Saturday, January 14, 2017

I stayed at the Plaza Hotel

What I did: spent a Thursday night in the Tower Suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. 

View of 58th St. from our 18th floor room

What I did beforehand: rode the train into Grand Central Terminal thinking about , walked up 5th Avenue penned in by block after block of police barricades.

What I wore: James jeans, black suede Puma sneakers

The Tower Suite has a round, king-sized bed

Who went with me: my husband, the Bacon Provider

How I made the reservation: online (directly with the hotel), about a week ago

The tower suite has a domed ceiling 
Why I stayed there: I was planning a single night in the city, starting with the tickets I had just booked to see "Made in China," a funny and raunchy puppet musical with a human rights message at the 59 East 59th Street Theater. I looked at a map online, and compared prices and availability of a couple of high-end hotels nearby, including  the Pierre and the Four Seasons. The thing is, though, that the book Eloise was one of my favorites as a child, and all I had to do was think about Eloise pouring water down the mail chute or feeding her mother's attorney rubber candy, and the decision was easy. 

The best lobster roll I've ever had

Where I sat: I had a classic champagne cocktail and a snack in the Champagne Bar, which has chairs so comfy I want to get some like them for my new dining room when the big, bad upcoming remodel is done.

Things that were sad: we got back from dinner too late to have a drink in the Rose Club.

Things that were funny/not funny: we did manage to sneak in a scotch in the Palm Court before last call, and were overheard by the bartender as I compared the unpresident-elect to both Hitler and Stalin.

Something I ate: a lobster roll in the Champagne Bar, and breakfast in the Palm Court.

What it is: over 100 years old, but meticulously remodeled in a way that maintains its grand style, the Plaza Hotel is a beautiful, sumptuous throwback to a past New York when rich people were expected to have exemplary manners.

Our bathroom had a heated floor

Who should see it: aesthetes, connoisseurs of historic hotels, parquet aficionados, high-end Victorian cos-players, architecture buffs, Eloise enthusiasts, gold-trim fanciers, luxury freaks, marble junkies, suckers for an exquisite attention to detail, and money-spending fools.

The marble mosaic elevator floors

What I saw on the way home: thousands of NYPD assembling on 5th Avenue for the funeral of Officer Steven McDonald, a man who believed in forgiveness.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

I saw “Made in China”

What I saw: "Made in China," a puppet musical for adults, at the 59 East 59th Street Theater, way off-Broadway, in New York City.

What I did beforehand: riding lesson. Shower. Frenzied packing. Brief dog walk. Train ride, where I had a haunting thought as we pulled out of the stop at White Plains, and chanted silently to myself, “we should have done more to stop him,” the whole way to Harlem. Walked up 5th Avenue, behind block after block of police barricades, as if I needed more of a reminder of the disaster we didn't prevent. 

What I wore: Fluevog boots, James jeans, two black tops I bought at a boutique in TriBeCa and cut the tags out of, vintage earrings, scarf the Bacon Provider bought me from India, Eileen Fisher summer weight cardigan because it was unseasonably warm, black parka just in case.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

How I got tickets: I got two of the last seats available about a week ago, online. 

Why I saw this show: a positive review in the New York Times.

Where I sat: Row B, seat 13, on the end, behind my husband. Next to me was a stylish young woman wearing shoes I envied and a menswear hat; she was telling her companion about this powerful and sexually voracious woman at work who sexually harasses everyone, young men and women alike. 

Things that were sad: another play about lonely people.

Things that were funny: naked puppets, cussing puppets, wrestling puppets, puppets on (and in) the toilet, a puppet dog humping another dog, a puppet dog with a real retractible red rocket, puppets having sex, a song about impulse shopping, another song featuring a familiar pussy-grabber’s stump-speech snippets about China, and my laughter making the woman in the hat next to me laugh even louder than I was. 

Also, when we got a beer at the bar before the show, I offered the bartender a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution, because I carry a stack of them in my purse. "Oh, yeah, I might need that," he said. 
I got mine from the ACLU.

