Saturday, October 27, 2007

New York City Suggestion Box

I posted before about the incredible tram-ride over to Roosevelt Island, a quirky little petri dish of an urbanized Mayberry lying 2 minutes off of Manhattan in the middle of the East River. So I guess maybe I shouldn't be surprised that, when we were waiting for the tram back over to Mid-Town, I noticed this "Suggestion Box" at the station.

This leads me to a greater point: If you haven't been to New York City in the past decade or more, you might be shocked by what you find there now. Not only is it clean and safe- and I mean we walked and walked and walked for days and still never felt uncomfortable, even among the tenement district in the Lower East Side and in the Bowery (former skid row) area- but the people are even nice.

Whereas the NYC of the 70s and 80s a) didn't give a rip about your or anyone else's opionion, and b) would tell you to take your suggestions and shove them . . . and c) would probably have covered the Suggestion Box with graffiti and shoved God-knows-what in there, today's NYC is downright civilized.

OK, so the subway station manager can be a little off-putting as he glares at you through bulletproof plexiglass, but my favorite thing to do is to approach a guy just like that, give him a huge smile, and ask one of my moronic questions, "Excuse me, sir, but would you please help me figure out how to buy my sorry-tourist-self a subway card? Oh, and I'm such an idiot that now that I have the card, I can't figure out which way to slide it in so that the turn style will open for me, Duh-uh!" But once I bust out my Midwestern charm, the veneer is off and these people are sometimes even nice, particularly to dumb, well-intentioned tourists like me. My favorite thing is to stop a busy local on the street and ask for directions- they are so taken aback sometimes, and it's fun to watch their steely exterior fall away with the human interaction.

As we were leaving the city last time, we were laden with luggage and trying to find a corner worthy of hailing a cab. The problem was apparently that we were on the backside of the Waldorf=Astoria- where President Bush and friends were staying during the UN Summit in September- and traffic was all screwed up. Anyway, there were about a BILLION cops around so I approached one of them and asked if it was OK to hail a cab while standing next to him, that is, if a cab was even going to stop for us, with all this funky traffic.

So New York's finest doesn't say but a couple of words to me and the next thing I know there is a shiny yellow clean cab at my feet. The NYPD had hailed my cab for me! Now if that isn't customer service, I don't know what is.

Jetson's Mail Delivery Robot

I have been meaning to blog about this bad boy for ages- this is the self-propelled and unmanned contraption that delivers mail around one of the businesses in my building. I've been in a lot of offices, but I've never seen such a crazy Jetsons-flashback as this puppy. I half expect it to start talking to me in a robot voice, like their maid Rosie, everytime it mysteriously senses my presence and pauses for me to walk by.

So I finally googled the name on the thing- Mailmobile- expecting not to find anything online because, clearly, this thing is circa-1972. I was shocked- SHOCKED, I tell you!- to find that, not only is Mailmobile still in business, but this might even be the current model!

Wow, sure fooled me. That font even! It looks straight out of a '70s Atari ad. The whole thing is like Tomorrowland at Disneyland- which is to say that it is more like a bad 1950s vision of what "tomorrow" looks like. I guess it is kind of amazing- the Mailmobile even gets on elevators and stuff by itself, which sort of creeps me out.

But nope, no Mailmobile for my office. We deliver mail internally the old fashioned way- with something like 3 guys who walk around the offices and manually do it. No new-fangled robot contraptions putting our staff out of work!

More Southern Tier Signage

I have posted before about my favorite local phenomenon- what John and I call Southern Tier Graphic Design- but it just never ceases to amaze me how pervasive it is.

The first sign above is in the ladies room of our favorite local dump neighborhood restaurant. First, do people really not know that you can't smoke in the bathroom of a restaurant? Smoking in bars has been illegal in New York for at least 10 years. And if it's really a problem, don't you think New York State probably makes some handy dandy little stickers, probably available nice and free, that you could post if necessary? (3 seconds worth of searching on Google led me to printable signs offered by the New York State Department of Health.) Why bother being so fancy and formal when you can handwrite a sign and let it get all nasty and wet in the bathroom!

And the second one is outside a little bodega-type convenience store- I don't even think they sell any booze- that I pass on my to work when I walk there. Now, call me a rebel, but when I was a kid, if someone put this sign outside, I would loiter right in front of it, just because I was pissed off that they were trying to tell me I couldn't talk to my friends outside. I guess I can't complain too much- at least these signs don't contain any misspellings and aren't as filthy dirty as some of the others I've seen.

Feng Shui Fountain Sale

Call me crazy, but if I'm so into feng shui that I'm going to pay money for a zen-inspiring water fountain, I'm not going to buy it at the drug store like the one in Manhattan where I saw this gem on sale in the discount rack.

