Auf wiedersehen


It would have been nicer if I didn’t have this damn cold while my friend Olaf was here. I really haven’t been very high energy between all the coughing and phlegm purging. Still, it was nice having him here. Sometimes it is great just to hang out with a good friend, catch up on things, watch some TV together and share a few silly jokes. Olaf just left to go back to Germany, and I hope he has enjoyed his low-key time here with me as I have with him. We can save the all night dance parties and crazy gay nightlife for another time when I won’t be at risk of starting an outbreak.

A rare cold


One of the distinct advantages of working alone and from home is that I get colds and flus much more rarely than before. At previous jobs that involved a daily commute and lots of direct interaction with people, I would average several bouts of viral infection per year. Now it is thankfully a much more rare occurrence. That said, I have been coughing like mad for the past day or so, and lots of gross green is coming up. My throat hurts, I have a headache, and a general malaise. And I can’t rightfully blame my friend Olaf who is staying with me, because he seems just dandy. Oh well, I guess I will have to forego the all night dance parties I had planned for this weekend…



My friend Olaf is in town visiting for the next few days, and he could not be luckier with the weather. We seem to be back in early fall with sunny skies and temps in the 60s. (Contrast this with my summer of rain in Hamburg, or the early snow we had last week). We will take in a few strolls, meals, exhibits and some shopping while he is here, and maybe even do a little work. Last night we went to go meet some friends of his who basically live underneath the Williamsburg bridge, but on the Manhattan side in the Lower East Side. Or should I say, the Lower East East East Side. And I thought I lived a little far from the subway at about a 10 min walk, but they are quite further still. We had a nice dinner at a place called Schiller’s Liquor Bar, then Olaf and I made our way back to my apartment for an early night as he was feeling “die Jetlag”.



My building uses a web-based system for letting us know when a package has arrived, as a place for us to report problems to maintenance for repair, and as a bulletin board for residents to post notices and items for sale. Yesterday someone posted the most awesome thing ever:

Title: Red Velvet Suit with Pluming Feathers worn by Whitney Houston (Price: $1999)

I have a Whitney Houston red velvet outfit with pluming feathers on jacket–size 4-6, and a skirt–size 0-2. It was worn while performing her “I’m Your Baby Tonite World Tour”. The designer’s name is “Lisandro Sarasola”. I also have a letter proving the authenticity sent by her sister from the company letterhead as well as a signed autobiography book about Whitney.

I mean, really…how can I afford NOT to get this item? I wonder if I could find some crack in the pocket lining…

I will cut the cord very soon…


 Kaylene: Thank you for contacting TiVo! My name is Kaylene. How may I assist you today Stephen?
 Stephen: I was wondering if I can record shows by time and date only if I cancel my tivo subscription
 Kaylene: I do apologize but the TiVo box will not function without a paid subscription to the TiVo service so we cannot guarantee it will record by time and channel for you.
 Stephen: you can’t “guarantee” it?
 Stephen: I am not asking for a guarantee
 Stephen: I am asking if that functionality remains after canceling service
 Kaylene: No. The box will not function without service.
 Stephen: I know that many functions will no longer work, but clearly some will
 Stephen: I am trying to determine what those are
 Kaylene: The box will not function without service.
 Stephen: I know that live tv and pausing and 30 minute buffer will work
 Stephen: are you telling me that even those will not work?
 Kaylene: We do not support any functionality on the TiVo box without service. You are welcome to deactivate and see which functions are still available. However, since we do not support it we cannot guarantee any features or functions without service.
 Stephen: I have to tell you that this kind of attitude really makes me want to cancel even faster
 Stephen: I have paid a lot of money to tivo over the years
 Stephen: some basic help instead of stonewalling would be appreciated and would result in happier customers
 Kaylene: I do apologize if you feel I am having an attitude but per service terms and conditions we do not support any functionally on the box without service. I am simply following policy and do not want to mislead you.
 Stephen: you will not be misleading me, these are technical specs that are black and white
 Stephen: I know that Tivo would prefer I not cancel, but I purchased a box and want to know what will work without the sub
 Kaylene: Unfortunately, a box without service is outside of our scope of support and we do not support any functions or features on inactive boxes so I cannot state which features may or may not. Per service terms and conditions, the box will not work without service and that is the expectation you should have when cancelling.
 Stephen: ok, let me ask a few other questions:
 Stephen: 1) if I cancel my service, can I restart it at any time?
 Kaylene: Yes. Once you cancel service you can re-activate a new service plan at any time.
 Stephen: 2) and is there any supplemental charge for doing so?
 Kaylene: You are currently on month to month service so there is no fee to cancel at this time and if you choose to return there will be no additional fees, just the new service plan.
 Stephen: 3) are you empowered by tivo to offer me any monthly discount on the rate I am currently paying ($14 a month), so that I won’t quit tivo entirely?
 Kaylene: I apologize but no. We do not have any current promotion or discounts we can offer you.
 Stephen: ok, thanks for your time. Where must I go to cancel my service?
 Kaylene: You are welcome. In order to cancel you will need to call in. To speak to an agent, just call our Support line at 877-367-8486.
 Kaylene: Is there anything else I can help you with today Mark?
 Stephen: Yes, why do you think my name is Mark?

Yesterday, in The Future


I went to meet a friend of mine for dinner yesterday in Murray Hill (Kips Bay really) where he had just recently moved. Since this was to be my first time going to his new place, I asked him to send me the address and I was tickled to discover that he lives in a building called “The Future”. Although built in 1991, the lobby and elevators had all kinds of funny 70’s era touches that approximated what the future would look like from that vantage point. When I got up to his apartment, I made several small jokes about Logan’s Run, but my friend gave me a perplexed look. Impressing on him what an important cultural touchstone this was (and since I hadn’t seen the film in over two decades), we went back to my place and rented it.

