Dreams From Her Father


God Moves the World: reader and author #subway

On the way to 29th Street Wednesday morning, I saw a woman looking through a book titled God Moves the World with a drawing of President Obama on the cover. As part of my subway photography project, I pay attention to the reading habits of religious commuters. Their texts rarely descend to worldly matters such as Presidential politics, so I asked about this one.

The reader pointed to the woman sitting next to her: Marie E. Pierre, the author of God Moves the World: Prayers and Contemplations for Barack Obama:

All her life, Marie has had periods of dreams centered on a common theme. During the [2008] election and in the early days of the Obama presidency, Marie experienced a series of recurring dreams seeking expression. With a pen and notepad next to her bed, Marie would awaken and remain as suspended in her dream-state as possible while she wrote down the thoughts and images streaming into her consciousness.

Available as an e-book and in paperback, God Moves the World sounds like a manifestation of my colleague David Jacobs (and Shaquille O’Neal before him) call dreamful attraction.

Marie published God Moves the World in August, so I’m guessing she still sees in the President, as she put it, “a potential similar to that of Moses – the ability to lead the people of America out of darkness.”

Sweet dreams, Marie!

Marie e pierre, author of God Moves the World

Better Meets Leaner

Better Chinese Food

Ty Ahmad-Taylor invited me to present Better Chinese Food in the context of the lean startup movement at his latest conference on digital product development. My talk, “Optimizing for Better Chinese Food in Prospect Heights Using Lean Techniques,” was in Ignite format: 20 slides that advance automatically after 15 seconds, for a total of five minutes.

The slides have no bullet points, so they may be hard to decipher without a soundtrack; I will post the video when it becomes available. For now, know that the fellow in the center of slide 16 is Jonathan Wu, a Per Se veteran whose better Chinese food draws on his own family’s cooking. Not long after I posted the petition, Wayne Surber of Lonestar Taco introduced me to Jonathan, who invited me over for a tasting. The first course was a savory île flottante with leaves from a toon tree that his grandmother planted in Yonkers. We ate the toon cloud with a sparkling rosé, a heavenly start to a transcendent meal.

On his way to opening a restaurant, Jonathan has held pop-up meals in Fort Greene and Williamsburg. Perhaps one day he will bring his fava tofu (slide 17) to Prospect Heights.

A Tale of Two Stadiums


Yankee Stadium, right-field porch

There is an old Jewish joke about how, on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean, you will find two synagogues: the one we go to, and the one we don’t go to. Yesterday, I took my son to Yankee Stadium for the first time. I am a Mets fan, and, for more than a year, I tried to ignore his kindergarten drawing that’s up on our kitchen wall, for an assignment about dreams, of the House that Ruth Built.

And much as I would like to blame peer pressure or the Wilpons for my son’s apostasy, a psychologist who I consulted last year for this Father’s Day post told me that the primary influence on a child’s fan preferences is his father. Since then, I’ve been exerting my soft power. We’ve watched a lot of both New York teams on television before bedtime, and this winter, while the YES network was showing the Nets, he got interested in the rebroadcast Mets Classics on SNY. So when my old high-school English teacher invited us to join him and his son for Curtis Granderson Bat Day, I felt it was time.

Better Chinese Food: Frequently Asked Questions

Better Chinese Food

A little more than a month ago, I posted my plea for better Chinese food for Prospect Heights. So far, a hundred of you have lent your name to this noble cause. Maybe you heard about the campaign on Patch, Edible Brooklyn, or the New York Post, which dubbed me a “gourmand grouser,” then went looking for someone who didn’t work for Rupert Murdoch to criticize me and this campaign. It had little success, even among local Chinese-restaurant owners—and the Post reporter, who told me she lives nearby, signed the petition. For those of you who read Chinese, a mainland news site picked up the essence of the Post story, but not its tabloid edge. “To those who love authentic Chinese food, sesame chicken and General Tso’s are no longer cutting it.” (Translation courtesy Jiayang Fan.)

I’ve been asked a number of questions since posting the petition, and would like to answer them here.

Why a petition? Who are you submitting it to?

