Stampede of the Elephants

Uncategorized

Our upstairs neighbors moved out last week. The owner, a Nigerian gentleman named Obi, sublet the place for the first 4-5 years, to a procession of folks who woke us up with really loud music, or overflowed their kitchen sink and caused water damage to our kitchen, or did the same thing to our bathroom from their shower. Each time Obi was fairly swift about responding to our complaints and paying for necessary touch-ups and repairs.

Then, about 5 years ago, he brought back a Nigerian bride. She was sweet, but their adorable newborn eventually turned into a not-so-adorable toddler who enjoyed nothing better than running up and down their hallway about 50 times a day — when he wasn’t riding a Big Wheel (or whatever modern equivalent little boys have nowadays). I’m pretty sure the kid had the strength of Spider-Man as it also seemed he rearranged the furniture on a regular basis. Then, a couple of years later, his little brother was born, and that kid seemed to be able to run right out the womb. The amount of noise those pipsqueaks could produce was truly awe-inspiring — it was like two baby elephants lived upstairs. When friends would visit, their eyes would shoot up to the ceiling in alarm. We shrugged — we live on a fairly noisy boulevard, and after a while you can get used to anything. (And now we have a kid ourselves, who’s not exactly light on her feet.) When we would run into the kids’ mom on the elevator, she would look at us in chagrin. We asked her only two simple favors: to not let the kids begin their Olympic trials until after 7 each morning (which is when Phoebe generally wakes up), and if the mom could make sure to do her house-music-accompanied-personal-trainer-morning exercises in the living room — as opposed to the bedroom above ours.

Anyway, Sari ran into Obi on the elevator last week, as his family was loading their last things into the moving van. (They’re moving back to Nigeria, to Lagos.) She wished him luck and he took her hand in his. "I just have to thank you," he said in his courtly way. "You have been the best downstairs neighbors anyone could every have. So patient, so gracious, I can’t imagine how bad it must have been for you." Sari shrugged demurely. "Hey, you know, that’s big city apartment living."

In any case, the folks who bought Obi’s place? A family with FOUR kids.

Tonight: Comics slideshows in NYC

A.D., Comics

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak kindly invited me to participate in his semi-regular “Carousel” show of slide shows and other projected pictures. I plan on showing some material from A.D. as well as joining Sari for a dramatic reading of a story from my previous book A Few Perfect Hours. Other reader/performers that night include Sikoryak, man_size, Tim Kreider, Brian Dewan, Jim Torok, and Kriota Wilberg. If you’re in the NYC-area, it should be a fun night. Here are the relevant details:

Carousel
Dixon Place
161 Chrystie Street (btwn. Rivington & Delancey)
New York, NY
April 30, 2009, 8 pm
$15 ($12 students/seniors)
HOWEVER, If “Carousel” isn’t seem like your kind of thing, how about ambling over to MoCCA for the World War 3 Illustrated #39 release party? Now in it’s 28th year of publication! Join them to celebrate the publication of the new issue with live performances by contributors, featuring multimedia presentations of art by:
  • Peter Kuper
  • Mac Mcgill
  • Paula Hewitt Amram
  • Sabrina Jones
  • Eric Drooker
  • Kevin Pyle
  • Chuck Sperry
  • and many others
  • with an animated film by Onur Tukel

Live music by Eric Blitz, Steve Wishnia, Andy Laties, Breeze and others. Details:

World War 3 Illustrated #39 Release Party
Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art
594 Broadway, Suite 401
New York, NY
April 30, 2009 7-9PM
Donation suggested (free for MoCCA Members)

Jerome Avenue in the Bronx

Uncategorized

On Saturday, Sari, Phoebe, and I were up on the grounds of Bronx Community College, checking out the Kids Comic Con. Afterwards, it being a beautiful day and Phoebe needing a stroller nap, we walked down Jerome Avenue and River Avenue all the way to Yankee Stadium, before we got back on the subway for home. Not a terribly scenic walk, unless you’re really into auto-body shops (at one point we crossed over the Cross-Bronx Expressway), but certain elements of the walk really brought be back to my childhood.

