Thursday, May 31, 2007


I was curious to see in the mail on Wednesday an ominous-looking envelope from the Parking Violations Bureau, Red Light Violation Monitoring Program. Dum da dum dum. On the drive out to Rockaway on Saturday, I had, in my impatience, not been able to bear to stop at the umpteenth light that turned red at my approach. My passenger, the delightful and generous (if stubborn) MQ, had said, “Red light!” Enough red lights, already, I’d thought, and barrelled through; I’ll stop for every other one. (I may have been spending too much time in Italy.)

The document inside the envelope was a first in my experience. It showed three photographs: one, from the rear, of my car entering a crosswalk in the split second after the light had changed; another, taken 1.15 seconds later, of said car proceeding through the intersection under the red light; and, lest there be any doubt that it was my car (I recognized the lineup of fishing permits on the right rear bumper), there, in damning closeup, was my license plate. Ouch.

On closer examination (I’m used to examining these things closely, in case there’s some mistake that would be grounds for dismissal), I realized, first, that this light, on Cross Bay Boulevard at Liberty Avenue, seemed to be the first one I blew through, which MQ didn’t comment on. (The second was farther south, on the other side of Howard Beach.) And then, noticing that it was kind of dark in the photos, I saw that the so-called Notice of Liability documented a violation not on last Saturday afternoon but on the evening of Sunday, April 22nd, at 19:36:31, when I was northbound on Cross Bay Boulevard, returning to the city, alone, with no cats in the back seat and no restraining influence in the passenger seat.

I had been alarmed at the city’s efficiency, so in a way it was a relief to realize that the violation was a month old. Then again chances are pretty good that I’ll be hearing from the Red Light Camera Monitoring Program again.

I don’t have to go directly to jail, and I will not receive points on my driver’s license, but I do have to forfeit fifty dollars. And mend my ways.

Hot Water

The summer travel season is under way, as the Times puts it, which means that the winter parking season is over, and it’s cat-chauffeuring time. I moved out to the beach last Saturday, luring one reluctant cat into her box with a sprinkling of Kitty Kaviar, while the other, the Amazing Norbert, was eager to go wherever the cat food was going. I gave a ride to my friend MQ, who lets me park my car (formerly her car) in her driveway, and who lent a hand with the cats. They were quiet in the back seat, and I got them all the way to the door of the bungalow before three helicopters roared over, flying low, probably on their way back from the air show at Jones Beach, setting off every dog and car alarm on the peninsula, and incidentally terrorizing two newly arrived cats. It reminded me of the Concorde.

I had turned the water on in Rockaway earlier in the month, surprising myself with my studliness. Now it was time for the hot-water heater. Usually, my neighbor T. fires up the hot-water heater for me—a fireman’s daughter, I am a little afraid of explosions—but he and his wife, also T., were getting ready for a party, so I thought I’d try to do it myself. I got out my notes. Step 1: “Turn cock in pipe.” That’s easy enough: just take a small wrench and turn the valve on the gas pipe from horizontal to vertical, permitting the gas to get to the heater. Then, “Press down red button (2 min.).” T. has always had to fooster (my mother’s word) with this red button for quite a while before enough gas comes through for him to light the pilot. “Set top dial to Pilot”; “Set temp to off (vacation)”; “Light pilot”; “Turn up knob slowly”—“That’s so it don’t blow up in your face,” T. said.

I must have known, despite my good intentions, that I was going to end up asking T. to come over and help, because before I did anything else I cleaned up the area around the hot-water heater. It was all furry with dust. While cleaning, I noticed a phalanx of ants on maneuvers in the direction of the cat-food bowls. I attacked the ants with Windex, which is my improvement on my grandmother’s method, which was to pour boiling water on them. (I mean that it is an improvement not in the Buddhist sense of being less cruel but in the housecleaning sense of being faster and more convenient: it takes long minutes for the water to come to a boil as the ants come marching, and then your kitchen floor is awash with the corpses of parboiled ants.) Every summer there is a plague of ants, but this year, catching them early, on their way past their first redoubt at the hot-water heater, before they summitted the sink and the kitchen counters and turned the corner into the living room, I tracked them to their source: the chinks and gaps in the bathroom floor. Since you can’t spray Windex on every individual ant in creation, I set out ant traps and later bought a gel dispensed like caulking from a pump . . . but I digress.

