Betty Buckley @ Joe’s Pub

There was a time, a couple of iPhones ago, when the iPhone I had played ghost music at random every once in a while. I would be sitting on a bus, or at home, minding my own beeswax, and music would spontaneously burst forth from this otherwise silent machine. There was no rhyme or reason to it—it happened only rarely and seemed unrelated to anything I’d recently been listening to—so I didn’t think much about it until SarahB and I were coming out of a theater one night, chatting as we made our way down the sidewalk, when she suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “I think I hear Betty Buckley coming from your bag.”

Anyway. At the risk of sounding pretentious (FYI not a crime), I will quote myself:

Betty's voice scares me sometimes, like getting a jolt from an electric fence and then stepping on a rake right before you stumble into a hole that might be your own grave. But in a good way.

In the best possible way.

The most distinctive voices are seldom the prettiest, and the music and we the listeners are better for it. I’m not saying her voice isn’t beautiful—it’s gorgeous—only that “pretty” as a meter of quality is oversold. It's surface shine. Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Pretty isn’t beautiful… / Pretty is what changes / What the eye arranges / Is what is beautiful” (yes, there’s a Sondheim for everything), and this is true of the ear, as well. The hard wire of Betty’s voice, her habit of moving between singing and speaking in the same line and lingering on a syllable a beat longer than expected, are what make her sound like no one else, are what carry the songs through a room, through a radio, through a speaker or headphone, and turn them into stories. For me that's a gift and a fine grace, forever & ever, amen. 

She sang this one last night (written by Lisa Loeb, and also included on her Bootleg album), along with some Steely Dan, a couple by T Bone Burnett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Joni Mitchell:

I've already employed every superlative I can think of to describe the experience of seeing Betty Buckley perform live with my dear friend SarahB at my side—from year to year to year, from Town Hall to Feinstein's to Birdland to the Blue Note to Joe's Pub—so all I have left is this: together they form one of the best markers of my time here, of what I wanted my life in this city to be. I'm awed by these chances still, and by their good company, and will be forever grateful.

Life on the Upper West Side

This is from cartoonist Roz Chast in the New York Times (long story short: it’s all true): 

The Upper West Side, by contrast, offered good diners and lousy restaurants, a beguilingly terrible supermarket, zero cool bars or boutiques — nothing, in short, to attract people who do not live there.

“I really, really like that,” she said. “When I go home after being in Midtown or even the Village, the vibe is so much more people going about their business — I need to buy shoelaces, or I need to buy a new wastebasket and some hangers, and then I’m going to go home. It’s not like, Hey, there’s this new hip restaurant on West 83rd street. I don’t think so. I really doubt that.”

Source: Roz Chast Is New Yorkier Than You ...

Last night in New York City

You can watch Dame Judi Dench here for free; it cost us $50 a piece and was worth it ("how could anything involving Judi Dench not be worth it?" is one of my general rules for living).

She told a dirty Merchant of Venice story and taught us a new word ("the irrational fear of being stared at by a duck": anatidaephobia). There were the usual boneheads determined to relay their own life history during the audience Q&A portion of the event, which is always a mistake, and for some reason the first lady up to the mike thought it would be a good idea to bring Dame Judi Dench two books to read (one on the art of losing [?!] and the other a collection of poetry by Wisława Szymborska [who I personally adore]), neither of which, I am quite sure, ever made it into the hands of Dame Judi Dench. C'est la vie. Stars are not your friends, ma'am. This should never be news to people.

Afterward SarahB and I stopped for a nightcap at a magical restaurant called Thalassa, which at 8:30 on a Monday was light on eaters but generously staffed: she ordered a glass of rosé and I had a Greek lager, and both were refilled by the bartender for free, along with a plate of cheese and a small dish of fresh, plump, oily olives. We had a lovely old time chatting, and when we finally exited we were each handed a bottle of water and a tiny to-go bag filled with cookies. It was one of those delightful New York City eves that are worth savoring, and we did! We really did.

Then we hit the streets for a ride home, which you can enjoy right here, also for free.

Notes on Tuesday, September 12

I left early this morning so I could vote in the NYC primary before work, only my voting location was not where I expected it to be (I was one block and one school short. Why are there so many blocks and schools in this town?). I decided to vote after work instead but realized I'd left my MTA pass in the jacket I was unexpectedly wearing yesterday so I had to haul my whole ass back up four flights of fucking stairs to fetch it. (There was less cursing than you might expect, illustrating some true personal growth on my part.) Then I decided I was too mad to take the M7 down Columbus so I took the M10 down Central Park West instead. This turned out to be a wise decision, since who couldn't use a 20-block-long view of Central Park first thing in the morning once in a while? Especially in late-late summer in sharp, vaguely humid sunshine? Come on, the answer is nobody. There isn't a single person in the world who wouldn't make that deal.

<<Work work work work work work>>

After work I voted because SarahB would never speak to me again if I did not, and also because I believe people who don't vote are idiots. It's literally the easiest thing you can do as a citizen of this country. The polls are open from 6am to 9pm, which is a pretty wide spectrum, although if you're working more than 15 hours somewhere you may obviously be excused. All other things considered, though, it's a low bar to meet.

