Florida Governor Rick Scott is a lot of things. Global warming denier because he is not a scientist. Supporter of private prisons that not only waste state money but treat inmates unconstitutionally and inhumanely. Skeletor’s less mirthful younger brother.
But this Friday, Scott added another ignominious distinction to his resume. He is now the owner of a spot-on impersonation of Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn from Jaws. Scott’s great white shark is the Zika-carrying mosquito.
In one of two front page New York Timesarticles about Zika in Florida yesterday, Scott’s message to residents and visitors to Florida’s Miami-Dade County was lacking in urgency when compared to the CDC. Let’s just kick it to the Times:
He [Scott] minimized the extent of the spread, saying in a news conference, “We have two small areas. One less than a mile, and we’ve already been able to reduce the footprint. We have another area now that’s 1.5 miles on Miami Beach. That’s out of state that takes 15 hours to drive from Key West to Pensacola, so let’s put things in perspective.”
His communications director, Jackie Schultz, said Friday that Mr. Scott “is encouraging people to come to Miami, to come to South Beach. Just remove standing water and wear bug spray.”
The CDC and Florida are at odds over the state of a square mile in the Wynwood section of Miami. Scott calls the area clear while the CDC says it is still an active Zika zone.
It’s hard to read these statements by the Scott administration and not think of Mayor Vaughn from Jaws. Unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the situation, he kept the beaches open and made statements that could be delivered by Rick Scott and his team. Like this:
Scott is willing to ignore the potential health risks associated with a spreading virus that we continue to learn more about. And with the lag time between between when someone comes into contact and when a diagnosis can be confirmed, Scott is playing fast and loose with public safety in the name of protecting tourism dollars.
But you don’t have to take my word for it on the threat to people’s health. Just check the other article about Zika in yesterday’s New York Times. It is all about women in South Florida struggling to avoid contracting Zika while pregnant.
It’s been a day since this blog did…anything. But with “Best of” food lists becoming something of a cottage industry in New York City publications, I figured I could dust off this old boat and take it out for a spin every so often, and never run out of places to review.
The five boroughs are not lacking in fried chicken options. From the fried chicken plates at places like the Commodore to celebrity chef fast food options at Shake Shack and Fuku, it takes a lot to stand out. Which brings us to Cobble Hill’s Red Star.
Red Star’s fried chicken option gives the sandwich a Korean bent. And for what it’s worth, the trappings have the makings of a good sandwich. The bread roll is warm and soft. The lettuce and mayo are appropriately sparse. The pickled daikon and dill provide a nice balance to the gochujang sauce spread across the sandwich.
Let’s talk about that gochujang sauce. Derived from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybean, salt, Wikipedia tells me it is supposed to be savory, spicy, and pungent. Red Star’s pulls off the first two without too much pungency. The spiciness is combined with a nice tangy flavor. But, no one is turning out to a restaurant or sandwich shop for the toppings and condiments.
Things go awry with the chicken. Double fried and battered with gossamer rice flour batter, the meat leaves the eater wanting. The sandwich is filling. So over the course of the meal, some of the chicken is tender white meat. But far too often it’s dry, or on my first bite, downright rubbery. This was the case on both of my visits.
I’m leery to write off Red Star based on the shortcoming of just one sandwich. Maybe their banh mi meatball or shrimp po’boy offering are top-notch. But on a stretch of Smith that has Fawkner offering up a (slightly more expensive) fried chicken sandwich and Abilene up and over on Smith serving a buffalo chicken sandwich, Red Star’s Korean Fried Chicken isn’t enough to get me to jump off the subway a few stops before home.
I’m a sucker for a good gimmick. And Williamsburg’s Commodore has one of the better ones around. Send a postcard from any state (or country for that matter) other than New Jersey and Connecticut to the bar. Claim it when you visit and the bar gives you a free beer. A postcard will run you maybe $2 and a stamp is $0.34. That’s a pretty good deal for a beer.
If that were all the Commodore had to offer, I would make a point of visiting it after every out-of-state trip and that would be it. But that is far from the case. Inside its unassuming frontage – the first time I went a few years ago, I walked right by it – and the 70s Southern nautical decor beats the heart of a bar that turns out exceptional fried comfort foods.
