Epic Secrets Revealed!

So I was mowing the lawn and letting my mind wander, as I often do, when I started thinking about 2007’s feel-good Christmas movie of the year, I Am Legend, in which Will Smith takes on thousands of zombie vampires in the deserted streets of New York and doesn’t live to tell the tale. Good times.

Seriously, I really enjoyed the flick. Living in New York, I’ve often wondered what the place would be like if everyone disappeared, and the movie did a great job of presenting it. That said, the idea of the end of civilization isn’t exactly new fodder for movies – hell, this was the second remake of the first movie, which in turn was based off a book – but it was still entertaining enough that I saw it twice, and haunting enough to remind me that Will Smith was nominated for two Oscars.

But anyway, I was thinking about the poster for the movie, where Will Smith and his dog are walking along a pier by the shattered remains of the Brooklyn Bridge.

There was something familiar about it… post-apocalyptic survivor, last hero on Earth, gun in his right hand, loyal dog heeling on his left, strolling along one of the important sets of the movie…and then it hit me. I’d seen it before.

 

I don’t know if this was intentional, accidental, or a sly joke reflecting the $6.60 price of a gallon of gas in I Am Legend (hey, 2009’s not that far away!), but the similarity is pretty obvious, as you can see below.

 

On a related note, with the DVD version of I Am Legend out now comes the alternate ending, which you can watch below:

If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve either watched the video or don’t really care, so you won’t mind if I give away what happens:

Will Smith Lives.

Yes, the zombie vampires allow the Fresh Prince to walk away with his newfound friends, thus allowing them to drive off across the George Washington Bridge to Bethel, Vermont. (I think all Vermonters knew before this, by the way, that our state would ultimately be a haven for humanity in the event of apocalypse, and especially in cases of vampirezombiepocalypse. After all, how are those monsters supposed to survive up here? It’s below freezing eight months of the year, and all they have on are tattered shorts.)

But this only made me wonder…um, didn’t they blow up all the bridges?

And finally, yeah, they really should have used real actors for the vampire-zombies. Those CGI ones just look bad. And what’s with their jaws dislocating like that? Was there python DNA in that virus they were infected with?

Homeless Pets Find Love on the Streets

In a city known for sob stories, Dawn Baresin’s is one of the saddest.

She says she ran away from home in San Francisco 16 years ago, at age 12. She’s a reformed heroin addict. Her husband is in prison. She’s pregnant with another man’s child. (She doesn’t know whose.) She lives in an abandoned building in Brooklyn. She makes her living on the streets, surviving off the kindness of others.

Yet people often throw her $5 bills where they pass other homeless by. She has a camera phone she checks her voicemail on. She says she’s traveled to London and Paris, paying for half the ticket with money she made panhandling. (Her grandmother paid for the other half.)

And she’d like you to meet Tabitha, her 10-year-old dog.

Tabitha, a droopy-faced boxer with a salt-and-pepper muzzle, sits right beside Baresin in front of Whole Foods in Union Square several nights a week, her brown eyes pleading with pedestrians as her owner stares at the sidewalk. For Baresin, Tabitha isn’t just a best friend – she’s also her co-worker. For the homeless, having a pet can be a ticket to opening hearts – and wallets.

That’s not to say Baresin doesn’t care about her dog. Tabitha, who Baresin says she found abandoned under a bridge in Harlem eight years ago, goes wherever her owner goes. Baresin says they’ve traveled between New York and California several times, hitchhiking and hopping trains across the country.

“I got a really good vet who sees her for free,” Baresin says. Tabitha’s check-up last month came back clean, she says, apart from some small hematomas in her ears. “She still acts like a puppy, so I take that as a good sign.” Baresin’s grateful for the free care. Like many homeless people, she doesn’t want others to know how much money she makes. “As it is, people give me enough flak, calling me lazy. I survive,” she says.

But healthy homeless dogs are more common than one might suspect, according to Anita Edison of the ASPCA. Several years ago, she says, the ASPCA teamed up with the Bowery Rescue Mission to offer veterinary care to homeless pet owners across Manhattan, and found many animals “were up to date on vaccines and were, in fact, very healthy.”

“Often times, pets are a source of comfort and protection for a homeless person, and the ones that some of us at the ASPCA have personally come across [are] provided for and, in some instances, in better shape than their human counterparts,” Edison says.

