Sunday, August 22, 2010

Too many projects...

Well, I've failed to post here for a while. Time for a lame post to prevent another Iron Blogger fine!

I've been pulled to many different ways this summer. This is my own fault, for taking on too many projects. Lets look at some of them!

I spent May-August teaching MCAT Gen Chem review courses, once or twice a week in the evenings for the Princeton Review. This was hard, challenging, interesting, fulfilling and dispiriting all at the same time. I think I'll teach another class, assuming my reviews aren't so horrible they won't let me teach again...I think I did a decent job, but I know many ways I can improve. The hardest part is finding that balance where the fewest people look bored and the fewest look like they have no idea what i'm talking about.

My time is currently being dominated by Jesus Christ Superstar at MIT. We open in two weeks, just did put in today (built most of the set). More information and ticket reservations available here: The show is shaping up to be awesome. Very talented singers all around.

I'm also working on a LARP for the MIT Assassins' Guild, called Black Ships. Its based on the opening of the ports of Japan by Commodore Perry, but is highly fictionalized. Also being written by Xavid Pretzer, Jessica Hamrick, and Andrew Clough. They're doing much more of the writing than I am because again, I took on too many projects this summer. If you're a LARPer, watch for this game this fall.

Also also, because I am a huge nerd, I am doing more gaming and working on a highly complicated Exalted tabletop that involves a lot of collaborative writing from my players. We've created whole new mechanics and a setting guide that's practically reached splatbook status. If you might be interested in reviewing this work, playing NPC rolls, or helping with mechanics development, let me know.

Then of course there's real work at New England Biolabs, which is going pretty well. I've made a number of interesting preliminary findings on my DNA Ligase kinetics and mechanism project. I'm hoping in the next couple of months we can clarify and organize the studies in a way that will give some fast publications. Also Its about time i go do a late-summer walkthrough/photoshoot of the awesome grounds up there.

I have a number of half-completed reviews for this site, which I hope to focus and get banged out soon, before I forget what I wanted to say. I'm also participating in another blog, which is in production, featuring a series of drinking/mixolofy parties working through Imbibe by David Wondrich, more on that in coming weeks. I've also got a silly comedy side-blog which I will make more public after I get a few more posts up. Its pretty stupid and mostly an inside joke, but I enjoy it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

[Review] Food Matters by Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman is one of the greatest cooking writers ever. He's a weekly columnist for the New York Times, but I know him best and originally as the author of the amazing How to Cook Everything. How to Cook Everything basically taught me how to cook. In it, he runs through everything from the very basics of how to stock a kitchen and how to cut vegetables to how to prepare complex roasts, full dinners, and more. Pretty close to anything you'd want a recipe for is in there, except pasta salad which he seems to think is an abomination and forbids you from ever preparing. The writing style is plain and accessible, and its a book I recommend to anyone looking to learn how to cook or who wants a great omnibus of recipes available.

Food Matters, on the other hand, is a bit of a different beast. It has a few recipes, about 75, that focus mostly on very basic cooking--preparing cooked beans, grains, boiled and steamed veggies, simple sauces, and then a few dozen recipes for each meal that tend toward simple combination of the basics that can be rapidly prepared. The focus of the recipes is on things that can be prepared quickly and/or in bulk that are composed primarily of complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, and very small amounts of meat and dairy.

The reason for this strange set of recipes is explained in the first half of the book. Bittman appeared on the Colbert Report a last year to discuss this philosophy. Basically his food consumption ideas aren't new, but focus on the "vegan until 6pm" and "only eat foods with less than four ingredients" ideas. His book focuses on showing you you can eat a diet that is very high in vegetables and complex carbohydrates and very low in animal products and processed food with minimal effort, and still produce satisfying food quickly. His points are that our current diet cuases health problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes to obesity, and that this is due both to high calorie, low nutrition foods (chips and MacDonald's and Twinkies) and to too large a proportion of our diet being high fat animal products. This diet is also awful environmentally in terms of both energy consumption and waste production, pointing out not only the old standard of lb of meat taking a dozen or so pounds of grain to produce, but that all these processed foods and factory farmed meat take a huge amount of petroleum and energy to make. Eating like "food matters" allows you to both improve your health, lower your risk of long term diseases, and lose weight, all while helping the environment.

I do have a few major issues with the philosophy portion of the book. Bittman seems to have a problem with low carb, high protein diets that's based more in his anti-meat environmentalism than in actual fact. I myself gave a low carb diet a try over the last year (specifically the Men's Health TNT Diet) and lost weight, gained muscle, and my cholesterol dropped 15% (and the good went up as the bas went down.) I've since adapted to a more sustainable some-carb diet, and gained back a bit of weight but overall feel pretty good. The advantage to a high protein diet is that protein and fat, while high caloric density, have a high satiety factor, so a couple strips of bacon or a couple eggs in the morning leave me feeling full until early afternoon, while a couple donuts leave me hungry again almost right away.

Epidemiology on diet is very difficult, and lab results don't always translate into real world results. This was the major flaw in low-fat diets--that and that the whoel fat reduction then "bad fat" reduction would reduce cholesterol and thus heart disease was a (reasonable) deduction based on the observation that heart disease is correlated with high cholesterol. Except it turns out that most cholesterol is synthesized by the body, not absorbed from food, that lowering cholesterol intake doesn't tend to have that much of an effect on blood cholesterol, and that cholesterol is correlated with heart disease, but not causative (see Vioxx, which lowered cholesterol but not heart disease and increased stroke risk).

However, recent meta reviews show that, in fact, high protein low carb diets work better than anything else in reducing cholesterol and weight up to one year. Bittman addresses this in his book, but dismisses these results with a well, i'm sure it has long term negative effect stance with no evidence to back it up. Further, he does this immediately after he basically mocks people who dismissed the results of a study that showed low fat diets don't improve health on the evidence-free assumption that everyone on the diet cheated. It is very intellectually disingenuous, and when he dismisses studies that don't support his worldview it heavily undermines his criticism of others.

He also, almost randomly, rails agains the pharmaceutical industry and its "scientist for hire." Which, as one of those people who do science in exchange for a paycheck, I found more than a little insulting. The insinuation was that none of us industry scientists can be trusted cause our sinister bosses pay us and demand we thus falsify results. I at least consider myself a moral and ethical person. Also, there are a lot of good things to come out of the pharmaceutical industry...and also also, I have no idea why he kept ranting about pharmaceutical companies in a book about food, except that he was somehow lumping together government agencies, the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry into one big pile of evil corporatism that is destroying America's health. I found the screed parts of the book to detract greatly from his very good points about the health and environmental impact of the way we currently eat, and could turn a lot of people off to that message.