After voting I went to Barnes & Noble to see Robin Sloan read from his new book, Sourdough. I've been a fan of Internet Robin Sloan for a very long time (he used to have quite an active blog) and have been a fan of Novelist Robin Sloan since Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which is as charming as its title. He has a background in tech (he once worked at Twitter) and a broad curiosity about a lot of things, which I find refreshing, particularly in this fractious socioeconomic climate, and his views on technology today tilt toward optimism without excluding what came before: he's both forward-looking and backward-grateful. He revels in imagination and appreciation and finding use for things. He signed books after the reading and stamped them with the GPS code of the exact location of the bookstore, which was delightful and also a very Robin Sloan thing to do. More superheroes should be like Robin Sloan.

Then I shelled out some heavy clams for a bunch of books, and here's why:

Transit notes

I left work early because it rained most of the day and when it rains all bets are off. Three packed D trains in a row might show up and I'll be standing on the platform forever (or ~15 minutes). Sometimes I think they just forget to send the B train through. I imagine it re-routing through Pittsburgh somehow, or winding through the Catskills, and since nobody ever looks up from their phones, how would they even know? They could be sailing across the Adriatic Sea. But it was there when I reached the bottom of the stairs, and only modestly packed, two small public service miracles. I was home by 5:50.

.  .  .  .  .  

The young woman sitting across from me had a wrinkled Sephora bag tucked between her feet. Her hair was long and dark and I could see out of the corner of my eye her head pitching forward, over and over, as she tried to keep from falling asleep. Finally she gave up and pulled out her phone. The universe's great multi-tool: I hope it saved her.

In today’s times

My newspaper never showed up yesterday, even after I logged into my NYT digital account to report it missing and asked that another be delivered. It stressed me out all day, this kink in my weekend routine. It threw everything off balance. I took the bus down to see a 2:00 showing of Logan Lucky, but that was sold out so I bought a ticket for the 3:00 instead. I wandered around Lincoln Center for an hour, sitting in the plaza next to the Met and then sitting on the concrete steps outside Alice Tully Hall. There was nobody around. I ate one of those enormous, hugely messy Wafels & Dinges wafels slathered with Nutella (a mistake) and listened to Krista Tippett interview Nikki Giovanni. I watched the traffic from on high for a while:

At 2:50 I reported back to the theater and was told the 3:00 had been canceled. Technical problems, they said. I got a refund & a free ticket for some other time, so I walked home. It was disappointing but not. By then I was so dazed by sugar that I felt sort of blank. I stopped at Book Culture and bought Nikki Giovanni's Chasing Utopia, so the day was giving after all. Somehow the paper knew how it would go.

Today's Times arrived as scheduled (by 7:30, as I prefer), and I found many non-news items to enjoy. It's still strangely cool outside, and it was gray and misty and quiet, as I also prefer.

Exhibit A: Paul Newman's Rolex is coming up for auction and is expected to fetch at least $10 million, which would amuse no one more than Paul Newman:

“As far as he was concerned, it was a tool,” Ms. Newman said. “He definitely didn’t have a strong attachment to things.”

Meet and greets are usually reserved for performers early in their career, or for those trying to hold on to one. This is not the way Ms. Dion works.

She gives all of herself. She doesn’t want to sound pretentious. She doesn’t want to sound like Mother Teresa. “But they tell me, ‘Don’t talk too much,’ because I’ll make myself sick,” she said. This is difficult for her, to hold back. If you’ve ever seen her perform, if you’ve seen her speak publicly, or if you watched Ms. Dion furiously wipe tears from her cheeks as she spoke about Hurricane Katrina (that video is now making the rounds again because of the Houston flooding), you know this to be true.

Exhibit C: Jason Fried on hiring (Basecamp is my #1 wishlist workplace, but tragically for us all, I am no techie):

Our top hiring criteria — in addition to having the skills to do the job — is, are you a great writer? You have to be a great writer to work here, in every single position, because the majority of our communication is written, primarily because a lot of us work remotely but also because writing is quieter. And we like long-form writing where people really think through an idea and present it.

Exhibit D: this lady at an art show in the Hamptons:

You’re a shoe designer. Are those your shoes?

No. I am a big fan of what they call old lady shoes. These are like orthopedic sandals, you know, for an old lady like me.

I wouldn’t have known. They look kind of chic.

Style has nothing to do with money. I have very eclectic taste, and I don’t spend more than $5 for anything. So it’s called the $5 rule.

Exhibit E: Laura Shapiro on Instagramming your food:

Could Instagram capture today’s version of that story? Could it zero in on the third consecutive night of frozen tacos or the mug of milky Sanka that makes you feel like somebody’s grandfather but has become an unexpected nighttime addiction? Next time you eat a meal that’s certain to be forgettable, that’s the very moment to pull out your phone and hit “share.”

Walking home after the movies

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My favorite block in New York City is Columbus between 67th and 68th. There's something about the shade on the sidewalk as the light hits the trees, and the red brick apartment building and the orange awning over the wine shop, and the fact that it's a wine shop. I tried to shop for wine there once but the aisles were exceptionally narrow and I was afraid of causing destruction with my overeager stride. But the block is perfect.

Another time I waited for a bus across the street and overheard one woman telling another woman that she had to move out of that red brick building soon because the rent had gone up, and we all sighed together simultaneously even though I wasn't even part of the conversation. 

There's a post office on the opposite corner, and the AMC Loews Lincoln Square cinema is a short block away. I've seen an insane number of movies there, dating back to The Holiday on January 1, 2007, and I have the many Swarms to prove it. The best Barnes & Noble in the world used to be just down the street, too, where the literate and lazy would sprawl out on the floor and read theater books and where I once saw the cast from the revival of Company perform a few hits from Company, but that store closed in early 2011 because nothing gold can stay.