The same but different...

September 10, 2004

I arrived early into Burbank having slept virtually the entire flight. As I took a cab to a friend's house I noticed this liquor store. Years ago I spent three nights in the parking lot. We were shooting the scene in Clueless where Alicia Silverstone gets mugged. Back then I thought this was a "bad" part of town. It's in Burbank for god's sake.

After collecting my car I made the mistake of driving back to the old house out of morbid curiosity. I shouldn't have gone. The new owner has done some very depressing things to the back yard. He's building an ugly modern looking wall and has cut all the lush trees way back. I'm sure it will look better when it's all done, but it will be years before the cypress trees recover.

Most sad for me: The plum tree was chopped down. More on this after I've had some sleep.

As I said I shouldn't have gone. Afterwards I went to In & Out and had a #3 to recover. From there I headed to Pasedena to run a few errands and then to Silverlake to look at a baby store and finally to Little Tokyo. I love Little Tokyo and wish there was something analogous in New York. It's small scale, friendly and has all sorts of neat shops and restaurants (including a new Marukai Forum 98 cent store). But one thing I don't understand. What's the deal with the Colonel Ellison Shoji Onizuka obsession? There are no less than 7 plaques and memorials scattered around as well as a 2 streets named for him.

I ended the day watching Warriors of Heaven and Earth. Give it a miss. This film is horrible. One thing I've been noticing: If a director keeps using fades instead of cuts, it's because he doesn't have something to cut to. Amateurish.

All nighters

September 9, 2004

I've pulled all-nighters the last four or five times I've flown. Jenn hates this behavior and I don't like it myself, but there is always so much to be done.... The last couple of times I was in hell, but last night zipped by... and I'm sitting here at LaGuardia at 5:36am feeling fine, even kind of awake. I'm sure this won't last and I'll drool all the way to Burbank.

I'm sitting in an airport lounge in front of the windows under a TV screen. There are about 30 people here and most are watching the set. Two rows in front of me sit four young Marines headed to a base in San Antonio and then Iraq. Until a few minutes ago they were joking loudly about the awful conditions over there. They are just kids. I am facing them and they are now watching a long CNN report on the 1000 servicemen and women killed in Iraq. One of the Marines is choked up and his emotion is rubbing off on everyone else here. One woman had to leave and an older gentleman has tears on his face. The marines have gone quiet I expect they will stay quiet for some time.


Rainy Day

September 8, 2004

I woke up this morning to a phone call from the painters telling me that some water from last nights downpour had come into our new place because he had left the windows open last night. I hung up and as I blinked my eyes open I saw water streaming through the terrace door of the apartment I'm staying in here in the city. The room was soaked. Terrace drain problems apparently. The floor was already warping and the fancy (ugly) European carpet had to be pulled out and dried before it shrinks and gets mouldy. I wet-vacced up almost 7 gallons of water. Not good. I've spent all day dealing with mess. Later I will go down to Brooklyn and see what the situation is there.

Tomorrow I fly back to LA to collect my car and get the movers rolling.

I'm glad Jenn is at her Mom's house and was spared dealing with all of this.

I think this random image was taken as I fiddled with the camera. It captures my mood.

Swimming pool?

September 7, 2004

Our Venezuelan landlady in Brooklyn seems to be using the six months of rent we paid her to dig a very large hole in the back yard. You can't tell from this image, but the hole is now almost seven feet deep in some places. One theory is that since she has a basement room, she decided to dig out the back yard so that it is on level with the basement. Another theory is that she is going to build a room down there. A third theory is that she is insane.

All the work is being done by three underage kids from the Mexican state of Tabasco using buckets picks and shovels.

Philly Koreans

September 7, 2004

Every time I visit Jenn's family, I realize that at some point I will have to do a detailed photographic study of the homes of Koreans of a certain age. The homes tend to be in planned developments, and they tend to be both super Korean and unmistakably American in ways that are weird and wonderful. Framed jigsaw puzzles of the Last Supper. Poo bear merchandise and koo-koo clocks feature prominently.

Also it seems that every house must have a Jesus calendar (usually a year or two out of date) with almost surrealistic imagery. These calendars are usually found on the back doors of bathrooms. My Mexican family has similar calendars although they tend to feature saints and tend to be five to ten years out of date.

