Friday, September 25, 2009

CI #22 -- Art

I went to the Brooklyn Museum of Art for the first time today, so I thought this Friday evening would be the perfect time to breezily analyze the mammoth pillar of human existence that is ART.

I would say I know as much about art as I do about wine, which is to say I know what I like when I see or taste it (The wine is more often than not red. The art may or may not be.)

I do, however, know that "What is art?" or "What constitutes art?" seems to be an important question among those who do know about "art" when it comes to everything from home furnishings to paintings involving feces. Many times walking down Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, I have asked myself this very same question with respect to this:

(Again, click if you can't read or see it. Also, there's not usually trash around it.)

So I decided to write a former professor I had for an art theory/criticism class about it. He also happened to be my adviser (long story). I asked him (cq) Is this stump art? (or is it a joke, which could make it art? Regardless, I'm pro-stump).

Here's his response:

I would need to know a couple things before I could go very far into this discussion. First, what does the answer matter? What is at stake in this stump? And second, does the "estimate -- $89,000" refer to anything? Was, for example, that the cost of turning the tree into a stump? If so, the piece may be some sort of social or political protest, using its form (a parody of a work of art) as a way of protesting inappropriate public expenditures or the loss of shade for local residents, or ....

If the $89,000 does not refer to anything, then the piece is a
work of
in the sense that it is itself a visual metaphor for "work of art" which it becomes just by parodying the captions on works of art. In this respect, one notes that the style of caption is dated--it mimics the way captions were done 80 years ago, so it may be that it is the caption more than the stump that is the work of art, though the stump needs to be there in order that there be a caption.

As a metaphor for a work of art or for a caption for a work of art, it is somewhat illuminating, as metaphors always are. But the luminosity is pretty low, less than 15 watts, I think. You didn't ask whether it was a GOOD work of art, or an IMPORTANT work of art, just whether it was art at all.

I could go on and on, as you remember that I always did. It was great to hear from you. What else are you doing in Brooklyn besides looking at stumps?


As you can see, his response cries out for further research, none of which I have done. But what fun is art if you have to think about it?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

CI# 22 -- Economic Indicators

As the economy is starting to recover (or isn't, depending on who you're talking to), we're hearing things like "green shoots," "consumer discretionary spending," "housing starts," and a lot of other jargon. So I was wondering, Is there some kind of "economic indicator" we all can easily understand?

Turns out, yes.

(Taken at the NYC public gym at Metropolitan Ave and Grand St.)

CI #21 -- Moral Dilemma

You had a good day at the arcade in Cape May, NJ. You have 28,000 tickets. Do you go for the Maxi-Matic Oven Toaster or blow it all on the Fajitas & More Buffet?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

CI #20 -- Moving

No one likes to move. No one likes helping someone move. No one can stand packing, wrapping, shuffling, storing, repacking, rearranging, securing objects with ropes (or extension cords), re-rearranging, unloading, -- not to mention it eating almost a month of the mover's life and killing at least an entire Saturday of anyone helping out.

There's not enough beer and pizza on Graham Avenue [insert incredibly specific geographic reference here] to make it tolerable.

So you can imagine how pumped I was when my new creepy neighbor *Gary asked me to help him move some things in the other day. "Just a couple bookcases I got on 92nd Street."... "Oh."

You might say, "Well, Greg. We help each other move. It's just part of being a decent person." Yes, we do help people move, and I help people move, but "people" are generally friends or loved ones.

Gary was neither (would he become one!?) when he approached me on my doorstep with my key in the door. I had seen him with bookcases atop his minivan on the other side of the street on my way back from the grocery store. We exchanged glances. Mine said, "Nope. I don't want to," but Gary was unfazed. I walked up the steps to my building, and suddenly found middle-aged, slightly doughy, matted gray hair, cargo shorts outfitted Gary right there behind me.

"You got a second?"
"I just need a hand getting these two bookcases upstairs."
"...How many stairs?"
"Two flights. [Pause]. I'll give you a couple bucks."
"Okay. Let me just put away the groceries [THAT I STILL HAVE IN MY HAND]."

So, I decided to help Gary, and I wouldn't take his money. What else am I doing anyway? Plus, if did accept money, I would have to be a good mover. I'd be a professional. There'd be pressure.

I stood idly by as I watched Gary remove the ties, which were extension cords, from the bookcases. Gary took his sweet time, untying at all four corners, when he could have just done two and come back later. On the plus side, however, these precious few moments allowed me to learn the following facts about Gary:

- he used to live on the Upper East Side. 14 years.
- rent was "getting crazy" up there, on the Upper East Side
- his minivan's back door got hit a couple years ago ("jackasses") and hasn't opened since
- he was given his minivan by a "good friend in Jersey"
- "sometimes it's nice to get away, you know"

Gary was the Oscar Wilde of obvious generalizations. Oh, and did I mention Gary had psoriasis? I'm not sure really what psoriasis is, but he was covered in something [remember to chop hand off later, if we come within inches of contact].

We move one bookcase up no problem. Then comes the second one. The heavy one. "I'll take the heavy end." "Okay. [You should]."

Gary moans and groans his way up the first flight of stairs. His face is really red. He's out of breath and heaving and lurching. And then terror sets in. I realize "Gary is going to die right here. He's going to have a heart attack and drop dead right in front of me. And I'll be the only one to handle it. There goes my WHOLE afternoon."

Fortunately for me, Gary did not die, and after a brief moment wondering whether my subconscious had stolen this nightmare from Curb Your Enthusiasm (still not sure), I decided I was going to accept money after all.

