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New York City has always required certain dispositional traits from its citizens. You can spot New Yorkers in crowds elsewhere. They're the ones plowing ahead, pushing through the throng with umbrellas or briefcases and standing off the curb, defying traffic, waiting for the light to change. "Hi! How are you? Get out of my way." First horse out of the gate, that sort of thing. You have to be driven; otherwise, why live here?

For years now, we've been maintaining that the last months of the 20th century will resemble nothing so much as the last 15 minutes of Natural Born Killers. The prison-break sequence, remember? We especially liked the director's cut version, where the inmates wound up parading the warden's head around on a stick. We firmly believe that New York City is that secret passageway that transports the Lovers under and through the maelstrom to freedom and bliss. We have always been this way. The rest of the world is playing catch-up.

People don't go postal here. The only people who go postal in New York City are tourists, like that nutcase who shot up the Empire State Bldg. a few years back. People are going postal every day now out in the hinterlands; it's a routine thing. We have friends in Jersey City, once in a while we go and visit them. Whenever we're over there, in Jersey, we're watching everybody. You never know when one of them is going to snap. This is not a concern here in the city. There are too many weapons around in New York for going postal to be a valid option. It's like Vermont that way. It's better than Vermont, because you don't need a car and there's less Nature around.

Nature is getting a lot scarier. This summer's drought caused snakes and bears to come closer to Ken and Barbie's little house in the country. There was a nasty Ebola scare in Germany several weeks ago, and now mosquitoes spreading encephalitis here. That shapeshifting Pfiesteria critter running loose in the Chesapeake is a very creepy thing. We used to be a committed beach bum. We stay out of the ocean these days. Haven't been in the ocean since 1987, when we saw a really awful thing swimming in a wave. It was about three feet long, with a segmented body like an earthworm and zillions of tiny legs rippling horribly. The lifeguards didn't know what it was. That same year, people were coming out of the water with weird infections and rashes. Nature saying, "Hi! Dump some more of your crap out here, it's good, we like it!"

In Kansas, they barbecue and think God made the world in seven days. In Utah, they know it. New Orleans beats us all out ever so slightly in the religion and indigenous cuisine departments, but New Orleans is number one in murder among the world-class cities of the USA. It rains like hell all over the Northwest and the place is overrun with both Nazis and treehugging hippie kooks. There are Gila monsters and Mansonoids in the Southwest desert. Forget California, the place is doomed by geology and a multitude of sins including but not limited to bad taste. Texas is different. There are 68,000,000 guns in Texas. They are very polite. Still, that's no reason to leave Manhattan?unless they secede, in which case we may immediately defect.

Chicago is unbelievably racist; a white man can't walk the streets without being hassled by some lame-ass gangsta wannabe with a dick problem. The climate is unbearable, and they seem to be laboring under the impression that a pizza is actually some kind of casserole with a crust. The Midwest in general is frightening, a prime example of the avant-garde of the impending Balkanization of the United States, a nightmarish corn-fed reflection of the darkest anti-Semitic fantasies of depraved Hollywood. Columbine, Elohim City, teenage vampire cults and militant Born-Agains. Here in New York, Balkanization is not an issue. We have neighborhoods. The pot always simmers, but it rarely boils over. Columbine can't happen in a high school where most of the students are well-armed.

The route to Florida is fraught with peril, bullet-headed white racist cops and dangerous truck stops where people stop to piss and are never seen or heard from again. Florida is now within the malaria belt, severely polluted, overpopulated, subject to hurricanes and mutant DEA fungi, and may at any moment be rendered forever uninhabitable by some highly classified bonehead nuclear maneuver by NASA, our once-benign military-industrial space venture.

Here in New York City, we don't even have a manufacturing base, let alone idiotic things like rockets and nukes. Yes, we may be overpopulated, but that's a very relative term, here, and there is still plenty of cheap, good real estate available north of 125th St. Hurricanes come, but like all other weather events, we shrug them off. There is not enough sky here for Nature to touch us. We have closed Her out, locked Her into the zoo and the Discovery Channel, where She belongs. We paint our young with PABA and DEET to ward Her off and repel Her avatars. We avoid the raccoons.

