Counting Down to 2009

I am back from the seven days I spent holed up at my parents' house. It's strange to have been there for so long. First of all, there's not much for me to do there except eat and watch television, which may not sound all that bad except for the part where I get stir crazy and want to scream, and the part where everyone starts getting on each other's nerves. Compared to some people's Christmasses (like my friend V's), ours is completely tame and right out of a Frank Capra movie. But now I am back in my city, where I don't need a car to go pick up a Red Bull, and I don't have my well-meaning but obsessive compulsive mother panicking when I run out to the grocery store and don't come back in five minutes.

The song from SNL's "Dancing Lamps" skit has finally stopped repeating in my head (see last post), and tomorrow my friend L. and I are going to go to a couple of movies. During my stint in the low-security captivity of my parent's house, I made my first New Year's resolution in twenty years, a particularly apropos one now that I've reached mid-life and all of the psychological crisis that surrounds it: Avoid becoming pathetic.

That's probably always good advice.

UPDATE: My brother-in-law questioned my New Year's resolution, and I realize in this hasty post that I probably should explain this a bit further.

The thing about hitting middle age is the tendency to turn into a lizard, where the only great urges left are to lie still on a rock in the sun and eat bugs. The next step after that, which is pretty much the state my mother has fallen into, is to turn into a mushroom, where you don't even want to be in the sun, but have convinced yourself that you are content staying inside watching the Law and Order marathon on TV and worrying about the weather in other parts of the country. Not that there's anything wrong with that, not when you are in fact closing in on eighty, like she is. I just worry sometimes that I (and several of my friends -- you know who you are) might be heading there a little too fast.



Notes from SNL’s Stand-by Tickets Line, Part V: Another Line

This post starts here at Part I.
I know, the suspense is killing you.

When last we saw our tired, tweaked, insane heroes, they had all finally gotten their standby tickets and were free to actually go anywhere they wanted, not just the McDonald’s, the Duane Reade and the Tree. And where did they all go? They went to get something to eat, they went home, and they went to sleep, not necessarily in that order.

The Kids, as you recall, were not able to go home if they wanted to be back in time for the show, so they faced another 12 hours wandering around the city, where they were fast running out of money and steam. But off they went, excited about their stand-by tickets.

L. and I were in search of coffee and food. We ended up at the Stardust diner. We ordered coffee before we even looked at the menus, and then ordered the overpriced, oversized breakfasts.

“I forgot to mention,” I said. “The last time we saw SNL, we were sitting behind two giant lights.”

“Yeah, that happens. Partially obstructed view seats.”

“Yeah, these were almost entirely blocked. But still, it would really suck if we didn’t get in after waiting all night. I’ll be happy with anything.”

The wait staff started singing to music-minus-one CDs. Yes, we know it’s the theater district, and therefore all of the wait staff were budding performers, but it was too early to be hearing their signature Christmas song about Kosher wine. (sadly, I am not making that up.). On the other hand, it distracted me from fretting about asking for the wrong tickets, and it kept L. from having to keep hearing about it.

After three cups of coffee and half the eggs in front of us were consumed, L. and I headed home to sleep.

Duh, again.

Sleep never came for either of us, unless you count the fifteen minutes or so between the next caffeine rush. I got a lot of errands done, wrote Part I of this blog post, bought groceries, sorted laundry, took a shower, got dressed, watched the rest of the Craig Ferguson show that I had TiVo’d while we were in line… you get the picture. No sleep. Very, very awake. At 4pm L. texted me: “Are you awake yet?”

I called her right back. “Not yet,” I said. “Still.”

We made plans to meet later. She was going to take the 7 train, because weird weekend things were happening to the E.

So I watched the Saturday afternoon rerun of House and left for Grand Central Station.

That’s right. Two intelligent, savvy New Yorkers decided that the place to meet on a Saturday night two weeks before Christmas was the clock in Grand Central Station. Wall to wall people, and more people than usual because they were having a lights show. Duh one more time.

When L. called to tell me she had arrived, we were four feet away from each other.

