Sunday, June 29, 2008

What the ???

By way of background, and this is incomprehensible to my West Coast readers, THERE ARE NO FROZEN YOGURT SHOPS IN BINGHAMTON. In fact, there are none for a good 50-miles, I believe (I'm assuming there must be one in Syracuse or Scranton). No, I do not know how I have survived 2 1/2 years without my favorite frozen treat, so you can imagine how excited I was when I saw that a yogurt shop had opened recently near the University. I would link to the website, or to any reference to it on the big, huge internet but - not surprisingly- I find none.

The place- Cafe Prince- is owned by the same people who own the Korean restaurant next door, and sells that tasty/funky Pinkberry-style fro-yo.

Still, you ask, what does this have to do with those nasty photos? You see, Cafe Prince is housed in a former bagel shop, so they decided it was a good idea to keep the fine Port-O-Bagel (I couldn't make that up, that is what the place was called) decor. Yes, those are fake flowers stuck into incredibly stale bagels, and partially covered up with coffee beans. Yeah, because styrofoam is so expensive?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

How much would YOU pay?

What is this, you ask? Or maybe you already had an answer in your head (it's not that, you sicko!) We went to NYC yesterday, to take in a bunch of photography shows, including a huge retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (a.k.a. The Met, for my West coast friends). We were not expecting the bonus treat, however, of seeing more of Jeff Koons' crazy metal "balloon dog" sculptures on the rooftoop garden.

I say "more" because these wacky things seem to be following us around the world, or vice versa. Question: how many 15-foot-tall metallic fruity-colored balloon sculptures have you seen lately? Well, we've somehow stumbled across three such installations in the past year-and-a-half.

We'd never heard of nor seen these things until last year, when we were cruising down the Grand Canal in Venice, innocently enough, and then THIS thing smacked us in the face. So surreal, to see this hot pink carnival-looking thing, set outside a staid Venitian palazzo. It really made an impact (this photo hangs in my office now, in fact). Bonus points for public installations of contemporary art!

So I did a little research when we got home (I know, shocking!) and it turns out that these puppies (ha! punny!) go for . . . wait for it . . . OVER $20 MILLION! Wow. They are cool and all but seriously, that is quite a chunk of change. Now that these balloon things were on our radar, we made sure to catch the "balloon flower" in Berlin this year. Not nearly as cool as the Venice dog, I have to say.

So who is Jeff Koons? Surely someone who commands such huge sums for his work, and whose name is familiar to so many, must be long-dead, right? Nope. Turns out that Mr. $23.5 Million Silly Flower is only in his 50s. Not only that, but he actually used to be married to that Porn-Star-Turned-Member-of-the-Italian-Parliament, back in the 1990s, so he obviously pulls chicks. Seriously, I want to party with this guy.

Now, they are substantial pieces of work. And they must take a lot to produce- much more costly materials than oil paints and canvas, to be sure, but it turns out that Mr. Koons might not exactly be sitting in his studio polishing these things himself- he actually oversees a studio that employs 30 technicians who actually produce these works. I am not saying he's not the "real" artist here, I'm just raising the point that maybe our local girl 4-year-old artist, Marla, shouldn't have gotten such a hard time for (possibly) getting some coaching or direction on her painting from her dad. But I digress . . .

Mr. Goofy Dog is also the artist behind that uber-famous living-flower-covered piece called "Puppy" that graced the opening of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain in 1997. This guy really gets around!

We also stopped in to the Neue Galerie, near The Met, to catch the last few days of the Gustav Klimt exhibit. You might recall that this Klimt painting, of a Jewish Austrian businessman's wife, was seized by the Nazis in 1938, sold at auction in 1942 to a Viennese gallery, then reclaimed by the heirs in 2006 and sold at auction in Los Angeles for . . . $135 million! I used to think that was a lot of money for a piece of art, but now I see that it would only get me a cool-looking heart, a doggie, and maybe some flowers like these. I guess it's time to recalibrate the mental assessment of what "a lot of money" is, eh?

