In October of 2002, You Learned:
HOW DO YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF SO WELL?.
Today, this song is helping. Me, but maybe not you.
This shit has got to stop. I just don't understand it. Money? Pride? Whatever. People are paying respect.
RUN DMC was truly the first act that got me hooked on hip-hop. 1983. Seventh grade. Homeroom. My friend Jonah, a weird kid who used to sell D&D dice and handmade comic books detailing his step-father being ass-raped by Mr. T, was also heavy into hip-hop. Partly under the influence of his older brother, David. Jonah had shelltoes, LeTigre sport gear, and a name plate belt that spelled out "JONES". He also had a cassette of the first RUN DMC album - the one with no name. "Rock box", "Sucker MCs", "Hard Times", "It's like that". Those were the songs I remembered really well. As soon as I started listening to that, I was hooked. It was hard, fueling the supercharged hormones that were using my body as a punching bag from the inside, so it satisfied that side of me that would otherwise turn to devil music - Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Scorpions, W.A.S.P. And it was different. It rocked the downbeat.
I was always pretty aware of hip-hop up until then, my heavy exposure the result of being shuffled between public schools. But after hearing RUN DMC, my awareness was heightened. I started listening to the college station that played 2-hour blocks of hip-hop one night a week. I heard the "popeye" rap, the rappin' duke, all kinds of terrible shit. It was a weird time for hip-hop, between 83-85, but it was so entirely different that I couldn't turn my ear from it. Then the "pee wee herman" and Whodini segued into "hold it now, hit it" and "ain't no half-steppin'" and "south bronx" and even RUN DMC's own "peter piper'" and that was that. Never looked back, as people say when they don't have any other words for it. Jonah was weird as hell, but he was right, too.
Addendum: after writing that, i got this sort of queasy feeling. that feeling of self-consciousness, where i wrote something i genuinely felt and meant but, from a distance feels a little, well, desperate. it contains all the elements of a plea for being 'down': compassion, history (including pop cultural details of that period in history to ensure the appropriate level of old school flavor), references to run dmc. 'my god,' i thought, 'i even name-dropped tracks from the first run dmc album, in case anyone doubted my hefty connective thread to the old school.' thing is, i couldn't help it. i loved run dmc. and when other people get up and dance spasmodically every time 'come on eileen' gets played on 80s night, i feel absolutely no nostalgia. i remember the song, i remember it coming out of my television constantly. but i don't remember attaching myself to it sentimentally. but when i hear the opening guitar for 'rock box' or something like 'll cool j is hard as hell / battle anybody i don't care if you tell / i excel / they all fail...', my wrinkled brow smooths itself out. i just thought you should know how difficult is it to often be the very same person you ordinarily hold in judgement. it's tricky.
WHY I CAN'T DATE TALL WOMEN..
Recently, I met a friend at a bar. Now this was back when I had friends, so bear with me. He was there on an informal date. The woman was seated on a bar stool, and was extremely lady-styled - long denim skirt, long nails, high boots, etc. - and extremely friendly. She also knew how to smoke, which I find extremely relaxing. We talked about her career as an "actress". She had recently returned to NYC after performing in a touring company of the Will Rogers Follies, which had her stationed in Branson, MO for over a year. I can't imagine what anyone could do in Branson for a year, so I had many questions for her. And all the time we spoke, she was a perfectly normal height. Thank God.
Then, as the three of us got up to leave, she lifted herself from her bar stool and literally rose to the heavens. She had a torso that suggested a height of five feet-five inches, but her legs must have been crumpled up beneath the bar like a discarded bath sheet because, fully extended, she must have been close to six feet-four inches tall. Maybe more. I can't see that far without my glasses.
This instantly made me uncomfortable, and not for the reasons you might think. I am not especially short - I'm five feet-nine without afro - and I've never had power-related issues concerning my height, at least with regards to women. But I feel like you take someone who looks like me - slightly nebbish, thin, Jewey - and put me alongside a very tall, somewhat elegant woman the first thought that must surely pop into everyone's head is this: Tranny Chaser.
Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a link to "The United States of America, According to My Racist Aunt" on a somewhat well-attended community web site called Metafilter. From my limited experience with this community site, it seems that maybe many people visit it but only a small, loud minority account for the bulk of comments and dialogue.
