New York: Part One

I’ve always wanted to go to New York. It’s basically America’s most famous city and the hub of civilization on the east coast, a place where culture is defined worldwide. Visiting has always felt like an inevitability for me, an obligation even. But for whatever reason by 2013 and the ripe old age of 27, I still hadn’t made it out there. Luckily two British senior citizens made me change my mind.

Pictured: inconspicuous, apparently
Pictured: inconspicuous, apparently

I’d seen this set of photos floating around the internet and like the rest of the world thought, “That’s so awesome, those guys are great.” But the bowler hats they’re wearing in all of them set off a tiny alarm in the back of my head. I thought, “Huh, that reminds me of Waiting for Godot. That would be so cool if those two did the play,” and went on my merry way. Until the day I die, I’ll never understand how it took me so long to make the connection that Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen had not only done the play before in England, but were doing it again in New York and would be finishing the run in March.

I had been saving to move to Los Angeles for close to two years by then and had an itch to do something semi-reckless with a portion of it. The play was the deal-breaker (or maybe deal-maker). After some deliberation of dates, I bought my ticket that night.

Somehow I didn’t get around to buying plane tickets until weeks later. I think part of me was hoping they would get cheaper but that was stupid. Another part of me thought there was no way this trip was actually going to happen. On the outside I might seem sunshine and optimism, but internally there’s a skeptic deconstructing my dreams bit by bit. I was sure I’d oversleep and never even make it to the airport. Then when I was on the plane I was positive there would be a mechanical issue and we wouldn’t leave the ground. And then during the layover in Boston I was certain something else would happen, maybe I’d lose my wallet or ticket and end up stuck there for a week.

Because that would've been awful, I guess.
Because that would’ve been awful, I guess.

Of course, none of those things happened. I made the flights, I didn’t lose anything, and late Monday afternoon, I touched down for the very first time…. in New Jersey.

Day One: Trial by Fire

I had made arrangements to spend the first two nights in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Newark International was significantly closer to that part of New York than JFK. I figured any time saved traveling was more time I could spend in the actual city, which turned out to be simultaneously true and false, but more on that later.

There is an incredibly convenient train that runs from Newark International to Penn Station I had scoped out beforehand online, so that’s where I headed. Waiting by the tracks with frigid wind whipping my face was a welcome respite from the stale, processed air on the plane. That was the moment I accepted that my plans had somehow managed to work out and this whole trip was actually happening. Felt good, man.

Of course, that was just the calm before the proverbial storm.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I stepped off the train and into New York, but what I got was one of the main hubs of public transportation in one of the busiest cities in the world. In layman’s terms, it was a f*cking madhouse. There were more people packed into that place than I think I’d even seen in my entire life. Seeing pictures and watching it on tv doesn’t prepare you in the slightest when you’re thrown into the river of bodies rushing in every imaginable direction that is Penn Station. I tightened the strap of my bags, took a deep breath, and plunged in. That was my first mistake.

You see there’s this popular perception that New Yorkers are all rude as hell and don’t give a rat’s ass about you or the horse you rode in on, and that’s not entirely true. The truth is, they’re in a hurry to get somewhere and you — the wide-eyed wandering tourist trying to figure out which way is up — you’re in the way. Finding a quiet corner or a place to sit and get your bearings amidst the chaos is not an easy task. My host had told me to get to the Lower East Side, I would need to take the F train. It seemed simple enough. Problem being the F train doesn’t run from Penn Station to the LES and telling me which one I needed to get on was beyond her abilities. Luckily I had installed a NYC Subway app that gave me an exact route and which trains would take me to which connecting stations to get to where I needed to go. That should’ve made things simple. It didn’t.

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As you can see in the picture above, subways can be a bit complicated. You end up on the wrong platform and the train is going to take you the wrong direction, and getting to the other platform isn’t as simple as action rolling across. If you’re lucky you can head back up the stairs and take a left or right to the other stairs that will take you down to the other side. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. The first train I got on was the right one, but it was headed the opposite direction. By the time I realized this mistake, I was several stops away from where I had thought to go, which meant a new route was now the fastest. No big deal, I thought, just go with the flow.

Helpful hint: when you’re getting on the subway and you’re not sure whether the name on the sign is the direction you want to go, just pretend they’re like you’re facing a regular street. The side you’re on is going to take you to the right, the opposite goes left. It took me at least three more trains to figure this out. Thankfully I’d picked up a tidbit to buy an weeklong unlimited rides pass so my many mistakes didn’t cost me money. Just my leg.