Here are some more photos of the rooftop Koons balloon dog at The Met, just cuz they are so cool-looking (and FREE!):

Friday, June 20, 2008

The 5 Phases of Facebook: A Love Story

As my last blog entry indicates, I have been a bit- OK, a LOT- distracted by Facebook lately. If you have been living under a rock or in Binghamton, NY, Facebook (FB) is a social networking site that is definitely for grown-ups and can be used for professional purposes, but has just enough bells and whistles to constitute quasi-"entertainment." I am far enough into the trajectory that I can start to see the phases of the FB love affair, which are:

Phase I: Skepticism

For about a year, I was consistently receiving emails from all sorts of people, asking me to join FB or, once I created a basic profile account, to be my "friend." Figuring that this "Facebook" thing was yet another passing online social trend, I found 100% of these 50-or-so contacts to be annoying, but I politely obliged.

So there I sat, with my 50 "friends" who occasionally did inexplicable things like "(insert name of random person here) has challenged you to a game of Mob Wars." or "(so and so) wants you to rate their personality." Hmmm, perhaps this FB thing is more like MySpace than LinkedIn? Either way, I'm DEFINITELY not taking any part in THIS "fun."

Phase II: Fear

At some point, I figured out that my every move on FB was being broadcast to the rest of my FB network (and possibly to the world?) Not sure the reach of this accidental broadcast stream, but I quickly discovered, and made friends with, the FB "privacy" settings. No matter. The damage was done: I had been spooked and it would take me months to jump back on the FB horse. Even side-saddle.

Phase III: Excitement

Around April, John started reconnecting with a crazy assortment of people from high school. Apparently, someone from his class had started recruiting classmates to get on FB, and the party was ON. And THAT sounded like a party I wanted to attend.

I logged into my dusty account- did I even have a profile photo at that point?- and took FB for a spin. Hey! Isn't that the nice kid who sat next to me in World History in 10th grade? "Friend" him, I will! Former Speaker of the California Assembly? Super nice guy I sat next to one time at a a dinner party in 2004? I friend you!

On this exuberant friending spree, I dug deep (a bit too deep) and doubled my friends network within a few days. I wasn't trying to prove anything (or was I?) I just got excited to see so many long-lost faces staring back at me, just an "Add as Friend" click away.

Phase III-A: Evangelism

I am adding this as a sub-phase because I realize that not every FB-lover will experience it. FB makes it really easy to invite the people in your email contacts, and my personality dictates that OF COURSE I wanted more people to come to my FB party. Former colleague from 4 years ago? All the girls in my high school crew? I sent them corny FB invitation emails like, "Jump on in- the water's great!" What a DORK. Not surprisingly, not a ton of success with this effort. I think I reeked of desperation. No matter. When they finally overcome Phase I, they'll thank me for planting the seed, right?

To facilitate all my peeps finding each other, without having to do it all myself on an individual basis, I started FB groups for my High School, College and Business School classes. That way, when someone new flies into the FB net, they will most likely find their way to one of these groups, where I can easily farm them for my own network.

The combination of Phase III and III-A led to a very motley and incongruous collection of FB friends. Crap. Now I was in trouble. Time to prune the list (this is about the time I learned the term "de-friend," which is now my Favorite Word of the Month- subtle and yet so insulting, all at the same time.)

Given that I was spooked by FB's tendencies to broadcast your activity (see Phase II), how do I get rid of some of these people I added in my over-friending spree? without committing a breach of netiquette? If I de-friend you, are you going to know it? Crisis. Research was in order. Which led me to . . .

Phase IV: Obsession

It started out innocently enough: I wanted to learn a bit more about the culture, custom and etiquette of FB before going further. I had about 140 FB friends (shall we come up with a new word, to try to distinguish from my actual friends? Nah, that line is getting blurrier by the day, so why split hairs now?)

Apparently I was not the first to have burning questions about how a polite person should conduct themselves on FB. This woman in England has an entire blog devoted to it. After a couple weeks of online research, and urgent emails to some of my loyal blog readers (hi Jonelle!), I felt comfortable navigating and adding to my new FB life. I even decided against pruning my burgeoning FB network. For now, at least.

This phase seems to be the most protracted. FB has so many facets, not to mention all the people you haven't talked to since high school and have to catch up with, that the Obsession phase can last for . . . not sure yet, sorry to say.