When I was a kid I lived in California, but I would spend a month each summer visiting my dad in New York. He lived in Manhattan then, in the far West Village, and I fondly remember those days walking around the streets of late 1970s New York. That was when a "normal" person could actually afford to live in Manhattan. Apparently, things haven’t changed all that much in that part of the Bronx. It was a riot of color and activity: restaurants and shops of all colors and varieties, and people and families out and about.

Hot sidewalks, the shade of the elevated train, music blaring from an apartment window, fried food, discount stores, outdoor vendors, graffiti, illegal posters (remember "Post No Bills"?): it was wonderful. So much stimulus, the sense of intersecting so many other lives. Sure, like late ’70s New York, the streets were dirty and maybe they weren’t the best place to hang out at night, but so what? There was life, and bustle — and no freakin’ chain stores!

Phoebe sez: "Grass = Bleaugh"

Uncategorized

This is Phoebe, taking over my dad’s blog to get something off my chest:

I hate to be a hater, BUT I THINK GRASS SUCKS! I’ve heard nice things about lawns and fields in the past, but I didn’t have to actually touch any of it. When they created urban parks, they put in plenty of paved spaces and concrete playgrounds in a concerted effort to appeal to city kids like myself, which they balanced with some grassy areas to appeal to “nature lovers.” But now there’s more and more grass starting to appear everywhere.

For instance, right near my apartment building, there’s a big grassy area in front of the Brooklyn Museum. Yesterday my mom and dad set me down there, so I could crawl around a bit or even practice “cruising” against the low wall which abuts it. But the instant I touched the turf, I just started to cry. Granted, it is “spring,” which is probably the most intense growing period for natural things like flowers and trees and the like, but it’s crazy out there: grass, grass, grass, everywhere you look! I can’t say enough how unpleasant it is to feel those sharp individual blades on my delicate little hands.

And today my parents brought me to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden! They wheeled me onto this big green expanse and just sat down, plop! in the middle of it. I wasn’t having any of it, even thought my dad plucked some individual blades to show me how “harmless” they were. To me, nothing about grass is appealing. It’s all natural, and green, and multi-faceted. And how can something be both sharp and soft—at the same time?! Sure, I saw lots of other kids running and rolling around on the lawn, seeming to have a good time. But even if I had seen, say, another nine-month-old I knew, that lawn was no environment in which to bite another kid’s arm or drool on their toys.

So now I know I can skip this grass stuff in the future and just stick to safe places like my living room rug or the kitchen linoleum. If nothing else, the experience reminds me why cities were created, and how anachronistic (and insulting!) grass in urban areas is in terms of its attempt to bring “nature” to the civilized world.

Join the COMIC BOOK CLUB with me next Tuesday

A.D., Comics, Publicity

COMIC BOOK CLUB: A Live Weekly Talk Show about Comic Books

Hosted by Justin Tyler, Pete LePage, and Alex Zalben

Tuesday, November 20 @ 8:00 PM

Featuring:
jahfurry aka Jeff Newelt (SMITH Comix Editor, Heeb)
dangoldman aka Dan Goldman (Shooting War)
4_eyez aka Josh Neufeld aka yours truly (A.D., American Splendor)

Tickets: $5
Online: ThePIT-NYC.com
Phone: 1-800-838-3006
Questions? 212-563-7488

The Peoples Improv Theater
154 West 29th Street, 2nd Floor
Between 6th and 7th Aves.

Check out the website: http://www.popcultureshock.com/cbclub, or on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/comicbookclub3

The show is sponsored in part by Midtown Comics

Rodent Football!

Uncategorized

Ah, New York in the fall. The air is crisp, the night lights shine brighter, and the rats are for kickin’!

Tonight’s garbage night on Eastern Parkway, and as Sari and I were walking home, we passed pile after pile of garbage bags. One particular stack of bags shuddered just as I came by, and before I had a chance to react, I felt something hit my foot in mid-stride. It bounced off one foot and hit the other. At first I thought I had somehow stumbled and kicked my own foot, but it didn’t feel like that. Sari jumped, and I turned my head just in time too see a big ol’ rat butt disappearing into the nearby shrubbery.

