Marathon Man

I was in NYC the first weekend of November to watch my brother James run his first marathon. It was a true family affair as James ran for Fred's Team to raise money for Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center where my other brother Alan works. James raised something like $13,000, just an amazing amount.

I flew in late Thursday night. The next day, while James was off at work, I got up and just walked around. New York City is still my favorite among all the cities I've lived in, and I suspect it's because it's the one city where I can feel both alone and among people at the same time.

I stopped for lunch at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, one of the outlets in the David Chang empire. Back when I lived in NYC, I came here on its first day open, when they still didn't have a menu. It was like a burrito bar back then, and when I walked in the one guy behind the kitchen counter looked surprised to see anyone. Now it's transformed into a fairly chic sit-down joint with a menu and prix fixe lunch. I had crispy pork belly buns...

Pork buns at Momofuku Ssam

...and spicy rice cakes.

Spicy rice cakes at Momofuku Ssam

It was Friday, Halloween, but more importantly, it was the last day of the Banksy exhibit in the West Village, The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill. I managed to get there just about a half hour before it closed.

Banksy is to the art world as Michel Gondry is to music videos, just conceptually brilliant. This faux pet store wasn't populated with the real animals. Instead, there was a depressed and caged Tweety...

Tweety Bird in a cage

...a caged animatronic monkey wearing headphones, clicking on a remote control, and watching a TV playing a documentary about monkeys free in the wild...

Monkey channel surfing

Monkey watching tv

Monkey watching monkey documentary

...a rabbit looking in a mirror and applying lipstick...

Rabbit applying lipstick

...animatronic fish fingers swimming in fishbowl...

Fish sticks

...and animatronic sausages squirming around like earthworms.

Animatronic sausage in cage

A leopard fur coat basked in a tree branch, its "tail" hanging down and swaying lazily. A rooster watched over its children, little Chicken McNuggets with legs bobbing for food.

Not Banksy's most subtle social commentary, but a humorous conceit executed simply. According to the security guard, the exhibit was on its way to London next.

That night I caught a production of David Mamet's Speed the Plow at the Barrymore Theater on Broadway. This three person meditation on the conflict between art and commerce in Hollywood starred Jeremy Piven, Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson on Mad Men), and Raul Esparza.

Speed the Plow

Bashing Hollywood for favoring money over art is hardly an original form of cynicism, but the underrated Piven is always fun to watch on stage. He plays a character not so unlike his Ari Gold from Entourage: Bobby Gould is a studio exec tasked with making commercial hits. When Elizabeth Moss, a temp secretary, playing someone not unlike her Peggy Olson in Season One of Mad Men, appeals to his conscience to push for an adaptation of a dense and decidedly depressing novel (for some reason I thought of Blindness by Saramago), the battle for his soul is on, with Raul Esparza playing the devil on his shoulder, having brought Gould a made-to-order action script with a big star attached.

Piven has a way of making greed warm and fuzzy. His Ari Gold and Bobby Gould both talk a game of mindless materialism, but the body language conveys a person not entirely comfortable with all the bravado. We see in Piven our own greedy nature, but because we sense his chance for redemption is our own, and so we root for him. Tony Soprano and Don Draper are part of a recently crowded stable of antiheroes, and Piven is like their comedic brother.

After the play, I set off to my old neighborhood haunt of Union Square. I'd read that there would be a flash mob of Sarah Palin look-a-likes this Halloween night, but only a few materialized. Dagmar and Alex, two other folks from UCLA Film School were in town for a thesis shoot, so I met up with them and followed them around, taking pics of Dagmar with costumes that struck her fancy. We snapped a lot Palins, among others. But the most popular costume, by far, perhaps for ease of creation, was Heath Ledger's smudged-lipstick-and-white-face-paint Joker.

The night ended, as many busy social days in NYC end, with my sister Karen hobbling in pain alongside me at 3am in her Audrey Hepburn circa Breakfast at Tiffany's high heels, the two of us trying and failing to find a single unoccupied taxi in Greenwich Village.

The night before the marathon, we all stayed at the Westin in Times Square as James and all the Fred's Team runners were put up there for their fundraising efforts. They got their own transportation to the start line.

The family met up to watch him at the Fred's Team viewing bleachers on 1st Ave., near 67th St, around mile 17. We saw the wheelchair division fly by. One man in a wheelchair stopped across the street, attached a pair of artificial legs below his knees, and ran. The competitive women and then the competitive men flew by, and we saw both eventual winners in those groups.

Thanks to the marathon's e-mail alerts, we knew when James was approaching. As he ran by, giving Alan and the kids a quick hug, I shouted out to him to "Drop the hammer!" He looked back, then down at the street, puzzled, thinking I'd said that he'd dropped something.

James makes a pit stop

Group hug

We tried to make it across town to the finish line to catch him, but he was too fast. He'd already finished in an impressive 3:57 by the time we waded through the Central Park mob.

Congrats, on both the great time and the amazing fundraising haul! Each speaks volumes, one to his obsessive nature, the other to his likability.