No, there is no sound reason to venture out of the boroughs. Thinking the matter through, there is no sane reason even to leave the island of Manhattan. Various insecurities may drive social climbers and careerists to the Hamptons to be exposed to equine encephalitis and the possibility of being stranded at Puffy's house by bad weather, but all of Long Island is haunted, the ghosts of the DeFeo family reach out from Amityville and Ricky Kasso's demon hitchhikes to and from Montauk in search of animal tranquilizers, shrieking, "Say you love Satin" in a keening, whining tone a la Slayer. It's an Indian burial ground. Long Island will one day be eaten by the sea, everything will be engulfed: Queens, Brooklyn, toxic Mineola. Staten Island will become some hideous George Romero dystopia, eldritch batrachian landfill mutations shambling from one end of the island to the other in a blasphemous mockery of human activity seeking preadolescent human endocrine extracts in an ever-expanding quest for what used to be called "kicks."

Here in Manhattan, we have everything we need. We have Kmart, we have Prada, we have Trash & Vaudeville. We have a mayor who acts just like we do. We have 416 B.C. and Bistro Les Amis. We take no shit from anyone. If we need one, we can get a hand grenade just a few short blocks from home for just $100. We can get nearly anything delivered, from rainforest psychedelics to sushi, at any hour of the day or night. Opportunities abound here, anything can happen. There is no more exciting place to be west of Moscow. It's The End Of The World, and we have the ringside seats. Buy guns, stockpile water and Spam, don't even consider leaving. It would be slow suicide. This is Ground Zero, the eye of the cultural shit-storm that is the impending Millennium.


Best Cartoonist With No Sense of Humor
Ted Rall
Latchkey Guy Goes Postal. We've known Ted Rall for years, he's written a few articles for us in that time, and we're appalled by the lawsuit he's brought against Danny Hellman, a regular NYPress illustrator. To recap: Rall, whose cartoon strips run in a bunch of newspapers and magazines, wrote a weirdly bitter but interesting cover story for the Aug. 3 Village Voice denouncing cartoon guru Art Spiegelman. In the small world of cartoonists it created quite an uproar, which included Hellman's creating a prankish parody e-mail discussion group, "TedRall'sBalls," distributed to a list of 30-odd insiders, virtually all of whom would've tumbled to the prank instantly?Hellman's known for these things in that crowd. As near as we can tell, the one outsider who mightn't have caught on was Nicholas Blechman, who picks art for the op-ed page of The New York Times, where Rall's had work in the past.

It was, we think, an idiotic prank for Hellman to pull, but a harmless one, and we find Rall's response bizarre and reprehensible: He's suing Hellman for "libel, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress," asking $1.5 million in damages. To us, this is a classic case of litigation as passive-aggressive thuggery. It's hard not to think that Rall intentionally stirred up a lot of controversy in the cartoonist community, decided he didn't like Hellman's opinion and is punishing him for it. Rall's accompanied the lawsuit with a flurry of p.r.?a pompous press release, interviews, a self-defending column on the Alternet news service?that we think has largely backfired, making him look less the aggrieved artist than an egomaniac and hysteric ("I was like, my career is in total meltdown," he was quoted saying in The New York Observer). Definitely his oddest act to date has been a comic strip in which a character stabs and shoots a "prankster"; if, as was ludicrously claimed in Rall's press release, Hellman somehow represented a threat to his "life and property," what was this strip?

We'd like to think that Rall will come to his senses and not drag Hellman through a ruinously costly face-saving exercise. The publicity has done neither of them any good already, and we can't see how Rall could pursue this thing and not look like a pussy and a dick. If he does go forward, we'll be supporting the Danny Hellman Defense Fund.

Best Surprise
Seeing Lili Taylor in Person
Hold the Gilding. We're crossing Greenwich Ave. when we're almost killed by a woman on a bicycle. We look up to admonish her?it seems like we're always almost being killed by these wheeled sociopaths?and it's Lili Taylor. Granted, we initially think, "Damn, we run into an indie queen and it's not Christina Ricci?"

But our second thought is, "Lord, how did a movie like Dogfight ever get the green light?" She's tan, relaxed?her hair is highlighted, probably by the sun. Here's the woman whose beauty has only been hinted at in Illtown and Pecker, but she's one seriously fine chick in person.

Best Use of Synecdoche In The Subway
"The Mat and the Steel"
Language of Luv. We're shuffling of a winter's night through the dank, chilly concourse that links the 14th St. 1/9 with the B, D, F and Q. It's early February, and every street performer, beggar and bum in the vicinity has moved underground. We dodge piss puddles and empty beer bottles on our way westward while, a few paces ahead of us, two homeboys swig from 40-ouncers they don't bother concealing. A quarter of the way down the corridor A declares, "Shit yo, tonight I'm goin' down to the mat with Tanya."

