Saturday, July 30, 2005

Coney Island High

On Saturday I went to Coney Island, the rhinestone of Brooklyln. I love Coney Island because, with the exception of tearing down the old rollercoaster that had the house underneath it, and building the Cyclones baseball field, it has not changed one bit since I was a kid. My parents had no interest (or the financial means) to take me to Six Flags so Coney Island was the only amusement park I ever experienced growing up. From what I understand they plan to Disney-fy it in the next year or two, so sad. I also used to work at the best-job-ever nightclub, Coney Island High, and while many thought that this title had to do with drug use at amusement parks it was the owner Jesse Malin's ode to the yummy afterglow after a day spent on the boardwalk.

I had the pleasure of playing Coney Island tour guide to Tony Carnevale, Dave Thunder, and Jen McNeil, all of whom have never been there before:

The NY Aquarium: Tony Carnevale and I got there just in time to see the hilariously cheesy and adorable sea lion demonstration. We also saw the walruses which are very social animals and exhibitionists (last time I was there one masturbated in the window, much to the horror of toddler-toting parents and the vocal delight of the many pre-teens in the vicinity). A side note about penguins: they are only cute when there are a bunch of them waddling around. When there is a lone penguin standing there doing nothing their cuteness factor falls dramatically. What a letdown. On the plus side, they had a jellyfish exhibit that was awesomely creepy.

Spook-a-rama! We went to all three Haunted Houses in order to contrast and compare. The first one, Spook-a-rama, was great because it all takes place in one room which isn't really dark so you can totally see where you are going and make out all of the skeletons/ghouls/electric chairs etc. long before you reach them. This ride will also give you whiplash since it arbitrarily jerks you around in circles the whole time. It is 50 years old, and it shows. When Jen and Dave showed up we made them ride it for the full experience.

We went to the second, the awesomely-named "Ghost Hole" which was more of a standard haunted house in that it is pitch black until you reach each supposedly scary exhibit and you are routed through many levels and corridors. For some inexplicable reason, the sound effects consisted solely of car alarms and machine gun fire. I suspect that the sound designer grew up in some sort of wartorn neighborhood, as this was the auditory experience provided. This ride was also made better by the fact that every time we went through any doors or turned a corner Tony would yell out "Ghost Hole! GHOST HOLE!" This added to the experience considerably.

The last one, Dante's Inferno, was also pitch black and had much better (and appropriate) sound effects of people screaming, but the exhibits were mostly of gorillas and werewolves. I think there can never be enough fake gorillas in a haunted house. After sampling the trifecta, Dave and Tony pronounced Ghost Hole the winner for its use of car alarms. Spook-a-rama remains my favorite for its old school charm.

Rides: The water flume is the best ride in the park because it is relaxing, refreshing, and still provides you with that one moment of adrenaline-inducing fear as you are plummeted down a mini roller coaster sans seat belt or safety bar. We all agreed that its only fault is that it is a relatively short ride and they should let you go around twice for your four bucks. Still awesome though.

Dave convinced me to go on the Cyclone. I have only ridden it one other time and it scared the crap out of me. This time it was just fun. Score, Rachael=1, Childhood Neuroses=0. Thanks Dave Thunder!

Pizza: Tony had heard about a famous pizza place named Totonno's, which claims to be the oldest pizza parlor in the city. We trekked through the grizzled streets of Coney Island to find it and were met with the most awesomely gruff pizza parlor staff ever. Upon entering two 55 year old (ish) women come barreling at you telling you at very high volume to wait outside. Once you are finally invited to enter, they throw a bunch of styrofoam plates, cups, and plastic utensils at you and pressure you to order immediately. We ordered two pies: sausage and pepperoni. They were delicious and were completely worth being demoralized by middle aged Italian women.

