In February of 2003, You Learned:
Thanks to all for attending the NO EXIT, PART 2 reading last night. In spite of my conflicted craving for + aversion to adulation - I was told the only time I looked truly uncomfortable was during audience applause - I had a great time. The actors had a ton of fun with the material and I hope people's apprehension about the potential obliqueness of the material was quickly smoothed out by the early inclusion of an "ass beer" joke at the beginning of the play.
One of the attendees was nice enough to snap a couple photographs without my knowledge, and he emailed them to me this morning. Even if you weren't there, now you are. Feel the rush...of carriage returns.
click on image for larger detail. thanks to stan cherian for camera work. and thanks to large heads in foreground for their work as extras in the production.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES.
Today I was faced with a difficult decision. I have been working on a freelance writing assignment, and the piece is for a teenage audience (14-15 years old). A question was raised about my use of the expression "monkey pee" and whether, perhaps, this might be too juvenile for the intended audience.
My knee-jerk reaction was "NO!" and I still sort of believe it. However, after investigating that reaction I realized it came out of me so quickly because I actually think monkey pee isn't even too juvenile for me. I would love to see the words "monkey pee" in 40 foot letters in the middle of Times Square. I'd visit more often. It could even help boost our economy. And if people think monkey pee is too juvenile for a 14 year-old - someone whose every waking hour is a new scatalogical mystery, thanks in large part to puberty and in small part to the films of Adam Sandler - then what does that say about me? A grown man who loves monkey pee. I guess I realized that in defending monkey pee, I was really defending my own socially retarded sense of humor.
I had allies in the monkey pee debate, to be sure. But ultimately I agreed that it could (not should) be excised. I think it came down to this: did I want to go down in history as the writer who martyred himself over monkey pee? Not really. Three years ago, I would have said "yes." Today, instead of fighting, I got a haircut and bought a blazer. Tomorrow I'm going to buy a belt and get married. Over the weekend I'm going to go bald and die of a cardiac arrest while tanning my swollen, Speedo-clad body on a chaise lounge in St. Martin. I will become a single-serving pogrom.
IS IT COS I IS OLD.
Well yes, OK, it's my birthday today. Is that a plea for strangers to attack my Amazon wish list or assault me with ecards from fundamentalist Christian web sites? (of course, carefully chosen for maximum ironic effect: "holy shit! i am totally sending this picture of christ healing a leper with this MIDI of the axel f. theme for background music! i can't believe this shit!!! christians are a-holes.") Yes. yes it is.
No. Not really. But here's something funny, to me at least. I woke up on my official birthday, at 3:30am, from being passed out on my couch in a seated position. My cats were right by my side, judging me silently. (i was drowsy, but i'm nearly positive i heard one of them mumble, "prick" under her breath.) On my computer were two extremely kind 'happy birthday' emails that had the unfortunate effect of making me more blue than happy, for reasons all my own. This morning, as I hunched over from the great stabbing pain of last evening's tragic eggroll dinner, I thought my day was already too loaded with terrible omens to continue with my head up. I even took a cab to work today, just so I wouldn't have to crawl underground.
When I arrived at someone else's office, there were a few more emails and this time I almost lost it. But for good reasons. I can't believe some of these people even knew it was my birthday. (god i feel so funny typing the words 'my birthday'. it makes me feel like a gigantic baby. this is one of my least endearing character tics. i crave attention, but don't take well to receiving it.) I can't believe I was feeling so damn self-piteous this morning when there are so many arguments to be made to the contrary. One more year with my hair intact, my weight semi-normal, my brain functioning (mostly), my furniture tasteful, my sex drive respectable, my cell phone adorable, my family close, my friends even closer, and my CD collection still modestly winning its struggle against becoming hopelessly square. All in all, it's shaping up to be a nice day.
P.S. Had a rehearsal for the reading coming up this thursday night (DO ATTEND!) and I learned two valuable lessons about the way I write. First, I love long sentences. And second, I think patterns of three are really funny. I need to be aware of the first and overcome the second. I also learned that the actors are really excellent.
