Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick-or-Treating in a High-Rise

Last year's Halloween was pretty low-key (on account of Hurricane Sandy devastating the Eastern Seaboard), so I feel like this was our first time celebrating the holiday properly in New York.

It also was my first time going trick-or-treating in a high-rise building.

I resided in San Francisco apartment towers for much of my adult life (Parkmerced, South Beach Marina, Avalon Mission Bay), so I'm no stranger to high-rise living. But I didn't have kids back then. By the time we started trick-or-treating with Elliot, we lived in Berkeley, which offered the more classic suburban experience.

Some people may see trick-or-treating in an apartment building as a little sad, but I've always thought it would offer the ultimate candy-gathering efficiency.

If you can hit several apartments on each floor, it's hard to imagine you're ever going to rack up as many treats schlepping from one detached family home to another.

The truth is, not that many people in apartments actually offer candy. In our building, the doorman gave out a list of participating units, and there was typically only one or two of them per floor.

That meant a bunch of kids were chasing a relatively small number of targets. It also caused a fair amount of gridlock in the elevator bank. Elevators were jammed with both trick-or-treaters and plain-old commuters trying to get home to their apartments.

If we'd been able to use the stairwell to get to different floors, we probably could have accumulated candy pretty quickly. But we were pushing around a stroller, so we had to wait for the elevator each time. That severely impacted our candy haul.

So in the end, the suburbs probably have an edge over the city on Halloween.

We didn't help matters by running out of candy ourselves. (We were the only apartment on our hall offering treats, so talk about dropping the ball.)

That's probably the saddest sign I've ever had to put up.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Three Kids, One Monkey Suit

As I mentioned in Saturday's Halloween video, all three of our kids have worn the same monkey costume over the years.

Elliot in San Francisco...

...Alice in Berkeley...

...and now Lulu in New York.

They all brought something different to the role, though cuteness was universal.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Heart of Darkness: the Bouncy House Edition

We have a very defiant 2-year-old, which means getting her to do everyday tasks — eating the food on her plate, using the potty or going to sleep — often leads to kicking and screaming (along with the occasional biting, head butting and running from the building).

This makes life difficult, but at least it's always clear that we — the parents — are in charge. Alice knows that ultimately she has to do what we say.

But over the weekend, I got a frightening vision of what Alice would do if she had the power.

At Saturday's Halloween festival, there was a bouncy house with a long line to get in. It was one of those situations where the attendant would let in a group of kids, have them bounce around for a few minutes and then kick them out so another pack of children could go inside.

After Alice took her turn in the bouncy house, the attendant ordered the kids to get out. Alice was one of the last children to totter toward the exit, when suddenly she stopped. She moved back toward the center of the floor and began bouncing again.

I yelled for her to get out, but a devious smile had crept over her face. You could almost see the tumblers falling into place in her brain: I am not leaving and you can't stop me.

The attendant couldn't make her leave, and it was awkward for an adult to crawl inside the small opening. Soon the entire crowd surrounding the bouncy house had joined me in yelling, "ALICE, GET OUT!"

She didn't care. The chanting only emboldened her. She was crazed with power, laughing and running from one end of the house to the other. Alice was the queen of this bouncy castle and we were all her subjects.

I realized that the plot of "Heart of Darkness"/"Apocalypse Now" was unfolding before our eyes.

Alice had gone insane and seized control of a bouncy compound, and now I needed to find someone to take her out.

I turned to Elliot, a highly experienced agent in both bouncy-house navigation and sister extraction.

"Elliot, you have to go in there and bring her back. Can you do it?"

He nodded solemnly and removed his Spider-Man mask. The attendant allowed him entry, and Elliot was soon crawling into the bouncy fortress. The shouting outside the encampment died away as he faced his opponent alone, the only one standing between civilization and bouncy madness.

What followed was a blur of screaming, tears and bouncing...a lot of bouncing. Elliot finally managed to drag Alice close enough to the opening for me to reach in and yank her back outside.

We all survived the experience, though I'm not sure any of us will ever be the same again. Near the end, I could almost hear Alice whispering, "The horror...the horror."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Halloween on Roosevelt Island

The Roosevelt Island Halloween parade was held today, bringing a cavalcade of cuteness to the isle's Main Street.

I made a minute-long video of the festivities.

Our costumes all came from the kids' dress-up box, so we didn't score any points for originality.