Not certain he's heard his friend correctly, B stops in his tracks.

"The what?"

"The mat."

"The what!?"

"The mat!" screams A. "M-A-T! Dugout, clam, puss-ay. I'm gonna lick me some puss-ay tonight, get my snatch on."

A's remonstration echoes, then falls like a spent firework in the corridor's mephitic air. The two stand five feet apart. B swigs, then breaks the silence.

"Never heard of the mat."

"Who cares, yo? The mat's the mat. Gonna suck Tanya's sweet slice dry."

Intrigued, we pull up abreast of them. But by now A's riffing inaudibly about the flavor of Tanya's mat while B whacks the side of his walkman in an effort to get it working. At the far end of the corridor some disheveled yutz with an eyepatch pulls a bow across the untuned strings of a violin, serving up a gruesome screech.

"The fuck is that?" screams A.

"Shit'd better stop quick," yells B.

"Christ! Stop that shit!"

For the next 20 paces A and B scream ahead at the violinist who?oblivious or drunk or retarded?keeps playing. The screaming continues and the screeching gets louder until, finally, A has had enough.

"That's it, yo!" he screams. "I be grabbin' the steel on this muthafucka if he don't shut the fuck up!"

A motions as though he's reaching for a gun, and we all breathe deep. At that, the violinist lifts his bow, places the violin under his right arm and looks up at the ceiling, blinking his eyes like an impatient maitre d'. A and B pass, glaring at the fiddler. They walk a few more paces and then pause while A lights a cigarette.

B looks back at the fiddler and then at A. Then?sheepishly, almost whispering?he asks: "Grabbin' the steel?"

Best Hated Local Sports Figure
Hideki Irabu
Inspectah Deki. We've liked Irabu since he first showed up here with his pompadour, beer belly and shitty attitude. Who ever heard of a famously lazy, underachieving, hotheaded Asian immigrant? Irabu's windup says as much about him as anybody Stateside has been able to figure out?it's bizarrely informal and relaxed. If the guy had round eyes and spoke English he'd be considered born to wear pinstripes, because he's so obviously a natural, with a unique, coolly against-the-grain style. Since June, when he started racking up wins, Yankee fans and Steinbrenner have gotten off Irabu's case, but you seldom hear anybody cheer for him. He's a lone-riding cowboy ace, but treated like some migrant worker who needs to be kept an eye on and sent back home the minute someone catches him sleeping on the job. It's a shame. We suspect that if more New Yorkers resisted their distrust of Japanese imports and got to know Hideki, they'd find one hell of a rugged individualist underneath that inscrutable, foreign exterior.

Best Political Columnist
Paul Gigot
The Wall Street Journal
Edging Out Michael Kelly. Paul Gigot has the life. He works at the world's finest newspaper (sorry, Daily Telegraph fans; while Britain's press outpaces America's by miles, the Journal is our Pedro Martinez), writes a column every Friday from DC that's placed right next to smart and courageous editorials and has a rolodex that could be auctioned off for a lot more than Ty Warner's rarest Beanie Baby.

Gigot is conservative, but his opinions aren't robot-like, in contrast to those of his liberal colleagues, and he's careful to point out the GOP's mistakes and foibles. And there's plenty to criticize, the gutless "leadership" of Trent Lott and Denny Hastert being just the most obvious example. We often don't agree with Gigot's conclusions, but, like David Tell at The Weekly Standard, he makes us think. On Aug. 20, he wrote a piece examining the ramifications of Gov. Bush's ham-handed response to reporters' questions about his possible cocaine use. Gigot believes Bush, once he lifted that manhole, should've made a clean sweep of everything in his past. We don't agree: Granted, the 7-15-25 hut! strategy was a miscue, but Bush has successfully (at least for now) stamped the issue into the ground. Trotting his mother out to say what a wonderful son George is was a smart move; even Geraldine Ferraro came to her defense when another guest on a talk show said something to the effect that Bush was hiding behind Mommy's apron. Ferraro said?and remember, she's a very partisan Democrat?don't you dare say a bad thing about Barbara Bush, she's the best politician in the family and I like that she's standing up for her son.