Grilled cheese has had a renaissance in New York the past few years. Unlike the cupcake bubble or the bull market on macaroons, Melt Shop and Melt Kraft (along with Queens Kickshaw out in Astoria) have provided substance to this development. The unrelated Melt outlets dish out great sandwiches, but often they stretch, in particularly tasty ways, the definition of a grilled cheese. That’s why the menu item that first caught me and kept me coming back to Commodore was the Adult Grilled Cheese.
Appearances – like the front of the joint – can be deceiving. Coming out all by itself on a midsize plate, your first instinct is disappointment. Presentation aside, the unexpected combination of pimento and poblano changes everything. Eventually, I discovered the cheeseburger which became my second go-to.
That whole time though, I was making a circuitous route to the Commodore’s true calling card – the breast. Either mild or hot. A friend of mine is so enamored with the dish that when we talk about hanging out and grabbing dinner, she’ll e-mail me with a variation on “I’ve been craving a mild breast” as her way of suggesting we meet at Commodore.
Last month, my friends Maura and Quinn and I visited the Commodore on the first post-Labor Day Saturday of September. Managing to snag three seats at the bar made the “ordering from the bar” set-up that much easier to navigate during the busy evening.
With three of us there, we decided to order not two, not three, but four different dishes. Our first go to was the fried chicken plate. Maybe the more refined fried chicken consumers out there will scoff at me for being a newcomer to an abiding appreciation for chicken off the bone, but I have to imagine this is what it is supposed to be – the sweet spot between the poles of dry and rubbery and something that should probably just be called boneless. What more could you ask for then the right mix of dipping sauce and biscuits with honey butter, paired with tender white meat that falls off the bone?
Order this plate, and it will get messy. The guys next to us tore through their plate to the point where there was a fallout zone of crumbs radiating a good six inches around their plate.
Quinn, who successfully came up with an Oscar Watching Party menu where the made from scratch dishes were themed to each Best Movie nominee – so he clearly knows his shit – said, “I’d come to Williamsburg just for this.”
Then it was on to our main dishes – the hot breast for Quinn, the hot fish for me, and the nachos for Maura, who was drawn to them by the presence of cilantro.
The fish and breast overwhelm the larger than normal hamburger bun they come in. The fish is literally the entire fish. With breadcrumbs and smoked mayo adding to the sandwiches’ force, even I, someone who finds it hard to eat fish could enjoy this sandwich on a regular basis. The hot breast, which comes with coleslaw and pickles found a fan in Quinn.
The nachos are not bad. In fact they are good. But in a place like the Commodore, ordering them seems like a disservice to one’s taste buds given the other options available.
It is great to see a place get the recognition it deserves and this summer, the Commodore started serving brunch. So there is another reason to get your hung over self on the G Train on a Saturday morning.
With that being said, this place gets packed. Like L train packed at night towards the end of the week and the weekend. So if you’re going just for the food, earlier in the evening might be your best bet. No matter the hour though, you don’t need a postcard to enjoy this place.
You ever see Blue Valentine on Valentine’s Day weekend with a significant other?
Well I have. Not my movie choice. It’s the type of experience that leaves you shaken. That movie is dark. And sad. And if you’re anything like me, you want to be left alone, standing in grassy valley with a light breeze and the sun shining on you – for a week after leaving the theater. Not the bitter cold icy-wind tunnels that northeastern US cities double as in February.
Valentine’s Day is the time of year when schlocky films like Serendipity, Notting Hill, and other rom-coms find their way onto cable channels in even greater frequency than normal. Blue Valentine is the pinnacle of counter programming to those lovely films.
In a similar, though less “so this is what it’s like to be in a dead end relationship in a formerly industrial Pennsylvania small city” way, this year’s Composite Mix CD – Not Your Typical February Mix Tape – is counter programming to all the love songs one would hear around this time of year. Or any day of the year.
The inspiration came from a thought that popped into my head in the shower nearly two years.
So that is what I bring you this year. A tale of falling out of love. The stories in the song aren’t as important as the sentiments they convey and how, when pieced together, it provides the arc of a sputtering relationship, the end, and the feelings afterward. Having listened to it incessantly the last few weeks it’s less sad than one would assume. It’s just honest.
