Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root"

That title got your attention, didn't it?

Living in Binghamton, I've been very disappointed by the pace and depth of "news." I'm definitely a news-hound, and, in Los Angeles, I eagerly read the L.A. Times cover-to-cover every morning, in addition to the Daily Breeze, L.A. Daily News, and several blogs (laobserved, mayorsam, L.A.'s homeless blog, etc.). On a weekly basis, I lived for the L.A. Downtown News, L.A. Weekly, L.A. Alternative Press, and others. I want to know, on an hourly basis, what's going on in my city, and I readily found that in L.A.

Here, our local "big city" newspaper is the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin. It comes out daily, but it probably shouldn't: the articles are short (most front-page pieces stop right there) and not-so-newsworthy (don't get me started). As much as I used to live for that crispy L.A. Times on my driveway every day, I can't bring myself to subscribe to The Press. The New York Times is an amazing publication, and I read it online daily, but it gives virtually no coverage to upstate NY. I'll have to be happy splurging for it on Sundays.

I was so desperate to get some good coverage of Binghamton that I tapped into the historic archives of the Los Angeles Times online (so cool- I can access the full L.A. Times from 1881 to present). When I typed in "Binghamton," I got over 1,700 "hits" since 1881, which surprised me. I forget that Binghamton used to be New York City's "second city."

I learned a ton about Binghamton's history, but probably my favorite part was the advertisements- There were some Binghamton companies that advertised for comfy new teeth (FasTeeth) and some for itchy/scratchy dog powder of some sort (in the 1930s). But most notably, in the late 1890s/early 1900s, there was a local company that advertised very heavily in the L.A. Times. "Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root" was big stuff around here- the Kilmer family name is on lots of great old buildings, sort of like the "Bayer" of its time. Apparently, Kilmer's Swamp Root would heal whatever ailed your kidney, liver, mind, hair, toenails, psyche, etc. ,it's such good stuff. You can read more here.

Postcards from the edge . . .

This weekend is the biggest antiques show in the region, Sertoma's "Million Dollar Antiques Show," hosted at SUNY Binghamton. To be fair, it is a very nice show- about 200 dealers and very high-quality stuff, and well-organized.

They must be doing something right because I ponied up $15 to attend the pre-sale show on Friday evening. I figured it would only be fancy tchotchke, for which I presently have no use, and I was right.

However, I found great pleasure in one stall that specialized in antique postcards, about 20,000 of them. I had been feeling quite homesick that day, so I was so happy to ask to see thse of Los Angeles (not the "Hollywood" ones, to be clear) and find a willing ear in the older lady who owned the business. One by one, I went through the 100 or so postcards, most of which related to Downtown L.A., and tell her the current state of the object of the photo.

For example, there were many shots of Broadway Street, the former shopping and entertainment center of L.A., and Spring Street, the "Wall Street of the West" (1 block over).

I pointed out that the glamorous photo of "5th and Broadway" had a different flavor, now that it is ground-zero for heroin sales in the L.A. region. And that the one of "The Rosslyn/Million Dollar Hotel" on 5th and Main evoked images of a Skid Row-adjacent flophouse, presently in the midst of a legal battle over gentrification.

In happier news, there were some great photos of buildings, such as those on Spring Street, which have been saved from urban decay and become thriving residential buildings.

The best ones, however, were of 2 things that I didn't really realize we had in L.A.: an ostrich farm, and a pigeon farm. Who knew?

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Today I painted our bedroom a lovely shade of light yellow, to harmonize and yet minimize our incredibly awful rice-a-roni yellow shag carpet (we've tried, but we're stuck with it.) The color I painted our walls is a shade of light yellow that Glidden calls "Newborn."

I am alternately horrified and engrossed by this name. Is it bad karma to paint your newlywed bedroom "Newborn"? or is it a good omen? Not clear. At any rate, it's on the walls now, and it looks good.

The thing that strikes me, though, is how a paint color came to be called "newborn," but, more relevant, the fact that it is yellow. Does this mean that the standard "newborn" is yellow? Because that might mean that we are all Asian. Or White. What if the color were brown-ish, would that be scandalous? Would someone protest? Would the result be a shade called "Chocolate Baby"? Would that be scandalous?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Friends in High Places

I am definitely not knowledgeable about wildlife, nor birds, but somewhere in my psyche I do know that Peregrine Falcons are extra cool. Not sure why, something about them being really rare?