I had forgotten how very bad the special effects were. They apparently hired some student architects to make the cardboard model of the city, which looked like…well, a cardboard model of the city, especially as the camera moved in at various angles. I was flabbergasted to find out that this movie won a few awards for special effects, but I guess that what the state of the art back in 1976. The premise of the film is that in some post apocalyptic future, resources are tightly controlled and in order to maintain balance in the bubble city in which they live, everyone must die at age thirty. The main character of Logan, initially a kind of police enforcer of this system, decides to run from it once his time is up, rather than submit to his own destruction. More interesting were the rather conservative social messages of the film, despite its utopian/dystopian trappings of easygoing sex and sexuality. After the main couple of Logan and Jessica escape the world of the bubble city they live in, they learn from an old man (played hysterically by Peter Ustinov) what life was like “before”, when children were born to actual parents (instead of in a lab) and raised by them. They are further shocked to discover the concept of monogamy and life-long partnership, which they think they would like to try, novel though it is. To drive home the nobility of this lifestyle and the contrast with the world they have come from, the characters at one point have to escape the city by moving through a kind of orgy club where they are sexually assaulted by a mass of writhing naked bodies. Still earlier in the film (and in a wonderfully prescient take on internet hook ups) Logan is a home relaxing (in a Kaftan of course, this is the 70’s view of the future) and viewing channels of people (male and female) available for sex and beaming one into his apartment. Another conservative point would seem to poo poo the idea of managing limited resources at all, and with the destruction of the bubble the city people are cast out into a kind of eden (no mention of what caused the prior apocalypse, whether the world outside is safe, etc, but it looks like there are plants and sunshine, so it must be ok). From here one imagines they have regained a state of innocence or grace and must now learn to cope in the “real” world. Good luck with that I say, you may not realize it, but you are all dressed like Peter Pan.

Stuff I never use but am still forced to buy


At the top of this list would be voice minutes on my cell phone. I have the cheapest plan one can get with an iPhone at 450 minutes, and AT&T won’t offer any lower amount. Because I don’t talk all that much, and more often than not use Skype or other internet phone services or email, I never exceed 100 minutes of usage a month. AT&T (and other carriers) are dying a slow death, and will not give up on their cash cows like this and the ridiculous amount they charge for sms. And because all the big carriers collude with each other, there are no great options, no real competition.

Next would undoubtedly be all the lame sports channels (among others) from my cable provider. It would be great if one could select the channels one wants to receive and just pay for those, but no.

I could go on, but will stop here in honor of one of the best known (yet simultaneously mediocre) complainers of all time, Andy Rooney, who died today at age 92.


Spartans and Hoarders


People that know me (and have been to my apartment) are always encouraging me to record and watch a few episodes of “Hoarders“. This is not because I am messy and accumulate things, but because I probably represent as close to the complete opposite of a hoarding mentality as is possible while still having clothes on my back and a bed to sleep in. I come from a long line of obsessively clean people on my mother’s side, so my behavior is not without precedent. My mother is constantly cleaning, and can’t countenance the slightest blemish on any surface. She seems to be “spring cleaning” at intervals much smaller than the actual season, constantly cleaning out “the mess”. Her mother (my grandmother) used to constantly clean her house and although an avid smoker, would walk around her place ashing into her own hand rather than sully an ashtray. Over the years of traveling and moving I have done, I have found it much easier and less stressful to travel lightly. Add to that my increasing dismay at the excesses of consumer culture, and you have a recipe for minimalism in my life. I find a clean, uncluttered space is the most conducive to my work and life, and puts me at ease emotionally and intellectually. A few days ago, I watched a couple of episodes of “Hoarders” and was quite shocked, but morbidly curious at the same time. Dead animals, feces all around, rooms too stuffed with trash to move through — unbelievable. How do people live in that? Even the cleanest ones had piles and piles of cardboard, magazines, stuffed animals and such literally packed tightly from floor to ceiling. My rule for things in my life is pretty simple: If I haven’t used it in a year, out it goes (to friends if they want it, to the secondhand store if still usable, to recycling if possible).

Which brings me to something disturbing I witnessed when back in the midwest a couple of weeks ago. I was staying at my brother’s house (he seems to have handily escaped the non-clutter gene) watching my niece and nephew for the weekend while my brother and sister-in-law were out of town. At one point we decided to go out to the park in the neighborhood, and my nephew asked if he could bring his new skateboard. Trying to be the responsible substitute parent, I asked if he had protective gear to go with it. He replied that yes he did, and off he went to find it. After about 10 minutes he came back down and said he couldn’t find his helmet, and thought it might be in the garage, so we went to look for it. We went inside and it was like a mini hoarders episode, with boxes of stuff everywhere. I asked my nephew what all of this was, and he told me it was “old stuff they don’t use”. My brother’s family is typical of many somewhat affluent American households. I don’t believe my brother’s family consume typically much more than most, but that is the problem. The averages in this country are obscene. I looked around the garage at the boxes of consumer goods, hardly touched, but just sitting there in storage/trash, and asked myself: for what purpose? We live in a culture that is at its root disposable, and until we deal honestly with our consumptive habits, I don’t hold out great hope for saving the planet. Our entire culture is built on a foundation of waste and planned obsolescence. Where do all the old bats, balls, helmets, dollhouses, game consoles, furniture, clothes, etc –to say nothing of the packaging — go to? Why don’t we care?