Overall I wish he had been more neutral, and less dismissive of studies that contradicted his viewpoints. I do like the recipes and the practical tips on cooking and eating right, and have integrated some this into my current diet. Bittman agrees with the low-carb folks that veggies and complex carbohydrates (whole grains) are better than high starch foods are better than high sugar foods are better than processed, sugar added foods. They mostly disagree on the relative proportions of complex carbs vs protein. Bitmman's tips on bulk preparation, what can be frozen and how to eat well while working full time are definitely worth it, and his views are interesting (if occasionally offensive) to read. But I can guarantee I'll be going to How to Cook Everything a lot more often than Food Matters.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

[Review] Middleman, the Complete Series (TV, DVD)

Middleman is a one season long TV series that aired on ABC Family in 2008, based on the comic book series of the same name. The comic, if i understand the story correctly, was created based on a TV pilot a writer on Lost had produced in the mid 00's, which then got turned back into a TV show driected at sassy teenagers for ABC Family. I was originally confused as to the network, because I think i had heard it was on Disney, and expected a kids show, but the show as produced has a surprising amount of (bleeped) profanity and lots of angsty young adult relationship/crush/flirtation stuff. But apparently ABC Family is actually going for sassy-mouthed faux-worldly teen aged girls, so that's why this show stars a sassy-mouthed faux-worldly college aged girl. But I digress.

The show is at its heart, one of those stories about the supernatural and/or superheroes actually being real in the real world. As in many of these, the main hero/investigator role is played by a tall handsome slightly older man (in this case, The Middleman (Matt Keaslar)) who is accompanied by his attractive, younger, sexy but not in a sexual relation ship with the tall handsome investigator guy (here, Wendy Watson, aka "dub-dub" (Natale Morales, who is in fact, ridiculously hot)). There are quite a few pairs like this: Mulder and Scully of course, any number of Doctor-companion pairs, Harry Dresden and Molly Carpenter, Angel and Cordelia, Plausibly HRG and the Cheerleader, and so forth. The Middleman is also one of those many modern deconstruction of the superhero type shows that occupy meta space in the same universe as the Tick, Venture Brothers and Dr. Horrible. Though I found it to have met the Dr. Venture metaverse halfway with the Dresden Files, as there is a lot more magic and demons and such than in most meta-superhero shows.

The Middleman is only the most current in a long line of Middlemen, the only apparent superhero in a world where all the most bizarre comic-book style threats to humanity are real. Villains with horribly over-elaborate superscience based plans they like to monologue about ("It's sheer elegance in its simplicity!") alien invasions, ancient resurrected Chinese emperors and thousands of ways for the earth to be destroyed on a daily basis. All that stands between us and all this crazy crap is the Middleman, assisted by his android sidekick IDA and, as of the start of the series, his sassy-mouthed Middleman in training, Wendy. The Middleman is funded and kept in cool gadgets by the OTSTK (Organization too secret to know) and the various fancy computers and shit keep a steady supply of plot solving god boxes on hand.

The series has some good ideas at its core, and can at times be fun. But overall, I found it kind of meh. It's problematic that this show messes around in well explored territory--the above mentioned interpersonal dynamic between the main characters and the meta-superheroes are real setting--but doesn't really add anything new to it. Part of my lack of enthusiasm comes from the overly simple characterizations of all these main characters. The Middleman is an absurdly straight laced Dudley Do-right type who's always a gentleman, watches only westerns, and drinks milk all the time. Wendy is the never phased by anything, too cool for school, always wisecracking nerdy hot girl. Her roommate exists to be a sexpot, her upstairs neighbor's purpose is to be the dick, and her boyfriend is there to be kind of cute and also spout more bantery dialogue. Pretty much all the dialogue on the show is constantly delivered with a grin and a wink, and that kind of ruins a lot of it...there is a great deal of character back and forth witticism reminiscent of old noir banter, but in a modern context, except the constant sarcastic winking at the audience tone makes it not really work for me. Or possibly the actors don't have the chops to make it work, I'm not sure.

The plots themselves are way silly, often too silly for a "Superheroes are real" plot line. Except, I could see the gun toting, mob-movie watching super-intelligent gorilla working on the Tick, or the Mexican-wrestler mask sporting Japanese Sensei Ping working as a character in the Venture Brothers, or the noirish reformed succubus Roxy Wasserman working in a Dresden Files novel. But things don't quite ever click on the Middleman. I'd find my self sort of getting into the show, but easily distracted due to slow pacing, or growing irritation with the overly sassy dialogue, and maybe a bit of eye rolling at the just slightly too absurd for its own universe plots. I feel a lot of the problem comes with combing thinly drawn caricature based characters with a "comic-books are real" vibe--in order to make it work, we have to feel the characters could be real people.

In the end, I think I've just seen this plot too many times before to be excited by it. You can rent the DVD's from netflix, and if you're into comic book plots, its not a bad way to pass the time. But given the choice, I'd rather watch the Venture Bros. again.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

King Herod

This summer I have landed the role of King Herod in MIT MTG's production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I'm pretty excited about this since I've wanted to do this role for a long time. I'm working my way through all the biggest d-bags in theater, and Herod is high on that list. Plus, not getting this role the last time this group did the show (about a million years ago) is pretty much why I started taking voice lessons, so it's all come full circle.

Herod as depicted in the show and in the bible (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was a strong and totally batshit insane Jewish king, who was known for things such as expanding and renovating the Temple into opulence and also having his own family executed. Herod the Great is the Herod who orders the Massacre of the Innocents, described in Matthew chapter 2, in order to get rid of the one who was born King of the Jews and might thus take his throne.

See, in addition to being insane, the Heroditans had a problem. Their legitimacy was pretty shaky--for starters, Herod the Great was a convert to Judaism. Second, his line was installed as tetrarchs in Judea, basically for having correctly picked the winning side in the Octavian vs Antony throwdown in Rome. Judea's provinces were vassal states of the Roman Empire during this time, and were ruled both by a Roman governor and a local tetrarch. Appointing a ruler from the local population who was loyal to Rome was a common strategy for the Romans, allowing each region the illusion of self-governance. But for the Jews, legitimacy was in question due to Herod's problematic religious background, and further because he had a tendency for ostentatiousness, which orthodox Jews would have frowned on.

