Meet Leicester Holt

Just days after the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League season came to a close, the marketing wizards behind NBC’s coverage of the English league created a napkin to whet the American appetite for the 2014-15 season.

Lester Leicester

If you’re Stateside and confused, that’s OK. “Lester” is Leicester City F.C., one of the three clubs promoted from the Championship to the Premier League for the upcoming season. (They absolutely stomped through their Championship competition.) Now say the name “Leicester City” out loud: “Lester City,” not “Lie-ster City.” Got it? Great! Now, the next step is for the geniuses in the NBC marketing department to create a series of commercials centered on the club.

I know, I know. After reading these first few paragraphs, you’ve probably already thought of this idea that I’ll gush about; it’s low-hanging fruit. Heck, NBC has probably already thought of the same idea and [1] laughed at the stupidity of the idea and trashed it or [2] laughed at the stupidity of the idea and are now filming it as we speak. But I shall proceed, because America — nay, the world — needs to see this.

Lester Holt, one of NBC’s well-known news anchors, is a weekend host of Today. Leicester City F.C., ten years removed from its last Premier League season, is now one of the 20 best clubs in England. NBC needs to put them together and introduce us to Leicester Holt.

It’s a simple premise: the first commercial is Holt broadcasting a lighthearted segment at the end of the weekend edition of Today. A chyron error misidentifies Holt as “Leicester Holt.” After the show, a confused Holt confronts the graphics intern, a fan of the Premier League, over the error, which starts a string of events where the intern guides Holt as they explore the history and tradition of Leicester City. Get Arlo White, NBC’s lead play-by-play commentator and the most famous Leicester supporter known to Americans, in a 30 second spot where Holt interrogates him about the club. The final commercial will show Holt complete his transformation from curious journalist/American to a full-fledged Foxes fan, going so far as to tear off his suit and dress shirt in a rage of passion in the final on-air moments of an episode of Today, revealing a Leicester jersey underneath it all. Then the feed abruptly cuts to a startled and silent Rebecca Lowe, Kyle Martino, and Robbie Earle.

The brilliance of this idea is its stupidity simplicity. It’s all about the homophone.

NBC, you already went down the parody route last season with its series of commercials starring Jason Sudekis as a clueless American trying to coach Tottenham Hotspur. Now up the ante, NBC, with the Leicester/Lester homophone. Make your very own Lester Holt a superstar among us soccer fans who are illiterate in TV news. Commit to Leicester Holt like how we’ve committed to the Premier League. I’m sure he’ll be a swell lad.

Arlington National Cemetery

The most poignant, yet devastating, words I’ll ever read are etched in the west face of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery:

HERE RESTS IN
HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN
SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

The most painful part of reading those words is that the identities of the three soldiers who lie in rest at the Tomb of the Unknowns, one each for World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, will never be known to their families. They were sons, possibly brothers, possibly husbands, possibly fathers — but they were people taken from their family for their country and then taken away from this world far too soon. Their sacrifice and the sacrifice made by their loved ones will never be attributed formally to their names, but this sanctuary within a sanctuary gave me the opportunity to thank them silently for what they have given America.

I witnessed the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Saturday for the 6 pm watch. The magnitude of the occasion was not lost on me and the other visitors as we stood in silence, watching the Relief Commander direct the transition between the outgoing and incoming Sentinel Guards. As I watched the Relief Commander inspect the weapon and uniform of the new sentinel, I imagined the Relief Commander in a distant past, younger and as a relief guard being inspected. He then stood guard through rain, snow, and sun, until my mind wandered back to the present. In a distant future, the two men switching roles may be performing the duties of this Relief Commander… and the cycle continues.

The path along Roosevelt Drive to the Tomb of the Unknowns told the stories of countless American men and women whose military service earned them the privilege to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

I saw graves for men my age who died in Vietnam, too young for families of their own; instead of a spouse or children by their names, the names of their parents accompany them.

I saw graves where there was a gap of 10+ years between the passing of the two spouses buried together. It took some time, but they are finally reunited in this hallowed ground for eternity.

I saw graves where the dates under the name of the soldier are blank, but beneath that gap, is the name of a child and two dates for that child’s name. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of experiencing war, but then having to bury your child — some were as young as weeks old — in Arlington. As I walked past those graves, I hoped that those men and women found some solace in knowing that their child will be the first to greet them when that time comes.