Once the floor was relatively clean, I got my kitchen matches and my needle-nosed pliers and prostrated myself before the hot-water heater. I positioned the dials and held the red button for a long, long time, finding a use for a Pilates move called the Swan as I managed to keep the pressure on the red button with the hand holding the matchbox, strike the match with the other hand, fit it into the pliers, and stick it inside the heater, in the general direction of the pilot light, though I couldn’t actually see where the pilot light was. I repeated this exercise about six times without success, then gave up and went and got T.

“Didja press down on the red button?” he asked.

“Oh, DOWN.” I looked back at my notes, and that is exactly what it said, but for some reason I had been pulling up on the red button. I must have primed it, though, because T. had the pilot lit almost instantly. “I don’t know how hot you want it,” he said, turning the temperature dial. There was a whoosh as the fire ran around the ring, and I was in business.

I bought T. a six-pack of Budweiser, and went down to the beach. You can do a lot with cold running water—drink it, clean with it, boil it and kill ants with it—but there is nothing like a hot shower after your first dip in the Atlantic Ocean on Memorial Day Weekend.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rite of Passage

I have always made fun of people who clean for the cleaning lady, but yesterday morning there I was. A friend had advised, “Go around in front of her, picking things up. The idea is to have her clean actual surfaces.” I started in the kitchen, doing the dishes and trying to find places to put things away. My apartment is like a Rubik’s cube: to find a place for one thing, you have to move a whole series of other things. The oven is for storage. Unfortunately, so is the dishwasher, which has never been hooked up, because the building's plumbing will not support it. Did I mention that it's a galley kitchen?

She arrived early, before 8 A.M. She's Polish. When she came in, she changed into bedroom slippers. She made two requests: small rags, which I provided, and, when she saw how low I was on cleanser, Soft Scrub, which I ran to the store and bought. She started in the kitchen (my instincts were good), then tackled the bathroom, the bedroom and the hallway, and finally the living room. Meanwhile, I did the laundry, put away clothes, cleared the desk, and paid my car-insurance bill (it went up). She charged me a hundred dollars for this one time. If I asked her to come regularly—say, once every two weeks—it would be seventy dollars (eighty with laundry). I didn’t even ask if she does windows.

She cleaned with incredible enthusiasm, finishing in three hours, and vacuuming twice. I paid her willingly, thanked her and praised her effusively. I said it would have taken me all weekend, because I’d have dragged around—I am an extremely reluctant housecleaner. “Is my profession,” she said proudly.

I thought I would feel guilty for having a cleaning lady. My mother didn’t have a cleaning lady until she was in her seventies. My grandmother WAS a cleaning lady. I looked around after my new Polish cleaning lady had left: O.K., she’d pitched my spare bottle of dishwashing detergent (what the British call “washing-up liquid”; I love that); I kept a small amount of diluted detergent in it for rinsing my eyeglasses (a household tip, ladies). And she all but ruined the cat-dancers—those wire things with sprigs of cardboard on the ends that the cats chase for exercise—by bending them severely, rather than coiling them gently, to get them out of the way (they’re hell on vacuum cleaners). And I believe she cleaned my bong, which was totally unnecessary. But I felt the opposite of guilt: a burden had been lifted from me—everything was clean.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sweet Spot

I found a spot on my usual parking block last Sunday, and sat in it for a half hour on Monday morning, in a completely civilized, non-anxiety-provoking alternate-side-parking session: the sweeper came at 7:45; the guy in back of me made room for me, and I made room for the woman in front of me. Because alternate-side is suspended on Wednesday and Thursday for Shavuot and on Monday for Memorial Day, I would be good till the end of the month, if I weren’t planning on observing Memorial Day in the time-honored fashion, by getting out of town.