For Herod Antipas it would have been even worse. His dad was a convert. His mom was a Samaritan. His crazy dad killed all the elder heirs, and then divided up judea between his surviving sons in his will. Herod went to Rome to try to sleaze his way into being sole heir, but ended up only with Galilee and Peraea. Herod built a new capital, Tiberius, in honor of the emperor. Of course, he build it on a Jewish graveyard, and no Jews would enter the city. He divorced his first wife to marry his brother's hot widow, which irritated the Jewish priesthood. Josephus, the Jewish historian, writes of how terrified Herod was of John the Baptist's popular support, and that he killed him out of fear. While Josephus is silent on Jesus, the Gospels indicate Herod basically feared that Jesus was John the Baptist somehow back from the dead, and viewed him as serious a threat to the throne.

Herod and Pilate didn't get along, and some historians think this is because Pilate had put to death a number of rebellious Galileans without consulting him. This act upset Herod, who considered that his jurisdiction. So when, in the bible/show Pilate gets a hold of Jesus, but doesn't want to be responsible for executing a man he viewed as basically harmless, he throws him to Herod to let Herod try him (Jesus being from Galilee).

I also think in the context of the Pharisee plot as presented in Jesus Christ Superstar, this was a move by pilate to shift Jesus' crime from that of treason against Rome, punishable by crucifixion, to blasphemy against the Jewish God, a crime under Jewish but not Roman law. If Herod determines that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy, he'll be punished by the laws of Galilee--I don't know what this would have been, since of course the Bible advocates stoning for acts like claiming you're the son of god, but the show implies non-fatal (corporal punishment or exile, i guess).

My take on Herod's Song, which presents King Herod mocking Jesus before sending him back to Pilate, is that Herod intended to find Jesus guilty of this crime, accepting Pilate's piece offering, and letting Jesus live, basically. Well, he'd probably actually acquit Jesus if he performed miracles-as-parlor-tricks like he demands, but Jesus clearly won't do that. What Herod is looking for is for Jesus to grovel and/or burst into tears, beg for Herod's forgiveness and accept Herod as the King of the Jews. Remember Herod almost certainly saw Jesus, like John the Baptist, as a threat during the height of his ministry, so the chance to humiliate Jesus before the court and prove that he's just a pathetic street preacher with no claim to the throne.

Of course, Jesus neither begs for forgiveness nor puts on a magic show. Herod gets pissed that Jesus isn't palying hsi part, so, unfortunetly for Pilate, throws him back to the Roman court, essentially declaring that Jesus's crime is temporal and against Rome, inciting rebellion and laying claim to the throne given to Herod by the Emperor. This sticks Pilate with having to put Jesus to death to appease the locals.

But apparently Pilate and Herod became the bestest of friends after the trial of Jesus, so there's a happy ending!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Operation: Turtle Rescue

Ok, turtles are really, really dumb. They're pretty cute though.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are a ton of painted turtles around NEB in Ipswich, and they are always trying to cross the roads for various insane turtle reasons. Usually I think its that when things get too wet, they go for the high ground to dry out, and also they seem to like to make their nests on the other side of the road from their ponds.

On Monday I came across a pair of big painted turtles (about 4-5" wide, 6-7" long) just hanging out in the main driveway of NEB. I don't know what they were doing. The didn't seem to be going anywhere, and I don't think they were together on a turtle date or anything, because they were like 30' apart and not even looking at each other. I can't think they were trying to actually cross the road, since the side opposite their pond contained the main buildings of NEB and is a big hill, so there's no other water in that direction. Maybe they were basking, but there was plenty of land around the pond, so I dunno why they were convinced they needed to go flop in the asphalt to bask.

In any case, I figured I would move the cute but dumb things back to their pond before someone came and drove over them. The first ungrateful turtle hissed at me like he was some sort of giant movie crocodile or Jurrasic Park raptor. The second one peed all over me. I never imagined so much liquid could come out of such a tiny body. At least now I know to always point turtles away from the body. Then, after dropping the turtle-fire hose next to the pond, i brushed something in the grass that bit my elbow, some gross insect that was about 1 cm in diameter. I didn't see it, just felt it when I brushed/rolled it off, so I don't know if it was a tick, spider or fly, but my elbow proceeded to swell up, and still itches.

That's what I get for trying to be helpful.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

NEB in Photos: the Grounds

Last week I posted some of my favorite pictures of my new workplace. The full set of pictures are available here, and will be updated with more as soon as flikr will let me upload more pictures.

This week I went walking out back again, and took many pictures of the grounds. NEB owns something like 160 acres in Ipswich. The main campus is kept up by an army of groundskeepers, but most of the land is left to run wild, like NEB's own nature preserve.

There are many trails out back, maintained by several volounteer groups in Ipswich. The land is freely open to use, and people apparently go horseback riding out here.

Much of the grounds are basically marshland.

And there are some areas of open water.

I've seen a ton of wildlife, including a deer who so startled me when I startled it I didn't get my camera up in time. I also saw a pair of finches on a date who were too tiny for me to get a good photo of. last week I saw mallards and a muskrat too. This week only squirrels and red winged blackbirds would pose for me, and by pose, I mean they would stand in the trees and scream at me for being there.

There were also swarms of butterflies this week.

And I saw evidence of beavers.

On the main entrance, there are some lovely wildflowers, some odd statues, and a warning not to squoosh the painted turtles who become determined to cross the road when its rainy and/or they have to pop out a million babies.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

NEB in Photos

This week, some photo documentation of the amazing new place I work. In this post I am focusing on the buildings of the campus. Next week, I'll have some pictures of the grounds. All the pictures I took can be found here.

This is the lab I work in.

Looks pretty normal, right? If I look the other way, though, this is the view from my desk.

Here is the break room, and the view from its window.

And this is the front entrance of NEB.

This is the Mansion, where our admin offices are.

It's called Mostly Hall, cause that's what it is on the inside.

This is the greenhouse, which is attached to the main building and visible from the cafeteria.

This is not a greenhouse.

It is in fact, the waste water treatment facility, which uses plants and magic to turn poop into water we can dump right on site.

This is the Gatehouse, where the gym and the massage therapist are.