The Preppie Killer is out! The Preppie Killer is out! It's interesting to me that people still call him that, since it's really such a dated label. More interesting, however, is that it seems Robert Chambers was in prison exactly long enough for his clothes to go out of style, and then back in again. Shouldn't there be a more cruel form of punishment? For instance, I've noticed that style-less grunge is starting to rear its lazy, glue-addled head again. Beards are showing up, as are trucker caps and flannel. Maybe the state should have waited a few months longer to release Chambers because, as the world exists today, he could become confused into believing he has lots of followers.
For those of you without the patience to read that last paragraph, here is a distilled, monologue-ready version of that joke:
"Robert Chambers, the Preppie Killer, is finally out. Which is ironic, because preppie is actually kind of in."
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Alfred Molina!
[p.s. this officially ends my latest streak of maudlin behavior on tremble.com. i've always felt you deserved better. i hope my naked humanity was not too nauseating for you. werewolf jokes, ho!]
BLEEP BLOOP BLEEP.
I went to a friend's bar last night, because I'd promised him I would stop in and check out a digital animation show his wife was curating. If that already sounds like trouble, I think the rest of this will make a lot of sense to you.
The bar has a very deliberate digital edge to it - clean white walls and banquettes; consoles on every table with computer monitors, swivel spy cameras, and joysticks all built for anti-social socializing - and the animation show wasn't narrative in any way. Rather, it was the visual equivalent to listening to deep electronic music. Pulsing shapes, disjointed voice-over, scraps of visuals fizzling and zip-zapping around the screen. And about as warm as a three day old dead hobo.
I don't know what it is about electronic music. (and by this i mean the very esoteric type of electronic music. not the thumpy kind with all that pants-stretching bass and incalculable BPMs. i know what that music is for. it's for sucking vitamin c tablets and frenching shag carpeting.) I've found tiny pockets of emotion here and there, but that usually involves the incorporation of something analog. (in an aphex twin song i heard recently, this was accomplished by a symphony of wind-up toys) However, it's generally so antiseptic. Is it cool to like something this disaffected? The electronic burps never raise a single hair on my arms. How do people fuck to this? How do people who listen to this ever even think about fucking? It's like a statement of sexlessness. And maybe that's OK. Maybe there are other times one should reserve for feeling sexy or even feeling like they have a pulse but I can't think of what those are. Solving algebra problems? Talking about German art? I don't know.
Right before I left for the show, I listened to the new White Stripes album for the first time. (that statement was this year's official "i just downloaded the 'KID A' bootleg today.") That album was stuffed with humanity - guitars that crunched right down on my skull, microwaving the blood beneath my skin. Shouts and wails and real instruments. You can even hear the floor creak beneath the rollicking drum kit. And to go from that to pure ones and zeros? Even the bar, which I've appreciated in the past, seemed like an incredibly frustrating novelty to me last night. (by no fault of its own, in case you're reading this, bob.)
A friend of mine was DJing there last night, right after the animation show. I really wanted to see him play but I couldn't. I was just too chilled, I think. Fortunately, when I left that bar and walked through the doors of a new one, I was greeted by stretched fabric, black and white photographs, autumn colors, and the overwhelmingly warm smiles of some of my favorite people in New York City, or anywhere else.
And every now and again a little thought popped into my head: I could never love anyone who loves electronic music. Then I drank some more and that thought, and a few thousand others that had been digging at me for the last few weeks, were set out to sea. I highly advocate vodka. It's made from real potatoes, not electronic ones.
I'M HAVING A MASSIVE ATTACK.
CURRENT MOOD: tragi-comic
I had one of those days, where luck was dictated by a shower of bird shit on my jacket. It's hard to recover from that just as, I'm finding, it's hard to recover from many things. Now I keep trying to put myself back there, wondering how I must have looked, wiping away at fresh bird shit with a Starbucks napkin. I am guessing I looked like a trifle, like the world's smartest boy, like a person being groomed for disappointment. I hope it was a test instead of a final grade.
Given the way I feel presently, the temptation to martyr myself has never been greater. And, lord, what a convenient medium for such activities. But I'll spare the audience and just say this: I can't wait until I'm funny again. Something I think, now and then, I'm actually good at and apparently willing to work at. In fact, I wrote a new self-made martyr joke tonight:
I finally decided what tattoo I'm going to get. On my shoulder, twin theater masks: Tragedy and Tragedy. See? (he laughed nervously) I'm better already!