Want a CD? E-mail email@example.com by 11:59 pm on February 14 with your address and we’ll send you that CD.
A few things to keep in mind (like the last two years):
To my European friends who find this blog because they are still searching for photos of the Titanic, your request will be honored.
Limit first 100 requests. We came so close last year!
All you need to do to be part of this fledgling tradition is to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always looked on the “historical fiction” genre with hesitant eyes. It seems to be the turf of guys like Newt Gingrich (and co-author) who take actual historical events and end up playing them out in an alternative universe. Not crazy stuff like aliens helping the Union Army at Gettysburg or a band of werewolves stopping the Great Chicago Fire. Instead, they play out the historical what ifs on par with the Confederacy winning the Civil War or a successful Axis ground invasion of Britain.
These books, to me at least, come off as the literary equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. History is too boring to be left to biographers and historians so we’re going to play make believe with real people, guessing how they would have handled situations they never found themselves in during their lives.
Thomas Mallon’s “Watergate: A Novel,” is a horse of a different color when it comes to historical fiction. Instead of giving us a history of the Nixon Administration where the Watergate burglars are never caught, the reader is treated to Mallon’s exploration of the time between the Watergate break-in and the last minutes of Nixon’s presidency. It seems like anyone was even tangentially related to the Watergate break-in and ensuing cover-up gets a spotlight shined on them in this scattered novel. From the wives of some of the burglars to Nixon himself, we are treated to their motivations for actions both important and irrelevant.
And there in lies one of (but not the biggest – we’ll get to that) problems with “Watergate.” Mallon spends so much time bouncing from one person’s perspective to another that we don’t get enough time with any one individual to find out what truly matters. By trying to combine history with a novel, we don’t get the character development one expects from fiction. Maybe it has something to do with an assumption by the author that the reader is already familiar with these historical figures, but no matter the underlying cause, it weakens “Watergate”
If the novel side of “Watergate” is hampered by too many characters, the non-fiction aspects are lost when Mallon overloads his book with secondary figures whose character arcs clutter the progress of the book and take away from the history at hand. We get a lot about journalist Joseph Alsop and Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt Lodge. Be it about Alsop’s sham of a marriage or Alice’s regrets over the loss of her daughter, these tangential explorations draw away from the titular subject: Watergate. The Saturday Night Massacre gets rushed through with nary a mention of Robert Bork yet we get page after page about Alsop and Alice.
All of these pale in comparison to what Mallon himself shares with the reader in the Acknowledgements section:
…I have operated along the always sliding scale of historical fiction. The text contains deviations from fact that some readers will regard as unpardonable, and other swill deem unworthy of notice. But this remains a work of fiction, not history.
Much as Mallon leaves the judgment up to the reader, I do the same with you. But I leave you with this. If Mallon wants us to look at Watergate from a new perspective and the key players in a different light by filling in what he believes were the conversations that happened in the Oval, on Air Force One, and in the Watergate, it is tough to get on board when the reader is unable to sort the fact from the fiction.
As I write this on Monday night, the Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball with a 75 and 46 record. Want some metrics that are a little more sophisticated, they have the best run differential in the National League at the start of tonight’s game against the Braves.
Speaing of tonight’s game, if the Nationals win – they’re currently tied at 4 in the top of the 11th – they’ll be 30 games above .500. A DC major league baseball team hasn’t been this good since the Senators won 99 games in the first year of FDR’s first term. The last time the Nationals/Expos franchise finished with a better record was the 1979 Expos, though an argument could be made that ’94 Expos would have made all this moot since they were 34 games above .500 in early August when the players went on strike.
The funny thing about the Nationals is that this wasn’t supposed to happen – not this year at least. When pitchers and catchers reported to Florida and Arizona back in February, much of the talk in the NL East revolved around the flashy and pricey contracts laid out by the Miami Marlins, the garish ballpark they were opening in downtown and their outlandishly boisterous new manager. Or how the Phillies wouldn’t be as good as they were last year but they’d still manage to win the NL East. Even the Braves overshadowed the Nationals in some pre-season projections.
