Friday, March 25, 2011

The Atlantic Terminal Target is a Hell Hole

Embracing full-time Dad Blogging, I guess.

Visited Target this afternoon to look for this Fisher Price Swing Monstrosity that Will Make the Baby Be Quiet, which their web site says is there. (Try it: Click here and click on "Find it at a Target store," and enter 11215, the adjacent zip code.  As of 30 seconds ago, for the Atlantic Terminal store, it says "Available".  This is important to know, to fully enjoy this post.)

Looked around, didn't see it, looked around again, waited for a group of staffers' conversation to end and then cornered one.

Me (attempting sane voice) : Hi ... So this swing, the web site says you have it here, but when I look over there I just see display models of other swings, and no swings at all in boxes.

Him (nodding knowingly) : Oh yeah.  The one on the web site is probably online-only.

Me: Yeah but ...  no, I actually put in the zip code and it said that there's physically one here.

Him: Well whatever is out there is what we have.

Me: There aren't, like, more in the back or anything? [note: besides my journalism heroics I work in a retail store and there are frequently more things in the back.] Because the web site says that you have them here.

Him: No, the ones on the web site are probably online-only.

I hate to belabor this but the web site actually says the opposite, which is that it's NOT available online, but can ONLY be purchased in stores, such as the Atlantic Terminal store, where it's "Available"

Anyway, now I'm home, and not with a swing. Which is kind of OK because they're hideous, but kind of not OK because apparently babies don't know that and actually like them.  I found myself musing earlier that Design Within Reach should make a baby swing that's cool-looking.  But then, as a friend pointed out, they'd cost $5,000.  Aha, but then, I countered, you'd be able to buy them used on Craigslist for like $200, and would feel like you'd gotten a bargain.

I probably would pay $200 to have retroactively not gone to Target today.

Although, hahaha, of course I don't have $200.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Letter From Baby Island

Here, because my daughter (!) is momentarily not shouting at the universe, are some semi-related thoughts, unapologetically recycled from my email correspondence and family conversations in recent days:

-- The Sleep Sheep. Do you know about the Sleep Sheep? It's a stuffed animal that emits ambient noise, of a few different kinds. The settings are something like "rainforest," "ocean," "heartbeat," and, a little randomly, "whale." I could double-check them, but I'd have to move it, and right now it's three inches from Ella's head and is somehow keeping her quiet. It's great. Apparently babies like white noise because the womb is a noisy place and they miss it. Which makes sense, but which doesn't explain why I like it so much. She's supposed to get better about calming herself in the next couple of months, rendering the sheep unnecessary. But the sheep may remain a fixture in our household regardless. The only downside is the timer that shuts it off, which I just overrode for the third time in a row.

-- Current nickname for Ella: "Yella," and not because of her skin tone, because that would be wrong.

-- When my band releases its difficult second album, I am going to lobby for it to be called "Nipple Confusion."

-- The Happiest Baby on the Block -- Has there been a worse-written book that has been pored over quite so closely for meaning? (The Bible? Hahaha, just kidding -- sorry, religious folks; I'm getting punchy here.) Anyway, this is not actually a book about making your baby happy. It's about making yourself happy, by getting your baby to just stop shouting for a couple of minutes. Gotta say, it's got prose like a fourth-grade reading comprehension workbook that's had a box of exclamation points spilled on it, but the advice does seem to do the trick. Amusingly, one of the tips is to make harsh shushing noises directly into their ears, because, again, this reminds them of the noisy womb. Basically you know you're doing it right when passersby think you're having a nervous breakdown.

-- Corvino buffalo mozzarella -- Packaged in water. Goddamn amazing and makes the trevails of Food Co-op membership worthwhile. Best thing to happen to me all day, non-baby/non-wife category.

-- I just googled "trevail" to make sure I was using it right, and one of the definitions is "the pain of childbirth." Which means that it's a slight exaggeration to describe Co-op membership. On most days. (Co-op Authorities: If you are reading this, please don't kick me out. I finished all of that cheese and need more.)

-- Another great thing: The complete New Yorker DVD set. I actually bought this when it came out, several years ago, intending to get the City section to reimburse me for it, which they actually agreed to do. Then I forgot to submit my receipt and never got the money. Then I never took it out of the box. Dumb move. I'm doing research today for a magazine thing about New York apartments and have looked up two completely obscure stories from the New Yorker archive (one from 1950 and one from 1982), and both were great. One unintentionally so, I think, but that's fine. I'm strongly tempted to quote from them, but I should probably wait until the magazine story in question runs, just in case they decide to use the stuff I found. Or alternately, when they inevitably cut my story in half and remove everything I like, I'll just post the good stuff here to make myself feel better.