And it was worse when we got to Rockefeller Plaza. Every person on the planet was there to see The Tree and the Christmas windows and God knows what else..

“Watch your bag,” L advised.

“No shit.”

And finally, we were inside, and waiting on another line.

“I bet the Kids went home,” L. said.


“Because they were running out of money, had no place to sleep, and no place to park the car.”

“Hmm. True. Sam seemed really unhappy about the whole thing. But you know, they’re young and resourceful. I bet they make it.”

A few minutes later, there they were.

After a loud happy reunion, I asked them if they slept.

“Yeah. At the McDonald’s!”

As it got closer to the moment of truth, The Kids started negotiating. If only two of them got in, Ruvin would let Chris and Sam in. If only one of them got in?

“We’re all going to get in,” Chris said.

I started to feel guilty again. What if The Kids didn’t get in after we — okay, I —convinced them to stay up all night in the city and wait for tickets instead of turning around and heading back to Rhode Island?

Blood on my hands.

The first 29 were called. We waved forlornly to A. and R. as they were whisked away to go through security.

“Okay, this could really suck,” I said.

“By the way," L. said. "If we get separated, just go. Don’t worry about me.”

Kind of like war buddies: “Don’t worry about me. Save yourself!”

They let twenty more of us through security. Still no guarantee of being let upstairs, but we could feel victory in our grasps. A group of people, again, cut off just before me, were let into the elevator.

And then: “Okay, the next 6.”

There was great rejoicing.

The warm-up guy was already announcing the show when we got upstairs. They were now just filling sporadic empty seats. L. and I were extremely lucky and got put in two seats in the front row of the right section (stage left) of the balcony. The Kids were way off in a section even further to our right, a section perpendicular to the stage.

But we all got in. There were several people in back of us that got in as well, seated during a pre-show performance of Maya Rudolph doing Tina Turner.

The show was mad fun. And our host did not look like he was going to have a nervous breakdown this time. The proverbial Christmas miracle, all around.

Note to Hugh: Your joke about Oliver Twist? I think most of us New Yorkers who didn't get that one right away were thinking that suddenly being surrounded by a bunch of dancers is something that might actually happen in New York, especially in Rockefeller Plaza at Christmastime. I was once walking home in the Village and was followed down a street by a marching band. Things like that happen here.

Note to TV Guide: The Singing Lamps were fun. Guess you had to be there.

Either that, or I was punch drunk.



Notes from SNL’s Stand-by Tickets Line, Part IV: Duh

This post starts here at Part I.

The three or so of you who have been following this saga who were not actually there may well be wondering: why on earth would anyone even consider standing in the cold for 5 hours, with no guarantee of any kind of payoff?

I was wondering that more and more as the night went on.

Stand-by tickets do not guarantee you entrance to SNL, but they are the only way to get in to a specific show, other than being close personal friends with your chosen Joe (or Josephine) Heartthrob or Music God.

Both times I did this, it seemed like a good idea in theory. Not so much when we were in the middle of it.

The next three hours went excruciatingly (is that a word?) slow. It’s a little known fact that time virtually stands still between the hours of 4am and 7am. Since sane people are not usually awake at those hours, or if they are, they’re not sober, most people are not aware of this phenomenon.

We did some science experiments. For instance, did you know that you are warmer standing than sitting? A.’s theory was it’s because you are closer to the sun. She’s a school teacher, so we believed her. Also, our brains were beginning to freeze and were no longer working properly.

Hmmm… 4:10am. I think that’s when R. told me to stop looking at my watch.

Closer to 5am more people were arriving to get on line, a full two hours after the Gaggle of Girls had joined us, and it occurred to me we could have gotten there at 4 and still have been fine. At 5:30, they turned on the tree in Rockefeller Plaza. We took turns taking walks over there — what was it, about ten feet? We were being rebels, though. I had read on the NBC site that people aren’t allowed to leave the SNL stand-by line except to pee or similar kinds of emergencies. For us there was no one around to police the line, no one cared, and we were free to wander around all we wanted — to McDonald’s, to the Duane Reade, and now to The Tree.

