NYC Traffic Study

In conjunction with New York’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities in the city within a decade’s time, our committee has concluded its study of New York’s sundry traffic hazards. Here are our findings.

The New York Police Department, while doing yeoman’s work in its ticketing of cars that have been illegally parked for more than nine seconds, could take more aggressive steps to curtail unsafe driving. The department’s policy of allowing exotic sports cars to travel at triple-digit speeds, on the theory that “they seem more comfortable going fast,” should be reconsidered. And while motorcyclists do, at times, “look really scary,” that should not give them carte blanche to roar through the city’s streets like Genghis Khan’s Mongol warriors rampaging through Eurasia.

The current prerequisites for a taxi driver’s hack license—“a pulse, change for a twenty, and an unquenchable thirst for danger”—prove woefully inadequate. The Taxi & Limousine Commissioner of Responsible Driving (the well-intended yet overtaxed Popeye Doyle) would be wise to institute a handful of reforms. Henceforth, all cab drivers should be dissuaded from attempting to break the sound barrier in the intervals between red lights. The alarming percentage of cabbies who learned to drive by mimicking the motions of actors steering against blue screens in old-time movies should be encouraged to pursue their driver’s education through more formal channels. Note that courses completed at Coney Island’s Eldorado Bumper Car attraction should no longer count toward accreditation.

When transporting documents within the city, businesses currently call upon former extras from The Warriors to ferry the papers on battered bicycles, beseeching pedestrians to steer clear in vocal intonations typically associated with Godzilla. Those bystanders who do not immediately suffer heart attacks are left to scramble to the curb and check in with loved ones regarding the precariousness of life. Moving forward, businesses should consider sending their documents via e-mail—a safer, albeit slower, alternative.

Our study takes issue with the city’s system of waste management, in which a team of blindfolded men race 25-ton trucks through residential streets while their colleagues leap on and off the vehicles with the prudence of lucha libre wrestlers. More than a few drivers were found to be using their steering wheels to practice for potential appearances on Wheel of Fortune. Also misbegotten: the department’s “take your son to work and let him drive” day.

Of even greater concern are out-of-town drivers—or, in the parlance of science, “imbecilic ignorami of the highest order.” Particularly hazardous is the longstanding tradition of overshooting a crosswalk, abruptly throwing one’s car into reverse, and then bewilderedly lurching forward, all while the driver hyperventilates into a yellow M&M’s World bag. And while taking a right turn on a red light is verboten in New York, since the city’s streets were laid out in 1656, no tourist has yet to abide by the rule.

Finally, it is our recommendation that all New Jersey drivers traversing Manhattan should be accompanied by police escorts to thwart the maniacally quick turns and terrifying accelerations that are their raison d’être. Obviously, in order to approach Vision Zero’s expressed goal, motorists of Massachusetts provenance must be banned from city limits.

Recommended Reading

A pair of funny books recently hit our office’s (virtual and wooden) shelves: Brian Abrams’s e-book And Now…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman,” 1982–1993 and Stephin Merritt’s 101 Two-Letter Words, a hardcover featuring illustrations by Roz Chast. The books share the Lowbrow Reader’s coveted, Oprah-esque stamp of approval, the phrase “Letter,” and little more. Let’s check ’em out!

New York is in an eerie and mildly depressing state. Joan Rivers and Lou Reed have left the planet; Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have left the ballpark; Philip Roth has left his writing desk; and in a few months, David Letterman will be leaving the television. We turn to younger generations to replenish our stock of heroes—the pressure is on, Generation Y! But first, we can salute the outgoing idols. And Now…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman” gets in early with Letterman adulation. The book examines not Letterman’s current CBS show but its wildly influential precursor, which ran on NBC between 1982 and 1993. Abrams (a Lowbrow Reader contributor) talks to an army of Late Night writers, guests and machers, narrating the creation and execution of the program that essentially redesigned the talk-show mold. It is being published as part of Amazon’s Kindle Single series.

For more than two decades, through his various recording projects—most famously the Magnetic Fields—Stephin Merritt has proven himself one America’s most consistent and funny songwriters. Somehow, 101 Two-Letter Words (a title that seems fodder for a Top Ten List) is his first book. Few Merritt projects come into the world without a set of strict conceptual rules. This one? Each spread features a four-line verse about one of the two-letter words allowed in Scrabble, alongside an illustration by Roz Chast, the New Yorker cartoonist. The author and illustrator are unlikely bedfellows. Chast’s work is about motion and hysteria; Merritt is still, deadpan and monochromatic. Yet this is a smart pairing, with Chast’s illustrations helping the writer’s quiet jokes scream. Here is Merritt on the favored two-letter word of our grandparents:

“Oy gevalt! Oy vey! I often
wish I spoke Yiddish;
but then I’d have to eat chopped liver,
and gefilte fish.”