This was all in spite of trading for Oakland ace Gio Gonzalez, getting Stephen Strasburg back from Tommy John surgery and building off an 80-win season in 2011 where they finished the season strong after Davey Johnson took over as manager.
Washington’s success this season is all the more impressive when the injuries they’ve dealt with are taken into consideration. Outfielder (and my former boss and life-long Phillies fan’s favorite contract to make fun of) Jayson Werth went down with a broken wrist in May, closer Drew Storen was out until after the All-Star game, Ryan Zimmerman was not himself till he received a cortisone shot in July and catcher Wilson Ramos who survived a scary kidnapping in Venezuela this winter was lost for the season in May. This is a team whose starting nine was not at full-strength until very recently.
What has been at full strength since April: pitching. From a starting five that is arguably the best rotation in the major leagues and a bullpen to match that has not missed a beat without Storen as set-up man extraordinaire Tyler Clippard assumed the closer’s role after Brad Lidge was released and Henry Rodriguez proved ineffective.
I remember going to a 2009 game in DC where the Nats took on the defending World Champion Phillies. It felt like we were in Citizens Bank Park as any Nats chant or cheer was shouted down by the Phillies fans in the stands. That wasn’t uncommon when the Phillies were in town.
Now things are different. The one moment in the season series that captures the changing of the guard in the NL East and the natitude of this Washington team came on May 6th when Cole Hamels drilled rookie phenom Bryce Harper in the back. Harper got to third and then stole home on Hamels.
After the game Hamels said, “I was trying to hit him. I’m not going to deny it. That’s just – you know what, it’s something I grew up watching, that’s what happened, so I’m just trying to continue the old baseball…” Nats GM Mike Rizzo fired back, calling Hamels “gutless,” “classless,” and “fake tough.” Rizzo adding, “Cole Hamels says he’s old school? He’s the polar opposite of old school.” Maybe not the brainiest move on Rizzo’s part, but it showed fight for a team that was long pushed around by the Phillies while being the doormat of the NL East.
I remember opening day in 2008 when Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves. That Nationals team finished 59-102. Tonight marks the first game of a critical three-game series between the Nationals and the second-place Braves. A Nats sweep would put the Braves eight games back with 38 to play. A Braves sweep would cut the lead to two. This is a BIG series.
There is still time for this team to hit the wall and fade. Stranger things have happened. Or the Braves could rip off an insane winning streak in the waning days of the season. Even with these nightmare scenarios rattling around my mind, a 99.1 percent chance of making the playoffs playoff calms those concerns most days, the opportunity to enjoy meaningful baseball as a fan this late in the season for the first time is fun. And that’s what being a fan is all about. After years of hoping that draft picks would finally pan out, that guys like Lastings Milledge might turn it around (not so much), and that one of these seasons the team might crack .500, that time has come.
I haven’t been to the park since 2010 when I was trying to catch Strasburg’s first start and ended up with a prototypically underwhelming Livan Hernandez start against the Reds. But I’ve caught the Nats on TV throughout the year and as the season has progressed, there has been an energy at the park. And its an energy that is palpable. It’s Natitude through and through. And its a swagger that starts at the top with the players and is also in the stands. And its a message to any team that finds themselves playing the Nationals in October: we’re for real and we’re here to win!
And in the 13th inning last night, the Nationals won on an infield squibbler that Dan Uggla, the Braves’ second baseman mishandled. Thirty games above .500 and a six game lead in the NL East. We may have a generic aughts designed stadium, we may have a weird mascot and a lame team name, but we’re better than your team.
We’ve already written about the underwhelming first, and every other impression Penn Station makes upon your arrival – be it on the train, subway or from street level. It makes Soviet architecture look lively and warm. Even during its most packed and maddening rush hour moments, Grand Central Terminal maintains a grandeur that excuses the hustle and bustle of the suburban commuters and bewildered tourists.
The only justification that excuses the madhouse that Penn Station can be is the promise of the beautiful scenery flying by your window no matter your destination – north along the Hudson, New England-bound as you hug the Atlantic or south as the train runs through the Chesapeake region. A word to the wise, the absolute worst time to find yourself in Penn Station is Friday during afternoon rush hour. Not only are tens of thousands of commuters making their way home, a fair amount of them already tipsy, but you’ve got a litany of sold-out Amtrak trains loaded with families on vacation, tourists exploring the US by rail and long-distance commuters trying to get home. It’s a combustible cocktail of exhaustion, anxiety and weariness that can test the nerves of the most hardy traveler.