At six o’clock people in uniforms told us to get our things off the sidewalk and form a proper line. We were in the home stretch.

Ruvin called Chris and Sam (that’s actually her name, not “Debra”), who were still in the car, and told them to get their butts back in line. Sam was really suffering. Again, the only sane person for miles: all she wanted to do was sleep.

Now everyone was in planning mode: dress, or rehearsal?

“Whichever is the lower number,” I kept repeating. “Probably dress.”

Eventually an official SNl representative came out and shouted instructions to the line. She had to do this every 30 people or so. I would think the whole process would be more efficient if they gave her a megaphone and a partner who started at the other end of the line. But I'm not in charge of these things.

Her last words were: “Know what show you want.”

The Kids were in a huddle behind me, and they let out a shout: ‘Dress!”

“Hey,” I said, “You want to influence everyone ahead of you to take dress?”

They thought about this a moment.


In the kaleidoscope that was now my brain, I became nervous about asking what number they were on. I thought, “She wants us to know before we get there?” So when it was my turn, I just asked for dress so I wouldn't cause any trouble.

The post-mortem just past the handoff, where people were comparing their tickets, It turned out Live tickets were at number 16. L. and my dress tickets were numbers 30 and 31.

“How did that happen?” I was crushed.

“The woman in front of A. asked how many tickets were given out, and they said more were given out for the dress rehearsal,” L. said.

“Argh! They did?”

We had gotten through the hard part, and then I blew it on the easy part. And The Kids followed my lead. If we didn’t get in, it would be all my fault.

Next: Part V: Another line



Notes from SNL’s Stand-by Tickets Line, Part III: No, Janice, the McDonalds on 50th Street Does Not Serve Tequila.

This post starts here at Part I.

One of the skateboarders sleeps on his skateboard.
Sometimes in the City That Never Sleeps, that's all you want to do.

The initial excitement of The Kids (as L. and I had started referring to them) joining the line was now waning enough for all of us to realize the ugly realities of the situation: 4 hours to go, 25°, no place to sit, and few distractions.

The Kids did have a blanket and a towel that they had had in the car, so “Debra” wrapped herself up and sat on the towel, leaning against the police barrier. L. meanwhile took this opportunity to call her husband in France. My French is rather sketchy, at best, even though it was my major in college, and his English is nonexistent, so when she handed over the phone to me, I just said “Alo” like an idiot and quickly returned it to L.

There were two guys with skateboards a few people ahead of A. and R., who offered to go on a coffee run, bless their hearts. L. and I were trying not to drink too much, figuring places to relieve oneself would be hard to find, but now it was after 3am and by then coffee was the best idea we had ever heard of. At the suggestion of McDonalds, “Janice” piped up:

“Does McDonald’s have tequila?”

She was kidding. We think.

Someone produced a deck of cards — I think it came from the gaggle of girls, but somehow there seemed to be a few young men with them now who had appeared out of no where, so it could have been one of them. The Gaggle and the Kids started a card game, while The Adults (that would be L. and I, plus A. and R.) amused ourselves with conversations about jobs and travel. I had a lively customs story to impart — not mine, but about a friend of mine, which is what most of my stories are about. L. and I can’t remember what she was talking about now, but she told a story that happened with her ex husband. We think it was about Italy.

“But that was with the first husband,” L. said.

A. and R. nodded. Everyone understands about the First Husband.

Out of nowhere, and to no one in particular, Janice called out: “Who thinks Hugh Laurie is hot?”

Everyone in earshot, young and old(er), male and female, straight or gay, turned around to face her and raised their hands. Janice was satisfied with that answer.

Now that the skateboarders had done the coffee run, a sense of adventure came over the line. Where could we go in this city that never sleeps?

After a bit of discussion, this is what was decided: Two all-night McDonald’s, one at 50th and one at Broadway and 46th Street, and a 24-hour Duane Reade on 48th Street. And maybe a store or two in Times Square.

R. wandered off towards Times Square, and L. went to smoke a cigarette behind a van that was parked across the street. Chris and Debra went to go sleep in their car.