The circumstances for each name I read in Arlington are different, but they all shared that bond of sacrifice in the name of the United States. When I left the cemetery at 6:30 pm, the air of solemnity in the grounds followed me out of the gates. I took one glance back at the gates of Arlington and saw the sunset over the hills of the cemetery. The beauty of that sight lifted the solemn thoughts floating in my mind and replaced them with thoughts of gratitude.

Swan Diving into Swan Lake

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All it took was a chance encounter inside the flagship UNIQLO store on Fifth Avenue to land me in the audience of an American Ballet Theatre performance of that famous Tchaikovsky ballet, Swan Lake.

On June 21st, I was on the second floor of that UNIQLO, passing through the center corridor to get to the men’s section for my window shopping of the polyester polo shirts and shorts that Novak Djokovic uses on the ATP tour. Airtight packaging containing the brand’s signature summer line of AIRism innerwear lined the blue-lit walls of that corridor. For the men: AIRism crew necks, V-necks, boxer briefs, and steteco on the left side of that corridor; for the women: AIRism camisoles, crew necks, V-necks, and hiphuggers on the right side of that same corridor. Also to my right: Polina Semionova. Sort of.

To be more precise, it was a 30 second video of Semionova promoting AIRism. The video ran on an infinite loop on the monitors at both ends of the corridor, and with the neon-blue lights and the immense stock of shirts between the monitors, the corridor had a Nineteen Eighty-Four vibe to it.

Semionova, dressed in a white AIRism camisole (obviously) with a gray sweater draped over her shoulders, was sewing a ballet slipper in her apartment. Her white and gray cat sat on the windowsill next to her, and Semionova’s eyes drifted from the slipper, to the cat, and then to the Manhattan skyline beyond the window. The peacefulness of the scene suggested gave Semionova an aura of tranquility that appealed to me. I made a note to Google her after I left New York for the day and so at 3am, I found out that Semionova was a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre and that the ABT was performing Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center on the following weekend. I was already scheduled to spend three days in New York the following weekend for the 16th Del Close Marathon.

It was fate telling me that our paths should cross. Watching improv taught to say “yes.”

So at 3 am, the perfect time for making a decision, I bought a ticket to the matinee performance of Swan Lake on June 28th, when Semionova was the Queen of the Swans, Princess Odette. My knowledge of ballet was nonexistent, and what little I knew about Swan Lake was gleaned from an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures. I was saying “yes” to seeing a talented woman I was infatuated with perform her craft at an elite level; I was saying “yes” to a new experience to learn about something I normally don’t care about.

AIRism

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A brief survey of the crowd at the Lincoln Center showed that I was the black swan in the crowd.

I was decked out in a Florida t-shirt and jeans. Everyone else — families with their children, couples on a date, the elderly — was dressed up in some way or another; dresses, collared shirts, khakis, polo shirts, and dress shoes were the norm. My bad on the unwritten dress code, snobs everyone.

My ticket was for a “partial view” — in everyday English, that’s called “cheap” — box seat on the fourth tier up from the stage, a tier named the Dress Circle (also the name of the store for wedding dresses that I will open up with my nonexistent capital). I sat next to a woman on my right who could have passed for my mother and a Korean couple to my left.

While her boyfriend stepped away to use the bathroom, the woman in the relationship made eye contact with me and gave me a smile that said “Oh, that’s so cool that you’re a guy watching a ballet by yourself.”

I silently replied with raised eyebrows, a slight smile, and nodding that said “I have no idea what the heck I’m doing here.”

In the 30 minutes before the show began, I scanned the rest of the packed Metropolitan Opera House, which looked like it hit its capacity of 3,800, and spotted one other guy, sitting in the box seat directly across the theater from me, wearing a t-shirts and jeans.

It was fate that our paths would cross. We weren’t alone in our casualwear.

I also read the Playbill provided to the audience, which is an amazing resource to have when you’re about to watch something where verbal communication does not exist. The Playbill contains a section that describes the plot in each act; I spoiled the ending to Swan Lake before the lights dimmed. But that’s OK, because without that Playbill, I would have missed a lot of plot points. One of the big plot points that the Playbill told me to catch was in Act II, when Prince Siegfried (Cory Stearns, standing in for an injured David Hallberg) is about to use his crossbow on the villainous, demon-looking sorcerer Von Rothbert (Roman Zhurbin). Odette glides in front of the villain and spreads her arms open in one of those typical ballerina poses, dissuading Siegfried from shooting. If Siegfried shot and killed Von Rothbert, the hex that the sorcerer placed on Odette would have killed her.