I can report that I am mostly "over" seeing the old high school chums on FB, although that has been really fun. But how come my high school isn't listed? nor my college? Not to worry, classmates, I am currently in communication with FB officials about getting CMC and RHHS added (not joking). Perhaps I am in a Phase IV ripple, as I most recently find myself obsessed with FB as a movement (it is the sixth most heavily trafficked website now?) and even-gasp!- wanting to learn about the technology-geek aspects. What makes my new best-friend tick?

Phase V: Balance

I will not pretend I am personally familiar with this phase, but I can imagine that it must exist. Actually, that might not be true, since I have yet to meet anyone who has attained it. Perhaps that is because the bulk of my communication lately has been on FB, with other FB-lovers.

At the rate I am going (my new fascination is with "status updates" and that could take me weeks to work through!), I will not achieve the sought-after Balance phase any time soon. It will likely be evidenced by more regular blogging, about things that are not FB-related, which is inconceivable to me at present.

And last night I enabled FB mobile so I can twitter status updates from my cell phone . . . uh-oh.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mr. Chair

What in the world is going on in this photo that is inspiring a blog, you ask? Here's the deal: While I try not to blog about specific people, sometimes, one just jumps out you, and you can't help but make fun. Like who can forget The Guy.

So today we were at the Irish Festival, and John sees a guy who looks familiar (that would be the dark haired guy with glasses, seated at center). John can't place him at first, but then sees him walking around the Festival, carrying that wicker-ish patio chair you see in the photo.

A-HA! The chair put it all into context- this guy, we'll call him Mr. Chair, had come to one of John's drumming classes at a lady's house- and he brought with him . . . The Chair. John didn't make much of it, at the time, but seeing the guy now schlepping around this cumbersome chair at a big, crowded, rainy festival, and NOT SITTING IN IT, was just too weird. It was like a security blanket. And you KNOW I begged John to let me go sit in it, if not move it away while they weren't looking.

I know, I know, you are saying I'm cruel and lack sympathy, that it is for his wife's (unknown) medical condition (she is not in the photo, but looked healthy to us). But if she needs to sit down, can't she get a folding chair? or one of those tripod stools that people bring to watch golf tournaments? This was a piece of high quality patio furniture. And it is clunky. Believe me, there was nothing so cool about the Irish Festival that would make it worth the hassle of dragging around 25 pounds of . . . chair. We'll keep our eye out for Mr. Chair now, though. It's a small town. Maybe we'll see him at the gym. With his chair.

LAOH? That would be the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, of course!

Last week, we received some serendipitous misdirected mail (to the prior occupant) from the "LAOH." I am not on a first-name basis with LAOH, so I had to open it to find out that it referred to the local chapter of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (i.e., an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization). As if they had known of my love for kitschy ethnic festivals, they wanted to announce their 2nd Annual Broome County Irish Festival. I was intrigued- we had gone to Ireland on our honeymoon, so we know the "real" Ireland- what the Upstate New York version be like? What do the New York Irish do for kicks on a rainy Saturday?

They Gamble: I don't know what it is with the gambling around here, but it seems that every event we go to has a "50/50" raffle where people buy tickets and they pay out 50% of the money as a prize, keeping the rest for the charity du jour.

They Eat:
Thankfully, the American version of Irish food was corned beef & cabbage, and shepherd's pie, and not McDonald's (I had feared this, truly).

They Dance:
It was actually very cool to watch the young girls with curly bouncy hair do their Irish folk dancing. I was telling John that I hadn't seen that kind of dancing before. That is, until I realized that it was the same thing as . . . RIVERDANCE. Ugh. I now have yet another reason to hate Riverdance- they ruined this otherwise cool ethnic dancing for me.

They Sweat:
Despite the rain (which I thought was appropriate, given that it was an Irish festival), there was plenty of sweating going on.

The festival program was very helpful, indeed. It indicates that LAOH (we're buds now, so I like to call them LAOH) is hosting the "5th Annual Half-Way to St. Patrick's Day Hooley" on September 12, 2008 at the KoC (that is Knights of Columbus, for all of you under 60 years old and/or those of you who have never lived more than 30 miles inland from either coast.) Apparently, they cannot wait an entire year for that blessed day so they have to do it semi-annually. Good that the advertisement reads "No alcohol under 21" (lest people assume that Irish drinking laws - i.e., none- apply at the KoC that crazy night). They are also going to have a "Chinese auction" (huh?) I'm intrigued, on so many levels. See you at the hooley!!!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Confession: I'm cheating on you . . .

