A memorable Halloween

The city is postponing this year’s Greenwich Village Halloween parade until this coming Sunday, but the really scary part has already happened. Alas, not everyone survived the ravages of Sandy — dozens of people were killed by the storm.

Fortunately, for most people in Manhattan the after-effects have varied from none to mild annoyance (losing electricity) to more than mild annoyance (losing electricity and water). My building is in the mild annoyance category.

Thanks to the very prompt and professional response by the city, the effects have been minimized, and there has been no disorder at all that I have seen. I even walked by a U.S. army truck full of soldiers in field dress, which I found quite comforting — it tells me that the Federal Government is helping NY to get back on its feet.

New Yorkers, I have come to learn, are a hardy bunch. We’ve survived some pretty horrific stuff, and we have a way of sticking together when things get tough. This has indeed been a memorable Halloween. With any luck, our Halloweens to come will be a little less memorable.


“Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us.”

      — Bruce Springsteen

Last night an unearthly aurora filled the sky, lighting up the raging storm-tossed air from my Greenwich Village window. Sandy has apparently been downgraded from a “hurricane” to a “super storm”, but she certainly hasn’t lacked for ambition.

The glow, it turned out, was from the explosion of an electrical power station, which knocked out electricity for a third of Manhattan — including here. I took a walk out today with my visitor from Scotland (who is quite accustomed to raging storms), and we came upon a building that had been completely blown out, the entire front wall gone, turned to bits of rubble strewn upon the street. We are guessing that this is the site of the explosion. I’m not used to seeing this sort of vision in Manhattan. Apocalyptic indeed.

Apparently the electricity may be out for a week, perhaps more. Fortunately civilization is but a walk uptown away. It’s strange to live in a city become so eerily quiet, all stores and restaurants shuttered, and yet be able to stroll for twenty minutes to arrive at life as usual.

Ah well, thanks to a thoughtful friend we have our huge supply of candles, matches and ready flashlight, and civilization is near enough that foraging for food will be no hardship.

I suspect Halloween tomorrow will be even more joyous than usual. A day for New Yorkers to dress up and laugh at make-believe dangers will find itself particularly welcome this year.

Apocalypse and canned goods

“Ooh, Sandy
Could we spend the day together?
You know how rainy weather
Gets me down when I’m alone
You, Sandy
You gotta be a friend today”

      — The Carpenters

Waiting here in New York City for Hurricane Sandy to sweep up the Atlantic coast, while everyone stocks up on canned food and candles just in case things go badly, it’s hard not to think of “The Walking Dead”, and how easily disaster can move from TV reality to actual reality.

Apropos of apocalypse and canned goods, my cousin sent me this delightful video, courtesy of my current favorite genius, Joss Whedon:


Cash value

I got in a taxi this morning, and the taxi driver asked me whether it was ok if I paid in cash. He explained that their computer system is down, so using a credit card would be problematic.

I replied “Sure, cash works.”

Then I thought about it a bit more, and I added “If cash stops working, we’re all in trouble.”

In that moment it occurred to me how much I take for granted that I live in a country with a stable monetary system. For all of the recent political talk in the the U.S. about which political party is hell-bent on destroying the economy (universal answer: The other party), we actually take quite a bit for granted here.

Everyone in the U.S. can be confident that the twenty dollar bill in their pocket is still going to represent pretty much the same value after a week or a month. There have been many times and places in the world where that has very much not been true.

Perhaps we should take a moment, between all of the shouting and finger pointing in the lead-up to our forthcoming election, to count our blessings.

Novel ideas

Once again I am thinking I am going to take the NaNoWriMo challenge. The goal is to write a complete novel between November 1 and November 30.

Thousands of people do this each year, although I’m not sure how many write their novels as daily public blog entries. What I like about writing a novel as a series of blog posts is the aspect of shared discovery — you find out what happens pretty much when I do.

Ideas are bubbling in my head, but I don’t want them to do more than bubble. Rather, I’d like to see how the novel unfolds over the course of the month as the characters tell me who they really are and what they want to do.

I am thinking I will incorporate various thoughts and ideas from commenters on this blog (some of you have made some wonderful comments). Other than that, I will do my best to stay out of the characters’ way as they go about their business.

On the map

I am currently staying on a friend’s boat in L.A. Out of curiosity, I decided to find out exactly where this is. Thanks to Google Maps, I now know that I am writing these words inside the boat at the center of the below satellite photograph:

I’m tempted to walk outside with my computer onto the deck and wave to the sky, then look at my computer to see whether little me shows up on the satellite image. Of course I know this isn’t how it works, but the illusion is intriguing.

As Moore’s Law continues its inexorable march, some day soon the technology may very support just this scenario. But if I can always get a live feed of myself wherever I am in the world, so can everyone else. Is that really something I want?

Things will ramp up even further if millions of people start wearing the descendants of Google Glass.

How will we negotiate this as a society? Will extend laws that shield privacy, or will we simply change our way of thinking about the whole topic?

