In April of 2005, You Learned:
HOW TO MAKE A NERD'S ERECTION GO SOUTH.
George Lucas has been shooting his mouth off again. Let's not forget history. He promised Episode I was going to be the best film he's made – the best film ever made, in fact. (He even called Fellini's entire ouevre "okay, if you like watching gay clowns fuck" when compared to the saber battles in his movie) But in all his grandstanding Lucas neglected to inform us that The Phantom Menace included a scene of a young (borderline retarded? macrocephalic?) boy dodging space meanies in his own stolen rocket ship, while gleefully shouting "Wheee!!!" and "Whoopee!" like he'd just discovered some Chicken Dunks® Lunchables® in his secret hidey hole. (I'm not even going to comment on JarJarGate or all the kikey shylock aliens. The hacks have already hacked those subjects to bits.)
Then, after the space dust settled, and everyone who didn't share a brain with a conjoined twin declared Phantom Menace smellier than a seat cushion on a local Greyhound shuttling between Hobo Junction and Shitpants Valley, Lucas had the Death Star-sized balls (See how I did that???) to stand by his stink and declare that everyone in the world was dead-wrong, with the exception of Ching and Chang.
THEN...a couple years later he backpedaled a little on that film, but only enough to leave room to bump Phantom Menace down to the #2 slot on his list of The Greatest Cinematic Experiences Of All Time (Crazy, Delusional and Heavily Bearded Category), just below his latest "masterpiece" (his word, made up by me), Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Of course, it was another case of "fool me twice, shame on America" because this movie was like the longest-running game of Turd Jenga. "Attack of the Clones?" That's the best he could do? This movie cost $398 million and took three years to make. What an insulting title. He might as well have called it Episode II: Untitled Jimmy Smits Project. Or, if you were to believe the carefully spun press, Episode II: Yoda Fight!. Way to promote the three satisfying minutes in the final act of a two and a half-hour disco nap. With all its graphically-enhanced scenes and wooden acting, Episode II was like the world's most expensive puppet show. The only thing in that movie that wasn't CGI was craft services. (zap!)
And now...holy shit, the dirty spin has already gotten underway. Does the American movie-going public have the same memory dysfunction as a housecat? Because Lucas has already been applying the full press, and staying on point with carefully released statements like, "this is a much darker, moodier film" and "this is the one we've all been waiting for" and "there is convincing evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction-based programs." George Lucas would have us believe Episode III: Baby, I'm Sorry is better than Episodes I and II. OK. Cool. That's a convincing argument, I suppose, but here are a few other things that are better than Episodes I and II:
- stepping in cat vomit while wearing dress socks
- finding a toe in your cobb salad
- getting punched in the heart by skinheads
- sniffing the inside of plaster medical cast
- an all-expenses paid spa weekend at the Hotel Rwanda
- cock mites
- being condemned by God to live as the painkiller-releasing medical pack fused to Jerry Lewis' spinal cord
- at least 6 of the 10 plagues
- fucking to world music
- fucking to Pet Sounds
- fucking to "Kokomo"
- inheriting the job of Chief Operating Officer in your father's failing company, Diarrhea Unlimited
- losing that job to a talking baby
I guess what I'm trying to say is, "See you in line, Wookies!"*
[*Additional disproportionate attitude provided by Lewis Black and Evil Jay Leno]
HOW TO START A PHOTO WEBLOG.
Yesterday, as I was getting ready to go underground at Herald Square, I noticed a Mister Softee ice cream truck curbside, in front of the subway station. Right next to the ice cream truck, and sort of blocking the delicious ice cream selection, stood a man holding above his head a large piece of hot pink posterboard. On the posterboard he had written, "450 SEXUAL POSITIONS – ONLY $1.00." This would have made the perfect scene, if only there were a second man standing next to the first, holding a sign that read, "WONDERFULLY IRONIC PHOTO OPPORTUNITY – ONLY $5.00."