Ruvin said he hoped that Kanye would be singing Heartless, and when I was having trouble remembering which song that was, he played it for me on his phone. It didn’t sound like much coming from that little speaker, and I wondered to myself why I hadn’t thought to bring any one of my 3 iPods. Maybe next time….

Next time? Oh, no, no, no, no, no. No.

R. came back, carrying a newspaper and a People magazine.

“Wow,” I said. “How smart is that?”

“Well… I don’t want to be the First Husband.”

Then it was A.’s turn to take a walk. Not to the McDonald’s. They had rest rooms that were open to the public, but they also had homeless people sleeping at the tables. She headed over to the Duane Reade.

“They don’t have public restrooms there,” I said to R.

“She’ll talk her way in,” R. said, “She’s good at that.”

When she returned, she reported that she had indeed talked her way in. And she bought Ruvin a pair of socks.

Next: Part IV: Duh.



Notes from SNL’s Stand-by Tickets Line, Part II: Spotanuity

This post starts here at Part I.

See how we're all smiling? We'd only been in line about an hour.

Next step: Prepare for this insanity.

My co-conspirator, L., and I decided that, since it wasn’t snowing or hailing, maybe we’d go earlier than 4am, probably around 2. We would watch Craig Ferguson’s monologue, then head up to 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

The E train wasn’t cooperating, but we did manage to get there at our targeted time.

The line was a reasonable length, not as reasonable as two years ago when it was sleeting, but not terrible, maybe about 50 people or so. So we did not turn around and head to a bar and then home. We got in line.

I assumed, from the tents and sleeping bags that most everyone had that there were a lot of regulars in line. There was a very nice couple in front of us, armed with camping chairs, who we found out were only there because the wife counterpart of this couple, who I will refer to as “A.,” wanted to see Hugh Laurie, who she referred to as “my television boyfriend.” Her husband, R., was being a very good sport about the whole thing; they had driven in from New Canaan.

L. and I were bundled in several layers of t-shirts, long underwear, and were wearing double gloves and winter boots. It was something like 28 degrees, but I was starting to sweat. People who were walking by kept asking us what the heck we were doing standing on a line in the middle of the night. A fair question, especially when you consider there was no guarantee that any of us would ever see the inside of the building, much less the show.

Of the four of us — the others in line were trying hard to ignore us, either reading or trying to sleep, which was becoming increasingly more difficult the louder our conversation got — I was the only one who had done this before, so I had become the designated expert. I explained what would happen with the tickets, if we didn’t expire before 7am: They ask you which show you want, dress or live. Last time, we took dress, because when we asked what number tickets they were up to, there had been fewer requests at that point for dress, and after having frozen our ninnies off for three hours, we wanted our best chance to see the show. So my advice was: ask, and take the lowest numbered tickets.

That took up about 15 minutes. 4 hours and 45 minutes to go.

At about 2:30, three very young adults were walking by and asked us what we were in line for, and we, again, explained ourselves. This following is the gist of the resulting conversation, minus the repetition and overlapping and parts I can’t remember exactly:

The kid in the pink I Heart New York sweatshirt: “You’re kidding. Hugh Laurie’s the host?”
L: “You should wait with us and get tickets, too.”
The level-headed female: “We can’t. We have to find my car.”
L: “Where did you leave it?”
The light-haired kid: “35th Street. Where can we park around here?”

The female was, rightly so, skeptical.

Mr I Heart New York: "Who’s the musical guest?”
Me: "Kanye West."

It was about this point that I Heart New York’s head exploded. He hopped the barricade and got in line behind us.

His friends were not convinced.

"We have to go back to Rhode Island. And what are we going to do with the car? And then what are we going to do in New York City all day until the show? And what if we don't get in?"

IHNY: “We have to do this! C’mon. Show a little spotanuity.”

We all looked at him.

“Spontaneity,” A. corrected him.
“What are you, my mother?”
“School teacher.”