What could be lamer than to have this lame little fountain, complete with sand and a freaking rake, oozing water and dust and leaking wax all over the black glass coffee table in front of your black leather couches? (clearly, only a 20-something male would buy this thing, and that is exactly what his decor would consist of.) Well, I guess you need earth, water and fire, so there's no skimping, at least.

You like me! You REALLY like me!

In the past few days, three of my four parents have indicated their sadness at my lack of blogging for the past 3 weeks (!!!) so, after a week of houseguest and a home computer that was a bit on the fritz- I'M BACK!! And I've certainly got some good stuff stored up, so we'll see what I can get out quickly. Thanks for reading!!!

p.s. I failed to mention that I've also been a bit distracted because . . . dare I admit? . . . I am in a Tuesday night bowling league at the Club!! "What?" you are asking yourself. "Annie doesn't know how to bowl!" Don't you worry, my friends, that didn't prevent one of my friends from signing me up on her team. "Don't make this get ugly," she said, in response to my strong protestations.

Well, turns out I actually don't suck as bad as I had expected. I scored a 138 the first night (I'm a substitute so haven't actually bowled much yet this year- but don't worry, the season goes until freaking MARCH!). Anyway, THERE. I said it. I BOWL. The first step is admitting you have a problem . . .

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Premiere of "My Kid Could Paint That" documentary film

It's not often that Binghamton gets international media attention, especially for something that's cool or, at least, not related to a toxic spill or something. So it was pretty exciting when John was reading The New Yorker last week and learned that a documentary was coming out about a local artist, and that it was coming to theaters (including Binghamton) in limited release.

Last night, we got to see the movie on opening night, along with the Director, and followed by a Q & A panel hosted by the local gallery that launched the artist to international acclaim in 2004.

If you are still confused by the photo I posted, then you haven't figured out that the artist who attracted all this media attention is a 4 year old Binghamton girl named Marla Olmstead. Her work is abstract oil on canvas, and has great titles like Sick Teeth, Lollipop House, and Ocean.

Here's the 20-second-version: her abstract painting first hangs in a local coffee shop as sort of a joke, someone buys it for $250, local gallery owner thinks they have merit, launches showing of her work with attendant press releases, media frenzy follows work sells for thousands of dollars (I think like $10,000 to $20,000 at its peak), 60 Minutes does a scathing piece that suggests her dad has an undue influence in the work- that he at least coaches her and at most finishes the work off for her- and implies that it's all a fraud, the wheels come off the Marla train and sales of her work come to a screeching halt, the parents try to defend and make their own video of her actually painting the work, the family and gallery owner have been dragged through the mud, no one seems to be speaking to each other anymore, and. . .

That's about when I arrived in B-town. I haven't heard much about this girl or the surrounding controversy because I didn't live here when it was all going down (although I had met the gallery owner back in 2004 and he told me about Marla himself, and I was shocked to go back to LA and read about her in the local paper!) Marla matters seem to have been relatively quiet around here for the past year or two, so I didn't really know much of the story.

And MAN, is there a story. But it's not what you think. I thought the movie was going to be about abstract art, who determines what is "art" and what it should cost, and certainly whether she was the true artist behind the work.

Sure, the movie covers those bases, but it raises so many more issues that are- to my amazement- even more interesting than the ones I had initially expected. Nothing gets resolved, but the movie . . . I can't even put words to it. I told John that I think we'll be talking about this movie for at least a year, there are so many parts to it. My favorite issues were the ones about "storytelling" and also media ethics and how the media machine works (clips from the interview with the journalist from the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin were particularly outstanding).

I'm going to cut myself off here because there is way too much to write about. The movie, "My Kid Could Paint That," from super sweet and extremely articulate director Amir Bar-Lev, was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival in January, so Sony Pictures bought it for $2 million. I'm hoping that means it will at least be available to rent on DVD soon. (A bonus is all the great footage of our Binghamton "First Friday" monthly art walks downtown that I love so much!) Oh, and if you rent it, be sure to check out the "Directors Cuts" or whatever they call those bonus parts at the end of the thing- they taped the Q & A we were at last night- we might be in the background? - but mostly I reference this because the Q & A with the director (and others) was particularly fascinating- I felt like I was on a jury and we were all trying to figure out what the "truth" was, but no one could get a lock on it. Really excellent questions and discussion.

P.S. Icing on this media-cake is the obligatory misspelling of "Binghampton" in one of the movie release informationals! I'm going to have to have John bust out the "Ain't No P in Binghamton" tshirt I had made for him last year.