HOW TO INSIST, "I'M THE SHARKTOPUSS, AND YOU'RE NOT".
Two months ago, at How to Kick People, before a New York audience of approximately 120 people, I revealed THE SHARKTOPUSS, a creature of my imagination, created (and drawn) when I was in the 1st grade. A couple of days later, on this web site, the Sharktopuss made a second appearance for an online audience of approximately 348 BAJILLION.
Last night, on a new episode of Saturday Night Live, the Weekend Update segment contained a joke with a punchline about a Sharktopuss. (Including a photoshopped image of the creature that looked almost exactly like a CGI version of my own drawing – minus super-awesome eye laser beams. The graphic on SNL appeared as if George Lucas had gone back in and slicked it up a bit for contemporary audiences. Here's a screenshot. Please note Tina Fey's pained expression. COINCIDENCE? Yes, totally. But still!)
People have already written to me, claiming SNL stole the Sharktopuss directly from me. Though this wouldn't be unprecedented, I guess – I know of at least one NYC performer who has actually sued the show for stealing some of his comedy. (Read Jay Mohr's SNL memoir, Gasping for Airtime. Wait. On second thought, don't.) And the show does have a history of cannibalizing their own sketches (Wayne's World/Jared's Room, and the endless stream of Washed-Up Lounge Singer Character Showcase™ sketches that usually air around 12:52am EST.) – I'm willing to believe it was probably all a big coincidence. Think about it: can you imagine Saturday Night Live would be so hungry for ideas that they'd steal a joke originally conceived by a seven year-old? (That is a rhetorical question.)
HOW TO CAST A MAGICAL SMELL.
The wizard on the uptown A train kept to himself, mostly. Apart from the occasional tinny jangle of bells which were hanging on thin leather straps from his combination perambulation/prestidigitation & sorcery staff, the wizard remained peaceful and silent. Where had his travels taken him, I wondered. Judging by his long, matted, gray beard and his ashen feet exposed through leather sandals – magical Birkenstocks? – his journeys have not taken him near a cool stream or foot bath. And judging by the plastic shopping bag he clutched, at least one of his merry, magical adventures brought him to STAGE DELI, perhaps for a measure of mead or, as the bag announced, "Our World-Famous Pastrami Sandwiches, Stacked a Mile High."
At 14th Street, the train cleared out a bit and the wizard rested his wizardly laurels in the "priority seating" section. It is a little-known but implicit rule that the New York City Metro Transit Authority defines the hierarchy for priority seating as follows (in descending order):
- the blind
- the elderly
- girls with crutches
- pregnant white women
- pregnant black women
- war veterans (excluding Desert Storm and Spanish Civil War)
- white wizards
- gray wizards
- enchanted spiders
- pregnant hispanic women
- james garner
Around 34th Street, the wizard pulled a copy of Jest Magazine and began reading the masthead with great, wizened consternation. A few moments later he flipped to the cover, which featured a drawing of Michael Jackson wearing an environmental filter mask in the shape of little boys' underpants (!!) and the wizard inspected it for a few moments, then cast a Spell of Mylde Amusemente on himself with a +3 Polite Chuckle. I think all the other train commuters would agree: this was the best/only wizard we've ever seen.
[Addendum: someone emailed me about this self-same wizard. Apparently, he's a bit of a local sub-celebrity, and was the same wizard who was attacked by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at the Star Wars: Episode I premiere, for eating a Filet-O-Fish. That photo on his web site must have been taken a while ago, because his beard has definitely seen better days. I appreciate his commitment, though.]
HOW TO LAUGH AT THE HORROR OF IT ALL.
As I was going over my comedy set list, looking for ways to replace the words "dick sandwich" with something less profane (this is what i do; someone needs to force-feed me arsenic, in a hurry.), I got distracted and wandered over to the web site of a friend and fellow comedian, Eddie Pepitone.