Better Chinese Food: The Road Ahead

Better Chinese Food

A few strategies for bringing better Chinese food to Prospect Heights:

  • Print campaign. Press coverage and online social media have been useful in enlisting support, but these methods can not compete with face-to-face interaction. Friends and strangers alike are most likely to sign the petition when I talk to them for a while, ascertain that they are also excited about Chinese food, ask them for their e-mail address, and e-mail them a link to the petition. I suspect that handing out a flyer or business card with a short URL will also be effective in generating signatures. And I would like to test that theory: If you would like to design a handout. let me know.

  • Chef outreach. Now that we have broken into triple digits, I have some to present to a restaurant owner. Let me know if there’s someone you think we should approach.

  • Sunday supper. My kitchen cabinet proposed a family-friendly, late-afternoon pop-up meal to introduce a chef to the neighborhood. Invitations will be sent to signatories, tickets sold in advance. If it goes well, we’d turn it into a regular supper club. If you’d like to open your home, bar, church, or school to such an event, don’t be shy.

  • Kickstarter. A good idea, but we’ll need something more specific to kickstart first.

  • The stadium. Better Chinese food may be the rare issue that Develop Don’t Destroy and Brooklyn Nets supporters can see eye-to-eye on. If you hear rumors that the Nets want to re-sign Stephon Marbury or Yi Jianlian, or if you know what Mikhail Prokohorov’s favorite dish is, you know where to find me.

Do you have other ideas? Let me know. Questions? Read the FAQ. Want to help? Sign the petition.

Stanley Kubrick Rides the Subway


Nineteen-year-old Stanley Kubrick explains how he took these photographs:

“I wanted to retain the mood of the subway, so I used natural light,” he said. People who ride the subway late at night are less inhibited than those who ride by day. Couples make love openly, drunks sleep on the floor and other unusual activities take place late at night. To make pictures in the off-guard manner he wanted to, Kubrick rode the subway for two weeks. Half of his riding was done between midnight and six a.m. Regardless of what he saw he couldn’t shoot until the car stopped in a station because of the motion and vibration of the moving train. Often, just as he was ready to shoot, someone walked in front of the camera, or his subject left the train.

Kubrick finally did get his pictures, and no one but a subway guard seemed to mind. The guard demanded to know what was going on. Kubrick told him.

“Have you got permission?” the guard asked.

“I’m from LOOK,” Kubrick answered.

“Yeah, sonny,” was the guard’s reply, “and I’m the society editor of the Daily Worker.”

For this series Kubrick used a Contax and took the pictures at 1/8 second. The lack of light tripled the time necessary for development.

— “Camera Quiz Kid: Stan Kubrick,” The Camera, October 1948

Willie Nelson Gets a Statue in Austin


On Thursday night, I arrived in Austin to attend the 13th annual International Symposium on Journalism, at the University of Texas. A couple of hours earlier, the college of communication named a cactus-and-concrete plaza after Walter Cronkite, who spent a couple of years there on his way to becoming the most trusted man in America, and premiered “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” a projection by my neighbor Ben Rubin. At the four corners of the plaza, plaques extol four virtues he embodied: Accuracy, Courage, Independence, and Integrity. Each plaque has a bas-relief of Cronkite and a paragraph of commentary. On the Integrity plaque, for example, it says. “Walter Cronkite held firm to a strict code of moral values.”

On Friday afternoon, after my panel on the mobile revolution, I headed down to the corner of Second and Lavaca for the unveiling of a statue of Willie Nelson, who came to Austin forty years ago. Through a diaphanous khaki tarp, all you make out was the neck of the guitar.

Both Second (now known as Willie Nelson Boulevard) and Lavaca were closed to traffic, and two vehicles parked in the middle of Lavaca: a flatbed truck to give camera crews a better view, and an blue-and-red Airstream with Shiner Bock, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and other refreshments for working press.

Katherine Stolp, the weekend anchor for Austin’s CBS affiliate, was on hand to cover the ceremony, which was streamed live on the KEYE Web site and would lead the 6 p.m. news. She hadn’t covered the Cronkite event, but KEYE had. When asked who she admired more, the anchorman or the outlaw country-music pioneer, Stolp at first said Cronkite, but then said, “It’s really a toss-up.” Cronkite, she said, “was always genuine. You felt like could believe him. Kind of like I feel about Willie Nelson when I watch him.”

Josh McHenry and Allyson Stephens took the day off—she’s the assistant manager at an apartment complex, he does maintenance—to attend the unveiling. “I was supposed to be in California today, but this took precedence,” added McHenry, who wore a red bandana and a pair of yarn braids, in tribute to his musical idol.