The language barrier between ballet and me prevented me from understanding all of the choreography I saw in Swan Lake. I mean, everyone looked like they nailed their moves perfectly to me, but I have no idea if I actually witnessed a technically superior performance or just a good one; based on the standing ovation and four curtain calls, I’m assuming it was an excellent performance.  I just knew that the music was great and that it made the story appear to feel a little more uplifting, despite how much of a downer the story truly is.

I mean, a princess gets cursed into being a swan in daylight by some sorcerer for God-knows-what-reason and her charming prince betrays her at his birthday party by falling for Odile, the daughter of the sorcerer. So what if Siegfried and Odette are united forever in the end? They were teenagers who met mere days before they both committed suicide in a lake created by the tears of Odette’s mother, just so that they could be together eternally as lovers. Shakespeare got nothing on this with his Romeo and Juliet.

Back to Semionova: I know for sure that she had an incredible performance because my theater mother seated to my right both applauded and yelled “Bravo” after every segment that Semionova had. And Semionova’s acknowledgement of the adoration was as elaborate as any fanfare celebration from the Final Fantasy series: she does not bow at the applauding crowd, but genuflects to them. Every time there was a break in the action for the audience to cheer her efforts, she proceeded slowly to the front of the stage, gently kneeled on her right leg, opened up her arms to the crowd, and lowered her head with her eyes closed. Whether on stage or in video, that aura of tranquility follows her.

And that brings me to the strangest thing about the ballet — stranger than the story or the ivy that covered Von Rothberg’s cape: when the audience gets the opportunity to applaud a soloist or principal dancer at the end of each segment, the performers are allowed to break character and the fourth wall by acknowledging the crowd with a bow. I’m not against the practice, but it just seems out of place in this context, when the performers are trying to tell a story.

I’m probably a one-and-done with the ballet; the technical intricacies of a choreography are just too much for my little mind to appreciate fully. But still, it was fun to partake in a quintessential New York experience. Thanks for opening my eyes a little more, Polina.

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*Updated 7/7/14 to restore the strikethrough of “snobs” that somehow disappeared when I originally pasted the text into WordPress.

A thing called fwand introduced me to Harold

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This is Harold. Say hello to Harold. Harold will tell you whether or not you’re quick-witted and good at recalling details.

Harold is not a blunt person. Harold is a structure for longform improvisation (in this case, 50 minutes), where a single suggestion sprouts into a series of scenes that are seemingly unrelated, only for certain elements from each scene to begin creeping into the others. By the end of the show, the audience sees a convergence of all of the previous scenes that creates a multi-layered blanket of comedy that wraps the audience up in laughter.

Meet Chelsea Clarke, Dominic Dierkes, Jon Gabrus, Sean Hart, Kevin Hines, Ellie Kemper, Shannon O’Neill, Gil Ozeri, and Gregory Tuculescu. Say hello to each of them. These nine individuals are collectively identified as a group named “fwand” — the “f” is never an “F” — that reunited on Friday for the 16th Del Close Marathon (of improv) to demonstrate the Harold in its most polished form. To an audience of over 250 people at the SVA Beatrice Theatre, fwand took the suggestion of “Demon Fire” and ran with it.

The team initially assumed the guise of a cult, chanting “Demon Fire” repeatedly while hoisting — and then abusing — Dierkes’ character. That scene transitioned into a hazing at a fraternity home, where Dierkes’ frat pledge ate the feces of Ozeri’s pledge, while Ozeri sat next to Dierkes and broke the rules of the hazing when he failed to describe each piece of crap while Dierkes ate it. The whirlwind show then blew through a sample of these scenarios:

• Miss America and checks on cup size
• A game of Jeopardy! where Kemper’s ape-like character competed
• A daughter (Clarke) visiting her childhood home where a man (Tuculescu) used living people to pose as dolls of his deceased wife.
• Other people locked in the basement of that home with ice cream sandwiches
• A “pink sock” for Kemper’s Jeopardy! contestant
• An apocalyptic world where rabbits dominated human beings
• A cop (O’Neill) providing “Police assisted suicide” for rats in front of humans in the apocalyptic Earth
• A Forrest Gump running montage through pop culture of the apocalyptic world, led by the cop.
• The Statue of Liberty replaced by a Rabbit of Liberty and the banning of ice cream in the apocalyptic Earth
• A Forrest Gump running montage for another fleeing man (Hart), who shot and killed the father with the creepy dolls of his wife — because of harboring illegal ice cream sandwiches
• The people trapped in a basement receiving a genie for one wish, which was spent on obtaining the world’s largest cucumber instead of an escape route
• Pink socks for everyone in the fraternity