Since Eddie's relocated to Los Angeles, I haven't been able to see him perform so I was really glad to discover he's posted a video of a recent set at the LA Improv. This video, nine minutes in all, goes a long way to explain why Eddie is one of my favorite comedians. "Bag of boners?" Oh, fuck it.; I quit.
HOW TO GET IT PAID FORWARD.
By dumb luck and good chance – I was co-hosting a show and had to step out of the theater for a moment to discard a busted cheese calzone that had been whipped at me (according to my own instructions) by author Sam Lipsyte a few minutes earlier – I met a couple of my rock and roll heroes from the late 1980s. They were each front-men and chief lyricists of their respective bands, and have since been enjoying creative solo careers.
It was difficult for me to conceal my enthusiasm, because each of these guys was responsible for an album that has made a kind of indelible mark on my development from a boy with a kind of passionate relationship with music, to a man with a steady and intimate relationship with music. (I used to play music at 4 in the morning, drunk, and grope around the room for sex. Now I listen to music while quietly uncorking wine and preparing fresh tofu scramble. Then, later, a little drunk on wine, I grope around the room for a bookmark.) And it helped that both of these musicians came across as incredibly warm and friendly and curious.
While I was in the middle of recognizing them and heaping each of them with a stammering helping of rekindled adolescent adulation, someone else at their (large, last supper-esque) table yelled out to me, "do you have a blog? I recognize you from it."
Since I've started performing comedy and doing readings and engaging in other attention-seeking activities, I have been recognized on the street at total of one time. I remember planning for this moment for months, like some kind of creepy sociopath with delusions of grandeur. In my imagination the meeting always went well. I saw myself taking the recognition in great stride, say, "thanks a lot. You have a spiritual day, dude," and then resting my hand – palm down, fingers splayed – over his heart, before disappearing into a Bigfoot Truck with "Billion Dollar Baby" written on the side in glitter paint.
In reality, I allowed myself to feel incredibly uncomfortable during the entire meeting. They were a nice couple who had recently seen me perform stand-up. I remembered them, partly because they had struck me as an odd couple, and partly because the woman was from Rio and spoke very little English, and I spent some time onstage giving her and the rest of the audience nicknames from City of God. "Doughnut," "Three Braids," "Spring Break," etc. We were all three walking in the same direction, and this was a major contributing factor to my discomfort. We kept traveling together, block after block, and soon it became clear that we were about to hop on the same subway as well. I didn't know how to say goodbye, and I didn't want to just tell them I was done talking to them – I had decided I was done talking to them when the male half of the couple told me that his neighborhood in Queens had been beseiged by a plague of "monkeys, if you know what I mean" – because I desperately needed these two strangers to think I was a really awesome guy.
So here's what I did: I pretended I needed to catch a cab. I let them get on the subway – on my subway – and then I walked about 15 blocks out of my way and got on the same subway line at the next stop. I ended up being late to meet with a friend, because I was trying to accommodate my awkwardness and a couple of strangers' (good?) impression of me. When I arrived at my destination, I apologized to my friend, explaining, "I had to flee and hide from two friendly, supportive fans."
When I was recognized last night, I had a moment where I felt very flattered and surprised. Then I looked around at this table full of accomplished musicians, writers, and other artists, and thought, "to date, my web site is my greatest (and only) achievement." And then I heard something faint and familiar – the sound of my heart caving in.
HOW TO WASTE 22 HOURS.
I recently made two very fundamental mistakes. First, I signed up for Netflix. I had vowed never to do this again. I had a very brief membership several years ago during the height of the economy and the height of my own disposable income, and it caused me a tremendous amount of grief. First, it removed yet another avenue of local social interaction. I get antsy when I feel cut off from my neighbors. I have to admit this remorse was pretty easy to surmount because, while my neighborhood video store has a decent selection of films, their employees are a bunch of thick-headed understudies from Growing Up Gotti and spend so much time calling their "boys" on expensive cell phones, and threatening each other with physical violence, that they haven't allotted themselves much time for small talk with customers like me.
