Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bay Bridge Gets Its Due on 'Revolution'

I'm a little late on this, but as a connoisseur of Hollywood obliterating Bay Area landmarks, I felt I should weigh in.

Apparently a scene on the new post-apocalyptic show "Revolution" features a half-destroyed Bay Bridge. Here's a still image, courtesy of Burrito Justice.

The Bay Bridge has been long neglected by Hollywood producers and book-jacket designers in favor of the Golden Gate, so it's nice to a bit of turnabout here.

I wonder if the eastern span survives.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Brazilian Street Artist Strikes Again

As we discussed last week, the Brazilian artist Bel Borba has been given free rein in New York City to transform ordinary scenes into works of whimsy.

So far, Roosevelt Island appears to be one of his favorite targets. After building a totem pole out of traffic dividers and creating a giant outline of a man on the road, he showed up at my son's preschool playground and whipped the kids into a frenzy of chalk art. Someone was filming the whole thing, so perhaps Elliot will be in a documentary someday.

I only saw the artwork after the fact, but I like to imagine it happened like a Mentos commercial or 1980s music video. A bunch of kids are playing quietly when Bel Borba arrives and shows them how to have some real fun. Meanwhile, a disapproving schoolmarm clutches her pearls  until finally she decides to join in too.

We came across another of his works this weekend: a whale created out of tape, foam letters and some abandoned bollards.

Bel Borba has been commissioned to do artwork all over the city. But with all the Roosevelt Island love, you have to wonder if he's giving other neighborhoods enough of his time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Let's Go, Mets...or Something

It's been more than three years since Elliot's last trip to a professional baseball game, so I figured he was ready to try again (the last time he shrieked in terror every time the crowd cheered). But we live in New York now, and that means testing my loyalties as a Giants fan.

We decided to venture to Citi Field rather than Yankee Stadium because it was a shorter subway ride and easier to get cheap tickets ($15 apiece). And even though I don't root for any New York sports franchises, I think we'd all agree that the Mets are more palatable than the Yankees.

So on the day the Giants clinched the division, Elliot and I wound up in Queens watching the two lowest-ranked teams in the NL East (the Mets vs. the Marlins).

Even if the game didn't have much at stake, Citi Field is a nice place to visit. The stadium is a beautiful brick building, in the mold of AT&T Park and Baltimore's Camden Yards. Not surprisingly, Citi Field was designed by Populous, the architectural firm that has seemingly created every sports venue in the past 15 years.

The park is a short walk from the 7 train. The added bonus for Elliot was getting to visit a part of Queens called Flushing.

"Flushing...just like a toilet," I said.
"That's a funny name, Daddy."
"Yes. Yes, it is."

You enter Citi Field through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the defining architectural feature of the park. It's hard to argue with any tribute to Jackie Robinson, though I wonder about the Mets laying claim to him (a guy from Southern California who played in Brooklyn).

Of course, the Mets were created to heal New York's broken heart after losing the Dodgers and Giants at once. In fact, the Mets' blue-and-orange color scheme is a composite of the colors used by the California expat teams.

It's like in "Jurassic Park," where they created the velociraptor by mixing in frog DNA. Okay, it's nothing like that. But the Mets are in essence a crazy melding of the Giants and Dodgers, and so I guess Jackie Robinson is in their DNA too.

We had seats way up in the Promenade level. But thanks to Citi Field's relatively small capacity (about 45,000), all the park's seats seem decent. In that respect, it's just like AT&T Park.

I won't say as much for the views. In San Francisco, you can see the water and the East Bay hills in the distance. Here's the Citi Field view.

The park also is situated near LaGuardia airport, and a deafening airplane would fly overhead EVERY...FIVE...MINUTES. Do people know about this?

At one point the police evacuated our section because someone smashed a light bulb on the ground. (Was a Jewish wedding under way?)  It's hard to imagine the entire area needed to be cleared, but I guess with today's fluorescent bulbs you can't be too safe. Who brings a light bulb to a game anyway? Is this a New York thing?

We found new seats and ate a Carvel ice cream in a miniature batting helmet, another thing you don't see in California (the Carvel ice cream at least).

During the seventh-inning stretch, I was surprised that they didn't play "God Bless America." I thought this had become a staple of post-9/11 baseball. (Certainly that was the case in San Francisco.) Maybe the Mets are allowed to stop doing it because they're in New York. Is it like Nixon going to China?

One thing Elliot loved was the Home Run Apple. When the Mets get a home run, this giant apple pops out from center field.

We were lucky enough to see a couple home runs early in the game, so Elliot assumed the Home Run Apple was going to make regular appearances. Every time the crowd cheered, he looked intently at the spot where the apple emerges. When it didn't come, he'd ask, "Why are they cheering? There's no apple," as if the apple was the main source of entertainment. Maybe it was.

