Archive for March, 2008

Tue 25 Mar 2008 6:54 am   //   Posted in: Books

Enough with the six words already!

My friend Ned Vizzini is among those who contributed to the book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, the SMITH Magazine project recently featured in The New Yorker and probably lots of other places. The concept is pretty simple: Write a six-word story about your life.

Ned and other writers will be reading their six-word memoirs at KGB tonight at 7.

Curiously, the KGB event page misidentifies the subtitle of the book as “Sex-Word Memoirs.” Come to think of it, that’s a way better idea. Here’s mine:

Only thought of five words. Fuck!

More brainstorms welcome in the comments.

Mon 24 Mar 2008 7:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Failure

This Ikea is going to suck

Ikea, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York

Why am I all hating on the Brooklyn Ikea before it’s even open? Two reasons.

1. Big box stores, even good ones, fall to pieces in Brooklyn. (Exhibit A: The Atlantic Terminal Target.)

2. There’s no way to get to it. Every Ikea I have ever seen sits next to an Interstate ramp. Not this one. It’s built on an old shipping pier. The F train is a 20-minute walk away. Cars (and delivery trucks and buses) will have to negotiate a labyrinth of four-way stops on the Red Hook street grid. The photo above – no kidding – shows the main road in. Can you picture this street the day after Thanksgiving?

More photos:


Sat 22 Mar 2008 1:33 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Food & drink, Hard times

Hard times

The cost of a bagel at my neighborhood shop just went from 80 cents to $1.

Explanation? High wheat prices.

Sat 22 Mar 2008 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Holga, Photos

Roosevelt Island lighthouse



Fri 21 Mar 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn

Let’s put on a show

Today at 7:30 is the annual Good Friday Passion Play at my church, St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Lutheran in Park Slope.

This play is more proof that Brooklyn is just a big small town. Every member of the congregation who possesses even a shred of theatrical talent is pressed into service. And they serve with gusto. Soloists solo, children clap, dancers dance, the choir sings, musicians play, and people who never show up for anything else drop by the church on a Friday night to watch.

I will be there, but you won’t see me on stage. I’m reprising my role as spotlight operator.

Thu 20 Mar 2008 5:00 pm   //   Posted in: Art

In defense of the fence

My friend Tim alerted me to a controversial public art project that just went up in Baltimore: “Framing Mount Vernon Place.”

An artist named Lee Freeman erected a gold-colored chain-link fence around the four segments of the Mount Vernon park in Baltimore, one of that city’s nicest public spaces. The fence will remain up for two weeks. The artist describes it as a way to force people to look at the park from a different perspective — outside of it. It’s also a mockery of Baltimore’s yuppiest neighborhood, though the artist doesn’t say so.

The fence has led to an outcry from residents who want their park back. A protest was planned. A Sun critic called it “bad art.”

I love Freeman’s project. I haven’t seen it myself, so I can’t judge it aesthetically. But I’m in awe at the artist’s deft skill at grabbing publicity and stirring the pot. Art controversies usually involve things that are conventionally “offensive,” like nudity or profanity or sacrilege. But what’s more offensive than a pointless fence right in the middle of somebody’s way – not for construction or repairs or safety, but for simple ego? Bonus: It’s offensive art people can talk about with anybody, even their children!

What impresses me most is that the artist somehow conned the powers-that-be into letting him seize an entire public park for two weeks! Baltimore, you are so punk’d!

Wed 19 Mar 2008 11:10 pm   //   Posted in: TV commericals, Videos

I buy my Skittles downstairs like everybody else

I enjoy the dark, disturbing nature of Skittles commercials. Video:

More here, here and here.

Wed 19 Mar 2008 9:39 pm   //   Posted in: Media

How we write news obituaries

I had to turn around an obituary about a photographer fairly quickly today. People often assume obituaries are a miserable chore. In fact, writing them is one of the most interesting and important parts of my job. We occasionally prepare an obituaries in advance for noteworthy individuals who are near the ends of their lives, but that’s rare. Most of them we write from scratch on deadline.

An obituary usually starts with a tip – a rumor or an e-mail from a friend or coworker of the person. Word of deaths spreads quickly, and everyone in the office knows to contact me as soon as they hear a rumor of a death. Word of a noteworthy death usually reaches our ears within a day; sometimes we don’t hear about the more obscure ones for a week or two. Sometimes, like today, we see the news first on some other news site and play catch-up.

The next step is to confirm with certainty that the person has died. Direct contact with an employer or family member is preferable; failing that I’m usually comfortable citing a trustworthy news source like the Associated Press. We got a tip recently that a famous photographer had died. I checked a reference book and found that indeed he had died – in 1979.

Once the death is confirmed, I will post a one-sentence bulletin on our blog. Then, research. I Google the subject’s name. I check books on our shelves and look the name up in our magazine’s archive. (Issues before 2000 require digging through print copies stacked in a storage closet.)

Then I begin making phone calls. This varies in every situation, but it isn’t as bad as you think. When calling people who might not know the subject of the obituary has died, a good place to start is “I’m sorry if I’m the first to tell you this, but–.”

For family members and close friends, I always offer condolences and explain exactly what I’m doing. I usually ask for the person to talk about the subject’s personality – that’s where good quotes come from. It’s strange how people are so forthcoming with some personal details, but not with others. I often have to pressure people to tell me the cause of death and the subject’s age. Survivors feel uncomfortable giving that information up, but I an obituary is incomplete without it. Nontraditional family situations are never easy. Was the person married? Were there any children? People often won’t answer those questions. If the person is gay, forget it.

I’m of the opinion that it should all go in the story – divorces, boyfriends, girlfriends, out-of-wedlock children, the whole sum of what the person loved. We need this both for the historical record and to understand the person. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Survivors, having just felt the utter powerlessness of loss, are trying to regain any kind of control over the situation, and controlling information about their loved one is one way that takes shape. I often omit interesting personal facts because sources tell me the information and then insist that I not publish it. Sometimes I push back, sometimes I try to cross-check with a second source, but more often I just let it go.

When the full obituary is ready, my editor gives it a quick read and we publish it online as soon as possible. Two hours is a typical turn-around time. Today I learned of the death at 4 p.m. and we had a 650-word, multi-source obituary online by 6:30. I always hope it’s a fitting tribute to the person, and that our readers will enjoy it and learn something about life.

Wed 19 Mar 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Media

Kollege of Kommunications

Every year, my alma mater mails me an invitation to a student recruiting fair. Since I’m in no position to hire anybody, I never go. But it’s a nice idea, and a smart way to build the school’s reputation. Here’s the flier they sent out this year:



One thing about media people, though. Lots of us used to be (or are) copy editors.



Yeeeah. I guess we all make mistake’s.

Tue 18 Mar 2008 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn


FugetaboutitLet’s be real here. Nobody in Brooklyn actually says “fuhgeddaboudit.” It’s only useful if you’re trying to sound like a mobster, and most of us aren’t.

Considering how people here actually talk, I propose a new Brooklynism:


Try it the next time you see an old friend (“Marty, long time, howahya?”), order breakfast (“Howahya? Gimme a large coffee, two sugars”), or answer the phone (“Howahya!”).