The link was obviously meant to be funny, but I was pretty surprised at how quickly the user comments turned both inward ("let me tell you about my experiences with racism.") and, stranger still, deathly serious. ("this is not funny. we must not tolerate the racist behavior of our 94 year-old grandparents for one moment!") There were almost immediate accusations and counter-accusations of racism posted by the Metafilter community and it made me feel sad because all I ever wanted was for people to see that map and pronounce, "hee hee. now back to work."
But it's somewhat foolish to complain, or wish feedback/interpretation could be guided by your own wishes. I was speaking with a friend about this, and sort of arrived at the conclusion that, if you're interested in having your work (whatever that may be) exposed to a bigger audience you have to accept this basic truth: once you let something go, it's not entirely yours anymore. You have to share ownership with an unknown number of people, including many whom you'd never give a sip of your Diet Dr. Pepper to.
I heard a great line recently that carries this point to its natural conclusion. I can't remember the source (was it the seinfeld documentary?), but the quote was something like, "You wanna know how to tell when you've really failed? When you start blaming everyone else."
WELCOME TO TAPDATASSACHUSETTS.
Do you think the combination of straight-faced pictures with incongruous words is inherently funny? Well, that might be just enough to get you to check out "The U.S. of R.A.", which is short for "The United States of Racist Aunt". And that's the title of the newest addition to the New Words section of this site. Go looky. Pass it along. See if I care.
GOD HAS POOR CREDIT.
I think it's great that the front-page sniper news coverage has distracted regular folks like me from the impending messiness of a war with Iraq. (or, as CNN is packaging it already, "The Showdown in Iraq". thanks, guys.) And now, with the most recent arrest of a man and his sleeping, 17 year-old male companion in association with the sniper murders, the ante has officially been upped. I'm sure at this very moment there is at least one executive in Hollywood screaming into his speakerphone, "Get me the best Jew writer you can find. I want a script fedexed to me by the end of the week. Something with this whole sniper and baby-sniper angle. Like A Perfect World but more current, more homoerotic. DON'T LET GRAZER AND HOWARD BEAT US TO THIS ONE OR I'LL MAKE YOU WISH YOU WERE ABORTED!!!"
When the first tarot card was made public and the message, "I am God", spread like blood across every easily compromised news source in America, I think we were all fairly chilled. The killings were surely mysterious, but no one wanted it to be quite this dramatic, this gothic. However, when news was leaked that the sniper(s) wanted hard cash to stop the killings, all of the mystery drained out of the case for me. Is God this hard up for money? In following the case, I have become increasingly disappointed as more notes from the killer have been made public. Most recent was this one, hidden inside a tree hollow, on World Wrestling Entertainment stationery:
What's happening? It's God again. Just wondering how that whole money thing was coming along. No rush. It's just that one of my angels wanted a motorcycle for his birthday and I was thinking of getting Mrs. God's titties done this winter and, honestly, that money sure would come in handy right around now. Sorry to be a pain about it.
I would leave an address for drop-offs but you know, I don't think FedEx makes deliveries to heaven...yet. (ha ha. that's just some God humor. jk!) I will be in touch with further instructions. In summary: I am God; need cash; will kill again; blah blah blah.
P.S. Sorry about the stationery. I ran out of ominous tarot cards to write on, and all I had left was "hierophant" and "temperance." I will try to get more cards when I have some extra cash. (hint!)
FROM NOW ON I CAN SEE THE SLUMS.
I pay a LOT for health insurance, yet I have not nearly enough energy to actually use it. That's because, while the monthly fee is almost prohibitively high, the actual coverage is weak and the rules you must follow to receive said coverage are draconian. For instance, if (hypothetically!) I wanted to have a fully-functioning, psychic eyeball removed from the palm of my hand I have to see my doctor, wrestle him to the ground for a referral, then get blood drawn, come back to my PCP (that, in the parlance of people getting fucked by healthcare corporations, is "Primary Care Physician"), get another pair of referrals for both an opthalmologist and cosmetic surgeon. Then, if either of those specialists require more than two visits, I have to return once more to my PCP, who is collecting $20 for each visit, even if I only use him for his signature. The PCP treats you like a glitch in a video game that allows your character to make an infinite number of return trips to a room filled with gold coins and invincibility spells to keep racking up your score. The administrative process is so deliberately maddening that, to save time, money, and a bit of mental well-being, I just bought a mitten. Hypothetially, of course.