Kazakh Blog

September 6, 2004

Our friends Amy and Travis have just set up a new blog from Kazakhstan. I've been through Almaty twice and have to say I'm jealous. While the city itself is a bit Soviet, it is surrounded by spectacular mountains and villages. Should be an interesting year for them.

Labor Day Trip

September 5, 2004

We're heading to Pennsylvania for the holiday. The last time we went down Jenn’s evangelical aunts hired a Korean prayer lady to speak in tongues over us. This did not freak me out. When I was a kid I spent my summers in Mexico and in our neighborhood there was an old woman said to have a third eye. As she was missing one of the eyes on her face I always wondered if this meant she had 2 hidden elsewhere. She had a thick brush of mustache, too many moles to count, and occasionally she would shout things that would make my blood run cold like, "Don Jose, Jose Flores, dead man, stop scratching me". I used to buy firecrackers and popsicles from her. It was said she had a death finger and if she pointed it at you for more than three seconds your days were numbered, so after doing business on her porch (always with exact change counted beforehand), I tended to run for my life. Anyway the point is that after that experience having some cute Korean harmoni (with both eyes intact) yim-yam over me was no big deal.


If you travel back and forth between NY, Boston, and Philadelphia, you should know about the Chinatown bus which goes between all the cities. $20 roundtrip between NY and Philly and this is not some crappy bus...


September 4, 2004

I am lucky to have a wife who enjoys going to Godzilla movies with me. Tonight we saw Godzilla vs. Ghidra the Three-Headed Monster (1964 version). Splendid. Too bad it was dubbed in English (and subtitled in Spanish). As cool as it is to see these films on the big screen (well big-ish screen, we were at film forum), they are even better undubbed.

Getting Chaotic

September 2, 2004

I finished work early and went downtown with Jenn.

We did baby stuff and then went to see To Have or Have Not. When we emerged it was a different world. The police had barricaded the streets. Helicopters were buzzing overhead.

The streets were empty but you could hear people shouting in the distance and small groups of people with signs kept passing us going downtown.

Large groups of protesters passed by (as well as a few bands of Bush supporters). It felt like New Years Eve or Halloween, but the massive police presence (and the people yelling at the police) gave it an edge. Scores of cops on motorcycles, in cars, and on horseback kept zipping down the empty streets.

On 6th Avenue I was yelled at and told to move on... I would have liked to go further but Jenn was with me. So we hiked over to Madison and took a cab home.

Around Town

September 2, 2004

The city was eerily quiet today. Some parts of town were almost deserted. I witnessed a few Repbulican/Protester clashes, but nothing more exiting than a few insults being thrown back and forth. The army of police around is unsettling. As respite we watched the Ramones documentary which was excellent.


September 1, 2004

We saw Ju-on tonight. The first half was genuinely terrifying. Shimizu has a way of capturing creepy quiet fears and visualizing them in ways that kept sending chills up my spine-- empty houses in disarray, crazy old people, scary cats, evil children, etc. Ultimately the scares wear off as the movie starts to drag with the lack of a protagonist or strong narrative. But there are a couple of scenes that will stay will you in the dark of night.

A few nights ago we enjoyed Hero. Visually speaking it is a worthy successor to Crouching Tiger and it has the Zhang Yimou touch of greatness, but it didn't quite add up for me. I just didn't care enough. But in this case I just turned off the left brain and and enjoyed it as a right brain experience.

We finally got around to watching The Manchurian Candidate last week. I almost walked . The film was so bad I felt embarrassed to be watching (and to have once worked for the producer!). The remake seemed to suck any suspense out of the original (one of my favorite films). There is nothing so silly as pretentious self-important fluff packaged as serious commentary on our times.

Girl with 2 Parrots

August 31, 2004

I was lucky. Both my parents were semi-obsessed with art. Even when they didn't have a dime, they always managed to find great pieces for our home. My folks found this painting over 20 years ago at a shop in Monterrey. Unknown painter. Unknown subject. It followed my dad from Texas to New York and I'm sure one day it might follow him to Spain.