Things that were not funny: references to human rights abuses and our reliance on cheaply made Chinese goods.

Something I ate: a whole roasted branzino at the nearby Rotisserie Georgette, where four other tables were celebrating birthdays.

What it is: a funny and weirdly fantastic musical about loneliness, human rights, consumerism, and getting along with our neighbors. lasting about an hour and a half, with no intermission.

Who should see it: people who watch TV naked, fans of Avenue Q, kung fu film buffs, devotees of dragon dancers, toilet humor fanciers, Trump satire freaks, human rights experts, disciples of anti-consumerism.

What I saw on the way home: a Windows Media error message on a number of large monitors in a shop window on 5th Avenue, which made my husband laugh.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I saw “Hidden Figures”

Here is a picture of my dogs sleeping.

What I saw: “Hidden Figures,” a movie, at a local theater in Mt. K.

What I did beforehand: riding lesson. Bacon and eggs. Dog walk. Watched my husband polish his shoes. Kissed the Bacon Provider goodbye (again). Sewing. Bought a ticket online so I wouldn’t be too lazy to go.

What I wore: very dirty jeans. Snow boots. Two coats. Mittens and scarf.

Who went with me: about 50 white people and 2 African Americans.

How I got tickets: online, a few hours before.

Why I saw this show: because my friend H. said to.

Where I sat: towards the front, right behind the only people of color.

Things that were sad: I sometimes remember not to be a completely disagreeable person. But generally speaking if you want me to stay away from a movie, tell me it’s inspiring. I believe this is not a movie about exemplary women doing exceptional things. I believe this is a movie about black women saving everyone's asses and never getting credit.

Things that were not funny: did the women whose careers at NASA were dramatized in this film start a new, great tradition of American female engineers and mathematicians? No. No, through no fault of their own, they did not. Women were still underrepresented in the sciences when I tried to get a PhD in math in the mid 1980s, when I couldn't get a female professor as a mentor because there weren't any. Yes, we have female astronauts now (since about 1978), and people of color do become engineers, but it didn't stop one of my master's examination board from (successfully) getting me to crack  during my orals, and it didn't dissaude the President of Harvard from saying publicly that under-representation of female scientists at elite universities may stem in part from “innate" differences between men and women (and not only did he never have to take it back, his career continued to flourish). Things are better, but they aren't good.

Things that were funny: straight talk about Jim Crow laws.

Something I ate: popcorn.

What it is: a likable story about NASA in the 1960s, racism, the failures of white feminists, misogyny, and how technology destroys middle class jobs.

Who should see it: people who need to forget about a real or imagined episode involving urine, Russian women, the president-elect, and a hotel room; space buffs, math nerds, engineering enthusiasts, middle school social studies teachers, chalkboard fanciers, arithmetic fanatics, movie fiends, car-stuck girl junkies, NASA nuts, aficionados of scenes of women running in high heels. 

What I saw on the way home: I stopped for pho and bubble tea to take home to 19. There was a football game on the TV. A guy was sitting with his dad, their table crowded with plates, introducing him to Vietnamese food. He asked the waiter for the yellow sauce. It took the guy behind the counter a couple of tries before he found the yellow sauce the guy wanted. “What’s it called?” he asked. “So I know next time.”

“Fish sauce,” was the answer.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Almost All the Books I Read in 2016

Here is a list of almost all the books I read (and finished) in 2016, in approximate order

Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” one of many books my brother recommended.
Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” because his dialog absolutely crackles with energy, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Ron Chernow’s ponderous and highly illuminating “Alexander Hamilton”
Raymond Chandler’s “The Lady in the Lake”
James Salter’s exciting novel about fighter pilots, “The Hunters,” also recommended by my brother.
Raymond Chandler’s “Farewell My Lovely”
Matthew Thomas’s extraordinarily sad, “We Are Not Ourselves”
Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” because I was about to see the play