I think most people with the kind of health insurance I have hate their PCPs, because the foundation of this particular brand of health services is based on a system of referrals to nicer, more competent doctors. PCPs tend to be over-crowded, under-qualified, and super-distracted. Enter my PCP's offices and it looks like a holding cell at the Immigration and Naturalization Service headquarters. The downtrodden wait and wait, applying pressure to open wounds or coughing themselves off their chairs. The last time I was at my PCP's office I had to wait over two hours while she rotated in about 15 different patients, including a prized fighting cock. While I waited for my referral-appointment, I occupied my time by thumbing through one of the many healthcare trade publications available for patient consumption. The magazines have titles like Pulmonary Health Forum and What's Up, Doc?, and a typical article would be something like, "May I Have Some More...Prilosec? Finding Healthcare Management Solutions in the Work of Charles Dickens."
After I got the signature I needed, I went to the receptionist's area to fork over my co-payment fee. As she counted out my change, she tapped her Monoxodil-sponsored pen against a glass fish bowl resting on the counter. The sign taped to the bowl, written on a blank prescription, read, "TIP JAR." Does anyone know what the Canadian job market is like right now?
GOOD PEOPLE OF MEMEPOOL.
Over the weekend someone informed me that tremble had been linked from a site called memepool, which explained a weird spike in emails from strangers who very much wanted to tell me whether or not I am gay. (thanks!) Memepool is one of those sites that passionately tracks (and usually initiates) the kinds of quirky web sites normals like us forward to everyone we know. You know what I'm talking about. Dogs in kimonos? Memepool was there. That weird guy who dresses like Peter Pan and Little Lord Fauntleroy? Memepool is on it. In other words, all the important stuff that keeps you from finishing up those spreadsheets or that game of PC solitaire. I love memepool.
That the site decided to send people to visit 'does that make my gay?' just a few short years after it was initially posted on tremble probably speaks volumes about my own poor self-promotional skills. If I'd known memepool was coming, however, I would have corrected all of the horrible grammar and early-Todd fancy-free writing style, or at least apologized for it. But I guess if you're someone who is used to being entertained by crooning babies or the HampsterDance, my apology isn't really necessary.
P.S. I kiss you.
Tonight my friend Phil confessed that he's been taking knitting lessons for several months. After I punched him in the face and finished my Boilermaker, I demanded an explanation. "First of all," he assured me, "it's a totally discreet service. The lessons take place in a basement-level, unmarked apartment."
I nodded slowly, indicating that he may continue. Then I socked him in the face again, as a pre-emptive strike.
"Wait!" he cried, blood running in thin rivulets from his nostrils. "You have to understand something. When I was a child, my Nana" - SMACK! - "Fuck! Ow! Fuck! Anyway, my grandmother loved to knit, and then after she died I just always wanted to take up knitting. See?"
I considered this for a moment and replied, "Your grandmother's last words better have been 'Phil - finish this sweater...'." Then I smashed him in the teeth with the blunt end of a roofing hammer. My gang has three rules for membership, and all of them are "no knitting." As a kingpin, it is crucial that I learn to draw a line.
There seems to be a lot of real controversy over the celebration of Columbus Day. Italian-Americans wish to celebrate him - via parades and over-eating - as an explorer, a pioneer. Native-Americans see it differently, painting Christopher Columbus as jingoistic, a slave trader. I wish we could all agree to honor him the same way - as the fervently independent auteur of films such as Mrs. Doubtfire and Bicentennial Man. Enjoy the movies and try, just for today, to forget that Chris Columbus also advocates the enslavement of "dark-complectioned [sic] savages" (as told to "entertainment tonight").
Went to a birthday party this evening. Here's a suggestion to anyone else planning a birthday party in the near future. Pinatas are a great idea. However, be careful about what material you fill it with. Candy is great, as are small toys or expensive French cheeses. Raw organ meat is quite not as great. I'm sure it seemed funny and sort of ironic earlier in the evening, when you were packing the papier-maché bull with room temperature cow intestines and livers. However, I'm sure it seemed significantly less funny when one of the kids split the pinata open with a wiffle ball bat and sent a soft, blood-soaked kidney flying across the room where it landed on my eight year-old son's cake plate, right alongside his specially packed macrobiotic, non-dairy fig cake. For shame!