When I finally got off the F-ing train, my left knee was killing me. I’d worn comfortable shoes as recommended, but they weren’t enough when it came to the billions of subway stairs I had climbed. I’ve never torn an ACL or MCL or QCL before but I was pretty damn sure I had. Thankfully it was only another few blocks to the apartment I’d be staying in.

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Double Feature Sunday: American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks

[Editor’s Note: This was supposed to be written months ago but I’m just now getting around to it. That’s why it’s not Sunday when it’s being posted. Whatevs.]

Hollywood seems to have this love/hate relationship with films based on true events. On one hand, they love making them. Reality provides us with stories that writers couldn’t make up in their wildest dreams and audiences automatically get a movie they can invest in because it really happened. They’re basically witnessing history.

On the other hand, reality doesn’t always fit the traditional three act structure most movies adhere to. The heroes may not be heroic enough nor the villains villainous enough, or it might be missing some critical action beats and suspense. And so in the process of making a “better” picture, details get smudged and the truth gets bent.

I try to accept those taken liberties, just as long as the story itself isn’t whitewashed beyond comprehension. Little did I know this philosophy was going to be pushed to its limit this week.

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American Hustle follows a pair of mid-level con artists who end up working for an ambitious FBI agent in an effort to save their own skins. As they work to expose corrupt politicians and mob connections, they all begin to find they’re in way over their heads.

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Saving Mr. Banks chronicles the struggle of screenwriters, musicians, and Walt Disney himself to acquire the rights to the Mary Poppins film from the story’s eccentric owner. Enduring her nagging and nitpicking, they discover what the character means to her and how deeply personal it is.

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Broad Generalizations

Women are complicated. At least that’s what they tell me.

It’s Valentine’s Day, which means the internet will be filled with equal parts sappy romantic gestures and not-so-secretly bitter observations about said gestures. The singles portion of the population will be forced at some point in the day to ponder where they’ve gone astray in their quest to swap DNA: women will wonder where the good guys have gone whilst the men lament their inability to understand the gentler gender. For my part, I’ll be embracing the misery by watching some terrible movies. Maybe Twilight. For science.

In truth, I like to think I have a better grasp on what goes on inside women’s heads than most guys. Sure I can count my ex-girlfriends on one penis, but I’ve had enough platonic female friends (their choice) and older sisters (parents’ choice) to know how they think. Notice I say “how” and not “why”. There will never be an answer to the latter.

I’ve done my best to distill the information into this easily digestible post, but be aware that as the title suggests, these don’t apply to all girls. Just most of them.

Women Don’t Rank Things

Quick, name your top 5 U.S. Presidents.

If you’re a guy, odds are you spouted off some combination of Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, Wheelchair Roosevelt, and either JFK or Clinton for their allegendary lady prowess. If you’re a girl, you probably named Lincoln and Washington, mumbled one that’s still alive, then trailed off and changed the subject. It has nothing to do with interest in history or politics (okay maybe a little). Girls just don’t rank things and guys rank literally everything from their favorite pro athletes to their most satisfying dumps.

It all makes sense. According to an evolutionary study that I just made up, males have been programmed to compete with each other until they establish who’s the Alpha and who’s the Beta and who’s the Cera so on and so on… I don’t actually know the Greek alphabet. And we apply this hierarchy mentality to everything. Shirts I never wear are at the bottom of the drawer, food I eat most of is at the front of the fridge, and kitchenware I use often is still on the stove. Because why would I bother washing it and putting it up when I’m just going to use it tomorrow?

For females, it’s much simpler: there are girls they like and girls they don’t. If Mean Girls taught me anything, it’s that the Queen Bee isn’t necessarily the dominant girl as much as she is the group’s social compass for what to love and what to hate. That carries over to their stuff too. Ever wonder why girls go berserk for a walk-in closet? It’s because they like all their clothes and like being able to see all the things they like at once. Also it means being able to store and care for items according to their individual needs.

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New Year’s Resolutions 2013

In 2012, I set a bunch of incredibly easy New Year’s Resolutions for myself. Somehow I still failed about half of them. So this past year, I tried something new. I came up with a handful of Resolutions, but I kept them almost entirely to myself. The idea was, if I am my own biggest critic, then if I mess up, then I will be harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be.

Well the year is over, so here are my goals from the past year and how I did.

1. Be Healthier

A long time ago, I noticed in his wedding pictures my dad was as rail-thin as I have been my whole life. Being pretty insensitive at the time, I asked him when it all went downhill. He restimated around 27. Ever since then, I’ve had that magical number in the back of my head as the time when my metabolism would take the proverbial dive. I’d have to stop being such a slob or deal with the consequences like most human beings.

