Been & Going

[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Caption This 13

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

From crazy mannequins on the street to a thunderstorm over a cup of coffee, Jersey Joe crowns the latest winners of Caption This!

THE 411

Name: Caption This

What: online Twitter and Facebook game on @JerseyJoe50’s feed



Keep and eye on my Twitter feed for another edition.  Also, join me for MATCH JERSEY JOE GAME – every Wednesday afternoon.  Let’s have some fun on social media!


[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Caption This 12

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

From a bikini with teeth, to ducks holding up traffic, to a ghostly message in an elevator – Jersey Joe crowns the winners of the latest round of Caption This.

THE 411

Name: Caption This

What: online Twitter and Facebook game on @JerseyJoe50’s feed



Keep and eye on my Twitter feed for another edition.  Also, join me for MATCH JERSEY JOE GAME – every Wednesday afternoon.  Let’s have some fun on social media!


[California Seething] The Very Best Part of a Very Crappy Year

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Look, who are we kidding? 2016 is a horrible fucking year to be an American. OK, well, to be more precise, it’s a horrible fucking year to be ANYONE. Seriously, 2016- what the fuck? One minute you’re cute little baby new year, the next you’re a moustache twirling black-clad villain tying our hopes and dreams down to the tracks so they can be run over by the freight train of despair. Fuck you, 2016. You want to know how we feel about you? Just take a look at this:


And, while every county in the world has experienced it’s own brand of crappiness- in the US we’ve had to endure the sickening dread brought on by this god-awful presidential election. I was really struck by this a couple of weeks ago when the fires from the Santa Clarita valley were raging out of control. There I was- going about my business, running errands while the sky was darkened with smoke and lit with an eerie orange glow from the flames and I thought- yup, that’s being an American in 2016- trying like everything’s normal while a toxic orange cloud hangs over our heads.Cal Seething- 082116- trump

Now, he may be a Crypto-Fascist Oompa Loompa (“what do you get when illegals come in/killing and raping and dealing in sin/let’s build a wall and let’s make it real tall/and Mexico will pay for it a-a-all/Oh yeah, you’d better bet they will/ Truma lumpa drumphidie drumph/do lies sound like truth when you shout them enough?/Tumpa drumpha and Mike Pensey, too/ Jesus would never vote for you-oo-oo/he’d so be a Bernie guy”) but he certainly does have the crowds eating out of the palms of his tiny hands. And oh, what, fun they seem to be having! Frothing at the mouth, screaming “Mexico”, taking incomprehensible loyalty oaths, shouting down protestors- why is it any wonder that leftists decided to create a crazy pants movement of their own?

And so, Bernie or Bust was born! Now, for those that don’t know, the Bernie or Bust movement consists of Bernie Sanders’ most passionate and devoted followers- followers so loyal that they will do absolutely anything Bernie tells them to, except, vote for Hillary which is literally the only thing he’s telling them to do. These folks don’t care if they Nader the election and allow the most progressive Democratic platform in 50 years to be defeated by a hate mongering lunatic- they’re having too much fun! Complaining about how no one listens to them at the DNC while booing Cal Seething- 082116- throwmoneyElizabeth Warren so no one can listen to her, sharing links from Fox News about Hillary’s email, throwing money at cars as they drive to a Democratic fundraiser at George Clooney’s house- cause nothing says “I deserve higher wages and debt relief” like throwing your fucking money in the streets.

And now there are some Bernie Busters who insist their gonna vote Third Party- cause that just went so well  in 2000! Thanks, guys! How did you ever get so much student loan debt and stay so fucking dumb?

So- yeah- 2016 has been a terrible, horrible no good year, but that’s OK because the Olympics are here and the Olympics make everything better! That’s right- the Olympics- that magical event that occurs once every four years when the world comes together to Cal Seething-082116-lafingercelebrate peace and brotherhood by kicking poor people out of their homes to build wasteful sports venues nobody needs. Which, again, is why LA would make the perfect host city- hell, we threw our poor people out of their homes to build wasteful sports venues YEARS ago. And if we need to build more- no problem- just say the word and the Boyle Heights Equestrian Center is DONE. And the Athlete’s Village- well shit, we can just give them any under occupied mixed use luxury mega complex in Downtown LA with more gastropubs than parking spots. I mean, no one can afford to live there- might as well give ito the Serbian handball team.

Still- I love the Olympics. It’s the only time I get to feel good about feeling good about being an American. Because most days, I just feel smug about how bad I feel about being an American (like when we’re bombing someone) or guilty about how Cal-Seething--082116--unclesecretly psyched I am to be an American (like when it’s not us getting bombed). But during the Olympics I’m as unabashedly happy to be an American as a NASCAR fan in Florida eating Chick-Fil-A and blasting Kenny Chesney in his F-150 on the way to the gun show before hitting the Trump rally and getting dinner at Golden Corral (but only cause it’s Jeff Foxworthy’s favorite) then pounding down an ice cold can of Belgian made America beer. And that’s because the Olympics is the only time America can beat the living shit out of other nations and nobody dies or joins ISIS. Hell, the only consequence of American victory is that we get to pose on a podium looking fierce in shiny new jewelry and mouthing the words to a familiar song. It’s how wars would be won if Ru Paul ran the world! Say what you will about the Iraq War- we all agree that the Middle East would be safer if Sadaam had been deposed using balance beam and floor exercise scores. Cause if point deductions could kill, they probably will in games without frontiers, war without tears.

Anyhow, the US has been kicking ass at the Olympics and all the other countries are swimming pool green with envy. But even when the Americans aren’t demolishing much poorer nations, the Olympics are pretty great. Because the Olympics aren’t just a sporting event- they’re a two week orgy of non-stop Inspiration Porn. Just look at how fucking inspiring everything is! The historic accomplishments of Biles, Ledeckey and Phelps (BOOM! Named the women first. How ya like me now, Jezebel? (they don’t)); Simone Manuel shattering expectations and boundaries; Fiji winning their first medal- a gold in their beloved national sport of Rugby which was last played at the Olympics almost 50 years before Fiji’s independence.

And then there are the profound moments of inspiration which transcend competition- the Refugee Team marching proudly into the Cal Seething- 082116- selfieOpening Ceremonies, the South Korean & North Korean gymnast sharing a care free selfie, showing the world how easy it can be sometimes to do the impossible.  Yes, it seems the Olympics are a time when political differences are put aside and everyone is treated with dignity and respect, except of course for the Israeli team which is snubbed and insulted by athletes from Arab nations at every event they go and no one on the IOC says boo about it. But, hey- anti-Semitism is the only prejudice that the left and right can agree on- so the Jews are just bringing the world together!

Of course, the problem with all this inspiring crap is that it makes us dumb. Wait- no- maybe “dumb” is too harsh a word- let’s go with “generous of spirit”…..which, you know, means “dumb”. You see, for advertisers, selling us products on TV is like feeding a restless toddler- so they see Olympic competition is like moving a spoon through the air saying “look at the diver. Look at the pretty diver flying through the air!!! Now open up the swimming pool, cause here comes the diver” and then, Bam! We open up our minds and they shove in a big spoonful of University of Phoenix messaging all pureed up with a Maya Angelou poem. Speaking of diving, if you’re wondering why the Olympic diving pool turned green, it’s cause one of Rio’s finest pool technicians (sadly I’m not being sarcastic- he really was one of the best) dumped 160 gallons of Hydrogen Peroxide in to the pool which neutralized the chlorine and caused algae to grow. And if you’re wondering who the hell needs that much Peroxide at the Olympics- well, maybe take that up with the Shelly Fraser Pryce. Go on. I dare you.