I love a good joke as much as the next person - I am quick with a spoonerism and happen to own the entire musical catalog of P.D.Q. Bach - but this was just plain irresponsible. By the way, unless you can come up with a proven method for removing cow blood from expensive fabric, you owe me exactly one new pair of child-sized acid washed denim overalls. And you owe my son, Evan, an explanation - and another slice of fig cake.
Here's advice from tremble.com and a gift from Hot Hot Heat. It's called "Oh, Goddamnit." Get it. Listen. Shake. Testify. Repeat. Goodbye.
A friend of mine is in town this weekend because his father had a major-minor art opening in Manhattan on Thursday evening. It's always an event when his father has an opening because his paintings, which are sort of a combination of Van Eyck's formal composition and David Lynch's subconscious, are painstakingly realized and therefore take months, sometimes years to complete. And this opening was pretty unusual. Not only was it tightly focused - consisting of just a single painting - it also shared an opening with a large exhibition of Paul Cadmus' pencil and pastel portraits. Now, if you're not familiar with the work of Paul Cadmus it means you're either A) not a huge student of American painting or B) not a tremendous homosexual. Cadmus was incapable of NOT painting or drawing gayed up. Why is this important? Because the crowd gathered for his show - a show Mr. Cadmus could not enjoy personally because of the many inconveniences of being deceased - was intensely, eye-stabbingly gay. And not just sleeveless Chelsea-style gay. This was a swarm of Upper East Side, Old Moneyed, Over Fifty, Suspenders and Seersucker, Caring for Their Ailing Mothers, Bank President Gay. I have never seen a group assembled quite like this before. I counted four ascots before I grew weary.
In addition, Cadmus' most recent long-term lover and most frequent model, Jon, was in attendance. He was signing books alongside the author of a recent book on Paul Cadmus, and the two figures side-by-side couldn't have been more different. The author was strictly W.A.S.P. - pressed edges, Just For Men haircut, perfectly tucked in - while Jon, who is now in his 70s, was wearing his hair long, slicked back and dyed blonde and, rather than the shirt/tie/jacket combo established by the book's author, opted for a shiny black lycra unitard boatneck top. In a word, it was Superstarriffic.
On another quick art note, this afternoon I went to the Richard Avedon portrait show at NYC's Museum of Metropolitan Art. I love his portraits, though the absence of context for his subjects often deprives them of an emotional life. (unlike someone like nan goldin or larry clark.) There were a few portraits that still managed to really sit with me, including a diptych of Samuel Beckett. But one photograph, in particular, got stuck inside me. Avedon did a series of portraits of his own father, Jacob Israel Avedon, in the years leading up to his death. Without question the relationship between father and son and the obvious chronology of the photographs attributed to some of the series' impact. The next-to-last picture stopped me dead. It shows Avedon's father with an expression I can only describe as a perfectly natural mixture of Shock, Sadness, Amazement, and Disappointment. Isolated, this expression had nothing to compete with. It was a profound statement, something like, "Holy fuck, this is what happens?" It was like watching a man finally understand his own mortality completely - how painful and incredible and somewhat absurd it is all at once - and all he's left with is this twisted, speechless expression. I spent a lot of time with this photograph and, before I waved goodbye, I couldn't resist saying to myself and to Richard Avedon's dad and anyone else within earshot, "No shit, Jacob." I really feel like that crazy expression must be on my face everywhere I go, no matter what I do.
THIS IS THE ELECTROCLASH.
Everywhere I go, I hear the same conversation between music nerds (of which i consider myself one, though i think i'm a really mild strain). It goes something like this:
SCENE: local record store. Nerd A sees Nerd B flipping through the latest issue of The Fader, and approaches:
Music Nerd A: Hey, good to see --
Music Nerd B: ELECTROCLASH ELECTROCLASH ELECTROCLASH ELEC-
Music Nerd A: Whoa, wait a second here. Hold up. Are you -
Music Nerd B: Chicks on Speed!
Music Nerd A: but...
Music Nerd B: A.R.E. Weapons!!!