So did Eddy Wilson, who is almost four months old, according to Kacie Case, who was wearing Eddy, facing inward, in a sling.

Even the sans-serif W of Austin’s new W hotel, which is right next to the statue, dressed for the occasion.

The ceremony was scheduled for 4:20 pm on April 20th—a numerologically significant moment for Nelson and other supporters of legalizing marijuana. It began a few minutes after four, and the emcee introduced Lawrence Wright, the president of Capital Area Statues, Inc., the nonprofit organization which raised the money for the statue, its third. (Read about the first and second.)

Then Mayor Lee Leffingwell took the podium. As he thanked various municipal officials, three guys upwind of me started passing around joints. (Can you imagine Mayor Bloomberg helping a weed-friendly crowd to canonize one of their idols on their high holiday?) To the right, someone looked at his phone and noticed that it was already 4:22. “They blew it on the timing,” he grumbled. “Maybe they got stoned earlier.”

At 4:27, the khaki tarp was removed, and the crowd cheered. Willie Nelson looked at the larger than life bronze of himself. He felt the smiling statue’s arm, then the guitar neck. He posed for a photograph with the sculptor, Clete Shields. Nelson thanked the Austin, then said, “While I’ve got this guitar…” and the whooping crowd drowned out the rest of his sentence. He sang “On the Road Again,” with help from the audience, then “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” before slowly making his way to the pastel-painted tour bus with indian chief on the side.

He sang both songs again on Saturday night at the Backyard, out in Bee Cave, plus a whole lot more—but not my favorite, “Sad Songs and Waltzes.”

Living Without a Laptop


With a desktop at home, I’m trying to see whether I can make do with the iPad (first version) plus a $60 wireless keyboard instead investing in a new laptop. Even with the on-screen virtual keyboard, writing on the iPad was as easy, if not easier, than on a full-featured computer. The iPad is getting better at multitasking, but it’s still easier to focus on doing one thing at a time, and distractions such as Growl or Twitter aren’t in the picture plane. Plus I’m working in the cloud, using PlainText, which lets me use my Textexpander shortcuts, so I can resume anywhere.

Mail recognizes keyboard shortcuts for cut, paste, and undo, but it could easily use basic keyboard commands for replying to messages. And Safari could also support keyboard commands that send me to the status bar or search box. And neither application supports Textexpander, unfortunately. (MarkdownMail lets you write e-mail using Textexpander, but it’s not a mail client.) Although they probably could; the Settings have an option for shortcuts. So I’m writing this post in the Web browser without the benefit of my own personal shorthand.

Also, power is a problem. With Bluetooth enabled, the iPad battery drains much more quickly, even when you’re not using the keyboard. So you have to remember to disable Bluetooth before you put the machine back in your bag.

It wouldn’t take much for Apple to make the iPad plus keyboard a better laptop replacement. But then fewer people would need to buy laptops?

What Killed Andrew Breitbart?


Many of his familiars called him a “happy warrior,” but worried about his health because he never seemed to unplug.

This short paragraph, from David Carr’s Sunday Style piece gets closest to what I’ve been wanting to read about Andrew Breitbart, who died at 43. But then the story returns to the prevailing narrative: that bile, especially right-wing bile, is poisonous, and for Breitbart the toxicity finally reached fatal levels.

“If Twitter ever killed anyone, it was Andrew,” said Mr. Labash of The Weekly Standard. “Andrew was a magnet for hatred, and he used Twitter for a full frontal assault, a tool of combat,”

I’m surprised that opponents of Breitbart believe in divine justice. Maybe the man—who had a history of heart ailments, his father-in-law says—just worked himself to death on the hamster wheel of online news?

But that’s speculation, too:

(A final coroner’s report, with the official cause of death, is expected this month.)

Audio and the Imagination


When I started working in radio twenty years ago, I just instantly loved it. And it gives you so much creative freedom, because you can pretend so much on the radio. You can pretend like a lot is going on, even if it’s not, you know? Which you cannot do if you have a camera.

Reykjavik mayor Jón Gnarr to Benjamen Walker on Too Much Information, 42:34.

Grandfather Needs Money for a Funeral


Perhaps you’ve seen this guy on the train. He carries a folded newspaper and tells a story about his 4-year-old granddaughter, who was accidentally shot and killed in the Bronx. He needs to raise nineteen dollars for the funeral, at “St. Mary’s on Gun Hill Road.”