And this is the Carriage House, where visiting students live.

Inside the main building, there is art EVERYWHERE.

Friday, May 14, 2010

New Jobs!

Starting Monday, I will finally be off the Government Dole. I've taken a position as a Post Doctoral Researcher at New England Biolabs, which is widely reputed to be the best place to work in biotech/pharma. While the salary is a bit less than I was getting in my heady startup days, the company is pretty ridiculously great. The only drawback for me is that they are in Ipswich, which is going to mean some combination of complicated long commute and/or moving near North Station or up Route 1. I really love living in Cambridge, so I'm not terribly excited about that...but the company is definitely worth figuring it out.

I'll be studying T4 DNA Ligase biochemistry (mechanism and kinetics). DNA Ligase is a critically important enzyme to biotechnology, as its what you use to put together plasmids with specialty genes. Interestingly while Ligase has been a tool used for decades, not a whole lot of basic biochemistry research has been done on the enzyme, and there hasn't been a lot of effort to make mutants with different substrate specificity, so that's what I'll be working on. You may wonder how I can explain my project at a private company, but one of the awesome things about NEB is that they have such insane piles of money (they basically own the patents on every important enzyme in biotechnology) that they can fund a fair amount of purely academic basic research, and everything I do there will be publishable.

It's possible new products could come out of my work, but if it is going that way that portion of my project would be branched off into the hands of the product development team. But there's no strict need to produce a new product from my work. NEB is employee owned, so there's no stock and no shareholders and only the management sets policy. So it's completely possible to work on projects with no direct profit motive.

The location itself is awesome (though far away). The main building is basically an art museum that happens to have chemistry labs in it. It is located on a 160 acre nature preserve in Ipswich, with available hiking and other outdoors spaces. The company also has three historic buildings on site incorporated into the modern business (Mostly Hall). On site we get a free gym, free massage therapy, free lunch once a week, plus a pile of benefits like all the standards and even a pension plan.

The other thing I'm probably doing this summer is picking up some part time teaching work, doing MCAT review classes for the Princeton review. I'm signed up and accepted for training, anyway, and all approved from NEB to do a little moonlighting. It remains to be seen if a schedule can be created that will accommodate a couple classes, but I'm optimistic.

So soon I will go from having all the time in the world to like no time at all...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Scenes From Roast

Four days pre-roast, in line at a New Hampshire state liquor store with two full shopping carts. People behind us staring in confusion and/or alarm. “Its for a party! A really, really big party…” “Nah, we’re just going to have a really good night.”

Friday, 5PM, pit lighting. Piles of beef on a makeshift grill, fire from the sky, and mud wrestling, though with the stupidest commentary ever. Great costumes—much Victorian garb, several instances of obscure cosplay, gay men in heels, and one naked girl. Also a pack of old people and children there to “see the art.”

Dinner at Tommy Doyles with an escort-bot and most of the Victorians, an overworked wait staff, and beer in plastic cups for some reason.

On 4th Ware later that night, or Planet Earth, I guess. Bizarre dangly papers that somehow mostly survived the weekend, many informational posters. Much, much later: “ If this is planet earth, where are the other planets?” “Oh, follow me, I’ll show you.” Then, across the floor in a bathroom stall, an informative map. “Well?” “What I was promised.”

Much of Friday night, sealed in a bathroom with one to three other dudes, tending bar, guarded by a hilariously efficient bouncer who only admitted those on staff and sufficiently hot girls. “Um, who are you?” “Oh, I’m Nate, nice to meet you.” “No, I mean, are you a waitress or staff?” “No…” “Then why are you in here?”

Late, Late Friday, Basement Dance Party. Not much else to say. Shortly after: “You did this to me!” then getting punched in the face, mostly unintentionally.

Early morning, roast watching with a few dozen other dedicated party people, the heat off the pit still almost too intense to sit by.

Saturday dawn on the fourth floor balcony, listening to some fascinating rambling but too tired to respond. Wandering down to the pit to say my goodbyes, the home for four hours of fitful non-sleep.

Saturday afternoon, waiting in line for feast forever, never been so hungry in ever. Massive consumption, then some off the oddest conversation heard all weekend, including: “What’s your opinion on murder-suicide?” “I have no strong opinions on the subject.” Some speeches, then boffer battles, and one fighter who discovered tower shields are less useful when by oneself than he might have hoped.

Saturday night, wandering the halls. LED spheres, a room with Christmas trees and a box occasionally full of people. A hall with handing things, leading to a locked door said to lead to popsicles and icecream. Later: “Oh, there were popsicles. “ “Its true, we weren’t lied to, just misled.” “…what?”

Later Saturday night, watching the bands in the courtyard from the sky. Terrible, terrible rap turned into Tahitian dancers Tahitian dancing to Nirvana (I think Lithium).

After (or possibly before, can’t remember now), following some friends into a guarded suite to discover people being hog tied and suspended from a giant metal ring. “That can’t possibly be comfortable.” “Um, no, its not.” “I’m just going to bring you down now.”

Pink Void, the basement, Saturday midnight. Massive wall of sound. “Don’t fall asleep listening to a Pink Floyd cover band in the basement of Senior House during Steer Roast. We’ll never get you back!” Also: “Magnets have only two poles, and go in a straight line. This is all the toy does.”

Fourth Ware lounge, late night, taught about causality, granting me supreme power over the universe. Later, contemplating the large number of versions of that lounge I have sat in.
Sunday, dawn, balcony again. People steadily appear like “survivors crawling out of the wreckage.” Finally, home to sleep for twenty out of twenty four hours. Recovering from Roast takes longer than most serious illness.

Friday, April 23, 2010

MTG's Evil Dead - a Pre-Review

This week and part of next I am running spotlight for MTG's production of Evil Dead: the Musical. Yes, this is a musical based on the Evil Dead series of films by Sam Rami, which starred that hero of modern camp, Bruce Campbell. Yes, this is a musical based on one of the most insane, gorefest horror movies of all time. This is probably the campiest, most profanity-filled splatterfest ever performed to a musical score.