Nelson, a 52-year-old man who says he’s been on the street for three years, agrees. His closest companion is a Maine Coon cat wearing a green sweater named Sylvester, who Nelson says he found as a kitten in the woods upstate eight years ago.

“That’s my only buddy right there,” he says, pointing to Sylvester – who’s sleeping on a pet bed with containers of Fancy Feast, kibble and clean water surrounding him. Nelson sits on a battered milk crate. “He doesn’t get on my nerves. People get on my nerves.”

Of course, there are downsides to homeless people having pets – the greatest being where they can’t go. Animals aren’t allowed in New York City’s homeless shelters.

Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst for Coalition for the Homeless, believes the ban is mostly for public health reasons. When homeless people with pets seek shelter, he says, his organization – a non-profit that runs outreach and support programs – has made arrangements with animal shelters and individuals to care for the pets.

 “We try to make as many accommodations with those folks as we can,” he says. “There’s no question, it’s a challenge.”

But not all homeless people want pets. Dave L., a 28-year-old Long Island native, says he is a heroin user who became addicted while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2001. He says he had a dog as a boy – but not anymore.

“I see these people with puppies out here,” he says, forming cigarettes with a plastic dime-store cigarette maker. “I see [Baresin] up the street here, they throw twenties at her, man. It’s all a big scam with the dog.”

Back in Union Square, a woman emerges from Whole Foods with a $5.39 box of organic dog treats and hands them to Baresin. “It’s for the dog,” the stranger says, and melts back into the river of pedestrians. Baresin opens the box, gives one to Tabitha, then huddles back under her dog-print blanket, head held low as her friend watches the people pass by.

The Living Ghosts of Little Italy

Anna Russo lives in Little Italy, and pays $83 a month in rent for her one-bedroom apartment.

The window looks down on Mulberry Street, the heart of Little Italy. Today, tourists gawk and walk between Italian restaurants spilling onto the sidewalk – but it wasn’t always that way.

“We used to play games in the street,” says Russo, who’s lived in Little Italy for all of her 80 years, and in her rent-controlled apartment for 50. “There was no traffic. It wasn’t like this.”

The transformation may have taken decades, but this lower Manhattan neighborhood’s slow hemorrhage of natives has taken its toll. As many of the area’s descendents have left for calmer places – like Russo’s daughter, a science teacher in Long Island – Little Italy seems to have abandoned much of its Italian heritage, leaving a few deeply-rooted locals with little to hold onto.

“No more Italian people – they’re gone,” says Russo. “We’re the Last of the Mohicans.”

Russo isn’t imagining the change. The neighborhood’s Italian population peaked at about 10,000 people in 1910, and has been vanishing at a much faster rate in the last few years – the number of people identifying themselves as Italian fell by 50 percent between 1990 and 2000.

Joseph Scelsa, president of the Italian American Museum, says there’s a simple reason the neighborhood’s Italians have disappeared – they’ve integrated into American society. “We’re everywhere,” Scelsa says. “We’ve been culturally assimilated.”

Originally, Scelsa says, Italians began settling in Little Italy because it was close to where ships from Europe unloaded their passengers – slightly more than half a mile from the East River. As families would immigrate to the neighborhood, relatives coming over would move to the same area as well.

“Unfortunately, we’ve integrated a little too well,” he says, and it’s Italian-American history that’s paying the price – including Little Italy.

“It’s a mere shadow of its former self,” he says of the neighborhood. “But there’s still plenty of Italian-Americans around.”

One of them is Salvadore Lunetto, 82, who moved here after World War II to be with his wife. Like many locals his age, he’s retired, and as he puts it, “retirement is very boring.” One of the things he looks forward to, however, is his daily jaunts to the DeSalvia Playground Park, where kids play on jungle gyms while the elderly sun themselves on benches.

“What was Little Italy’s now Little Chinatown,” says Lunetto, in reference to the massive influx of Asian immigrants in recent years. (In the three census tracts that make up Little Italy, almost 8,500 people identified themselves as Asian in the 2000 census – compared to about 5,000 that considered themselves Caucasian.)

Newcomer Petrea Davis agrees with that assessment. “It’s pretty [much] Chinatown if you ask me,” the 29-year-old says of the area surrounding her Mott Street apartment between Broome and Grand Streets – well within the 30-block zone traditionally defined as Little Italy.

Davis, who manages a shoe boutique at the corner of Mulberry and Spring Streets, moved into her apartment 10 months ago. Since then, she says she’s met plenty of people from the neighborhood – but the only Italians she meets are old-timers.