I'm cheating on my blog . . . with FACEBOOK. I admit it- the hugely popular social networking site has sucked me in, and siphoned off all my spare computer time since last weekend. So I decided to blog about my recent online passion.

I'd had a very basic profile on Facebook (no photos or anything) for about a year, and kept getting "friended," so I had about 50 "friends," but it was not until my husband jumped aboard that I started to get really interested. A couple weeks ago, I realized he was finding all sorts of old friends from high school and having fun email exchanges with the ghosts of classmates and acquaintances past. So I decided to investigate it for myself. And BOY, am I addicted.

Here's why I was resistant to Facebook (or "FB" as I call it now, since we are so intimate lately):

1. I thought it was "for the kids." I had somehow got into my head that FB was something akin to MySpace, i.e., a huge time-suck where teenagers (and those who want to act like teenagers) create some weird online persona and strive to acquire "friends" by the boatload, or promote their singing career. There is certainly a place for MySpace, but not in MYWorld.

2. I thought it was another boring business networking site. (I realize that this inconsistent with #1.) Because I was getting "friended" by grown-ups and business associates, I thought it was like Linked In or one of those really dull/flat business-oriented websites.

3. I don't need more online distractions. 'Nuff said.

4. I don't want to learn how to use any new technology. This reason is just plain lame. I'm not 90 years old. And if the technology is useful and cool (as FB is), it is well worth investing a few days to get myself up to speed. Done.

Why I am an enthusiastic convert to FB:

1. The ability to find people (long-lost or close-by) quickly and efficiently. FB allows you to search "networks," so I was able to search my high school and college class years and come up with a list of people that was essentially like looking at a yearbook, but with updated faces and the ability to reach out and touch them immediately. Amazing!Once I started poking around, I was encouraged when I immediately found a long-lost high school friend- the guy who won "Class Clown" with me! Turns out, we'd both been trying to reconnect for 15 years, but it took just a few minutes on FB, and I wasn't even looking for him! Nothing like a trip to Clowndom to lift one's spirits - it was like we hand't missed a beat.

2. The ability to readily cyber-stalk in a socially acceptable way. Another great feature is that you can search other people's "friends" lists. So you can basically find a specific person, then poke around in their online Rolodex. How powerful is that? I actually told John that, despite the stupid amount of time I've spent on FB in the past week, I rationalized that it was actually a time saver, since I'm able to find and get updates on all kinds of random people so easily. I know, I have a "problem." But one article I read about FB said this was perfectly acceptable to do. In fact, it said "Stalk like it was your job."

3. Keeping connected to people who are far away. Since most of my friends and family are in Los Angeles, it is really fun to log on and be greeted with photos of people's kids and travels and lives. I also love a feature called "Status" which, like "twitter," is essentially a micro-blog that answers the question "what are you doing right now." I know it sounds crazy, but it's fun to see my FB "news feed" full of entries like "Marie is considering a latte" and "Eric is hungry" and "Tara loved seeing XYZ band play at XYZ club last night" and "Allison changed her name!" Such insignificant details are really intimate and make me feel much closer to these people, in a weird way that I hadn't expected.

FB is not for everyone:

FB takes a little getting used to. If you are not willing to invest the time to figure out how it works (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!) you should probably not venture on there. Otherwise you will inadvertently be sending out all sorts of communications you had not intended. Luckily, there are others out there who are even more obsessed with FB, such as this woman who has devoted an entire blog to FB etiquette.

Building the FB army:

If you are reading this and I haven't "friended" you or invited you to FB, it's probably because I think you have not discovered the magic of FB for yourself, and will think I'm pathetic (just as I had regarded those who were "friending" me over the last year!) If you are not on FB, get on there, quick! And "friend" me, dammit- I miss you! That said, I'm already plotting my exit strategy on some over-friending I did in my initial exuberance- the Great Facebook Friend Purge of 2008? Sounds like a blog entry!