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recipes & food

The best pizza in New York

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I was born in New York City. Therefore, I love pizza. One of my favorite childhood memories is walking down to the pizzeria on 76th street with my dad. It was usually a Saturday morning around 11. While the rest of the city was having bagels, we were ready for pizza.

Prior to last Sunday night, my husband and I would satisfy our pizza cravings with Arturo’s (on Houston) or Grimaldi’s (in Dumbo). I thought I was happy. But our friends Lisa and Eric (and baby Hudson) have been raving about Lucali for a while now and finally the stars aligned and we joined them for dinner.

Lucali is located in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The area is named after Charles Carroll, a Revolutionary War hero and the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. The neighborhood was first settled by Irish-Americans, then by Italian-Americans, many of whom remain today. However, the gentrification of the area (and much of downtown Brooklyn) beginning in the 1970s forced out many working class Italian families, making room for upwardly mobile young professionals, baby carriages, and upscale restaurants. Few places remain where the old and new residents co-mingle, but Lucali is an exception. Over-indulgent Italian grandparents sit next to newlyweds Shawn Carter and Beyonce Knowles, while pizzaiolos roll out dough with an empty wine bottle in the open kitchen.

best pizza in New York

Lucali’s pizza is so good that any description falls short, but here goes: [Read more →]

recipes & foodsports

What to bring to a superbowl party?

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Seriously — I’ve found the best concoction of food you could possibly have at your Superbowl party on Sunday. And how fun would it be to make this with your kids? And how impressed would all of your friends be?

I am not sure I would eat any part of this — but man, I am so in love with Holy Taco right now. My problem with actually eating it is the combination of sweet and savory. Sure, I can just eat the chips and dip or just eat one of the 58 twinkies, but the thought of all of that food combined on one platter (or table — as may be needed) is a bit revolting. Still, it looks pretty awesome. Plus, where else are you going to find a step-by-step pictorial as fun as this one!

Suberbowl of yum


Deliver me from evil and there’s a tip in it for you

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I was almost late posting this column because I had to make a mouse out of a cashmere hooded sweater and two pipe cleaners.

I hate this part of parenting — the part with safety pins, bobby pins, boiled felt, and Elmer’s glue. But, it did remind me of how I quit smoking. Once again, I called on my inner sloth — so easy to do in the crotch of winter — and he helpfully deflated my gumption to go out.

Tonight, when informed through tears that upon her arrival at school tomorrow morning (at 7:50 a.m.) my youngest must be a recognizable rodent, I knew the options could not involve going out. That there is a 24-hour Wal-Mart 11 blocks away must not figure into my decision-making. A mouse would be made, out of dryer lint and Hershey’s Kisses wrappers if necessary, but without leaving.

Similarly, when I was 27 and breaking up with a longtime partner and smoking a pack and a half of Marlboro Lights a day, I didn’t ask that useless asshole, my Willpower, to help out. I went straight to my potato soul and he didn’t let me down. To this day, I only smoke when really, really necessary, no more than a few times a year. Willpower had nothing to do with it. It was pure laziness, the laziness of the prairie tundra. I lived across the street from a 7-11 at the time, but it was cold out and there were stairs. My laziness can beat up your honor student, any time.

I wonder how they do it — or don’t do it — somewhere like California, where there’s no excuse not to go out into the mild night, when it’s even kind of nice to feel the soft warmish air, where you could run in your pajamas to your car and drive barefoot to the store and not have to be chipped out of your driver’s seat later by hordes of uniformed people bundled up and leaking steam like something out of E.T. How do you quit anything when everything’s so easy to obtain? In the time it takes me to get psyched, get dressed and warm up the car to buy a gallon of milk, somebody in California can buy a pound of crack, smoke it, do some Pilates, have unsafe sex with someone unsuitable, and work on their screenplay for half an hour.

So, I stay here. I make some unsightly dents in my cashmere sweater and I use every safety pin in the house and I write my column after all because my desire to be warm and inside has never let me down yet.  I saved 8 bucks tonight easy due to pure unwillingness to be shod.

Maybe you’re asking the wrong inner voice to help you out. Virtue is fine, but sometimes a good vice can keep you off the streets and out of your wallet, too.