First, the movies. Evil Dead is often considered one of the classic horror zombie movie franchises (though I maintain that deadites are not technically zombies, being dead bodies possessed by demons, not the living dead). The first was a straight horror film about five dumb college students vacationing in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere. The kids find a tape recorder with tapes of some history professor reading passages from some spooky ancient Mesopotamian book he was translating (an obvious reference to Lovecraft's Necronomicon--in Evil Dead the book was called something else but in the later movies the name was changed to that of its inspiration). Said tape recording of ancient text summons evil demons which proceed to posses everything in sight. The movie is graphically violent with extreme to the point of absurdity splatter and gore, including scenes of dismemberment, tree-rape (seriously) and a spooky steady cam that likes to chase people. It ends with everyone but Ash (Campbell) first possessed then killed, sometimes several times, and apparently closes with Ash being possessed by the demonic force as well.

Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, is a sort of sequel, sort of remake. The first 10 minutes recaps Evil Dead, except now with only Ash and his girlfriend Linda, striking the other three students. But then it merges with the original at the point Ash is hit by the evil steady cam, and goes from there. Ash isn't killed, but fails to escape before nightfall, which brings a new pack of dopey victims to be possessed and/or gruesomely killed. Evil Dead II is a comedy/horror hybrid, where the gore of the first is played to the extreme for grim humor, and Ash begins to evolve into more of an action hero trope. This movie is in many ways exactly the same as the first with a new cast, but features ridiculousness like Ash's disembodied hand becoming a major antagonist, slapstick action, and an ending that gets Ash and his chainsaw arm sucked into the past.

Army of Darkness, aka Evil Dead 3, is the best known film in the franchise and is a high comedy-action hybrid, where Ash spouts his most quotable ass-kicking lines. "This is my BOOMSTICK!" "Give me some sugar, baby," "Well, I maybe didn't say every little syllable, but basically, yeah I said the words," and other oft-hipster/nerd quoted lines originate, and is a lot more about kicking demon ass than either gore or horror.

And so, naturally, this horror then horror-comedy then comedy-action movie franchise was converted into an off-Broadway musical that workshopped in 2004 and opened in NYC in 2006. It's...definitely a thing that happened. Evil Dead: the Musical is most famous for being the only musical ever to feature a splatter-zone. Of interest, MTG has reproduced that key feature, and quite successfully, which I'll get back to later. The musical weaves together Evil Dead and its pseudo-remake-sequel Evil Dead 2, inserting the best lines and some of Ash's characterization from Army of Darkness and the comedy elements of the second film back into the story of the first. There is also a sly nod to the remake/reboot features of Evil Dead 2, as Act II begins with a do-over of the last scene of Act I, except all the bodies except for Linda's have vanished without explanation. The story both mocks and plays along with the dumb-college-student horror movie tropes, and when things start to go crazy, the musical really goes off the deep end. Once the axes and chainsaws come out, the stage (and audience) is drenched with gallons of fake blood. The show features numbers such as "What the Fuck was That," "Ode to an Accidental Stabbing," and "Necronomicon," this show's sort-of homage to "Time Warp."

The problem is, well...the sci-fi/horror rock musical has been done before, and much better. The comedy elements work better in Bat Boy, and the music of both Bat Boy and the old classic Rocky Horror blow away the frankly mediocre songs in Evil Dead. The show's a lot of fun, but doesn't have a lot of staying power or memorable songs. Aside from the novelty factor of seeing a cult classic converted to stage show and a musical accompanied by splashes of gore, there's not really a whole lot to this show.

That said, MTG's production is very well done and a ton of fun, such that I am going to go see it tonight in my night off from spot op. The technical design of the show is superb--the set (Karen Hart) looks great (though I hear the floor painting was a lucky inheritance from Dramashop), the lighting design (Alex French) is really effective, with fantastic effects during the creepy/crazy and especially gorefest moments in the show. I was also very impressed with the choreography (Christopher Brathwaite) which was energetic, precise and well supported the music, and was executed with enthusiasm by the cast.

The cast is excellent as well, taking the camp elements for everything they're worth and then some, which is the only way this show can work. The singing is all high quality and spot on. The most impressive musical performance comes from Jake (Brad Smith) who belts out his numbers like a hillbilly meatloaf, and yes, his numbers are every bit as high as they sound. Linda (Karen Hart) puts on a beautiful musical performance, or as much as is possible with the absurd numbers she has. My favorite acting performance came from Cheryl (Priscilla Army) who went above and beyond the call of duty in her portrayal of the (spoiler alert) cellar-bound head demon who torments Ash throughout the show.

And then, there's the blood. MIT, unsurprisingly, has more than a few people heavily involved in theater tech, and the implementation of the gore is pretty well done. Blood gushes out of every wound, the floor, the walls...there's even an exceptionally well choreographed number where Ash dances with/wastes the deadites, and blood blasts everywhere. The actors have to get special props for acting and dancing on a floor covered with as much water as a boat deck during a thunderstorm. There is a splatter zone of three rows where the audience can expect to be struck-to-drenched with fake blood. Depending on your opinion of how fun that would be, you will be relieved or disappointed to know that the seats are available by request only and are mostly reserved out. If you are going to sit in a splatter seat, I recommend wearing a raincoat. Seriously. If you're not, you should be safe...but note, this is live theater, and unexpected accidents may happen. The gore is all washable, but I'd advise not wearing anything that can't be machine washed, just to be safe.

In summary, I'm not sure that Evil Dead: the Musical was a thing that should have happened, and I can't recommend the original cast album much at all. But as a theatrical experience, MTG's production is fairly to moderately awesome, and if you have the chance (and don't mind a little flying gore), it should be seen. This is a show that only really works in live performance, and MTG quite successfully takes it all the way.

Correction: I originally mis-identified Priscilla's character as Shelly; she's Cheryl.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Week of High Class Carousing (Part II)

All pictures in this post are credit: Sarah Lohman.