“I think all that’s left of the culture is the old people,” Davis says. “I love seeing them around. There’s nothing cuter than a little old Italian lady.”

Still, not all the area natives are old. Virginia Spota lives on Broome Street, across from the building she was born in 56 years ago. A former teacher at the neighborhood’s Old St. Patrick’s Catholic school and third-generation inhabitant of the area, she says her family has lived there since 1886 – and she can’t stand the way things have changed.

“It was better before,” Spota says. “We all knew each other – who the hell knows all these people?” she adds, gesturing to the tourists walking past on the street.

Some of the newer residents have their share of complaints with the older inhabitants, too. Stephanie Pappas owns Eva, a boutique along Mulberry Street that sells women’s apparel. Her biggest complaint stems from the Feast of San Gennaro festival, an annual street fair along Mulberry Street that draws over 1 million visitors.

“It’s just really dirty and it keeps people out of our neighborhood,” says Pappas. “It’s noisy and disgusting.”

Even the restaurants – one of the neighborhood’s few remaining ties to its heritage – don’t get as much business from the natives as they used to. Jimmy Valentino, 44, is the manager of the Italian Food Center on the corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets. “[The natives] are starting to disappear,” he says, “[but] we still get some of them.”

Russo, for one, says she still fights the tourists to go out to eat in the area. “The owners know us,” she smiles.

But none of the area’s natives seem to want to leave.

 “Everything we want is here,” says Russo, gesturing to the grocery store behind her. “And we’re on rent control,” she laughs. “That’s why we’re still here.”

“We couldn’t afford living here [without rent control],” Spota says. Apartments like hers in her building, she says, go for $3,000 a month these days. She says she pays about $750 a month for her 2-bedroom apartment – a hefty sum, considering the apartment has been in her husband’s family since 1940.

Still, rent control isn’t just for the lifetime residents. Davis says her one-bedroom is stabilized at $1300 a month.  But in another sign of the changing times, Davis has her apartment not through years of occupancy.

Rather, she found it through Craigslist.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I’d like to take a brief moment here to mention my new blog, College Cars Online. It’s dedicated to providing reviews and information about the sorts of cars college students and other young adults can afford, written by someone in their age bracket. Sort of a “for-the, by-the” thing, only without actually using the cliche. It’s at http://collegecars.wordpress.com, so please check it out! And tell your friends! And family! And co-workers! And people you meet on the street!

Things That Piss Me Off

Here’s a section I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Now, I was brought up to be kind to everyone, respect everyone’s opinion, and not judge others. And I have tried to live my life to those ideals. I continue to try to do so.

But goddamnit, some things just really piss me off.

So, for no particular reason, here’s a brief list of things pissing me off right now:

1. People who hate Bon Jovi. Look, I know Jon Bon isn’t the greatest musician in the history of mankind. He’s not the greatest musician to come from New Jersey. Depending on who you ask, he may not even be the greatest musician on the Star Wars Christmas Album. (Oh, it exists.) But you look me in the eyes and tell me your foot doesn’t tap during “It’s My Life.”

2. The hours at Citibank. Only open until 4 p.m.? What is this, 1988? And don’t give me that “they’re open until 6 on Thursday” crap. When do most people get paid? Friday. And what time does Citibank close on Friday? 4 p.m. Getting that check in the bank Friday night is damn important – what, you think I’m gonna dip into my savings for my weekly date with Eliot Spitzer’s hook-, er, girlfriend? Commerce Bank has the decency of being open until 8 – and they’re open 7 days a week. Man up, Citibank! I didn’t take out an ungodly large college loan with you for you to jerk me around on the small stuff!

3. The fact that the iPhone only works on AT&T. I understand that AT&T supposedly has the most subscribers of any cell phone company in the United States, so it’s a logical choice if you want to unveil your earth-shattering new phone/iPod/video player/web-surfer/back-scratcher/miniature Transformer assassin. But why choose to unveil it on only one network? You think T-Mobile customers aren’t smart enough to operate the iPhone? (Okay, bad example.) But even beyond that, why did you have to stick it with the carrier that DOESN’T HAVE ANY COVERAGE IN VERMONT?!?

Or, the Bush administration\'s revenge for civil unions.

