new writing in long forma proper archive for this site

Dear Stolen Youth,
You're back! ANd it's all thanks to the willful determination and angry emails of SMUG's founder and grande dame, leslie harpold. Now everyone can see one of the web zines that started it all, and then ended suddenly and without warning. Everyone can also search through the archives and recover about a million lost pieces of writing by me, back when I swore twice as much and checked my grammar and spelling half as much. (you can also grab quick links to my former SMUG columns by visiting "published elsewhere" on this very site. that ought to tide you over for a while.)

Dear Inadmissable Jokes Department,
Using personal ads to date isn't the worst way to meet someone, but it isn't the best way to meet someone great. It's like shopping at GAP (formerly The Gap). YOu're not going to find anything you fall in love with right away, but you'll probably take home something serviceable and replaceable. That way you won't feel bad or guilty if you accidentally spill semen or blood on it.

Dear Parade of Knife-Wielding Clowns,
What were you doing in my dream last night? That was most unexpected, and uninvited. Where was the gum-eating contest, or the homeless guy I shower with face-punches in vain? My regular cast of dream characters checked out and in their place - you. You spooky clowns, with runny makeup and knives that go 'SSSSNKKKKT'. I'm sorry I wasn't much help, standing on a chair that once belonged to my dead grandmother, but I honestly felt out of my depth. If one of you looked like a hobo I'd know what to do, with fists flying, but I wasn't so lucky. What were you planning on doing with that lamb, by the way? On second thought, skip it.

I hope my poor show will discourage you from showing up again any time soon. I've got other things to dream about - things like monkey-shaped clocks and standing onstage in the middle of an important play with no lines memorized - and you've got other, more receptive people to terrorize. So let's call it a draw. If you promise to put your knives away and get out of my head, I'll promise to eat more than french fries and beer right before falling asleep. Deal?

Dear Lucky Ducks,
Thanks to a connection I have at Strüm, a Belgian magazine that's been covering the European pop music scene since 1981, a very special guest has been added to the lineup for the show I'm doing tomorrow night (july 24th!): Mr. Von Von Von.

If that's not incentive to attend an already free comedy show at NY's filthy and beloved UCB theater, then maybe you need to set your face on fire. (please don't actually set your face on fire.) Here are the details again:

Date: Wednesday, July 24th
Time: 11pm
Place: The UCB Theater (161 W. 22nd Street, b/w 6th and 7th aves)
Price: FREE

See you there, squares.

Dear Best Days of My Life,
I'm still waiting. And that time I won a Masters of the Universe action figure in a pack of Grape Bubble-Yum doesn't count, no matter what I might have said at the time.

Actually, I have achieved one thing many people spend their whole lives without: a decent hairstyle. Ever since I let my hair grow out last year (originally as a purely passive act - a symptom of low grade depression, and nothing more), things have been looking up for me. Prior to this my haircut screamed Product of a Former Navy Barber. It was tight on top, sides and back. I was fighting my hair's natural instincts to curl up and out. But now, as I enjoy the twilight years of hair ownership, I've let it grow into professionally irresponsible dimensions. When combined with a couple days of beard growth and my Jewey Jewman® Brand glasses, I am an unstoppable force of Zionism. I look like I support a nonspecific but definitely humanitarian cause, bolstered by aggressive, almost hostile political views. People stop me on the street and ask me to plant trees for them. I don't, but I take their money and spend it on pickles and electronic dreidels - and that's half the work.

And the ladies love it. They point at it, and dare to pet it with exaggerated springy hand gestures. They steal it for wigs. And now, when I see them in public, they run home and write about it. (that was a nice thing you did, jami attenberg.) It's a little discouraging to think that the secret to success is not intelligence, grace, humor, or charm - none of which I ever bothered to cultivate, anyhow - but thick locks and a bit of anti-humectant. Are we so shallow? If so, thank goodness for ME.

That's why I fear I'll soon grow too self-conscious about my hair, and squander its power the way adorable babies lose their sweetness as soon as they become sickeningly aware of it. (how quickly our attitudes about baby behavior shift from "lookit!!!" to "lousy little show-off".) It will run my life, this hair. It's very likely that on very day I become too self-conscious, I'll wake up from a fitful sleep filled with dreams about teeth falling out and hair flattening in the humidity, and all of this magical hair will be gone forever. I'll look like every other bald, marginally hip guy - see fig. 1: David Cross.

When that happens I'll stumble to my bathroom, tears ruining my vision, and I'll accidentally kick my Masters of the Universe action figure into a huge pile of monkey shit sitting in the middle of my kitchen. And as I lean over the monkey shit, eyes stinging and blind, naked pate gleaming with embarrassment, my hands wildly fishing through the steaming dung for something that feels like Man-at-Arms, I will know that the best days of my life were the ones I spent with you.