But beyond a stunted social life, I just could never make the economics of Netflix work. I liked its absence of late fees – it has a certain kind of appeal, after you've just paid $16 in late fees on EuroTrip: The Unrated Version – but I am home so rarely that I usually ended up viewing 4 Netflix films in a single month. I would constantly obsess over my belief that I was on the losing end of my (then) $19.95 monthly subscription fee, so much so that I found myself fast-forwarding through movies and sometimes even returning DVDs to Netflix before I'd viewed them. I wanted to get a good deal, and it was killing me.
Fortunately, I'm very impressionable, and a couple months ago a friend made a pretty compelling argument in favor of reinstating my Netflix membership. I think she said, "everyone I know does it." And though I am often very disapproving of everyone else, I still want nothing more than to be exactly like them. So there I was, back again. My opening gambit was an insane one, and has ripped open the wound on all of my old concerns. Instead of throwing a bunch of back catalog releases in my queue, I immediately lined up six full DVDs containing the entire first season of the television show, Alias. All 22 hours of it.
Alias is a program I missed out on from the very beginning, a mistake for which I have been repeatedly chastised. (This is a new chapter in a tradition that began with The X-Files, another show I never watched, and steadily continued with Buffy The Vampire Slayer.) The pressure placed on me by friends has grown more intense since I started watching Lost, which shares a creator/executive producer with Alias. I think it's weird when friends criticize you for not watching more television. It's like being mad at you for not drinking enough, or for eating a pound of fudge too slowly. There are plenty of things I've fucked up in my adulthood, but I don't think missing The West Wing cliffhanger is one of them. Nevertheless, I decided this would be a good way to renew my Netflix membership with a bang and, one week later, the TV started pouring in.
It's damn hard to watch that much of one television show, in one sitting or many. And, from what I can tell, Alias is a pretty good show. Great casting, smart plots, lots of fun cameos. (Roger Moore was an especially rewarding one.) But, watch about four episodes back to back and the writing patterns reveal themselves very quickly. The suspenseful moments stop working, because you see how immediately and illogically they get resolved. The subplot about Sydney's double-life feels phony, because even the greatest (and dumbest) friends would not forgive Sydney's amazing frequency of canceled social engagements, sudden disappearances, and prolonged absences.
The show's most glaring flaw, however, isn't its plotting or all the mileage they've gotten out of the fact that their tech-gadgets expert, Marshall, stammers quite a bit. It's the weird and constant infusion of Lillith Fair music into the show's action. The first time I heard a Sophie B. Hawkins (?) track on the show, I thought, "that's an interesting choice for a program about deadly international espionage," but I had no idea this would be a motif for Alias. It seems like nearly every episode contains a montage scored to a plaintive pop track written by a woman who performs barefoot. I usually mute the volume during these moments, because I'm afraid my neighbors are going to think I'm Wiccan.
HOW TO GO OFF THE RAILS ON A CRAZY TRAIN.
Cease all conversation and cast your gaze to the floor. Here she comes, that crazy-ass lady, shuffle-loping from the rear of the train car. She ain't crazy, she swears up and down, and she ain't a drug addict – though the way she's clutching the straphanger pole like it was a length of hurricance fencing, with her legs powerless and the toes of her burned-out Keds tracing gyroscopic loops in the vinyl flooring, one might beg to differ.
The new crazy lady threatens to drift your attention away from that other crazy train lady you'd been studying the way you might watch a bug build a crumb-house. She was seated quietly, mashed between commuters on a bench seat, not bothering a soul – unless you're one of those rare individuals who believes ziploc sandwich bags have souls, because she is bothering the shit out of a bunch of those. One bag after another gets the same treatment from this one – strips of silver duct tape meticulously wrapped around both sides until the baggies are both reinforced and private. You can't see her expression because her head is down, at work, and even if it wasn't a giant pair of UV-blocking sunglasses/visors cover half her narrow face. She doesn't ask anything of her fellow commuters, and seems to harbor a million secrets, all of them awesome.
