Every day life, food & strangeness in a big city

Month: April, 2013

How do people floss?

Today, as I was in the process of trying to pass my white minty mental floss through the gaps in my teeth and failed repeatedly, I realized how utterly rubbish I am at flossing. Until recently, I was a faithful user of those little tooth-pick like things with a semi-circle on top which holds a bit of string – like, say, a mini scythe / archery bow. They are practical and easy to employ, and my mom swears by them. You can’t really find them in good ol’ vampire land (or so she claims) so whenever I go home I take her a few packs containing a couple of hundred or so. Just so that she doesn’t re-use them (which she has confessed to doing in the past). Which is kinda gross.

When I came to New York City though, upon my inspection of the dental hygiene section in Duane Reade’s (local ubiquitous drugstore) I found out that the little floss-picks were very, very expensive. Well, no surprise there, everything in NYC is. But, determined not to get fleeced for the sake of my flossing, I decided to buy the slightly cheaper normal floss. I was taken a bit aback by the options – waxed versus unwaxed…(I still don’t know what that’s about) but figured that what’s nice for my legs can’t be all that terrible for my floss. Also, I was rather excited about the whole affair: on the one hand, because my mom insisted she could never use anything else than the picks, as normal floss is too impractical – so I really, really wanted to prove how much more technically gifted I was. On the other hand, this image of Dexter in the opening of the series was running through my head – all semi-sadistic yet precise floss-pulling until his fingers turn white… I wanted me some of that!

With me so far, right? so, all happy with my new dental floss which comes in a neat little packaging – I pull on it to get it out of its white box and cut it with my scissors… and then realized I might have cut too little to wrap around my fingers. Hmm. I cut more, wrap enough around my fingers, floss a gap between my front teeth – hey, this is easy, look mom, no hands!- when I realize something. I don’t want to continue flossing using the used part of the string. But in order to move it along, I would have to wrap a 1) used and 2) damp part of the floss around my finger. Yeew. I look, ponder… would scratch my head if my hands weren’t (literally) tied up. I see no other way. So I do it. And then repeat – and get more and more grossed out.

It’s not just that. It’s that the stupid floss gets slippery when wet. Also, some of my teeth (especially back ones) don’t seem to have any freaking gaps! it’s like some evil tooth fairy soldered them together when no one was paying attention one night. So I really, really need to try hard to get in there. Which involves a lot of bending and contorting, and weird hand and arm movements – but the worst of it is that my fingers tend to get in places they shouldn’t and end up scratching my gums or the roof of my mouth. And its counterpart. (Is that called the floor of the mouth?) Anyway. Also, because all this happens with my mouth wide open, saliva tends to trickle down my hands, to my wrists, and then slowly but surely down my arms to my elbows. (So that my main tip to anyone who attempts to floss is to wear short sleeves). After all this, I sometimes (rarely) manage to get that floss in. And then… yep. It won’t come out again. Seriously. For minutes. I pull, and pull, and pull, until I think I might pull a tooth or two, or break the floss and be left with just a little bit of string hanging seductively between a second and a third molar. At least it’s white, so no one will be able to tell but me, right?

Come to think of it, I have similar problems while brushing teeth. I tend to have problems keeping toothpaste on the toothbrush in the first place – the little bugger has a mind of its own and tends to tilt when I’m not looking and then fall down. And if you are wondering exactly where I would direct my attention in the second between placing toothpaste on the brush and actually beginning to brush, I am afraid I don’t have a very intelligent answer. Anyway, so more than half of the toothpaste has left the brush and is now in the sink, and before more of it can go on its jolly way, I start to brush in earnest. With my mouth open (although Mr. B keeps telling me that’s the wrong way to do it. But what does he know?) Not before long, the toothpaste is on my lips, on my wrist, and possibly on my leggings. I stop brushing. At which point Mr. B admonishes me that I hadn’t done it for long enough. But really, what’s the point?

There is one thing I do well however, and that is use mouthwater – the happy gurgling, the feeling of freshness afterwards – bliss! At least … I think I’m doing it well. Maybe someone should come and supervise me…


Moving platforms and Shabbat elevators

I could swear that I saw a “watch the gap” sign somewhere in an NYC subway station. Or was it a figment of my overactive imagination, a product of a mind so overwrought with the narrowness of the platforms, the stories of people being pushed down on the electrified rails, and the sight of rats cheerily running around everywhere it will just refuse to stare reality in the face while sending a perverse message urging me to do just that?  I had a whole speech prepared about cultural differences – musing on how the British say “mind the gap” and wondering why it may be so – is it that they have a fondness for the word “mind”? Mind your manners / I don’t really mind / why on earth would I mind / would you mind… why, no, I don’t mind at all! Is there an ingrained reluctance or absolutely terrifying fear to admit that one does mind something, so that when one is urged to mind an object, one is absolutely shocked and compelled into doing it?

And what about Americans and watching? true, the Brits have CCTV everywhere. But in the US you have to watch your kid / your dog / your cat that you might accidentally cook up in the microwave; watch it, buster, or I’ll… what? what could the incentive be to watch, when New Yorkers prefer to stroll rapidly, and give nothing more than short, furtive or impersonal glances? Alas, those questions are better left to minds on a more enlightened path than mine.