I was visiting a downtown Binghamton office today, and its fourth floor (that's tall around here) had an amazing "bird's-eye view" (tee hee hee). One of the men I was meeting with, a writer for the Greater Binghamton Business Journal, pointed out the fact that there is a Peregrine Falcon nest on the top ridge of the most prominent building in Downtown Binghamton.

Are you joking me? How cool is that? This is the stuff that fills the crevices of major news services. Just last week, I'd seen something on the major New York City news channel about a homeowner's group that cleaned out a red-tailed hawk's nest, only to see a huge public outcry that demanded its restoration. And here it was, right here in my own back yard.

To add to the intrigue, I learned that there are extraordinarily few Peregrine Falcons in the world (fewer than 50 pairs in all of NY state, to be exact). Some cities in upstate NY have installed "Falcon Cams" that keep a close watch on the birdies. The things you learn, just from looking at life from (literally) a different perspective, and from taking the time to talk to people.

The best part is that, after only 2 months, I'm well on my way to knowing as much random crap about Binghamton as I did about Los Angeles. If only this were an employable skill . . .

Monday, April 17, 2006

"First Friday": Binghamton's emerging art scene

By any measure, Los Angeles is world-famous for its art, from the Getty and MOCA to Hollywood and every possible flavor of underground or off-best form of artistic expression. And yet, probably because the city is so physically spread out, there isn't one center of gravity for the kind of retail/art gallery/walk-in-off-the-street experience that can be found in places like Laguna Beach or Carmel or even SoHo in NYC.

Don't get me wrong, I was a big fan of Downtown L.A.'s Gallery Row open house nights each month. But there is so much going on on any given night in L.A. that the crowds could be a bit thin, and it was almost always the same faces.

Lucky for me, downtown Binghamton is working to style itself as a funky/artistic area that offers incredibly cheap rents on old commercial buildings that have become loft spaces and art galleries. On the first Friday night of each month, they all open their doors for what they call (appropriately) First Friday. I don't know how many galleries there are, but it was at least as many is Gallery Row and more than John and I could see in 1 1/2 hours. It took a long time to wander through because the art (and the hearty free food) was actually really good. Unlike downtown L.A.'s art scene, which can be a bit too edgy for my taste, the art in Binghamton was actually something that regular people might buy (not that it's cheap, it's just a lot more attractive and generally accessible).

First Friday in Binghamton brings people of all ages and stripes into downtown's usually-deserted nighttime streets. Where Gallery Row is spread out among many long, dark and somewhat deserted blocks, First Friday is concentrated in a very walkable area. Whereas downtown L.A.'s Gallery Row nights are a relatively homogenous crowd in that it's almost all single/funky/artist/downtown dwellers, here there are families with little kids, grown-up gay couples, government workers, the Mayor . . . all in the same mix. It is definitely the place to be that night, because it has hardly any competition. The result is a success, in my opinion.

Now we'll have to see whether Binghamton can succeed in using the downtown arts community to drive an economic resurgence in the area. So far, they are ahead of downtown L.A. in lots of ways, not the least of which is the fact that they have a vibrant, respectable, gay-friendly bar right in the middle of it all, which downtown L.A. still lacks (I'm not counting the gay Latino cowboy bars on Main Street or the gay bathhouse on 4th and L.A. Streets). I did, however, miss running into Brady Westwater, but I can always read his blog. :-)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

You say "TOE-MAY-TOE" . . .

I have to admit, I am definitely one of those (local) people who loves to poke fun at the "foreigners" who pronounce local words and placenames "wrong." The most common and striking example is the fact that we L.A. locals totally incorrectly pronounce the multi-cultural fishing port/village of "San Pedro," California as "San PEE-dro," instead of the culturally correct "San PAY-dro." When someone says "San PAY-dro," it's a sure sign that they a) know a bit of Spanish and b) aren't "from around here," because "we" mangle the name.

So, when I moved to Binghamton, NY, I didn't expect a lot of fancy pronunciations to learn. In fact, there haven't been too many linguistic challenges (despite many Native American names that look scary on paper, but are quite friendly to the foreign tongue.) But this probably lulled me into complacency, because there are so many cues to my foreign status, right in my own back yard . . .