Boardwalk Oddities: While it doesn't compare with Venice Beach, CI has its share of interesting people and attractions. Besides the now famous Shoot the Freak where you can paint ball some poor sucker in a strangely setup area that is filled with umbrellas and mannequin heads, we also encountered a guy with a bucket that read Animal Rescue. Besides looking suspiciously unofficial, he was wearing a boa constrictor around his neck, a parrot on his head, and had an uncomfortable looking giant lizard thrust under his arm. Somehow carrying animals around in the blazing sun for the better part of the day doesn't seem all that humane to me, but that's Coney Island irony for you.

We debated going to the sideshow, which in my recollection is pretty much a collection of tattooed people and other equally unimpressive attractions. Dave nixed the idea by saying "I would go if there were retards." I guess he has a point. A sword swallower is one thing, but a retarded sword-swallower? Now there is some real drama. (My apologies to any retards reading this journal).

There was also a mariachi band in full costume serenading people on the beach. Awesome.

Ices: Dave is very selective about ices and will only eat Gino's brand and no other. He says that you have to check to make sure that they are really Gino's because even though the signs say they are it is often false advertising. I am not sure how he checks this out but he has clearly devised a method for doing so and after we got the nod, we all indulged (Me-chocolate, Dave-rainbow, Tony-orange creme). Counterfeit ices! Who knew?

Karma is a Bitch: Jen had to leave to perform her Pearl Brunswick show and after walking her to the train, Tony, Dave, and I went to the beach to chill out. We watched a guy who was clearly a total asshole berate a 5-year-old for playing catch too close to his blanket on the beach. The ever gallant Dave Thunder got up and walked past his blanket and kicked a ton of sand in the guy's shoes. Tony dubbed Dave the passive-aggressive vigilante of Coney Island. I sense a Channel 102 pilot in the making.

After this, Tony and I went to see "You and Me and Everyone We Know" which was underwhelming. When a movie contains a discussion on existentialism involving a goldfish, you lose me (This sounds interesting as I am writing it, but believe me, it wasn't). However, I did not leave the theater with that knot of rage I can get in my stomach from mediocre movies, so I guess it was enjoyable enough.

Apparently a day at Coney Island lessens my critical instincts. Not entirely a bad thing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Full Throttle Exhaust

This past weekend was the 7th Annual Del Close Marathon. For the one of you who reads this journal and does not know what that is, it's a 24 hour a day improv marathon that runs for three days at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. I helped to manage the organized chaos that is the DCM, and logged in about 100 hours of work, 28 hours of sleep, 3 shows, 1 impov workshop, seeing Asscat at Summerstage, and some serious drinking over 7 days. I have never been so tired in my life.

Some highlights (and lowlights):

The Hotel. UCB graciously arranges for the managers to stay at a hotel during the marathon since otherwise we would get little to no sleep. This year's hotel of choice was The New Yorker, on the corner of 34th and 8th Avenue. This corner serves as home to many hookers and drug dealers, is across from the main branch of the NYC Post Office, and is also located a short distance from the two venues where we were holding the marathon. Convenience on so many fronts.

This is the most awesomely ghetto hotel ever. The hallways go on forever and are a putrid shade of stained yellow, the carpet is ratty and stained, and the walls are paper thin. It's sort of like The Shining via a very cracked out version of Motel 6. Normally I get that strange feeling of being very alone in hotel rooms. Fortunately for me an entire hispanic family was staying in the three hotel rooms surrounding mine and they saw fit to leave their doors open and yell across the hallway to one another as they were getting ready in the morning. I never felt alone. Not even for the briefest moment.

Also the hotel phone was not touch-tone, but pulse. I can't remember the last time I had to use a pulse phone. When attempting to reach the Wake Up Call center, it somehow connected me to another guest's room, leaving us both thoroughly confused since she woke up to take the call and I had not slept in over 24 hours. Oops.

The Out of Towners. We have a lot of out of towners at DCM every year and a few of them never leave the theater. One of them was a small blonde girl who was performing with some group from out of town. For Drunken Sonic Assault (a late night jam that devolves into chaos and features many drunk improvisors dressed up in various costumes) she chose to wear a drum around her middle and then wore it non stop for the next two days. I was standing with Paul Scheer when she approached him and told him how much she enjoyed his show. He of course thanked her and said how much he appreciated it, to which she replied: "Of course you appreciate it. I just gave you a fucking compliment. It's easy to appreciate it when someone flatters you." and then went off in a huff. By the last night everyone simply called her "Crazy Snare Drum Girl". I have no idea what her real name is.