SMALL TALK REALLY DOESN'T SUIT ME.
I am really trying very hard to fit in at my job. I've been on assignment at a nice advertising agency for a couple of months now, and I'm really making an effort to get along, meet my co-workers. An office is a quick cure for loneliness in some ways, and I expected this would be a good opportunity for me.
That said, I would like you to know that walking into a crowded men's bathroom on and announcing, "Man, it's a real sausage fest in here," does nothing to expedite one's orientation process or endear one to the staff.
At least I earned a nickname today, which is something I've always wanted. I would not have chosen "Jerkass" but, then again, nicknames are not chosen; they're earned.
People complained about the wind-blasted cold; then they complained about the snow. Not me. I choose my battles carefully and I'll always be snow's leading advocate, as long as I remain a pedestrian in New York City.
When the snow first began falling on sunday evening, and I saw it through a hole in the Union Square subway stairwell, I did something I'm never moved to do in any weather: I grabbed my camera. The Union Square stairwell (on the nw corner of the park) is a lucky one. Instead of leading back, then forth, affording you a view of tile and steel and nothing more, the stairs go up one way. By standing in the right spot one can easily see the street from the floor. And up beyond there, the sky. Filled with snow.
I snapped a couple of photographs very quickly, producing an accidental variety of photographic effects by pushing buttons and adding or removing flash. I still haven't mastered my camera. It knows more than I do. But, for the first time, I came really close to capturing snow exactly as my eye sees it. It falls like fairies.
Do you remember that band Live? Me neither. Thank God.
Unwanted email is at an all-time high in my inbox, and the tricks utilized by online direct marketers to grab my attention have gotten more subtle.
When did it become OK to actually lie? And not just sort of lie, as some advertising has been known to do - creating a false need, then satisfying it within the space of a :30 spot. These are insane lies. The subject lines in the emails I receive now don't even resemble honest marketing anymore. Instead of "GET A FREE MEAT TWISTER", it's always "Are we having lunch?" or other seemingly disjointed, personal greetings.
As a result, I'm always surprised by which subject lines still grab my attention. My junk mail filter does its due diligence and captures a great deal of junk mail coming through but, as the devices grow more and more sophisticated, it falls off a little bit and lets some creeps through. Unfortunately, I'm no smarter. Even when the "from" field is a name that is completely unfamiliar to me, I hold on to it because it is, after all, still a name.
My expectations constantly come into question, too. I see a subject line, I build an expectation. I open the email and, more often than not, that expectation is exploded by real estate scams or high-lustre titties. But, just like all those people who infected their computers with the I LOVE YOU virus because, maybe just maybe, someone reall did love them, I constantly reach out at the hope of friendship or love from total strangers. Here's an example of an email I received, how I perceived it, and how well it held up to that perception.
Email Subject Line: Someone out there really likes you.
Me: Someone out there really likes me!
Them: Someone out there really wants you to pay $14.95/month to watch a dolphin fuck her ass on camera.
I used to love it when people in my high school and college would get all hissy over Valentine's Day and, quite deliberately, wear all black instead of a hot-pink jumpsuit with appliqué hearts all over it. (i wish i still fit into that jumpsuit. that settles it - i'm switching to snackwells. as if!!) It was all so tragic and unnecessary. Even now, in NYC, I think more people are having Anti-Valentine's Day parties than genuine Love-Ins. Maybe the rising tide of personal ad services and dating programming will make those anti-parties go away, and I can have my jumpsuit let out. But for now, I guess it's Goth pancake makeup, black cloaks and vampire teeth.
Here's something that isn't intended to bring you down. It's more of a warning. I woke up this morning with a very bad head concerning one very important romantic mess-up. It's weird, because it was something I was really philosophical about for a long time, but now that's given way to aches and pains and other things. It's also given way to song lyrics. I think my favorite song released last year was "Promising Light" by Iron & Wine. The entire album on which this song appears is soft and beautiful, but this song in particular has been under my skin for months. It's one of those "love in hindsight" songs, fraught with regret, and it breaks my heart every time I hear it. Here is a line from the chorus, which is sort of indicative of the rest of the song: "Now I see love, dragged on the floor where you walked outside / Now I see love, looking for you in another girl's eyes." In real life there are no do-overs so just be nice, OK?
p.s. I'm not soliciting funereal wreaths. I hope I didn't sound self-martyred here and if I did, it's only because sometimes I lack eloquence.
