In December of 2002, You Learned:
Just (barely) in time for Christmas, I've created an NYC holiday slideshow screen saver. Eschewing the Rock Center tree, which already gets more attention than the captain of the flag squad, I took a few pictures of low-rent holiday preparations in local neighborhoods. Highlights include: my trip to Dyker Heights, near Bensonhurst, where each year wealthy Italian-American families display all of their holiday and religious fervor, and absolutely none of their restraint or respect for energy conservation; a stroll through the eastern and southern-most edges of Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the holidays suffer from chronic loneliness; and a lucky snapshot in Chelsea.
If you'd like to make this screen save yours, you'll need an Apple computer and OS X. From there, it's as easy as one, two, three:
- Open your System Preferences
- Choose Screen Effects, and from the effects menu, select ".Mac"
- Now, click the "configure" button and, in the new window that opens up, where it asks you to type in a .mac user screen name, type "tremble" and click OK.
And you're off! Sorry, PC users. You've got enough neat stuff to do, though.
THE WORLD'S MOST UNWELCOME POP CULTURAL OBSERVATION.
Until this morning, I hadn't seen a bona fide celebrity up close in a while. I think it's mostly because I've been sticking close to my own neighborhood and, honestly, I don't think most people would consider Paul Auster and the homeless guy who looks like William S. Burroughs bona fide celebrities.
But today, as I was walking past a Blimpie's and a Gentleman's club (imagine that. my two biggest cravings - egg salad and pussy - right next to each other!) I almost walked right into actor Peter Gallagher. (perhaps you've seen him in sex, lies & videotape or mr. deeds I've said it before, sometimes at the risk of getting punched in the eyes or politely ignored, and I'll say it again: Peter Gallagher is the thinking man's Billy Zane. And Billy Zane is the certifiably sentient man's The Rock. I'm not going anywhere in life, am I? (don't answer!)
USHERING IN A NEW ERA.
While it's certainly been rearing its head with increasing regularity - Dave Egger's themed storefront on Valencia, various jokes on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and, as recently as today, a short piece on the McSweeney's web site - it hasn't been officially stated yet, so please allow me. In the world of comedy writing, PIRATES ARE THE NEW ROBOT. (as you'll recall from several years ago, robots were the new monkey.) As you were.
P.S. I'm still waiting patiently for mummies to become the new pirate / bigfoot / hobo / what have you. Mummies - our day will come.
HOW TO RUIN A JOKE.
Now, watch how far you can take this joke, from degrees of subtletly to complete ruin. See if you can spot where it 'tipped'!
I just had sushi and now I feel awfully green. I should have known better when I saw the sushi chef holding:
- a can opener!
- a nerf knife
- his nose!
- a filet-o-fish wrapper
- a take-out menu...for mexican food!!!!!!!!
- a plastic bag filled with goldfish
- his own severed pinky
- a copy of "sushi for dummies"!
- a copy of "sushi for dummies"...UPSIDE-DOWN!!!!
- a tube of herpes medication
- his colostomy bag!??!?!?!!!
- an elvis - dwarf - carrot-top - robot-gary - coleman - pants - meat - caveman - thingy!
- a sign that says "I AM VERY BAD SUSHI CHEF. I MUST HAVE HOLD THIS SIGN TO PUNISHMENT ME! GO AWAY NOW!!"
(if you guessed "at 'can opener'", congratulations! if you guessed "hmm...i liked the herpes stuff but i didn't really get that nerf reference", congratulations, too! you have just been hired as the head writer for MAD TV. and, finally, if you guessed, "that joke was infused with faint, delicious traces of comic subtlety," congratulations, once more. you've just been hired as the head writer for THE WORLD WIDE WEB. here's some fake poop and the 'am i monkey or not?' 2003 calendar. you're on your way, buddy.)
I FELL DOWN.