Stay warm. Write more.

books & writing

John Updike’s passing

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I feel badly about John Updike’s passing, for several reasons. First, I regret that my one and only review of an Updike novel (at PopMatters.com) was mostly negative. The Widows of Eastwick was not his best novel, by a long shot, but I wrote about it looking back at many great books and looking forward to reviewing a better. And I regret, deeply, the passing of another great literary lion — with Bellow, Mailer, and Updike gone, that leaves only Philip Roth from the pinnacle of that great literary era I was lucky enough to live through. (Live long, Philip!) But most of all I regret that the great, protean outpouring from Updike’s pen is now stoppered. There’s probably a novel or two more finished, and another collection of non-fiction, to come, but the end is here. And that is just plain depressing news.

I met Updike at a cocktail party before a reading and he signed my copy of Brazil. (My review refers to a discussion we had related to that book.) I remember asking him about Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I was upset by Franzen’s making humor of Alzheimer’s in the book, which had struck close to home for personal reasons, and I wanted to know from Updike if he’d read it and was similarly offended. He said he hadn’t, which, considering all the hooha about it at the time, was surprising. He said, though, “Well, now I’ll have to read it.” I’ll never know if he did or not, since he’s never written about the book to my knowledge.

My favorite Updike includes the first two Rabbit books, all of the Bech stories, “S”, Brazil, Gertrude and Claudius, Marry Me, The Witches of Eastwick, The Centaur, and the many many short stories I’ve read over the years. Books like Memories of the Ford Administration, In the Beauty of the Lilies, and Villages, left me cold, but I couldn’t deny the sustained beauty of the writing even while I found the story or the structure of the books disappointing. Some have complained of Updike (and Joyce Carol Oates) that perhaps if he had written less, he might have written more great books. That, to me, is like saying if Babe Ruth had been fewer times at bat he might have hit more home runs. The home runs Updike did hit will go on forever.

books & writing

More on Updike

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A mysterious new follower of ENC Press just posted this link on Twitter: a collection of 21 reviews of Updike works from London Review of Books.

Fred's dreams

Parents’ Home

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January 15, 2009
I dream I am at my parents’ house and Mr. Giraffe comes to visit. Mr. Giraffe has a human appearance, but he is clearly part giraffe — extremely tall with light brown coloring. Mr. Giraffe speaks for the environment and calls recent infractions to our attention. He wants to take me by the hand and show me the places on the lawn where we have misbehaved. Even though his hands are enormous, and I am conscious of the possibility that he could easily crush me, I take his hand. I am not sure what we did, but a visit from Mr. Giraffe is serious and we will have to correct our environmental mistakes.

December 30, 2008
I dream I am having a party at my parents’ home on Clark Street. Obama has just been elected president and there is much rejoicing. Every guest is a significant buxom woman from some period in my life. I have not dressed for this party; I am wearing nothing but a bathrobe. The women think it’s cute, but I am straining to conceal my tumescence. At the end of the party I have to get dressed because I am to give a couple of the women rides home.

June 14, 1999
I dream my life is a movie and I live with my father, Jack Nicholson, in a luxury condominium. I am playing with a novelty grasshopper hatchery in a paper bag and I see that they’re about to hatch. I leave the condo and run down the hall. I’m careful to hold the bag tightly, but I trip in front of the elevator and lose my grip. A few grasshoppers escape and crawl up my arm and under my shirt. By the time the elevator door opens, the walls, floor, and ceiling are coated with a thick layer of grasshoppers. I run for the stairs, covered with grasshoppers, and I try to get as many of them out of the building as I can. I fear the condo board will find out and get me.


books & writing

John Updike

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It’s an unfortunate fact of life — or, rather, of death — that it takes the passing of a great artist for many people to first become acquainted with his work. So be it. If you haven’t yet read any John Updike, or know of him primarily from his somewhat, though not entirely, unfair reputation as a horny chronicler of suburban marital disfunction, you owe it to yourself to discover what an effortlessly insightful, memorable, and clever (in the best sense of that word) writer he was. 

Fortunately, it isn’t difficult at all to make his acquaintance, because he was at his best when his writing was most compressed. The Rabbit novels had their moments, but for pure spine-tingling genius, there is no substitute for his short stories.  

I discovered just how amazing his short stories are when I was a freshman in college. I was majoring in psychology at the time, for reasons I no longer can recall, when I happened to read one of his stories in a beat-up paperback collection. I also can’t remember the story’s title, but there was a paragraph in there — something to do with a brief encounter between a man and a woman in an apartment doorway — that contained more insight into human behavior than all of my psychology classes put together. 

Within days, I’d switched my major to English. 