I've always loved the little girl's big blocky feet, the details like the gold earrings she wears, and the bird she holds. I've been looking at this painting over half my life and I still keep wondering about the story behind it.

. . .

Jenn has been spending way too much time on the message boards. She reads me the highlights. Funny stuff.

Talking Thai

August 31, 2004

Jenn and I love Thai food. Over the course of our time together we have eaten hundreds of Thai meals together. In LA there is a huge Thai community and a decent sized Thai town. Jenn and I have been fairly systematic in our exploration.

Our favorites:

East Wind Café 2
7363 W. Sunset Blvd.

This little hole in the wall near the Rock & Roll Ralphs, is run by a grandmother. Every time we go the décor gets more and more elaborate (christmas lights, fake plants, holographic waterfall posters, etc). All the food is top notch (spicy enough to make you sweat), but the Tum Yum Gai is out of this world. The parking lot can be dangerous, leave your car right in front if you can.

The Palms (also known as Thai Elvis)
5273 Hollywood Blvd.

Thai food and a Thai Elvis impersonator... come on, this is genius. Kavee Thongprecha performs virtually every night to a packed room. The food is also darned good. I always go for the boar. Jenn tends toward shrimp or whole fish. Note their version of medium spicy is extra spicy anywhere else. Also you can walk next door to the Thai grocery store if you need supplies.

Mae Ploy
2606 W. Sunset Blvd.

It's all the way out on the ass end of Sunset Blvd, but try their soups. You won't be disappointed. Note: Mae Ploy seems to have 2 or three cooks. The one who works at night is leagues better than the others.

4156 Santa Monica Blvd

Sompum does not serve your standard LA Thai fare. The spring rolls are larger (giant actually), the fish is fresher, and the yum neur deeply delicious. In fact when I think of yum neur, I think of Sompum.

In New York I do not have the Talmudic knowledge of Thai joints that I have in LA, but then again there are fewer places to choose from, they are more scattered, and they tend to expensive relatively speaking (It's not unusual for 2 people to order several plates in LA for less than $20. In NY the prices are double or triple.). But I do have some old favs:

127 W 56th St

Expensive as far as Thai places go, but I always return for the spring rolls (tiny and delicious) and the Thai steak (bbqed with a complex and yummy spicy sauce).

Pat Pong
93 E 7th St

If you can get past the unfortunate name, you'll enjoy the adventurous menu. Some of the items were influenced by the East Village's Eastern European roots (there is a kiebasa dish for example). This might sound awful, it's delicious. Trust me.

Sea Thai
75 2nd Ave.

Sea Thai is best experienced in the late afternoon when it's not too busy. Then, the food is across the board tasty. The portions tend to be small and somewhat preciously presented (I could care less about presentation, just let me eat!). At night Sea Thai becomes a bit of a scene, the waits are long, and the food suffers.

So far all the Brooklyn Thai places we've tried (Lemon Grass and the one next to it on Court street) have been mediocre. We're always looking for recommendations.


August 29, 2004

I managed to completely miss the protests. This morning I saw both cops and protesters heading south (I was heading north). Later I took a subway right under the thousands of people marching in the street (I could hear them at the 34th Street station stop..sounded like thunder and shook the tracks)... When I headed back late afternoon I caught people going home streaming onto the trains. I expect these will demonstrations will only get bigger throughout the week.

Random aside: One of the Russian doormen who has been unfriendly almost to the point of meanness, suddenly offered to take us around the far reaches of Brooklyn and host us at a Brighton Beach Russian restaurant. Odd. Now that he has offered I feel we have to accept or else there is this lingering invite in the air. Then again it might be weird to be hanging out with the doorman and his wife and a bunch of Russians. After we get back will he still expect tips as he does now? Will I have to chug Vodka as I did throughout Siberia? I don't feel very Larry David about the whole thing.

La Maison des Peintres is an excellent house book if you can find it. It features artists' houses around the world.


August 29, 2004

We're onto finalizing things with the painter. He begins on Tuesday. When we were settling things today in his apartment up in the West 90's he me nervous. "I don't let my guys smoke or drink on the job. You know if they drink and paint they get real sloppy."

