Only the Best

I have a love/hate relationship with the Times Union’s big Best Of thing that they do every year.

I love to read it, but it’s a terrible way to determine that something is “best.” It relies on voting that is often skewed by the nominees — and in some cases, what these winners are “best” at is drumming up votes.

The paper supports this campaigning by pitching advertising to the nominees where they’ll encourage people to vote for them.  If you have money for marketing, you have a better chance at being named best? That doesn’t sound fair to me.

But let’s talk about Kay’s Pizza for a second.

I’ve been to Kay’s — and yes, it was alright — but there is no way on God’s green earth that Kay’s is the best pizza in the area. No! Their pan style pizzas are heavily topped in a way that the crust does not support. What you get is a pizza that’s difficult to eat with your hands and requires silverware — and that’s a dealbreaker. Sorry, but this is New York and that’s the pizza of the provinces.

Do they have a devoted clientele? Yes. Is it a fun and busy place steeped in tradition? Of course. Do those who choose Kay’s think it’s great? Obviously. Is it the best pizza in the area? No fucking way.

Nevertheless, year after year, Kay’s comes out on top. Look, pizza debates are far too numerous (and tedious) and we don’t need another one. And I’m not going to imply that people in Rensselaer County wouldn’t know a good pizza from a hole in the ground. No, I’d never say that. And I won’t suggest that we shouldn’t trust the people who voted for Steve McLaughlin to vote for the best pizza. That would be a cheap shot.

But I will say this: Get online and cast your vote. My choices would be De Fazio’s or Romos, but it’s up to you. You have until March 3 to help stop the madness.

Art Imitates Art

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bather Arranging Her Hair, 1885, oil on canvas. The Clark Art InstituteOne of my favorite paintings at the Clark Institute in Williamstown is Renoir’s Bather Arranging her Hair. The tasteful nude shows Suzanne Valadon, a model Renoir painted several times, sitting with her back to the artist and, well, arranging her hair.

Renoir has numerous paintings of nudes who are arranging their hair, bathing, drying off, standing up, sitting down — and even another painting called Bather Arranging her Hair. It was definitely a thing for him.

I like to imaging that the conversations between artist and model went something like this:

“Pierre — what shall I do, just sit here,” she’d ask. Renoir would scratch his head. “Oh, I don’t know — how about you arrange your hair.”

When I first saw this painting, it reminded me of something from my childhood. No, nude bathers arranging their hair was not part of my childhood, but one did appear in funny scene a movie that I loved: Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines.

Sure, “Frenchman painting a nude woman at he beach” is an old trope (for good reason), but I love the similarity between the painting and the scene in the movie. The inspiration is unmistakable. Nitpickers may point out that the Renoir painted Bather some 25 years before the movie is set in 1910, but c’mon, man.

You can imagine how naughty this part of the movie seemed to me, even as a little boy. It’s certainly 50+ years since I first saw it, but it all came rushing back to me as I stood in that room at The Clark which holds like a billion dollars worth of art. I hope the people nearby didn’t hear me giggle.

Side note: If you’ve never been to The Clark, you should plan a visit. It’s an amazing place, and admission is free until the end of March. Plus, if you go now you avoid the Berkshires summer throng, so there’s that.

Unforgettable: The Kari Lake Story

It’s not nice to kick someone when they’re down, but friends, lets all pull on our boots and make an exception for failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate and Trump acolyte Kari Lake.

Those of you in the Albany area may remember that Lake spent some time here as a news anchor in the late 1990s. I certainly remember it, because it was my job to create the advertising that introduced her to WNYT’s viewers.

Lake came to town to replace Chris Kapostasy (Jansing) in the anchor chair next to Ed Dague. Chris Kapostasy was very popular and people loved her. After some NBC news exec swooped in and took her away to the bigs, we somehow ended up with Kari Lake.

Chris Kapostasy left some big pumps to fill — and it didn’t go well.

Lake never hit her stride and was often visibly uncomfortable in the anchor chair. Viewers didn’t warm up to her, and it was reflected in the research done by our consultants. Behind the scenes it was even worse. Lake didn’t fit in and swiftly managed to alienate her coworkers. Her husband, the videographer who tagged along behind her to work at the station, was said to be deeply unhappy with Albany and her career move.

Before long, Lake negotiated her way out of her contract and headed back to Arizona. Nobody in the building missed her, least of all WNYT’s powerful union, NABET, which represented on air and technical staff. Why? Because Lake had refused to join.

Now, about my personal experience. In a business full of big egos and powerful personalities, she was the most difficult news talent I ever dealt with. She was never happy with our work, and was particularly critical of the way we shot her and the lighting we used. She once told us that we made her, “look like a monster.”

