Is Nigh / Is Not Nigh

The world's always just about to end in New York City. It's not just a staple of our cinema, but a strange background noise to all the on-going construction and planning for the future. We traded in our "THE END IS NIGH" wearable placards a long time ago for ones that read things like "CASH 4 GOLD" and "


- 2 4 1!" Because we're used to the idea. So much so, that when this date finally rolled around, we just hoped it'd be something interesting, like a giant creature or zombie plague, rather than the plain ol' typhoons and militant citizenry.

I've entertained an apocalyptic fantasy or two in my time.

John Hodgman

sums up this type of fantasy pretty succinctly when he describes it as one in which we envision ourselves not only as survivors, but special survivors - the ones too wily to wilt in the face of Armageddon.

I honor today's date over at one of the Tumblr 'blogs I oversee with Friend 

+Dave Younce

- Post-Apocalyptic Fashion - with the kind of pragmatically light-hearted look that comes natural to a naturalized New Yorker:

A Very Merry End-o-the-World to You!

Please enjoy, and if you've gotta go - go out with some style...

New York, NY

Hurricanes are threatening to become passé. Last year we had one, plus an earthquake. Of course, we're now hearing that Hurricane Sandy may be followed up by a nor'easter (which, in my head, is already named Annie - as in, lil' orphan). Just imagine if that proves to be a repeat of "Snowpocalypse," the storm that rocked the whole of the east coast not that long ago. At this rate, weather systems seem increasingly likely to cause another enormous blackout, like the one we had back in 2003. And even if they don't, with the pressure they've been under lately I suppose it's also possible we just might have another transit workers' strike before the end of 2013. But I don't mean to be pessimistic! Over the past decade or so, our police force has successfully foiled under a dozen proven terrorism attempts. Sure, they also clashed with our own citizenry over the Occupy Wall Street protests, but.... Hey! At least no one's flown any planes into any buildings here, lately!

I'm not aiming to make light of any of this. I'm just tired.

I used to consider it a cliché, the way that movies concerned with monumental American events (including, of course, disasters) so frequently feature New York as a landscape. After living here for over a dozen years myself, it seems more apt than anything else. Even when we set aside the iconography so necessary in film, wherein a subset represents the larger culture, the fact is that a lot befalls our fine 'burgh. Manhattan is set on some ley line intersection of fortune and desperate fate.

This event-riddled lifestyle of living amongst "the five boroughs" used to be a way of life I relished. As a kid, I used to run outside when it was windy. I wanted the world to be an exciting place, dramatic and narrative, swirling and swift. I still do. I still entertain survivalist fantasies and pursue the occasional unnecessary speed. It's just that last Monday night, as I prepared to huddle up for the night with Darling Wife and Tempestuous Twelve-Week-Old on an air mattress in the most central room of our railroad apartment, bags packed and boots by the makeshift bedside in case of a sudden evacuation, it all seemed suddenly a bit too ... well: disastrous.

And not a moment later, it seemed too familiar. I'm tired.

We've fared among the best of all the locations where Sandy laid down her land legs. We're in central Astoria, and though not five miles hence our friends in Long Island City have a quasi-war-zone on their hands when they step outside, here plenty of people are having food delivered and getting far more drunk than they generally would on a weekday. Personally, the storm has had the following effects:

  • A paid week off from work, for the most part (OK: I have worked, but from home, and as the email server went down so did the list of tasks I could reasonably accomplish);
  • Hours upon hours of more time with my family than I could've otherwise expected;
  • Clean laundry and apartment; and
  • More Facebook, Google Reader and Tumblr than any one man ought to have thrust upon him.

There are people whose lives are at risk, and those who've lost their lives already over this latest storm. I have nothing to complain about. The spookiest thing about our Halloween was that we're hardly exercising enough these days to justify some peanut-butter cups. Instead of power failures or looting, we've had to confront the fact that we were just too baby-encumbered to do anything adventurous for our four-year anniversary last night. We're incredibly fortunate, and I'm very grateful.

And I'm tired. Tired of the risk, the threat, the struggle of living here. I'll always love New York, and always miss it once we've had enough and moved on. I'm sad even now, with no special deadline for leaving, at the thought of no longer living here. I have been sad for years - when I happen to think of it - years over which the option of leaving NYC for greener (but NOT by definition more lovely) pastures has grown increasingly practical. I've been subliminally preparing myself for the day, because in the midst of the uncertainty involved in calling this city my home I've had complete certainty about how I will look back on it: with little else but longing.