Things were going very well on Saturday night, until I fell down. I was wearing a tie, which played no part in my fall. A friend, a collector of vintage ties for men (among other things), brought approximately 15 ties to a party we were attending, and insisted I slip on a new one every hour or so. nothing, not even electroclash, has made me want to wear a tie for a very long time, but friendship supercedes all variety of policy. by the second tie, i was actually enjoying myself. by the third, i was eager for the fourth. and then i fell down. Dancing. Which makes me either the world's worst dancer (as this happened to me once before, attempting a move called the marionette and ending up snapping my kneecap off to the side for a brief, ecstatic moment before completely collapsing) or the world's sexiest area rug. In a fine case of just desserts, I've involuntarily entered into that very undesirable category: a young person with a limp.
There's something about falling down that really sours an evening. Inject a minor mishap into any moment of joy and it becomes a major tragedy. Once, I watched a love-smacked couple outside a friend's dormitory window. I was on the eighth floor, pretty far removed from their skipping and hand-holding and cooing. (tragedy + distance = comedy warning) I watched them for a long time, wondering how they could be so unabashedly in love, and let myself become washed over with sanctimonious contempt resting delicately on a thick, green bog envy. They really were SKIPPING as they bounced toward the school's outdoor track loop. As they made their way down the hill, toward the track loop, locked hand in hand, velocity and inertia got the best of them and the girl broke free, tumbling ahead and ending up face-down on the asphalt. She went from full motion to dead stop in a split second, and her boyfriend stood over here. From where I was judging, it was impossible to hear anything, and that made the scene even more fascinating.
After approximately 20 seconds of her still body, splayed out, being inspected by her boyfriend, he eventually helped her to her feet. As they continued the rest of the way, their hands were no longer clasped. In fact, their whole body language had changed. There was room for three obese people between them, and the girl dragged a bit behind, limping toward her boyfriend's back. It was like watching the entire cycle of a relationship play out in 30 seconds, as if it were some kind of nickelodeon film.
Now imagine what falling down can do to a dance circle. Party over.
Having trouble updating entries to this site, which isn't really the end of the world. I mean,when I think of how much extra time people have been able to spend looking into the sleepy face of my cat, it makes me believe that my work is really done here.
Anyway, there is a small backlog of words waiting to kiss the eyelids of lovelorn readers, and once I figure out what's wrong with my high-tech houseboy, I'll let those words fly. In the meantime, here's the only funny thing I've said in the last week and a half: "I eat at Nathan's Hot Dogs so often, I just call it 'Nate's'."
Addendum: looks like the problem was solved, thanks to problem-solver, Jeff Ivany. I heart good citizens who recognize an idiot when they see one and react not with public scorn, but with kindness, patience, guidance, and possibly some private scorn.
AMISTAD, BUT FUNNIER.
Last night was a first for me. In the driving, freezing rain, a friend and I stepped on board a rusted-out, leaky boat to watch some people tell jokes. The Frying Pan is a perfect NY story - it's this defunct vessel semi-permanently docked off the 23rd Street pier. And like all dormant artifacts, it has been converted into some weird, vertiginous party space. It's claustrophobic, unstable, crawling with tetanus - and they serve drinks. slurp!
Some friends of mine were hosting a holiday party for the Industry Room, a (once) weekly comedy show traditionally enjoyed on dry land, without the threat of death by drowning.
WHY I'M A CAT PERSON.
Say what you will about people and their cats, but I've never seen a human being do anything like this with such positive (and positively precious) results.
Witold, I promise I will never complain about anything again.
Know what I have learned to love recently? Caps. Not the kind of caps I use to pin a sucker's wig back, or the set of porcelain caps that have earned me the titles of "The Writer with the $75,000 Smile" (according to Teen People magazine) and "Phony Shitface" (according to my last several girlfriends). I mean the kind of caps worn by gentlemen and chimney sweeps.
