August 16, 2009

Tacky, as in sticky

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:10 PM

As you may have heard, the City of New York has decided to turn Times Square into a pedestrian plaza (on a trial basis), and closed down Broadway between 42nd and 47th Streets starting this May. (Seventh Avenue remains open to traffic.) In the newly opened space, the city intended to place some tables and chairs, but the permanent versions had yet to arrive. So instead they bought some garishly colored lawn chairs from a Brooklyn hardware store.

I thought the lawn chairs were fantastic, but not everyone agreed: apparently they were pretty controversial. I guess the objection was supposed to be that they're tacky, since tackiness was a quality unprecedented in Times Square before their arrival. Anyway, the complainants can rest easy, as the new furniture is coming in and all the lawn chairs have been removed. All, that is, except for those that were incorporated into a public art installation this weekend to commemorate the lawn chair era. The sculpture is by artist Jason Peters and looks like this:

lawn chair katamari

So, this Jason Peters wouldn't happen to be four inches tall and green? Because it looks like he rolled up a big lawn chair katamari. Run, tourists! He'll be rolling you up next!

(From other angles it looks less like a katamari: it's more like a 180-degree arc of lawn chairs. Like most sculpture, it looks better in reality than in photos. But if you want to see it, you only have three hours: it's coming down at 9pm tonight.)

May 9, 2009

Cycle of life

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:05 PM

Today I decided to test the notion that you never forget how to ride a bicycle. In my case it had been about 20 years since I last rode a bike, so it seemed plausible that I might actually have forgotten. It turned out that while I was pretty inept when I got on the bike today, I was almost certainly better than I would have been had I never learned in the first place. It took intense concentration, but I managed to avoid falling over, colliding with anything, or ending up in the Hudson River (it turns out the trail has no guardrail between about 100th and 125th streets).

Some thoughts about the re-learning process:

I used a rented bike today, but I'm contemplating buying one. Anyone know a good bike shop in Manhattan?

January 18, 2009

Games of New York

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:20 PM

I was walking along Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village today when I was surprised to spot someone running a shell game. Not some metaphorical shell game with sketchy accounting practices, but an actual shell game. With soda bottle caps. Maybe it's just my naivete about the Big City, but I always imagined that while shell games probably went on in old-timey New York, the con artists moved on to a new scam once the phrase "shell game" entered the language as a synonym for cheating. But there it was, and Wikipedia confirms that shell games are still run "at locations with a high tourist concentration."

Still, I'm shocked there are people who don't know this is a scam. Maybe it's a sign of the dire economic times: 50-billion-dollar Ponzi schemes are out, shell games played on a cardboard box are in.

Permalink | Tags: Games, New York City

November 9, 2008

Central Park in fall

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:45 PM

bridge and leaves, originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

The weather today was great (and much warmer than when I came here to interview a year ago), so I went to Central Park and took some photos of the autumn colors. It's not like we didn't have deciduous trees in Berkeley, but it was nothing like this. (And this pales in comparison to what you get in the more wooded areas of New England, but those aren't half a mile from my apartment.)

The first of today's photos is here, and you can browse them in my New York City set.

Permalink | Tags: New York City, Photos

August 19, 2008

Riverside Park South

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:27 PM

derelict, originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

There's a new section of Riverside Park South that officially opened today. It's on my usual running route, but has been fenced off, so I was pleased to see on Saturday that the fences had been taken down. In fact, it was open to pedestrians over the weekend even though it wasn't quite finished (they were doing some final landscaping yesterday morning). I was inspired to walk up the Hudson and take a few pictures, finishing up at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. I didn't actually take any pictures of the new park section itself, and concentrated more on the river.

(As an aside: I promise this blog will get less NYC-centric in the future! Most of my attention lately has been divided between exploring the city and starting my new job--and I can't blog about the latter, hence the focus on the city. But as I get more settled in I will have other topics to write about.)

Permalink | Tags: New York City, Photos

August 18, 2008

Windows crashing in Times Square

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:43 PM

So now New York pedestrians have to worry not only about falling cranes, but plates of glass descending from the sky. To be honest that possibility had occurred to me while admiring some of the skyscrapers under construction, but it's still disconcerting to know that it happens. Luckily the New York Times has an article on strategies people are using to avoid the deadly objects raining from the sky in this city. Which mostly boils down to "don't walk under sketchy-looking scaffolding," a point which might have seemed obvious. On the other hand, it's difficult not to walk under sketchy-looking scaffolding around here.

Still, it's a little silly. Of all the ways New York can kill you, falling windowpanes are in the same category as giant monster attacks: sure, they seem scary, but the chances of actually being killed by one are low. In the latest instance (of falling glass, not monsters), no one was hurt despite the window falling in Times Square, on Sunday afternoon. Really, walking under construction sites is much less dangerous than, say, crossing the street, where the cabs will speed up to encourage you to move out of their way. (This is one of the more realistic aspects of Grand Theft Auto IV.)