“Did I just kick a rat?!” Yes, indeed. Seems the scared rodent thought the smart thing to do was shoot the wickets — but was a split second too slow. Ah well, he seemed no worse for wear — that thing was solid! Maybe some bruised ribs? And a good story to tell his rat grandchildren some day.

J. Williamson

Plug

I’ve always been a huge fan of the “naive” French painter, Henri Rousseau. His large canvas, “The Sleeping Gypsy” (1897), has been one of my favorite paintings since I first saw it at MoMA in high school. I love the story of Rousseau, that he was self-taught, followed his own painting method, and painted subjects (jungles, wild animals) entirely from his imagination. I’m a romantic, so the idea of that “purity,” that lack of concern with craft, excites me; it’s so different from my own artistic background and practice.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAnyway, the other day I “discovered” my own Henri Rousseau. His name is J. Williamson, and I found him last Friday afternoon selling his work on the corner of 23rd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan.

As I came up to Williamson’s sidewalk table, it was covered in tiny oil-painted canvases, 50 or more in total. Each painting was mashed in next to the other. The subjects ranged the gamut, but one that caught my eye right away was a rendition of that infamous Ivan Brunetti picture of Ivan stabbing himself in his eye. I soon saw other themes: classic superheroes like Superman, Batman & Robin, and Captain America; awkward sex scenes; Mr. Met (!); and a number of George Bushes. (One of them showed Bush naked… as a woman. Disturbing.) I was instantly charmed by the artist’s lively, childlike touch — and the fact that he had clearly never gone to art school. I also loved the fact that the paintings were so small, most of them less than 4″ wide. Best thing of all was how affordable his pieces were, mostly in the $10-$20 range.

Pointing out the Brunetti piece, I mentioned I was a cartoonist too and struck up a conversation with Williamson. He is a big guy, missing a tooth or two, and has a strong New York accent. He’s soft-spoken, with an unkempt, street-person aspect (all feeding into the “naive” artist image). He said he’d been selling on that corner for two-three years (‘tho i’ve been there many times and had never seen him). I asked him about his process and he said he could dash off an incredible 3-4 paintings an hour. I told him about the upcoming MoCCA festival, and recommended he get a table, or at least set up outside the Puck Building, assuring him that he’d sell his whole inventory in a couple of hours. But he seemed nervous — whether from the prospect of leaving his familiar spot, or just not understanding me regarding MoCCA, I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t push him on it.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI ended up spending way more money than I planned on three pieces, two of which I show here. I got Sari the painting of the girl and the horse sharing a milkshake. What can be said about it that does it justice? It’s just too brilliant! The Warhol piece also called out to me, painted as it is on what seems to be a mini-whiskey bottle. (I know — it should’ve been on a tomato can! As Williamson told me, he was just beginning to experiment with painting on surfaces like bottles and metal containers.) The third piece — a close-up of a Hulk-like monster’s eyes — I got as a little gift for my buddy man_size.

I hope I’m not coming across as too glib about Williamson and his art: I really do love it. I’ve never been a fan of kitsch or “bad” art, and especially not stuff I would hang on my own walls. I really admire Williamson’s talent and offbeat genius — and his pseudo-autistic persona definitely adds to his allure. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he gets profiled in New York magazine, scores a Chelsea gallery, and starts selling in the six figures.

I could have bought a lot more of Williamson’s art that day, but I didn’t want to overdo it and blow all my cash. My only regret is not buying the Mr. Met painting, but maybe it’ll still be there tomorrow, when I should be back in that neighborhood. It would be so much cooler, though, wouldn’t it, if he disappears forever, leaving nothing but a few random samples of his art behind…

just a typical week in NYC?

Uncategorized

I’ve lived in a lot of places, and one thing I treasure about New York is its constant vitality. There’s always something going on, and the streets reflect that. Other cities just don’t have that same hustle to the bustle.