Cal Seething- 082116- shellyprice

Anyhow, for companies like Sea World, it makes sense to exploit the feel-good spirit of the Olympics to improve their brand image. Cause if you’re watching the Olympics with your family, and thinking about where to go on vacation, you’re much more likely to consider SeaWorld if it’s “America’s foremost marine mammal rescue center and theme park” as opposed to “Auschwitz for Orcas”.

Of course, McDonald’s was one of the pioneers of using the Olympics to boost their brand image. Sure they’re plugging the white meat nuggets and Apple Dippers now- but as soon as Michelle’s gone, it’s Big Mac time, baby- cause Bubba’s back!

Cal Seething- 082116- bill

So- sure, I get why some companies would advertise. Like Subway, which is still trying get out of Jared’s pants with their Cal Seething- 082116- subway#SearchforBackgroundChecks…I mean….#SearchforBetter campaign. But the real head scratchers are companies like Exxon which has spent millions of dollars on their “Energy Lives Here” campaign. These ads feature self-consciously diverse mix of their most bright-eyed, earnest and not-evil-at-all employees talking about all the humanitarian, beneficial and totally not-at-all-evil things they do like studying biodiversity or fighting Cal Seething- 082116- exxonmalaria…none of which makes a damn bit of difference to me when I’m deciding where to buy gas. After all, if I wanted to do what was best for the planet, I wouldn’t buy gas at all- but since I need it to feed my car’s addiction all I care about it who’s closest, who’s cheapest and who takes damn Ralph’s Rewards points. What they are doing to combat malaria never enters into it- it’s like choosing a meth dealer for his 401k plan. Come on, Exxon, you’re a scumbag oil company- just own it. Don’t get all needy and weird. It’s like JR Ewing standing outside my house playing In Your Eyes on a boombox- not a good look for you. You want my respect- keep it real. Show me bloated executives lighting $100 bills on fire after dipping them in gasoline and tag it with “Yeah, we’re Exxon. Fuck you gonna do about it?” Or, better yet, skip the advertising altogether and TAKE MY RALPH’S REWARDS POINTS.

And GE is advertising a lot, which is really confusing because I never thought of them as especially evil…but now I’m starting to wonder what they’ve done! I mean, sure, there were all those kids who got stuck in discarded fridges back in the day, but that was when kids used to play outside and Apple solved that problem. And yet, still GE keeps running commercials to try and convince millennials that GE is a cool place to get a job while millennials are like, “dude- you had me at ‘job’.”

Frankly, I’m surprised Monsanto isn’t running commercials. They could show scientists working hard in labs inter-cut with gauzy, sunrise footage of Cal Seething- 082116- tomatofarmers in fields, happy kids around the world eating disturbingly oversized vegetables, then kids running in fields and city squares, then teenagers running on high school tracks, and finally adults running at the Olympics while a slowed-down, female-sung, acoustic version of “Feed the World” plays and a craggy American voice says “Get More Olympians with G.M.O’s”. Huh. That’s really satire. I swear.

But the most hateful ads during the Olympics are for NBC’s own programming. Look, you may think that the most powerful person in America is the President or the Chief Justice- but really it’s the NBC executive who can sit in a room full Cal Seething- 082116- kristenof otherwise intelligent people at the top of their field and say “hey- you know what we need- a snarky sitcom about the afterlife with Ted Danson and Kirsten Bell- where she plays a dead person who’s kind of a bitch and Heaven is just like the Grove!” and in the very long moments of dead silence that follows, not a single person in the room says “Are you out of your goddamn mind??? That’s the WORST FUCKING IDEA I’ve ever heard.” Instead they are all like  “I smell a hit!”, “Everyone loves Danson!”, “we can cram it down everyone’s throat during the Olympics!” Yeah- cause that strategy worked out soooo well for The New Normal. Remember The New Normal? No? OF COURSE YOU DON’T. NOBODY DOES. The only reason I do is that NBC spent two weeks trying to cram that ill conceived shit pile down my throat during the LAST OLYMPICS.

Then again, maybe the truly powerful person in this scenario is not the executive who greenlit the show, but the Svengali like producer who pitched it. I can just hear the pitch in TV-speak: “It’s like Cheers meets Touched by an Angel in a Samsung commercial” delivered in a peppy upbeat tone as if it’s not the most Cal Seething- 082116- pmbhorrifying combination of three things that the human mind has conceived since Puppy-Monkey-Baby. Just think of someone with these powers of persuasion could accomplish: bringing peace to the Middle East, reunifying North & South Korea, getting Republicans in Congress to do their damn jobs. And all of that miraculous potential wasted making terrible TV shows and earning lots and lots of money. I am horrified and disgusted and very, very jealous.

The other big show NBC is pushing is This Is Us- which appears to be a drama about people born in 1980 all turning Cal Seething- 082116- thisisus36 and finding themselves at a cross roads in their lives. And that means that….yes….wait for it…..millennials now have their own version of thirtysomething. As if Prince & David Bowie dying wasn’t bad enough, now we’ve got this little nugget to ponder when contemplating our mortality at 4 AM. Thanks, NBC for making 2016 even more depressing. I’d consider killing myself, but I’m terrified I’ll wind up in a Kristen Bell / Ted Danson vehicle.

Anyhow- I’m not sure why I’m acting so shocked that NBC’s programming is terrible. What more can I expect when everyone involved with the network who’s not named Wier, Lipinski or Questlove is hot garbage (as the kids say) (the “kids” are in their 30’s) (goddamn it) pretty much all of the time.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Olympics, NBC is the only game in town. Mind you- there are a lot of different channels showing the Olympics- there’s NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports…uhm…NBC Basketball, NBC Soccer, NBC Universo- all sorts of options we can choose from to give ourselves the illusion of choice- late capitalism at its finest!  And because they have us by the balls, NBC has an interesting relationship with their Olympic viewers- it’s not as much “entertainer” and “audience” or “business” and “valued customer” as it is “bank robber” and “hostage”. They know we’re not going anywhere, so they feed us just enough Olympic action to keep us docile while they collect their ransom money from advertisers. And then, just for fun, they sadistically torment us with human interest stories and the inane blather of Al Michaels, Mike Tirico and Ryan Seacrest- the Three Amigos of Announcing Awfulness. And I know some of you are saying- “Hey wait- I love Al Michaels” but that’s just the Stockholm Syndrome talking. Cal Seething- 082116- alcrisThe only way to love Al Michaels is the way Patty Hearst loved the SLA- just ask Cris Collinsworth, if they ever get him deprogrammed.

Of course, NBC executives would deny that they are deliberately torturing viewers and would insist that they are just giving viewers what they really want. And, if these executives actually believe that’s the case- well, I have even less respect for them than ever.

You see, NBC’s research team discovered that more women watch the Olympics than men- and NBC wasn’t really sure what to do with this information. So they turned it over to their cracker jack team of all male team executives who brilliantly deduced that women who watch the Olympics aren’t actually interested in “watching the Olympics”. No- what they’re really interested in is the human drama- who the athletes are, where they come from, how much their moms had to sacrifice for their success, the extent to which having babies has changed their perspective on sports (but only if they’re women, natch- boys don’t change when they have babies, silly), the vital role played by their husbands/fiances in their success (also- only if they’re women or Tom Daley). Female viewers don’t actually want to watch “sporting events”- no! For those gals, the Olympics is just one big reality show, like The Bachelor with medals or the Real Athletes of Rio, so it’s important to cram the broadcast as full as possible of human interest stories, interviews and extended shots of swimmers between events sitting in the ready room – cause there’s nothing more exciting than watching the best athletes in the world at the Cal Seething- 082116- readyroompeak of their abilities sitting in folding chairs listening to Coldplay- can’t you just feel the drama?? “She’s sitting in a chair….She’s glowering straight ahead…wait…yes… she might be….YES…she put on her earbuds! She’s listening to music!!! She’s listening to COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD play.” And it doesn’t matter if they air events long after they end and the whole world knows the score. Everyone knows women don’t care about scores- why all those big scary numbers just boggle their scatterbrained little heads!