Little did we know that behind that pretty face she really was a monster, as proven by the hateful nonsense spewing from her mouth during campaign season.

Arizona voters weren’t fooled by Kari Lake. They recognized her for what she is: an empty vessel who filled herself to the brim with a toxic brew of MAGA bullshit and unbridled ambition. Unfortunately, because of her excellent communication skills, you have someone who isn’t just a blowhard, but genuinely dangerous.

So farewell once more, Kari Lake. And this time I hope we never hear your name again.

You Oughta Be In Pictures

Oh, sure it’s exciting when Hollywood comes to town, isn’t it? Nothing gets the heart pumping like making a movie: a bunch of trucks and crew and lights and cameras — and oh, sometimes a famous actor might even be spotted on the street. Holy shit, this ain’t Smallbany anymore, it’s Hollywood on the Hudson!

There’s no denying that film and TV production can sometimes be an economic driver — especially if you buy the numbers floated by our local film commissions. These groups have gotten adept at greasing the skids when showbiz comes to town, helping expedite the sort of clearances and permits that are necessary to take over your block. Closing down streets, restricting parking, disrupting business, doing crazy stuff like dumping tons of period style dirt everywhere — you can’t just roll up and do all that without loads of cooperation.

So, here’s a question for you: Name one other business where a municipality will bend over backwards so completely to accommodate a commercial endeavor. You can’t because it doesn’t exist — but come to town making a movie? Heaven and earth will shift to accommodate your every need.

A sandwich shop I frequent on State Street recently complained on social media that they weren’t informed that a film shoot would block the entrance to their store and make it hard for customers to get their lunch. What the hell is their problem? How could it be that a small business is more interested in making a few bucks on a random Tuesday in August than basking in the thrill and excitement that a film crew brings to the sidewalk?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Sometimes it feels like the people who tout attracting film and TV production to town are a bit starstruck by it all. It’s understandable, because the glamour of movie making tends to rub off on those who get close. Unfortunately, the stink of it rubs off on everyone else, like the people who just want to bring in their groceries, get their kids to daycare, park their cars, or yes, get a sandwich for lunch.

We Hardly Knew Ye

What gets covered most in the Times Union? Yeah, you’ve got your Covid, crime, politics, race — but lately it feels like the most frequent subject is reporters leaving local TV stations.

We’re up to 15 on the local TV body count this year, and it’s only April. Honestly, you’ve probably never heard of most of these journalists, but just search “leaving” on the TU website and you can read all about them.

Local TV news wasn’t always a revolving door, maybe because TV reporters had a different job. They’d show up in the morning, be assigned a story, and have all day to work on it before the 6pm newscast. Maybe they’d cut another version for 11 and call it a day. You basically had one task to complete, and the pace was different; you had to wait for the slow, clunky equipment, not the other way around.

Today? There are a slew of newscasts, so a reporter will need to do multiple versions on a single story. And live shots. Then you have to create print versions of your story for the web. Then there’s social media. There’s a much bigger beast to be fed, and while the technology is great, it’s also a lot faster than you are.

Today’s TV reporter is doing much more work for the same money. And since 401k matching and plush health insurance plans are a thing of the past, it’s actually like earning less.

But even if TV news is not the coveted career it once was, for many young people it’s a great resume item on the road to doing something else. Corporate or government communication and PR come to mind. Oh sure, there are exceptions. Some of these kids were obviously born for it and have the star power to go places. But mostly, those fleeing the business are forgettable.

That leaves us with these endless departing reporter stories in the Times Union. It’s funny, but even today people on local TV are our celebrities in little old Smallbany, even if they’re just minor celebrities. What the hell, it’s not like when newspapers reporters leave. Nobody wants to read about that.

Better To Have Loved and Lost

It’s easier than ever to find old acquaintances these days with social media and whatnot, but it would really jumpstart the process if the local newspaper joined the search, like the Times Union did recently with this front page story:

When Reno met April …can sparks reignite?

It seems that “Reno” — his actual name is Ricardo — wants to reconnect with his long lost love who said she was from Schenectady. He claims that they had a month-long fling as college students 26 years ago.

Everybody loves a love story, and this is pretty romantic, right? Yeah, I suppose — until it turns fucking creepy.

I’m not saying that it’s always wrong to seek out a long lost flame, but to do so in such a public way is troubling. By crowdsourcing this effort you’re taking away someone’s choice in the matter of being found.

Did anyone think that this woman might not want to be contacted by “Reno,” or that doing so could be disruptive or damaging? Let me tell you, not everyone would be thrilled if some dude was hunting down their spouse on the front page of the newspaper.

And what do we know about this Reno character? Not much except that he runs a “taxi and tour business” in the Bahamas. Oh, OK. He must be legit. And I’m sure the paper did some deep digging into his background.