Shavuot turns out to be interesting. On a Web site called Judaism 101, I learned that this Jewish holiday, called the Feast of the Weeks, is celebrated seven weeks after Passover (vaguely corresponding with Pentecost, which falls fifty days after Easter, but has nothing to do with it, nothing at all, and is not on the Alternate Side Parking Calendar, so just forget about it). It commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. (One Web site features a still of Charlton Heston as Moses, receiving the Ten Commandments.) The Israelites overslept that day for their date with G-d, and so to make up for it, it is traditional to stay up all night the night before, reading the Torah. Shavuot is also a harvest festival (barley, first fruits), and one of the readings is the Book of Ruth, which is a lot about barley. Ruth, a convert to Judaism, was the great-grandmother of King David, and Shavuot also happens to be David’s birthday, as well as his death day. (It is the year 5767, by the way.) Finally, in observance of the dietary laws set forth in the Torah (or perhaps as an homage to the land of milk and honey), it is customary on this day to eat a dairy meal, preferably cheesecake, the apotheosis of dairy.

Of all the pastries associated with religious holidays—hot cross buns, jelly doughnuts, zeppole—this cheesecake of Moses is my favorite.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


My friend in Campagnano was ideally situated for the artichoke festival. This time, instead of our driving into Rome to find a parking place, the Romans drove to Campagnano and were directed by the police to park outside of town. We walked a couple of hundred yards down the Via Roma, which had been set up for a soapbox derby, to a big field, at the back of which men were stoking fires, made with piles of dried stalks from last year’s vines, preparing beds of glowing embers on enormous grills. It was a little like a county fair, except that the local wine arrived in big plastic tanks on the back of a pickup truck decorated with gorse, or broom, or some yellow-flowering vegetation, and was served free (“vino gratis”), by children. “Rosso o bianco?” they asked eagerly, before turning on the tap at the end of a pipe connected to the vat and filling a plastic cup to the brim.

Campagnano is famous for its artichokes, grown in the Valle del Baccano, and destined mostly for the market in Paris. I had bought two artichokes on my first day: beautiful firm purple-green globes with long, long stems, laid crosswise in a crate, for fifty cents apiece (euro cents). Roy trimmed them and stuffed them with garlic, wild mint, and pepper, and boiled them for fifteen minutes. He used the artichoke water to cook the pasta while he scraped the flesh off the leaves and chopped the stems and the hearts to make a sauce with olive oil, garlic (a clove), and cream: pasta ai carciofi campagnanesi. I used to think there was something magical about white wine with artichokes, but when they’re cooked with garlic and olive oil, instead of dipped in butter and lemon, red wine is fine. We finished up with an amaro from the Abruzzi.

At the scarciofata—which is Campagnano dialect for "artichoke feast," or “scarf carciofi”—the artichokes, trimmed and dressed with oil, garlic, and mint, are grilled in the field. They’re served with bread (3 euros) or with bread and sausage (5 euros). I started with one sausage and two artichokes. The scarciofata would not be so much fun to attend alone, so I will describe the company. Our host was Roy, an American living in Campagnano. First to arrive was Pietro, a Roman visiting from Brazil. Then Paige and Grant, a music teacher from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and an English graphic designer. Then Guido, a Roman who is on Italian radio, with his daughter Carlotta (at an age when her smile reveals gaps of missing teeth) and his friend Gianni and their friend Rosie (a Venetian). And finally Tony, an Irishman who came to Italy to become Pope Patrick I (but something went wrong between him and the Vatican), and his Irish-Italian son Enda, currently of Toronto. It rained on and off, and we lifted up our picnic table and squeezed it in between two others under a tarp. Smoke billowed from the grills, where men used pairs of special pointed sticks to set the artichokes in the embers and pluck them out when they were done. The two local rival bands played (one Communist, one Catholic), and there were majorettes and rock bands and other regional entertainments: dancers; huge hoops and a boat powered by men pumping pedals; cymbals and wooden clappers on the ends of gigantic, garishly painted upright wooden tongs; clowns in inflatable suits toppling into the crowd, like those punching bags that you can’t knock over. I got back in line for three more artichokes. I ate one, gave one to Guido, and took the last one home. (I ate it later, cold, with a glass of Cynar, the artichoke aperitif. The outermost leaves were caramelized.) “I like artichokes,” I said, digging the choke out to get to the heart. “We noticed,” Guido said.

