Saturday, February 14, 2009


One thing about the neighborhood where I live--the heads of households show a complete mastery of such things as table saws, blowtorches, and cars. When a temperature light kept flashing on the dash of our VW Jetta, I told the wife I'd cross the street to ask our neighbor, the car ninja, for some advice. I dreaded asking this guy--I knew what I was in for. After my first antifreeze question (which was basically, "What is antifreeze?"), my neighbor asks me a number of things about the car, including whether it uses red or green antifreeze. They come in different colors? Who knew?

Apparently there's a lot the average person should know about antifreeze, and was it just me or could I detect a withheld sneer of contempt from my knowledgeable neighbor. So he asked me to pop the hood. Twenty minutes later, when I had accomplished that, he took a look and gave me some advice about what I needed to do. And he didn't say it out loud, but I could hear it like a whisper of the wind among the trees: You dare call yourself a male?

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Moving from Brooklyn deeper into Long Island has introduced the necessity of two daily visits to Pennsylvania Station, a bizzare hole in the center of Manhattan's least comfortable neighborhood. Having spent so much time there, though, I've come around to some of the strange and compelling sights of the place. Even though most people passing through (or actually underneath) the place tend to keep their heads down and push forward as fast as they can, the observer will note the following:

Sculptor Andrew Leicester contributed some odd and eerie decorations, the most dramatic of which is a relief on the eastern wall of the Long Island Rail Road corridor. It's a depiction of two deities, one representing day and the other night, on either side of a circular void. The images are borrowed from a sculpture that adorned the original and much lamented Penn Station (destroyed in 1963), and rather than beautify the place, their purpose seems to be to remind everyone that the station they now pass through used to be a lot better.

Penn Station is also the greatest concentration of junk food on the planet; it's hard to comprehend how they got so many awful food stalls into such a tight space. One restaurant that's supposed to be better is a place called Tracks, which I've never been to. But I'd avoid any establishment in that crypt that actually boasts serving raw food.

A better place to kill the time is Penn Books, which has become one of the best bookstores in all of New York City now that all of the other independent stores are shutting down. Touting the NYT best-sellers up front, the store also has a pretty good classics section and other oddities that remind you that you're not in the Borders upstairs.

I've bitched and moaned about Penn Station since 1999, when I first moved to an office in Penn Plaza several stories above the train tracks. But it's time to give in and marvel at the station and the truly New York experience that it provides; a whirlwind of humanity in a furious rush, a structure where, anthill-like, little is static, and a warren of corners and alleys offering unusual but sometimes nifty wares.

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