Thursday, August 30, 2012

'How to Ride the Subway'

As a newcomer to New York, I was excited to see this video on how to ride the subway.

There's some good advice here, such as, giving up your seat for pregnant women.

But apparently these self-styled subway experts committed some etiquette mistakes of their own (you're not supposed to "hug" the poles with your arm like that).

Also, there were several topics I would have liked to have seen covered:
  1. How do I handle a stroller on the subway?
  2. How do I avoid getting those annoying "please swipe again" messages?
  3. How much Axe Body Spray is too much?
Maybe they can do a sequel.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Waiting on Line vs. Waiting in Line

New Yorkers have a verbal provincialism that I've never heard anywhere else in America.

If you're queuing up at Duane Reade or a subway ticket window, you're not waiting in line, you're waiting "on line."

It's even used in official MTA signage.

This usage has become a good bit more confusing in the age of the Internet. "Waiting on line" now makes it sound like you're waiting for a website to load or a friend to join your Google hangout. So maybe it's time for New Yorkers to abandon this tic, charming as they may find it.

If the New York Times is any indication, style mavens have already moved on.

The newspaper published an op-ed on the topic of waiting in line earlier this month, with nary an "on line" to be found.

From the piece:
Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line. The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away.
My only nagging sensation is the feeling that the MTA needs to fix its signs.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Lego Vaillancourt Fountain

When we still lived in the Bay Area, I wrote about how the Vaillancourt Fountain is reviled by many (most?) San Franciscans, despite its appeal to young children.

So I was excited to learn that the Lego replica of San Francisco at the Legoland California Resort includes this controversial landmark.

Photo courtesy of Kate at yr own risk.

I guess they know who their audience is.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

'High' Expectations

Local blogger Jeremiah Moss wrote a New York Times op-ed last week about how the High Line is destroying Chelsea.

As you recall, we liked the High Line, though I don't have an authoritative opinion on the matter  in that I probably couldn't identify Chelsea on a map before a few months ago. (It still might be a struggle.)

I do know the High Line has destroyed my children's ability to be impressed by parks.

This weekend I tried to take the kids to Forest Park in Queens.

"Where are we going, Daddy?"

"We're going someplace we haven't been before, a special park."

"Is it in the air?"


"How high is it?"

"Oh, you mean? . . . No. It's just on the ground."

"How is it special?"

"Well, the website said it was the third-largest park in Queens."


"Forget it. We'll just go to the library."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Would a Baby Even Drink 7-Up?

The Collectors Weekly site did a feature this week on old print ads touting dangerous products, such as this one for the pesticide DDT.

This one for 7-Up caught my eye. It features a baby drinking the "un-cola" and recommends adding it to milk for a delicious treat.

You have to admire the moxie of these marketers, but I'm pretty sure no babies ever really drank 7-Up.

Small kids typically don't like carbonated beverages because of the bubbles ("too spicy").

Even Elliot, who's almost 4, wouldn't touch soda (not that we're forcing it on him). But it's true I've never offered to mix it with milk.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Damn Dude, You've Got Daddy Skills'

How could I write a post about rapping parents without mentioning "Daddy Skills," the new song from Berkeley's own DJ Dave?

I still kind of wonder if DJ Dave didn't peak with his Whole Foods parking-lot song, but "Daddy Skills" has its moments. ("No choking, 'cause you know I cut the grapes and the blueberries. That's gangsta.")

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Parents Just DO Understand, Y'all

We've come a long way since 1988, when the Fresh Prince rapped about how parents just didn't understand, especially when it came to borrowing the family Porsche.

Now it's the parents who are rapping. Earlier this year, we had the dad who was freestyling in the delivery room. More recently we have this video called "The Parent Rap."

It's actually pretty well done. (I especially liked the line, "Using your full names so you know I ain't playin'.") Surprisingly enough, the video was produced by some kind of Christian group, so I'm not sure what the agenda is. Promoting parenting maybe?

I guess I'm in favor of that.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What the Hell Happened to Pipe Cleaners?

Sure, we're all in favor of healthier living. But what about the impact on arts-and-crafts supplies?

I recently discovered that stores no longer sell pipe cleaners. They've been replaced by something called "chenille stems."