Music Nerd A: OK, I know but have you -
Music Nerd B: Peaches! W.I.T.! Detroit Grand Pubas! Fischer-goddamn-Spooner!! The Faint!! Holy fucking shit Tracy + the Plastics!!
Music Nerd A: Right. however -
Music Nerd B: Pac-Man! Berserk! Evil Otto! Bleep Bloop! Logan's Run!
Music Nerd A: YOU ARE A TOTAL FUCKING BIONIC TOOL!!!! AND JUST LAST YEAR YOU WERE SAYING THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA WAS THE NEXT BIG THING!!! FUCK! I JUST WANT TO KNOW IF THE FUCKING BLACK HEART PROCESSION RECORD IS GOOD!!!!
Music Nerd B: The black who?..
I think "electroclash" is shorthand for "hi, can I have a record deal, please?" The one aspect of punk and new wave I was never crazy about was the totally shallow obsession with fashion. People like Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood hand-picking clothing to make perfect little punks. I still think it's OK for the fans of the music to be sort of enamored with punk fashions, but that kind of surface attention from the musicians - especially the ones who were supposedly giving the fig to everything society finds admirable and tasteful - breeds a certain sub-set of musicians who lack talent but can afford style (cough! siouxsie sioux). Electroclash has that air to it, a thousand times over. "Check it out," so many bands seem to say. "I'm going to pose behind this vintage laptop and you are going to take my picture. Please make absolutely certain the Udo Kier button on my blazer lapel is in full view."
I confesss that, in certain cases, I really like the electroclash noise, but with this particular style of music comes this ugly instance of spoiled, upper-middle-class behavior. Kids who scour music thrift stores and eBay and anywhere else to buy every last bit of "proper" electronics. One of the most exciting aspects of music to me - really live, burst your testicles or creep under your skin and haunt your gooseflesh music - is its cheapness. Inexpensive Montgomery Ward guitars. Taped together shit. The smelliest t-shirt ever. Electroclash is the polar opposite of that in many ways. It comes from a source of privilege - the kind of privilege that can make you the most nattily dressed artist out there, and the kind that can pose you behind a pile of enviably vintage equipment. I guess, with every breed of music, the genuine innovators are inevitably going to be diluted by the kids with trust funds and good record collections. And I promise I'll still listen to the music - well, some of it - if you promise to never say "electroclash" again. Just call it by its proper name: NEW WAVE AT IMPROPER VOLUME. Fuck it. I guess electroclash is catchier, if a bit less honest.
p.s. Great electroclash start-up primer here.
p.p.s. Seriously...how is the Black Heart Procession album? Tell me.
When I first started making my living as a writer I LOVED it when people asked me what I did for a living. My response, "I'm a writer", would leap out of my mouth, sometimes even jumping in front of the question that prompted it. I was giddy, because it was the first time in my life that I felt suitably matched with my career. Having to say, "I'm a web producer but..." or "I kill dogs with surgical hammers, and I'm also..." didn't have the same stopping power as "I'm a writer, so now, bitch." I have friends who have told me they feel like phonies when their response to the "what do you do" question is "I'm a comedian" or "I'm an actress" or "I'm a prostitute" when their real wage-earning comes from being a waitress or a temp or an associate prostitute. I was like that, too, when I divided my career between something I hated/didn't identify with at all and writing. Ever since I began earning my money exclusively as a writer I was happy to answer the question.
However, soon I discovered a snag: I felt like an asshole. Actually, allow me to shift the blame. I was made to feel like an asshole. And why? Because NO ONE believes you when you say you're a writer and leave it at that. If you say "I cut meat up for old people", everyone is satisfied with the answer. However, when you tell someone you're a writer there's always a follow-up question. Something like, "OK, but how do you make money? You suck dick, right? You can tell me - I'm your grandfather." Either that or "well, what do you write?", which is another way of saying, "do you think you're better than me because you learned how to write?" It's exhausting. I seriously think people believe I'm lording it over them, as if I just told them I was a zillionaire.
So, to defuse this inevitable discomfort, when people ask me what I write, I just tell them I write coupons. Only coupons. 15 cents off? That was mine. It's competitive, though, and fiercely so. You get to live off the success of your "15 cents off" line for a little while, until someone younger, more ambitious, and better looking comes up with "16 cents off." But I have something else up my sleeve - an un-trumpable card waiting for the right moment: "Eleventy cents off." Yes, I am a writer. Yes I am.