In order to cut costs we went with one of the cheaper painters... also we're not painting ceilings or moldings as they need lots of repair (we'll look at the cracks as a patina). Our landlady isn't pitching in and I don't feel like spending the extra money to improve her place for her... it's only a year or so and we hope to buy something and start get renovating. But we do want some real color on the wall. White and grey is so dreary.

We're going with a Korean inspired color theme. This is an example of korean colors commonly used on fabric borders and so on:

These are somewhat different that the colors I've used in the past. Jenn found the colors of our last house (painted pre marriage) too masculine. For reference at Lakewood Ave I used:

So the challenge was finding something we could both live with... We couldn't use a pure set of Korean colors. They are too intense for our existing furniture so we have to tone them down a bit. This is our current plan (so far):

The transition from living room to bedroom looks funky on the computer, but it's ok on the wall. The bedroom color is a complex Islamic looking blue that could also be a Korean blue. At least that's the impression we hope it gives. The fear is that the bedroom will look like a swimming pool. We're a bit stymied by the kitchen. I had wanted to do some sort of linen colored walls with a rich blue ceiling, but that would be a hassle to repaint when we move out... Right now we've settled on a green similar to what we had in our old bedroom. Boring but we can't come up with something better. The red room is jenn's concession to me. I've had a red room in virtually every place I've had since college. We plan to put all my horns and maps and things in this room.

Once we have our own place again we'd like to get a bit more advanced with color-a modern Bloomsbury look. I'm thinking glazes, painted decorative ceilings, but one step at a time. Let's find the place first.

Up on the roof

August 28, 2004

Just came back from rooftop movies. Only tonight the venue was a parking lot. But even in the parking lot we were jazzed. Perfect weather. Full moon. Blimp overhead. Kinda cool. Wish the movies were better.


August 27, 2004

Now that we are having child number one, Jenn and I are encountering dilemmas I never would have imagined even a few months ago. Strollers for example. My impression was that a stroller is a stroller; you just go to a baby store and buy one you like. I looked around and found a stroller called the bugagoo. It's cool looking, rugged, good on city streets, but expensive. No problem, right? Well apparently the bugaboo is something of a status symbol (It was featured on Sex and the City and is popular with celebrities. ) and there are many people that hate them because of that. Lots of people look bugaboo owners the way I look at Hummers owners--as foolish jackasses. Do we want to get involved in that? Would it be better to get an anonymous stroller? What about the Xplory. I could care less about the status factor, I just want a well designed machine that doesn't provoke people and is good on city streets.

My ipod's shuffle play has been coming up with lots of French songs today.

A paste of my recently played list:

Je Me Suis Fait Tout Petit - Georges Brassens
A Handful of Songs - Annie Ross
Eggs and Sausage - Tom Waits
Toi Que Je Veux - France Gall
I Want You Back Again - The Zombies
Vaya Con Dios - Les Paul and Mary Ford
You're So Influential - Steve Allen
The Biggest Night of Her Life - Harpers Bizarre
Looks Looks Looks - Sparks
Lonesome Traveller - Karl Denver
Two Ton Feather - Dion
Ces Bottes - Les Sans Culottes
Joe Stalin's Cadillac - Camper Van Beethoven
Abilene - George Hamilton IV
Le Temps De L'Amour - April March
Satisfaction - Cat Power
Relax-Ay-Voo - Dean Martin
Heavenly Light Shine On Me - Swan Silvertones


August 25, 2004

Last night Jenn was annoyed that I pulled out my camera at dinner. Later we discussed banchan. Jenn finds it offensive that banchan is often compared to tapas, or worse, labeled an appetizer. "Banchan is a philosophy," she announced. End of discussion.

These protesters were all over midtown today. Better than the Save the Children guy who, when I passed him by, yelled at me "What you don't care about saving children?"

. . .

I've been doing painter interviews over at the apartment. All the people listed in the Franklin report are crazy expensive. Does anyone have a reliable painter, available on short notice, who can handle 3 stories and around 2500 square feet? We need to move fast. Jenn is dying to set up a baby room. I am dying to be settled. We're not looking for super cheap, but we don't want to pay top dollar either. It's a rental.

Urban drama

August 24, 2004

Sometimes in big cities you will catch a little snippet of conversation that tells a larger story, only you never know how the story ends.