Permalink | Tags: New York City

July 16, 2008

Photos of the NYC Waterfalls

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:22 PM

bridge waterfall, originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

There's a public art piece on display here in New York City in which artificial waterfalls have been constructed at four points along the East River, including one on the Brooklyn Bridge. On Sunday I dropped by the area and took some pictures. My favorites are here. (Best views were of the bridge and Pier 35 waterfalls; I didn't get very close to the other two.)

Also, the sidebar now shows the latest photo in the New York City photoset, rather than the Project 365 photoset. I considered just pointing it to the main photostream but I felt some thematic consistency would be good. I'm hoping to post to this set frequently (ideally once per week) but I won't be enforcing an update schedule like I did with Project 365.

Permalink | Tags: New York City, Photos

July 13, 2008

An anti-Clinton rant

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:13 PM

hell's kitchen mural

In today's New York Times there's a piece about the decreasing relevance of the bohemian lifestyle depicted in the musical Rent to actual New York City culture. I don't have anything to say on that issue, but I wanted to flag this paragraph:

THERE are those who still hold onto the dream of danger, but their numbers are shrinking. Skinny young ex-suburbanites who would swoon at the sight of a pea shooter walk around Williamsburg wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a silhouette of a Kalashnikov and the words "Defend Brooklyn" (from everyone who came after, one assumes). Residents of Hell's Kitchen adamantly refuse to adopt the name Clinton, an old label for the area that real estate brokers tried to bring back at a time when the Hell's Kitchen description actually applied.

As a Hell's Kitchen resident myself, I object to characterizing this as purely motivated by wanting to maintain an aura of danger in the neighborhood. (That might be a part of it, but push it too hard and your friends from the suburbs will be even more reluctant to visit.)

In reality, we prefer "Hell's Kitchen" because it's a much better name than "Clinton". It's colorful and evocative. And it's perfectly legitimate to reference the neighborhood's history even if its character has changed. Meanwhile, "Clinton" is bland and generic, with a tenuous connection to the area (via the not-that-impressive DeWitt Clinton Park). And contrary to the writer's suggestion, "Hell's Kitchen" is actually a much older name for the area.

So, don't brand us a bunch of posers just because we want our neighborhood to keep its awesome name.

Permalink | Tags: New York City

June 8, 2008

Arcane Gazebo meets T-Rex (at MoCCA)

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:14 PM

One of the great things about living in New York City is that I'll frequently read on the internet about some event, and then realize, "Hey, I could go there!" For example, the MoCCA1 Art Festival this weekend. I've never been to a comics convention before, but with it being only a few subway stops away I didn't really have a good reason not to go.

My primary goal was to acquire a signed copy of the Dinosaur Comics book, and I was not disappointed in the outcome:
ryan north sketch
I also got a copy of the new annotated Wondermark book, because it looked nice and also because Wondermark is fantastic. Randall Munroe (of xkcd) was doing free sketches, but I foolishly didn't have anything for people to sketch on. He and David Malki ! (who does Wondermark) were next to each other, and each had a sign offering to punch the other for $1. (I even saw it happen while I was standing there.)

Outside of webcomics I knew almost none of the exhibitors (it was very much an independent, small press show), although there was obviously a lot of talent on display. I made sure to walk around and look at everything, but it's hard to know just by looking at covers what's good. I did see Bryan Lee O'Malley, the author of Scott Pilgrim which has recently become my new favorite print comic. (It's kind of a hipster Ranma 1/2 with copious references to classic NES games. Anyone here who reads comics should absolutely check it out.)

Normally when I think of comics shows I think of something like the San Diego Comic Con2 with everyone in ridiculous costumes and big lines at the popular booths. This wasn't at all like that: very low-key, no costumes and you never had to wait in line to talk to anybody (unless it was Randall Munroe, or Michel Gondry who turned up for a signing). Overall it was a fun outing and I need to keep an eye out for more stuff like this going on in the city.

Meanwhile, some of my coworkers are going to the actual Nerd Prom and I am tempted to join them... of course, I'll need a costume.

1 Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art
2 A.k.a. "Nerd Prom"

Permalink | Tags: Comics, New York City

June 5, 2008

The skyscraper as climbing wall

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:48 PM

We had the TV on at work during lunch and managed to see Alain Robert scaling the New York Times building. The feed cut away before he reached the top, which was sad because we were all hoping to see the greeting from the welcoming committee of police officers standing on the roof—this was not an authorized ascent. However, I have to assume the dialogue went something like this:

NYPD: I do not suppose you could speed things up?
Robert: If you're in such a hurry, you could lower a rope, or a tree branch, or find something useful to do.
NYPD: I could do that. In fact, I've got some rope up here. But I do not think that you will accept my help, since I am only waiting around to arrest you.
Robert: That does put a damper on our relationship.