WOMEN BE SLUMMING.
Today I watched a few moments of VH-1's "Sexiest Videos" with my brother, over the phone. I had snagged it while zombie-surfing on my giant remote control. (i.e. flipping through the channels quickly, hoping to find some kind of movie or documentary programming featuring or related to zombies, zombie juice, etc.) "Sexiest Videos" is another on-the-cheap hidden camera show that traps innocent bystanders into manipulated, sexy-type situations. The segment I watched went something like this: a beautiful (by los angeles standards) woman in a sexy (by cable standards) outfit is standing on the sidewalk holding a large cardboard box in her arms. She also, inexplicably, has a pair of white, cotton underpants (or "panties", if you're a fan of love, american style or e! entertainment's "wild on..." aesthetic) caught up around her ankles. It's a classic dilemma: she doesn't want to put the box down (???) but she needs to pull her underpants up. Solution: ask a bunch of single guys.
Naturally, she had a lot of volunteers and chances are VH-1 decided not to air the many clips of men offering to actually hold the box while she adjusts her underpants. Clip after degrading clip aired, each one less funny and more unnerving than the last. Finally they showed a clip of the woman pointing out the hidden camera to one of her marks, making sure he knew he'd been seriously busted. The guy's expression barely registered, though, and I think I know why. He just touched a strange, attractive woman's vagina in public and in broad daylight. So, um, who is the sucker here?
It made me feel so sad. Here was a woman who'd subjected herself to the creeping hands of dozens of strange men (most of whom would ordinarily never ever have a chance to date, much less grope, a woman like this), just to add another line item to the back of her headshot, and she somehow convinced herself (or the producers convinced her) that she'd really pulled one over on them. It was like a rape victim faking an orgasm. I really believe, in America at least, people still believe there is no better way to justify your own existence than to appear on television, no matter what the context may be. I just wish that poor, idiotic model could have picked a more dignified way to self-validate: I think Fear Factor is still looking for contestants.
RICKI DOES NOT GO THERE.
I just turned down a request to appear on The Ricki Lake Show. Before you gasp in disappointment and shock, let me explain. I'm still a whore; it's just that I now consider myself the classy kind of whore.
Here's what happened, though I still don't quite understand it myself. I received a telephone call yesterday, and the woman's voice on the other end asked me if I was Todd Levin. This has happened to me before, because there is another Todd Levin who is well-known in very small circles, mostly in Germany. I believe he used to be a "composer" of the type of contemporary music one might describe as "modern shitty", and now he curates art shows. Anyhow, every once in a while I receive a phone call from someone with a German accent asking if I am him. I reply "nein" and carry on about my business.
Yesterday was different. First of all, the accent was New England middle-class. And then she asked if I was the Todd Levin who wrote a story on "male vanity" for GirlComic.Net. Yes. Yes I am. (i remember being embarrassed to tell the lady i was dating about this story, because it was so crass and she was so class.) Apparently, Ricki was doing a full show on the subject of male vanity and they'd found my article during their research. They loved me, or so they said. They needed me on their show, or so I was told. And here's the part I really didn't understand: they thought most of the material in that article was true. At one point in the conversation, the production assistant actually asked me if it was true that Edward Norton and Van Morrison had breast augmentation surgery. (i guess she forgot to ask about james joyce and cardinal o'connor - two of the other famous male figures i accused of under-going this same surgerical procedure.)
My immediate reaction was the same one I stuck with: no. Would I love to be on television? Absolutely. It would make a great story and, under the right circumstances, it could be fun and useful. But Ricki Lake? I asked the PA who the other guests would be. She mentioned a man who has invested $36,000 in cosmetic surgery, and another guy who once appeared on MTV's "True Life: I'm Getting Plastic Surgery" (a hard-hitting episode that aired right on the heels of "true life: i'm horny in miami") so he could share his calf implants with the rest of the retarded world.