President Bush? Can you hear me? Oh wait - ALLAH IS AWESOME. Now I know you're listening.
Hi. I saw your picture today, on CNN. You looked really happy, in your honorary military flight jacket, rallying the troops at Mayport Naval Air Station. Man, are you ever ready for a fight. That jacket looks neat on you - just like Top Gun. Remember how great that movie was? Didn't it make you want to join the Air Force? Yeah, me too.
Anyway, I was just thinking. You've been going to town lately, calling France and Germany huge pussies. And then today you insinuated that the UN's lack of support behind the war - your war - rendered the peace-keeping organization "irrelevant," an "instutition for debating." I know action = war and I think that's just GREAT.
But here's the thing: could you ease up just a little? I mean, I know it's important that people keep hearing about weird jeeps or mysterious rooftops or an audio tape which just surfaced and inconclusively links Osama Bin Laden to Iraq (but not iraq to osama). But I think you need to see it from my perspective, as challenging as that may be for you. It's very easy for you to tell the UN they have no backbone, or to purse your lips and bully nations like France and Germany and Iraq and Korea (oh, and Russia and maybe even Afghanistan still). And do you want to know why? You have military helicopters on the roof of your house, and missiles in your backyard, pointed up at the threatening skies. Me? I've got some duct tape and a couple of extra cans of Sir Chomps-a-Lot pasta shapes. And that's pretty much the same situation most Americans are in right now, I'm afraid.
I'll bet you wish you'd known it was going to be like this from the very beginning, didn't you? (you didn't know, did you? tell me.) That way you could have used those $300 checks you gave us to buy little missiles for every American home. Then you could shoot your mouth off without worrying about your approval rating dropping slightly below Hitler's in 1944.
EXPERIMENT IN POOR TASTE.
OK. So what if I had this terrible idea? An idea so insidious that any sane man, any marginally responsible citizen, would lock it away in the darkest recesses of his psyche and pray to God every single night that, upon waking the next day, the idea would have vanished forever? And what if I didn't really care what "sane" men thought?
I know images elicit very specific emotional responses in the viewer. And I realized recently that one could adjust the context of an image easily, without necessarily even making broad strokes, and yet still completely manipulate the intended response. You can push buttons in the viewer and, by getting inside his head with certain shorthand signifiers, ultimately making him liable for his new reaction.
I will shut up now. Instead, allow me to introduce the first-ever Tremble.com Experiment in Poor Taste and Guilty Conscience. Allow me to apologize ahead of time.
HOW TO CONTAIN YOUR ANGER.
A New York judge denied United Peace & Justice a permit to march in protest of a potential U.S. invasion of Iraq. This sort of saves me some of the intense conflict I was experiencing at the prospect of marching. I absolutely believe in the cause and think, particularly in New York, it's an important public statement to make. However, I hate chanting. Really hate it. I don't even like applauding, and I have always resented that first guy to initiate a standing ovation after a performance. It's often far too generous, but puts others in the awkward place of accomodating a social obligation out of guilt. I usually protest this move, but I do hate to be the one guy who has to defend his honest but preferably silent opinion of a lukewarm (or even good) performance. "I'm sorry I didn't give ZWAN a standing-O. I just thought their sound engineer could have worked a little harder. The bass was mixed too low. There! I said it!! The show's up there, everyone."
That's how I feel about protests. I come for the same reasons everyone else does, but that doesn't mean I'm just like everyone else. If you don't chant at a protest, sometimes you're regarded as an interloper. I don't interlope. I swear, even if it seems the contrary is true.
But this has very little to do with the NY Times article I just read. The story mentioned the city's proposed alternative to a march on the UN. Here is a section of that counter-proposal:
The city's counteroffer included the rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 47th Street and First Avenue, which is within view of the United Nations. An overflow crowd of any size could be accommodated in pens on First Avenue, the police said.
Pens! Just like freedom, only more organized. It's like the city is constructing ready-made holding cells for the protestors. I'd hate to have to go back to the group with that proposal.
