Saturday, November 21, 2015

Too Much Light in the City that Never Sleeps

The options for nightlife in New York City are practically endless, but they can get repetitive. A $9 Bud Light here, a late night order of cheese fries there, and sometimes you can't identify one weekend from the next. If you want a unique night out, give New York Neo-Futurists a shot.

New York Neo-Futurists perform Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (TMLMTBGB) on Friday and Saturday nights. The concept of the show is 30 plays in 60 minutes - you can do the math. The theater group performs an extremely diverse variety of short-form plays. It moves quickly, and for a good reason - if the timer buzzes and the performers have not gone through all 30 plays, the night sadly ends anyway.

Before Ryan and I went to the show one night last month, I looked up the Yelp reviews and found that people either love it (4 or 5 stars) or hate it (1 star). What I took from this scattering of ratings, being a former AP Statistics student, is that the show is intelligent, and some people just aren't going to get it and might want to stick to those Bud Light nights.

TMLMTBGB is at the Kraine Theatre, underneath KGB bar, in the East Village. If you do not obtain tickets in advance, you can get into the show for free during the month of your birthday (awesome!) and if it's not your birthday month, a die is rolled and you pay $13 plus whatever the die roll is (still awesome). When you go through the curtain, you're handed a "Hello, my name is" nametag to wear for the evening. My name was "Ladder Hands" and Ryan was "Gym." We sat in the second row of the small theatre to make sure we were close but not the first row of defense in case of unsolicited audience participation. The cast was pinning the numbers 1-30 on a clothesline on top of the stage to represent the different plays in our program. When the show began, we were encouraged to yell out the number of what play we wanted to see. For some reason, Ryan's choices kept getting chosen over mine.

I found the show incredibly engaging and creative, though as would be expected, some plays were better than others. There were a few that I didn't appreciate, but as a whole, color me impressed. As some of the plays return for future shows, I won't give away too much, but I will call out a few plays that stood out for me.

14. Pro bono Therapy: In which a member of the Neo-Futurists laid down on a box in a faux psychiatrist situation and admitted something they would normally not want to admit in front of an audience of strangers. The psychiatrist player reacted, and then a random audience member was pulled on stage and also had to admit to something, and the psychiatrist reacted again. During that skit, I determined that if I'd been pulled up on stage, I would have had to admit that my pants were unbuttoned because they were fresh out of the dryer and too tight.

27. Moo Doy Layster May Frek Dage Nye Pamperbast Croy: In which performers sit on stage speaking absolute gibberish while the audience is handed a translation guide. Turns out they are discussing how sad it is how someday, no one will be reading books anymore, and discuss particular classics and how important they are while always including the caveat "which I have never read," showing that we may already be approaching the demise of written literature.

7. YOU can be the star of your very own MANIPULATED VIDEO (for Planned Parenthood): Where an audience member was brought on stage and interviewed about his job and life. The performer on stage with the audience member tried to get him to say certain words that could be incriminating. The video was uploaded later that week and is available here, if interested (sorry, Chad).

The show also featured a watermelon, the voice of the "rat" in Kraine Theatre, the performers imitating bison in Yellowstone, and much, much, more. Our show unfortunately ended with a handful of plays still undone. I'd definitely like to return to the show, perhaps during my birthday month of April, though it would also be fun to roll the die and take a chance on the ticket price.

Further proof that the show was worth seeing was that as soon as the show started, I was able to forget that 10 minutes before leaving I had accidentally spilled an entire candle's hot wax all over my floor, wall, books, and one of my most prized possessions, my banjo. I had a small meltdown (pun intended) and was very mad at myself. Don't worry, Dad, I've since cleaned the banjo and it's sparkling clean again. The wall still could use some work. Too much candle light makes the wax go everywhere.


Thank you, New York Neo-Futurists for the tickets. Opinions are always my own.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bern without da Bears

What do you do in a town when the main reason you went in the first place isn't there? Kater and I experienced this dilemma when we went to Bern in the middle of our week in Switzerland. From our standpoint, the most exciting part about Bern was going to be seeing the bears that live in the middle of town. The bear has been the symbol of Bern for over 800 years and bears have been kept in town as a tourist attraction since 1857, with improving living conditions over the ages. But alas, when Kater and I were out our one night in Bern, we learned that the bears were not being housed in their normal area due to construction. This might have ruined our day in Bern, but we found plenty more to make this city worth the visit.

