Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Manhattan ballroom gala
Thursday, November 12 2009
Gretchen was going to a big gala animal rights fundraiser down in the City today, and though normally I would have just stayed home and worked on my projects, this time, for once, I said I'd go. Gretchen had arranged for Deborah to house sit for the night, so last night I'd turned on the boiler for the season, more than three weeks days earlier than I had last year. Whenever a lumbering system that big and that 19th Century lurches back to life after seven and a half months of dormancy, one cannot predict how it will act. Perhaps it will have decided it has been scrapped and now languishes unused in a salvage yard. Happily, though, it had come fully to life.
For part of the day, I'd been scheduled to do some work in the computer lab at the Eastern Correctional Facility. I showed up there with Gretchen and again there was trouble. The guy who had supposedly called in and made the arrangements, telling me I was good to go, well, somehow he'd failed and I wasn't good to go. In the end the powers that be allowed me in, but just barely. My job today was two relatively trivial tasks, both of which I took care of in short order. I spent some time thereafter working on another version of a Javascript-based graphic system, this time one employing the tricks of CSS and DHTML. But I soon found myself in a rut from which I could not extricate myself. I needed to lookup something about CSS, but without access to the internet I had to rely on my memory. It was like being back in 1991 again. Eventually I just gave up.
When Gretchen and I finally got out, we headed directly for New York City, which meant heading southward on 209 into Sullivan County. I was craving French fries, so we stopped first at the 209 Diner just north of Ellenville, and there I had an order of fries and a veggie burger. The veggie burgers there are homemade from some sort of mushroom-rich batter (the place is actually run by a vegetarian Indian guy). These "burgers" tend to fall apart, but they're really good and go well with ketchup (which isn't always the case with veggie burgers). Most of my silverware looked to be spotted with relics from previous meals, so I mostly ate with my fingers.
The sun goes down early at this time of year, and once it's gone, it feels like it could be two in the morning. That's how it felt on the Palisades Parkway this evening at around 5:15 pm. Gretchen was driving and I was a passenger, and we kept reflexively yawning in empathy with each others' yawns.
We'd be spending the night at Penny and David's place in the West Village, so we parked nearby on 11th Street in a random spot that just happened to be open and where we wouldn't have to be moving the car until Monday. I was already dressed nicely for the gala, but not Gretchen. She changed into her fancy dress in the backseat of the car. (She says that when she's wearing a nice dress she feels like she's "in drag.")
We took a cab up to the gala venue which was the Prince George Ballroom (between 5th and Madison on 27th Street) and at the door were segregated into two lines: press and celebrity, and ticket holders. We were in the latter line, though it would have been a very easy event to sneak into.
A great thing about $150/ticket fundraisers is that the bar tends to be of the open variety. All that was on tap was wine, but I don't get enough wine in my day-to-day life, so that was fine with me. It certainly helped bring me from being a semi-asleep, semi-autistic mannequin to being the charming husband-to-an-animal-rights-activist I can be (while occasionally providing excessive information, since that's the currency of any social situation, and it's damn easy to mint).
Before the actual event, we were milling around in a hallway outside the actual ballroom. This hallway was a strange mix of crumbling classical elements covered by a permeable veneer of early-21st-century design. Such design typically supplies modern materials and a muted color sense to abstract mid-century styles (the favorites of all the designers I know), ending up as a fusion one could term "modern revivalism" (as there is nothing "post-modern" about it).
As for the ballroom itself, its colorful decorated columns looked superficially Arabesque or perhaps Ottoman, but on closer inspection they were full of little cherubim and other figures from antiquity. The fusion this time "Turkish Romanesque," examples of which are rare in the actual archæological record, as there have been relatively few formerly-Islamic places that have been invaded by Christians and had their abstract decorations embellished in the Romanesque style. Spain would qualify, but it seems that with discovery of the New World and the Jewish problem, Ferdinand and Isabella had a distinctly non-æsthetic set of priorities.
The gala was being held by the New York League of Humane Voters, a group hip enough to the animal rights cause to only serve vegan food before and during tonight's dinner. I have to say, by the way, that the food wasn't all that great. Gretchen should have been put in charge of that important element.
The keynote speaker tonight was none other than David Paterson, New York's embattled governor, the guy who stepped in to replace Eliot Spitzer after the latter disgraced himself with a high-end prostitute. Since then, the economy has imploded and Wall Street has fallen on hard times. Being that Wall Street is a cash cow for the State of New York, it has suffered disproportionately in this recession. As things stand now, it faces a three billion dollar deficit and an uncooperative, divided legislature. Many people blame Paterson, and he suffers from something like a 70% disapproval rate, but it's hard to see how any politician could do much better given this economic climate.
Paterson took the podium early in our meal and gave a reasonably good speech. Much of it consisted of boilerplate platitudes (in this case, about the need to treat animals better, particularly the horses who draw carriages in Manhattan). But one could see that the guy has charisma and political skills; there is a reason he is governor today, even if he had the office partly from luck. Most interesting to me was how he carried himself despite his blindness. This is a guy who cannot read a teleprompter and whose eyes are too dysfunctional to engage an audience. I don't know if he memorizes the names of the people he mentions in his speeches or whether he has notes prepared in Braille, but he handles this part as well as any politician. His hand movements and facial expressions are a little odd and often seem to be conveying comedy, and this might be at the root of some of his unpopularity. But if more people were like me, this would be viewed as nothing but a positive thing.
I didn't realize how great Paterson was until after I'd seen all the others give speeches. The New York League of Humane Voters hadn't managed to find any charismatic speakers. I clapped when the other people clapped, but really, the speaking was weak. And the principle animal rights issue was, surprisingly enough, the welfare of those horses pulling the carriages on Manhattan. Gretchen always sighs and makes sad noises when she sees those carriages, and I'm left to wonder, "Is there no commercial relationship between humans and animals that animal rights people are willing to endorse?" Well, according to some of the elaboration tonight, these horses are kept in tiny pens and then slaughtered for foreign meat markets when they reach the end of their useful life. According to Gretchen, the alternative being advanced by animal rights activists is battery-powered carriages. I wonder what animal rights activists think about police horses. I know I'm just supposed to "know" intuitively, but I don't. My guess is that they think it's gross exploitation and that cops should be using Segways instead.
At some point late in the meal, one of the organizers began reading a forty-person-long-list of first names (in alphabetical order) to give thanks for helping with the event. I took the opportunity to slip out to get another glass of wine, though Gretchen had been giving me the "you've had too much already" look for several glasses by then.
The people at our table had all been friends, most of whom I know, and some of whom I know well. Towards the end, there, I wandered back one last time to the table where the wine had been dispensed and found all of it gone, replaced with cases of some sort of pale ale. I couldn't find an opener, but there was a young woman there who seemed to be expert at using the side of a table as an opener. I chatted with several random strangers there and it was good to be making new friends, something I almost never do these days. It hardly mattered that I'd never be seeing them again.
After the gala was done, eight or ten of us walk and drove about eight blocks away to the Flatiron Lounge, a hip and cozy place serving delicious $13 martinis. I had something containing gin and vermouth, and even Gretchen found it delicious. We were all packed into a semi-circular booth and it was crowded, noisy, but fun in that decadent white urban upper middle class kind of way.
Gretchen and I ended the night by walking the ten or eleven blocks back to Penny and David's place and bedding down on an air mattress that very slowly began to deflate.

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next