What I can offer you though is this:



Have you seen one before? It actually looks like this if you want a fuller picture – and yes, folks, there is a metalic grid / platform in some stations of the subway (14 St Union Square for example) that moves out to bridge the gawping abyss between the train and the itsy–bitsy platform. It’s kind of cool:


Another thing I have first laid my eyes on here in New York City is the Shabbat elevator. You are now in the process of scratching your head and wondering what that might be? Fear not, Baddie to the rescue. Listen, and listen well: the Shabbat elevator, as discovered in one of the NYU residential halls (which shall remain unnamed at this time) is an elevator programmed to stop at certain floors automatically from Friday evening to Saturday evening. It is involved in a “Shabbat cycle” meant to facilitate Jewish religious observance of the prohibition to actively use technology. I sincerely applaud this – because it’s probably a small change for the institution but a great thing for the religiously observant residents. And yet. I have SO many questions about how this actually works. I mean, I got it that when I got on it and pressed a button, it stopped on the 7th floor automatically (although there was no one there anyway and no one wanted to get off there). Alright. But what if you are on the 7th floor and can’t press the button. And there’s no one around who is not observant. How does the lift know to come? I mean, ok if you take it from downstairs it might have a weight sensor inside (don’t know if this is the case, just guessing it might be an idea). But if you’re outside it, then what? do you wait eternally just in case someone might come by with your elevator? it boggles my mind. Also, I hope that’s not true and that there isn’t someone, somewhere, still waiting for a Shabbat elevator to arrive. I really, really, hope not.


A tale told by an idiot – Alan Cumming on Broadway

Tonight, I went to see acclaimed Scottish actor Alan Cumming in the one-man show version of Macbeth currently at the Barrymore theatre on Broadway. The play itself premiered in 1985 in Glasgow, and was a smashing success at the Lincoln Center in New York last year. I had high expectations, to say the least.

I knew this would be an evening to remember from the moment I set foot in the (classical-looking) theatre. I was passed on from usher to usher like an unwanted old relative – and what was even more extraordinary was that said ushers were dispersed at 5-meter intervals from each other. Now, you’d think I would be passed along linearly – as in “yes miss, please proceed to my colleague.” While this phrase was indeed heard by me – and often – I was passed like a ping-pong ball along a string of four people, back and forth, for about ten minutes. Finally, as I was nearing the end of my tether and getting ready to snap, one of them decided to take mercy and allowed me to go up a certain path, pointing out it was the best way. Kind reader, that it was not. As it turned out, I had to literally jump up a very tall narrow platform which I was pretty sure is not supposed to be jumped on in order to reach my seat. There were steps at the other side of the row. But never mind all that. I was there. On the top of the world. Aka last row mezzanine.

My second little surprise came from when I opened up the playbill and started reading about the main (and sole) actor of the play. I quote: “Since he exploded on Broadway [he] has published a novel; directed a musical condom commercial; provided the animated voices for a Smurf, a goat, and Hitler; and released the fragrances Cumming and 2nd Cumming, along with the bar soap Cumming in a Bar and body lotion Cumming All Over.” Excuuuuuse me? I looked again, and there it was, white font on a green background – “released the fragrances”… oh. my. I swiftly made a mental note to a) be prepared for the unexpected and b) try to look into some sort of PG-rating for my blog just in case. According to my new precious oracle aka “the Playbill” Cumming is also “one of the three most fun people in show business.” Huh. At a loss about what that could possibly mean, precisely. So as the lights dimmed, my curiosity had reached a burning point.

Without giving too much away, there is a frame to the well known Scottish play – the setting is an asylum. Cumming – the only patient – is confined within a bare, clinical looking room with very little furniture – and is left mainly to his own devices by (we assume) his silent doctor and nurse. Apart from matter-of-fact interventions when the patient gets agitated, and some delivery of meals or injections, the duo seems happy to observe the patient from above through a glass window. This takes place in a highly disturbing manner which not only brings to mind Foucault’s thoughts on the institution of the asylum, and Deleuze’s further notions on the societies of discipline, but also uncannily mirrors the positions of the members of the audience found in the mezannine. My position, to be more exact.

Cumming is truly an incadescent actor. He can weave seemlessly through multiple characters and characteristics – although his transformations from one character to another are sometimes so rapid, that if you either blink, or if you don’t know the play very well indeed, you will have missed who is speaking. He does amazing work with limited props – just raising and dropping a sheet can signal – effectively – the change between Lady Macbeth and her husband. His mastery of accents, tones, and modulations, is admirable. He clothes the characters in vivid mantles. And yet there are notes of discrepancy. Lady Macbeth is played at times as a lush, enchanting woman, and at others as a stereotypical nag. Good King Duncan is so much of a charicature – of either an English toff, a somewhat backward fellow, or an utter fool, one is uncertain which  – that one is led to think Scotland is probably better off without him. Expansive gestures and drawn-out vowels cause laughs, and while far be it from me to suggest that laughter is out of place in a Shakespearean play, one is not quite sure what to make of this kind of laughter and mockery, which is that of the farce.

It is not the humour that stays with you though. It’s the poignancy of Macbeth realizing he has lost everything; of lady Macbeth descending into madness; and most of all, the utter vulnerability and darkness of the poor lithe madman in whose mind we are allowed to glimpse. The fits, the despair, the inexorability of the workings of an unhinged mind – and the realization that we, as the audience, knowing the story beforehand, especially without the frame, are as trapped in it as he is. For us, the story he plays out is more real than his reality of the asylum – despite what we see. There is no escape – and the experience becomes transcendent – we are completely immersed inside the mind of a madman.

The play starts with the patient posing a question to the doctor and his nurse. “When shall we three meet again?” he asks pitifully. As the two depart, the madman embarks on his enactment of the story of Macbeth. 140 minutes later, half dead after what looks like a purging bath or attempted suicide, he restores the doll which stands for Malcom to its wheel-chair throne, proclaiming it to be the King of Scotland. His caretakers rush to his wrap his shivering naked body in blankets, and as they make to leave, the same question leaves his lips, signalling the commencement of a new cycle: “When shall we three meet again?” Every night, I would like to say. I would be there every night, and each night I would revel exponentially in the entrapment.