As I wrote about in Rösti la Vista, Baby, our dinner at La Mazot was cheese and potatoes of the absolute best kind. After dinner, we started the evening off at Turnhalle, a huge beer hall with a great outdoor space, but were finding it difficult to strike up conversations with anyone. Talking to strangers is typically easy for us, especially when we are together. One of the best things about traveling (and being out in general) is getting to know locals and other travelers and we almost gave up, but decided to try an Irish pub that we'd seen in our research. If you can't meet people at an Irish pub, then *you're* the problem.

Sure enough, at Mr. Pickwicks, we met a fun group of locals by bonding over the avoidance of another individual - "Talking to that man was like talking to a Neanderthal," per one of our new friends. They made us feel better about not Turnhalle because they told us most people in Bern have lived there their whole lives and typically aren't into making new friends. Even though this group had known each other since kindergarten, they took us under their wing and we traveled with them to two other bars, one where I found Super Bock, one of my favorite beers from Portugal, and a bar called Cowboys, where we experienced Swiss rap music for the first time. We also wandered around town while the locals showed us the Federal Building and played giant chess in a plaza, before heading back to our hotel, pretty late into the next morning.

The next day, as Kater and I jokingly planned out my future life being married to one of the gentlemen we met the night before, we walked around town trying to determine what Bern was all about without the bears. The majority of the buildings in the areas we saw were the same shade of greystone. I appreciated the consistency and comradery. Another thing I liked about Bern was that it was basically a car-free city. Almost every street felt like a pedestrian plaza, and plazas are the best part about walking around European cities. Bern is proud to have been the home of Albert Einstein back in the day, and there is a museum in Einstein's former home, where the Theory of Relativity came to thought.

Something else Bern is definitely all about is fountains. Along with more modern fountains, there are 11 from the 16th century, and we tried to find them all. According to my buddy, Rick, the fountains were commissioned by the city to brighten up the town, show off wealth, and as a way to remember local events. I'm a little concerned about this last reason, because some of the fountains are super creepy, for example, this one where an ogre is clearly eating children. I'm hoping this fountain is not a representation of something that happened back in the day:

Thankfully, not all of the fountains are creepy, and some of them are even fun, like this much more modern fountain in front of Parliment. Kater and I watched while 26 spouts in the ground surprised kids and dogs alike, time and time again - but better water than a child-eating ogre.

Bern is also about the Aare river, which I found absolutely gorgeous, mostly because of the color. The current of the river is so swift that locals often hike up the river, jump in, and float back down to the city - as long as you're quick enough to grab a pole on your way back to help you get out. If you miss the poles, who knows what happens to you. We preferred to enjoy the river from above than engulfed in it.

While I would have liked to see the bears, I'm glad we stayed in Bern to experience those cheesy potatoes and a local night out, even if we weren't quite local enough to float down that river.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Spare Pair for the Air

I started to wear glasses in second grade and wore them until I was in high school, when I was finally able to put contacts in my eyes without passing out from the fear of it. Today, I use my glasses a lot more while traveling than I do when I'm not. In case I fall asleep unexpectedly from a day of aggressive sightseeing, I take my contacts out earlier than normal when I'm away. I also wear my glasses on overnight flights so that I don't arrive in a destination with dry eyes and a headache.

I don't have the best track record with glasses, breaking them in soccer games as a kid when the ball would inevitably hit me straight in the face, or in January, when I dropped a brand-new pair of glasses behind the dresser in the hotel room in Charleston. I have also had bad luck with sunglasses over the last few months while traveling - leaving a pair in a bathroom in Switzerland, losing a pair in Philly, and breaking a pair while kayaking on the East River.

RIP $5 Sunglasses from Hong Kong
I was recently contacted by Firmoo, asking me to try their "global optical online store" and thought it would be a great opportunity to get myself a pair of glasses I could travel with, without risking my "good" pair that I get each year from insurance. The site has prescription and non-prescription glasses as well as a variety of sunglasses, with most frames in the $20-$40 range. I picked a hipster-like pair in black, which now appears as only available in purple and tortoise. I typed in my prescription as last received from my optometrist in April. What I didn't know was my PD, Pupillary Distance, or the distance between my pupils in millimeters. Firmoo recommended having a friend measure the distance with a ruler. Ryan determined, while at a bar, me with a ruler against the bridge of my nose, that my PD was 56. If you don't have a Ryan, you can measure it yourself in a mirror, but I highly recommend getting a Ryan.