When it was over, when the last of Roy’s guests had hiked to their cars and gone back to Rome or on to Umbria or over to Lake Bracciano, I went out for a look around the town as it disassembled itself on a Sunday night. There were still a few artichokes on the grills at the picnic grounds; a man plucked one out, brushed the burnt leaves off, and sucked the heart out from the bottom. Farther into town, someone was loading crates of artichokes into a truck. “How much?” I asked, holding out a five-euro bill. I went back to Roy’s with a crate of two dozen artichokes on my shoulder.

We did our best to eat all those artichokes, Roy stewing them up with garlic and breadcrumbs. In the end, I was forced to trim some to fit a size-8 shoe, bag them in plastic, and smuggle them in my luggage to England (where they were eaten California style, with sparkling white wine). We ate out a few times in Campagnano. Once I had risotto ai carciofi, and on my last night, at a restaurant called Benigni (it has prosecco on tap: the Italians have some really good ideas), I had ravioli ai carciofi, which was sublime, the platonic ideal of an artichoke-and-pasta dish. I learned to rotate my right hand in small clockwise circles to indicate pleasure beyond belief. I was wearing what I think of as my artichoke outfit: brown pants and a loose mint-green shirt with splashes of red wine.

Is there such a thing as artichoke poisoning? It seemed to me, on the plane home, when I licked my lips that I had something in my system, strong as an antibiotic. I was pickled with red wine and artichokes.

(With thanks to Mr. Zimmerman.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Parking, Italian Style

Via della Farnesina, Rome (left to right): A spina, a spina, a fila, doppia a fila, a fila, motorino (on sidewalk), a spina (Smart car).

Streetsweeper at an exhibition.

State of the Art Police Lamborghini in the Piazza del Popolo.

Friday, May 11, 2007

When in Rome

In the Eternal City, parking, like everything else, is an art. It calls for creativity. Not that I’m doing it myself—God, no. I have been lucky enough to get chauffeured around a little. For a party in the historic center on Saturday night, a friend whom I’ve been staying with in Campagnano, which is about twenty miles north of Rome, drove in early and found a spot “a spina” on a little street just a few blocks from the Tevere. I kept picturing him having to leave the party to feed the meter, but he put six euros in one of those boxes on the street and got a little slip of paper to lay on the dashboard that made the car legal till the following morning. “A spina” means “like fish bones”: you park aslant of the curb, like fish bones sticking out of the spine. The alternative is to park “a fila,” in a straight line, or parallel to the curb.

A make of car that is very popular here is the Smart car. Smart cars are so short that they can be parked “a spina” in a spot designated for parallel parking. They are about the size of a Roman dumpster, and are often seen parked among dumpsters. They remind me of nothing so much as Bump’em cars, or Dodg’ems, as we used to call them. They’re just big enough for two (in fact, they say “fortwo” on the back, which must sound funny in Italian), and they look like normal small cars but are truncated: there is no back seat. They take up about the same amount of space as two motorcycles, side by side. And they look like fun to drive—maybe too much fun, like Bump’em cars.

Romans create parking spaces where there are none. On a street designated for parking a spina, if all the spots are taken, you add a space for yourself at the end of a row. If you have to block a pedestrian zone, well, you gotta do what you gotta do. If you have to park in a pedestrian zone on a street designated for parking a fila, it’s a good idea not to make too good a job of it—leave it looking studiedly haphazard, sticking out into the street a little, so it’s clear you were in a hurry and you will be in a hurry to get out, too. Where two roads merge and form a wedge, generally painted in white stripes, cars are parked there. Also the medians are just wide enough to park a small car. Double parking is also a possibility, as is double parking a fila along a line of cars parked a spina.