Barsmarts Party Continued: the Drinks.
Here are a few of the more interesting drinks I made at the party, and some of the reviews I got from the guests.
  • Blood and Sand. Equal parts OJ, Chivas Regal Scotch, sweet vermouth, and Cherry Heering, shaken over ice and strained into a martini glass. Cherry Heering is a heavily sweetened cherry flavored brandy, that I certainly would never drink on its own, but might be usable as a dessert drink/digestiff paired with the right meal. While the ingredients sound somewhat intimidating, the drink was actually quite pleasant, and most people enjoyed it. I found it has something of a heavy syrupy aftertaste that wasn't so great, but mileage varied.
  • Caipirinha. A traditional Brazilian drink that's fun to make and strong as hell. Half a lime muddled into an ounce of simple syrup, topped with two ounces of cachaca. Cachaca is similar to rum, but apparently you can't say that to a Brazilian. It is fermented sugar cane juice, generally unaged, and has a much funkier aroma than the sort of Puerto Rican rums we're used to. The Caipirinha is the traditional way to drink cachaca, the drink is assembled and then either shaken or stirred over ice.
  • The Cosmopolitan. The drink that made Dale Degroff and the Rainbow Room famous (though he modestly claims not to be the inventor of the drink, only its standardizer). Citrus vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice, cointreau, shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. The drink itself is pretty well known these days, and is most remarkable for the traditional flourish: a flamed orange peel. Fresh citrus peel, cut from the fruit right before you use it, has a ton of oil in it. Many drinks are finished with a spray of this oil from the cut "twist." The cosmo has you flame this oil by squeezing it through a lit match, causing a flash of light and all the girls around the bar to go "ooh, what was that?" Which, as far as I can tell, is the purpose of the flamed twist, because I don't think incinerated citrus oil can be adding that much to the drink itself.
  • Manhattan. The drink as described in my book isn't that interesting, but is a delicious classic: 2:1 bourbon or rye:sweet vermouth plus a dash of bitters, shaken and strained into a cocktail glass with a cherry. The variant I make based on information from Dave Wondrich's book Imbibe is a huge hit--here a barspoonful of Maraschino liqueur and a few dashes of absinthe are added, and the cherry is omitted. Makes a wonderfully spicy and complex drink.
  • Pisco Sour. Pisco is a distilled liquor from Peru, made from grapes but unaged. The traditional drink for it is the sour, which is 2:1:1 pisco to simple syrup to lime juice, a few dashes of bitters, and one egg white. You have to shake the bejeesus out of these. The first one I made wasn't completely homogenized, but the creaminess of the second was highly regarded.

19th Century Pub Crawl. This was the third in the series organized by my sister and the 19th century historical society. The first was in NYC, the second in Cleveland, and now Boston. Victorian dress was encouraged but not required, and a number of people did dress up, myself included. I am in fact now clean shaven for the first time in two years, as I decided that the mutton chops I was sporting on Saturday were not ideal for the job interview I have on Wednesday. Pictures from the event can be found here: And now, the bars.
  • Eastern Standard. Our first stop was Eastern Standard who worked with my sister to give us a great start to the night. We had our own reserved area, a lovely menu, and complimentary appetizers. The drinks were 19th century classics, and included their version of the classic Cocktail (rye, sugar, bitters, stirred and served over ice); the Martinez (Old Tom Gin and dry vermouth in a 1:1 proportion, plus maraschino liqueur and orange bitters); the Ward Eight, a drink invented here in Boston; the Japanese cocktail, a concoction of brandy and lime juice invented by "the Professor" Jerry Thomas to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese ambassador to America, and the Frisco, Rye and benedictine with lemon. I had a Japanese cocktail and a Martinez and enjoyed both, but actually found the Martinez a bit sweet for my tastes.
  • Red Hat. The Red Had has been open for more than 100 years, and is right next to government Center. The drinks list is a lot more...we'll say, "pitchers of mudslides" than the Eastern Standard, but the charm is in the location. The bar is restored original, the walls have these really cool murals of Boston circa 1900, and it all and all was a nice place to drink. Below is me pictured with the other sporters of 19th century facial hair indicating the "Gentlemen's" room at Red Hat.
  • Union Oyster House. The oldest continually operating bar and restaurant in America. When we showed up, the bartender looked terrified and ran to get the bar manager. He at first told us he didn't know about any bar crawl event and interrogated me on our sobriety level. Once he realized we were just a bunch of tipsy nerds, he welcomed us in and let us proceed. Again, the drinks were not the highlight and no one felt like eating oysters, but its another great bar right downtown, and was actually pretty uncrowded. When I asked the bartender if he had Jim Beam Rye for a Manhattan, he said "I got Jim Beam whatever, I dunno, whatever kind we have." So, when Jim Beam Rye is an exotic drink component, you know their are no mixologists on duty. Still, a nice stop on the crawl.
  • Drink. We skipped the fourth official stop on the list, the Bell in Hand Tavern, as there was a line full of preppy clubgoers around the block, so we headed right over to Drink, which is flat out one of the best bars in Boston. Drink only vaguely knew to expect us, and is a very busy club. The doorman was super nice, though warning us it might take 45 minutes to get in, he and the barmaster actually got all 12 of us remaining into the bar in 15 minutes, got drinks in all our hands, and even finished the night by making us the most elaborate set of shots I have ever seen produced, requiring three bartenders and a multi page document, raw eggs, whipped cream, and four part instructions for consuming them ending in bursting the egg yolk in your mouth. I also had another Martinez, here made with Boll's genever, a much maltier style of gin than the old tom, and it tasted like a fabulous boozy cookie.
All in all an amazing weekend, and my hangover is totally almost gone.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Week of High Class Carousing

MIT Alumni Association Scotch Tasting. I started things out last Tuesday by taking Laura’s ticket to this scotch tasting event sponsored by the MIT alumni association. It was a pretty nice little talk, with a tasting flight of six scotches associated. There was a second class on Friday, which was a problem because I had my cocktail party that day. I had been tricked into buying the tickets because somehow we all thought the classes were Tuesday Thursday…but oh well. The informational content of the lecture was interesting, but mostly stuff I knew already. The talk on the night I went was bout the different regions scotch is distilled and a lot on how to do the tasting itself. The lecture I missed was to focus on the actual process of producing scotch whisky. The night I went, the tasting flight included Johnny Walker Swing, which is terrible and overpriced bad blended scotch in a stupid bottle, Glenkinchie, a lowlands malt, Two Dalmores (highlands) and two Laphroaigs (Islay).

Barsmarts Practical Exam Cocktail Party. Last month I took an online bartending class, and it was pretty fantastic. Barsmarts is a program put together by Dale Degroff, the original bartender of the Rainbow Room in New York who is one of the main drivers of the modern cocktail renaissance, Dave Wondrich, a historian who makes his career studying the history of drinking, plus a number of other storied mixologists. The live program costs a freaking fortune and is designed for training bartenders working the classiest of joints. The online version was only forty-five dollars and I got a set of bartending tools in the mail too. The course book was extremely well done, covered everything from the history of distilling to a primer on all the major liquors to practical bartending. It also included the recipes for 25 classic cocktails “every bartender should know.”