My favorite feature on Firmoo was that I could upload my photo and see what the frames would look like on my face. Since you can't return prescription lenses after they're created, this is a very important feature for an online glasses store. My custom-ordered glasses came out to a total of $40, including shipping.

I received the glasses about two weeks after ordering and was tickled that they came in a glasses case printed with maps on the outside. It's as if Firmoo knew. The glasses I received work great, which means that Ryan did a good job on measuring my PD, but also that Firmoo did a good job making my lenses to the right specifications. The frames I chose are extremely light and don't appear to be as sturdy as my other glasses, but for a spare pair, they'll do just fine. Plus, this means my luggage won't exceed the weight limit. 


Thank you, Firmoo, for sending me a pair of glasses for this review. This link will show you Firmoo's daily new arrivals, and this link will show you all frames that are on sale. Opinions are always my own.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich?

If you've been on the internet this week, you have probably heard the newest, most important debate since "What color is this dress?!" The question these days a hot dog a sandwich? As I eat my Pastry Pups pigs-in-a-blanket from Trader Joe's that I bought for entertaining purposes but am eating for dinner purposes, I am choosing not to take sides, but instead to feature some of the best hot dogs I've been lucky enough to try - one as recently as yesterday...

Crif Dogs, New York City

Crif Dogs is an East Village staple, on the storied St. Mark's Place. It may be just as well known for being the "secret" entrance to the speakeasy, Please Don't Tell, as it is for its hot dogs. Everyone has already told, and the speakeasy is *the* spot for first dates if you are 23, but I always preferred the dogs. At Crif Dogs, you can order a hot dog with cream cheese, styled like a Philadelphia cheesesteak, over a fried egg, or a dozen other options with a variety of toppings. My favorite, pictured above, is the Chihuahua - a hot dog wrapped in bacon with avocado and sour cream. I've wrapped up many a night out with a trip to Crif Dogs, a Chihuahua, an order of cheese fries, and me asking people if they've made reservations there as they walk in. Hilarity always sometimes ensues.

Portillo's, Chicago

When I visited Kristyn in Chicago earlier this fall, one of the top things on my to-do list was to try a Chicago-style hot dog. In our quick research after our Chicago Food Planet tour, we decided Portillo's was the dog to go for. I loved how the place was decorated, as it reminded me a little of a Disney World ride, with fake exteriors of houses and creepy fake townspeople doing their thing in the rafters. I loved Portillo's. One, because I got a full meal - a hot dog, fries, and a soda - for around $5. Two, because that full meal was awesome. The Portillo hot dog is topped with what feels like a full salad - mustard, relish, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle, and sport peppers - all on a soft steamed poppy seed bun.

Copenhagen Street Dog, New York City and online

Copenhagen Street Dog is quick to point out, as their motto says, "It's not a hot dog. It's a pølse," but I'm including them in this post because their dog is delicious and I do what I want. I was just introduced to this dish this week when I attended an Edible Brooklyn event at Brooklyn Brewery called, "How to Prepare a Nordic Feast." The folks from Revolving Dansk brought the Copenhagen Street Dog to Brooklyn and were at the event with their story and samples of their pølsePølse is a smoked sausage housed in a bun just like the American hot dog, but the edges of the sausage hang out of the bun like it's a smile. Toppings are: ketchup mixed with applesauce, spicy mustard, a remoulade sauce made of cauliflower, celery, carrots, and curry, raw *and* fried onions, and pickles. What I liked best about this presentation aside from the taste of that dog was that the folks from Revolving Dansk held up the microphone to the pølse as they snapped it in half so we could hear it. The snap is very important in the pølse, which is all-natural and all-locally-sourced-pig. Copenhagen Street Dogs are currently on the menu at Park Luncheonette in Brooklyn, at Scandinavian Butik in Connecticut, at events around NYC, and available online. I need to get myself to Copenhagen to try this street food on the proper street.

Is a hot dog a sandwich? The world may never know, but does the world really care? Let's just continue to create different versions of this dish. I think we will all be fine. After all, a hot dog by any other name would taste as juicy.

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