All of them, and more, built up into a finale where the Dierkes and Ozeri pledges learned from the rest of the troupe’s characters that the fraternity never existed; the two ate all that crap for their amusement. The college kids then morphed into male pageant contestants, awaiting a size check of their, umm, manhood by the pageant coordinator (O’Neill). Those contestants transformed into the cult, took up the “Demon Fire” chant again, then picked up and carried O’Neill’s pageant coordinator off the stage for their grand exit from the performance.

Even though this performance was the first Harold I’ve ever seen, fwand made it easy to recognize just how excellent it is with the form. fwand is intense and efficient; the build-up for jokes was brief, like they were always one step ahead of the audience and just threw out the joke of the moment so they could get to the next one floating in their minds. fwand is a chimera on the stage. Even with nine individuals performing, they seamlessly transitioned between scenes and the reset (a cadre of waiters at an Italian restaurant shouting at O’Neill, their boss) without any brief pauses or confusion, before continuing to breathe out its (demon) fire of jokes at the audience.

While watching fwand assemble a collection of call-back jokes into a tapestry of a finale, I finally realized the obvious: this is insanity, perfected. The layering of ridiculous jokes, the absurdity created by all the layers, and the blending of that craziness to craft a final scene that somehow ties everything up and together — it’s watching/performing a surrealist piece of art set to self-destruct. fwand created a Dalí on stage, but the beauty of this Demon Fire piece — and the rest of its body of work — is that I can never admire it again once the troupe walked off the stage.

Stars and Stripes Watch Party

Kickoff for the group stage game between the United States and Portugal was scheduled for 6 p.m., but I descended into the dark and packed Football Factory at Legends, a bar across the street from the Empire State Building, at 3:30 p.m. to stake out my watch spot for the game. Unlike the times I wandered into the Football Factory over this past Premier League season to watch my beloved Crystal Palace F.C. with the New York Eagles supporters group, there was no elbow room or aisles to easily walk through. Donning Red, White, and Blue, I immersed myself into the flood of other people in the Red, White, and Blue who were standing around, hands holding glasses of beer and eyes affixed on one of the many flat-screen televisions scattered on the walls and support columns. Even though the televisions were displaying the halftime highlights of Algeria versus South Korea, the congregation of American supporters belted out the signature “I BELIEVE” chant twice during the intermission.

Perhaps fittingly, I ended up against the back wall of the building, tucked in behind the bar and next to the kitchen hallway. I only dragged myself out of Connecticut to the Football Factory hours before a workday because Katie, a former Football Factory staff member and Crystal Palace convert, was back on the job for the day. Either way, my spot kept me away from the wilder (read: drunker) crowds and gave me a wall to lean on when I got tired of just standing.

To my left, a group of United States supporters — initially six men and six women before expanding to what-looked-like 20 people — sat around a birthday cake from Carvel. It was Ryan’s birthday; dressed in the current tricolor away jersey for the United States National Team, Ryan’s idea of celebrating his big day was to apparently pin the emotions of the night on 11 American men playing a game of soccer somewhere in the Amazon Rainforest. To be fair, I would have done the same thing if I wasn’t a winter baby.

Amid all the cacophony, the birthday party sang a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” that turned into the “U-S-A” chant at the end. Katie provided a steak knife to cut the cake and black paper plates to lay the slices of cake on, but plastic forks were tough to come by. Appropriately, the guy wearing the Stars and Stripes for a cape saved the day. He found a box of plastic spoons sitting on the cart of clean glasses to my right, took a handful of spoons, presented them to the party, and they happily ate their ice cream birthday cake.

By 5 p.m., Algeria defeated South Korea 4-2 and I got to take in an hour of groups of adults throwing the middle finger at images of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Those same groups vocalized their actions with a “Fuck Ronaldo” chant that transitioned to a “Fuck Lalas” chant as smoothly as the ESPN crew member who switched the video from Ronaldo to the red-headed defender from the 1994 U.S. World Cup team.