[AND THIS IS WHERE WE ENTER 'FANTASTI-VISION'. LET'S GO!!!!]
"OK, here's the deal. We can still protest, which is great. Let's not forget how great that is. We won't quite be able to march on the UN building, though. Please. Please just give me a second. We can't march on the UN, true, but we can march a few blocks away, where some of you, if you crane your necks hard enough, will be able to see bits of the UN building. It is recommended that these people describe what they see to the others who cannot see the building. That way we will all be apprised of which direction to face while yelling from the safe confinement of our chain-link and razor wire 'protest pens.'
"Alternately, to avoid confusion we have been granted persmission to construct a fake UN building at 3/5 scale, using 100% recyclable materials. Remember, that is a time-permitting item and, provided our view of the UN building from 47th street is decent, the model construction will become priority level 'tan.'
"Oh, and technically we can't march. This isn't such a big deal because it would be difficult to march inside our protest pens, anyway. But before you get upset, our lawyers are working very hard right now to grant us a "walking in place" permit which would enable us to simulate a march on the UN building. I've already recruited several volunteers who are willing to drag the 3/5th scale UN model -should its construction be required - behind their pickup trucks to give the appearance of being 'marched upon' by our 10,000 protestors.
"What's that? No, that wasn't a mistake. I said '10,000.' It seems the city is only able to guarantee the protection and safety of 1/10th of our projected masses for this anti-war march-in-place near the United Nations building. But let's make the best of it. The government is about to feel our mighty roar of protest, and clearly it is already listening! Get ready to march in place!! Oh, one more thing: no chanting. The residents of Tudor City have said they'd call the police if it's too noisy. FOR PEACE!!!"
As your grandparents have already informed you, Augusto Monterrosso, the Guatemalen author of the world's shortest story, has passed on. I only learned of his story "The Dinosaur" posthumously, but it's very beautiful. Here it is, reprinted in its entirety:
Upon waking, the dinosaur was still there.
I don't claim his facility for economy of language, as evidenced by most of the material on this site, but I found that exercise so clean that I've decided to honor his life's work on this site. For the rest of the year, every Tuesday will be Very Short Story Day on tremble.com. (i will surely forget in three weeks, so please remind me. cutest reminder gets a bartlett pear.) My inaugural entry is titled, "The Divorce."
"Do you - " she asked.
NEW TAG LINE.
I'm thinking of changing the tag line of this site from "SEMPER LAZY" to "SEE HOW NICELY I'VE HIDDEN ALL THE GOOD CONTENT" Or maybe I'll just use my original choice - "MY STONE FISTS ARE MAKING YOUR FACE DEADED!" Good bye forever.
WAG THE DOG.
In this late hour, as I deliberately put exactly THREE important things on hold, I can't stop thinking about Air Bud. A few days ago I was apprised of a new chapter in the Air Bud saga titled, Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch. That's a great name. A really great name. I might not have been able to imagine that name even if I were paid to do exactly that. I cannot speak for the quality of the Air Bud films although I must say the fact that so many sequels have been produced speaks volumes for the quality all by itself. (not to mention accolades from some of this country's most respected cineastes.)
But those names! Each one better than the last. Here is what we know about Bud. Bud is an extremely athletic dog. Bud wears athletic jerseys and, on occasion, sneakers. Many people assume Bud's talents are limited to basketball (ergo "Air Bud"), but that's the furthest from the truth. In addition to basketball, Bud is a real champ at baseball (the aforementioned Seventh Inning Fetch), as well as soccer (Air Bud: World Pup), and football (Air Bud: Golden Receiver.
But that's not all! Bud is also champion card player (Air Bud: Dog Playing Poker); a golf pro (Air Bud: In the Ruff); a Soviet nuclear submarine captain (Air Bud: K9 - The Poopie Maker)
THE NEW MEASUREMENT.
The flat-surfaced facing benches, commonly found on older subway train cars, such as the Q, 4, 5, and 6 lines, are exactly long enough to accomodate one transient of average size, stretched horizontally to his full-length (minus shoes), plus one additional upright commuter making a tremendous effort to gaze distractedly in every direction with the exception of his direct left - where a grown man in stocking feet just rolled over into a more comfortable sleeping position. It's true. I measured it today.