But even the worst Penn Station experiences can be wiped from the memory quickly. Last Friday, just minutes after departing Penn Station for Vermont, as the train rumbled over the Harlem River into the Bronx, the stressful wait at Penn Station had begun to slip away. As the train made it way up the Hudson with the sun settling gracefully over the Catskills, giving the river a golden hue, the hullabalo that is Penn Station disapeared from my thoughts.
That’s the great thing about the ride between New York City and Albany, no matter the weather or the time of the day, the river and it’s surrounding environs are a cathartic bubble if you’re lucky enough to catch a window seat and find yourself in the right state of mind. At night, the lights of the bridges and the small hamlets on the western banks periodically illuminate the river. In the rain, the raindrops, at the right angle look like skips of rocks bouncing over the water and on partly cloudy days filled with a bright sun, it’s easy to understand why a school of art was named after the body of water.
For me, the best moment comes about an hour out of New York City. For the entirety of the ride, the Hudson River is dotted with speed boats and kayakers, lighthouses and puttering tugboats hauling barges to the port. While these are picturesque, nothing comes close to the the abandoned structure near Fishkill, that is a few hundred yards from land. It looks like it could be the mansion in Jane Eyre – after the fire.
Having ridden this route consistently since 2003, this relic of another century has always left me wondering – who lived there? What was it like to call that building home in a time when the natural beauty of the lower Hudson Valley must have been less hemmed in and towns and cities along the rivers banks were the exception, instead of the norm? What was it like living there through the coldest of winters where people could cross the river simply by walking on the ice? How stunningly jaw-dropping was it to stand on those grounds in the middle of the most perfect summer nights as the constellations were plastered on the sky as if they were nightlights on a ceiling?
For years, my lack of knowledge allowed my imagination to wander about the Victorian and Gilded era opulence that the mansion once could have been and the stories of the scions and their brood who called the place home. And to the eventual destruction of the place – was it overnight? Did it creep upon the estate as the last of the family line aged and was unable to maintain the building financially, physically or both? What type of Franzenian (yea, I turned his name into a verb) family drama ensued that sealed the fate of this once imposing structure? Could it be restored? Would it make any sense to do that? What would it be like to live in the restored grandeur of a 19th Century mansion in the middle of the Hudson?
Knowledge may be power, but when it comes to confirming the perceptions you’ve honed for years with little basis besides your imagination and fictional narratives imbued in your psyche from years of English class assigned novels, knowledge can be the ultimate downer. During my last trip to Penn Station on Amtrak, I finally decided to Wikipedia the building that had long enchanted me.
Located on Pollepel Island, the structure is Bannerman’s Castle. Built by Francis Bannerman in the early 20th Century, it was intended for his military surplus business. Bannerman needed a place to store his more than 30 million surplus munitions cartridges because his storeroom on Broadway was, naturally, not the best place for these items. However, when he died in 1918, construction stopped. And that began the downward slide that has left the structure in the dilapidated state it’s in today. A portion of the building was destroyed from an explosion involving 200 tons of shells and powder a few years later. The structure was all but abanoned after the ferry serving the island sank in the 1950s. Just a few weeks before man landed on the moon in 1969, a fire destroyed much of the building. The final ignominy for this imposing castle came just a few years ago when a sizable portion of the structure’s front and east walls collapsed.
Like the Titanic, crumbling away as it suffers at the hands of time and nature, Bannerman’s Castle, standing in the middle of the Hudson, is probably not long for this world. In a decade or two or maybe three, this once glorious, unfinished structure will be no more. Who knows how many riders, from the glory years of passenger rail zipping across the Empire State on the New York Central, to the bleak days of the downtrodden Penn Central or today’s travelers on Amtrak and Metro North let their minds wander as this structure, intended to house military curio and relics, caught their eye? Structures like Bannerman’s Castle may remain unfinished in reality, but their unfinished nature gives our imagination the opportunity to right the wrongs unleashed by the unforgiving hands of time and nature.