And what’s really impressive about these NBC executives is that they were able to gain such insight into the minds of female viewers without talking to any actual females. I’m not sure what, exactly, their stringent research protocol was to gain such a scientific understanding of the female mind- but I can only assume it had something to do with sitting in the parking lot of a gas n’ sip drinking beer on a Friday night saying “Bitches, man” (when asked why they didn’t consult any female viewers- they responded “by choice, man. Personal choice”.)Cal Seething- 082116- final5

Ironically, the real story of these games is that women- and particularly US women have been kicking huge amounts of ass which I’m sure NBC would notice if they weren’t so focused on their marriage proposals. I’m sure every young girl in America who watched the US Gymnastics team was totally inspired to follow her dreams and achieve greatness– that is, assuming her parents let her watch gymnastics at midnight- which a questionable timeslot for family inspirational togetherness viewing but a great one for lonely guys on the couch eating Pringles in their underwear and wondering when Beach Volleyball is coming on already.

Look, NBC- the Olympics don’t need you to make them great any more than American needs Tumpa-Lumpa. Trust me on this- I’ve been holed up in Palm Springs watching 12-14 hours of Olympic action each day subsisting on a strict Cal Seething- 082116- drinkregimen of breakfast cocktails and blender drinks (the Lochte diet.) And the daytime programming is way better because the focus is on the sports not inane blather, human interest schmaltz and inspirational advertising. I guess the evil corporations of the world figure that if you’re watching team table tennis in your underwear at 11 AM drinking pina coladas, then a lack of inspiration isn’t really as pressing a problem for you as, say, updating your LinkedIn profile or getting the hell out of Rio before the cops come for your passport.

But I think they’re just jealous- I proudly watched the Team Table Tennis finals and they were fantastic even though I had no idea which country was which or what gender they were or how many points were in a game or how many games in a set or how many sets in a match or why they kept switching between Singles and Doubles or how they would possibly know who won and when they won and how much they won by or how the hell Ping Pong ended up in the Olympics when the far superior games of Air Hockey and Skee-Ball still languish on the sidelines. And the announcer was no help- he just kept explaining the format by saying, “you know, it’s just like Davis Cup!’ – which is like giving directions to East Bumfuck by saying “you know, it’s just east of Bumfuck!” All I know is that it was crazy and fast moving and for that moment in time in that one place in the universe there was absolutely nothing more important than who came out on top. And as much as I love theatre- if I could produce or even see just one play that meant this much the people watching it or involved, then I could walk away happy except then I would have to get a real job and seriously, fuck that.

And it’s not even like I’m some huge table tennis fan. I much prefer Rugby 7’s – where, as my wife said, the whole game is like the last five Cal Seething- 082116- hockeyseconds of a football game when the whole thing just devolves into a crazy series of laterals – and who doesn’t want 14 straight minutes of the Music City Miracle (Bills fans excluded). And then there’s field hockey- where the field is as blue as the diving pool should be; and handball, invented by an alcoholic Yugolslavian gym teacher in the dead of winter who was running out of ideas for what to do inside and clearly getting desperate. Years later on his death bed, he was heard to mutter repeatedly “Goddamn it, Dodge Ball!! I forgot about Dodge Ball!!” And then there’s soccer, basketball, volleyball and all the running, jumping, twisting, turning, throwing, thrusting, stabbing, slashing, splashing, paddling, peddling, punching, rassling, riding, rowing, ribbon tossing, gun shooting and, I guess, whatever, golf. All of which has made of a terrific distraction from the floods, fires and fuckwads which have fouled up 2016.

But all things must end, except NBC’s contract with the Olympics. Just two weeks ago, the Olympics began with a festive tribute to slavery using a human hamster wheel and an earnest segment about how the earth is getting hotter because of the actions of man. Specifically this man:

Cal Seething- 082116- shirtless


Holy crap! What’s Tongalese for “hubba hubba”? I hope you’re watching Exxon- Cause THAT’s an ad for oil!

In all seriousness, though, sustainability is an important theme of the Olympics which is why the medal winners are getting little Cal Seething- 082116- riostatueplastic statues of the Olympic logo instead of flowers. After all, flowers are wasteful cause they die and decompose but these plastic statues will last forever in a landfill! Oh well- at least the Olympic venues are sustainable since as soon as the games are over, they’ll be recycled into homeless encampments.

And that’s going to be pretty soon- because the games are just about over. The Closing Ceremonies are upon us, and Simone Biles will be carrying the flag for the US (Ryan Lochte was invited to do it but the invite came from the Rio police.) And the team she leads out reflects not only what is great about the Olympics- with their athletic prowess, sheer determination and mostly non-douchey behavior- but what’s actually great about America. Because it is a team that reflects the population of our country- and that in turn is a reflection of the entire world. And all of you that are composing angry messages to me in your heads about how that’s a load of crap because the team is still WAY TOO WHITE and all the power is in the hands of WHITE MEN and we still have a WHOLE LOT OF WORK TO DO- well- you guys also make America great since, like Subway, you’re always #StrivingforBetter and I totally mean that in the least patronizing way possible, no matter what Jezebel says about me.

And that gives us something to shoot for in 2020- or better yet, 2024 in LA! Just picture it- President Clinton enjoying the games as her second term winds down- and why shouldn’t she? She’s done a great job and once her granddaughter taught her Snapchat her presidency was scandal free. And she can be confident knowing that her legacy will be secure- after all Michelle is kicking ass in the polls- and while that may not be great news for McDonalds- it sure is great for America (not the beer, the country. You DO NOT want to hear Michelle’s opinion of beer).

And where will I be for the 2024 LA Olympics? Where do you think? In Palm Springs, of course, watching NBC and complaining about it (a Ted Danson / Elle Fanning sitcom about the Rapture? Are you kidding me????) with a pitcher of pina coladas and a mimosa.

Cal Seething- 082116- mimosa

Oh yeah. That sounds pretty great to me.








[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Elevator Races

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Jersey Joe and his friend Simon embark on an elevator race at the World Trade Center PATH train station.  Place your bets — who do you think will win?

After being destroyed in the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, the World Trade Center PATH station reopened offering train service between New York City and Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey on November 23, 2003.  The second station was only to serve as a temporary station, utilizing the same design footprint and style as the original station.

Plans were quickly drawn up for a spectacular new station, that will serve as a tourist attraction and showplace of Lower Manhattan.  The new transit hub, currently under construction, will once again connect PATH trains with New York City subway trains, without commuters ever having to go upstairs into the elements.  Part of this new transit hub will include shops, restaurants, bars, news stands, and more for the thousands of commuters that will use this station on a daily basis.

The entire project is expected to open in 2015, but for now two small parts are open.  Those being a walkway that connects the PATH trains to Brookfield Place and ferries and Track 1, which serves commuters arriving and bound for Hoboken, New Jersey.  While work continues, all trains will often use this single track.

THE 411

What: World Trade Center Transportation Hub

Purpose: to connect PATH trains with New York City subway

Location: New York City

Open: PATH Track 1 trains from Hoboken to New York City

Open Since: 2014

Link to more information:


It’s not often that you find two glass elevators like this back to back, where you can have a race!