-- In closing, a teaser: We have begun naming the various comical faces little Yella makes. Favorites include "Old Man," "Saarsgaard" (I swear to God she looks just like him sometimes -- it's bizarre.), "Animal" and "Crazyface." I want to document them photographically and make a post about it, but they're surprisingly elusive. For all of our sake, let's hope I get quicker with my shutter finger.

OK, I see that the sheep is wearing off and it's time for more insane shushing. Thanks for reading my first post of Jake's Blog 2.0: Dad Shit. If only I'd started this thing like a month earlier I'd have had all kinds of insanely hip stuff to write about, believe me. Now you get this.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Media Crit 2

We just had a baby a little bit ago, so I think I should be forgiven for being behind on my weird Brooklyn political scandals. But I have to say that, reading for the first time about the saga surrounding the arrest of State Senator Carl Kruger, I found myself wondering just what the heck the Times was trying to tell me about him.

Here's the story in which I first heard about all of this. It details how Kruger was charged in a complex bribery scheme, along with a bunch of other men, including the two sons of the local community board's district manager, Dorothy Turano. (For what it's worth, I've talked with Kruger and Turano on the phone, separately, years ago. They were nice?). Anyway, the weirdness starts -- at least for me, a guy who hasn't been paying attention to the news, and who is reading all this cold -- a few paragraphs in. It describes Turano's sons this way: "two never-married middle-aged brothers". OK, interesting choice of emphasis, but let's move on.

For more than 25 years, Mr. Kruger and the Turanos of Mill Basin have forged the most unconventional of domestic arrangements — at once public and opaque, widely whispered about and poorly understood.

Hmmm ...

The Turanos are variously described by friends, neighbors and colleagues as the senator’s social acquaintances, lovers or surrogate relatives.

Whoa, whoa. Now how about that for a sentence? To just attempt to diagram it: Its subjects, three of them, are Dorothy Turano and her two sons. So they (collectively? All of them?) are described as his social acquaintances, lovers (!) or surrogate relatives? Or, they're variously described as those three very various things? But we don't get to be told who in that list is described, by whom, as which thing? Which is kind of important, right? (Or, arguably, not at all important. But the people who produced this story obviously think it's worth dwelling on somewhat.)

Here is my point: Is the Times implying that Carl Kruger is gay? If so (and of course that's what they're doing), why don't they just come out and say it?

Here is as close as this particular story comes:

Investigators, who tapped the senator’s cellphone for months, have both muddied and clarified the situation, suggesting that Mr. Kruger, 61, had his most intimate relationship with Michael, 49, picking him up at the office and fielding phone calls from him throughout the day. “Kruger spoke with Michael Turano,” court records say, “in a manner that revealed that they relied on and supported one another.”

But when asked whether Mr. Kruger was a close friend of her son, Ms. Turano, through the security intercom at her front door, said: “He was my friend. That’s why I don’t understand about this. Whatever comes out is going to be so wrong.”

A mischievous reader might suggest that this passage both muddies and clarifies the situation.

At this point in my reading experience, I think, I closed my laptop, went to change a few diapers, and forgot about Carl Kruger and his acquaintances/lovers/surrogate relatives for a while. But today I found myself thinking about it all again. Kruger's domestic situation is no doubt pretty fascinating. (Fun fact: He and the Turanos apparently all live in a house that was first built as the mansion of a mafia boss.) But, while I get the impression from this story that a lot of interesting stuff is going on, also get no clear idea of just what all that interesting stuff is. The story actually seems to be trying to prevent me from understanding what it's also trying pretty hard to tell me.

Look, I understand libel law and whatnot. And I know that sensitive stories like this get a pretty thorough once-over from the paper's lawyers, and that editors are careful. But after a while, isn't it fair to wonder, What's the point? By which I mean, if you aren't willing to come out and directly state the one thing that your story is pretty strongly about, then should you still be publishing the story in the first place?

Postscript: It actually wasn't hard at all to find clarity in this muddy situation -- once I looked outside the pages of the Times. The Post was pretty succinct about it:



As were New York Magazine and this random blog that Google pointed me to.

So, basically, my bad for stumbling on the most confusing possible story about this whole mess as my first exposure to it.

And, just to be clear, I don't actually think that Kruger and the Turanos' personal life is a very important part of the story, other than as a sideshow. But I do think that, if papers are going to write whole articles about that aspect of the story, they might as well come out and say what they're saying, for everybody's sake.

Media (self-)criticism

I love the New York Times and read it every day, as everyone obviously should. Also they pay me on time, and more or less in fair amounts, so I feel warmly towards them for that too. It goes without saying that they print lots of interesting stuff all the time. (Check out this great graphic explaining problems nuclear power plants. Though actually, before you do, check out this also-great Popular Science story about how nuclear power plants work. I lived in the same freakin' town as one of these things for 20 years and never knew this much about it. Now I'm embarrassed.)