The Fall Line-Up

KC Nights
Members of the chattering class will spend October curled in fetal position, their only human contact coming in the form of a Guatemalan pizza deliveryman, growing fat and sloppy as they binge-watch this enigmatic drama. KC Nights features an ensemble cast that includes seven Oscar winners, two rappers/business moguls, and at least one retired Pope. The show displays all the hallmarks of the great American novel, only it is more literary and novelistic. Is there a character outside of Shakespeare’s stronger works as rich with torment as Detective Lincoln Gibb, about whom we know less with each passing episode? The whole series hurtles toward a climactic finale that you will not understand. Note that KC Nights airs on neither broadcast television nor cable, but rather an Internet streaming service that is thoroughly incompatible with the rest of your home entertainment system.

Street Vikings
Critics are agog over this urban crime drama, which resembles not a traditional TV program so much as a masterpiece from the golden age of film, if only Valentino had talked onscreen and frequently employed the N-word. (more…)

Fire Up the Turntable with Hess Is More

Sure, in the most strict, technical sense, 2014 has some life remaining in it. But unless Redd Foxx transforms into a zombie and crawls from his profanity-strewn Las Vegas grave wielding Funky Tales from a Dirty Old Junk Man II, we have our album-of-the-year candidate: Myheadisaballroom / Whoneedsapalaceanyway, by the NYC/Copenhagen aggregate Hess Is More. Or perhaps it’s Hessismore—lord knows what the space bar did to this band, but it must be both personal and vicious. The album, released as a joint venture by This Is Care Of and Concierge Records, is the latest of several orchestrated by the drummer and singer Mikkel Hess. Yet Ballroom marks the first Hess album to spotlight the commanding New York band that has gathered around the musician in recent years. Like all smart New York entertainers, the Hess players are veterans of the Lowbrow Reader Variety Hour, having performed at our 2010 Housing Works Bookstore concert. Furthering our connection, Lowbrow Reader editor Jay Ruttenberg contributed liner notes to the album. What’s not to love? Order the record today!

Professor Irwin Corey Turns 100

Wondering why banks are closed today, mail delivery is canceled, and fireworks are lighting up the North American sky? A glance at your calendar should clear everything up—it’s July 29. That’s right, it’s Professor Irwin Corey’s birthday! In fact, not only is it July 29, but it happens to be July 29, 2014, which means it is Professor Irwin Corey’s 100th birthday. We salute the New York comedian and Lowbrow Reader friend while wishing him another century of mischief. Read all about Professor Corey in the new Lowbrow Reader issue (in our Gilbert Gottfried article). Above is a picture of Corey (by Sam Johnson) performing at The Lowbrow Reader Reader book release show in 2012, when he was a young whippersnapper of 97.


Announcing…Lowbrow Reader #9!

We are thrilled to announce the publication of our new issue, Lowbrow Reader #9. It is the first Lowbrow Reader to hit stands since Drag City published our book anthology, The Lowbrow Reader Reader, in 2012. Order the issue today via our handy ordering page!

Lowbrow #9 will set you back $4, shipping included. Is it worth it? Come on! Check out the Table of Contents:


One Star

Let me begin with the service, which is abysmal. On more than one occasion, I have arrived at the establishment to find our table unprepared and cluttered. More appalling, during these same visits, the kitchen staff has charged myself and a fellow diner, Caitlin, with clearing and setting the table ourselves. Often, upon a dinner’s completion, patrons are tasked with bussing their own dirty dishes and aiding the dishwasher—a harried man who works at the beck and call of the chef. The simple rituals of this job seem to lie beyond his apparently limited capabilities.

The menu, while broad, varies in quality. As each night’s fare is decided upon by the chef, be wary in planning your visit. Spaghetti, the lone dish of Italian origin, is served with a frequency bordering on the lazy. It is cooked al dente, with an uninspired meaty sauce that reads as distinctly inauthentic, yet passes muster. Be sure to add extra gobs of Parmesan cheese to the dish, though only if the chef allows you to do so and/or is distracted with other matters. The tacos, cooked with a spicy Tex-Mex twist and served buffet style, are more satisfying. Do try the guacamole, a house specialty. And don’t dare miss the signature dish: cheeseburgers, a seasonal favorite prepared by the aforementioned dishwasher on an outdoor grill and, thus, served only during warmer months.