What is open of the station, so far, is really spectacular, but WAY over budget.  I just hope that somehow, all of this money flying out of my pocket to ride the PATH and support this station’s reconstruction, will be worth it in the end.

The Two State Lottery Challenge: The Rematch [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Last year, I put the New York Lottery and the New Jersey Lottery to the test.  I wanted to find out which state’s instant scratch off tickets paid off the most – The Empire State or The Garden State.  Using the same amount of cash and a random selection of tickets, I joined the ranks of millions who are scratching off to win big bucks on these instant games.


Instant lottery scratch off tickets: they’re meant to play a fast game and to make a quick buck.  It’s portable form of gambling that states have relied on for extra revenue since the 1980’s.  (You can read about my original discussion of instant lottery games here). The instant games are more popular than ever, to the point where states are now installing vending machines to attract commuters to play on the go.


Lottery player uses the vending machine to purchase scratch off tickets at the 33rd Street subway station in New York City.

Lottery player uses the vending machine to purchase scratch off tickets at the 33rd Street subway station in New York City.

Last year, I invested $55 and stopped first at the New York Lottery vending machine at the 33rd Street Herald Square station in New York City.  I put $30 into the machine and randomly selected a number of tickets.  Once I got off the PATH in Jersey City, I stopped at a local newsstand and had them randomly select tickets with the remaining $25.


After over 40 minutes of scratching, the New Jersey Lottery $25 investment earned me $42, while my $30 New York Lottery investment earned me only $4.  I declared New Jersey the winner and the whole experiment left me with a net loss of $9.


You can read the full report of last year’s challenge here.


Now, these are supposed to be random games of chance, so to be completely fair, I decided that another challenge would be needed and I did just that last week.


Once again, I stopped at the New York Lottery vending machine at the 33rd Street station and deposited $25.  I again picked one large $5 ticket and then randomly chose a selection of lower denomination games.  Once back off the PATH in Jersey City, I again stopped by the same newsstand and had the clerk select $25 in random games, with the only rule being that I needed one $5 ticket to match what I had purchased in New York City.

ny lottery tickets

Upon arriving home, I examined the stack of tickets and here’s what I got:


From the New York Lottery – 12 tickets


$5 Million Dollar Money Clip

$3 Spin 3

$2 Lucky 8’s

$2 Lucky 8’s

$2 Lucky 8’s

$2 Happy Birthday

$2 Win $1,000 a Week for Life

$2 Win $1,000 a Week for Life

$2 Win $1,000 a Week for Life

$1 Loose Change

$1 Amazing 8’s

$1 5x Cash


nj lottery tickets

From the New Jersey Lottery – 10 tickets


$5 Money Match

$3 Power Play Crossword

$3 Zuma

$2 Love to Win

$2 Classic Bingo

$2 Big Money Spectacular

$2 Win $1,000 a Week for Life

$2 10x Money

$2 Fire & Ice

$2 Hit $50’s


Since there were more tickets in the New York Lottery stack; I went with those, first.


I started with the lower denomination tickets and first up was the $1 5x Cash.  To win, all I had to do was match 3 symbols.  And…. a loser.


Then went with the $1 Amazing 8’s.  Same deal, match three 8’s and win.  Too bad, I lost again.


Next up was the $1 Loose Change.  This game was a little different.  The player is presented with six boxes containing coins.  After scratching off the six boxes, the total of what’s inside must go over $1 to win a prize.  Mine did!  My total was $1.05.  I scratched the prize box to reveal I had won my $1 back!

ny lottery loose change

Finally, a winner!


Next up, was the three $2 Win $1,000 A Week for Life games. I was really hoping for a big win on this one.  I could use a grand handed to me every week!  Who couldn’t?

ny lottery winner 12

These tickets contain two games each.  The first game is a classic beat the house game.  The player is given a number, if the player number is higher than the house number – you win the prize shown on the line.  On my first ticket – a hit!  I bet the house 12 – 7 and won $2!

ny lottery winner 5

The second game on the ticket is the classic New York Lottery standard of matching three like dollar amounts.  On the next two tickets, I did just that winning $2 and another $5!


Four winners in a row!  Things were starting to look up for the Empire State!


I then went for the $2 Happy Birthday… another dud.


I then had 3 of the $2 Lucky 8’s games.  In this game, you scratch off the player area which features a number and a prize amount.  If your number matches one of two house numbers, you win the prize.  If an 8x symbol appears, you win 8x the prize!  A coin picture also denotes an instant prize win.

ny lottery winner 8x win

I scratched the first two tickets – and nothing.  Finally, I went for the third ticket.  Right away, I matched the house number of 16 and won $10!  Further down the line, I uncovered an 8x symbol with a $5 prize that paid off $40!  That’s a total of $50!  I’ve never won that much on a scratch off lottery ticket in my life!


I still had two of the biggest tickets to go.


Next was a $3 Spin 3.  This game was kind of lame, there’s no spinning involved.  You are presented 10 different games.  All you have to do is match three like symbols in each game to win the prize.  Think of it as a slot machine on a scratch off card.  It didn’t matter, I got squat.


Finally the big $5 Million Dollar Money Clip game.  Match your number to one of the house numbers and win that prize.  A 10x awards 10 times the prize and a coin icon wins that prize.  Sadly, I got nothing here.


So, for my $25 New York Lottery investment, I walked away with $60!

nj lottery 50s ticket

Then it was time to do battle with the New Jersey Lottery.  I started in the same order with the lowest tickets first and that was a $2 Hit $50s.  (New Jersey doesn’t seem to offer $1 scratch off games.)  Again, you have to match your number to one of the house numbers and win the prize shown.  I matched with a 12 and won $2!  Things were already looking up once again for the Garden State.


Next was a $2 Fire and Ice game that was definitely icy cold.  Nothing.  Same deal for $2 10x Money, $2 Win $1,000 a Week for Life, and the $2 Big Money Spectacular.  The win $1,000 a Week for Life is a popular game that is available in many different states.  I’ve played that in Pennsylvania in the past.


A New Jersey Lottery Bingo scratch off instant game ticket.

A New Jersey Lottery Bingo scratch off instant game ticket.

Now it was on to the $2 Classic Bingo.  This game took a long time to play.  You are presented with 25 Bingo Ball numbers on the left.  You scratch them off one by one and play the numbers on one of your four Bingo cards.  Payouts are different for each card and each way you get a bingo.  There are 12 different payouts that are printed next to each game.  After scratching off all the ball numbers, I had to transfer them to the game board.  After 10 minutes or so, I had a diagonal bingo on card 2 and that scored me $2.  Had that been on card four, that payout would have been $5.


I then went for the $2 Love to Win, which was a classic match the house number scratcher.  No love here, I got nothing.


Next up was a $3 Zuma ticket.  Have you ever played this game online?  In the online game, you have to shoot at multicolored balls rolling along a track to make them disappear before reaching the end.  I was surprised to see how well this turned this into a scratch off game.


It was one of the more unusual layouts.  You are presented a circular game board with six games of balls presented in groups of three.  If your three balls match the color, you win.  Sadly, mine did not.  It was a great nod to the online game, though.


Next was the $3 Power Play Crossword and this thing took a long time to complete.  You uncover 10 house letters.  The player is then presented with a completed crossword puzzle.  You task is to take the 10 house letters and scratch them off anywhere they appear in the puzzle.  If you complete three words, you win a prize.  The prizes go up with the more words you completely uncover.  A pay table is posted on the back.  It was useless to me; I only rubbed off two words.

nj lottery money watch

Lastly, was the $5 Money Match game.  Same deal as many other tickets.  You get 5 house prize amounts.  If you match one, you win.  If you match an amount, but yours is in green color, you win double the amount.  Find a money bag and win $50.  Find a green money bag and win $100!  I matched and won $5.