Several years ago, during the cold months, I was known to wear a grey wool Kangol cap, screwed around exactly 185 degrees into the "Tarantino" position. This was an update on my cold season style in high school, which utilized a grandfatherly tweed cap rotated into the exact same position. I couldn't imagine wearing my caps any other way. To screw it back around, bill facing forward, seemed a great compromise of fashion. One sweeping gesture would transition my style from Slick Rick to Andy Capp, and I was having none of it.
My Kangol cap has been in retirement for about three years now, replaced by a more youthful flexible knit Kangol cap. As my hair has grown up and out, it has become harder and harder to stuff the whole mess underneath my winter cap but I make do. Occasionally, if I'm feeling especially coquettish, I'll leave one errant lock peeking out from beneath the bottom edge of the cap, and allow it to curl itself like ivy back up toward my head. Is it adorable? Do you need to ask? ("Cuter than a tightly sealed plastic bag of kittens." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone Magazine)
Getting back to the cap, I had to bring it out of retirement recently because my knit cap was overdue for a darning. Before clamping it down tight on my head, I made a very mature decision. I decided it was time to crank it back to the front, and switch dials from "25" to "31" years old. It was a little depressing at first, but I was actually really pleased once I got my hair jammed inside it. (and this was not easy; with thick wings of black hair sticking out of the sides and back i started to resemble one of the Sweathogs with a non-speaking role.)
To award myself three extra points for "dashing" I even cocked the cap at a jaunty angle. This was an unpexpectedly magical touch, actually. It was like when Tom Hanks found that volleyball in Castaway and for a long time it was just a regular, junky piece of sports equipment. Then, when he saw that his bloodied handprint made something resembling a face, that one little detail flipped the volleyball from playground equipment to BESTEST FRIEND EVER!! That's what the hat was like. At first I was sort of loathe to wear it, and embarrassed about having to face it forward. Then, with the addition of a cock, everything was better. ("Condescends to audience with flagrantly gay double-entendres." - POZ Magazine)
The only negative side effect of my new cap style is excessive whistling. You see, with a cap like this, worn at such a rakish angle, I've suddenly started imaging I'm an upbeat scoundrel from a Charles Dickens novel. I think this is probably a very common disorder. After the first day wearing my cap, I began blackening spots of my face with lumps of coal and addressing my neighbors in a thick, ridiculous Cockney accent. Today was even worse. Before leaving my flat, I tied a farthing to a retractable string to grift the chap who runs our neighborhood fruit stand. (interesting fact: the fruit stand guy takes farthings as payment, but still refuses my canadian quarters. i should wonk him a right good thump on his brasso beaner!) You blame the cap; I blame the cock. ("Just what America needs!" - Terrible Idea Monthly Magazine)
NOW I GET IT.
I finally realized why people stay at their day jobs instead of choosing the freelance life I've made for myself: the toilet paper never runs out. Neither do the laughs!
Um...did the guy in the Old Navy commercial just say "fleece out"? I think he did.
Every so often I feel compelled to signal the end of a long-running comedy trope that I feel has long worn out its welcome in the mix of popular culture. I don't mean to be a killjoy. The declarations I make are not intended to hurt others who may find themselves experiencing some sense of enjoyment from making jokes that have been thoroughly exhausted for all of their comic potential; they are merely meant to protect us from staleness, from being caught in an infinite loop of recycled cultural detritus that inhibits our ability to create anything new.
Past nominees for extinction have been Elvis (the only people allowed to get a laugh out of elvis now are advertising agencies and the mentally retarded, and any overlap between the two) and Carrot Top (no fair!). I think my policies for selection are actually generous, never cutting something off before its potential for future laughter. For instance, I'd love to say Anna Nicole-Smith is off-limits but, really, who knows what surprises she has in store for us this holiday season?