First, our landlords/next door neighbors should have been the tip-off, and they were. Gary and Pat are in their 70s, and, when we first "interviewed" for our place, Pat said that Gary was born just around the corner, on "BEETH-ovin." Now, I hope I have conveyed that pronunciation. It is long-eeeeee "BEEEETH," hard "TH"-oven." Unlike any great composer you've heard of, to be sure. Given that Gary is 78 years old, and that his 74 year old wife pronounced it that way, I'm going to take it on faith that that is the local way to say it. But it only gets better from there . . .

Another street is about a block from our house. It's named "Leroy" Street. However, don't you dare call it "LEE-roy." To the locals, it's "luh-ROY," as though it's "LeRoix" or some fancy royalty-related name. Toooo funny. And then there is "Mozart" Street, which is pronounced "MOZE-art" (rhymes with "beaux arts"). I don't even want to know how they pronounce nearby "Goethe" Street. I will keep on the lookout for locals-only (wrong) pronunciations . . . they really say a lot about a place, and its people . . .

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Rolling with the Binghamton P.D.

Over the weekend, I went on a "ride-a-long" with the Binghamton Police Department. I have done this in probably a half-dozen different places in my life, starting in high school in PV and most recently on Skid Row in downtown LA. I have never once been given any grief about going on a ride-a-long, but apparently the Binghamton P.D. is too "big time" for me: I practically had to sell my first-born in order to tag along. After a week of unreturned phone calls, I finally dropped by in person and found the Deputy Chief of Police, who grilled me for 15 minutes about why I wanted to do a ride-a-long. After convincing him that I wasn't some "Badge Bunny" or gun freak or wannabe cop or anything, he finally relented.

The ride-a-long itself took place on Friday night, when I had hoped we'd see more action. Luckily, I was on patrol in the area around my house, so I got to see my neighborhood up-close-and-personal. Wow. I never knew where "Jerry Springer" got its low-IQ, trash-talking, baby-daddy, toothless guests, but now I do. The majority of calls we responded to were domestic disturbances, with ex-boyfriends returning home from prison and causing trouble and drunk married couples screaming at each other. The drink of choice was definitely a 12-pack of "Milwaukee's Best," most commonly brought home (after purchase on Main Street) in one of those metal cage drag-bag shopping carts.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Ithaca, Auctions, and Road Kill

This Saturday I traveled 60 miles NE to Ithaca (home of Cornell University) to visit with a friend of mine from the Los Angeles Conservancy (she was doing some mentoring for her alma mater). I took sort of an alternate route up there, because I wanted to stop by the auction house and pre-screen the goods for the sale on Sunday. This meant that I took a 2 lane road the entire way up there. My goodness, I have never seen so much roadkill on U.S. highways! Three deer and several of what looked either like squirrels or possums, but it was hard to tell at that stage of splatter. THREE DEAD DEER!

There was no way I could be on the right track. It's only supposed to be about an hour drive from Binghamton to Ithaca, but I hadn't brought the directions. I tried to call John for some map assistance, but there was NO PHONE RECEPTION. This struck me as particularly funny because we were recently at the Verizon Wireless store, looking at a map of the US which showed Verizon's coverage area. Just about 99% of the country appeared "covered" and we had dismissed any gaps, thinking that they would never apply to us. Guessed wrong!

Just when I figured I was tragically off course, I started seeing roadkill with decreasing frequency, began to get radio reception again, and decided that civilization could not be far off. GEEZ. I made my way down into the gorgeous natural bowl that is home to Ithaca, and was greeted by bona fide TRAFFIC! OK, so it was only about 4 cars-worth, and 1/2 block long back-up, but I haven't seen that in a long time. :-)

Team Super Model

There is a guy who I always see playing racquetball at the gym here. He is probably in his late-30s, Asian, not at all tall, and with a sort of doughey/out-of-shape body. He always wears a yellow and purple Lakers team tank top that says "Bryant" across the back. Now, let me tell you, this guy is about as close to being Kobe Bryant as I am to being Rebecca Romijn. Can you imagine if regular, everyday women went to the gym wearing Team Super Model gear, like g-strings and bikini tops, that said "Cindy Crawford" and "Heidi Klum" and "Kate Moss" on them?

post script: At the gym tonight, the same guy was wearing a white and green Celtics team tank and now he is apparently channeling the athletic prowess of Paul Pierce!

post post script: The next day, the guy was wearing his best Shaq shirt. The fun never ends!