But just maybe we should get going before the Mayan calendar ends. After all, we've already got our "go bags" packed.

Be a Hero

When I was in high school, one of the first stories I wrote - the one that started the creative-writing ball for me in earnest, as a matter of fact - was one set in a not-too-distant future. Now-a-days the half-finished story would be an easy fit into the all-too popular "dystopian" niche, but at the time I wasn't thinking of it as such. I just imagined a world in which priorities had aligned a bit differently. It was about a reporter who goes to live amongst a secret leper colony, established on an island off the eastern seaboard, but the thing that sticks with me the most these years later was an idea I had about the culture of the city from which he came.

The idea was that everybody smoked.


smoked, indoors and out, and they did so because the popular opinion was that air pollution had gotten so bad that it was safer to inhale through a cigarette's filter. Something like: the smoke conditioned one's lungs to handle the much-worse stuff in the air, and inhaling through the filter helped keep the majority of that worser stuff out. I justified it by suggesting the "doctor recommended" smoking ads of the '50s had won out, but it worked for me as the storyteller by making everyone a little distant, a little coarse and plenty short-sighted.

[Update 12/19/13: I was right! Kind of!]

Now occasionally I wonder if I just got the wrong orifice. Ray Bradbury, may he rest in peace, in 1953 imagined these far-fetched tiny "seashells" the folks wore in their ears to hear entertainment anywhere. These were all a part of an imagined, self-isolating technology that we were irresistibly drawn to, which included wall-sized television screens and self-prescribed medication, and I'm ashamed to admit that I willingly use so-called "ear-buds" as such every single day. Nothing's so good an excuse to avoid survey-takers and the homeless - heck, even normal people! - as those handy, dandy ear-buds. And just look at how pocket computers help with eye contact!

 I indulge in this side-effect willingly. I'm grateful for it. Thank God, say I, for my iDevice, and its music and pod-casts and games and even occasionally sometimes if I can be reminded of it connectivity to productive tasks. Furthermore, I'm not writing here to lament this turn in human interaction. True, there are plenty of trade-offs. Yes, I fantasize about a badminton racket reserved solely for knocking the device from the hand of anyone trying to walk and tweet simultaneously. Yes, I'm reading less and have a shorter attention span. And, yes, I want more people than just the local lunatics to hear me if I scream for help. But also: Music! Games! Blocking out the God-awful continuous hammering of street construction! I am fervently all-for the critical resource of my mobile device.

However. There is a finer point of urban etiquette for which I make exception to my electronic enthusiasm. It has to do with a naturally artificial social situation we call The Subway.

I am not going to tell you to turn down your salsa music. Blare it out of the vibrations of your skull! I am not going to tell you to stop hugging the pole to maintain balance while playing Draw Something. Get that palate enormous, and three coins for Gryffindor! I am not even going to tell you to start taking your seashells from out your ears. Leave your seashells in. You are a beautiful mer-maid/man, and you glisten with the rapture of this week's

Epic Meal Time


I am going to tell you this: Open your eyes. And one more thing: Especially if you are fortunate enough to have a seat.

The Subway is a miserable solution to a miserable problem. No one - apart from the aberrant tourist - is pleased to be there when they're on The Subway. The best solution, the only and final solution, is to zone right the heck on out. ZONE, SON. You can get miles away, especially if you have those magic ear-shells. And maybe you are on there at five in the morning, and your hour-long commute is going to make the napping difference between a good day and an impossible one. And maybe you are coming off a fourteen-hour nursing shift, and the only thing that makes sense is bending your legs, just for a few minutes. And maybe it's just the stress (God, the stress) that makes you want to hold yourself and rock during the one period of your day when no one expects anything from you. I get it, and I'm with you, and I'm in the ZONE.

But open your eyes. This isn't the zombie apocalypse, despite what you've heard on the news lately, and the dog-eat-dog world isn't applicable to mass, underground transportation. Here is where the humanity is needed most. Here is where you can toss a token (so much more poetic than a MetroCard) and it will be quickly caught by someone looking longingly at something about the bounty of your position. Because we're all lucky to have what we have, and we're all here for one another. It shouldn't take a catastrophe to remind us of that - just a little gratitude, held in your heart for these moments when you have a chance to help.