That aside, here are my two nominees for 2003:
Guess what? Waiting for a rap song to come on at the party is a terrible waste of time when we all know the only reward from that wait will be your smirk-filled Robot Dancing. Yes, you think robots are funny - and, by proxy, Robot Dancing must be even funnier. Certainly, the faint "wink" sound emitted by each exaggerated, stiff movement of your arms and head would lead us all to believe this. And maybe, just for kicks, you'll even try to implicate others in your joke by starting one of those top-rock wave circles where you all lock fingers and pretend an invisible worm has possessed you for a brief moment, using your body as a medium to move to the next soul. And you'll laugh and you'll laugh and you'll laugh. To some people, that's actually a real dance. To you, it is a sort of barely concealed expression of your complete self-consciousness about dancing. (and possibly your contempt for hip-hop and, in some rare cases, even your own latent racism. but i am not here to get all oberlin college on you.)
My point is, enough! We've seen your robot dance. We've all probably been there, too. It's not a crime. It's just about time we all stopped and either learned to like moving our bodies without fear of repercussion, or just leave it to the experts. And we know that, somewhere in your silly little soul, as you robot the shit out the place, you're thinking, "I'm actually really good at this, aren't I?" You're not. Sorry. And it's still not funny.
I can imagine a small, but collective gasp rising up at this announcement, especially given his latest bouts of insanity, but that's precisely my point. You cannot touch MJ because he is always sure to checkmate whatever attack you've prepared. He's on that next-level type of shit, seeing the playing board seventy-three moves in advance. Michael Jackson has done everything in his power to fortify himself against ridicule by stacking the deck too high. While you're busy making fun of his white glove, he busts out a gas mask. If you think that's funny, he'll make sure someone gets a picture of him in a traveling iron lung. Go ahead and make your jokes about his chimp because he's so far past you that he's having tea parties with the elephant man's bones. See how good he is? And even when everyone gives him shit about being weird and white and no-nosed and molesting children, Michael is throwing up the "W" and throwing towels over his kids' heads. You cannot catch up with him. I'm sorry.
Michael Jackson is, to me, like Las Vegas. He's so aggressively otherworldly that he sort of defies analysis. Try to get your Irony Face on in Las Vegas and you'll have so many opportunities that you'll be paralyzed and speechless within the first ten minutes; at the craps table within the first half-hour; drinking a pina colada out of one of those weird, tall plastic cups that girls like so much within an hour; and shopping for a fanny pack to cart your chips by dinner time. MJ is the same way. And no more of this "remember when Michael used to be black" stuff, please? Because think about it for a moment. I don't think anyone really does remember when he was black anymore. I grew up on the Jackson Five cartoon and I am still pretty sure MJ's character was played by Johnny Quest. So leave him alone. Stop joking about him and just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. There's bound to be a new one every six months.
THE END OF CUTE: A NEW BEGINNING.
OK, I signaled the end of cute prematurely. Forget about those baby-eating babies for a moment. Now close your eyes, and let your mind drift safely to this, the new cutest thing imaginable: an overweight, full-grown construction worker drinking milk through a straw, right out of the carton. I saw one of these this morning and I just about made a pee. If you'd prefer, you can also mentally add a slingshot to the hammer loop in his coveralls, but that's entirely up to you. I just call them as I see them.
THE END OF CUTE.
I think the absolute cutest thing I can imagine would be a baby licking another baby's ticklish face. Of course, everything would sour when that baby takes the first bite.
IT'S SO COLD EVEN THE SNOWMEN ARE BLANKING.
When it gets this cold outside it's really hard to break into song. Everyone - even that nice lady - is struggling down the street, grimacing into the bracing chill. I've been told that Pennsylvania suffers from a damp, uncomfortable cold. In New York, the cold feels like rusty knives popping between your ribs. In other words, just as everyone pictures NYC.
Today was too much, though. Even babies in strollers had no choice but to swear out loud, to themselves and nature. I passed a double-wide stroller on my way to Dizzy's Kitchen and I overheard one of the babies saying, "goddamn-cocksucking-motherfucker-cold diaper pin." The baby next to him said nothing because it was in suspended animation. I walked into Dizzy's, ordered a sonofabitchgoddamn brownie and a fuckface with honey and lemon, and longed for a damp Pennsylvania cold.