As I mention in the video, Lulu's monkey outfit has now been worn by at least five different children. Given its condition, it may have hit the end of the line.

Friday, October 25, 2013

New Yorkers *Really* Like the Name Michael

One of the most striking things about yesterday's baby-name maps: the enduring popularity of Michael in New York.

While most other states have moved on to Jacob or Mason or Liam, New Yorkers are still carrying a torch for ol' Mike. Other than 1964, when the state honored JFK's passing by picking John, Michael has been New York's top name for 53 years. (Basically, it took a beloved president being gunned down in broad daylight for the resolve of New Yorkers to waver once.) That's crazy.

When it comes to girls' names, New York has flirted with all the popular choices over the years: Lisa, Jennifer, Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Isabella and now Sophia. It's mostly moved in step with the rest of the nation (aside from a weird dalliance with Samantha in the late-1990s).

But for boys, it's Michael, Michael, Michael.

It's like New York is your grandpa who found something on the menu he likes and refuses to ever order anything else.

"Pops, you should try the William this time. It's delicious."

"No! I like what I like. Stop hassling me."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Let's Hear It for the Boys (Names)

After last week's animated GIF of girls' baby names through the decades, I asked if anyone was going to create a boys' version.

Well, I didn't have to wait long. Jezebel posted this map showing the most popular boys' names by state from 1960 until 2012.

Amazingly, only three names have held the top spot over that 53-year span: Adam, Michael and Jacob.

Michael had the longest run of the three names. It was No. 1 for an astounding 38 straight years.

Even so, Michael never had the universal acceptance of Jennifer during its heyday. When Michael reigned supreme in the 1960s, lots of states were still favoring David and the entire South seemed to prefer James. Jason had a solid contingent in the '70s, and Christopher was similarly strong in the '80s.

Jacob took over in 1999 and has kept its lead ever since. But the map seems as fractured as ever. Somehow Jacob was the most popular name in the U.S. in 2012 despite only winning four states. Liam and William (which are almost the same name anyway) carried much of the country.

I wonder if we need to examine naming ballots for dangling chads because Jacob's victory seems a little suspicious. (The name Chad, by the way, ranked 588th last year.)

I've wondered before how Jacob could be so popular and yet so invisible to me all these years. (We've encountered very few young Jacobs at parks or schoolyards.) Well, I think I may have my answer. It wasn't the top name in California until 2010 and it's never led in New York or any other mid-Atlantic state.

Elsewhere, Jacob is a potent force. It unseated Jose in Texas after 14 years of domination by the Spanish name. I imagine it was heartening for conservatives there to see the state swing back to the Anglo column. Of course, there's no telling how many people are pronouncing Jacob "Ha-kob."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Going the Extra Distance as a Parent

My attitude toward parenting is usually: "What's the least amount of work I can do here without endangering my child?"

Kelly, meanwhile, is the other extreme. She's always thinking of ways to make the kids happier and healthier.

The new bunk bed is a case in point. She didn't want Alice to look up at plain wooden slats from her bottom bunk. So Kelly painted the slats to look like a rainbow (one of Alice's favorite objects).

These kids don't know how good they have it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Empire State Building vs. a Bunk Bed

We recently attempted to build a bunk bed.

Now, this shouldn't seem like too difficult a task. We bought an Ikea-style kit with instructions written for illiterate people.

But it took us more than a month to complete. From Labor Day until early October, a half-constructed bunk bed sat in the kids' room like the replacement Death Star in "Jedi."

I felt even more inadequate after visiting the Empire State Building, where they tell you that the tower was constructed at one story per day.

So I thought I would compare our assembling of a bunk bed with the construction of a building considered to be mankind's greatest architectural wonder for much of the 20th century.

See if you can guess which is which!

Photos courtesy of Curbed.

Let's not dwell on which of these projects was the the greater achievement.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Baby Names and the Reign of Jennifer

The Jezebel site published a series of maps showing the popularity of girls' names by state over the past 50-plus years.

There are no surprises here for people who keep up with naming trends, but it's pretty cool to see it as an animated GIF.

The most striking thing is the utter dominance of Jennifer in the 1970s and '80s.

Jennifer (once extremely obscure) gradually gained popularity in the decades after World War II. Its supremacy was achieved in 1970 when the movie "Love Story" came out.