Also one out-of-town group drove to the theater in an RV and parked it outside the theater for the three days. That is commitment.

Managing at Abingdon Theater. I had to manage the day shift at our second venue, the Abingdon Theater. I was going on about 5 hours sleep after working 24 hours the day before. Besides a group not showing up at the last moment and having to throw together an improv jam, things went smoothly. But during the last hour of the shift the toilet in the men's room decided to overflow sending a small deluge into the lobby, and a woman decided she wasn't feeling well and laid down on the floor, refusing to get up. All of this occurred as about 100 people filed into see a show. Good times.

Wrestling. This has become somewhat of a DCM tradition. The last night of the marathon we threw as many pillows as we could find onto the UCB stage and had many a wrestling match. Contestants included Matt Walsh, Charlie Todd, Eric Appel, Brian Berrebbi, Jawnee Conroy, DC Pierson, Alex Sidtis, Brian Waddell, many girls from out of town whose names I do not know, and of course, Crazy Snare Drum girl who kept getting disqualified for biting people. Matt Besser refereed. I suspect that this is Besser's ultimate reason for having the DCM. I have never seen him look so happy.

Around this time, I also enjoyed watching Brian Waddell, one of our fearless managers, down half a bottle of Petron by himself and getting into one of the most happy and blissful states I have ever seen anyone in ever.

Only 360 days until the next DCM. I hope to be recovered by then.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Let's Twist Again

I have a huge record collection, begun at the humble age of six with my first album "Grease." Since then it has grown to about 500 records. When I was DJing regularly (pre-ipod) I became pretty addicted to record shopping. I have slowed down considerably in my pursuit of rare vinyl finds, but every once in a while I get the urge to sift through loads of cheap records to unearth treasures from the past. Many times I end up buying stuff just because the record album cover is so awesome it's impossible to pass up.

Fortunately for me there is a used vinyl shop that looks like it has been in its location for a minimum of 50 years, where I can peruse dozens of records a mere two blocks from my house in Park Slope. Today I was walking by and noticed a Best of the Beach Boys album in one of the dollar bins outside, and suddenly found myself immersed in full-blown vinyl obsession. I scored big today. The haul included Artie Shaw, Harry Belafonte (singing Day-O!), an early Bill Cosby comedy album, a 50s compliation which includes 'The Madison' and 'The Chicken' plus the following:

•The 5th Dimension: Love's Lines, Angles, and Rhymes featuring an amazing picture of the band in black and white vertically striped outfits.

• A Dionne Warwick album which contains a bunch of Burt Bacharach songs wiith the cover featuring a very sultry Dionne in an amazingly bright multi-colored dress. (So sad that she was reduced to hosting Solid Gold and then schilling for that wierd psychic phone service. What happened, Dionne?)

• The Jacksons " Going Places" --the album cover features all the Jackson brothers in their late teens/early 20s (pre-MJ's Off the Wall album) wearing tuxedoes, top hats and aviator helmets (all with a tremendous amount of dust on them) looking at a map and getting directions from a bunch of old white farmers in overalls and plaid shirt at a gas station. Why are they wearing such weird outfits? Is this a comment on racism? I can't tell, but strange and hilarious either way.

And the absolute best of the bunch:

• Chubby Checker Twistin' Round the World which features Let's Twist (a Paloma) in Spanish, Let's Twist Again in German (Der Twist Beginnt), Twist with Me in German (Twist Mit Mir), Twistin Round the World (Allouette) and All You Twisters in French, and the bizarre inclusion of a rock version of Hava Nagela. I have no idea what kind of marketing strategy Chubby's people were going for with this album, but I am so very happy they did.