Robert Stone’s terrific Vietnam-era novel, “Dog Soldiers,” also suggested to me by my brother.
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Underground,” because I had read “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in 2015 and it had blown my mind.
J. G. Farrell’s “The Siege of Krishnapur”
Sally Denton’s damning portrait of Bechtel’s evil empire, “The Profiteers”
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley’s Game”
C. J. Chivers’s stunning portrait of the AK-47, “The Gun,” a book I highly recommend.
Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”
Andrew Cockburn’s “Kill Chain”
Marlon James’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings”
Andrew Solomon’s revealing, honest, and oddly undressing “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression”

E.L. Doctorow’s “Homer & Langley”
Mary Norris’s lovely memoir, “Between You & Me,” a gift from The Graduate.
Patricia Highsmith’s “The Boy Who Followed Ripley”
Andrew Solomon’s illuminating collection of essays, “Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change”
Alan Bradley’s “A Red Herring Without Mustard,” third of the series of entertaining Flavia de Luce mystery novels
Edwidge Danticat’s “Brother, I'm Dying”
Julia Alvarez’s “In the Time of the Butterflies"
Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts”
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer: A Novel”

Gloria Emerson’s “Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins From the Vietnam War,” from my brother’s Vietnam War reading list.
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Under Water,” the last of the Ripley-ad
Maud Casey’s “The Man Who Walked Away,” because my brother asked me to.
Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” a re-read.
Hanya Yanagihara’s hard to read but ultimately redeeming, “A Little Life: A Novel”
Alan Bradley’s, “I Am Half-Sick of Shadows,” another Flavia de Luce novel.
Nell Irvin Painter’s “The History of White People,” which I highly recommend.

Alan Bradley’s 5th Flavia de Luce novel, “Speaking from Among the Bones” 
Elizabeth Kolbert’s disturbing “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”
Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” less because Oprah said to and more because I read his weird book about schools of elevator maintenance, “The Intuitionist”
Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” also known as “Blade Runner”
Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me”
Tim O'Brien’s “If I Die in a Combat Zone,” part of my brother’s Vietnam War reading list. 

Another of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, “The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches”
Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine,” which made me nostalgic for the days when my husband was designing and building new computer devices.
Anita Brookner’s gently crafted and absolutely amazing, “Fraud”
Jeffrey Toobin’s readable but ungenerous portrait, “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst”
Jeremy P. Bushnell’s hipster adventure, “The Insides”
Maxine Hong Kingston’s admirable “The Woman Warrior,” again on the recommendation of my brother.

Sandra Cisneros’s warm “The House on Mango Street”
Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking, but single-minded and dated “The Feminine Mystique”
Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen”
Laura Olin’s “Form Letters”
Yet another of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books, “As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust”
Erik Larson’s “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania”
D.G. Compton’s “The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe”
George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback,” which I wish I had read after “Out of my League,” below, and not before.
John le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” probably at my brother’s suggestion

Robert A. Caro’s 1100+ page non-fiction epic, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” which I enjoyed every bit of, and came away finally understanding most (if not all) of the things I hate about New York. Highly recommended.

John le Carré’s “Call for the Dead”
Sady Doyle’s funny modern feminist look at women in pop culture, “Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear, and Why”
John le Carré’s “A Murder of Quality”
Small-town journalist Tom Ryan’s book about hiking with his dog, called, “Following Atticus,” which I was asked to read by my sister in law. Dog books always have sad parts, and funny parts, and this provides the expected. I strongly object to his style of dog-rearing, though, and would like to go on the record as saying that carrying your puppy around all the time for the first month is a certain way to raise a very spoiled dog.  

John le Carré’s “The Looking Glass War”
George Plimpton’s very funny baseball book, “Out of My League” 
Tommy Wieringa’s chilly novel, “These Are the Names”
Paul Beatty’s tart racial satire, “The Sellout: A Novel”
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s grisly and excellent, “His Bloody Project”
Hope Jahren’s intimate and generous, “Lab Girl,” which I’d suggest you read this year.
And, lastly, John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” another George Smiley novel, and probably my favorite of them.  

Total Number of books, 67. 
Total number of authors, 53.
20 of the authors are women, and I think 9 are non-white.

40 are fiction. 27 are non-fiction.