Apparently Americans' reaction to watching a Leukemia-stricken girl fall in love and then die was, "Hey, cool name."

It's equally amazing that Jennifer was still No. 1 in 1984. You would think soon-to-be parents would have noticed that the nation's schools were already overrun with kids named that, forcing girls to go by things like "Jennifer C.," "Sporty Jen" and "Jenny from the Block."

Note: I have no issue with the name and have had mostly positive experiences with girls called Jennifer (though one in elementary school sent me a card that said, "Happy Valentine's Day. I don't like you.").

For a while it looked like Emily might threaten Jennifer's record. It was No. 1 for 12 years (and if you include its cousin Emma, 13 years). But it never had the state-by-state dominance of Jennifer. Through most of the 1970s, Jennifer was ranked first in almost every state. Emily never came close to that.

I also like the current No. 1: Sophia. As I've said before, Americans are mostly exhibiting great taste in girls' name these days (aside from Madison).

We know quite a few Sophias under the age of 6, but I have a hard time seeing the name duplicate Jennifer's 15-year run. For one, people have the Internet now and can easily see data such as the maps above. In the Jennifer days, parents would just pick up a baby-naming book or maybe poll friends and family.

I would love to see a similar animated GIF for boys' names over the decades — spoiler: Jacob will feature prominently — but that's unlikely to come from Jezebel, a site for women. (The name Jezebel, by the way, is not in the Social Security Administration's top 1,000. But that's probably due to its unfair association with prostitutes.)

Is there a men's version of Jezebel that can create this?

UPDATE: Now that I think of it, Jennifer may have been the last thing that we all agreed upon as a country. I mean, every state thought Jennifer was awesome. Red state, blue state — they all loved it.

Rather than bemoaning its absurd level of popularity, maybe we should cherish our Jennifers as a symbol of national unity.

To any Jennifers who may be reading this, I salute you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Empire State Building: Open Late

One of the best parts of New York is the fact that everything's open late — and not just bars and restaurants.

The other night after seeing a movie (my mother-in-law was watching the kids), Kelly suggested a trip to the top of the Empire State Building.

It was almost 11 o'clock at night — not a time you associate with visiting landmarks. (The hours for federal landmarks are especially poor right now, since they're mostly not open at all.) But it turns out that the Empire State Building is open until 2 a.m.

The great thing about a late-night visit: much-shorter lines. Within about 20 minutes, we were whooshing up toward the 87th floor at 1,400 feet per minute.

The view from top is great, though a lot of sights are probably easier to see by day. The Statue of Liberty, for instance, was barely visible and One World Trade Center is a distant obelisk.

The view downtown.

The views of Midtown are more striking. Still, the vantage point is similar to what you get from the 30 Rock observation tower.

The Chrysler Building, Citigroup Center and other Midtown sights.

The best part may be the view when you look straight up at the building's art deco spire.

It's often said that the Chrysler Building is New Yorkers' favorite skyscraper, but seeing the Empire State close up — lit up like the lab of a mad scientist — is hard to beat.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Is This a Sweet Message or a Guilt Trip?

I'm a bit late to this, but I came across an adorable video of a 2-year-old girl leaving a birthday message for her working mom.

I'm the parent of a 2-year-old myself, so this really tugs at the heart strings. But some people have objected to the part where the girl talks about the mom's long hours ("You work so hard, and I miss you when you're gone"), criticizing the dad for not editing out that part of the video.

I see their point, but I think all working parents — men and women — appreciate being told that they're missed. I doubt the stay-at-home dad was trying to guilt-trip his wife and/or reinforce the patriarchy.

Still, I can't imagine any of my kids ever acknowledging how hard I work. That would be weird.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

BuboBlog Reviews 'Captain Phillips'

It's not every day that the top two highest-grossing films at the box office have Rotten Tomatoes ratings above 90 percent. But that's the situation at the moment, with "Gravity" (97 percent) and "Captain Phillips" (94 percent) ranking first and second over the weekend.

Both films depict desperate acts in isolation — whether it's in outer space or on the high seas — and give Oscar-winning actors a chance to do their thing in extreme closeup.

I haven't seen "Gravity" yet, but we did go to "Captain Phillips" on Saturday. The movie chronicles the true story of Richard Phillips, a cargo-ship captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates after his vessel was hijacked in 2009.