Since then, I’ve read almost everything he’s written, except for some of his lesser novels (and there were a few too many of those, unfortunately.) Second only to his short stories is his incredibly generous literary criticism, which cast its glow over some of the greatest writers of our time, including some that you and I would otherwise never have heard of.   

It’s sad, in a way, that there is nobody like Updike around today to write a proper appreciation of Updike himself. But at least we still can savor Updike’s appreciations of his fellow writers — even if, in most cases, his genius far outshone theirs.

moneyon the law

Elderly man freezes to death in his own home because of $1,000

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A 93-year-old WW II veteran was found dead in his home, from hypothermia, after the electric company put limiters on his heat. The temperature inside his house was 32 degrees and the water in his sink was frozen. Good Morning America reported that the man, Marvin Shur, owed over $1,000 to the utility company. My question: is $1,000 worth his slow and painful death? And does the utility company have some accountability to bear here?

Bay City Electric Light & Power is the first to point out that they didn’t do anything illegal; but what is their moral responsibility? As a utility company they have a lot of power (no pun intended) over the people they serve. Should there be safeguards in place to ensure that the elderly are taken care of?  Are there no checks and balances in place to ensure the safety of their customers? It’s just unacceptable to me that they shut off the heat while a 93-year-old man was living there. I am not sure what their recourse should have been — but it’s not like the utility company doesn’t make enough money to look out for the people in the community in which they serve. I am not saying this man had the right to live free of charge, but couldn’t the power company have been more aware of the consequences of their actions?

books & writing

When I met John Updike

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John Updike, who died today at the age of 76, was never one of my favorite authors. He was a little too, I don’t know — suburban? — for my taste. Like if Rob Petri worked at The New Yorker, lived in New Rochelle, and instead of tripping over the ottoman on his way in the door, stumbled into bed with a neighbor’s wife, while his wife got it on with Robbie’s swimming coach and in the end everyone felt guilty and unsatisfied.

There was much more to John Updike, but I missed most of it until close to the end. I met Updike once at a writer’s conference at Montgomery County Community College. While driving there on Rt. 73 (Limekiln Pike) through Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, I passed a small street named Rabbit Run, which I dutifully reported to Mr. Updike when I had the opportunity. “NO!” he said, delighted. He was cordial, approachable and astoundingly devoted to his home state. He was a Pennsylvania gentleman. 
For some reason I always thought of Updike as a New England writer when in fact he had a keystone heart as natural and durable as a mortarless stone wall. In the couple of hours I spent in his company he referenced his Berks County roots and his Middle Atlantic values repeatedly in a formal address and casual conversation. He was in awe of the majesty of Philadelphia and the vitality of Pittsburgh. He felt a bit like a country boy on the edge of Pennsylvania big city life. And even into his mid-70’s his boyish innocence in person remained as affecting as his urbane and world weary sexuality in his writing. I feel honored to have shaken his hand in friendship.

sciencethat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Life against the current

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“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” I came upon this remark of G.K. Chesterton’s last week by accident. Someone commenting on a blog had quoted it. I can’t remember now what blog it was, or what the post and comment were in reference to. But I had copied the quote because I thought I might want to write about it. And the more I pondered it, the more disturbing it seemed.

This did not surprise me. Chesterton can be that way. Though often dismissed by critics as the glib deviser of facile paradoxes, there is more weight to his writing than the surface levity suggests. Had Chesterton’s barbs been aimed, as his friend Shaw’s were, at fashionable targets rather than used in defense of what he called orthodoxy, Chesterton would be taken every bit as seriously as Shaw.

In fact, there is often a great deal more depth in Chesterton than there is in Shaw (there is a reason why Shaw is now better remembered for My Fair Lady than for Pygmalion). In Chesterton, as in the paintings of Fragonard, games are being played, but looming clouds are likely to be casting ominous shadows. [Read more →]


Delaney and Bonnie no longer friends

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I noted with sadness recently the passing of Delaney Bramlett. Those of us over 40 remember the group Delaney and Bonnie and Friends as one of the high points of late 60’s/early 70’s music. As this Rolling Stone article from 1969 indicates, they were something. Melding southern rock, soul, and gospel, they made one of the greatest live albums of all time with “Delaney and Bonnie On Tour With Eric Clapton.” George Harrison once asked to join their band, and they recorded with some of the finest players of their time, including Leon Russell, Steve Cropper, Duane Allman, and Billy Preston. Their album “Motel Shot” was one of the templates for the stripped-down Americana so popular in the last decade, and my favorite, “Accept No Substitute,” includes the incredible “The Ghetto,” which made anything Elvis did on that topic sound bloodless and trite. 

