Why This Middle-Aged Woman Loved the Facebook Movie: A Response Alexis Kleinman/Highlights of First Week in NYC

At Mon Petit Cafe. 62nd/Lex. Great breakfast.

At Mon Petit Cafe. 62nd/Lex. Great breakfast.

I. Eight Days in New York.

More happens–more social interaction, more culture, more random stimulation, not to mention more professional networking–in New York City than any place I’ve been or lived. I’m prepared to believe that Paris, London, and a handful of other global cities are like this, but certainly there is nowhere else in America with the sheer density of population and human engagement.

My 42nd birthday was incredible, really the best ever. I couldn’t get a seat at the Cafe Carlyle bar to see Woody Allen perform, so I ended up at Bemelman’s.

I’ve been there several times with a family friend but never by myself. I met a wonderful female psychoanalyst from New Jersey with whom I had much in common in terms of my experience and view of why analysis (or intense talk therapy) still has a place in the treatment of some mental illness.  Before that, I spoke for 30 minutes to a Peruvian couple who moved to the city about four years ago. They were roughly my age and so warm and fun to talk to, very tolerant of the moments I had to search for a word.

Perfect martini at Bemelman's (Carlyle Hotel)

Perfect martini at Bemelman’s (Carlyle Hotel)

A girl from Parsons, 26 tops, with no makeup and messy pony tail fresh from the studio waited next to me at the banquette for her friend. Clearly the sophisticated, bright, driven girl has help from mommy and daddy because Bemelman’s is pricey–my Ketel One martini with a twist was 22 and the cheapest wine is 19/glass. Of course, you’re not paying just for the booze. You’re paying for the whole experience of drinking at the legendary Carlyle, which includes some of the finest musicians in the city.

After 9PM or so, you have to pay a cover but before that, the music is free and spectacular. And my martini was big and satisfying, not some puny little thing in a half-glass. The pianist that night works in film; this is his passion but doesn’t pay the bills. He is close to one of the directors of Santa Barbara Symphony. And he knew a lot of the same people in TV and film I did 20-25 years ago.

I went out for a smoke (though I’m smoking mostly vapor) and a group of men were talking about cigar bars as they approached the entrance. I said they were going the wrong direction, thinking they were too young for Lex Bar and Books and more Club Macanudo or even Cigar Inn types. I finished my cigarette and re-joined the analyst at the bar. When she left, the group I had seen on the street asked me to join them and we ended up at Lex Bar and Books.

Of all the cigar bars in Manhattan, this is my least favorite, not because of the clientele or the service or the decor but the piss poor ventilation system. Other times I’ve gone, I needed to get fresh air every fifteen minutes. But it was 11:30 PM on Monday, Feburary 17th (the city was quiet as many got to a warmer climate for a few days) and including the six of us, there were only a dozen people left. The Traders Expo was in town, so these were all men (and one tough-as-nails female assistant just out of Michigan State) at different companies who have often worked together on projects or deals.

At Bemelman’s, where I ordered coffee after having no dinner and the martinis and wine, I told them it was my birthday. The one man who works and lives in Manhattan, Cuban from Miami, arranged a surprise: a cheesecake with huge sparkler delivered to me with dimmed lights and the 007 theme song! I was overwhelmed that these strangers did this for me. A great birthday and much more fun than just seeing the Woody Allen Dixieland band alone and likely meeting no one at Cafe Carlyle (which is not a real bar).

I’ve had dinner with various friends I see once a trip and while I haven’t danced, it’s been a whirlwind. Thursday I mostly relaxed but got out to see Broadway Sessions at the Laurie Beechman Theater. Lisa Howard was terrific and as always, my evenings at Ben Cameron’s weekly revue are one of the highlights of the trip.

I’d go this Thursday, but I am seeing Greg Laswell (one of many artists catapulted to stardom by Grey’s Anatomy) at the Public. I couldn’t believe the ticket was only 20 dollars. My CT mom friend can’t come, so I will either go by myself or give the ticket away. It’s a 9:30 show so people who have to be up in the morning for work–which is of course most people–will have trouble making it.

Tuesday I met with a veteran journalist and science editor/writer at Art Bar on 8th. It’s a cool place I will write more about later and about a five minute walk from the Duplex. Earlier, I met with Samara Lipsky, for whom I wrote a guest blog which will appear Friday on Bicoastal Brunettte. I had eaten at Joe Allen on 46th the night before but was too full to try their legendary banana cream pie. This picture generated 100 comments on my Facebook wall, which should leave no doubt that the Holy Trinity of blogging is pets, food and sex.