Fortunately, there was a replica of the apple in the parking lot and Elliot got to take his picture in front of it.

As we walked back to the subway, I asked if he wanted to see Yankee Stadium next time.

"Is that in Queens?"
"Why not?"
"Because everything in the world can't be in Queens."

Another sentence I never thought I'd say.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How a Toddler Views a Purse

An infographic from Nickelodeon's parenting site made the rounds this week, showing how toddlers can turn pretty much any object into something fun/dangerous.

Back when Elliot was little, I proposed making a toy line out of adult objects (eyeglasses, the remote control, the power strip), since that was the only stuff he wanted to play with anyway.

A few of my mock-ups:

 Sadly, I never received funding for the project.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tucker: the Man and His Name

When I wrote a post about using auto-industry pioneers for baby-name inspiration, I neglected to mention Preston Tucker.

Tucker, immortalized by Jeff Bridges in the 1988 film, is famous for the Tucker Torpedo  a model that helped bring many modern features to cars, even though it was itself a failure.

The man's name also was ahead of its time. Preston climbed the baby-name charts in the 1980s and 1990s and remains popular. It ranked 137 nationwide last year, higher than Patrick, Edward or Mark. It's more commonly used now than it was when Preston Tucker was born in 1903.

The name Tucker, meanwhile, is a more recent phenomenon, part of the surnames-as-first-names craze. It essentially didn't exist as a given name until the 1980s, but now ranks 196 (and shows no sign of peaking yet, as you can see from this chart).

Melissa Joan Hart (of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" fame) gave the name an additional boost this week when she chose it for her third son.

Lest you think this was a quirky celebrity pick, consider that Tucker is more popular right now than Peter, Harrison or Stephen.

Let's hope no schoolyard children figure out that it rhymes with something.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Is a Gentleman's Family?

A colleague from Ireland used the term "gentleman's family" the other day.

I wasn't familiar with the expression, but apparently it means having one boy and one girl (ideally, the boy is first). The male serves as an heir, and the female can be married off to a good family.

Gentleman's family...for now.

My impression is it was used by Irish Catholics to subtly mock Protestant families  first of all because Protestants would use contraceptives to have smaller progenies, but also because it implies that a gentleman could simply will himself to sire a child of each gender.

If this is the ideal scenario, we really blew it. In addition to pushing us several rungs down in the child-configuration rankings, our third offspring means we're no longer a gentleman's family.

I guess I can live with that.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Roosevelt Island's Roadwork Art

While we're on the topic of Roosevelt Island public art, how about some that appears to be unsanctioned?*

Near the tram stop right now, there's a collection of roadwork art, including a totem pole made out of plastic traffic barriers.

Someone also took white tape and made some creative street markings.

Clearly they meant the work to be viewed from above.

Here's what it looks like from the tram.

I'm not sure what it all means, but I admire the effort. (The stop signs, meanwhile, remain in pristine condition.)

*UPDATE: I guessed wrong. This art IS sanctioned. The work is by Brazilian artist Bel Borba, who was invited to New York to do this sort of thing.

From the New York Times via the Roosevelt Islander blog:
An unusual monthlong public art residency...will take Mr. Borba all over New York City and allow him to work in whatever medium strikes his fancy. On Saturday he created a painting of a lizard and a spaceman on the asphalt on Roosevelt Island; this week he is in Red Hook, Brooklyn; Howard Beach, Queens; and other neighborhoods. Starting on Oct. 1, a short film he made with two collaborators will be shown every night for a month on 15 jumbo signs, some with multiple screens, at Times Square. 
Mr. Borba, 55, is from Salvador, in the state of Bahia and the third largest city in Brazil. Its streets, walls, plazas and beaches have been his canvas since the late 1970s. He is a well-known, even beloved, figure there, regularly greeted on the street by residents who encourage him to come and work in their neighborhoods; his output there led to a documentary about him that will open in New York next month. But he said he was delighted to receive an invitation to work in New York, so far from his comfort zone.

Nice to see him push New Yorkers out of their comfort zone as well. Or at least make us do a double-take.

When Nature Calls, and a Cop Answers

One of the hardest things about taking kids on urban adventures: the bathroom breaks.

It's difficult to plan ahead because a small child doesn't tell you he has to pee. Until the moment he HAS TO PEE.

When one of these emergencies strikes and you're standing in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, you only really have one option: direct your kid toward a bush, tree or curb and hope people don't complain.

So I sympathize with this mom in Philadelphia, who received a ticket when her son relieved himself in public.