Dear Book Project, TV Project, Screenplay, Stage Play, and Line of T-Shirts,
I'm really sorry I couldn't spend time with you last night, but I had to watch Cabin Boy on television in order to remember how sad and disappointed it made me when I first viewed it six years ago. After spending another 80 minutes with this film, I felt like it was a punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution's protection against double jeopardy. (this amendment, incidentally, failed to protect u.s. citizens from viewing the ashley judd film, Double Jeopardy. you're on your own there.)

Does that happen to other people, I wonder. Deliberately subjecting yourself to something you completely loathed the first time around, thinking perhaps you were the one at fault and now, years later, you're evolved enough to appreciate it? 99% of the time, your second chance proves fruitless, and you become even more angry for having wasted additional time and/or money on something you fully remember hating. I've done this with many things, but primarily with food and music. In fact, I've done it with music enough that I have a name for the phenomenon. I call it the Pere Ubu Effect.

It's the opposite of the usual punctured nostalgia we often subject ourselves to, where you return to something beloved only to discover that it's possible to outgrow it. It calls into question whether the object of your nostalgia was ever really good, whether it ages poorly, or whether you simply suffered from incredibly low standards when you were younger and filled with Feck weed. It's the kind experience that brings you dangerously close to the monster, only to reveal the zipper running along his back. Your anticipation is so great that you almost become more innocent than when you'd first experienced it, for just a moment.

This kind of experience - call it The Miniature Golf Effect - is often worse than the Pere Ubu Effect because it almost always happens in the presence of others. It begins with, "Hey, why don't we rent The Changeling? That movie scared the shit out of me when I was seven years old!" and ends with a group apology and a lackluster offer to pop in your Bottle Rocket DVD, as a media sorbet.

So what have we learned today, my temporarily fallow personal projects? Our present and future are much more valuable than our past, especially when our past can sabotage our present and future. And yes, Pere Ubu still blows.

Dear Fans of Joy Tempered by Occasional Bouts of Mild Disappointment,
On Wednesday, July 24th, I will be performing in a long-running, laugh-inducing, nerd-attracting, buzz-generating, squab-hunting, sourdough-baking weekly comedy show at New York City's historical (and hysterical!) Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

The show is called Hump Night, which is already a hilarious double-entendre. And if that alone is not worth the FREE price of admission, maybe this brief list of past performers is:

Marc Maron
Todd Barry
Allison Castillo
Eugene Mirman
Gene Autry
The 1978 Philadelphia Phillies
Legendary U.K. punk band, The Dum Dumz
The Invisible Woman
Mark Twaing (the world-reknowned guitarist who sets Mark Twain stories to country music)
Team Dracula
Sean Conroy & Eddie Pepitone
The Asshole Five

And soon, if I don't chicken out, ME. If you're in the area, please attend. It's late but it's free. And forget about me. This show could be the start of something for you. Here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, July 24th
Time: 11pm
Place: The UCB Theater (161 W. 22nd Street, b/w 6th and 7th aves)
Price: FREE

Dear Comedian Todd Barry Sitting in as the Drummer for Yo La Tengo's James McNew a.k.a. DUMP,
Hey Todd - more drumming, less gumming. OK. Truthfully, that betrays my actual feelings. I thought there was just enough drumming, but damn if I wasn't standing around all night waiting to use that sweet fucking line.

And James - a little more strumming and a little less rumming, please. Lay off the Singapore Slings. Oh yes, and to the staff of Mr. Falafel: more cumin.

Dear Every Co-Star to Robin Wiliams,
Stop encouraging him.

Dear Guy Behind Me in Line at the 24 Hour Grocery Store at 1:36 AM,
I know I was buying beef jerky, which is something I've done so rarely that I can't help feeling self-conscious about it. But that doesn't mean you had to rub it in my face by asking your girlfriend if she wanted a banana to go with the small container of seaweed salad you were purchasing.

I was trying very hard to resist cheeseburgers and potato chips at that late hour and I was doing a pretty excellent job, too. I paused briefly at the chocolate covered pretzels and sour patch kids, (i'm off candy for a little while, unless it is received as a gift. this is often a difficult transaction to negotiate with shop owners, as very few are willing to place my mike & ikes in a gift box before presenting them to me.) then I swallowed hard and continued. I walked past ice cream and cookies and boxed doughnuts, and made it all the way to the register with just a bottle of spring water. But I had no lunch and no dinner, unless you count some wasabi peas and four moscow mules as a meal. And, even if you're keith moon, you don't count them. Trust me - you don't.

And why did they have to hang the beef jerky directly in front of the register? It's so rich in protein and beefness. It's like eating a whole bag of steak with your hands. Imagine! How can you possibly resist? Then, as if to remind me why one should resist, there you were with your goddamn seaweed and your goddamn girlfriend and her goddamn banana treat at an hour when you should be contemplating oral sex and pancakes.