I MISS YOU, MISTERPANTS.
I realize this is apropos of nothing, but I was doing an image search with the following query - "van damme jew" - and found an excellent assortment of embarrassing images of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Like a photo of a Mexican dog in a dracula cape, these are far too precious to keep to myself. So here:
NEXT STOP MAPLE STREET.
Mass transit commuters understand the variety of pet peeves and irrational fears that emerge from years and years of hurtling through their city's bowels. (or above them. big ups, chicago. you keep your shit elevated, dunny!) Everything from greasy pole touch to a staunch refusal, no matter how crowded your train, to sit on a bench that has anything on it. Could be a newspaper, or a love note, and it wouldn't matter, because someone must have taken a shit on or beneath it, surely.
Two pet peeves that bind us all (unless we live in chinatown) are People Who Clip Their Nails On The Subway and People Who Eat Hot Food On The Subway. Because the former gives my spine the chills whenever I discuss it, I'll focus on the latter. In my seven-plus years here, I've seen enough mass transit feedings to make someone move to a safehouse. Fried cod fritters, a full chicken wing dinner (coupled with the diner spitting the denuded bones right on the subway floor), McDonald's fries. I once saw a man greedily inhale tuna maki. I never understood how that could happen.
But today I really do think I hit the jackpot. Feel free to challenge me, but during the morning rush I saw a guy eating a full pancake breakfast on the uptown 9 train. It was amazing. Fork, knife, styrofoam plate. Beat that. Think you can? Well, you can't because just when it couldn't get any better, he whipped out some maple syrup and applied it liberally. Touchdown. I really do hate when people eat proper meals on the subway - I can stomach packaged foods, for reasons so irrational that to offer any explanation would just seem like a foolish attempt to dignify them - but that might have all changed today. If you think it's OK to have your pancake breakfast on the subway, you deserve to be mayor. That's the rule.
Then, thinking I'd absorbed all the magic my pores could hold for one day, I was walking down the street, dreaming of high-speed flapjacks and crossed in front of a man delivering a stack of cardboard boxes on a small hand-truck. When I got within six inches of him, a gust of wind ripped the lid from the topmost cardboard box to reveal its contents: LIVE LOBSTERS! One half second later and I would have missed a wonderful glimpse of street lobsters. People expound endlessly on the power of this city, but it's because they can't help it. You see, New York can be very difficult. It doesn't try to help you out when you're feeling down. More often, it simply exacerbates. But sometimes it sees fit to lift a lid or open a window, and let you see something so perfect that you forigve it all of its regular brutality. It's just like Ike Turner that way.
MAPLE STREET LOCAL.
I haven't written about my wonderful city much lately, primarily because I haven't really felt like one of its denizens lately. I've been inside on the outside. Away from parks and downtown and uptown and museums and all the other reasons I moved here. I think I've been indulging in the familiar, such as my neighborhood bars and restaurants and video stores. But last weekend and today threw me right back into New York City, face down on the pavement. I'm so giddy I'm seeing stars.
I took a weird tour last weekend, accidentally, and it made everything clear. Under the vaults of the Manhattan bridge. In the back of a movie theater foggy with pot smoke. Inside the narrow, left chamber of that pair of hideously over-decorated Indian restaurants on 1st Avenue, just below curry lane. I'd walked past these restaurants 100 thousand times before, watched the hosts pop out in perfect symmetry like wooden cuckoos, trying to pull left or right, as if it made any difference, every time someone dared to mount the steps. Maybe people see the christmas lights, hung thick like berries, and their senses give out. They're drawn upstairs. But the hosts take advantage of the daze
NO LONGER PRESIDENT OF THE DREAMHOST FAN CLUB.
Ugh. Thanks to some new and horrific change my webhost made this evening, a good part of my site - namely, the part built through Movable Type - has completely disappeared. I have no idea what happened but for now, this is all you get.
Maybe today is a good idea to start over. Careful what you wish for, Witold.
[p.s. strange. when i created and published this post, it fixed everything. everything!!! i will not take it down, though, for it is a part of history. the part that paints me out to be a crazy, disgruntled creep.]