Come 5:55 p.m., the drinking halted for the only time that night so that the congregants in the Football Factory could sing our opening hymn, The Star Spangled Banner, which finished 10 seconds after the folks in Brazil finished listening to the anthem.

A Church-like hush fell upon the Football Factory just five minutes into the game, after Nani roofed the ball into the net. Complaints about Geoff Cameron’s shanked clearance — many of them laden with expletives — filled the room for a few seconds after everyone processed the replays, and then were drowned out by “I BELIEVE” chants.

The U.S. team believed, too; it showed its resilience with attack after attack on Portugal after conceding the goal. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones broke up Portuguese attacks, the defense limited the threat of Ronaldo, Tim Howard made the saves when necessary, Clint Dempsey narrowly missed tying the game with a free kick that dove just too late, and Mike Bradley threaded passes to Dempsey and the defensive backs pushing up the wings to flank the captain. The rushes from Fabian Johnson and a vintage DeMarcus Beasley kept me especially amped up. We — the supporters and the players — knew that this team would at least salvage a point by the end of the game.

The breakthrough for the United States finally arrived in the 64th minute thanks to Jones, the best player for the Stars and Stripes so far in the tournament. This was a legitimate screamer — a cleared corner kick somehow found its way to Jones, whose blast from outside the box flew past the mess of outfield players and a frozen Beto, and into the netting of the far post. My mouth was agape after seeing that fly in and I started yelping (well, as loud as I could) when it was apparent that my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

The rest of the bar erupted into a much more raucous cheer and drowned me out. Beer flew and showered the fans and the floor. The sound of shattered glasses and dropped aluminum bottles of Bud Light snuck in among the screaming. People were on top of the tables and each other. This was the euphoria and madness that I imagined was going on among the American fans sweating in the jungle of Manaus, just scaled down and within the confines of a chamber in the concrete jungle of New York.

The Football Factory crowd brought back the “I BELIEVE” chant more often now. The U.S. followed up the goal with a spell of dodgy possession and a few too many defensive bailouts and Ronaldo errors for comfort, but we all still believed.

Then the 81st minute struck. DeAndre Yedlin sent in a cross that bounced around and landed at Graham Zusi’s feet. Zusi, instead of taking the shot, squared it across the goal to Dempsey, who chested it into the net. Argentina had the Hand of god; the United States would have its Chest of god. This was the Hollywood ending for the United States to advance out of the Group of Death and into the knockout stages and we all celebrated like it was over. More beer, more glasses and bottles, and more people flew in the air and onto the floor of the Football Factory. Too many people also turned their buckets for beer into percussion instruments, banging them to accentuate the “I BELIEVE” chants that they sang into stoppage time. If I was going to end up deaf tonight because of this entire ruckus, it was a good way for my ears to go out.

I silently counted up until the end. We survived 90+1, 90+2, 90+3, and we were deep into 90+4. Then Bradley coughed up the ball and Portugal launched a counterattack that supplied the ball to an unmarked Ronaldo, who hit a cross into the box.

I had an “Oh, shit” moment when I saw that cross leave Ronaldo’s foot. The trajectory of the ball looked like a line-drive home run, creating a shallow arch as it flew so quickly into the air before connecting with the head of Varela.

The ball was a bullet into the back of the net and into our sporting hearts. It figures that Ronaldo finally came through in the end. It figures that the goal came off a counterattack that would have made the U.S. teams of old very proud. It figures that it was a diving header by Portugal that would crush our hopes for securing a place in the knockout stage after only two games. It was just 12 years ago that Brian McBride provided my first moment of real joy as a fan of the United States National Team — a diving header against Portugal in the first group stage game of the 2002 World Cup.

The fans in the Football Factory were more vocally upset with the goal this time around, cursing Ronaldo. The status updates from Facebook friends swung from happiness over Dempsey’s goal to sadness and frustration with Portugal’s equalizer. (Hey, guys, sign up for Twitter so you can provide live reaction to this stuff in a more acceptable medium.) Then a brief silence took over the Football Factory when the final whistle was blown, before we all paid our tabs and went home, still in a bit of shock over what happened. Unfortunately for one guy, his shock exponentially increased when he slipped and fell on the puddles of beer on the floor as he tried leaving.