While commuting from Campagnano to Rome to sightsee, I spent quite a lot of time on public transportation. There were two routes: a shuttle bus to a commuter train at Cesano to the Metropolitana at Aurelia (or all the way to Ostiense, the end of the line); and a regular bus to a different commuter train (Roma Nord), at Saxa Rubra, to the Metropolitana at Flaminio. For a few days, I moved from Campagnano to the Via della Farnesina, in what turns out to be sort of the Roman equivalent of the Upper East Side (but not really). I took the shuttle bus to the train to the Metropolitana to a tram, and walked: two hours, door to door. Later, I met a friend in Trastevere: tram again, Metropolitana again, with a change at Termini (Grand Central Station) to the other line of the Metropolitana, and then the airport train for one stop. Fortunately, I had bought a ticket that was good all day (four euros). At the end of the day, I took the Metropolitana from a stop called Piramide, near where Shelley is buried, to the Colosseum, then walked up to the Piazza del Popolo (where there is a big exhibition glorifying the 155th anniversary of the state police), and then took the tram to Ponte Milvio. This bridge has been in the news because of a custom in which one writes one's beloved’s name on a padlock, locks it to a chain around one of the poles on the bridge, and throws the key in the river. Historically, this is the place where Constantine entered Rome. I have yet to find out why it’s called Milvio.

Today I will take the Roma Nord line back to Campagnano, switching to the bus at Saxa Rubra. We had passed Saxa Rubra on the ring road when we were coming to the party last Saturday. There is a big complex for RAI, the Italian TV and radio stations; the building is a recycled design for a penitentiary in South America. My friend pointed out to me the strange baffles above and alongside the roadway: they look like something erected to protect your car from falling rocks, but there are no mountains next to the road that rocks might fall off of. What is next to the road is a neighborhood of rich people who did not want the noise of the ring road. The baffles, and Plexiglas stenciled with seagull silhouettes, are to keep the noise down.

My friend also told me the significance of Saxa Rubra, or Red Rocks. Here in about 301 A.D. Constantine defeated Diocletian, having been converted to Christianity on the eve of battle: “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (“Under this sign [the cross] you win”). (The motto is on packs of Pall Mall cigarettes.) It was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire: the rocks were red with blood. Now, of course, Saxa Rubra is a commuter parking lot. I thought I saw shantytowns along the tracks, and in the parking lot at Saxa Rubra there was a whole trailer village. It’s the ultimate parking spot: you live there and commute to Rome.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


I went out to Rockaway to turn on the water in my bungalow for the season. It is a job that always makes me nervous. The people who talked me into buying the bungalow made it sound so easy. “Don’t worry. We won’t let you get in trouble,” they said. The previous owner, a Bingo-playing Irish matriarch from the Bronx, had a son-in-law who did the job for her. (I bought the place from her estate.) It came with this “key” on a stick, a little molded-polyvinyl fitting for a valve three feet underground that you twist one quarter turn and voila: the water comes on. You check for leaks, the plumber fixes any leaks, and you’re in business. But what plumber? I wanted to know. For some reason they were very cagey about supplying the name of a plumber. I could never figure it out: Were they reserving any possible plumbing projects for themselves? A little extra income? Or was there no plumber? Or was it just the horror among bungalow owners of paying someone to do something that you could do yourself or get someone else to do for nothing?

After a few years, those people decamped for Florida, the traitors. I finally did find a plumber. He turns the water off for me in the fall, and blows any standing water out of the pipes with an antiquated compressor, so that I will be less likely to spring a leak. “I guess I’ll see you in the spring, when you turn the water back on,” I said to him the first time. And even he said, “Can’t you do that yourself?”

So I went out there feeling ambivalent: maybe I’d turn the water on, maybe I wouldn’t. Of course, it’s nice to have water—without it, I’m using the facilities at the local McDonald’s of a Sunday morning. And if it doesn’t work out, if there are leaks and all my friends with plumbing expertise are hiding (as well they might), I will have to let it go until the plumber comes back from Florida, in late May. I didn’t realize how keenly I was hoping for help until I ran into a neighbor who has helped in the past, and he said he had to go to a wake later in the day. No one who has to go to a wake is going to crawl under someone's house to help with the plumbing.