We got the second bookcase upstairs, and as he's walking me out he says:

"Let me give you a couple dollars. I wish I had more." I'm thinking, "$5. Whatever, it's a footlong. No biggie."

And then he pulls out a crumpled up one and hands it to me. "Hold on." "Okay."

He then proceeds to dump the entire contents of his cargo shorts pocket into his hand, against his belly. He motions me to come over and put my hand (ostensibly) against his belly. I do it, mostly because I believe it'll speed up the process.

The payment was now complete. And if you've ever wondered, (cq) "What's the going rate for helping someone move two bookcases up two flights of stairs? It's apparently $2.20, or $1.10 per bookcase.

I'm all but running back downstairs, and Gary's following me, which he continues to do across the street, to my door once again.

"So, like I was saying, I work in computers."
["Hmm, no, you weren't saying that, but whatever."]
"Oh, cool."
"So if you ever need any help with your computer, technical help, maybe you want to learn Word better [I'd made the mistake of telling him I was a writer], you know, I can help you out with that."
"Okay, cool."

And to top it all off, Gary finished with a limp, clammy handshake, which I found infinitely more offensive than $2.10.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CI #19 -- Lady Gaga's VMA Performance

If a rapper hadn't acted like a jackass and then the President of the United States hadn't called him one, we'd still be focusing on the real story of the MTV Vide0 Music Awards -- the many faces of Lady Gaga.

Behold the Student Film Widow From The Future...

(Special shoutout to my boy, Kerm.)

the Doiley-Masked Evil Fairy Queen...

... And the Mascot For A Feathery Donut Store.

And those weren't even all of them. Okay, so the outfits are interesting, but what about her performance, the one that was supposed to solidify her presence as The Biggest Female Pop Star?

- creepiest bunny mask known to man? Check.
- backup dancers from the gay Lost Boys? Check.
- grand piano played with theatrical gusto and one leg up? Suck it, Liberace. Double check.
- inexplicable glut of stage blood? Check.
- backup dancer in a wheelchair? Check.
- one staged death? Check.

As Katie pointed out, she had it all, yet I still felt unfulfilled. For me, something was lacking. Was there anything that could have taken her performance to the next level, you know, really made it memorable? So I ask (CQ) What was Lady Gaga's VMA performance possibly missing?

Midgets. Serious oversight. She probably didn't call on the little people because Britney Spears used them on her recent tour. Nevertheless, I'm nonplussed. What a bland, run-of-the-mill showing, Lady Gaga. Maybe go all out next time, huh?

Friday, September 11, 2009

CI #18 -- Mystery Substance X

Arriving fresh out of the NASCAR from suburban North Carolina, I've been in NYC for over five years now. Obviously, the two places are quite different. (For instance, if you're one of the people I grew up with, you might be bristling with rage right now because "NASCARs" are actually "stock cars," but I digress.)

Some differences between the Country and the City were stark and immediately obvious: In NC, there are living things. In NYC, not so much. (Positive corollary though: No living things = no allergens to congest the author). Other differences, however, took time to detect and puzzle me to this day, like for instance the case of what I'm calling "Mystery Substance X." And so I ask the curious question, What is Mystery Substance X?

I'm not sure where or how I first stumbled upon Mystery Substance X (MSX). At once, it's instantaneously foreign and yet somehow familiar. Its appearances are irregular, though usually occurring on sidewalks. (In NC, there are no sidewalks.)

In my casual observation of MSX, I've noticed it appears more frequently in areas with fewer Starbucks in Manhattan and in the outer boroughs in general. Take, for instance, this specimen found in my Brooklyn neighborhood:

My gut tells me that it is some sort of organic compound with a lifespan of about a week (though this appears to be drastically reduced by extreme heat or cold). I've deduced that it must be generally harmless. Why else would NYC residents -- or NYC officials for that matter -- allow it to be so pervasive? However, close, street-level encounters with MSX do appear to induce a type of "total body halitosis," especially indoors.

Occasionally a small specimen of MSX will appear next to a larger one, which makes me wonder Are they growing? Are they multiplying? Are they ambulatory, possibly mobilizing at night?

I know I'm not alone in my concern for MSX. Why? because I've come upon specimens that have clearly been inspected by other third-party observers. Like in this case:

Clearly it has been disturbed, possibly by precocious neighborhood children the way they might examine a slug. Yet MSX continues to disturb me, especially when I see this:

Why would someone go through the trouble of collecting MSX in what can only be a "sterile lab pouch" only to leave the collected specimen sitting on the street?

Shifting gears, allow me to propose an alternate theory. Based on how ubiquitous MSX remains in NYC, the Capital of Culture, it's possible that MSX is a viral marketing campaign, perhaps for UPS, Buster Brown, or maybe the next Tyler Perry project. I can't say for certain.

Due to a lack of conclusive evidence, I have no choice but to assume conspiracy, and one that is much, much bigger than one blogger.

If you have desperately needed comments, questions or clues, please write to Let's take back our streets.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CI #17 -- Quotation Marks

This weekend I caught a few minutes of NY1 a.k.a. "the channel your cable box automatically tunes itself to." I'm convinced this is where most of their viewership comes from -- that and from people directly involved in New York City political campaigns.

They were doing a piece on some sort of school program designed to promote the sciences among middle school students (I believe an appalling lack of beakers was the number-one problem), and they decided to see what 13-year-old Jonathan Spielman had to say on the matter. Seems appropriate.

But (cq) was using quotes to emphasize that Jonathan is in fact NOT an actual scientist really necessary?

Of course he's not a scientist. He's THIRTEEN. Way to kick a guy when he's down, NY1.