Here are today's bits of urban drama:

Man to sobbing woman: That's just the way it is baby. You gotta understand.

Street artist: This one is a schematic of a UFO and that one is the view from the Tapanzee bridge.

Woman on cellphone (distressed): I'll send you the CAT scans.

Man to woman: I swear to god I was there. I swear to god I was there. I swear to god.

Woman: That's what you say but that's not the way it was.

Man: I swear to god I was there.

Man with big hat to cell phone: Say that again. I dare you to say that again. You sorry piece of crap. I can't believe you just said that.


August 23, 2004

On the subway this morning I was in a car of Nader/Camejo supporters. One of them was wearing a t-shirt that said (in big letters), "I AM NOT IRRELEVANT!" Another had a shirt that said, "MY VOTE COUNTS!" They were handing out buttons and half heartedly chanting "Nader, Nader, Nader, no more Bush or Al-Sadr." One guy managed to spill his coffee on a commuter who was not amused.

I've been spending way too much time on the subway. Almost 2 hours a day. Things will get better once we're moved in. But being subterranean for so many hours a day makes you think about things... like why is it so darned hot down there? Heat rises and yet 50 feet underground it is often 10 or even 15 degrees hotter than outside. The culprit, I'll bet, are all those air conditioners on subway cars spewing hot air. Why not just AC the stations and forget out cooling individual cars? Or maybe just turn off the AC in the cars and see if the whole place cools down. Also, who is busy scratching all the windows? Every single car I've been in has windows scratched so badly you can barely see out of them. The scratches aren't even tags, just random angry hatchmarks. What's the point? I understand tagging. But this is just stupid. And what's the deal with the variety of color/tiling schemes going on? Why for example is 49th street bright orange? Why not paint the columns at each stop based on the color of the line they are on? Stations with multiple lines would have stripes on the columns. Easy & logical. Also why has New York never instituted route maps like the London Tube System which is regularly hailed for being well signed. Every day I see hapless tourists scrutinizing maps and getting on the wrong train. Sigh. I could go on.

Happily it was another day of perfect weather. I dealt with painters and spent some time exploring my new neighborhood.


August 22, 2004

We spent several hours swatching the walls of the new place and had our first run in with the landlady (the colors are too bright!). I do find it amusing that she is hassling us. We're paying to have the entire place freshly painted top to bottom, are tearing up a nasty green rug on 3 floors of stairs (replacing it with sisal), and a making a host of other improvements. She should be grateful!

The weather has turned perfect... almost felt a hint of fall.


August 21, 2004

Before the thunderstorm today the air was thick and muggy. You would think rain should cool things off but it only seemed to add to the oppressive humidity. I was headed down to Pearl Paint and had just entered the subway when the storm broke. Crowds of people without umbrellas ran down into the station for shelter, many of them slipping on the feces left on stairs by some severely gastrically challenged individual. Once in the station, water suddenly began pouring down through a ceiling grate onto the tracks and a small swarm of rats jumped onto the platform seeking drier ground. The commuters, many of them still dealing with stinky shoes started freaking out. One woman actually screamed "Oh my God, RATS!!!!"

When the train came everyone stared down at the ground and avoided eye contact.

I think it was just as the woman screamed that I realized LA is all about comfort. Not once in the last six months have I sweat through my shirt just trying to get somewhere (this happens at least 3 times a day here). Not once have I had to avoid human feces. And I've haven't seen a single rat (although skunks are another story). But oddly enough none of the unpleasantness bothered me the way it might have in the past. Perhaps it's because I haven't been back long enough, perhaps I was just in a good mood today, but I think part of it is that I chose to be here and I know the deal.

I've had lots of internal dialog about this sort of thing lately. I've realized my 10 years away have changed the way I see the New York. I keep noticing how dirty the city is and how long it takes to get from point a to point b and how there is real weather. But I also notice how much more rich my life is here, how many new faces I see each day, and how great the water tastes. It will be weird to be back in LA next week. I imagine the experience will be something like going back to school after you have graduated... we'll see.

Done deal.