But anyway. Great paper, the Times. But I have to say that the most memorable thing I've read in there in the last couple of weeks wasn't even a story -- it was a letter to the editor. I like reading the letters to some sections a lot. In the Travel section in particular, they have a great outraged know-it-all quality, because everyone who writes in believes that they are the true experts, and the ones who should be writing the travel stories. And also because the Travel section pretty often does do truly silly stuff, like make lists of "The 50 places you must visit this year," in which 48 of the 50 places on the list are there because a new $1,000-a-night luxury hotel just opened.

Anyway, anyway. The letter I'm talking about this time was in the Home section. It's not a section I've written for before, but the letter nevertheless hit uncomfortably close to, um, home. I'm new to this blogger etiquette, but I assume it's ok if I just reprint it (with a link, of course) :

Re “His Real Estate Agent? Craigslist,” (Feb. 17):

In this piece David Hay profiles a carriage house in Red Hook, Brooklyn, that was “cramped” and “uninhabitable” until its current owner, an architect, purchased and renovated the building for close to $1 million.

I lived in that house from 2002 to 2008 with three friends in their early 30s until a developer purchased the entire block and forced us out. It was neither cramped nor uninhabitable. In fact, that carriage house was the most spacious, affordable and habitable New York home in which any of us had ever lived. During the six years we were there, we put a lot of love into that house; we built a recording studio, a video-editing suite, created spaces to make art, grew vegetables, hosted bands, artists and travelers from around the world, and screened films in the backyard.

Last summer I stopped by the house and met the new owner, who graciously gave me a tour. I was heartened to see that he was putting so much energy into the place and was not a speculator intending to flip it for a profit. But, it was also a reminder that a building that once provided affordable living and studio space for four working artists (and their friends) was now the private home of a single person.

I find myself frustrated with articles about supposedly blighted buildings or neighborhoods being renovated by quirky, “pioneering” individuals. Such writing decontextualizes a larger story that is about development, race, class, power and money. I understand that Mr. Hay’s article is simply a profile of an interesting home in what’s perceived as an “up and coming” area of Brooklyn. But I believe it would be more responsible, engaged and interesting storytelling to dig just a little deeper and consider this home in the context of a changing neighborhood’s past and future.

Todd Chandler

Brooklyn
That is a heck of a letter! The thing is, I had read the story it refers to, and enjoyed it, because it really was well-done. More to the point, I've probably written more than one story like it. Not stories that are wrong, exactly, but stories that, while smooth and compelling in their own way, also squeeze a messy or complex situation (which, really, is basically all situations) a little too neatly into a particularly tried-and-true narrative format.

It is possible to write stories for Home, or Real Estate, or whatever, without oversimplifying them, of course. But it's hard, which means it's important, if you're trying to do that, to be wary of the pitfalls. Those tried-and-true narratives work so well that they're easy, even a little tempting, to fall back on. My experience is that you get better, richer, more surprising stories when you resist that temptation, but also that doing so can be trickier up front. Still, I know that next time I have to write a story like this, I'll have this letter in mind.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Brooklyn II

By the way, I recently was in a conversation with someone from our childbirth class (Yes. Long story.) who referred to this other couple from the class as "not very Brooklyn." I knew what she meant, but was thinking about it afterwards, and realized I disagreed. The people in question, in fact, are Brooklyn as hell. What she meant to say was, they're not very Park Slope.

If you doubt that there is a distinction, let me direct your attention to this episode. In short, a noisy bar is set to open on a busy street near where they're building a giant basketball arena. The people who live in houses right near there are upset, very justifiably I'd imagine, and one of them has started a petition. The petition uses language and argumentation that are, oh, a tiny bit racially insensitive. It's hilariously clueless and *very* Park Slope.

(I love Park Slope, by the way, but am a little relieved not to be able to afford to live there anymore. You get tired of defending it to people, especially when stuff like this happens.)

The latest stories, including one in the Wall Street Journal (!) are suggesting that the letter's author doesn't really exist. If that's true, I think it's a little bit of a relief, but also a little sad. The letter is such a pure distillation of a certain kind of person that it'd be a shame if it was fiction. But in that case, whoever did write it is a very talented satirist. And Park Slope certainly needs more of them.

On Brooklyn

I’ve been thinking a lot about Brooklyn lately. Partly because we just moved to a new neighborhood, one that’s farther from Manhattan by train – and way farther culturally – from where we’d been living. But mostly because I just finished writing an issue of City Limits about the borough, its relatively newfound cachet, and the people who have and haven’t been affected by the changes. Besides its physical reality – a fairly large chunk of land, home of 2.5 million people – Brooklyn has long enjoyed a healthy parallel existence as a concept.


