It Feels Like February (And That’s a Good Thing)

One miserable February day in high school, I remember one of my teachers illustrating how we all felt. On the white board, he drew two diagonal lines that intersected toward the bottom, each one representing half the school year. He labeled the low point, where the lines met, “February.” He meant it to encourage us; yes, it’s dark outside, but it only gets better from here.

For the last few months, I’ve been living firmly on that downhill slide, heading toward the low point. I should offer a caveat: Nothing objectively traumatic has occurred. I’m in one piece and grateful for my (ultimately very stable) life. But the low point has appeared in the form of wrestling with the realization that, especially in New York City, I’ll never be able to do it all.

One of the most important realizations I’ve made since living in New York/becoming an adult (for me, those two are one in the same) is that time is your most valuable asset. In a city with infinite activity, you have to make choices, and I feel like I’ve had to make a lot of them in the first part of 2017.

These choices are all centered on time – who you hang out with, what hobbies you pursue, where you go, what relationships you prioritize. Inevitably, people, places, and pursuits come and go as the years pass. I’ve only been in New York just shy of five years, and the way I spend my time now looks dramatically different from the way it did when I first moved. And that’s a good thing. But I’m also much more aware of the ways I spend my time now, and while I think the awareness is a good thing, constantly obsessing over how to spend time – and fretting about how I might be wasting it – seems like a rather fruitless endeavor.

“Epiphany” is too strong a word, but as I was washing a few dishes this evening, after just having watched an episode of 30 Rock and an hour of Hail, Caesar!, I thought of that illustration from my high school teacher. I just watched some of my favorite show, and a good chunk of a great movie. Last night, 15 people crammed in my apartment to watch the Oscars. Yes, the process of managing time and priorities never stops. But life is still good, and it only gets better from here.

While I have you here, and since I just mentioned it, let’s briefly discuss the Oscars, shall we? I really don’t have that much to say, except the screenplay winners gave my favorite speeches, and I’m bummed the Best Picture fiasco overshadowed 1) a win by a phenomenal film and 2) a fantastic hosting job by Jimmy Kimmel.

Tonight I decided to honor Hail, Caesar!’s nomination for Production Design with a re-watch while I scrolled through slideshows of the red carpet and Vanity Fair party. It was heaven. (I still think a convincing Supporting Actor case could have been made for Ralph Fiennes, although why would you really want to compete with Mahershala Ali.)

Despite all my love of movies and award shows, this was the first year I’d seen all the Best Picture nominees before the actual Oscars ceremony. Manchester by the Sea was my favorite film this season, but I am thrilled for Moonlight and would have been thrilled for La La Land, too. Even though it wasn’t my favorite of the year, I’ve become something of a La La Land defender in the past few weeks; no, the movie isn’t perfect, but it’s got music, dance, Technicolor, and dreams. I don’t think it deserves all the backlash.

Every year during the Oscar ceremony, there’s a moment where I consciously think about how I spent four months watching these movies for, more or less, the very purpose of enjoying this one night. And every year I question why I do such a thing. And then a few months later I’m yearning for awards season again. We all have our vices.

Last thing.

One of my resolutions for 2017 was to continue, and expand upon, the work I did in 2016 to document as much as I could about what I read, watched, and listened to. From an ease-of-documentation standpoint, at least for TV and movies, I find tumblr to be a more effective medium than this blog. I will definitely still be writing here, but I’m keeping a more updated, visually focused look at my cultural intake on tumblr.

Good night.

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Summer in the City: MLB All-Star Game and Culture for Free

Just two months ago, my humidity-hating, sweater-loving self was dreading another sticky summer in New York City. Thanks to a number of recent events, however, I’m changing my tune.

Saturday night, I went with a group of friends to the Mariah Carey/New York Philharmonic concert on the Great Lawn in Central Park. I hadn’t worked myself up with excitement over this show; while I don’t dislike Mariah Carey, I don’t know much of her music beyond “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which she is unlikely to sing in July. But, it was free, the weather cooperated, and I tagged along with some Mariah-loving friends.

It turned out to be more of a New York Philharmonic concert (Mariah only sang three or four songs), but it was wonderful. Some of the Phil’s set included classic New York songs such as “New York, New York” and the song from On the Town (which I guess is also titled “New York, New York”? Never pondered that before.), and some of the score from the recently released 42.

My favorite part, though, was former Yankees manager Joe Torre reading “Casey at the Bat,” the famous baseball poem, with the New York Philharmonic providing musical accompaniment. I had no idea this would be part of the program, and when the number was announced, I winced and thought it might be a little cheesy. On the contrary. Torre delivered the poem perfectly, and the Phil’s background music – mimicking players’ movements and crowd excitement with its sound – added an element of emotion to the story I’d never felt before with just a straight reading. (My iPhone video of the last part of the performance is too big to deal with here, and I’ve had trouble uploading it to YouTube. I’m a little surprised MLB hasn’t put the entire thing online, but this clip will have to suffice for a link. Just trust me; it was great, and indelible New York memory for me.)