I could be wrong about all this; it may be this woman’s lifelong dream to be reunited with the guy she dated for a month 26 years ago — a guy who doesn’t even know her last name. Hey, it’s romantic!

But don’t worry; the story says that Reno “just wants to reconnect. No pressure.” Perfectly harmless.

I don’t know what they’re smoking over at the Times Union, but it must be pretty potent for them to do something so stupid and irresponsible. Journalism students take note: this story is a master class in poor editorial judgement.

You’ve Gotta Have People

The best thing about a powerful job is that you get people. People to handle the details. People to process the boring stuff. People to talk to people you don’t want to talk to. People to do the dirty work.

Yeah, when you’ve got people you have space and time to think big thoughts and do cool things. Your people look out for you.

But sometimes they don’t, which must explain this picture.

NY State Senators Robert Jackson of Manhattan (left) and Rachel May of Syracuse (center). Photo: Politico

These New York State Senators standing behind that ill-conceived banner are supposed to have people. People who say, “Whoa, hold up! You can’t have your picture taken with that fucking thing! In case you didn’t notice, that’s a PLANE HEADING FOR THE WORLD TRADE CENTER! Offensive metaphor! Step away!”

Too late. Like a moth to flame they got themselves in front of that camera.

The senators later claimed that they didn’t notice what was on the banner. Seriously? What would have gotten your attention,  a swastika?

But I don’t blame those senators any more than I’d blame my 18-month-old grandaughter for knocking a lamp off the table. No, I’d blame the person who was supposed to be watching her. You look away for two seconds and see what the hell happens.

Yeah, you’ve gotta have people.

Heckle and Jeckle

I don’t write about politics much. Do we really need another hot take from somebody whose opinion doesn’t matter? Nope. But this one has a local angle.

If you didn’t already know that Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert are a couple of loud mouthed assholes, all you had to do was see them during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The pair spent the speech heckling the president and generally making a spectacle of themselves.

There was a time when you would never of heard of a couple of first term Congressional nobodies, but social media and today’s overheated political climate have changed all that. Now you can just get elected and become a star.

These two are loose cannons and they’ve made it work for them.

This seems to be what Liz Joy has her eye on in the race for Congress in New York’s 20th. She’s seen how political unknowns can skyrocket to prominence these days by putting on a good show, and if you get elected, the sky’s the limit. Becoming a national figure can open the door to higher office, but lets not forget about the book deals, paid appearances, cable news gigs — you get the idea. All this with no prior experience or much in the way of qualifications.

This is by no means strictly a Republican thing. You don’t have to be a right winger to see the possibilities. It’s just a different audience.

You might say it’s all a lot of harmless theatre, but one of these days things will go sideways.

The world has shrunk, and now tiny people can appear as large as they’d like. I’d feel more comfortable if it were just an optical illusion.

Punching Down

You might say that Times Union food critic Susie Davisdson Powell did not enjoy the lamb-stuffed poblano peppers at Farmhouse Tap and Tavern.

In a single paragraph she compares them to a ball tucked in a sock, a comet with a meatball for a head, and — finally — a dick. She also adds that they’re hard to cut and undercooked.

One example would have worked, but she went with three. That’s commitment!

Davidson Powell recently ravaged Farmhouse Tap in a scathing review that was more of a bitter attack against the restaurant than a balanced critique. It was gleefully malicious, oozing anger and sarcasm with every tart observation and clever turn of phrase. But that’s her thing, isn’t it? Being nasty is much more entertaining than being fair.

It was about as bad as a local restaurant review gets — and it made me wonder why it’s OK for a big media company like the Times Union to take down a small local eatery?

Davidson Powell defends restaurant reviews, lumping them in with other arts criticism, like that for theatre or music productions. Bullshit, I say. A restaurant may be an expression of someone’s creative energy, but first and foremost it’s a business, and your review has the potential to ruin someone’s livelihood. The Times Union doesn’t review a car dealers or furniture stores, so what makes restaurants fair game?

Yes, I know — restaurant reviews are a staple of newspaper journalism. People are obsessed with content about food and can’t get enough. Six straight hours of Chopped anyone?

Now, full disclosure here: I’ve reviewed restaurants on Yelp — and that’s totally different. My lone opinion doesn’t hold the weight of a major media outlet, and in forums like Yelp and Trip Advisor, the view of one person is balanced by the other contributors. Not the same as taking almost a full page in the Sunday paper to fuck with someone. And this isn’t the New York Times going after Guy Fieri, this is people with power stomping on people without any.

Oh, one last thing: Farmhouse Tap is owned by the woman who runs 518 Foodies, a website that focuses on the local dining scene. Huh. You can draw your own conclusions, but something about this stinks like last week’s fish.