But sometimes things get carried away. For instance, this is what I did this past week:

  • Monday – attended The Civilians’ “Patriot Acts” benefit concert, where Sari & I enjoyed the musical stylings of Amy Helm, Girlyman, DJ Spooky, Mary Testa, and Jackie Hoffman
  • Tuesday – went to my mom‘s talk at The New York City Studio School, where I walked in halfway through the lecture and was pressed into service (along with my laptop) in enabling her to show a presentation of her work; and then later joined in a homemade dinner at the school on her behalf
  • Wednesday – helped my pal Stinky celebrate his 39th birthday with pizza at Lombardi’s and gelato at Bruno Bakery
  • Thursday – played softball from 6 – 8 as an emergency fill-in for the Plug Uglies down at Commodore Berry field, and then scooted up to Park Slope for my normal Thursday night basketball game from 8 – 10. That’s 4 hours of sports and equipment-lugging!
  • Friday – headed upstate with Sari & her parents for Mother’s Day weekend at 10:30 p.m. and didn’t arrive until 3:30 a.m. due to a shopping stop and weird traffic on the FDR

Week’s like that just wear me out. I mean, I’m not even mentioning (well, I guess I am) that I was working all week on three separate freelance jobs, including closing out issues of two magazines I’m the “art director” for. And my buddy Jake just left Sunday night after staying with us for five days…

Is this normal city life? Taken individually, each of those events was fun, memorable, interesting. But jammed together like that… phew.

Am I just getting old? man_size: how do you do it? you seem to have UNLIMITED reservoirs of energy for socializing, meeting new people, existing in the public sphere. ‘Cause this doesn’t seem like “life” to me, but just a series of public appearances. And weeks like this are all too common nowadays.

When does one pause to reflect, to unwind, to reclaim the creative spaces, to remember who you are and what you believe in?

A Day With the Red Cross

Uncategorized

Today Sari and I volunteered at the Red Cross of Greater New York. I had phoned them about volunteering and they called me last night to see if I could work this weekend. They needed people to answer phones at their local call center. I offered to come in today and Sari volunteered her services as well. So we set our alarms for 7 a.m. and staggered into the Amsterdam Avenue office bright and early.

Well, seems our names hadn’t been posted and the call center was full, but there turned out to be plenty to do nonetheless. People from New Orleans and Mississippi were starting to arrive: over 250 had come in on Friday and probably another 150 or so came through while we were there today. Sari was put to work processing the paperwork involved with issuing debit cards to the evacuees: $360 for an individual, $650 for a family of two, and so on up to $1500 or so. This money was in addition to the $2000 the government is promising folks via FEMA.

I was put to work in the intake room, where evacuees sat and waited to meet with a social worker and get started on their paperwork (and hopefully some short-term food and shelter). They were given meals and provided with four computers with Internet access. I set up the computers with a list of links to various resources: food, housing, employment info; and I helped people with their online FEMA applications. Many people had only the merest shred of a connection to New York; one couple I helped said the only free bus they could catch from the shelter in Texas they’d been in three days ago was headed here.

FEMA’s online application is very extensive and in some parts rather tricky. Plus, true to form, the FEMA website was completely overwhelmed and their server kept going down. The whole time I was there, I was only able to successfully process ONE application; two others pooped out in the middle of the process and one never got started because the server wouldn’t respond. It was impossible to get through to FEMA on the phone: all you got was a long-winded message. Rumor was that it may be possible to reach a real person between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Great!

It was heartbreaking seeing these bedraggled people, most of them still in shock after their ordeal, as they came to the Red Cross for help. Everybody had an unbelievable story of survival to tell, and you had to wonder about these folks and how they’d get by in our big, crazy circus of a city. Besides helping folks with their applications, I was able to assist them with other Internet-related paperwork, such as getting phone and utility bills for proof-of-address and the like. I was incredibly impressed with how patient and good-natured everybody was, and how much dignity they retained despite their circumstances. Most of them have been wearing the same clothes for a week to ten days. Imagine that!

Working there today was a powerful experience. It really showed me what an incredible job organizations like the Red Cross do for victims on the scene. And it made me think very seriously about volunteering for an extended stretch down in the affected region. I got the number of the local volunteer training coordinator and I think I will call her Monday to see about a three-week assignment. I was told it is “hardship duty” right now, but I may be ready for some of that. Anything that can help.