As frustrating as it was to see automatic qualification for the Round of 16 slip like that, it was heartening to see so many people on Facebook and at the Football Factory show so much emotion for the outcome of this game. The national team is making progress with its international reputation and within the country, and Major League Soccer is capitalizing on the growth of the sport with the arrivals of Orlando City S.C., New York City F.C., and the future Beckham and Atlanta franchises.

And on Thursday, I’m confident we’ll see the United States progress into the Round of 16. Although the defense begs for improvement, the fluent attack that the U.S. National Team showed against Portugal is another glimpse into the exciting future that Klinsmann envisions for this team in the 2018 World Cup. But right now, this team has enough talent and guile to hang with Germany and join them in the knockout stage next week.

The Hollywood ending was delayed, but until then, all we should do is just believe.

The Battle of Passyunk

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PHILADELPHIA — The signings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution laid the framework for an American society that could eventually create this decades-old question: does Pat’s or Geno’s make a better cheesesteak?

I visited Philadelphia for the first time in my life on Saturday and took the opportunity to weigh in on this debate. Eating a foot-long cheesesteak from Pat’s and then ingesting another foot-longer from Geno’s within an hour of each other probably took a couple years off of my life expectancy, but this was all done in the pursuit of knowledge and to contribute to this critical conversation in an informed manner.

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The bus dropped me off at the intersection of 8th and Federal, closer to Geno’s. I continued south along Passyunk Avenue, walking through Geno’s en route to Pat’s; I went to Pat’s for my first cheesesteak by virtue of this place being credited with creating the dish.

A “steak whiz wit” was ordered at each restaurant to keep the competition fair. For those who have no idea what the heck that meant (like me, circa last week): the “whiz” is cheese whiz, similar to the dip that comes with the nachos at a movie theater; the “wit” refers to onions put on the sandwich. The service is fast at both restaurants: a place like Charley’s or Jersey Mike’s takes a few minutes to put the sandwich together, but Pat’s and Geno’s have the cheesesteak wrapped and delivered to the customer at the same time the cashier is handing back the change. The convergence of food and money overwhelmed my brain at first, but the speedy service was appreciated.

Pat’s cheesesteak arrived with chopped slices of steak and fried onions nestled within a soft roll, while the cheese whiz was slathered atop the exposed meat on the sliced side of the roll and part of the roll itself. I take that first bite and the cheese whiz overpowers the taste of the onions and adds a zest to the meat. When I eat a burger, I want the cheese to dominate the taste and the whiz easily succeeds in performing that same function for the cheesesteak. Hey, restaurants, how about trying out whiz as the cheese on your burgers one day?

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I savor each bite and take my time eating, since I’m sharing my table with an All-American-looking family of four who needed somewhere to sit down. The mother, Chris, took her two athletic, clean cut 20-something sons and her future blonde daughter-in-law to Pat’s to kill time before a wedding. We bonded over the cheesesteaks, our shared Southern upbringings (they were from Georgia; so many jokes about winter and speeding on I-75), and our small dogs we love and left back at home. Letting this family join me started out as a way to pay back this pale, curly-haired, college-aged kid who shared the table with me when I needed somewhere to sit, but the conversations I had with the family paced my eating and stopped me from feeling bloated when I went to Geno’s.

Finishing my sandwich and Coke, the family finishing their lunch, and all the conversations totaled up to about a half-hour. Before we split, Chris tells me that I need to find someone to share my travels with — or just get lucky and stumble upon someone — to share my trips with, all while pointing at her future daughter-in-law. I tell her that it’ll happen one day and that I’m a patient guy. Besides, it’s better I went solo for this trip; this gluttonous project should turn off any reasonable person.

I walked north across the street and returned to Geno’s, ready for another hand-held foot-long of grease and meat and processed dairy. Geno’s cheesesteak came with the slices of steak protruding out of the sliced end of the roll, with chopped onions scattered throughout the sandwich and the cheese whiz buried beneath the meat and settled into the fold of the bun.

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I take a bite and… well, the meat and cheese of Geno’s taste the same as the meat and cheese of Pat’s and the taste of the onions is once again blunted by the presence of the cheese. The only differences I can spot are the strips of meat at Geno’s aren’t chopped and the roll in a Geno’s cheesesteak is firmer than the roll at Pat’s, making me put a little more effort into chewing the bread with each bite. Geno’s gets bonus points, though, for having both Pepsi and Coke available from the fountain, so I picked up a Pepsi for the walk back to the bus stop.