I had the pleasure of spending time with Bonnie Bramlett a year ago when I managed a concert featuring her and backup band, Mr. Groove. [Read more →]

religion & philosophy

Miracle on the Hudson — I am still in awe

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I had a friend in college who used to always play the “what if” game with me. In every situation we were in, be it at a bar, a fraternity party, or just sitting in our dorm room, she would play out some scenario and ask me how I would react in that situation. So we might be sitting in the cafeteria and she would ask me, “What if someone stormed through the door with bazookas, what would you do — assuming you survive the initial rampage?” They weren’t always that dark, they sometimes involved a love interest or a strange celebrity encounter, but they always made me think about a situation I ordinarily would not think about.

And, of course, I’ve been on a plane and wondered what I would do if the plane crash-landed. Who doesn’t wonder that? I am one of those people who always pays attention when the flight attendant does their little safety talk and I always check to see where the nearest exit is as soon as I get on the plane. Still, I’ve figured I’d never be able to survive a crash landing, water or no water.

That is until a pilot named Sully landed a jumbo jet smack in the middle of New York and New Jersey on the Hudson River. Man did he prove me wrong. I still can’t get over all of the individual stories. The New York Times did a great round-up of passenger accounts on how things played out once the plane came to a stop. The most ridiculous of which was the one woman who tried to get her luggage out of the overhead compartment. [Read more →]

family & parentingrace & culture

Running down the dream — what America looks like

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During the same week that America’s caramel colored First Family made its debut before a delighted nation and a fascinated world, I saw two new TV commercials for national brand-name products featuring biracial married couples. In one, the husband was black and the wife was white. In the other, the husband was white and the wife was black. In both commercials the wives did the talking. I don’t remember ever seeing a biracial couple in a commercial before, so seeing two in one week caught my eye. Could this be a sign of the new Obama nation? Or is it merely commerce imitating reality?

I’m old enough to remember when a biracial couple in Philadelphia meant an Italian boy dating an Irish girl. I remember when Protestants were forbidden friends and Jews were exotics, people mentioned in the Bible by the nuns who taught us not to hate them, which was easy because I never met one. I remember when blacks were Negroes and whites were Caucasians and Jews were something else altogether. Muslims were nonexistent, except in stories about the Crusades, and even then they were called either Arabs or Mohammadeans. As for Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans or Scientologists. . . fuhgeddaboudit.

I grew up a Catholic school Philadelphian back in the day. I didn’t have a black or Jewish classmate, let alone friend, until junior high school, when I became a Public. In grade school I had one Protestant friend named Elliott Jones, who lived on my street, and I kept trying to convert him to Catholicism. He was an Episcopalian, which to me meant he was something like a Communist. I was naive and shameless and comfortable in my prejudice. That was how I grew up. Those were my values.

I get annoyed and impatient with people who explain their wrong thinking, if not behavior, with the words “that was how I was raised” as if everything there is to learn in life stops at the age of ten. As if not doing to their own children what their parents did to them is a betrayal of mom and dad. My father used to beat me and my brothers with a belt he would snap like a lion tamer before he whacked us. This was considered normal when I was growing up.

Somehow what I learned from this experience was never to hit my children. And I never have. In a single generation what was once common in my family had become unthinkable. And in America, what was unthinkable a generation ago has become our face to the world.

announcementsbooks & writing

Congratulations to Michael Antman

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Congratulations to Coliseum contributor Michael Antman for being a finalist for the Balakian Award given by the National Book Critics Circle for reviewing excellence. You can read some of his literary essays and reviews here.


Faking it with Perlman and Ma

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To my knowledge I am the first and still the only male honorary member of the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Team. In the early 80’s in Colorado Springs, I worked on behalf of the symphony with several Olympic groups. I helped with something called “Classical Splash” — poolside concerts featuring swimming synchronized to a live symphony orchestra — and produced events that included Olympic skaters and the Olympic Torch. All a lot of fun. [Read more →]

moneypolitics & government

Funny because it’s true (yet again)

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The Onion recently ran an article that harkens back to the days when the site was funny on a regular basis:

Cash-strapped American Airlines announced a new series of fees this week that will apply to all customers not currently flying, scheduled to fly, or even thinking about flying aboard the commercial carrier.