So, the total won in New Jersey from my initial $25 investment was only $9.  I lost $16 to the Garden State.


Many of the New Jersey games that I played were quite involved.  Instead of just finding three like symbols as in most games, here you are required to use some thought.  Matching the letters in the Crosswords game took some time as did the Bingo game.  So, if you’re looking for instant gratification with matching three symbols, then look for the simpler games as some of the choices can get quite complex.  The bonus with selecting one of these tickets from a vending machine is that you can take a closer look at what’s required before making your selection.  It’s a little hard to do when there’s a ton of people in line at the bodega waiting to play their Powerball numbers and pay for a jug of milk.


The total time I spent scratching 22 tickets: 41 minutes 31 seconds.  It was thanks to some of those complex games I got from New Jersey that added took extra time.


All the mess left behind after 40+ minutes of scratching off instant lottery tickets.

And here’s a look at the pile of shards left behind from all the scratching.  Wonder if this stuff is toxic?


THE 411


What: Instant Lottery scratch off games


States played: New York, New Jersey


Denominations: $1 – $5

scracthed off lottery tickets



This was a completely different outcome from the last experiment.  I won $60 in New York and only $9 in New Jersey.  It was that one large hit on the NY ticket that changed everything.  For my $50 investment, I walked away with $69.  Not a life changing amount, but still a winner none the less.


The New York Lottery games also offer a second chance drawing.  By going online and entering the code on the ticket, players have a chance to win more random prizes.  That’s a great feature more state lotteries need to adopt.


The New Jersey Lottery has also gotten into the ticket vending machine business.  They recently signed a contract with Wawa convenience stores to have machines installed in all of their Jersey locations.  I hope this program extends to other stores throughout the state.  Judging by the popularity of the New York machine at 33rd Street, New Jersey could make some big bucks putting these in train stations targeting commuters who are just standing there waiting.


With the second match now complete, the lottery challenge series is tied 1 – 1.  It looks like I will have to do a tiebreaker in the future to find out which state has the loosest scratch off lottery tickets.


For more information:

The New York Lottery

The New Jersey Lottery


[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Uncovering a Hidden Bar Inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

New York City – thousands of bars and restaurants dot the island, catering to both hard working locals and tourists alike.  Grand Central Terminal is one of the world’s busiest and most famous train stations.  The terminal itself holds many secrets, from a hidden train car for presidents to a chamber where you can hear someone talk from 20 feet away!  It also holds a secret saloon!  One that you would never know is there, unless you walk right into it.


Hundreds of trains and thousands of passengers that pass through the terminal each day are served by dozens of shops and restaurants inside the long, winding passages.  One of the most famous is the Oyster Bar restaurant.  Known for fresh seafood, the restaurant is a popular place to dine in the city and can even been seen in the opening credits of Saturday Night Live.


The main entrance to the Oyster Bar Restaurant in Grand Central Terminal, New York City

The main entrance to the Oyster Bar Restaurant in Grand Central Terminal, New York City

The Oyster Bar opened along with the terminal, itself in 1913.


But, hidden off to the side is a little known New York secret… the Oyster Bar contains a separate bar/dining area known as the Oyster Bar Saloon.


Inside the dimly lit Oyster Bar Saloon

Inside the dimly lit Oyster Bar Saloon

I had never heard of the place, but a co-worker who frequents Grand Central discovered it and invited me along for a trip.


The entrance is located along the back side wall of the Oyster Bar restaurant.

The entrance is located along the back side wall of the Oyster Bar restaurant.

To find it, you must enter the main Oyster Bar, located atop the ramp to the dining concourse.  Once inside, make an immediate right and walk all the way to the side wall.  Then, make a left and the door will be located a few feet in front of you to the right.  A simple sign marked “Saloon” behind a row of tables with a gold door, marks the way.  Don’t be scared, you will be walking right through the main restaurant full of diners.


Upon arriving inside, a hostess will greet you and seat you.  The place is very popular during their 4:30 – 7pm Happy Hour (Monday through Wednesday), where beers go for as low as $4 and oysters for $1.25.  That’s when we arrived and the place was nearly packed.  The Oyster Bar and the Oyster Bar Saloon were both closed for several months, recently for cleaning and renovation.  Both reopened in March and judging by the crowd inside, people are finding it once again.


While the Oyster Bar features the same design curves and lights as Grand Central Terminal, the Oyster Bar Saloon features dark red wallpaper, wood paneling, and dim lights.  It’s actually like stepping back into the 1970’s.  I was almost expecting to see people smoking their Lucky Strikes.  Fortunately, New York banned smoking almost a decade ago.

oyster bar saloon 3

We were seated at a table in the middle of the busy restaurant.  The place was nearly packed.  The bar, which I guess could seat around three dozen, was full and there were only a couple of open tables.  There wasn’t a line, but had we gotten there a few minutes later, we would have had to wait.


The massive menu.

The massive menu.

As soon as you sit at the table, the waiter is right there, handing you a giant 8 ½ x 14 menu that’s quite overwhelming.  There are well over a hundred items to order, with seafood making up most of the menu.  For those who don’t care for seafood, there’s a small assortment of salads, burgers, and kids meals.  The menu is the same as what you will find in the main Oyster Bar.


The server was back in mere minutes and we ordered drinks.  Most draft beers run from $6-$8, which is about a dollar more than most New York bars, but on par with what you’ll find at one of the city’s train stations.


There is so much to choose from, we both needed a few more minutes, but was ready by the time the server returned.


I went with the Jumbo Lump Maryland Crab Cakes and even though the place was packed, they arrived in about 10 minutes.  The plate featured two large crab cakes, fries, and a saucer of marinara type dipping sauce.


The Maryland Crab Cakes.  Gordon Ramsay would approve!

The Maryland Crab Cakes. Gordon Ramsay would approve!

These may have been the best crab cakes I’ve ever had!  Absolutely succulent!  The cakes themselves were full of Maryland crab with a hint of carrots and some other vegetable.  This was no imitation crab – this was real and you could tell by the very fresh taste.  I was nearly full after eating both, but still had my fries.  I never thought marinara sauce would work with crab cakes, but it’s the perfect companion!


It was well worth $27!


The only bad part is the layout of the seating.  Our table was really small and our two meals, took up most of the room.  There was an assortment of condiments on the table including ketchup, hot sauce, and sea salt.  There’s not a lot of room to move around though, let alone store your bag and coat.  I was on the side nearest to the aisle by the bar, and was constantly getting bumped by both servers and other customers.


Being in New York City though, they turn tables around here, fast!  As soon as group gets up, a server immediately goes over and removes the plates, while another sets up fresh plates, linen, and napkins.  Tables do not stay empty for long during the afternoon rush.

oyster bar saloon 6

The servers here are well trained and were right on it as soon as my water, beer, or plate was empty.  And they were extremely knowledgeable about that giant menu!


By the time we finished our meals, it was around 8pm, and since Happy Hour was over the place started to quickly clear out.  We decided to move to the long L shaped bar for a few more and to check the place out.


The other secret staircase entrance.

The other secret staircase entrance…

...leads to this plain gold door.

…leads to this plain gold door.