When I first bought the bungalow, in 2000, I wanted to know how everything worked. I wanted to master the plumbing. Now I couldn’t remember the first thing. I consulted my notes, the single sheet of paper that the previous owner’s son-in-law had left for me. It said, “Put in plug first.” Good. There are really only three steps. You put the plugs into the pipes under the house. You turn the water on by tapping the underground line with the famous key on a stick ("Key is behind bedroom door"). And you remove the three-inch plug from the waste line, a safeguard against backups during the winter.

I got out my big red wrench. I don’t actually need such a big wrench, but I like to slam it down on the table out on the porch to announce my intentions. I found the two plugs, which I keep in the silverware drawer. One of them looked pretty corroded, but it was already too late to go to the hardware store for a new one. From my toolbox I got a smaller wrench and a roll of silicon tape. I changed into my worst old clothes: paint-stained sweatpants, old red tennis shoes, and a flannel shirt bought at a yard sale. Then I spread an old tablecloth out under the edge of the house (its “foundation” is some cinder blocks), slithered under there, found the places in the pipes where the plugs fit (I had already rolled fresh tape around the plugs, trying to wind it in the right direction, though that is difficult when you don't really understand the way pipes are threaded in the first place), screwed the plugs in, and tightened them with the wrench.

Then I made sure all the faucets were off, except the one in the outdoor shower, so that I could see the water when it came on. I took a trowel and a hammer and my precious key out to where the access pipe to the water line is, and pried the cap off. The key, a three-inch chunk of orange vinyl screwed to the bottom of a slat from a white picket fence, is supposed to fit over a valve in the pipe underground. This is the most frustrating part of the job. I can’t see anything down there, and generally allow about forty-five minutes to get the key in position. This time, possibly because I didn’t even try to see the fitting and was just doing it by touch, the way I'd seen the plumber doing it, I got it to engage almost immediately. I twisted it and felt this surge and heard the water spurting from the shower. Yes! I hate plumbing, but this sensation of tapping into the New York City water system makes me feel like Moses drawing water from a stone.

Now you have to be prudent and leave the key in place while checking for leaks. One year there was a veritable Niagara from the toilet. Another year all the pipes along the bottom of the house were dripping, and I was desperate. The handyman I tried to hire had some kind of emergency, and then it was Mother’s Day (just try to find a plumber who will work on Mother’s Day), and finally my friend G., whose mother is dead, came to my rescue. He donned a hazmat suit and went under the house and replaced a few lengths of pipe, using a kind of fitting that made soldering unnecessary. He looked like an astronaut down there on his back. I felt like an operating-room nurse, handing him tools. Last year, a different pipe was leaking, but my neighbor T., the one had to go to a wake, fixed it by turning the water off to a spare hot-water heater. Anyway, now I was on my own. I checked the plugs under the house: they were holding. Water spurted out of the top of that spare hot-water heater, and I shut that valve. But there was no ignoring the persistent sound of rain beneath the house. Sure enough, water was sluicing out of a pipe deep under the house. So I had to turn the water off, remove the key, and recap the access pipe, and then go to the nearest bar to use their bathroom.

I had removed, with great effort, the big red plug that keeps the house safe from my neighbors’ waste products over the winter. This is an ugly job, but once it’s done it’s possible to flush the toilet with a bucket of water—if you have water. I tried to take some consolation from having at least got that nasty job done; at least everything would be ready for the plumber when he came back from Florida. Gradually I remembered that when the plumber turned the water off last fall, he might have reopened the valve that T. had closed in the spring—I could almost see his face as he turned the knob—and I decided that it would be worth finding that valve and sealing it off, and then turning the water back on again to see if this year’s leak was the same as last year’s leak and might have the same solution. This time, it took a little longer to engage the underground valve with the key, but I finally got it: I felt the surge, heard the water in the shower, and looked under the house: it wasn't leaking. I had fixed it—or, at any rate, avoided having to fix it for another year. Perhaps this is the year I will have that second hot-water heater removed and install an indoor shower or a microbrewery.