Banana cream pie at Joe Allen. You CANNOT come to Manhattan and not stop in for this dessert.

Banana cream pie at Joe Allen. You CANNOT come to Manhattan and not stop in for this dessert.

I spent part of Friday in Greenwich Village with a friend who has been in the same apartment on MacDougal Street for 40 years. He’s a fixture in the area, a walking history book of the Village and a kind of resident musical sage. We had a terrific burger at Burger and Barrel and while Umami Burger is also within striking distance of the subway, I can go there whenever I want in Los Angeles (Studio City). Burger and Barrel has a great vibe and I will definitely return.

Saturday I went to Talia Eisenberg’s Henley Vaporium in SoHo to participate in a round table on e-cigs with Dr. Bruce Becker of Brown University. This will be on YouTube in a few weeks. I have been quite attached to the V2 e-cigs but I finally found a vaporizer I love, and last night at Delicatessen in SoHo, one of the servers had the precise model which he bought just Saturday!

At Henley Vaporium in SoHo. The BMW of e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

At Henley Vaporium in SoHo. The BMW of e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

Talia is selling a new line of organic VG vapor; it burns slightly faster but it’s healthier even than the normal vapor. And what could be a better name than “Plum Crazy”! I didn’t smoke a full cigarette for 36 hours and it was effortless. A great advantage of the vaporizers is battery life. The problem with the conventional e-cigarettes is that you lose charge quickly and I’m terrible at charging phones, so you can imagine how hard it is (particularly when not in LA and charging as I drive), to keep it juiced.

I met an old friend on Spring Street and we happened upon a hole-in-the-wall just on the border of Little Italy with a special: bottle of Italian wine and 12 (outstanding) oysters for 40. After that we walked around and ended up at Agozar in the East Village. For lunch I had spinach, goat cheese, mushroom and basil crepe I’m still dreaming about. It was a great day.

Sunday I had brunch at Bistro 61 on 1st. It was my second or third time there, but my first for brunch. The food is excellent, as is the service and overall casual French bistro vibe (see Yelp). Two couples next to me were catching up after the honeymoon one took in Buenos Aires. They were in their early to mid-30s and it was fun to listen to their talk of careers, mutual friends, and travel while I read Village Voice. My server had a great New York accent and attitude. Note: they take cash only for brunch, which is unusual. Plenty of places downtown take cash only but uptown it’s rarer, and when they take cards they don’t just take cash one day.

She let me taste the hollandaise sauce because I hate most hollandaise but last year discovered that if it’s more mousse-like, I love it. Mon Petit Cafe on 62nd and Lex messed up my order one day, putting yellow gunk (as I thought of it) atop my perfectly poached eggs, ratatouille and gruyere! Mon Dieu! Happily, now I know I only dislike the goupy, slimy hollandaise, not the lighter and more aerated kind.1932189_632483620120034_1081652984_n

I rested until Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity on 65th and Central Park West. I try to go whenever I’m in town and as usual, it was beautiful. I like that church. There are two kinds of Lutherans: Missouri Synod (ultra-conservative socially and politically) and ELCA (LGBT-friendly and moderate to liberal politically). I love the congregation and enjoy the chatting in the basement afterward.

I hopped in cab for eight dollars back to the Upper East Side (a 12 dollar or so ride in traffic) and got down to Wolfgang’s on 33rd and Park for drinks and salad with a new friend, a Parisian in America (LA and NYC) since 1991. We had a blast and walked all the way up to Bloomingdales so she could get her train. The weather was lovely this weekend and it was a perfect night for a 30 block stroll with a new friend.

Monday night I went to McNally Jackson, the great independent bookstore in SoHo. I love Crawford Doyle and the Corner Bookstore on the Upper East Side (80s and 90s and Madison) and I used to adore the magnificent but overwhelming Strand. But I’d never been here and it’s the perfect size: small enough not to get lost but big enough to luxuriate and relax.