When did this happen, and is that the best name they could come up with? I feel like a macho guy can wield a pipe cleaner, no problem, but you have to be pretty comfortable with your masculinity to say, "Please pass the chenille stems."

I guess this was inevitable. We've gone a generation without pipe-smoking dads reading the newspaper in the living room. It only makes sense that we lose the accessories too.

Come to think of it, many dads are probably still smoking a different kind of pipe. But I'm not sure how you clean that.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

You Must Chill

The Nameberry site asked readers to write in about cherished baby names that are getting too popular to use.
It’s the scourge of every self-respecting berry: A name you love, a name you’ve treasured forever and maybe hoped to keep as your own special gem, hits the Top 100….the Top 10….or even, nooooooooooo!, Number 1. 
What name does it most pain you to see leaping up the popularity list right now?

The result of Nameberry's request was a glorious outpouring of people FREAKING OUT. Apparently the pain of watching a name become popular ranks somewhere between a root canal and that South American fish that swims up your urethra.

A sampling of the comments [with my thoughts in brackets]:
I’m devastated at how popular Lily is. [Devastated!
My heart was CRUSHED when Angelina Jolie used Knox for her twin son’s name. [And not because you felt bad for the boy?
Clara. I was set on using that name for a future daughter as a nod to my favorite literary character, Clare, of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m devastated because of its recent rise in popularity. [You probably need to read more.
There are so many names I’m worried about becoming popular. I’m still a few years away from children, so there’s plenty of time for my beloved names to shoot up the popularity charts and make me sad! [Find hobbies.
After eight years of parenthood and being very very concerned about this in the beginning, I now find I don't care at all. I don’t like names like James, Lily or Sophia anyway, so the most popular of the ones I like fall outside the top 100. . . . I like solid names that aren’t in super-common usage but aren’t weird. Like Quentin, Gideon, Otto, Vincent, Leonora, Wilhelmina and Aurelia. [Translation: Why are people so concerned about using popular names? Not that I ever would.
Kairi! Why must everyone love Kairi! It’s getting popular (along with other names in video games/graphic novels/anime) around where I live. Everyone you ask has a different video game name for their future kid around here. [Lady, WHERE do you live?]

I appreciate people not wanting to pick an overly common name. But there are benefits to seeing the name of your child shoot up in popularity.

I wouldn't mind if "Elliot" cracked the top 100, just because it would be less pigeonholed as being a bit nebbish.

And if your non-unpopular choice later climbs the charts, your child will benefit from having a younger person's name.

Take my example. The great wave of boys named Nicholas was born in the 1990s. So most people probably assume I'm a 20-year-old. It's a wonder I don't get carded more.

Monday, August 13, 2012

British Baby Names: Daring to Be Diminutive

The U.K. Office for National Statistics has released its list of top English baby names for 2011 (I guess they're three months behind the U.S.), with Harry and Amelia leading the charts.

Harry (the name) casts a spell on England.

As Gawker notes, the Brits aren't on board with many of the American naming trends:
The list for England and Wales — purportedly fancy places, rich in history — is absolutely devoid of all the -aiden/-ayden/-aidon names that make America's kindergarten teachers sound like ancient Celtic bards whenever they take class roll, singing tales of fearless warrior, sons of So-and-So The So-and-So, who died on the battlefield drenched in blood and valor. 
And where are the occupational names? The tributes to celebrated and lucrative modern professions? The Masons, the Tanners, the Parkers, the Chandlers?

For me, the most striking thing about English baby names is the preference for diminutives. The No. 1 boys' name is Harry. Not Henry or Harrison, just Harry.

The third-ranked name is Jack. Not John or Jackson, just Jack. Fourth is Alfie. Yep, Alfie. Charlie rounds out the top five.

Americans have a love affair with Sophia, but the English prefer Sophie. We like Eva; they go for Evie.

For U.S. parents, the general trend is to pick a nickname they like (say, Jack) and then reverse-engineer a long-form name out of it (Jackson). The preference for surnames as first names (Mason, Hunter, etc.) also stems from our desire as Americans to seem sophisticated.

Many Americans would probably worry it was low-class to give their kid the nickname they liked all along. (Despite the popularity of Harry Potter books and movies here, the name Harry isn't even in the top 500 in the U.S.).