Their story, in a nutshell:

They were showing great spotanuity, indeed, and in fact, the whole evening had been quite spotanuitous. Earlier that evening, this trio had decided, on a whim, to leave the culinary college they were attending in Providence and head to New York for dinner. They were walking around, deciding what to do next, when they happened upon the SNL stand-by tickets line. I Heart New York, whose name is Ruvin, had not only left his sick girlfriend behind to come to the city, but he claimed his mother would pull him out of school if she found out he had left Providence.

Note to Ruvin’s mom: I am making this whole thing up.

Their car was parked in the garment district, so after L. and I explained several times how to find their car and get back to 49th Street, Ruvin stayed with us, while his friend Chris and Chris’s girlfriend (who’s name neither L. nor I can remember now, to our dismay) went to get the car.

If they were proper adults, with jobs and all that, they could have put the car in a garage for the night.

Their spotanuitous action of leaving Providence resulted in Ruvin being woefully underdressed to be walking around the city in the middle of winter. Thus, the I Heart NY sheatshirt, which he no doubt bought in Times Square. He had chosen pink, he explained, because he was going to give it to a female friend of his. He was also wearing open-toed Birkenstocks, and his toes were becoming numb. We convinced him to put his gloves on his feet and stick his hands in his pockets.

Chris and his girlfriend, who I am going to call “Debra” so she has a name, returned, and parked the car in a sort-of legal spot across the street. When they finally got back to the line, the trio began to talk simultaneously. Anyone trying to sleep in line at this point had given up all hope. Somehow it came up that Chris and Ruvin were having a weight loss challenge. They were going to go skydiving in March, and there was going to be some kind of weigh-in. Chris ran to the car and returned with a scale that they had bought at the Duane Reade. To our horror, the two started taking off their clothes so they could be weighed.

We stopped Chris when he started unbuttoning his jeans.

Sorry, I do not have photo evidence of this event. You all will have to make do with this shot of Ruvin’s calf.

Ruvin's calf. If you look closely, you can see the silly gloves on his toes.

Shortly after Ruvin and Chris put their clothes back on, a tiny young woman appeared, who I will name Janice, because she had a very Joplin-esque way about her. She wasn’t wearing a coat and explained to everyone that it was because she was drunk. She spent a few moments with the trio gushing about Hugh Laurie, and then after introductions and back-story telling — she had flown in from somewhere, and I was wondering if it was just to see the show, which is never a good idea since entrance is not guaranteed — she offered up her hotel room to the trio so they could have a place to crash after we got our tickets at 7am.

A little while later a gaggle of giggly girls armed with face stickers (“Do you want to be a fairy or a princess?” Yuck!) took their places behind the culinary trio and Janice. And that was about it for the line for the next hour or so.

Four hours to go, and my toes were getting cold.

Next: Part III: No, Janice, the McDonalds on 50th Street Does Not Serve Tequila.



Notes from SNL’s Stand-by Tickets Line, Part I: Gluttons for Punishment

The front of the line, where we were not.

The thing about waiting in the standby tickets line for Saturday Night Live is that it’s a serious pain in the ass. This is basically how it works these days:

There are something like 200 seats for each SNL show (i.e., dress rehearsal and live show). There are three kinds of tickets. They are, in order of importance:
1) VIP tickets, which are given to friends and family of the guest host and musician de la nuit, and, I assume, the regular cast.
2) the tickets that people got sent to them via the internet lottery that happens sometime in August (i.e., "real" tickets)
3) stand-by tickets

Say the host that week is Joe Heartthrob, and Joe wants to give 200 of his closest friends and family members tickets to the live show. If everyone shows up, then likely no real ticket holders, and certainly no standy-by ticket holders, will be getting into the live show, because VIP tickets trump everyone. (Note that dress rehearsal tickets and live tickets are different. If you have one, you can't use it for the other, although the same rules apply.)

On the other hand, if Joe has pissed off everybody he knows, and the musical guest has no friends or family, and the friends and family of the regular cast are sick of the show and don't care anymore, then any real ticket holder who shows up will get in, and the number of people who do not show up will be the number of standby ticket holders who get in.