Meanwhile, some dude from Brooklyn thought this was sufficiently awesome that he went out and climbed it himself hours later. Pretty soon there'll be guided tours up the side of the Times building...

Permalink | Tags: New York City

April 23, 2008

Tales from the Manhattan housing market

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:15 PM

On Saturday the New York Times published an article entitled "Finding Your First Apartment in New York City", about two weeks too late for me to actually make use of it. However, the advice in the article can mostly be found easily online, so I didn't feel like I missed out. They emphasize not going into the search with unrealistic expectations—I actually had the opposite experience, where after years of hearing horror stories about Manhattan housing, I didn't expect to be able to rent anything larger than a closet and was pleasantly surprised at what was actually available in my price range.

Anyway, the Manhattan rental market is quite different from most in a few ways. Obviously a lot of it's driven by the fact that a Manhattan address is highly sought-after, leading to a very low vacancy rate (sometimes quoted as 0.5%, although I think it's higher at the moment) and vastly higher rents than in other U.S. cities. I'd heard from several sources that competition for any given apartment can be fierce, and it's best to apply for a unit on the spot if it looks good, since it may not be available later. However, right now (maybe due to the recession) this didn't seem to be the case. There were a surprising number of vacancies, a number of landlords were offering "specials" with a discount of several hundred dollars per month, and I felt comfortable taking a couple days to consider my options without the units I liked being snapped up.

Another unusual feature of the New York market is that many apartments are only available through a broker. The typical New York apartment search involves hiring a broker to spend a day or two showing available units; when the lease is signed the broker collects a substantial fee from the renter, typically 15% of the annual rent.

The broker is definitely the easiest way to go if you're on a tight schedule, but my take is that if you've got time to do the research, there's no need to go through a broker: there are a number of landlords who will rent apartments directly. The trick is finding them, but luckily we have the internet. Craigslist has a separate listing for no-fee apartments, and one can find recommendations of no-fee management companies around the web (here for example). There's also a book that I found extremely useful called The Nouveau Native's No Fee New York: it has not only general advice for apartment hunting in New York, but also a very comprehensive list of landlords offering no-fee rentals. Many of these landlords list availabilities on their websites, which made it very easy to put together a shortlist before I even got to New York.

From that point it was just like searching for an apartment anywhere else, only with much, much higher rents. Landlords in New York tend to require a lot of documentation to prove that you'll be able to pay: at least a letter of employment and usually also bank statements and pay stubs, and sometimes tax returns and W-2s. If you're coming from out of town, it's a good idea to take this stuff with you so you can apply on the spot.

I ended up renting from a management company called Archstone, and it was such a good experience that I want to mention them here. I was able to walk into two of their buildings without an appointment and get full tours from very helpful leasing agents; on top of that the website has a lot of information, and even lets you apply online. They have properties all over the country so it's worth checking out if you're in the market somewhere other than Manhattan.

Anyway, the housing search turned out to be surprisingly easy given all the tales of woe I'd heard about the Manhattan rental market. Now I'm working on the next challenge: getting all my stuff across the country and into the new apartment.

Permalink | Tags: Life, New York City

April 14, 2008

New York photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:32 PM

While waiting for approval of my apartment application on Thursday, I took a walk around Manhattan (mostly downtown) and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. I've posted a few photos on Flickr, in my New York City photoset (which also has some recently-uploaded pictures from a trip I took in August 2006).

My route included the length of Wall Street; as the famous line says, it runs from a graveyard to a river:

wall street and broadwayeast river

I'm considering starting another photography project after I move, similar to Project 365 but with a lighter update schedule (probably one per week) and with New York City as the subject; that way I can document my exploration of the city. (It also gives me a replacement for the out-of-date Project 365 sidebar section; actually the whole sidebar of this page needs some work.)

Permalink | Tags: New York City, Photos, Travel

April 7, 2008

New York City in fiction

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:12 AM

federal hall

I'm off to New York this week to look for housing; to put me in the right frame of mind, I'd like to hear suggestions of iconic portrayals of NYC (particularly Manhattan) in fiction. Accuracy of the portrayal is less important than style, but if it captures the spirit of the city in some sense that's a bonus. In any case the city shouldn't just be the setting (Wikipedia has a whole category devoted to this); New York should be somehow central to the story or thematically important. Some ideas (just off the top of my head):

Please suggest more, and I will check out the ones I haven't seen/read so as to be up to speed on the cultural connections to my new location.

Bonus round: iconic portrayals of Wall Street or the finance industry in particular, such as the Oliver Stone film Wall Street.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Culture, Games, Movies, New York City, Television