But Gigot explained his position well. He wrote: "If you're going to run for president as the anti-Clinton, you should know that Democrats and their media friends will do whatever it takes to make you look Clintonian... The most deceitful president since Nixon is paradoxically defining the standards of ethics and candor back up for other candidates, at least for Republicans."

On Pat Buchanan's likely bolt to the Reform Party, Gigot worries (unlike Democrats, who are rejoicing) that the GOP's representative caveman might screw up the presidential race for Bush. He writes on Sept. 3: "His recent fifth-place finish in Iowa means that as a GOP candidate Pitchfork Pat is now an American Gothic. Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer are fresher voices on the right. Yet Richard Nixon's favorite writer still sees himself as a man of political destiny?and debating Eleanor Clift isn't it... [Buchanan's] strategy only works, of course, if conservative voters don't mind turning over the Supreme Court to liberals for oh, say, the next 40 years. A Republican candidate ought to be smart enough not to give conservatives reason to walk, which probably rules out an abortion-rights running mate. (Sorry, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.)"

That's one school of thought. Our own take is that the Buchanan carnival will die down in due time and he'll wind up winning maybe six or seven percent of the vote. Five of those points are pilfered from Bush, but he should have enough padding to withstand the loss. We think the addition of a pro-choice veep like Ridge makes even more sense with Buchanan taking Reform Party money and continuing his narcissistic bid through November of 2000. A number of hard-line conservatives?those who are plain stupid, and some who are ideologically pure?will vote for Buchanan. Still, with Ridge on the ticket Bush has a greater chance to grab suburban Democrats, especially women, which he'd lose if he picked a pro-life running mate.

On Aug. 27, Gigot summarized Elizabeth Dole's futile campaign in 800 words. Writing that she's relying too much on gender, on the novelty factor of a woman president, he says: "Mrs. Dole's reluctance to take political risks only fuels the suspicion, perhaps unfair, that she is really running to be vice president. After one Iowa event, a reporter asked why voters should prefer her to Mr. Bush. 'My experience,' she replied and began running down her resume. After a minute or so of this, another reporter asked if there were any 'issues' on which she differs with the Texas governor? 'I don't want to get into that,' Mrs. Dole said, heading back to the tall grass of biography. This isn't how Margaret Thatcher made history, needless to say. Mrs. Dole doesn't have to be another Iron Lady, but it wouldn't hurt if she showed a little more iron and a little less lady."

Best Way To Get Your Oversized Carry-On Onto the Plane
Check Something
Why They Go On Strike. We figured this out after years of flying with guitars and samplers and other stuff that might not respond positively to being hurled into a rickety cart and buried in a mound of Samsonite. First, always make sure you check something?if you're one of those people who hate baggage claim and try to get everything on board with you, you're shit outta luck. Second?if it's a guitar or something musical or electronic, ask to hang it in the closet in business class. Boo-hoo about it being the tools of your trade, your baby, etc. If the stewardess is still all like, Sir that won't fit in the overhead compartment blar dee blar blar?get mad. Say There's no way I can allow this delicate object of mine to be thrown haphazardly in with the luggage! Then whip out your baggage claim ticket for the one thing you checked and say: If I cannot fly with this as carry-on luggage, I cannot fly today! I demand you retrieve my bag from the hold and I will reschedule my flight!

Now, they load those baggage holds up fast. And there's no way they're gonna be able to go into the hold and look at all the tags of every single piece of luggage in there, hold up the departure time, just to get you off the plane. You may have to be insistent, but there ain't nothing they can do about it if you tell them you want off the flight immediately. They're gonna suddenly and miraculously find a little space in the stewardesses' coat closet, and boom, Bob's your uncle.

Best Magazine Yawn
"George Lives"
But It Still Needs a Brain. Okay, you had to admire the Kennedy Clan family loyalty, Caroline working out a deal with Hachette to save her brother's George, the courting of Stephanopoulos to come edit, all that. It made for lazy business page headlines, numerous variations on "George Lives," which maybe upticked the newsstand sales a pimple. But really, so what? They can "save" George but they still can't make people read it. George was on life support months before JFK Jr.'s death; according to one source, the flurry of resumes staff was faxing out was like a stream of rats leaving a sinking ship. Maybe Caroline can sprinkle a little of that Kennedy pixie dust on it to keep it struggling along a little longer, but the pertinent question is why? It's a money trap. As a magazine it's never had a purpose, a voice or an agenda, just a celebrity's name and face. Now even that's secondhand. Pull the plug.