What's wrong with you? And furthermore, what's wrong with you making me feel like there's something wrong with me? Because of your good habits, I was doing everything I could to conceal my dried meat, pulling out tricks I haven't attempted since I first got up the nerve to purchase condoms instead of shoplifting them. First, I turned the beef jerky bag face-down, like a whore whose face would only remind me of my own depravity. I even tried to stack the bottle of water on top of the jerky in some kama sutric coupling of good versus great, as if the bottle of water's top position would create a sleight-of-hand visual misdirection. And all the while, out of the corner of my eye, I shot daggers dripping with tallow and beef fat at your tiny seaweed salad. I admire your restraint, and I hate everything else about me. Wait - I mean YOU.

Dear Busta Rhymes, Star of Halloween: Resurrection,
Congratulations, Mr. Rhymes. You have finally entered the canon. No, I'm not speaking of the canon of Hip-Hop Artists Who Namecheck Themselves So Much On Songs That Their Albums Contain Enough Vital Personal Information To Serve As A Substitute For Dental Records In The Event Of A Terrible Tragedy. You entered that canon long ago, Busta-Bus.

The canon I'm speaking of, the small but proud one, is peopled by an exclusive crowd of onscreen characters who veil a serious threat in completely trite language, add a curse word to puncture the otherwise innocuous language of the threat, and then kill something dangerous. Your "Trick or Treat, Motherfucker" in the newest Michael Myers thrills-and-chills-a-thon was a piece of context-accurate and street smart excellence. Do you mind if I ask: was it improvised?

No matter because now, in your brief tenure as a major Hollywood star, you have have already done so much for us. (i loved you in Shaft! when you said, "damn, shaft! you fucked up my car!!" i knew in that moment that great things would come your way. i'm sure, just as i sensed your electricity, so did scores of other movie producers who scurried to priority mail scripts like halloween: resurrection to mr. busta rhymes, even if it meant writing over the label previously addressed to sticky fingaz or the rappin duke.) Take a moment, Rhymes, and consider some of the other greats already inducted into the canon.

"Smile, you son of a bitch."
- Roy Shieder, Jaws

"You're terminated, motherfucker."
- Linda Hamilton, Terminator

"Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker."
- Bruce Willis, Die Hard

"Twinkle, twinkle, motherfreaker!"
- Geena Davis, Deadly Star [made for television movie]

"Prepare to be annihilated, shit-licker."
- Sandra Hess (as Sonya Blade), Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

"Shabbat Shalom, Schmendrick!"
- Mel Brooks (as Rabbi Saul O'Connorwitz), Terminator, Schmerminator!

"May I offer you a nice, tall glass of filthy carpet-bagger!"
- Richard Thomas, The Waltons: Total Domination

You did it, Rhymes! And an extra kudos for studying up on Michael Myers lore. Yes, it's true that guns, knives, axes, exploding cars, killer ants, germ warfare, and falling on lots of spikes have proven ineffectual methods of dispatching the Halloween boogeyman. But no one ever tried kicking him in the chest before. How could so many people have overlooked that deadly solution? I'm sure it worked. The other members of the Flipmode Squad must be very proud. I propose a toast. To Busta Rhymes, the leader of the hip-hop acting vanguard. Pass the courvoisier, motherfuckers!

Dear Public Beach,
I have finally discovered my kryptonite, and it is you. In most social situations, mood permitting, I am on completely equal footing with other men. There are exceptions, such as Big & Tall Man store opening celebrations, Portuguese high school proms, and cocktail events where dress code requires each male in attendance to carry a large placard indicating his net financial worth. However, even in those cases I can usually coast by on a self-deprecating anecdote or clever racist joke. I may enter the room at an apparent disadvantage, but I manage to throw some weight by the time I leave.

This is not true at public and semi-private beaches, where I have learned to not even bother. At the beach, beneath the life-giving and unforgivably detailed light of the burning sun, it doesn't matter whether I'm witty or good at Tetris or can remember your name. In the afternoon, in my over-sized swimsuit, I'm not smart, funny, caring, or engaging. I'm skinny. And a little bit pale. And my feet are wide and strange, and my chest hair is just barely starting to come in, and I have the musculature of a 15 year-old paperboy who just installed his first chin-up bar a few weeks ago. (which, coincidentally, i did.) It's a completely losing proposition because, no matter how ordinarily complex and curious people are when they're land-locked and cold, on the beach they become easily distracted and inadvertently but inevitably (and viciously) scrutinous. It's hard to listen to someone when all you're thinking is, "wouldn't it be easy to have a few of those moles burned off?"

Can you imagine delivering your dissertation bare-chested? If debate club competitions were shirts vs. skins, even the most confident orators would curtail their research time to accommodate cardio-boxing classes. No one would listen to each other if we were judged by our chests and feet and waists. Wait. No one really listens to each other now. Phew. Never mind. Public beach, you're ok by me.


plays well with others
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2001 todd levin