I’d seen in the Village Voice that a fellow Yale English major, now editor of Paris Review (founded by William Styron), was interviewing novelist Jenny Offill about her new novel, Department of Speculation. I will say more about the reading and interview later, but it was absolutely wonderful and I look forward to reading the second novel by the writer who teaches at Brooklyn and Queens College, as well as Columbia. It’s a domestic novel with a philosophical and scientific backdrop (Cosmonauts are a theme) about a familiar, old topic: infidelity. Offill won awards for her first novel some 15 years ago and her second novel is generating some good buzz. 1939997_587431004682224_874773993_n

After the stimulating hour or so with Lorin Stein and Jenny Offill, I hit Henley to get help charging my vaporizer and then ate at what will be my favorite, affordable (not cheap) restaurant in SoHo or Chelsea: Delicatessen. It’s the sister restaurant to Cafeteria in Chelsea and you can read my Yelp review for the lowdown. There is nothing about this restaurant I don’t adore, including its proximity to the N/R train to 60th.

Today I’m going to Bergdorf Goodman for lunch, a birthday gift from a dear friend in California who raised a son on the Upper West Side and took me to Fred’s at Barneys for my birthday last year. She says it’s a similar scene and that I will enjoy people watching and eavesdropping; I’m a champion eavesdropper. If it were an Olympic event, I’d definitely qualify if not bring home a medal. Also I remember everything so I have a large trove of such stolen conversational gems.

Of course, if someone is speaking loudly four tables or stools away, it’s hardly my fault. But I must have unusually good hearing because I pick up a fair amount even with low talkers. I don’t feel guilty about it. If you are discussing interesting and sensitive matters out in public which you want others to hear, you should have them in private.

This is my first blog in 10 days but I did revise and expand an old blog about the Yale student running for office in Spokane who in 1995 (my graduation year) posed for Playboy‘s “Women of the Ivy League.” The Gloria Steinem blog shocked me: it’s 5000 words without pictures and yet Google’s Analytics (and Facebook shares) make it one of my ten most popular blogs in nearly three years and 280 Victorian Chick blogs. I guess people like it when I rant about Second Wave feminism because my single most popular blog was about that nitwit feminist writer in Oregon.

I decided to rework the blog in the wake of the Duke girl’s porn scandal. I object to her choice on pragmatic rather than moral grounds and explain why posing nude and shooting porn films are qualitatively different. I’m proud of this blog and it’s in three parts (6000 words) so it’s easy to stop and start. Two of the seconds are undemanding reading but as I saw in Facebook comments about Alec Baldwin’s grand farewell to public life in New York Magazine, in the age of Twitter 5000 words might as well be 5000 pages.

My average Victorian Chick blog (usually two or three blogs in one) is 3000 words. This blog is 3400 words. George Eliot never would have made it today. Ditto Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, or pre-Victorians like Laurence Sterne or Samuel Richardson. Clarissa is roughly 1300 pages but if feminist critics spoke of nothing but rape and patriarchy in this 18th-century masterpiece, they wouldn’t as usual be missing the boat–at least not entirely–because that goes on for-fucking-ever. I loved Pamela but never read Clarissa. When people who aren’t the least bit literary were moaning about Atlas Shrugged (Rand groupies on FB), I always thought that if I were going to tackle a novel over 1000 pages, it would be Clarissa not Atlas Shrugged!

II. Why This Middle-Aged Woman Loves the Facebook Movie: A Response to the Huffington Post’s Alexis Kleinman.

When I learned Huffington Post blogs were supposed to be between 500 and 1000 words, I cringed. One can review a film, play or concert in 1000 words or make a single, strong argument in that word range, but it’s hard to analyze a complex topic in such a space. 

Space constraints explain why Slate bloggers who undoubtedly have opinions about topics more weighty than the waxing habits of Manhattan’s elite women (initially a piece in the New York Times!) choose to write about personal grooming.

Because I didn’t finish my dissertation and make my life in the academy–a lifelong dream–I find myself in the curious position of being  too fluffy for scholars and too scholarly for fluff (or consumers of fluff). I try to negotiate this liminal position the best I can and think generally I do fine. But when writing for a blog rather than, say, a serious book review, it’s something I have to keep in mind.

So here is Victorian Chick at her fluffiest (which may be a poor choice of words given the above reference to the great pubic hair controversy in contemporary America, but I’m taking a pass on all hair-related matters): I love the Facebook movie both in theory and practice, and wish to commend Facebook for thus commemorating its 10th anniversary.

Alexis Kleinman disagrees. She hates the Facebook movie. But as the many commenters who have enjoyed these pictorial retrospectives noted in the comment section, if she doesn’t want to see these 60 second computer-generated personal movies, she can either scroll past them, hide friends who like and share them, or unfriend people altogether who insist on imposing such offensive content (ya know, pictures of cats and dogs and food) on her clearly delicate psyche.

