry because I like the movies (for some reason I never got around to reading the books) and also because it’s a subtle costume—I could just take off my glasses, rub off the lightening bolt scar, and look like a fairly normal, if slightly overdressed, person (I wasn’t wearing a scarf because I was going as “indoor” Harry). I decided to go with a subtle costume because my company threw a big Halloween party on Friday and I had meetings earlier in the day and thought that agents and authors wouldn’t be inspired with confidence if I showed up dressed as a Keebler elf with an axe jutting out of his forehead. Trouble was that Saturday night was no time for subtlety. I had approximately twenty people ask me why I wasn’t dressed up. Do you think I usually walk around with a faint eyeliner-etched scar on my forehead and lens-less glasses? The guy in a full body Elmo costume wasn’t buying it, and frankly I don’t blame him.
ASIDE: Best Costume: guy dressed as Mac from “Super Troopers,” man, what a hilarious movie, and this guy was rocking his costume. Honorable Mentions: guy dressed as Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” and my friend Alessandra who was awesome as Uma’s character from “Pulp Fiction” complete with syringe puncture.

Thirdly, there were just far too many people in this bar. It was more crowded that the most packed frat party I’ve ever been to and this was made worst by the fact that everyone was so dressed up. I nearly lost an eye to a pair of angel/pixie/butterfly/flying monkey wings on several occasions and I witnessed at least three drinks being taken out by cowboy hats. At any given time there were at least 40 guys waiting for the men’s room, and you don’t even want to know about the women’s line. I actually had to walk most of the way home because there weren’t any open cabs (though I lost one early on to a guy in a chicken suit—grrr). This all leads me to conclude that there are simple too many people living in this city. I mean, how much more can we all take? Plus I read recently that in ten years NYC’s population will increase by 800,000 to 1,000,000—giving us something in the neighborhood of 9,000,000 people. 9,000,000!

It will relieve you to learn that I’m not the only one concerned about this, and urban planners, developers, and politicians have amazing plans in store for us. A couple months ago New York Magazine went into a lot of detail about what we can look forward to. The articles are really fascinating, and I think the key element is that a lot of the construction is going to take place in the outer boroughs. Outer boroughs get such short shrift compared to Manhattan, and they all deserve the attention they’ll be getting (except for Staten Island, which should be further isolated to protect the gene pool).

You can read the article here, and don’t worry, there are lots of pretty pictures.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

West Village Apocalypse

I was all prepared to write something brilliant for this inaugural post, but I walked by the filming of a new Will Smith movie and I'm totally unable to focus on anything else.

This morning I walked by Washington Square Park and I noticed a pack of people running along a row of burned out, dust-covered cars. Now, the combination of dust and running people is usually something that triggers pretty much any New Yorker's spidey sense, but I had already had an awful lot of coffee and I think the caffeine inspired my curiosity while inhibiting my normally well-honed self-preservation instincts, so I decided to brave the north side of the park to find out what was going on.

I wish I had my camera with me because the next time I see any thing like this I'll probably be, you know, running for my life. There where about a dozen burned-out cars and everything had a kind of post-apocalyptic feel to it--overgrown plants, strewn garbage. But the freakiest part? Crispy bodies---piles of them! They were in all different positions and had this amorphous, burnt look to them. It was so weird and disconcerting seeing them stacked up like that at the foot of Fifth Avenue.

After approximately ten seconds of intensive internet research, it appears that the movie they were filming is I Am Legend, which, according to imdb, is indeed a post-apocalyptic thriller about the last human man (the fresh prince himself) fighting against legions of vampires.

It's well known that Smith has been chasing those Oscar dreams for years, and this is obviously Warner Brothers' idea of a prestige picture, so be prepared to slip this gem right between "Schindler's List" and "Citizen Kane" .

One weird thing is that the imdb description indicated that the movie is set in LA, but it's apparently based on a novel by Richard Matheson (which Amazon calls "One of the most influential vampire novels of the 20th Century"--I honestly had no idea anyone was keeping track), so they must have changed the locale to NYC, because everyone know how much fun we are to destroy.

Looks like some folks took photos, but the crispy bodies were by far the best part.

Apparently, they've been shooting all around town for the last couple weeks, which gets pretty pricey--especially the way they seem to be closing down streets for long periods of time. Anyway, for all the cash they're spending it should be interesting to watch Smith go all Big Willie Style on packs of vampires. Sound awesome? I think so.