Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Crummy Meets Filthy: "Time Out" & "The Village Voice"

A particularly well-inked Village Voice cover. Protective hand-wear recommended.

If you have spent any time in New York City over the last decade, you may have had the misfortune of opening the weekly periodical “Time Out New York.” I tend to be dismissive of it now, but some years ago I was actually very excited about the initial appearance of Time Out in our metropolis, in part because for a few months I had lived in London, whence Time Out hails, and thus the pond-hopping periodical's New York debut gave me an excuse to bore people with my worldliness.

But more importantly, the glossy pages of Time Out magazine provided a welcome alternative to The Village Voice for anyone wishing to peruse events listings without coming away with the blackened hands of a chimney sweep. This was particularly fortunate for me, given my penchant for reading while pensively stroking my chin and otherwise affecting sophisticated airs at sidewalk cafes. (On occasion this grubby-fingered habit inadvertently resulted in a surprisingly accurate facsimile of a goatee, which suited my pretensions nicely, but most times my ink-smudged visage gave me the appearance of a homeless loiterer, reading a free newspaper and lingering over somebody’s empty espresso. In fact once as I was figuring out my bill I was mistakenly chased off by my own waiter who thought I was stealing his tip.)

So what changed? Could it be Time Out New York was always crummy, but I've only recently recognized that crumminess because I've matured slightly over the years? That's pretty far-fetched—there's no plausible case to be made for me possessing any maturity, so I'd at least like to stand by my impeccable taste. More likely the magazine has inched its way down the slippery slope into the sea of crumminess over the past decade. Either way, these days “TONY” is pretty much unbearable. In order to get to any of the listings you have to possess an iron-clad intestinal tract, otherwise you may find it impossible to navigate past the cover stories without inciting a gastrointestinal uprising (potentially rendering the pages completely unreadable). You see, Time Out has become the “goings-on” equivalent of a fashion & beauty magazine: the sole creative objective of any article is to cook up an entirely meaningless trope on which to hang the addresses and prices of overpriced boutiques and the useless products found therein, much like you might procure a flimsy, silver-colored fake Christmas tree from a dollar store as a means to display the crappy holiday ornaments you’ve been collecting from Burger King Value Meals for the last 15years. (Honestly, what is your obsession with those things? Have some dignity.)

At this time, regrettably, I’m able to provide you with a summation of one such article: you see, I recently made the mistake of not just glancing at the cover of a current issue of Time Out, but additionally picking it up from the bathroom floor and flipping through it. (This was especially unfortunate as the bathroom wasn’t at my home, but at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.)

The current edition includes what they have puzzlingly called “walking tours,” a “tour” consisting of a write up of an arbitrary bunch of stores in some neighborhood that are tied together by a theme so thin that it wouldn’t even be allowed to work as a runway model.

One so-called tour suggests things to do in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during the interminably long wait for your table at a trendy brunch place—like going to get coffee at a nearby cafĂ©.

I think a better thing to do in that hour would be to buy a different magazine.

Also there’s a “30 Rock” themed “tour,” which, apart from telling you that the building known as “30 Rock” is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, tells you to go to Penn Station and a Duane Reade store, along with a bunch of other mundane places that have absolutely nothing to do with the TV show, except that the article’s fabricators have surmised that certain “30 Rock” characters, due to their quirky predilections, maybe would “go to there”: a random jewelry store, a seedy strip club that’s sort of nearby, a comic book store that sort of isn't.

Now, if I had just arrived, hypothetically, by train in New York City for a few days’ vacation, and, being a big fan of Jack McBrayer (a.k.a. Kenneth the Page), who’s featured on the cover, paid the actual $4 for a copy of Time Out, with its promise of fun stuff to do and a huge banner sized proclamation of “GREAT WALKS,” and decided to embark upon the “30 Rock Walk,” and found myself led back to Penn Station—the notoriously bland rail terminal that I had just hypothetically crawled out of—and “Lace Gentlemen’s Club,” and a drug store that anyone who lives in NYC wishes to do their business in and get out of as quickly as humanly possible, well, first I would kick myself for not having read the article through ahead of time and booking a horse-drawn carriage to shuttle me around to all the stops (also TV themed, of course, with “Babbo” of Sex and the City fame as my personal chauffeur); and then, well, after that I would be really, really angry. Like so angry that I would want my four dollars back. So angry about my four dollars that I would write a letter to Time Out New York that was so concise and cleverly vitriolic that not only would it not require any editing for length and clarity, but it would be chosen as the Letter of the Week, resulting in me winning the Time Out guide of my choice, which I can only hope would include equally well thought out walking tours of some other city.

Ironically, as you can also see on the letters page, some reader was quite pleased with the quality of journalism that went into a previous article about companies that provide, of all things, walking tours, but unsurprisingly the rest of the missives go on to detail the typical failure of Time Out to present readers with anything new or insightful. Really, taking suggestions from Time Out about things to do in NYC is about as helpful as asking BMI-challenged runway models for advice on healthy eating.

If for some reason you want to know about the rest of the walking tours, you'll have to find your own copy of Time Out on a bathroom floor somewehere—I had to drop out halfway through the article. You see, the iron-clad lining in my small intestine was wearing through and needed re-cladding, and both my internal medicine specialist and my plumber were unavailable. In the meantime, I'll be back at my usual sidewalk table at Caffe Reggio (119 MacDougal St between Minetta Ln and W 3rd St), reading the Voice (free) and spending my weekly entertainment budget ($4) on espressos, which I'll sip leisurely, with my ink-stained pinky pointing contentedly skyward.

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