I guess the question is, can something be low-class if English people do it?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Daddy-Daughter Day

Kelly had plans with Elliot today, so I got to have my first day of one-on-one time with Alice since...well, ever.

It's a function of my work schedule and her sleep patterns that I never get to see Alice on her own, and many weeks I barely see her at all.

So it was nice to make up for lost time with our first daddy-daughter day. We went to Central Park, had lunch from the Rouge Tomate cart on Fifth Avenue and shared an ice cream on the way home.

Alice and I didn't have a lot to talk about, but I was able to fill the silences by quacking at the ducks, tickling her and spinning her around until we both got dizzy.

I'm assuming this approach will work fine for the next 18 years.

See, folks, parenting's not so hard!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ah Yes, 'Caps for Sale' — Hello, Old Friend

Speaking of unreliable memories: It's amazing that I can completely forget about cherished books from my childhood, only to have the memories rush back when I read them to my kids.

Elliot checked out "Caps for Sale" from the library today. I have not thought about this book once for about 30 years. But reading it with him, it all came back.

Another one like that: "Morris Goes to School."

"We don't sell candy. Can't you read?"

How could I forget?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

From Air-Conditioning Abstainer to Addict in One Summer

Until we moved to New York, I'd never lived anywhere with air conditioning. Somehow I made it 38 years without having something that the vast majority of Americans can't live without.

A Midtown apartment building pockmarked with A/C units.

When I was a kid in Massachusetts, it was still fairly rare to have A/C in your home. We moved to California when I was 12, and I never needed it in Santa Cruz, San Francisco or Berkeley. (I definitely could have used A/C during my four years at Haverford, but they didn't allow it in the dorms.)

Living in the Bay Area, I would flaunt our eco credentials, noting that we used much less heating and cooling than the rest of the nation.

Well, those bragging rights are out the window. We have air conditioning in our apartment and I use it. A lot. Adjusting from chilly San Francisco summers to New York humidity is hard enough without a reprieve when I get home.

But even here in sweltering New York, A/C has its foes, as Daniel Engber discussed in a recent Slate piece:
A certain class of Americans — let's call them the brrr-geoisie — has come to see the air conditioner as a stand-in for everything that's wrong with the country and the world. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, caf├ęs now throw open their windows in the dead of summer. They won't succumb to a culture of gas-guzzling SUVs and soda-swilling layabouts! They'll give us a place to endure the heat, to suffer the heat, to pretend to enjoy the heat, all while we sit in sweaty judgment of our neighbors. I'm working in one of these fresh-air establishments right now, my neck damp, and I'm trying to imagine the alternate universe where this place would apply the same logic in January, and shut down its furnace so we all could work as God intended. But for the brrr-geoisie, the two extremes of temperature reside in different moral categories. If one end of the thermostat corresponds to a basic human need — for warmth on a winter night — the other reveals a shameful self-indulgence. Heat is good, cool is evil. What's behind this double standard? Why can't we learn to stop worrying and love the air conditioner?
People just need to chill, Engber says. Americans moving into sunbelt cities have produced a net decline in energy use, he notes, because they're using less heat — even as they crank up the air conditioner. So what's the big deal?

Of course, coastal California gives you the best of both worlds, with little need for heat or A/C. In fact, the West Coast has been particularly cool this summer, even as the rest of the nation heats up.

Maybe the brrr-geoisie in Brooklyn should just move to the Sunset?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Remembering Where You Came From, or Not

Having a 3-year-old around is a bit like living with someone with dementia: You can't really count on them forming long-term memories.

When we moved from San Francisco to Berkeley, Elliot soon lost all recollection of our time in the city (to be fair, he was only 2 at the time).

Now that we're in New York, he's struggling to recall what our life in Berkeley was like. He remembers his friends and school, but not much about the town or what we used to do there.

I was talking to him about the farmer's market in Berkeley, and he couldn't remember it. He couldn't remember going to the library, the neighborhood park or seemingly anything else.

I became upset that this time in his life was being erased right before my eyes.

"Well, what do you remember about Berkeley?" I asked.

He paused.

"You, Daddy."

And he gave me a big hug.