You could go to either Pat’s or Geno’s and not go wrong with your decision. That said, I did pick a side in this eternal debate: the better cheesesteak belongs to Pat’s. The soft roll on a Pat’s cheesesteak creates a smooth texture for the sandwich, so that all the ingredients blend well into a singular unit. The harder roll at Geno’s prevents its cheesesteak from attaining that same singularity, so that the meat, cheese, and bread are chewed more as individual pieces than as one sandwich.

Now that I finally answered one of the great questions in Americana for myself, please excuse me while I call a doctor and schedule a physical.

The Cripple of Inishmaan (The Many Faces of Harry Potter)

For eight films, he was Harry Potter and now, until July 20th at the Cort Theatre, he is Billy Claven. Daniel Radcliffe could well be on his way to being typecast as the orphaned child, but he excels in that position again as Billy in The Cripple of Inishmaan.

When Billy lumbers onto the stage in the first scene of The Cripple of Inishmaan, the pain that accompanies each step he takes is palpable. It’s a slow limp, where the left foot is arched up like it’s in a high heel, while the right leg moves with the grace of a pirate with a peg leg. It’s difficult to imagine how Radcliffe copes with the physical demands of bringing Billy to life eight performances a week; in addition to Billy’s slow walk, Radcliffe leaves an outstretched leg to freely vibrate when Billy is seated, and his left arm is often shown curled up against the shoulder.

The physical impairments Billy is saddled with make it difficult to walk, sit, and otherwise appear presentable to the rest of his small town, pre-World War II community (it’s 1934) of Inis Meáin, located in the Arans Islands just west of Ireland. These ailments are exacerbated by his relatively small 5-foot-5 stature and his status as the town orphan, which only generates small town gossip from the community as to why Billy’s parents are not present in his life. And that’s on top of the small town gossip already circulating as to why Billy is often found sitting in the middle of a field, staring at cows.

This backdrop of the minute and monotonous society that Billy is trapped in is turned upside down by the arrival of a Hollywood crew filming a documentary on a neighboring island — this injection of reality propels the rest of the fictitious play. Billy, mocked and teased his entire life, uses this opportunity to get the film crew to take him to Hollywood, where he could escape the life in Inis Meáin with a successful screen test.

In such a tiny setting, this decision predictably upsets the rest of the community. Billy’s caregivers, Aunts Ileen and Kate Osbourne (Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie, respectively), feel abandoned by Billy because he quietly left them, belatedly leaving behind a note and neglecting to contact them since. The feisty Helen McCormick (Sarah Greene), who also sought a role in the film, is offended that her good looks were turned down for the ailing Billy. Her younger brother, Bartley (Conor MacNeill), who looks like a mischievous Boy Scout with his beige clothes and socks at mismatched heights, is left to pick on others when he isn’t distracted by his search for “Min-tee-ohs.” And old Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt), the man responsible for spreading all the gossip through the town — whether or not it’s accurate — struggles to extract the truth about Billy from Babbybobby (Padraic Delaney) and the Doctor (Gary Lilburn), if only for the eggs that the Osbournes are supposed to provide him in exchange for news about Billy.

It’s impossible to tell from the cover of the Playbill, but Inishmaan approaches Billy and the community’s stories with a jagged sense of humor. “Feck” and its variations seem to be the most popular words among the characters. The initial conversation between Billy, Helen, and Bartley focuses on the inappropriate behavior that a priest has exhibited toward Helen — and maybe others. Helen then gets to demonstrate the usefulness of eggs in a hybrid rage/history lesson (Greene is lucky that she gets to do this eight times a week). Johnnypateenmike is shown talking to his Mammy (June Watson) about the rise of a man with a mustache in Germany while trying to poison her to death with alcohol; as an Irishman, he should know that alcohol wouldn’t kill her. But the Osbourne aunts get the funniest moments on the stage throughout the entire performance with their circular conversations and absurd non-sequiturs, which are reminiscent of the conversations between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Beneath all the dark humor, the existential crisis from being stuck in one place forever, and the sadness over Billy’s state of life, the story does have a teaching moment: carpe diem, regardless of how crazy that dream appears to be. Oh, and if eggs are in the room when someone volunteers to teach some European history to you, run the feck away.