To the left of the bar is a white staircase that leads to a second little known entrance/exit.  At the top, a non-discreet gold door leads to a side entrance to the subway and a couple of stores, one of which is a Rite-Aid.  While the door is marked with a small sign, it blends in so well — I can say that I’ve walked down that corridor dozens of times, and never noticed it.


Another odd feature of the restaurant is the restrooms.  They are definitely worth a look.  Just past the secret stairway, a door leads to a waiting room with chairs, and two doors.  One marked with a baseball glove for the men’s room and the other marked with a pair of leather lips for the ladies room.  People were hanging out in a waiting area, just sitting there between the doors.  Not sure if they were waiting for someone in the can, but it had the feeling of a 70’s doctor’s office.


Last call for the bar is at 9pm.  We got one more drink as the place really started to shut down at 9:30.  We paid and walked back through the main Oyster Bar to exit.


Interestingly, while the Oyster Bar serves alcohol, to get to an actual bar, you need to enter the Saloon.  The main restaurant consists of long while community tables and has always been designed that way.  So, while the famous Oyster Bar experience gives you the feelings of the early 20th century, the Oyster Bar Saloon fast forwards a few decades later to the 1970’s.  Either way – you win with some of the freshest seafood in Manhattan!

oyster bar saloon 9

THE 411


Name: Oyster Bar Saloon


What: hidden bar/restaurant


Where: Grand Central Terminal, New York City


Cross streets:  42nd Street & Park Avenue


Subway connections: 4-5-6-7-S and Long Island Railroad


Hours: Monday – Saturday 11:30am – 9:30pm, closed Sunday


Price range: a little more than most NYC restaurants


All the way to the back and to the left in the main Oyster Bar restaurant, lies the Oyster Bar Saloon.

All the way to the back and to the left in the main Oyster Bar restaurant, lies the Oyster Bar Saloon.



What a neat place to discover!  The food is great and the ambiance is fun.  It kind of feels like you’re part of a secret club when visiting this place. It does feel a little odd walking right through the Oyster Bar restaurant, while people are dining to find that hidden door, but that makes it part of the fun!


I’ll definitely be back and would happily take both friends and out of town visitors.  The prices are a little more than what you would pay at a normal NYC restaurant, but you’re paying for fresh seafood and the location.  The beers are about one to two dollars more.


Just be forewarned, it can get a little packed during Happy Hour, and there could be a wait.  Go around 7:30pm, after it’s over, for a better chance at a seat and less of a crowd.  They will seat you until 9pm.

Image credit – Victoria Pickering

[California Seething] I Seethe New York Part Two- Holy Crap! What Happened Here?

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

ultsteaksI was at the Palm Restaurant in lower Manhattan when it all became terrifyingly clear. It was the culminating dinner of the leadership program that I had traveled to New York City for. This is significant in three ways:

1. There was a large group of us there from around the country
2. It was a free meal
3. The fact that anyone still thinks of me and “leadership” in the same sentence means that clearly not enough people are reading this blog. Must revisit our Marketing Plan (Step One: Siri, what’s a Marketing Plan? Siri? Siri???? SIRI!!!!!! TALK TO ME!!!!! Oh wait, right, this is a Blackberry. Crud.)

Anyhoo, there were four items on the menu Salmon, Steak, Roast Chicken in Something Something Sauce and Token Vegetarian Slop. When I looked at the menu, I remember thinking “hmmm..steak feels kind of heavy- I think I’ll get the fish” and I ordered accordingly without thinking more of it. Well, after a few minutes, the waiter arrived in white jacket and tie and began dealing out steaks to everyone at my table like sizzling, delicious blackjack cards. On every plate was a huge, juicy lump of meat – manly and thick like an offensive lineman who blocks arteries instead of linebackers. And on my plate- there was a pale, anemic, flaky piece of fish that was probably terrified of dodgeball when it was alive and almost certainly allergic to peanuts. I looked around my table and saw my colleagues shoveling spoonfulls of creamed spinach from steaming tureens and building enormous Druid burial mounds out of sliced mushrooms to honor the dead cows on their plates.  While on my plate was a cold little iridescent yellow dab of bland corn relish- not so much a compliment to my entrée as a snide remark- a sarcastic little “Nice fish. Whatsa matter? Can’t chew beef cause your vagina hurts?” of an asshole side dish on my plate. And, it was at this point, I realized that the unthinkable had happened- I had turned into the sort of person who ordered fish at a steakhouse- AND I WASN’T EVEN PAYING FOR IT. I had become, and there’s no nice way of putting this, a Californian. New York may have changed a lot in twelve years- but evidently I had changed even more. At least I didn’t get the Token Vegetarian Slop- I would have had to light myself on fire to protest my douchebaggery- which would have been totally at odds with my raw foods diet. Thank God I moved to LA not to Portland.

So….New York. Yeah. My relationship with New York is like my relationship with Saturday Night Live- I discovered it when I was young, was really into it for a while, got kind of sick of it and left before it got lame and now there’s no way I could possibly stay awake late enough to enjoy it. This is actually a common phenomenon which psychiatrists refer to as the “Belushi Curve” – which, depending on how old you are, can also be referred to as the “Piscopo Parabola”, “Farley Bulge”, “Fallon / Fey Update” and the “Samberg….uhm….Whatever is applicable to Andy Samberg”CalSeething-120213-Hans – Andy Samberg- that’s a thing right? Google- what’s Andy Samberg? Google…GOOGLE!!!! Oh, right, this is a banana. Crap.

My New York era was the mid – late 90’s. Good years, if not great- the equivalent in SnL terms let’s say to the Dennis Miller, Hans & Franz, Church Lady era. Everything was changing in the City- Bill Bratton was working hard to lower the crime rate and Giuliani was working hard to take credit for it and as a result the City was edgy but not really dangerous. Like Green Day, I suppose, if we lived in some magical world where Green Day didn’t totally suck- so, maybe like The Offspring- but Self Esteem Offspring- not Pretty Fly for a White Guy Offspring. Wow, this is getting weirdly specific. Ok, let’s just say it was still very much a Lou Reed kind of town- only he was Waiting for the Man at the Starbucks on 79th St. Sure, there were still heroin dealers on Avenue B, but they seemed more quaint than menacing, more like animatronic pirates  than possible killers. CBGB’s was still open as a photo op for German tourists in their unstylish jeans and absurdly stylish eyeglasses (are they compensating for the red jeans with the glasses? If so- not working.) . It was getting harder to find an apartment below 96th Street, but also getting harder to be murdered there.  And if you did find yourself living in Brooklyn, you would do the honorable thing and make excuses for it. (“Yeah, I know- but it’s a totally amazing apartment. Two bedrooms, big kitchen, laundry in the building- and it’s just, like $1250 a month.  And if I take the N to the F to the B train, it’s just 37 minutes to midtown. My parents are totally freaking out about it but I’m, like, relax, it’s Park Slope. It’s totally safe- there’s Starbucks here, for God’s sake. It’s not like I’m living in Williamsburg. Can you imagine?”) For a year or so, I was one of these Brooklyn apologists, but then I wound up like so many Suburban Expats in the Upper Upper Upper East Side – or SoSpa as we called it (South of Spanish Harlem) in a world of white paint, white shirts and white people. We lived in a box up four flights of stairs with panoramic views of an Airless Shaft and Some Guy’s Kitchen- landmarks familiar to many New Yorkers, and we desperately held on to this overheated little neo-tenement like a the roof of a car in a hurricane of gentrification until we were finally worn out and requested an airlift to California where it was warm and safe and dry and boring.