From the Huffington Post:
A Philadelphia mother is outraged over receiving a $50 ticket and a parenting lecture by a police officer after her 2-year-old son peed on the sidewalk.  
Caroline Robboy was out with her family on Sunday when her kids, ages 9 and 2, had to use the bathroom. After being refused restroom access at a clothing store, 2-year-old Nathaniel, who is still being potty trained, couldn't hold it any longer.  
The boy took relief into his own hands and peed on a nearby lamp post. NBC Philadelphia reports that Robboy tried to "redirect" her son to a grassy patch, but a police officer wrote her a ticket for public urination.

I'm not sure the part about how he's "still being potty trained" is relevant.

Potty training teaches kids not to pee in their pants. It doesn't teach them not to pee on a perfectly good lamp post.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Now THIS Is Cool

On Thursday I expressed concerns about the new FDR memorial, which opens next month on the southern end of Roosevelt Island. With its minimalist, granite-slab aesthetic, the monument risks looking dated and underwhelming.

Well, here's something that could be the polar opposite.

Just a few steps away from the FDR memorial, artist Kathleen Griffin plans to install giant butterflies on the ruins of the old smallpox hospital. (Roosevelt Island once had a smallpox facility on one end and an insane asylum on the other — it was a cheery place.)

Photo courtesy of the "Butterflies of Memory" site.

From the project's website:
“Butterflies of Memory” is a public sculpture on the site of the collapsed Smallpox Hospital Ruins, Roosevelt Island, Manhattan. 10 foot diameter gold butterflies will fly above the Ruins, visually carrying the building away. Installed summer 2013, the installation will be viewable from the Midtown Waterfront and the FDR highway, thus bringing an image of inspiration and beauty to over 2 million New Yorkers.

It's fun, whimsical and thought-provoking — and will no doubt delight children and adults alike (unlike the FDR memorial, which will mainly delight New York Times architecture critics).

More of this, please.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Speaking of Violent Names

Earlier this month we talked about a kid whose sign-language name resembled a pistol.

Well, now here's a baby who is literally named after a gun: Breeze Beretta Johnston.

Levi Johnston, the former fiancé of Bristol Palin, got the idea for his daughter's middle name from the Italian firearm manufacturer. (See, it's Italian, so it's classy.)

I guess Colt and Glock weren't feminine enough?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Putting the Roosevelt in Roosevelt Island

The long-awaited FDR monument opens on the southern end of Roosevelt Island next month, and the New York Times has a rosy review.

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.
The park — a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt — was conceived four decades ago. The visionary architect who designed it died in 1974. The site, a landfill along one of the more dramatic stretches of waterfront in New York City, remained a rubble heap while the project was left for dead.

But in a city proud of its own impatience, perseverance sometimes pays off. Next month, on that triangular plot on the southern end of Roosevelt Island, the four-acre Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park will open, a belated and monumental triumph for New York and for everyone who cares about architecture and public space. 
Louis Kahn is the architect. He completed drawings for the park just before he died suddenly, in Pennsylvania Station, at 73. That Kahn’s plan survived periodic calls to privatize the government-owned property and build a hotel and fancy town houses, among other commercial proposals, proves the benefit of resisting short-term financial imperatives. In the end the value of the project goes far beyond dollars and cents. 
I'm looking forward to seeing the park, but I'm not sure building much-needed housing (in a place where the average apartment rents for almost $3,500) would have been a tragedy.

I also have a hard time summoning much excitement for anything designed by Louis Kahn, an architect associated with the Brutalist movement. I spent many hours in a Louis Kahn building — Bryn Mawr's Erdman Hall, where the offices of the Bi-College News were housed — and I don't have fond memories.

He designed Erdman as a "modern Scottish castle," which he somehow felt should look like an Eastern European penitentiary. If you like blocky, drab buildings made of bare concrete, you'll love Louis Kahn.

Since his death, the work of Kahn and his contemporaries hasn't aged well, and the general public never warmed to the style. It seems odd, then, that people would work so hard to preserve his legacy in 2012.

You also have to wonder if a less abstract FDR monument would have been more inspiring. After all, this is a wheelchair-bound man who became one of the most beloved presidents of the 20th century. The Four Freedoms monument won't show that.

Still, it's nice for Roosevelt Island to get a bona fide landmark. Now when people ask me where I live, I can say, "Home to a belated and monumental triumph for New York and for everyone who cares about architecture and public space!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Secret Fit Belly

I was amused by the directions for the Secret Fit Belly, an elastic-waist feature on a pair of Kelly's maternity jeans.