So, please: Keep your eyes open. For the nurse, if you're a napper. For the napper, if you're a caffeine addict like me. For the guy on crutches, who'll argue with you for a little while about it. For the lady in heels (maybe she


to wear them for some reason). For the elderly. For the family. That makes you a hero, for the littlest while. But who knows? It may also help you reconnect a bit before you go back to conquering the world on your cell phone.

And just one final and specific point I'd like to make in closing. Some might argue that it is the entire purpose of my meandering exposition, and some of those same may accuse me of out-dated modes of thinking, but I will have my point made regardless. If you are male, between the ages of 13 and 60, and of reasonable fitness, and have the benefit of a seat when a pregnant woman enters the subway car, give up your seat. Right. The fuck. Now.


Fourteen is a dangerous age for boys. Things get a bit incongruous, just when you start to think you've got a few things figured out about how life and other people work. In my case, I also switched schools and had some new health complications that left me feeling pretty unstable, even hormones aside. So it may not exactly come as a surprise that I soon began spending my unsupervised afternoons after school at a large storm-drain tunnel with friends, learning how to blow things up.

Amateur arson is of interest to most boys, and I and my friend were boy scouts anyway, so we were well acquainted with some of the more expressive properties of fire. Burning plastic action figures was a popular form of this expression. One day while we were messing around with an open flame in his backyard, his brother pitched a small aerosol can onto the fire. We ran for cover, but after some uneventful time, his brother went to investigate. Lucky for him (and us) the bottle was nearly empty of whatever it had once sprayed, because it blew apart with a loud pop but only a small hiccup of flame. Giddy laughter ensued, and so did our afternoon sojourns to the tunnel.

It ran under

Burke Center Parkway

, and always had a little bit of a stream running through it connecting one of the many creeks that ran through the woods of our hometown. The walls were adorned with hasty graffiti at either end, and you could stand in the center and still have almost a foot from your head to the ceiling. We'd lay out a few wet logs for a baseboard to suspend our fire over the rivulet that ran through the tunnel, then set to burning a few disposable artifacts from my friend's vast collection of forgotten toys. We quickly realized that, though the smell wasn't exactly what you would call rewarding, burning plastic could make a very hot, very long-lasting flame.

I can't recall if it was our first trip there or not, but one day I brought a few spray paint cans harvested from my mother's craft collection in our basement. We set a few of our boyhood toys burning into a significant little inferno, and laid a large, full can of red spray paint in it. Then we ran for cover. I remember in particular that I and another of the hangers-on who were drawn to pyrotechnics ran a little too far to see, so we cautiously marched back a bit to see my friend's brother once again being the first to approach the as-yet uneventful inferno.

The tunnel amplified and directed the sound of the explosion, firing sound waves northeast and southwest and a jolt through our chest cavities. A belch of heat followed. A bright orange ball of flame worthy of Hollywood expanded from the fire, and a host of boys shouted in sudden, unabashed surprise. It would inspire us with its terror, and our experiments in delinquency from there on out would grow more and more bold and irresponsible. We thought we understood what a miraculous bit of grace it was that my friend's brother came away completely unscathed, but we didn't really. I don't think there was a single one of us who could have conceived of the reality of that kind of crisis.

Some ten years later, I returned to rehearsal on the debut of an original comedy entitled

The Center of Gravity

. It was a broad-strokes comedy with existential underpinnings, set in small-town Texas. Nevertheless, it was obvious to us now that we would need to change several references to "ground zero," a term that had less personal implication to us just a few days prior. What wasn't immediately obvious was how bad the air quality in lower Manhattan - where we were rehearsing in a free, abandoned office space in the West Village - would be. I was the one to call it quits first. We were losing precious days of rehearsal, and there was a certain shared ethic at the time of "getting back to it," but I could feel the particulates in my throat and the smell was everywhere.