Best Sense of Humor in a New York Journalist
Jim Dwyer
And C.J. Sullivan's a Fat Mick. Earlier this year Ned Vizzini wrote a humorous story for NYPress with the odd little title of "Jim Dwyer is a Big Prick." The article was about Vizzini's late-night odyssey with two transit workers who, when they found out Vizzini wrote for this paper, dared young Ned to title his article with the insult of the Daily News columnist Jim Dwyer, who'd written articles the subway workers didn't like.

In May, during the Abner Louima trial, we ran into Dwyer and asked if he saw Ned's article. Dwyer shifted his backpack from his arm, let out a belly laugh worthy of a stout man like him and said, "I loved that title. I didn't understand why those two transit workers had a beef with me, because I've always been pro-labor, but it was a funny article. I got it blown up over my desk at the News so everyone can see it."

A week earlier, we'd run a story about the Louima trial, in which our own big Mick, C.J. Sullivan, observed that Dwyer was tearing into a bag of peanuts like he was angry with them. Dwyer wanted to clear one point up about that story: "It was a bag of trail mix I was eating, not peanuts." Here's to you, sport.

Best University Press
NYU Press
Reading Is Fundamental. When they think of book publishing, many educated Manhattanites think entirely and only in terms of the corporate midtown publishers and their product: "hot" authors, bestsellers, inside-baseball columns in the Observer about this marketing veep at HarperKnopf getting canned and that senior editor at Schuster & Random moving from children's books to the adult trade division. But for people who actually care about books as books, much of the real action has always been elsewhere. And as midtown publishing continues to aggregate into a single GlobalMegaUniCorp Ltd., it's ceding more and more publishing territory to everybody else?the university and other institutional presses, the small for- and nonprofits, the literary and specialty outfits. Smart university presses, who're being pressured by administrations to earn more of their keep anyway, are seeing?as one old-dog marketing type we know loves to say?"acres of diamonds" out there. Or at least opportunities for expanding their lists.

It's not just our New York jingoism showing when we say that of all the university presses we know, NYU Press has probably been doing the smartest job of doing that. It's still pumping all the academic, scholarly and classroom titles, certainly, but in the front of the catalog are increasingly canny bids to appeal to off-campus intellectuals, all those intelligent and literate readers whom the corporate publishers are abandoning as they dive to the bottom line. Sample titles from the fall/winter catalog include Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out; Berlin and the American Military: A Cold War Chronicle; Eve: A Biography; William M. Kunstler: The Most Hated Lawyer in America; Anti-Semitism, Past and Present; Would You Convict?: 17 Cases That Challenged the Law; Civil Rights Since 1787: A Reader; Understanding Troubled Minds: A Guide to Mental Illness and Its Treatment; Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House.

That's a lot of interesting-sounding titles for a university press to be cranking out in the span of one catalog. Yes, they put out the obligatory kneejerk polemicist titles as well, but the quotient is much lower than from many university presses. Which is to say, NYU Press seems more interested in engaging the general intellectual than in merely preaching to the campus converted.

Best Off-Season Jets Headline
"31 Cops Needed to Sack Jumbo Elliott and pals" ?New York Post, July 11
Funky Nassau. This one had absolutely everything: An attempted getaway in a silver limo; a $300 bar tab; cop cars with kicked-out windows; a Giants Super Bowl ring in the face of the doorman; a sucker-punched volunteer fireman; pissing in the sink of the women's room; and a stray Detroit Lion from Lynbrook. Plus a trio of offensive linemen?two Jets and one Cincinnati Bengal?tipping the scales at a collective 923 pounds or so.

Apparently, these men of the trenches couldn't contain their enthusiasm when the USA women delivered the World Cup trophy back on July 10. That night, at Bogart's Bar in Long Beach, a sodden Jumbo Elliott and Jason Fabini, along with former-Jet-now-Bengal Matthew O'Dwyer got a little too rowdy. Elliott tried to duck the $5 cover charge at the door (that's when he showed off his Jints ring), but by the end of this little scrimmage with three dozen Nassau County and Long Beach cops, Jumbo'd be forking out 10 grand in bail cash after a night in lockup. O'Dwyer, who kicked out the window of the cop car, sending two cops to the hospital with scratched corneas, paid $50,000 in bail and also spent the night in the Long Beach stir.