The goal of the party was for me to mix any dink in my coursework from memory in a live bartending type situation. It went pretty darn well—I didn’t make any mistakes (until 2am and I forgot to add bitters to a Manhattan, but I was fairly well in the bag by that point so I move it doesn’t count). I got a little overwhelmed about 10, and was very kindly relieved by my sister’s boyfriend Kyle around 11 so I could actually talk to people.

More to come, including my favorite drinks from the party and the rundown on the 19th century pub crawl event from Saturday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

American Idiot on Broadway [Review]

Last Friday, I went to see the (third) Broadway Preview of American Idiot. The musical is a staged performance of the Green Day album of the same name, padded out with a bunch of songs from 21st Century Breakdown and a couple other sources. The cast was largely the same as the original off-Broadway show, with only one substitution amongst the leads (Tunny was played by Stark Sands, vs Matt Caplan in the original run, which is actually pretty irrelevant because I have no idea who either of them is).

Greenday was, I think, the second band I ever really listened too. The first was R.E.M., because I heard "Stand" when it was the theme song to the short lived and extra terrible Fox comedy Get a Life staring Chris Eliott. I don't really remember how I got introduced to Green Day, but probably it involved me getting friends who were not also huge nerds who introduced me to the "radio." This was right when Dookie came out, and I had just turned 17. Its universal message of impotent-teen-aged-to-early-twenty-something-rage (and frequent masturbation) connected with my high schooler brain, and I listened to that album constantly. I have a vivid memory of listening to the album on headphones while working as an office temp over that summer at my dad's company. At the end of the summer, I was mortified to learn that the secretaries all had heard me singing "When I come around" under my breath for the last three months.

I of course was late to the whole Green Day thing, as they'd been doing the pop-punk/impotent-male-rage thing for years. I never retroactively got into their older albums, but I did once hear the following amazing story about one of their early club shows in the East Bay area. The concert attendee in question, being a dumb 18 year old going to a pop punk show in California, had brought with him a homemade prop. This prop consisted of a huge pile of old bread he had found discarded behind a bakery, which he had pressed into the smallest ball he could manage and placed inside of a fishnet bag. At the concert, he swung said bag in a circle around his head, spraying smooshed bread across the floor and the other Green Day fans. Naturally, he lost his grip on the bag, which sailed across the room and hit Billy Joe in the head. I cannot for the life of me remember who told me that story.

My own Green Day concert memory comes from 1996, during the height of their first round of popularity. I went with my friend Brian to a giant arena show, where I was lamely in the seats, watching the cool people be cool on the floor. But it was still awesome. Green Day's music is often simple--I used to joke that they'd bust out that third cord for the really emotionally intense portions of the song--but I've always found it really powerful and visceral. When amped up to concert levels, the wall of heavy guitar chords completely surrounds you, and the drums pound into your brain in a way that's both punk and primal. I remember turning to my friend and asking him what it is that makes a band fade away or last for decades, and if he thought Green Day would still be around in 20 years. He told me he expected them to break up in a year or two.

After the mid 90's, Green Day first got mediocre (Insomniac) then "experimental," which is to say, super lame. I barely remember Nimrod except that it spawned the lame song that was in every freaking movie in 1997. I don't think I'd ever heard of Warning before writing this review, though upon investigation sorta did like that title song. And I guess my friend was right, cause I'm pretty sure they did break up in there somewhere. Then I graduate and go off the grad school and mostly forget about my impotent early twenty-something male rage.

Jump ahead to 2004 and the release of American Idiot. I had pretty much stopped listening to Green Day by the time "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" became the new radio single. It took me a while to realize I really liked that song, that it had gotten inside of me in the same way the old stuff did when I was in high school. It was a couple years before I bought American Idiot, which has since become one of my most-played albums. It has the same power and sheer volume (in the breadth sense, not the magnitude sense) that I loved from the old Green Day. It also had a maturity to it, and more variety in song construction than Dookie ever did, without the lameness of Nimrod. The concept-album angle was sort of interesting, but the music was what sold me. I mean, the story is basically the same impotent-early-twenty-something-male-rage shtick of the old Green Day, but now being sung by a pack of thirty somethings. I wasn't particularly interested in the story of Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy, and Whatshername, but I did like their songs.

And so, now here we are in 2010 and Green Day has a rock musical opening on Broadway, twenty years after their first album (suck it, Brian). The plot of American Idiot the Musical is the same as the 2004 album, and everything they wrote in the 90's: impotent male rage. In some sense, it seemed absurd to watch a show written by guys pushing 40 about 20 year olds raging against the world but powerless to change it, or even really do anything interesting. On one level, I feel like they should move on already. On another, they're really good at telling that story.

The show stars John Howard Gallagher, Jr. as Johnny, aka Jesus of Suburbia, in the tale already told by the concept album. Gallagher is best known for originating the role of Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakening, so he has good young-male-impotent-rage credentials. A lot of the show reminded me of Spring Awakening in fact. Some of the choreography was similar, the set was a mostly bare stage with occasional furniture, and the story, while simpler, is another one of those male coming of age in a world that sucks stories. The music, being Green Day, was a lot more intense, and the pace overall more frenetic.

The show was a lot like a staged Green Day concert, or maybe what a Green Day show would be if it were choreographed by the person who does Lady Gaga's videos. For me, the show evoked a lot of my late high school, early college concert experiences, with that wall of alt rock sound, familiar songs, and dancing that was like a completely cracked up and yet perfectly coordinated version of the kind of flail-dancing I associate with outdoor alternative shows in the mid 90's. The show follows Johnny as he rages against his crappy town, leaves his crappy town, moves to New York, meets a drug dealer named St. Jimmy and the super hot punk girl Whatshername, who doesn't get pants until the last 30 minuted of the production. One of his hometown friends comes with him, hates the city, enlists in the army and gets seriously wounded, while his other best friend never leaves town due to knocking up his high school girlfriend. Then the show ends after everyone has screwed up their lives and crawled back to their crappy hometown. Hooray!

The set was pretty amazing. The show made excellent use of vertical space. Action happened almost to the top of the stage, with the actors running up fire escapes, flipping out of hidden windows, and flying around with some pretty impressive wire work. The set incorporated dozens of flat screen tvs that blast a stream of images during most of the show, holding still only during Johnny's brief moments of dialog when they display a static message that starts as "Please Stand By" and evolves over the show. I remember "Please Come" and "Please Help Me" but am blanking on most of the others. The set is rendered steadily more chaotic as the show goes on, with paper and spray paint and glitter everywhere. I would hate to be on run crew for this show.