Maybe simply existing in the world will come to be thought of the way we currently think of accepting an invitation to a social event: If you didn’t want people to see you, you shouldn’t have come to the party.

Under development

To: AMC Television Networks programming management
Re: New series development

We believe that we are on the trail of an exciting new series concept, although the exact title remains elusive. Following are some of the more promising ideas we have been batting around.

As always, your suggestions and feedback are welcome.

The writing staff

The Gawking Dead: The recently deceased rise from the grave and stare at us.

The Stalking Dead: The dead crawl out of cemeteries everywhere, and proceed to follow us around. But we never see them because they are really good at remaining unnoticed.

The Sporking Dead: A strange fog descends upon the earth. When it has lifted, millions of recently dead people are found wandering the cities and the countryside, clutching eating utensils. Scientists are unable to determine whether these utensils are spoons or forks. Panic ensues.

The Hawking Dead: Zombies return from the dead and try to sell us stuff. [Editor’s note: There may be opportunities here for product tie-ins. Also, has anyone contacted Stephen Hawking’s people?]

The Dworkin Dead: A mysterious world-wide virus causes the dead to return to life en masse with a raised feminist conscience. Half of them wage war upon the other half, whose consciences they feel have not been sufficiently raised.

The Walken Dead: All over the world, dead people rise from their graves and begin doing impressions of Christopher Walken. After only a week of this, everyone else has committed suicide, and civilization as we know it comes to an end.

Fast forward

When I was growing up, a TV show was something you watched gradually. Each week you would wait patiently for a particular time slot, and only then would you get to see the further adventures of your favorite fictional characters.

The arc of any given make-believe universe could take five or even seven years to run its course, during which everyone on the show would slowly get older. For example, actors who started as children would gradually grow up, week after month after year, and end up playing the young adult version of their character.

Eventually producers came up with the brilliant “something for everyone” concept in shows like “The Brady Bunch” and “The Waltons”, casting a boy and a girl on screen for each age range among the audience. This made it much nicer for entire families to watch together. For every child in your family, at least one character in the show was their own (gradually changing) age.

Now, with such a plethora of TV shows available instantly on the Internet, I know almost nobody anymore who watches TV this way. We all find a show we like on sites like NetFlix — often a show that was cancelled some years earlier — and do triage on the entire series. Children become grown-ups, while grown-ups age, right before our eyes. In the course of perhaps several weeks we can watch an entire series of four or five seasons or more.

A representation of life is being played out before our eyes in extreme fast forward. In the long run, I wonder what this will do to our sense of reality.

Fated friendships

I had dinner tonight with a friend whom I first met multiple times. The first of these first times was on the New York City subway. I had recognized him from a public access TV show he’d hosted, and I approached him to tell him how much I had enjoyed it. My friend does not recall this momentary meeting.

The second of these first times occurred some years later. I was walking down the isle of an airplane, on a flight to a vacation on a Florida beach. I happened to be wearing a teeshirt upon which were printed the names of contributors to Cahiers du Cinéma, souvenir of a trip to Paris the summer previous.

Seeing me pass by his row thus attired, my future acquaintance asked “Are you going to the festival?” Turns out there was an international french film festival in Florida that week, in the very city I was traveling to. He and I ended up becoming great friends, and have remained so for many years.

I’ve had a number of friendships that started this way — as though the Universe had decided that we were supposed to meet, and kept working to make it happen.

Could it be that some friendships are simply fated to be? The whole topic reminds me of the metaphysics of the 2009 Star Trek movie.

If you follow the logic of that film’s screenplay, it is clear that Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the others all exist in an infinite number of parallel universes. These universes differ from each other in many ways, and the lives of the various characters can be dramatically altered from one universe to the next.

Yet in every single one of these possible universes, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise will end up coming together, to form the ragtag family we love. In a sense, that’s actually the theme of the film.

Maybe this is true in real life as well. If a friendship sees the light of day in even one universe, then in every other universe, the Sun also rises on that friendship.

In any case, as Papa Hemingway once said, isn’t it pretty to think so?

The strange alchemy of songs

I have always been amazed how great songs — the right combination of words and music — have the peculiar power that they do.

There are moments in some songs that can utterly transport me to another emotional plane. Yet if I merely listen to the music in an instrumental version, or if I look only at the lyrics, nothing happens. The magic occurs only when the two are combined.

For example, Judy Collins’ cover of the Ian Tyson classic “Someday Soon” contains one moment near the end that thrills me, no matter how many times I listen to it. You can hear it in this video. In the refrain that starts around 2:58, when she sings the word “California”, I just melt.

I suspect this may be partly because of the way her voice in this passage becomes more wistful, tempering the excitement of awaiting her true love with the intuition that life won’t be perfect even after he returns (you have to listen to the entire song to get the full effect).

This sudden increase in emotional complexity makes the tale feel more vivid and alive and true, lifting it beyond a mere love story.

I don’t think such a thing could be achieved with mere words or music alone. Only through the strange alchemy of songs.