And how exactly is this funny? Er, well, it’s funny because in the real world a corporation couldn’t do that to us. I mean, without the help of the government, who most certainly can and does enable some corporations to do that to us. Please, think about your taxes and what is done with them when you read lines like this one:

…non-passengers of American Airlines should expect to pay a small fee when making Greyhound bus reservations, choosing to drive to their final destination, or simply being a citizen of the United States with a valid Social Security number.

Hrm. Suddenly it’s not so funny.

But it can be, if you consider the irony in the way corporations are viewed as evil and oppressive to so many people, when in reality their ability to limit our freedom is largely through the government.

Possibly even more humorous is the way many libertarians think that corporations are Capitalists. It is often said that corporations exist to make money. But this view assumes a level of integrity and morality that many corporate executives simply do not maintain. Corporations exist to gain money. If they can get it by charging non-customers, e.g. via a government intermediary, then some of them will do exactly that.

It’s hilarious.


Contributor in the news

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Contributor Ari McKee’s recollection of her mother’s life, and its relevance to Obama’s inauguration, has been published by Minnesota Public radio.


The big set-up for the big back-out

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Dear Ruby Mac,
Did you ever see the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David used a death in the family to cancel every social obligation on his calendar? I envied the genius of this, but now have an obligation-cancelling device of my own. I have been plagued with a bad back and while through intense physical therapy and regular exercise I’m getting slowly better, I have found that my condition is the perfect excuse to get out of things.

I no longer have to help people move as heavy lifting is forbidden. Travel to see friends, go catch a game, or get together for a card game? Sorry, if I sit more than sixty minutes without stretching and applying ice packs to my back I’m in for some seriously nagging pain.

The question is: As the doctor assures me that some day I will feel much better, how long after that can I milk this bad back excuse for escaping social obligations?

The Chronic

Dear The Chronic,

The answer is, “Until they catch on,” which means Never. That’s not enough for a column, however, so Ruby will have to expound.

As with the last shy person I bailed out, I fully support your desire to avoid socializing. You need face time like a kangaroo rat needs Evian. So, you’ve developed a very useful condition.

Here’s what I’ve seen people with bad backs get:

  • the bulkhead
  • rides on airport carts
  • out of shoveling
  • partner on top all the time
  • the good chair
  • the expensive mattress
  • all the drugs leftover from the last minor surgery
  • fawning attention and sympathy and massages
  • get-out-of-activity-free passes galore

To milk these and other benefits, you hardly have to do anything because everybody knows that people with bad backs can feel good one minute and be writhing on the floor in pain the next. So, just whip it out whenever you feel like it.

And, you deserve it, because people can’t see your agony and don’t always believe you even though it hurts like hell and sometimes never stops until you want to blow your brains out. So, TC, although I do hope the real pain stops for you soon, play your cards right and the imaginary pain never has to.

Suffering in silence? Tell Ruby where it hurts.


Kelly Conaboy’s latest

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Our contributor Kelly Conaboy has a piece in today’s Yankee Pot Roast called “Anne Frank: Observational Comic.” Forget about pushing the envelope — Kelly rips the envelope in half. And burns it. Why is she so mad at the envelope? Nobody knows.

Fred's dreams


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January 5, 2009
I dream I am with my sister-in-law, Deborah, on an elevated train in one of the outer boroughs of New York. I am wearing a yellow sun dress. Since there are hardly any people in the car with us, I try to discretely moon Deborah. I get no reaction. Since I have to go to work in the city, I get off the train to buy some normal clothing. I wind up in a shore community that is filled with mud pits, go karts, and a mall devoted to novelty items. I find plastic flamingos, arte deco highball glasses, and cocktail napkins with jokes on them, but no clothing.

July 29, 2008
I dream I am sitting in a train station inside an employees-only area when a younger version of my dissertation advisor appears. He enthusiastically praises my doctoral dissertation on vaudeville magic acts and assures me that it’s going to be published because it is both scholarly and accessible. And then, he tells me that I inspired him to finally finish his dissertation. “Yes,” he tells me. “I have been letting it drag on, but I’m finally going to finish it.” I am shocked, because he is one of the most distinguished scholars in the field. He wishes me well.

December 5, 1993
I dream that a man with a mustache is threatening me and Gail in an Amtrak dining car. He goads us and assures us that we won’t live very long after we get off the train. Seeing I have no alternative, I stab the shit out of the guy repeatedly with my knife and fork. The wounds aren’t very deep, but the guy sure is surprised. Later on, Gail and I find ourselves at the side of the train tracks, safe but surrounded by white paper bags filled with the tiny, bloody pieces of the man with the mustache.

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