Hey Matt, good luck in Ohio. FYI, the bars close at 2:30 a.m., there's a Bogart's bar in Cincy's Clifton neighborhood, Jeff Blake still blows and good luck getting a copy of Playboy or Penthouse anywhere in town, despite the efforts of fellow heavyweight Larry Flynt.

Best Early Onset of Alzheimer's (Noncelebrity)
Call Me Ishmael. We were in line at the drugstore, waiting to buy shampoo and candy. The only person in front of us was an older lady with a basketful of your everyday health and beauty supplies. As the cashier began to ring her up, the old woman looked over her shoulder, back into the store, and shouted, "Stewie! Stewie, c'mon, we're leaving now!" When there was no immediate response, she shouted again, "Stewie! Stewie! I'm leaving!"

Finally a mustached man, probably in his early 30s, shuffled up next to her from the back of the store and, in an exasperated whisper, said, "My name is Charles, Mom."

Best Subway Station Not to Smell in Summertime
Delancey St. F Train
Ninth Circle Line. Honestly, now, what does the MTA take us for? All empirical evidence to the contrary, they continue to shill for their baleful service, expecting us to go all creamy over the debatable financial merits of the MetroCard, figuring we'll say, "Whoops?shit happens!" when they bulk order a gajillion slippery replacement floor tiles that later have to be scuffed up to prevent pratfalls. Meanwhile, they continue to operate?at the height (or so we're told) of the longest peacetime economic expansion in the nation's history?the vilest public space in the civilized world. We know. We've ridden mass transit all over the place, at home and abroad. And nowhere else is as consistently repulsive, as absurdly jerry-rigged, as our dismal subway system. We're honestly shocked that, out in deepest Brooklyn, the rustbound elevated platforms don't teeter over and kill thousands every month. What kind of beaten citizenry tolerates asphyxiating overcrowding and seats designed for 14-year-old bulimics?

We'll never forget the subterranean detour we were taken on by an inexperienced motorman several years ago. We were transported down to an abandoned station (dank, consumptive, forgotten); and after the doors were mistakenly opened and people got off the conductor had to head them all back into the train, lest they be entombed forever. We see the dudes in the orange vests emerging from the tunnels all the time?so how come there's always crap and filth and trash on the trackbeds? Stalactites composed of diseased ooze? Roving bands of thuggish, proto-evolutionary vermin? Worst of all, however, is the accretion of scuzz?the legacy of derelict maintenance that, in all likelihood, cannot be erased.

So there you sit, on the F train chugging in from Brooklyn, and it's August and the AC (Hallelujah! It works!) is cranked, and then you enter the Delancey St. station, and the funk rushes in. It smells like the exhumed carcass of a sick cow has been trampled to jello and rubbed into the spongy concrete. Rotten bovine flesh, wormed through with maggots and suffused with steaming, noxious vapor, has been rendered down to grease and smeared everywhere. The odor is enough to make you swear off one your most valued senses. Oh, God, shut the doors, shut the doors, you plead, internally. Lots of brown and black people get on. Yeah, natch?this publicly funded livestock sepulcher serves the ethnic population of the Lower East Side. You can just hear the MTA Beelzebubs parsimoniously allocating the cleaning crews: "Hey, those people like a little fragrance in their lives." You cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief and struggle to avoid appearing dainty, when you know full well that this stink could curdle the milk in a pregnant woman's breast. The doors close. Everyone exhales, gratefully.

Best New Fountainhead
David Mamet's True and False
Manly Mamet. Mamet is a curmudgeonly old fucker, and his actor's manual True and False has really just a few points?don't ham it up, you're the piano, not the etude; don't go to grad school, go to the theater and learn your shit playing in front of audiences; don't buy into this Method hoodoo and think you have to remember busting a tooth on the kickball court to convey remorse convincingly (Mamet puts it, "You no more have to feel like...'My sister has been caught shoplifting' than you have to feel like a sick horse when you visit the veterinarian"); there is a difference between acting and what Mamet calls?with bitch-slap accuracy?"Funny Voices." But if you've got a Mamet affinity, it's almost like you can feel the strands of his subconscious swiftly rippling under the surface of the text.

True and False has been discovered as a strange new lifeline for us and a few of our friends. Funnily enough, the bulk of its proponents?that I know anyway?aren't actors but video-game designers, rappers, instrumentalists, singers, dancers. Most of them write their own material. Mamet's advice to one performing?oh, just for example?a text written by Mamet usually goes, Don't embellish. I'm the writer, squatsky, that's my job.