I sized up the distinguished panel and quickly realized the show would go down something like this: I would crack a joke about how lame male vanity - and all vanity - really is, and the guy with giant calves would say something like "Well, look at you, chicken wing. Maybe you're just jealous, with your ugly face!" And then all of my smart ideas and classy comebacks ("eat a dick sandwich, bitch") would melt away and I would be reduced to tears. Because, as we all know, ideas have no place on Ricki Lake; only words. And more than that, no matter how clever and evolved I think I am, I still basically crave approval and love from everyone and that very basic need would result in being legitimately concerned about the opinions of a man who has had fake calves inserted into his legs. I would be sitting onstage for the remaining 40 minutes of the program, silent but wondering, "does this chair make me look fat?" That kind of thing doesn't happen on Charlie Rose.
CONCEPTS ARE OVER-RATED; BRING ON THE WORDS.
Something just occurred to me. Keeping the entries on this site in epistle format creates one very serious limitation. If I'm directing my letters outward it makes it very difficult to address my greatest preoccupation: myself. Sure, I've managed ways around that mess but why should I have to? Suddenly, I feel unfettered. How do you feel? Ripped off? Sounds about right to me. Let's roll.
OK. Here's a true story. I took a cab yesterday (this is already gripping, i realize) and the cab driver, whose company was based in brooklyn, had no idea how to get around the borough. He didn't know where simple, well-known streets were. Seventh Avenue, for example, completely eluded him. Additionally, he spoke almost no English, and understood even less.
In fact, as much as I tried to direct him with basic sentences like "you just missed our exit" or "you can't drive through that church" he just came up blank. The only English words he understood, as far as I could tell, were "LEFT", "RIGHT", "STRAIGHT", and "GO". (please note that "STOP" was not included in this list. neither was "WHIPLASH".) The trip became a crazy game, with me figuring out how to best time my directional commands. "LEFT" had to come just at the right moment or we'd either miss our turn or drive into two men carrying a large sheet of plate glass. That's how precise the system was.
As far as I could tell, the only qualification he had as a cab driver was his ability to maneuver a motor vehicle. Even that job might have proven difficult had he not labeled his gas and brake pedals "VAMOS!" and "AY YI YI!" respectively.
This is not a cautionary tale, however. I am actually using this story to illustrate why I finally moved to NYC in the first place. I postponed my move several times, mostly out of a kind of nervousness regarding the unknown or imagined complexity of this city. My parents fed my anxiety, too, warning me of muggings, b-boys, grizzlies, fascist movements, and baby-tossing gypsies. I saved and fretted for almost two years before finally packing up and landing in NYC in the hot, stank summer of 1995. It wasn't a calculated plan that finally assuaged the calamnity in my brain. In fact, when I arrived I had no job (or job prospects) and no apartment to call my own. I also had a girlfriend who would be arriving in a couple of weeks, just in time for us to break up. So it wasn't as if I strategized my way to safety.
What finally made all the tumblers click into place was a really simple thought that everyone contemplating this move, or any move to an unfamiliar environment, should consider. People arrive fresh in America, and in New York especially, every single day. Many of them have a couple English words at their disposal, not much money, and sometimes no family to speak of. And, miraculously, they usually don't die; not all of them, at least. In fact, many of them thrive. They ride the subways (somehow). They drive cabs (poorly). They open stores with no names (something i never understood because naming a store is usually the best part). They become mayor (never). And they manage. They learn the things they need to learn, and that may include little things like "apples should not cost $14 each" (they should cost $3 each) or larger things like "paper, rock, and even scissors always lose to the guy with a gun and a crack addiction, so please hand over your wallet." Most importantly, they don't let themselves get discouraged or paralyzed by second-guessing. I suppose second-guessing isn't really a big hang-up when you just arrived here from a country where you were caned soundly for sneezing in public.
I thought about those people, wide-eyed and scared shitless but nonetheless hauling themselves over here every single day in every way. I thought about people like my inept cab driver who didn't even let his ignorance of basic geography and native language impede his decision to become a taxi driver. And I thought about how often I needed circumstances to align themselves perfectly before I ever made a single move, and realized I was doing it all wrong. I was cursed by an over-active, distractingly analytic mind. And I wanted to be here, in New York, with the crazy battery salesmen and bodega clerks and cab drivers and everyone else who thought it would be more fun to cannonball off the board than take the ladder into the deep end, pausing at each rung. (yes, it's an awful metaphor but remember i was much younger then, and reading all the wrong books.) So I grabbed some belongings and bought a ticket for a southbound train. I arrived in New York City the very next day, where I was stabbed and murdered the moment I stepped off the train. And I've never looked back.