Also, I have been voraciously reading. A partial list of books I have just blown through: The Other Hollywood by Legs McNeil, a fascinating but somewhat depressing history of the porn industry, Joan Didion's A Book of Comon Prayer which was gripping and weird, as well as rereading some favorites: JD Salinger's short stories (awesome because they usually abruptly end with someone killing themselves out of nowhere), The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, which I haven't read since high school, and Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Sometimes it's worth revisiting the classics.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Dish

I had to go into the city today to do some reconnaissance at the Abingdon Theater, the site of the second and third stage of this year's Del Close Marathon. By this I mean looking around to see where shit is at, but I like the word reconnaissance because it makes it sound much more exciting. After popping down to the UCB offices, I decided to grab some lunch before heading back to BK, and walked around Chelsea, peering into different restaurants, when I hit upon The Dish. This was my favorite diner back when I worked at the Atlantic Theater around the corner years ago. Good food, nice atmosphere as far as diners go.

So I sat down and looked at the menu and realized that nothing looked appetizing. Suddenly the waitress appeared and I felt that weird pressure to order immediately. I don't know why I gave into this feeling, but I did. I ordered an unappealing dish called a Chicken Kabob. I regretted it immediately and pondered changing the order when suddenly my salad appeared (part of the Chicken Kabob package, apparently), so I decided to just go with it. I sipped on my iced coffee and waited and waited and waited. And waited. Apparently they have to actually kill a chicken in order to make this culinary masterpiece.

No one else was in the diner so I couldn't figure out what was taking so long and was about to ask what was up when they brought a decidedly unpleasant looking dish with yellow rice and weird pieces of chicken that looked like they had been sitting out for way too long and some burned onions and green pepper. I took one bite and realized that something was terribly wrong. I actually spit the chicken into a napkin and called a waiter over. I told them that the chicken tasted bad. And when I say bad, I mean horrible. Horrendous. Like it had been marinated in gasoline.

They were profusely apologetic and asked if I wanted to order something else, but I said no and just asked for the check for the iced coffee. When I received it, it was a whopping $5.75. Since I had partaken of the salad I apparently had to pay for it. Douchebags.

I asked if they really expected me to pay for a salad that was ostensibly part of a meal that was inedible. They said yes. I pointed out that I hoped they thought the $4 they were gouging me for was worth me never entering their establishment again. They didn't seem to care, so, dejected, I paid $7 for a half hour of wasted time and soggy romaine lettuce.

I went to Better Burger and spent another $6 on a tasteless "healthy" burger.

Amount spent: $13
Food consumed: half of a small salad and a flavorless burger
Food enjoyed: none

I promise my next post will not be about food.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Art of the Sandwich

I have been pretty remiss about posting here, and in an effort to catch everyone up on my dazzlingly glamorous life, I will give you a quick rundown of the last month: work, work, class, work, show, class, work, show, class, work, work, class, show, work.

Now I can get on to the real point of this post. Food Shopping!!! Do you know about this? It's awesome. If you haven't done it recently, then check it: I went food shopping. This may sound trivial, but I have not gone food shopping in about five months. At some point I just gave up on it, resulting in one of three scenarios: order out, eat out, don't eat. I got tired of these unhealthy/expensive options and decided I would not only buy food but then eat it! Again, trivial, I know, but one of the main reasons I stopped buying food was that I would still go out to eat at the local cafe and then all the food I had back at home would go bad and I would throw it away.

I love to cook, but decided to ease into my use-of-kitchen by only buying salad and sandwich items. Over the last week I have made such culinary delights as ham, jack cheese, avocado, jalapeno, roasted pepper, and alfalfa sprouts on whole wheat with mayo and mustard, and turkey, swiss, tomato, olive tapanade, mustard, and lettuce on seven grain, as well as a salad featuring romiane, endive, feta, tomato, olive, and artichoke hearts. I enjoy figuring out how many items I can put on a sandwich and still keep the sweet-savory ratio intact. Very challenging.

The whole experience has been empowering. I forgot all about this form of self-sufficiency: one that does not involve a cell phone or a take out menu or a waiter. Now maybe I will clean my fucking apartment.