This took the form of “Health Kick 2013” which got off to a roaring start. I bought better groceries, minimized junk food, and worked out six days out of the week for nearly five months. Once summer camp started, it was impractical to keep up the same regimen, but I chose the healthier foods from what was provided and got plenty of exercise from the every day rigors of the job. The crash came once summer ended.

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Remedial Community 101

If every show currently on television were going to be cancelled tomorrow and I could only save one, it would be ‘Game of Thrones’. If I could save two, the other would be ‘Agents of SHIELD’. But if I could save three, the third would undoubtedly be perpetual underdog ‘Community’.

The Study Group… and Chang

Not to be a pompous ass, but I’m going to be a pompous ass and say most people don’t seem to get Community‘s humor. It can be heavy on meta-jokes that rely on viewers being familiar with other movies or tv shows, and admittedly some episodes (and more recently, seasons) are weaker than others. To make matters worse, there are enough running jokes that depend on your continued viewership to make ‘Arrested Development’ jealous. The result is a show that tends to cater to its own narrow demographic of media-savvy fanatics and not much else. It’s not an easy show to jump into late and be able to fully enjoy, and with four seasons and nigh 100 episodes in the books, it’s not likely to increase its following by enough to ensure a sixth season.

To their credit, they’re trying to address the issue. They’ve brought back the original show runner Dan Harmon, who they dumped unceremoniously after season three in favor of the notoriously hard to work with Chevy Chase (who is himself gone now), and they’re approaching the new season with a tweaked concept and a re-pilot of sorts. They’re trying to let anyone can jump on board come January 2. Still, the people most likely to keep watching are those who are attached to the characters and familiar with the show’s tropes.

In an attempt to recruit more viewers, I have sifted through and hand-selected 8 episodes of Community for potential new fans. These aren’t necessarily the best episodes or even my favorites (okay some are), but they’ll give you a taste of what the show has to offer that others don’t, introduce you to the hilarious character dynamics, and get you primed for what’s sure to be an epic Season 5. All in 3 hours or less.

So put down the ‘Breaking Bad’. The show’s over and you’re still a loser for not keeping up. It’ll keep until summer.

1. Pilot, Season 1 Episode 1

[Editor’s note: click the titles to watch. I made it that easy.]

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As with any good story, you have to start at the beginning. Pilots are designed to sell networks on the continued viability of the show, and as a result, they tend to be overloaded with information, depict easily-distinguishable generic characters, or present high production values that drop steeply in following episodes. Community commits none of these trope crimes.

Sure, it starts out simple enough. Jeff the disgraced former lawyer is attracted to Elizabeth Shue-lookalike Britta and uses oddball Abed to get the info he needs to break the ice. She needs help in Spanish so he tells her he has a study group, not knowing Abed has recruited Annie (the pretty, driven girl), Troy (the cocky former athlete), Shirley (the divorced mother), and Pierce (the old rich, possibly racist guy) to join as well.

If that all sounds cliche, it is. For the first few minute. With no desire to actually be in a study group, Jeff prods them into blasting past the niceties and airing their dirty laundry. It only takes two scenes to see there’s more to each of them than meets the eye. But the frenzy he’s whipped them into turns Britta off and he has to calm them back down to win her back over. He does so with a deftly precise speech, which will be one of the show’s signatures for years to come.

And just like that, the smartest comedy on tv was born.

Quotent Quotables: “Woah, you just wrinkled my brain.”

2. Physical Education, Season 1 Episode 17

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Though there are a lot of great episodes with their semi-iconic moments between the pilot and ‘Physical Education’, this one is the best at capturing the show’s bread and butter while showing off the peanut butter, jelly, ham, and cheese as well (don’t try to figure out which is which, it’ll be awkward for everyone).

Jeff is thrilled to be taking a billiards class so he can show off his style while the rest of the group tries to set up Abed with a potential secret admirer. Things go awry when the billiards coach wants Jeff to wear gym shorts instead of his leather jacket and designer jeans, and the group finds Abed’s usual antics to be… undateable. Hilarity, obviously, ensues.

If the series has a foundation, it’s Jeff’s fragile ego and staunch resistance to learning lessons (while accidentally learning lessons) and the group rallying around Abed to make themselves feel better. Both are on full display here. It also sets the standard for Greendale’s endless supply of absurd “professors” who provide ample opportunities for guest stars.

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