The fine points of that concept have been shifting lately, and that’s where we tried to find some new things to say in the issue. (Which you should read! And pay for if necessary!) But the gist of it is that, in the public imagination for a long time, Brooklyn has been shorthand for scrappy underdogs. It’s what unites Ralph Kramden and the Warriors. Except now that the place is cool, and has perfumes named after it and whatnot, things are a little topsy-turvy. The old Brooklyn isn’t gone; it’s just still figuring out how to wear its desirability.


I got a glimpse of that tension, the old and new, on visit a couple of weekends ago to DiFara Pizza, home of some of the very best pies in any borough. This, unfortunately, is not a secret. DiFara, which is on a nondescript corner in Midwood, Brooklyn and has the bones and d├ęcor of a corner slice place, is more or less always packed with people. Most are waiting; a lucky few are eating. (I don’t even want to get into the percentage of people, at any given moment in DiFara, who are taking pictures of their food. What new way can there be, at this point, to photograph a pizza? People: Your pizza photo is not necessary.)


Anyway, the point is that it’s a packed, stressful environment. And because one guy, Dom DeMarco, makes all the pies by hand, and because he’s been doing it for decades and has had some health problems lately, they close up shop in the afternoon to give him a couple of hours’ rest. This is where, on my group’s visit, the fun began. We were the last ones to order before the break, so we were the only ones in the store, eating our pie behind a locked door, while Dom’s son straightened up. Every now and then somebody would wander up, see the “Closed until 7” sign, and slink away. Or they’d try the door handles, and, finding them locked and hearing Dom’s son screaming “WE’RE CLOSED!” they’d get the hint more gradually.


Then, when we were about half done with our pizza, a blonde tween boy walked up to the door. He found it locked … he heard the shouts … and he just stood there. He tried the door again. He made an exaggerated frowny pleading face. We felt for him – the pizza was great. Then he went and ruined it, by disappearing for a few minutes and coming back with his mom and dad. Now the dad was going to make his case. He shook the door handle. He made the same exaggerated pleading face – and then he started whining. It was turning into a real spectacle.


“Just this once!” he said, as Dom’s son watched from behind the counter, muttering, “No. No.” Then he played what I assume must have seemed like his trump card. Raising his voice even higher, he burst out with:


“WE CAME ALL THE WAY FROM MANHATTAN!”


I wondered, later, if this was the worst possible argument this guy could have made. He seemed to think it was a great point, because he kept repeating it: “MANHATTAN! WE CAME FROM MANHATTAN!”


Dom’s son was now pretending to ignore him, and at my table, we were laughing openly at him, and this goes to the heart of why it was such a uniquely unpersuasive plea. Because, if you unpack the point this guy was trying to make, here’s what he was saying: 1) “We’re rich” – because two-bedroom apartments in Manhattan, which you have to assume they have, with at least one kid, are super expensive. Or more than places in Midwood anyway. 2) “We didn’t think it was necessary to call in advance or check your hours on the web site” (although, if they had checked, they would have found that the hours on the web site were wrong. That’s another story.). 3) “Taking an hour-long interborough train ride (though probably a half-hour in a car, I’m guessing) is unusual for us,” which can’t help accentuating the fact that for most people in central Brooklyn, it’s a normal morning. And 3) “Our time is more important than yours. We know your dad’s like 90, but go wake him up and have him make us dinner.”


I’m not saying they meant to say all that. They’re probably lovely people who just wanted some delicious pizza. (Note: I don’t really think this.) But what I’m saying is, however much Brooklyn may have changed, however cool it’s gotten in its own right, the mention of Manhattan, the glamorous older brother next door, still strikes a strange chord in a lot of Brooklyn people’s hearts. The guy – maybe thinking the Manhattan trip would be impressive, or maybe just a little deaf to the undertones – was probably not realizing how this was coming across. Either way, when he said the M word, I knew that dude was not getting through that door. And we, eating our pizza on our side of the glass, felt schadenfreude. None of us are real Brooklyn people – I’ve been here eight years – but in that moment, in our heads, we were like, “Screw you Mr. Big Shot! Take your limo back uptown!”


Or at least I was. Maybe that makes me a jerk, independent of geography. Or maybe, just maybe, it means I tapped for a few seconds into Brooklyn’s collective unconscious. The place has gotten a lot fancier, but somewhere deep down is a little brother looking to tweak the big guys. Should you find yourself watching cartoons, and chuckling as Bugs Bunny de-pantses Elmer Fudd yet again, remember that the rascally rabbit is from Brooklyn too. Where else?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hello

Ideally I get paid to write, but sometimes I have a thought and there's no obvious person to pay me for it. This blog exists for those sad moments.

Runner-up blog names include Jake and the Phat Man (too long/raises too many questions about the Phat man's identity) and Jake Shack (not sure why I didn't pick that one, actually -- I kind of like it).

Subsequent posts should be longer. If past performance is a guide, maybe too long. I hope you enjoy them.