Friday, December 30, 2016

I thought I saw a dog in the dark

What I saw: the other night, I hopped in the car to go get my kids from the train station, and as I pulled out of the garage I thought I saw a small, light-colored dog, cowering under the wheels of our truck.

What I did beforehand: grabbed my spare glasses because I couldn’t find my usual pair.

What I wore: dirty jeans, Birkenstock clogs, parka.

Who went with me: after convincing myself that it wasn't an imaginary dog, I got out of the car and tried to call it; it was too scared. I went back in the house and got some dehydrated liver treats and coaxed it out; it had a collar but no tags. It took the treats from me and retreated behind the truck to eat them. I started to call it "Little White Dog." 

How I will get my next dog: maybe I will get a vizsla puppy in the spring. Maybe I will take in a foster dog. Maybe I will wait until a dog finds me. Maybe my two current dogs are my last two dogs. I used to try to think about things like this, to quell my awake-at-four-in-the-morning thoughts. I'd make contingency plans, based on various disaster scenarios. The year my mom died I learned that impossible things happen, and 2016 has been another year of impossible things. I try not to make contingency plans, believing instead in the ability of my future self to know what to do. 

Why I saw this show: the Graduate was here the weekend before, celebrating the Xmas holiday with us, and he brought along his girlfriend and she brought along her little dog, Snipe. They'd been gone several days when the Little White Dog appeared in the night. The Little White Dog was more stout than Snipe, and had shorter legs, but for one baffling instant I did think that somehow Snipe was still here. Or had come back.

Where I sat: the Bacon Provider went to get the kids at the train station while I tried to lure Little White Dog inside. I wondered if someone had dumped it on our road, the way they'd dumped an old mattress here. 

Things that were sad: I got the dog a dish of water and a bit of kibble and lured it into the garage but when I tried to close the garage door, Little White Dog was startled by the noise and bolted out, into the darkness. 

Things that were not funny: our next-door neighbors have three dogs, a fat foxhound, a rowdy black and white Great Dane, and a small, fluffy white dog. I wasn't sure if this Little White Dog maybe lived next door, though I doubted it. I felt like this Little White Dog was bigger than the one I'd seen next door. I followed the dog into my backyard, still trying to lure it with food. Soon enough the Bacon Provider returned with the kids and we together decided that a car we saw driving slowly by might have been looking for Little White Dog. So we followed Little White Dog down the driveway and down the hill and up the neighbor's driveway. I rang the bell. A teenager answered, with his posse of three excited dogs, and the rowdy Great Dane blasted past, chasing Little White Dog back into the darkness. Some shouting followed. 

Things that were funny: at this point, the slow-driving car returned, and we flagged her down. Inside was an older woman who was looking for the dog. It belonged to her friend, and it had followed her when she drove away. Little White Dog's name was supposed to be "Thumper," though when she called him he seemed as disinclined to join her as he had been to come to me. After some more pointless running around in the woods, I got a hand on him and almost had him when he decided that going back to his owner's friend was better than being chased by me, so she caught him and put him in her car.

Something I ate: too many Christmas cookies. 

What it is: I have owned one dog and two dogs and three dogs and know for certain that three is exactly too many dogs.

Who should see it: you should knock on your neighbor's door and introduce yourself when they move in. I should go knock on my neighbors' doors and introduce myself since they didn't do it first. Maybe next year.

What I saw when I got home: my own dog, Captain, who has such deep feelings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I saw “Sweet Charity”

What I saw: “Sweet Charity,” at the Pershing Square Signature Center at 480 West 42nd, between 9th and 10th in Manhattan.

What I did beforehand: took the train into the city, checked into the Library Hotel at Madison Avenue and 41st, had tapas with R.

What I wore: gray wool Ibex cowl-neck top, James jeans, navy cardigan, Chinese-made Australian boots, new black parka, pearl earrings, silver bracelets.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

How I got tickets: online, a few weeks ago when I thought spending a night in the city a few days before Christmas would be fun and productive rather than inconvenient.