After about an hour of watching the news and the Science Channel's series on rebuilding on the World Trade Center site, I stepped out of my apartment building in Queens today to buy a coffee from the Italian bakery down 30th Avenue. It was gray out, but cool and not humid, and I took a moment to look up and down the avenue. I smelled something familiar - synthetic materials burning, definitely some plastic. It seemed to be strongest up the avenue, away from Manhattan, which was both comforting and confusing. The first thing I looked for was panicked people. I have an instinct for this now, whether it's in person or on Twitter, as I did a couple of weeks ago when the office building I work in started swaying with the aftershocks of an earthquake.

A family was out on their stoop, chatting away. A woman in a red t-shirt looked at me as she walked by. No one was panicked. No one was coming out of their buildings to look around like me, no one was crying, holding one another or hunched over the open window of a parked car, listening to the radio. No one was walking determinedly away from somewhere, or even in a daze, wandering as though searching. After a few seconds, I decided that either it was a minor burning somewhere or I had simply imagined it. I'm not normally given to that kind of suggestion, but it wasn't inconceivable. I left my stoop to get my coffee.

Coffee's all done now, and instead of starting the dozen things I intend to do today, I've written this. While writing, my sister called to see if she could spend the night tonight on her way from Cape Cod down to her home in Baltimore. I'm grateful for that. I've missed her since she moved away from the city a couple of years ago, and I think the personal impact of today's anniversary is something I'm having some trouble articulating for myself. Sisters are good for clarity, whether anything ever really gets figured out or not.

I'm seeing a lot of people sharing their thoughts and feelings today, and I'd just as soon have kept mine private. Particularly because I can't really tell you what they are, exactly. I'm very lucky, and very grateful, to have made it this far in life intact, with so many of my friends and family still with me. I think gratitude is a thing we can always use more of, especially in the face of tragedy or inexplicable circumstances. It's a good emotion from which to make decisions and judgments.

Thank you.

"Commence, au festival(s)!"

It seems I can't stay away from festivals. Play festivals, that is (which, sidenote here, should really involve more traditional "festival" elements: streamers, confetti, [more] libidinous excess, etc.).

Love Me

and the

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity

have wrapped up - with some very nice houses and a

good review

, I might add - and I am in rehearsal for another festival with a play called

Laid Plans

. This one is a part of

The Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival

(henceforth, "The SFOOBSPF") and is a mere thirty minutes long, which is good, because it's in concert with several other short pieces in its time slot.

The best part about being a part of a festival is how much gets taken care of for you. You have venue and some basic facility provisions, likely some advertising, more appeal for reviewers to make the trip and a certain amount of additional credibility. I don't know how strictly scripts are vetted from one festival to another, but odds are that plays that have to pass any kind of screening at all are likely to be safer bets for an audience than ones produced solely by the playwright. The worst part about being a part of a festival is the following conversation:

"Hey! I'm seeing your show tonight!"

"Hey! I'm pretty sure you aren't!"

"What? Why?"

"We don't have a show tonight."

"But it's Friday."

"Yeah, I know. We have one Sunday."

"Oh; okay. A matinee?"

"Sort of. It starts at 2:00."

"I can do that!"


"Two o'clock in the morning?"

"Yeah. Give or take 15 minutes, of course, given that the show before us has to dismantle their lasers before we can even enter the space to set up."


"Hey, don't worry: You can catch my next production."

"Oh good, cool. When does it run?"

"Saturday, July 17, at 9:00. PM. And


the next day, depending on how well we do."

Theatre festivals invariably involve some ridiculously tight and erratic scheduling in order to take full advantage of taking over one or more theatres for a few weeks. This has a certain charm when you have the reputation of

one of the Fringe festivals

, and even in that case it gets pretty confusing pretty fast, and productions still end up having to oblige seats with butts for some impossibly impractical showtimes. Still, they're fun, and there's something pleasing about being a part of something larger in this way. "Larger still," I should say, since being a part of any production is being a part of something more than oneself. Layers upon layers, people...

I've never participated in The SFOOBSPF before, and am looking forward to discovering how it all works. Planet Connections I found to be rather similar to my two FringeNYC experiences (

As Far As We Know


La Vigilia

) in terms of practical concerns, though generally more focused in purpose and rather better organized--simply because it is less sprawling than the Fringe. The utterly strange thing is the possibility of performing the play only once. It reminds me of high school productions or, more accurately, elementary school ones. It seems an awful lot of work for one, ultimately rather static performance. On the other hand, the stakes for getting a good show off should be nice and motivating.