All my neighbors are what used to be called “winter people.” Their houses, whether they rent or own, are winterized, and they live here all year long. Mine is the last summer bungalow, the last with an outdoor shower, the last to require these semiannual plumbing rites. The only reason I can think of to winterize—besides, of course, having heat in winter and running water all year round—is not to have to endure this rite of spring. And maybe also to have a microbrewery.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

More on Ukuleles

I saw Tom Harker, of Circleville, Ohio, playing his ukulele on the stoop of Murray’s Space Shoe, site of the New Year’s Eve Ukulele Drop, last Friday night, and stopped to listen and get directions to Julius, on West Tenth Street, where the Ukulele Rejects were playing. It was the Second Annual New York Uke Fest, and the local crowd—the ones who turn up monthly for the ukulele cabaret, hosted by Sonic Uke (a.k.a. Jason and Ted)—were feeling excluded. Across town, there was a three-hundred-ukulele circus going on. Still, the regulars had something the Uke Fest did not: Scotty the Blue Bunny was hosting.

The Bunny wears a sheer blue bodysuit with a hood, extra-high Lucite heels, and super-tall bunny ears. He says he suffers from “obsessive-compulsive performance disorder.” The Bunny used to be zaftig, but then he lost weight and discovered Pilates and now he is a svelte, ripped bunny, and looks taller than ever. With his heels and ears on, he is over seven feet tall.

The Ukulele Rejects were backstage in a black room with a black picket fence and sticky black tables with a couple of ancient French fries stuck to them. It was hot—the radiator was on full blast—and smelled of a recent visit by the exterminator. There was a refrigerator with a padlock on it. A painting of a cuke and two tomatoes suggested the old cock and balls. According to the Bunny, Julius is the oldest gay bar in the Village and its name means “the happiest place on earth.”

A skinny guy named Andrew was revved to go on, but he had to wait his turn. Scotty introduced D’yan Forest. His notes for her read “Incorrect lesbian sings about senior sex.” I had seen her act before, and while it is astonishing when you’re hearing it for the first time, she could use some fresh material. Towards the end, she introduced some obscene finger puppets, as well as a prop for “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (a fluorescent dildo). As she left the stage, the Bunny ad-libbed, “Does Ben Gay make good lube?”

“I can’t believe there’s sports on in a gay bar,” the Bunny said. He introduced his friend Mary Martin, a.k.a. the Uke Diva, who sang “Ukulele Gypsy,” about her need to find a place to stay when she comes to New York (sorry, I’m still recovering from the Italian-Argentine house guest), and did a cover of “Ring of Fire.” She also played two songs she had just written during a stay in a dune shack in Provincetown.

“Don’t you just hate when there’s someone playing the ukulele between you and the bar?” Scotty said as he waited backstage.

Andrew thought his turn had come, but for some reason the program order changed and he had to sit through a set by a guy who had come with his own entourage, all of whom gradually joined him onstage. When he announced that they were doing two more, Andrew groaned—"Two more!?"— and stretched out on a bench.

Scotty said the bartender had asked him, “How long is this going to go on?”

Finally, Andrew took the stage, but he had already peaked, and he knew it. One of his lyrics was “Hard sweet and sticky, she’s tired of my dickie.” He put on a headband featuring the cock and balls (to blend in?) and smashed a toy ukulele at the end of his act.

“That’s it,” Scotty says. “One more introduction and I’m outta here.”

Tom Harker and Uke Diva were gossiping backstage. Evidently there is a schism in the uke world. Tom finished his set with an ode to Pee-wee Herman: “Pee-wee, where did you go?” (This one stuck with me and I was still humming it the next day.) Meanwhile, Gio, the heavy-metal uke player, was putting chains on, adjusting elbow guards. I’m not sure what he was supposed to be: a roller derby star?

The Bunny peeled off his costume and changed into his street clothes. He stuffed his high-high heels in a duffel bag. Then he held up what looked like a black portfolio. “Ear protectors,” he said. And he bounded off into the night.