This has been for several years a big pet peeve of mine: people who never bother to learn how Facebook works –tagging, for instance—get upset and blame others for their ignorance and laziness. Facebook is not biochemistry: it takes maybe 20 or 30 minutes to master the social network.

Since my last blog on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-ordin/my-second-chance-at-life-_b_4401147.html) argued that Facebook meaningfully contributes to the lives of those who lack opportunities after 30 or 40 to make new friends through work or school (particularly those not living in big cities where you brush up against dozens of people daily on the street or subway), I wanted to throw in my two cents (or 1000 words).

Where Kleinman sees the music as faux-inspirational, I see it more as Terms of Endearment. When I posted my video, I wrote, “The music is pretty, if maudlin; it’s more suited to a film in which the young and vibrant protagonist at last succumbs to a terminal illness.”

But Kleinman is not content merely to express her dislike of the videos; she wants everyone to stop sharing them. Her reasons are no more compelling to me than to the commenters among whom there was an unusual amount of consensus.

1. If you’re a close friend, odds are I shared a good deal of that history with you”: No. Part of the blessing of Facebook is sharing special, irritating, or funny moments with people who live thousands of miles away and cannot be with you as much as you’d like. And you may never meet some Facebook friends you genuinely do like and consider an integral part of your experience. Sometimes you enjoy someone’s Facebook friendship but don’t click in real life, and that’s okay too.

Much has been written about how Facebook has altered our conception of friendship. For starters, friend became a verb. But certainly, friendship both on and off Facebook—which may intersect– is a spectrum. And if someone irritates you on Facebook, it’s much easier to get rid of them than it is to distance yourself from an irritating friend at a party or on your block. 

2. “I don’t even want to watch my Facebook video”: None of us can do anything either about Ms. Kleinman’s apparent discontent with her life or its photographic summation by Facebook’s supercomputer (or however you describe its mysterious processes: don’t get me started on the useless and dubious new “Insights” on the business pages). The piece ends with a true pearl, which will no doubt put her in the running for a Pulitzer: “As the ancient saying goes, haters gonna hate.” Leaving aside that this was not to my knowledge a common saying in Periclean Athens, if your only defense resides in language likely to be found in Urban Dictionary, I think you’ve lost your case.

3. “If you’re just an acquaintance, then I probably don’t know you well enough to recognize the people in your photos”: Celebrity journalism seems to be doing quite well these days, and most people who gawk at their pictures don’t know Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie, much less their children whose goings on plaster the covers of tabloids as well as more mainstream publications. Enjoying pictures of people you know well or not at all does not depend entirely upon recognition.

4. It’s not the heartstring-tugging nostalgia fest that Facebook wanted”: Says who? People 40 and up use Facebook differently from young people. And Ms. Kleinman appears to have graduated from Princeton just eight months ago (I’m two years away from my 20th Yale reunion!).How, given her evident lack of empathy or even consciousness of others’ feelings, does she know how people two or three times her age feel?

As an active Facebook user, I’ve observed that even my most curmudgeonly middle-aged friends have been delighted by this fun little Facebook gimmick. Many of the commenters noted the loss of a friend, spouse, or pet in the last few years; they appreciated seeing the lost loved one incorporated into the visual representation of their life over the past few years. If only for 60 seconds, it almost brought them to life. How’s that for a tug at the heartstrings, Ms. Kleinman?

5.  “The real, important, beautiful things in life didn’t happen on Facebook”: This is Ms. Kleinman’s very worst argument. It implies, all evidence to the contrary, that she knows better than the millions who enjoy the Facebook movie what is truly “important and beautiful” and where such meaning resides. Of course, they didn’t happen on Facebook, while sitting in front of a computer. But the pictures describe events in the real world.

I won’t broach the serious topic in literary criticism of identity-formation through textual engagement. But the divide between interacting online and in real life has blurred considerably in the decade since Facebook began.

Nor will I do more than note that Ms. Kleinman’s last statement is profoundly solipsistic– “those memories belong to you and only you”–and like the rest of her rant, quite negative and sad, unless it’s all a joke and she means none of it. But since Ms. Kleinman presumptuously told everyone in America (including people double and triple her age) to stop sharing their videos, I thought I would link to mine, just for her: https://www.facebook.com/lookback/.

View of Central Park South from Central Park West before Bach Vespers, 5PM Sunday.

View of Central Park South from Central Park West before Bach Vespers, 5PM Sunday.

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