The highlights for me include St. Jimmy, who had a ridiculous emo-dbag haircut combined with an old-school punk attitude and singing style, and who stole the show whenever he was on stage. I also loved Whatshername, who was completely intense when dancing and beautiful when singing (and also didn't wear pants, as previously mentioned). overall the music was great, and I thought the numbers where they orchestrated out the songs into multi-part harmony were fantastic, as it led that same wall of sound feeling the guitar has to the vocals, and I wish they had done more of that. The show had an on stage punk band (not Green Day themselves) and i totally fell in love with the riot grrl conductor keyboardist with her thigh high chucks.

The show made me ask a few questions, such as who the hell says "You know what? I think i might like to try heroin tonight." And also, seriously, why still tell the same story over and over, Green Day? On the other hand, the story wasn't really the point and I have to give credit to any rock musical with a plot that's coherent; brilliant and meaningful may be asking a bit much. I also wonder if American Idiot is pitying the millennials, in a way. After all, Green Day got to rage for its own sake in a world that was pretty good. The current kids have to rage against Bush's America, Iraq war and American Idol and all. Is that the timeless message, that 90's rage was for fun and the 00's were really depressing? Well, deep philosophy it was not, but it was still an insanely fun show.

One final story. About ten minutes before the show started, the people in the orchestra seats when completely nuts. I was in the back row of the balcony, and like all the other dopes who stood up like that would make the floor transparent I couldn't see anything. After the show ended, me and my sister got funneled to some sketchy back stairwell, where we were suddenly stopped with like fifty other people because some bodyguard had closed the door at the bottom telling us we couldn't exit yet. So there I was trapped in a back stairwell filled with people of all ages who were completely cranked up from sitting through the craziest staged concert we had ever seen, when my sister quips, "...and, this is where we burn to death." While that would have been a punk rock way to go, we eventually escaped with our lives. Probably this was all the fault of Green Day themselves, who we suspect were at this show, being the first preview on a weekend. But I didn't see them, so for all I know, it was Barak Obama, Jimmy Paige, and the Pope holding up our exit.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

NYC People Watching

This weekend I was in NYC. Besides seeing a couple Broadway shows and visiting perhaps the classiest bar and the towniest bar in the city, I spent some quality time people watching New York Style. These were some of my favorites.

Multigenerational groups of women all dressed the same. There were a lot of these, actually. I assume they were tourists; at least the group I saw at the tenement museum were speaking in extreme Southern-belle accents as well as all wearing matching black and white plaid coats. Especially common in Times Square, these women most commonly hail from the Midwest. Two or three generations of women wearing the exact same outfits chattering to each other whist looking only up, never forward, become a terrifying challenge to those simply trying to walk here.

Good-natured but clearly crazy rabbi. While sitting on a bench outside the Tenement Museum waiting for my sister's tour to start, a man dressed in full Orthodox Jewish rabbi regalia came wandering up the street. And by "up the street," I don't mean on the sidewalk or on the side of the street, but weaving his way back and forth across the actual street. Said street happened to be a one way street that saw a fair amount of traffic--and of course he had his back to the direction from which traffic was actually coming. He wandered over nearish me with a huge grin on his face and merrily shouted "Shabbat shalom! Are you Jewish?" I replied "No," and was going to follow that up with something like "but I'd love to listen," as I wasn't doing anything in particular and had never spoken to a non-Christian street-preacher before. But the instant "no" was out of my mouth he had already zipped away, greeting his next target in the same way.

Confused club girl. She seemed like a lovely person, but my only interaction with her was pretty odd. I encountered this girl at the super-townie bar I was at on Saturday night, where some on my sister's friends were playing a show (they have a modern bluesy-folksy-rockish band featuring an ammped washtub base and a girl with an accordion). She spent most of the evening flitting between the band, draping herself across her official gay friend, and sitting on the pool table for some reason. At one point I was introduced to her as "Doctor Lohman," which caused her to stare at me with a baffled look on her face. "What kind of doctor?" she asked. She was informed by someone else that I had a Ph.D. in chemistry, which she considered for a minute then responded "no you don't," and flitted away again. I'm pretty sure she though I was pretending to have a doctorate in order to impress the ladies, as typically the ladies all swoon for unemployed academics.

New York 20-something couples yelling at each other. Also a very common sight were young couples walking down the street yelling at each other in heavy New York accents. One in particular were having a spirited discussion on how fast they needed to move, and if the woman wanted to walk so fast, what was she doing looking in all those windows and to what degree that affected her speed.

Enraged old guy at the nice restaurant. We were having dinner at this nice Italian place near Times Square, fantastic food and wonderful people working there. We'd been there about 20-30 min, just finishing our appetizers, when this older guy at the table next to us completely loses it. The host, a wonderfully pleasant guy who bounced around the place spreading sparkly happiness, had just gone over to their table to tell them their food would be right out. The guy, who was seated about the same time we were and who also had just finished their appetizers, starts yelling--literally shouting in this tiny little place filled with other people trying to enjoy their meals--about how long they've been waiting, and to stop assuming he was a "simpleton" because he know how long it takes to cook risotto, and how he'd go back in the kitchen to show them. I just kind of helplessly stared, while the poor server kind of stood there going ""

Extremely flamboyant gay man in a kimono and tattooed guy with 25 face piercings
. I don't believe these actually happened. My sister says we walked right by the both of them (these were separate incidents) and that she was too stunned to say anything until they were gone. I never saw either of them, and don't know how that would be possible, given the descriptions she gave me. So, either she made them up, they are part of some NYC delusion brought on by breathing the air in Queens for five years, or they were so bizarre they radiated some sort of S.E.P. invisibility field that made them imperceptible to anyone who isn't already inured to New York weirdness.

Everyone in a car. I'm used to road rage, living in Boston-Cambridge. But every native New Yorker completely freaks out the second they get behind the wheel. The instant a light turns green, they start honking. If you stop because you're trying not to run over pedestrians or are about to park, they start honking. Multiple times, I saw people driving down a street completely empty of other cars, pedestrians, or animals, just honking away, as if to say "Hello world! I'm alive! And annoyed to be driving in New York!"