"The secret fit belly is easy to put on"  especially if you show no signs of actually being pregnant!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Using Gender Norms as a Mnemonic Device

Gender-specific marketing has been getting more attention lately: The Lego Group came under fire for a girl-focused product line called Lego Friends (though consumers aren't boycotting the toys  in fact, sales shattered the company's expectations), and a female-oriented Bic ballpoint pen has been mocked mercilessly in Amazon reviews.

In our home, we try not to overdo the pink clothes for Alice and the blue clothes for Elliot. But there is one area where gender roles help make my life easier: sippy cups.

In the morning, I try to always pour Alice's milk into a pink cup. Elliot gets a blue one.

Otherwise, my sleep-deprived brain will never remember whose cup is whose.

I guess I'm not striking a blow for equality, but maybe this is a battle for people with kids of only one gender. Other than writing the children's names on everything, I'm not sure how else to keep track.

Monday, September 10, 2012

'666 Park Avenue': Fact vs. Fiction

I've been seeing ads on the subway for a new ABC show called "666 Park Avenue."

The series depicts a young, good-looking couple who make a Faustian bargain for a great apartment on the Upper East Side. (They're told that the previous tenant "moved someplace warmer." Get it?)

According to Wikipedia, "the elaborate Beaux-Arts building featured as 666 Park Avenue on the fashionable Upper East Side of Manhattan and called 'The Drake' in the series is an actual apartment building, The Ansonia, located on the less fashionable Upper West Side of the city."

Hang on, the Upper West Side is less fashionable? Because I've always been given the opposite impression.

In any case, if you do a Google Street View search for the real 666 Park Avenue, this is what you'll see.

Doesn't seem very fashionable to me.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Living on the Edge

California is unusual in that none of its major cities are situated near other states. (There's San Diego, of course, but that borders another country.)

It's far different here in New York City, where you can work side by side with folks from New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut  maybe even Pennsylvania.

I wonder what it does for community cohesion when the people around you abide by different laws, don't vote in the same elections and have less of a shared identity. At the very least you have to be careful about making New Jersey jokes.

I spent part of this week in Kansas City, which in some ways has even more of a schism.

Kansas City, Mo., is the major city in the region, with about 463,000 people. It's also what most people think of when you mention the name Kansas City.

Just across the border is Kansas City, Kan. It was founded 30 years later and has about 146,000 people, making it less than a third the size of its Missouri counterpart. (In fact, Kansas City, Kan., is smaller than the neighboring suburb of Overland Park.)

Why anyone thought it was a good idea to have two cities with the same name on opposite sides of the border is beyond me, but residents have found ways to cope. When they refer to Kansas City, Kan., they say "KCK." (For Kansas City, Mo., they say "KCMO," but since this is the default Kansas City, it's often unnecessary.)

Despite sharing a city name, residents of the Missouri side are said to be distinct from those of Kansas. Missouri was a slave state and there's more of a connection to the South. That may explain the preference of many locals to pronounce it "Missour-ah."

People from Kansas are more likely to consider themselves part of the West. They also aren't afraid to sell you a ton of "Wizard of Oz" tchotchkes. (Actually, I saw a lot of that on both sides of the border.) I assume making a joke about how you "aren't in Kansas anymore" when you cross into KCMO would be fairly well-trod ground by now.

I prefer the situation on the border of California and Nevada. There's a Nevada City on the California side, but no one thought to put a Nevada City in Nevada. That would be silly.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

We Made It: Elliot Turns 4

They say the years fly by with kids, but I feel like Elliot has been 3 for as long as I can remember.

That changes today, when Elliot finally turns 4.

Monday, September 03, 2012

A Different Kind of Naming Debate

I spend a lot of time discussing baby names on this blog, but here's an issue I haven't touched on: the "sign names" of deaf children.

When you have a hearing-impaired child, you have to pick a regular name and then create a sign-language version. That name may just involve signing the individual letters, but it can also be something more creative.

Take the case of 3-year-old Hunter in Nebraska. He signs his name by making a gesture that looks like he's firing finger guns. Because of the violent imagery, the sign name has run afoul of school administrators, according to Hunter's parents.

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The situation appears to be a bit muddled (school officials claim they never asked Hunter to change the way he signs his name). But it ignores a central fact: Hunter's written name also evokes violent imagery. The parents named their child to honor the killing of living things.

Not that they're unusual. The name Hunter cracked the top 100 nationwide in the 1990s and has remained popular ever since, carried by the rising tide of occupational names (though how many full-time hunters are there anymore?).

Hunter is even more popular in Nebraska, ranking 35th last year. In peace-loving California, by contrast, it isn't in the top 100 at all.

So if no one would ever question the name Hunter, why should a little finger-gun action be objectionable?