The last (and only) time a friend and I did this, 31 people were let into the dress rehearsal. We were numbers 11 and 12.

Now, this is the deal with getting stand-by tickets.

The usual crowd who do standby start lining up with their chairs and tents and sleeping bags and portable TVs and what-not sometime late Friday afternoon, weather permitting. Yes, they sleep on the sidewalk all night. These are the regulars, many, I'm told, who go to every SNL show they can. A few have been doing this for decades. The more popular the guest, the earlier people start lining up. I read somewhere on the internet that one year, when Steve Martin was the host, people started lining up on Wednesday.

The earlier you line up the better, because they give the tickets out, one to a person, numbered and in the order you are in line, at 7am.

That year when Steve Martin was the host and people started lining up so early? No standby ticket holders got into either show, and, if there were any VIP tickets issued, some of the "real" ticket holders would not have gotten in either. On the other hand, there have been times in the show’s history where the number of stand-by ticket holders let into the show was something hovering around 100. Why? Snowstorms in NYC.

That all being said, this is what my friend and I did last time. We figured we had a couple of things going for us. First, the show we were aiming for was on Halloween weekend, which in New York City is basically like Mardi Gras, so there a lot of parties to go to and people might not be using the tickets that were sent to them, and/or might not be trying the stand-by thing. And then the weather turned really foul the Friday before the show.

We decided that we would go up to Rockefeller Plaza at around 4am, and see what the line was like. If the line was around the block, we'd go get breakfast and forget it. There were only 30 people ahead of us, so we got in line. And we did get in. But picture three hours of cold, wet, sleet and brutal winds. Joe Heartthrob better be worth it.

I had no plans on doing this ever again. The only reasons I even considered trying it two years ago, other than it looked like we might have a shot, was because I had lived in the city for 20+ years and had never seen the show live, and because the Joe Heartthrob du jour was Hugh Laurie, and the musician was Beck.

Now let’s fast forward, and Joe Heartthrob, I mean Mr. Laurie, is hosting again. My first thought was “Wow, that guy’s a glutton for punishment,” because he was a wreck the last time; when he walked out to do his monologue, he looked like he had just been shot out of a cannon. My second thought was, although I was interested in seeing the show, I was not ever going to wait in that line again.

Until a different crazy friend of mine (I do have a few of them) texted me and said, “I’ve never seen SNL. I think we should try and go.”

So I did do this again last night. Talk about being a glutton for punishment. . . .

Next: Part II: “Spotanuity”



Maybe Next Year

When I saw this last year, and when I found out that some kind person had uploaded this video of the moment to You Tube, I swore I would post it to my blog.

So here it is: Patti Smith singing "O Holy Night," from her Dec 31, 2007, concert at the Bowery Ballroom.

To those of you who are familiar with Ms Smith, but have not heard her sing this, you are in for a treat. As you are all aware, Ms Smith is not a "singer," per se... not like a Luciano Pavoratti, or ever (shudder) a Celine Dion, or any performer blessed with an outstanding singing voice. But imagine being at one of her concerts, that thunderous rock, the poetic wordsmanship, that in-your-face brazen rebellious spirit, crashing down all around you, and then she slows everything down to a whisper and surprises the audience with something so traditional -- in fact, maybe the most traditional of all, if one could compare such a thing -- and so precious. And that New-Years-Eve-Bowery-Ballroom-New-York-City audience became silent, and hardly breathed for four-ish minutes. Because, while Patti is not a singer in the traditional American Idol sense (and thank God for that), no one puts over a lyric like Patti.

Now if the tall guy in front of our videographer would just remove his head!

I am sad to report that I am not going to see her this year, because the tickets sold out faster than I could get any of my silly friends to make a decision about going. Oh, well. There's always Sirius Radio!

UPDATE: I am posting this version from Dec 29th that same year, because, while the video was shot from farther away, it's from the beginning and includes her spoken intro. I also think she sings it better. I saw her sing this on the 30th, and have yet to find a clip from that night.

Notice in this version some idiot starts yammering on to her (I think it's a her) friend. I mean really, you can't shut up for 5 minutes?


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