Why I saw this show: I impulsively subscribed to the New Group for the season. It makes me wonder about the existence of free will and the power of advertising.

Where I sat: Row D, Seat 10.

Things that were sad: this is another play about loneliness (my cousin recently pointed out elsewhere, "All plays are about being lonely."). And not all musicals have tidy, happy endings, even ones from the 1960s. 

Things that were funny: knowing so many of the songs but never knowing where they came from, the charming clumsiness of the main character, and realizing that this is the 5th show I've seen this year featuring people dancing in their underwear. Here are links to the other four.

Things that were not funny: the coincidence of having unintentionally reserved the New Media room at the Library Hotel was only kept from downright creepiness by the gentle absurdity of many of the books being, with predictions about the coming revolution and dominance of interactive television, just old enough to be hilariously inaccurate. The Bacon Provider wrote a book about digital disruption this year, in fact. 

I am happy to recommend the Library Hotel, just about a block from Grand Central Station and the main branch of the New York Public Library, to book-lovers and anyone seeking a small, quiet boutique hotel in mid-town Manhattan.

Something I ate: butternut squash soup, pimientos, and pan con tomate at the tapas place in Gotham West, over in Hell's Kitchen. 

What it is: this musical is from 1966, and has been revived a number of times and was made into a movie in 1968. It manages not to serve a heaping helping of the nostalgic charm of a period piece and also not to be easily updated with modern seasonings. It is, nevertheless, a fine romp.

Who should see it: Fellini fans, students of mid-20th century gender studies, people who like to see actors dancing in their underwear.

What I saw on the way home: I think the pillow on our bed in the hotel room was meant to be fetchingly bookish. It seemed lonely and sad to me.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I saw "Rancho Viejo"

What I saw: "Rancho Viejo" at the Playwright's Horizons Theater, off-Broadway at 416 W 42nd in Manhattan

What I did beforehand: confronted some regrets, mailed holiday cards ornamented with profanity (and signed with my plea, "Don't start the Revolution without me!"), walked to the train platform in the wake of some dude's dank doobage, heard the conductor say, "Have a wonderful night" to each and every passenger as he punched their tickets.

What I wore: Keen snow boots, very, very dirty jeans, Big Feelings sweater, now dirty parka, knitted hat, two pairs of fingerless mittens , earrings, mascara.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider, who met me there. 

Why I saw this show: I saw a review that said it was funny. Also, "Rancho Viejo" sounds like the kind of made-up place name I might come up with.

How I got tickets: I subscribed to the season, and shopped for tickets to this show when I saw that the Bacon Provider had an office holiday party on the 12th. When I got the email confirmation, I saw that I'd reserved a seat to the show on the 19th and not the 12th. I am fucking up all over the place these days. The night of the 18th rolled around and we were reviewing our next-day schedules and I pointed out I'd be seeing this play. I tried to sell my husband on joining me. I waited to tell him the play was three hours long with two intermissions until after he agreed to come.
"If you really don't want to go, we can eat the ticket."
"Well, do we at least get to sit together?"

Where I sat: I sat in Row C Seat 5, and the Bacon Provider sat on the other end, in Row C Seat 17. Because, no, we did not get to sit together. 

Things that were sad: another play about loneliness. 

Things that were funny: there were two brilliant solo dance scenes in the third act which were weird and thrilling and redeemed how ridiculously long the play was overall. I heard audience members on the way out saying they weren’t sure they liked it, which only reinforced my positive feelings about it.

Things that were not funny: most of the first act, which has lively parts and quiet ones, centers on the exquisite self-consciousness of some reasonably well-off, older white people. The audience did not always seem to know when to laugh. 

Something I ate: pretzels in the lobby beforehand. 

What it is: a new play, lasting three hours with two intermissions. 

Who should see it: people with long attention spans who don't mind watching white people being awkward at parties.

What I saw on the way home: an earnest and wide-eyed woman who staggered through our train-car, asking people for cold water to drink, and the same cheerful conductor, to whom I said,  “You know, you punched my ticket earlier tonight when your shift just started. Are you always so cheerful?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “I love my job.”