Mamet knows that nobody needs a nice Mamet. But he can also?slyly?make you feel good about choosing as your life's work what a friend of mine called "the most glorious form of freelancing available." Mamet says: "Those with something to fall back on usually fall back on it; they intended to all along. But those with no alternative see the world differently. The old story has the mother say to the sea captain, ' son, he cannot swim' to which the captain responds, 'well then, he better stay in the boat.'"

Yeah, that's the tough guy we paid to see. No nonsense, no hoodoo, no touchy-feely actor stuff. But in the first chapter, Mamet lets on that maybe he's fonder of the hoodoo than he lets on. "Acting is not a genteel profession," he says, con-man-loving, bad-ass-envying Mamet. "Actors used to be buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart. Those people's performances so troubled the onlookers that they feared their ghosts. An awesome compliment.

"Those players moved the audience not such that they were admitted to a graduate school, or received a complimentary review, but such that the audience feared for their souls. Now that seems to me something to aim for."

Best Political Prisoner
Lori Berenson
Christopher Brodeur Loses Again. The recent box-office failure of Brokedown Palace proves a lot of things. It demonstrates that women's prison movies aren't what they used to be, and that most Claire Danes fans have likely grown out of their poor taste. Above all, it thankfully makes a case that Americans don't care about the plight of spoiled American girls who think they can blithely break the laws of other countries. If they had changed the title to Let Them Rot Slowly, the film might still be #1 at the box office.

Fortunately, we still have Lori Berenson as a real crowd pleaser. This Manhattan gal went running off on a world tour where she routinely hooked up with terrorist left-wing groups. Democracy was the enemy, and Lori had a fine time working against it in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Then she?along with her arms dealer buddies?headed off to Peru. She joined fellow terrorists in the Tupac Amaru, which was planning to seize the Peruvian congress and hold members hostage. Peru got to them first in 1995. Wise military judges promptly threw Lori's ass in jail for a life sentence.

Lori wasn't repentant, and you wish her family would go along with her revolutionary spirit. But they insist on keeping Lori in the news as a poor, tragic victim. There's currently a petition asking President Clinton to take all necessary steps, "short of going to war," to force Peru to free this terrorist. The sad thing is that it's signed by 200 members of Congress, most of whom must have no idea of the facts in the case. Maybe they think Lori is like sweet little Claire Danes in Brokedown Palace. Did 200 people go on the opening weekend?

Of course, Congress does have a few terrorist-loving types like our own Rep. Nydia Velazquez. Hers is likely one of the first names on that petition. It would be her right. People are welcome to their own low opinion of Peruvians. We personally think Peru deserves democracy. And on a lousy Manhattan day, with the heat coming on and the stench rising off the street, we still take time to look around and think that it's a really good place to live. We're free to walk the streets, and Lori Berenson is safely locked far away.

Best Museum Staff
The Cloisters
Fort Tryon Park
They Won't Go Medieval on You. Back in the 1300s when Satan had real artists to front for him instead of Marilyn Manson, people could happily scare the shit out of themselves with the sculptures, paintings and other decorative arts meant to keep the peasants on the path of rectitude. But times change. Now that Old Scratch is little more than a get-out-the-vote gimmick for creationists and 700 Club types, there's nothing more peaceful than checking out the true old boy on an afternoon wander through the dim and cool rooms of the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum's collection of Middle Ages art.

The hush of tapestry-hung walls and the quiet grace of the ancient altars make for a meditative and relaxing day. Complementing the experience is the Cloisters staff, some of the most pleasant and helpful people we've met at a major museum?a rarity in a city where you get attitude not only from the McDonald's burger flipper, but the $25,000-a-year Yale art history majors whining through their days at MOMA. Example: The Cloisters allows non-flash photography; one staffer not only helped us schlep a fat tripod and a heavyweight view camera, but even suggested angles and interesting subjects. One day when we got there late?about an hour before closing?the woman behind the desk volunteered to give us a free pass to come back at any time.

Everyone there from the guards to the eggheads is unfailingly polite, informative and welcoming. Maybe it's the monkish trappings that surround them, but the Cloisters personnel never intrudes on the museum experience. And with its exquisite view of the Hudson, the surrounding park outside and some fascinating artifacts from the days of the Plague inside, the Cloisters provides the perfect 14th-century refuge from the City of Complete Concrete.

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