That was 12 years ago, and I hadn’t been to New York since until this past week. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about returning. Living in New York, for me, you see was a hard habit to break- almost as hard as it will be to get that fucking Chicago song out of my head now that I’ve used that phrase. Damn it! This is almost as bad as when Stacy introduced me to her mother who, I’m sad to say, had almost nothing going on. Anyhow, I was hopelessly addicted to the relentless energy of the City- the lights, the sound, the throbbing crowds always pushing forward and the sparkling promise of something amazing just out of reach. It was like living in a casino where I gambled with time- justCalSeething-120213-blur one more day, one more month, one more year- if I can just get up at this club, nail this audition, direct this play, get this agent, meet this manager and go go go go go go drink this, eat this, smoke this, take this go go go go go- up at 8, work at 9, rehearsal at 5, stand up at 9, rehearsal at midnight, drinks at 2, diner at 4, crash at 5, up at 8, work at 9, puke at 10 and go go go go go go just one more year, things are just starting to change, just starting to happen, just starting to cook for me I’m gonna be big, I’m gonna be huge- just one more month, one more day, one more year until, at 28, I looked around,  counted the days I had lost and got the hell out.

I was married by then and had started to slow down, anyhow, and I realized that I could find anything I could possibly ever want in New York except a semblance of normalcy and a dishwasher. Cause living in the City warped my perspective. Sure, I could casually walk by a one legged trannie debating the merits of rim jobs with a midget with no nose and not bat an eye, but take me to a Target in the suburbs and I would stare agape with wonder like a child at the North Pole at the unbelievable variety of stuff I could just buy in one brightly lit enchanting place- and the space! Aisles so wide you can roll two carts down them! A whole aisle devoted to picture frames! PICTURE FRAMES! Produce that isn’t actually rotten, yet!  Paper towels sold in unimaginable quantities- a 24 pack of Brawny???? No one could possibly store that many paper towels in their home- it’s unthinkable!! What kind of castles do these people live in? Donald Trump couldn’t store more than a 12 pack into his kitchen, and that includes the space above the fridge. And yet, outside the City- all things were possible. I remember weeping unabashedly, like an Israelite by the rivers of Babylon, as I watched my sister do laundry in her house without quarters. It was clearly time to go.

So, yeah, I was ready to leave the City when I did- but I still worried that it would be hard to come back. I afraid that I would catch a whiff of that City smell- that intoxicating blend of food cooking everywhere, stale tunnel air shoved up through subway grates by passing trains and faint, unmistakable traces of urine and it would like plunking down an open bottle of Sambuca in front of a long sober alcoholic- I may not fall off the wagon, but the horse would sure as hell buck and it would be a long, bumpy ride before he settles down again. But, instead….I felt nothing. Well, that’s not totally true- not exactly nothing- there was kind of a bemused curiosity tinged with nostalgia and the ghosts of affection- like having coffee with an Ex years after you broke up. I was glad to see the old place, genuinely happy that she was doing so well for herself, a little taken aback, at how different she looked and mostly just astonished that we were ever able to stay together for so long.

OK- just to be clear- this is my perspective on the situation. New York, for her part, could have given a shit. She took my money, posed for some photos and watched me go without saying a word. That bitch! I can’t believe we lived together for six years.

So, yeah, in some ways, like not giving a crap if I live or die, New York hadn’t changed one bit. In others, though- well…here’s what I saw last week:

Times Square

CalSeething-120213-timesI used to go into the City from Albany every once in a while with my Dad. We’d park at Port Authority and as we took the bus east on 42nd St, he’d look over to me and joke “wanna see a movie?” and I would smile knowingly and laugh, cause I knew just what he was referring to. All down 42nd St was an endless assortment of 25 cent porno theaters (I know right- 25 cents- can you believe it? Imagine having to pay for porn! #lifebeforebroadband.) And, in between the porno theaters, a wide range of sex shops with more appliances than Maytag (my favorite – a dildo that a man can strap to his chin called “The Accommodator”. Just in case any of you gentlemen are looking for an alternative to the Pandora charm bracelet this Christmas. Remember not EVERY kiss begins with KAY.) Outside on the streets, little dark men in orange vests, who came to New York for a better life, were barking for sex clubs in heavily accented English (strictly speaking, this actually was a better life for them than the one they left behind- but that’s more a commentary on the unbelievably horrible world we live in rather than proof of the veracity of the American Dream. ) and, of course, hookers in all shapes, sizes and gender identifications. For a kid from a one whore town like Albany, this was mesmerizing. To me, this was what the City was all about- gritty and raunchy and thrilling and raw- with a level of depravity that I could never experience at home- not even if I drove to Troy. Never mind the fact that we didn’t actually get off the bus in Times Square (are you out of your fucking mind?) and that we actually spent the day at Zabar’s, Tower Records and the Museum of Modern Art- just the fact that we had to get to those places by running the gauntlet of smut on 42nd Street made even the most routine trip to the City a crazy adventure. Plus – cold cuts from Zabar’s- that’s it’s own kind of porn.

Now, the old, smutty Times Square was already long gone by the time I left New York. After all, I was living there in the 90’s when Giuliani X284235 TS604partnered with Disney to transform the neighborhood. I wasn’t ready, though for how much Bloomberg had further transformed Times Square from “Rudyland” to “Mike’s Vegas”. There were enormous screens and LED’s blaring from every building façade, pedestrian walkways and outdoor seating areas and millions of tourists from around the world- it’s just like a parallel universe Vegas – like Vegas with a goatee, only it’s lame rather than evil because instead of casinos there’s a Toy’s R’ Us and an M & M store, the weather is lousy and the only drink you can walk around with is a goddamn latte. Thanks Bloomberg! You transformed an iconic neighborhood in the greatest city on earth to a family friendly knock off of fucking Reno. Well done! This is truly the heart of the Bloom York, a safer New York, a cleaner New York- a New York that would be totally livable if anyone could afford to live there. But, then again, Bloom York isn’t a City for the dirty old residents. They just make things complicated with their rent control and their affordable housing and their social services. Who needs em? No- Bloom York is tourist Manhattan. It’s Venice with subway tunnels instead of canals (Venice, Italy- not Venice Beach. Venice Beach, thank god, is still a shithole- Whole Foods and home prices be damned.) The streets are still vibrant and packed with people- but look closely and you’ll see that everyone is walking around with a camera and a map and a tear in their eye from the Ground Zero Memorial. Come to Bloom York- see a show, take a picture, buy a hat. It’s OK to stare- just please don’t feed the homeless. They think they’re people.

All that being said-the transformation is something to behold. Whole sections of Broadway blocked off to cars with tables & chairs and coffee carts selling pastries. Kids oohing and aaahing at the lights, while their parents stand beside them amazed that they are actually bringing children to Times Square at night. It’s a true example of redevelopment through public / private partnership- I just hope there are some New Yorkers who are still left to enjoy it.

The Village

CalSeething-120213-espressoSo, when I started going into the City on my own or with friends in college, we would spend most of our time in the Village. First stop- a cappuccino at Dante’s or Figaro’s. Keep in mind- this is when you could only get espresso drinks at 3 places in America and the espresso had to be brewed in massive, elaborate copper domed contraptions – not so much coffee makers as Mussolini era memorials to Italian grandeur with knobs, wands and dials like a futuristic factory in a silent movie and a copper eagle perched on top staring at you like “Don’t ask me, dude. I don’t know why I’m up here either. Fuckin’ nuts, these Italians. They make tanks this way too. No wonder they lost the war.” Then after paying $5 for 2 oz of coffee and feeling like intellectuals for doing it, we’d hit Washington Square Park for a dime bag of tree trimmings that we would all tacitly agree to pretend was weed when we smoked it so as to not feel like saps (Ha! Tree! Sap! I’ve got a million of them! No, wait, that was it. Thank God.) This may be the reason it was so hard to crack down on the drug dealers in Washington Square Park- none of them were selling any actual drugs, and not even Bill Bratton could justify tickets for “selling yard waste without a permit”.