Note that the kitchen is inconsistent when addressing dietary restrictions. For instance, during the two-month window that Caitlin was experimenting with vegetarianism, her eating habits were painstakingly accommodated. On some nights, the prix fixe menu was even altered, so that her fellow patrons were forced to forsake meat and poultry against their will. However, during the same period, when a second, smarter diner announced to the wait staff that he would be eating only those foods derived from the chocolate family, his diet was dismissed out of hand and even mocked.

On a similar note, be mindful of the establishment’s quirks. I can think of no other local eatery that forces its patrons to fully consume a (revolting) side of brussels sprouts before being allowed to proceed to the dessert menu. Despite much vehement lobbying from the clientele against this monstrously unfair edict, it seems likely to stand.

The atmosphere is homey and quaint, and the dress code decidedly lax. On religious holidays and other select evenings, patrons are served hors d’oeuvres—standard issue cheese platters, crackers, and dips—before retreating to a more formal and rarely used dining room. On these occasions, a sommelier, Uncle Donny, is present. He is knowledgeable in all matters of wine, beer, and liquor, much to the dismay of the chef.

Some words on sanitation: Whether or not the kitchen is up to code remains in doubt. The proprietors have flagrantly neglected to display a lettered grade, which is an odd development in light of their excessive concern regarding the grades received by others. Were a sanitation inspector to visit the premises, he would encounter a Labrador retriever freely roaming both cooking and dining areas; Caitlin and her annoying friend Stacy refusing to wear shoes or socks while eating; and a cook who dons neither hairnet nor disposable plastic gloves. So eat at your own risk.

Although getting a table is never a problem (reservations are not required), the kitchen’s hours of operation prove erratic. At times, it seems as though service depends entirely on the schedule of the dishwasher, who works a second job. Furthermore, the chef—who has the volatile temperament of many in her trade—is known to erupt at those patrons who drift into her kitchen seeking chocolate appetizers while dinner is being prepared. Indeed, despite the odd culinary triumph, the inherent lack of professionalism from the staff makes it difficult to recommend frequenting the establishment at all.

The prices, however, are quite reasonable.

Coming Attractions

From the Borscht Belt to Seinfeld at the Society of Illustrators

Groucho, Harpo and Chico, by Drew Friedman

There are some lovely art shows in New York this season: Gauguin at MoMA, Bill Cunningham’s Facades at the New-York Historical Society, and the final Whitney Biennial before the museum makes like a New Jersey woman searching for pumps and heads to the Meatpacking District. But as far as we can tell, only one art show exhibits portraits of Joan Rivers and Professor Irwin Corey, and that is Drew Friedman’s Old Jewish Comedians, at the Society of Illustrators. The exhibition draws from Friedman’s mind-blowing Old Jewish Comedians book trilogy, published as part of Fantagraphics’s Blab! series—read an interview with Friedman about his old Jews from The Comics Journal, conducted a few years back by Lowbrow editor Jay Ruttenberg. Alongside Friedman’s original artwork for the books, visitors to the Society of Illustrators can view the artist’s personal collection of ephemera related to the Hebraic funnymen. On second thought, who cares about that hack Gauguin? This is the art show to end all art shows!

The Old Jewish Comedians exhibition is on display until May 3. The best time to drop by, however, is Thursday, April 24, at 7pm, when the Society of Illustrators hosts a related panel, “From the Borscht Belt to Seinfeld: The Evolution of Jewish American Comedy.” Panelists include Friedman himself plus Edward Portnoy (a Yiddish language and literature and specialist, as mandated by his surname); comic actor Larry Storch (F Troop); and sitcom writers Bill Persky (That Girl) and Tom Leopold (Seinfeld). Friedman and Storch will sign copies of Friedman’s Old Jewish Comedians books. Order tickets at

Things Not to Say to the Man I Just Started Dating*

“You probably don’t recognize me with pants on.”

“Did you get all the pictures of everything I ingested today?”

“What do you mean you don’t like being tickled?”

“Want anything from the coffee shop across the street? I’m heading over there to defecate.”

“Let’s role-play True Detective during sex. I’ll mumble a bunch of things and you can ignore them.”

“I’m in the process of lasering all the hair off my body.”

“Do you think your apartment is large enough for us to raise a child?”

“Can we address quiffing real quick?”

“So, should I count you in for all holiday dinners?”

[Post sex] “Way to go, champ.” [Motions for a high-five.] “Up top!” (more…)