Director Paul Greengrass has a knack for conveying a sense of realism, and that's definitely the case here. "Captain Phillips" was WAAAYY more realistic than any pirate movie I've ever seen. In fairness, that list includes "Hook," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and — of course — "Goonies."

The villains of "Captain Phillips" are emaciated Somalis: scary and unpredictable, though ultimately sympathetic. The men are former fisherman whose livelihood was destroyed by the traffic of shipping channels, and they're now hooked on khat and enlisted as pirates by ruthless tribal elders.

(Side note: I'm really hoping the film's success doesn't turn Somali pirates into a Halloween meme this year, especially "slutty" Somali pirates.)

In any case, Greengrass doesn't make the raiders too sympathetic. You still root for Phillips (Tom Hanks) all the way through, even accepting the desperate plight of the pirates. The film is tense and emotional, and never drags — even when you're watching men spend hours in a lifeboat.

The movie also serves as the perfect nightmare of any member of the NRA. When the pirates attack, Phillips and his crew are unarmed and have to use fire hoses in an unsuccessful attempt to ward off machine-gun-toting thugs. It almost seems to scream: "See! Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun."

Good guys with guns do eventually arrive (in the form of Navy Seals), but the film is more about the heroism of a man using only his voice to save the lives of his crew and subdue his attackers.

"Captain Phillips" also is a film about our armed forces acting with professionalism, respect and competence. (When they take a Somali prisoner, he is treated better than the pirates treat their own hostages.) Even with the unfortunate bloodshed at the end, it's the kind of movie that makes you proud to be an American.

I'd like to think that part of it is indeed realistic.

BuboBlog Rating: 3.5 asterisks (out of 4).

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Putting Away Childish Things

A blink of an eye ago, we were pulling the baby toys out of the closet for our third kid.

Now that kid is a year old, and it's time to get rid of these same toys for good.

After more than five years with infants in the house, our last child is too old to use her jumperoo or baby swing anymore. Kelly took the toys to a charity sale last weekend so they could find a new home.

I'm surprisingly sad about the whole thing. Don't get me wrong: I'm not campaigning for a fourth offspring. It's just hard for me to process the idea of a baby-free household.

I guess this must be what empty-nesters feel. Except there are still three screaming children in the house, so maybe it's nothing like that.

Friday, October 11, 2013

5Pointz, I Hardly Knew Ye

Over the weekend we were watching a cheesy movie called "Now You See Me" about a team of magicians that pull off increasingly elaborate heists. (In fairness, I'm not sure it's possible to make a non-cheesy movie about a team of magicians.)

The finale takes place in New York and features a chase on the Queensboro Bridge, complete with shots of Roosevelt Island. Then the magicians head to a graffiti-strewn warehouse called 5Pointz where they put on one last performance.

At the time I thought, "This movie is so unrealistic — they even had to make up some fake venue called 5Pointz."

Well, it turns out 5Pointz is real. In fact, it's not far from the Roosevelt Island Bridge in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens.

Photo courtesy of Gothamist.

The place — an old factory that's 200,000 square feet — is known as the the world’s premiere “graffiti mecca” (with more than 350 murals) and it's played host to concerts by everyone from Doug E. Fresh to Joan Jett.

From the 5Pointz website:
The name 5Pointz signifies the five boroughs coming together as one, but because of its reputation as an epicenter of the graffiti scene, the industrial complex has actually united aerosol artists from across the world. Legendary writers from Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, and all over the United States have painted on the building walls.
How have I missed this place until now? Anyway, here comes the sad part. Within days of discovering 5Pointz, I learned that it's being shut down.

It was announced this week that the venue will be demolished in favor of two luxury condo buildings. But don't despair. The developers say they will "honor and recognize the tradition of 5Pointz and the history of the legacy of aerosol art and the artists." It will be interesting to see how they try to pull that off.

I can't really claim to be too broken up about all this. I only learned about 5Pointz a few days ago, and it was from a movie where Dave Franco wards off an attacker by flinging playing cards at him. (Yes, this is an actual scene in the film.)

Still, the situation reminds me of the bittersweet decision to finally shut down the Defenestration Building in SoMa (pictured below).

Photo courtesy of As I See It.

In both cases, the neighborhood is probably better off with housing than a quasi-abandoned building. But for San Francisco and New York, an increasingly rare bit of urban whimsy will vanish forever.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Movies That Dare Not Speak Their Names: Part Two

Remember a few months ago when I complained about movies that don't say their title within the dialogue? "World War Z" was one of the offenders.