Hope and me at FanFest

Hope and me at FanFest

Thanks to a friend who works for a PR firm handling lots of ASG-related events, I scored two tickets to the All-Star FanFest at the Javits Center. I forced my sister, only marginally interested in baseball, to come with me (though we did clear up the difference between a no-hitter and perfect game for her, so it was a success) and we enjoyed the experience. I would have found FanFest to be the absolute coolest thing in the world if I was a wide-eyed 12-year-old, for whom baseball was a relatively new obsession, traveling to the game with my dad who’d be willing to fork over $$ for a cool new t-shirt and autographed baseball. I may be a little too old to be blown away by the spectacle, but it really was a cool set-up, and they had some especially great displays on the history of the Mets and the Negro Leagues.

Plus, since I wasn’t going to the Home Run Derby or the game itself, I loved getting to be immersed in some part of the All-Star experience while it was in New York. I live right off the 7 line, the train that’s carried thousands of fans to and from Citi Field the past few days, so it was cool to see all this – baseball-crazed kids toting loot bags through FanFest, tourists sporting their team jersey, thousands of passengers trickling onto the 7 train for the ride out to Flushing – happening in my backyard.

Aside from ASG events, I’ve also been able to enjoy a couple of NYC music events in Central Park lately. Yesterday, the New York Philharmonic played its annual show in the park, so I made another trip up to the Great Lawn to hear the performance. Then, tonight, the Metropolitan Opera performed various selections at the park’s SummerStage, and it was lovely. Just enough of the day’s heat had subsided that it wasn’t totally miserable outside, and I loved how the show featured only three singers, each performing a number of songs, like the Met was giving a few of its young stars a chance to really show their chops. My favorite part was their final number before the encore: a three-song West Side Story medley.

Both events were absolutely free, too (as was the Mariah concert)! Amazing free music, enjoyed in the company of friends on a warm summer evening, under the shadow of skyscrapers. This summer in New York is turning out to be about as perfect as it gets.

Tough Act to Follow

Editor’s Note: This is the first of at least a few posts inspired by a class I’m taking on the Beatles. More details below.

Fred Kaps. Frank Gorshin. Tessie O’Shea. Wells and the Four Fays.

What do all of these people have in common?

They had the misfortune of performing on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Just like these four people:

This term, I’m taking a class called “The Beatles and Their Times,” and it is the greatest class ever (hyperbolic but truthful). I wish it was four hours long instead of two. I read the textbooks for fun. (The books are here and here. Both are great; the former is indispensable if you’re a Beatles die-hard.)

Today, we watched a few clips from that February 1964 episode; the first of the band’s several Ed Sullivan Show appearances through the years. Of course, it’s always a treat to watch them: Observing each Beatle’s unique stage presence, laughing at the insane reactions of female audience members, realizing halfway through the song that you’re sort of singing out loud and your seat neighbors would probably like you to stop.

We also watched Wells and the Four Fays’ indescribably strange acrobatics routine (it started with a woman in a gorilla-esque costume and ended with a guy and girl doing a hybrid boxing-gymnastics bit, if that gives you an idea). As if that wouldn’t have been ridiculous enough on its own, they performed right after the Beatles’ final song of the night; talk about a tough act to follow.

Thinking that would make an entertaining blog post – hey, look at these poor people who had to perform after the Beatles! – I spent more time than I care to admit searching for their routine online (in class, we watched from a DVD set of the full Ed Sullivan Show episodes on which the Beatles performed). With no luck, I realized that was the story: Performing on the Ed Sullivan Show was a big deal, but they leave behind no evidence for today’s average American to consume.

I wonder what went through their heads when they heard the Beatles would play. Were they mad about being thrown from the limelight? Or were they excited by the potential for a larger audience?

What really gets me, though, is how many people watched. Sixty percent of the nation’s television audience! 60! I don’t see 60% of Americans ever watching the same thing at once these days; people even DVR the Super Bowl. As weird as that Wells and the Four Fays routine was, it would have survived in some small way had it been performed today, likely in the form of a mocking Twitter hashtag and a few YouTube clips.

I feel a little sorry for the acts whose performances so paled in comparison to the Beatles that they only survive as footnotes in stories about the Beatles. Mostly, though (here comes the fangirl!), all this thinking about TV ratings and YouTube just has me appreciating the Fab Four even more. We may have more choices as far as entertainment today, but it’s really about the quantity-or-quality debate. It can be fun to watch everyone get their fifteen seconds fame, but it’s a blast to watch people who got fifteen minutes (and then some) while truly deserving it.