August 20, 2004

So if bank people tell you 48 hours is the minimum time for a wire transfer to clear, don't believe them. With a bit of persistence and sweet talking of old ladies, it can be done in 12 hours.

We went down to State street and signed the lease. I couldn't be more pleased. Great house, great street, great neighborhood. We can't wait to get moving on the painting and so on...


August 20, 2004

We're counting the final hours to the signing. I hate depending on wire transfers and things. Inevitably there will be a fly in the ointment. We're walking out the door in 2 minutes.

After looking at scores of apartments the best ones (by far) were from craigslist apartments by owner or via local brokers. The local brokers are a colorful bunch and the best way to find them is simply to walk the neighborhoods that interest you. Many of these offices are one or two person operations. Frank our broker has a small chaotic office right down the street from the townhouse we are taking. Several of his workers are octogenarians, the office couldn't be more disorganized, but Frank consistently delivered nice apartments. We had similar experiences in Fort Greene, in the East Village, and further up the street in Cobble Hill. Most of the websites of big brokerage companies were near useless and mainly seem designed to draw you in. I probably called on 30 ads from big sites. Maybe 2 or 3 were actually available. I also found MLX and RentDirect to be fairly useless, unless you are into giant high rise buildings. Both had 5-10 new listings a day, almost all for huge developments.

Craigslist isn't as pure in New York as it is elsewhere although Craig is trying diligently to weed out the drek but it's tough. Some shady things we've seen: Brokers list apartments in the 'by owner' section simply ignoring the classification, they take listings by legit owners and re-list them with their own phone numbers or with different wording, they list completely fake apartments and when they have you on the phone try to get you into something else, and they tend to hassle owners renting their own apartments and often bully them into some sort of deal, etc. This is a huge extra tax on New Yorkers who rent both in time and money. This said a good broker will have access to a database with almost all non by-owner apartments. If you see something you like even if it is listed with someone else as an exclusive, call the broker you like. You are going to be forking out a month and a half of rent so it might as well be sombody cool.


August 20, 2004

Yesterday I found a shop selling digital copies of South African photo studio portraits:

Mai Mai – 251 Smith Street

The images reminded me of my own collection of photos from Tibetan photo studios:

Colors magazine recently had an exellent series on similar photos.

Finally a decision

August 19, 2004

You know how sometimes in the city certain images stick in your head? This morning it was this guy, holding his Bible aloft, speaking in tounges, and ranting at nobody in particular (in the middle of Park Avenue). I swear I've seen the same guy next to the Santa Monica ferris wheel:

We were on our way to see more lofts. This one on Lafayette would have been cool if we had a few more months to clean & renovate:

Then we went down to Brooklyn to check out our options. All morning we had been debating the Dean Street loft versus the Brooklyn Heights townhouse. Jenn was leaning towards the loft I was going the other way, but a trip out to the loft and meeting the owner revealed that the back yard would soon be cut in half and the other half would be a smoking area for a bar. So basically there would be people hanging out a few feet from our bedroom late into the night..every night. Not cool. Also there was some issue with radiant heating and Persian carpets. This cemented our decision against the loft. So assuming money gets wired on time tomorrow we sign our lease and will end up in Brooklyn Heights in aa 19th century townhouse. We wanted a funkier neighborhood, but this is actually the only place we've seen with the right space/price. Note we saved a few hundred bucks a month by offering to pay 6 months up front (which shows it never hurts to ask). Frank our geriatric broker is happy. We're happy. We're going to start painting next week and then I'll go back to California to get the car and load the moving van. So that's the plan.

Afterwards we went to the new mall at Columbus circle. Locals don't like it being called a mall, but a mall it is.


August 18, 2004

Spent the day all around Brooklyn...

We saw one nice townhouse in Brooklyn Heights that I was ready to take:

This place was big enough for us (2200 square feet), the price was right, and I loved the block... but Jenn feels Brooklyn Heights is too genteel and too far away from shops/restaurants, so I think we're going to stick with the place on Dean with the storefront/parking/garden. The owners have been super accomodating, the site is only a few steps from Smith street, and the F is literally one block away. It's a construction site now, but come October, we're moving in...

my new york

August 17, 2004

With a bit of photoshopping I can create the New York I see in my head.

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