At the time, I suggested some dialogue that would have fixed the problem:

Zombie starts with the letter "Z," and they're all over the world. 

It's like...World War Z.

Anyway, I finally got around to reading the book. Guess what? "World War Z" is named in the first sentence. (It wasn't as elegant as my approach, but I'll take it.)

See, folks. This is why books are better than movies.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Why Are Babies Assumed to Be Boys?

Our baby is almost a year old, and her hair is starting to grow out — which means she might finally not be mistaken for a boy!

This has been a surprise to me over the past year: Unless a baby has a ton of hair, strangers generally assume the kid is a boy. And yet, very few infants — girl or boy — come out of the womb with a full head of hair. (Alice did, which is why I didn't encounter this problem with her.)

I don't really care if people assume she's a boy. I just wonder, what are they thinking? Is it a quirk of their brain chemistry or some deep-set form of sexism?

If I dress Lulu in a girly outfit (pink, flowers, etc.), the majority of people still assume she's a boy. If she goes out in gender-neutral clothes (say, a white onesie), forget about it — 90 percent of people will think she's male.

I'm pretty sure I could dress her in a Civil War-era ballgown or an outfit from the Moulin Rouge and I'd still get a few people saying, "What a handsome boy you have there."

Monday, October 07, 2013

Waiting on Line vs. Waiting in Line: Part Three

As loyal BuboBlog readers know, I'm part of a one-man crusade to get New Yorkers to stop saying "waiting on line" — if only because it's pretty confusing in the Internet era.

So I was disappointed to notice the "on line" phrasing used by one of our nation's most hallowed institutions: Schoolhouse Rock!

The bill from "I'm Just a Bill" waits "on line" to be signed by the president. (Skip ahead to the 2 minute, 10 second mark.)

Unsurprisingly, "I'm Just a Bill" was written by a New Yorker, the jazz pianist and vocalist Dave Frishberg.

Frishberg also wrote the Mel Tormé classic "I'm Hip," so all is forgiven.

Meanwhile, Johnny T — the abrasive puppet and quintessential New Yorker — used "in line" in a recent video.

So I guess I'm at least making progress.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Ahoy, Ship of Tolerance

The "Ship of Tolerance" was plying the East River today, bringing a storm surge of empathy and multicultural spirit in its wake.

We heard that the the vessel was going to be moored off of Roosevelt Island's Four Freedoms Park this afternoon, so the kids and I braved the drizzly weather and went out for a look.

According to the New York Times, the Ship of Tolerance is an art installation "about acceptance, conceived by the husband-and-wife artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and featuring a wooden boat with paintings by New York City schoolchildren as sails."

What a delight to see this artwork in front of the United Nations building. Symbolism alert!

I love the message, though the fact the ship isn't seaworthy and has to be towed around on a barge would seem to undercut the effect.

Hope floats, but Tolerance looks like it would probably sink.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Stadium Ads: Will They Stand the Test of Time?

I posted this on Twitter earlier today, but given yesterday's baseball-themed post, it seems worth including here.

Below is the San Francisco Giants scoreboard on the night of Sept. 1, 2000. The photo comes courtesy of BuboBlog Portola Valley correspondent Jon, who attended that game with me.

You have to squint a bit to see all the sponsors, but the picture shows ads from Enron, Nortel, Webvan and Palm — all of which are now defunct. Pacific Bell, for whom the park was named, has since been absorbed by SBC, which then became AT&T. And I'm pretty sure CHW Health Services is no longer a going concern.

So at least half the corporate brands on display have vanished from the Earth.

One constant is the Giants mascot, Lou Seal, who still looks about the same today. I had my photo taken with him on that night (the '90s had just recently ended, so I still had a lot of plaid shirts).

This got me wondering how today's stadium ads will hold up.

I don't have a recent photo of the Giants' ballpark (now called AT&T Park), but I did snap one of Citi Field over the weekend.

Geico, Caesar's Palace, Budweiser, Pepsi, and Subway are some of the more prominent ads. All these companies existed 13 years ago, and I have a feeling they'll stick around a bit longer than Webvan.

But New York is a less entrepreneurial town than San Francisco (mostly), and the ads probably reflect that.