Anyhow, from Washington Square Park, we’d head east towards Saint Marks for a little bong browsing- maybe a quick falafel at Mamoun’s or cabbage soup at Veselka or cheap Indian food on 6th St at that place which had a Grand Opening special for 12 consecutive years before transitioning to a Going Out of Business Sale (crap, I’m getting hungry now. Is there any of that Manischewitz brined turkey still left in the fridge?) and then we’d hit the bars on Avenue A- where the drinks were cheap, the vibe was cool and the only ID they needed had a picture of Andrew Jackson on it (that’s a $20 – don’t feel bad- I had to look it up, too. SIRI!!!!! Oh, right. That’s a turkey leg.) and if we were feeling particularly bold, we’d do a little junkie spotting in Tompkins Square Park and wind up at Save the Robots on Avenue B spending $35 on pills that we all tacitly agreed to pretend were actually Ecstasy. “Dude- I can totally feel it- can you?” “Oh….yeah….sure…I’m…uhm…. totally tripping right now”.

With my one free day in the City, I decided to follow this path, more or less- like a scavenger hunt for the younger me. And what did I discover? Well:

  1. My internal NYC compass is completely fucked. As a result, 90% of the time I was walking west when I thought I was walking east and walking north when I thought I was walking south. This meant I was regularly staring at street signs, screaming profanity and going around in circles. On the bright side, I fit in quite well in the Village.
  2. At some point over the last 12 years, Body Snatchers must have snuck in and replaced all the regular age NYU students with 8 year olds in NYU t-shirts cause there’s no other possible way to explain how fucking young everyone looked.
  3. New York is still the only place in America where I can order an egg and cheese on a roll and actually get an egg and cheese on a roll- no lettuce, no tomato, no Siriracha sauce, no bullshit. This alone may be sufficient reason to consider moving back.
  4. Nobody offered me a dime bag in Washington Square Park. This is either the result of more effective policing, urban redevelopment, or the fact that I look like a fat old lame-ass. I’m sticking with the first two options and la la la la la la la la I can’t hear you I can’t hear you.
  5. There are playgrounds full of children in Tompkins Square Park, and magnificent trees aglow with orange and gold fall foliage. It’s like fucking Vermont with more old Chinese ladies and a couple of lost hippies wondering when they lost and why nobody told them. So, yeah, sure, it was beautiful, but there’s nothing more surreal than leaf peeping in Junkie Central.
  6. As I took the bus west on 14th Street to the High Line, I saw a crotchety old Jew get on carrying two Trader Joe’s wine totes bulging with 2 Buck Chuck. Mind goes boom. This may have been the craziest thing I saw when I was there. Who ever thought TJ’s would take over Manhattan? Sigh. I really loved that D’Agostino’s – loved that Dag, Dag Bag.
  7. The High Line. Amazing. There’ s nothing I can say to crap all over this- they took a disused old rail line and created a beautiful and CalSeething-120213-HighLinewelcoming elevated park overlooking the Hudson River for everyone to enjoy. It’s seriously great. Leave it to Bloomberg to come up with the coolest possible way to see Jersey. It’s like he’s saying “Hey, paupers- look over there? Nice, right. And just imagine the size of apartment you could get- two bedroom, big kitchen, laundry in the building. And if you take the PATH train, it’s just 37 minutes from midtown. All you’ve gotta do is give up that rent controlled apartment that your family has had for generations and this could all be MINE!!! Uhm, I mean – yours.” Hey- how about that? I managed to crap all over it after all. And you were worried. And yes,  I do know Bloomberg isn’t the mayor anymore- but who the hell knows anything about this new guy? All I know is that Carlos Danger lost because New York wasn’t ready for a Latino mayor.

Even though the High-Line wasn’t around when I was in New York, this is where I saw my younger self. I mean- comfortable seating, great views, clean bathrooms- New York Eric would have been all over this shit. It would have been my office, dining room, rest stop and cheap date destination all wrapped up in one. Damn it! I knew I should have stayed just one more year.

So- the Village still mostly kinda looked like New York to me- but it was still disturbingly safe and clean. Was there no part of the City that was just as I remembered it? Well…


CalSeething-120213-joanOn the flight to JFK, I got into a conversation with the poor, suffering individual who was squeezed into the seat next to me about whether Joan Rivers was sitting in First Class. We were pretty sure it was her, but she had so much work done that her face was barely recognizable. Sure the skin was smooth and the lips were plumped- but everything had been so pulled and tugged and shot with Botox that any identifiable facial features had been entirely eradicated and replaced with the generic cat-mask of the aging rich. There would be no way to tell for sure if it was her unless we heard her voice. Some things, a person can’t change.

This is what it was like being in the City- it was sort of the same, but there had been so much work done that I kept looking for that one unmistakable thing that couldn’t be changed. Well, I found it on the subway. The cracked tiles, useless PA, rats on the track, approaching lights, deafening clang, and rush of air as the train blows by like a beer can on its side with two hard plastic benches. And inside the train- no one makes eye contact. Necks cranked unnaturally in a million different positions like a painting by a Dutch Master (“Girl with Cracked iPhone”) so that nobody accidentally looks anyone else in the eye. And, of course, the smell- the Dorito smell of the homeless, piss that can never be cleaned and, best of all, vomit. Ahhh. There you are New York. Nice to see you again. You haven’t changed that much- still have surprisingly drinkable tap-water, street vendors that all call me Boss (they must have known I was there for a Leadership program), oily pizza for a buck that’s better than any other pizza anywhere else in the known universe fuck you Chicago. I’m sure the new wave of young people who are just discovering you still think you’re the greatest place in the world- just like they think the Jason Sudekis cast was the greatest- and who am I to tell them they’re wrong? (Although they are clearly wrong. Three words for you, kids- “I’m Gumby Damnit”. Hulu that shit.)

I thought about how much the City had changed as I was flying home. I guess the thing that surprised me the most (though it really shouldn’t have) was all the Normalcy I encountered. I saw old friends, made faces at their kids, had dinner in their homes and drank beer on their couch. It was just like being any other place- I think they may have even had a dishwasher, though I don’t want to spread crazy rumors and start a riot.  Who knew that was there all the time? Maybe it wasn’t New York that was so crazy in the 90’s, maybe it was just me. It’s a moot point now though, I’ve got my tiny house in Palms with its halfway decent yard. Got a dog and a mosaic tile backsplash and I haven’t paid for laundry since, I think, 2004. I’ve turned into the sort of person who says “Hi there!” to the pizza guy instead of “yo, lemme get a slice” CalSeething-120213-LAand when somebody smiles and says hello to me while I’m walking down the street, I no longer glare at them like I’m going to stab them in the eye. I thought about all of that as I was descending into LA. I saw the endless sprawl of lights spiderwebbing like cracks on a frozen pond out in all directions.  As we got closer, the lines of light formed themselves into columns of cars going up and down, east and west- endlessly somewhere in both directions. I started to see signs poking out of the mist- Ralph’s, Shell, In & Out (POETIC LICENSE WARNING: I have no fucking clue what signs I actually saw. Gimme a break.) I felt the energy building up inside me like the Santa Anna’s coming down the mountains and sweeping through town. The plane touched down. I was waiting on the runway. It seemed to take forever to get to the gate. All I could do was sit back, take a deep breath, and go…..