Do you see all those wavy lines over Vermont? Those are “partner networks,” according to AT&T’s website. But also according to AT&T, the iPhone can only operate on partner networks 40 percent of the time, or else the company can cancel your service. So in effect, AT&T has banned the iPhone from Vermont. What the hell is with that? Do they have a problem with maple syrup? Do they own Aunt Jemima or something?

Back Online

Hello, my faithful readers! (Yes, both of you.)

I’d like to apologize for my lack of posts in recent months – I’ve been caught up with all that stuff known as “life.” But I’m back on the blog, and I’d like to present a new edition of Manhattan Madness!

People Who Walk Their Birds

People in New York do all sorts of crazy things with their pets. I saw a dog riding a motorcycle with his owner on 5th Avenue the other day…and the dog was wearing sunglasses. I saw a man on 14th Street with his cat standing on his hat. But perhaps nothing strikes me as quite so odd at a glance as seeing people walking down the street with their pet birds on their shoulders.

Had I only seen it once, I’d assume it was a single individual a few cashews short of a mixed nut bowl.

(Mmm…mixed nuts.)

But I’ve seen it four or five times now, on separate occasions. The bird-walkers seem to favor the walkway that runs between the Hudson River and the West Side highway. Why this is, I don’t know; perhaps people on the East Side prefer to bring their birds to the gym and walk them on treadmills.

And these are big birds, too. I’ve seen a couple cockatoos, but the most impressive avian I’ve seen riding its owner’s shoulder has to be a Hyacinth Macaw parrot, as seen below. 

These rare birds are found in the rainforests of South America and on the shoulders of assholes from Tribeca.

Just for the record, the Hyacinth Macaw is the largest parrot;  it can grow almost three and a half feet long, weigh nearly five pounds. and run about $10,000 each. They’re also endangered, mostly due to – surprise! – people who capture them and send them to other people who want the birds in their apartments.

Then these people turn around and take their birds for a walk. Probably so they can get some “fresh air.” Because the air in the Amazon is so much dirtier than New York’s.

In other words, if you ever see a man walking down the street with a macaw on his shoulder, see if you can get it to crap on him. Because he’s a goddamn idiot.

Super Bowl Ads!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you… the Best 10 Advertisements of Super Bowl XLII! As chosen by me.

10. PepsiStuff.com – Justin Timberlake 

I think we can all agree – any time we see Justin Timberlake get hit in the crotch is a good time. Plus, Andy Samberg in drag. 

9. Hyundai – “Twist” 

Hyundai’s threatening to do to the luxury car market what Lexus did 20 years ago. Can it do it? My money says they’re gonna do better than you might think. I don’t know if this ad will win any sudden converts, but if people are smart, they’ll listen.


8. Audi – “Godfather”

Cadillac enthusiasts be warned: if you don’t trade in your old cars now, the R8 will slice their grilles off and leave them in your bed. Kind of stupid ad, to be honest, only saved by that last few seconds of the car itself – which is smokin’.  

7. Bud Light – “Fire”

I hate when that happens. 

6. Diet Pepsi Max – “What is Love”

First Robert Goulet last year, now the Roxbury boys – not to mention the Semi-Pro ads. Fuck Tom Brady – Will Ferrell’s leaving a more impressive Super Bowl legacy than anybody right now. 

5. Bridgestone – “Unexpected Obstacles”

Hey, that’s what I’d do. 

4. Doritos – “Mouse Trap”

I believe this is what the kids today refer to as “pwned.”  

3. FedEx – “Pigeons”

This ad was supposed to air months ago, but Sony made them hold it back until the Super Bowl because it would have given away “Cloverfield.” 

2. Coca-Cola – “It’s Mine”

The best “touchy-feely” ad of the bunch. I was half-expecting an 80-foot Lucy to come out at the last second and  swipe up the bottle, but I’m glad penultimate loser Charlie Brown finally wins. (Also, if Charlie Brown’s a balloon, how often does he get himself caught in a tree? Just a thought.) 

1. (tie) Bud Light – “Jackie Moon”

I don’t care if he’s playing the same character in every movie. Put this man in front of a camera, and he will make you laugh. (Also, see more unused footage below:)

1. (tie) Paramount Pictures – “Iron Man Superbowl Spot”

 

This movie makes me want to vote Republican. And I haven’t even seen it yet.

I apologize for not always having the correct names for the advertisements – when I couldn’t find the name, I provided the best descriptor I could, so it should be easy to find if you desire.