Ah, little guy. I guess if he's going to have selective memories, at least I'm one of them. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

New York vs. San Francisco: Dining Al Fresco

I complain about East Coast weather a lot, but it does allow you to do something that's near-impossible in San Francisco: eat outside at night (without heat lamps).

The humidity traps the heat in the air, so you can sit outside long after dark and be perfectly comfortable in short sleeves. (Note: Do not attempt this outside of New York City or you'll be devoured by insects.)

Over the weekend we had a perfectly pleasant meal in the outdoor area of the Riverwalk Bar & Grill, our favorite restaurant on Roosevelt Island. But while we were dining, I was reminded of the hazard of eating while surrounded by New York fauna.

The city's pigeons have no fear whatsoever. They see you have food and will take it.

We had nasty pigeons in S.F., of course (seagulls too), but not like this. I'm pretty sure someone is breeding "Hunger Games"-style muttations and releasing them in the five boroughs. Perhaps this is the first step to the Capitol's rise to power?

It's not just pigeons either. I've seen squirrels hop into strollers and start tearing through diaper bags in search of food.

I guess we all gotta eat. But I'd rather not turn dinner into "Wild Kingdom."

Monday, August 06, 2012

Real-Life 'Turner & Hooch' Training

The NYPD has an "agility course" for its K-9 unit set up on Roosevelt Island.

I would love to see it in action, but it was empty when I snapped this photo. Still, you get a sense of the training involved.

Who let the dogs out?

You never know when a dangerous perp may be lurking at the other end of a seesaw. Best to be prepared.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

A Taste of the 'High' Life

On Saturday we took the kids to see the High Line, a converted railway that opened as a park and "aerial greenway" in 2009. (A second phase of the project was added last year.)

The High Line has quickly become a New York landmark, and it's certainly one of the most unique urban parks in the United States.

After all, how many parks do you get to via elevator?

The High Line extends a mile through Chelsea, with plants, bushes and flowers lining the way. It provides views of both old Chelsea (with its graffiti, crumbling brick tenements and warehouses) and new Chelsea (gleaming condo developments and trendy restaurants).

The New York Times had a story on Wednesday about how the residents who live along the High Line have to get comfortable being exhibitionists, and it's true; you look right into people's apartments.

My main question is whether the High Line is more of a novelty and tourist attraction than a real neighborhood resource. If I lived in Chelsea, I probably wouldn't go there for typical park activities. It has no play structures and not much grass to sit on (there's a patch of green called the 23rd Street Lawn, but little else).

No dogs or bicycles are allowed on the High Line either. I did see a few joggers, but with all the tourists around, it can't be much fun to run stop-and-start for a mile.

The kids had a great time scampering down the trail, and Elliot marveled at "how high up" we were (odd for someone who lives on the 19th floor).

But by the time we reached the other end of the path, near Chelsea Market, everyone was hot, tired and hungry. Fortunately, we found the food area before the kids had a complete meltdown.

A number of food vendors have set up shop near 15th Street, where there's a covered walkway that was surprisingly cool and breezy. (The food was good too; I highly recommend a hot dog from BARK.)

It was so pleasant, it almost made me wish the entire High Line had been covered. But then you might as well just walk through an airport concourse.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

The kids had to make many adjustments when we moved to New York.

In Berkeley, Elliot used to run around in our backyard or take his Skuut out on the sidewalk. If he wanted to find a kid to play with, he would just go to a neighbor's house and ring the doorbell. Now we live in a high-rise apartment and don't know many people, so there's none of that.

But there are other benefits to our new home  most notably, the view.

Elliot spends a lot of time looking at boats on the East River and speculating on their classification (speed boat, fire boat, ferry) and destination (New Jersey, Atlanta, China?).

And every night as the sun goes down, we wait for the Empire State Building lights to come on.

The landmark frequently celebrates occasions by lighting up in various colors. It has the capability of showing three different colors on four different sides, for a total of 12 hues at any one time. Right now it's honoring the Olympics by showing the colors of participants' flags. (Tonight is Cuba, Slovenia, the Ukraine and Spain.)

It has become a fun routine for us to see who can distinguish the color pattern first as the sun sets on Manhattan.

Is it ideal to raise children in a high-rise apartment? Maybe not, but it comes with its own set of experiences and wonders. I hope when the kids look back on this time, marveling at the city lights with their dad will be a pleasant memory.