I saw him twice in the past two weeks. My suspicions that this was a scam were raised the first time—I’ve heard my share of false testimony—but my 7-year-old son couldn’t stop watching him; he thinks people die when they are old, and was shaken by the story of this 4-year-old girl. Which was why I was so bothered the second time, a day after he said the funeral was supposed to happen. Now it was supposed to happen “tomorrow.” I held up my camera to take this picture, so he could see me doing so, then said in front of the rest of the car that I’d heard him tell this story before. “That’s what I said last week,” he said, and started at me. I stared back. A man gave him a dollar.

I can’t prove anything, but I called the Archdiocese of New York. There are two St. Mary’s in the Bronx; neither is on Gun Hill Road. There’s an Episcopal one too, not on Gun Hill Road.

Prospect Heights Deserves Better Chinese Food

Better Chinese Food

Sign up to bring Chinese food to Prospect Heights

In 2003, I moved to Eastern Parkway. “Near Tom’s,” people would say. Tom’s is a Greek diner that gives you coffee and orange slices while you wait for a table. People said “Near Tom’s” because they thought it was the only place to eat nearby, and maybe because they knew that local residents protected Tom’s during the rioting that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tom’s service charmed me more than its menu, but there was also The Islands, a West Indian place that’s worth the wait if you have time, and Gen, a Japanese place on Washington and St. Marks that is tasty, elegant, and, we discovered, welcoming to babies. As for Chinese food, there was a takeout joint next to The Islands that also sells chicken wings.

It’s now 2012. We still have Tom’s and the Islands and Gen–and a whole lot more. Cheryl Smith opened her place on Underhill. Washington Commons has a great beer selection. On Classon, Glass Shop and fancy pizza. Worthy Indian food on Franklin. Several praiseworthy Mexican options nearby. Fancy ice cream at Blue Marble, on Underhill, and better ice cream at Ample Hills, on Vanderbilt. Food trucks park at Grand Army Plaza once a month when the weather is warm. Around the corner, there is now Bar Corvo, an outpost of Al Di La, with waits like Al Di La.

And next door to Bar Corvo, Colala, a place serving “Chinese/Japanese cuisine”, opened right next door at around the same time. Colala also sells chicken wings. There is no bulletproof glass between the kitchen and the customers, but in other ways it underestimates its clientele just as much as places that do. Colala has two and a half stars on Yelp and, based on the one time we ordered in, I could not argue that it should have more. I’ve spoken with other Chinese food-loving Prospect Heights residents whose hopes were raised by the arrival of a new Chinese restaurant and dashed by one meal at Colala.

Until recently, I worked in Times Square. Midtown is traditionally not a bastion of Chinese cooking, but I was more than able to meet my needs there. First we started going to Szechuan Gourmet on 39th Street. Then Francis Lam introduced me to Lan Sheng, where you didn’t have to wait. Now you have to wait at Lan Sheng, too.

One Prospect Heights merchant says that there are 26 vacant storefronts on Washington Avenue alone, according to a recent report in the local Patch. If the owners of Szechuan Gourmet or Lan Sheng opened an outpost on Washington Avenue, they would have people queuing up to eat cumin lamb or crispy cucumber. Or would the Grand Sichuan or Xi’an Famous Foods chains would come to Vanderbilt? Amazing 66, how about an Amazing Underhill? It is my fervent hope that some enterprising chef will read this post and learn that there is an audience for distinctive Chinese food in Brooklyn before you get to Sunset Park.

If you open a better Chinese restaurant in Prospect Heights, consider this a reservation on opening night.

And if you live in the neighborhood, add your name to show that you want better Chinese food in Prospect Heights. Unless you opt out, I will hand over the addresses of those who signed the petition to better Chinese restaurants when they open, so they can connect with a hungry clientele.

[emailpetition id=”1″]

Opera and Cheesecake

audio, food, nextbook

I hosted the two most recent episodes of the Nextbook podcast. The visit with composer Leonard Lehrman dwells on how he’s completed Marc Blitzstein’s unfinished works, but before Lehrman gets there his description of his own first opera is my favorite bit of tape of the year. Then there’s a tour of the S&S Cheesecake factory in the Bronx. Wish I had pictures of eating a quarter of a cheesecake with my hands. As always, producer Julie Subrin made the stories and me sound good; will miss working with her when I go.