Miss Shuffles is seriously upstaging now, as her words slide together like two separate piles of cocaine dust and baking powder left out in front of a low-speed oscillating fan. She's whispering her demands now, pleading them, knees buckling. Suddenly, she stops short like she's got Sixth Sense powers. "Oh no, here comes that man. Oh, that man scares me so."
She's staring through the rear window, to a point behind this train car that you cannot see and, man, is the suspense ever building! Suddenly, as Shuffles reaches out to claw the air and Baggies has just finished off a box of 24, the train door clangs open and you become acutely aware that these other two crazies were just the undercard tonight. Because holy shit here comes the Maximus of Creedmoor outpatients, striding through the car like an unbathed tiger. Six-foot three with an extra eight inches of afro, huge naked chest and belly, gym shorts with bare feet that have been so frequently and brutally exposed to adverse weather that they've formed their own protective bark.
Forget that it's 20 degrees outside because you're not going to get this guy to buy into the possibility that weather exists outside of his head; you'd have a hard time convincing him that science has disproved the existence of unicorns, honestly. He is a tremendously solid tower of crazy and suddenly you and everyone else on the train is staring at him slack-jawed, like the Goonies getting their first glimpse of a secret pirate ship. It's marvelous. He's like the bigfoot of homeless people, and you almost can't believe you're this lucky. If, in this moment, you saw a mother shielding her child's eyes and chiding him, "it's not polite to stare!" you'd probably feel compelled to intervene. "Are you fucked, lady? LOOK AT THIS GUY! This is like a twelve-week streak of Christmas for any kid's eyeballs. Let some joy in!"
Shuffles is cursing out Bigfoot, critiquing his lifestyle – "You could at least buy a shirt!! How much could that cost? I jusshhht don't undasshtannnn..." – but no one hears her because their senses are officially topped off and plugged up by this incredible crazy-time rush hour trifecta overload. As your stop slips up on you, you hesitate for a moment in the doorway and take one last look inside the train, wondering if maybe you'll catch a glimpse of a Mayor McCheese wrestling a chimera to the ground.
HOW TO PUT ON A FANCY SHOW.
Hey. Just wanted to alert you to a show I'm hosting with Bob Powers next Tuesday, April 12th. It's called "Bob & Todd's Pen Pals" and it's a special comedy reading show revolving entirely around correspondence – letters, emails, IMs, cans and string, hobo symbol signs, etc. We've just locked down our lineup, and it might very well make your lap purr. See:
"BOB & TODD'S PEN PALS"
An evening of comedy and reading in letter form, hosted by your pals, Bob Powers & Todd Levin.
Tuesday, April 12th at 8pm (doors open at 7:30p)
at the Marquee Theater - 356 Bowery (b/w 3rd and 4th Streets)
And featuring these special guests:
SAM LIPSYTE (author of the recently published and viciously funny
novel, Home Land)
COLLEEN WERTHMANN (writer/actor, fresh from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen)
ALLISON CASTILLO (comedian, as seen on Comedy Central's "Premium Blend" & VH-1's "Best Week Ever")
DAVID REES (writer/creator of the cult comic strip, "Get Your War On")
STEVE BURNS ("Steve" from Blue's Clues, and currently a fancy recording
artist - buy his album, "Songs for Dust Mites!")
Tell your grandma!!!
HOW TO COMMIT TO A GLASS OF ORANGE JUICE.
I've been waylaid by a percussive cough and vision-inducing fever for the last couple of days. It's like the brutally surprising aftershock of an upper-respiratory infection I endured. (Although "endured" is a much more heroic way to describe the manner in which I dealt with the illness. I spent most of that week trying out my strangled voice on everyone I knew, and punctuating each public cough with a doleful gaze, in hopes that someone might crumple me up in their arms as they would an invalid.)
Each time I place my body in a horizontal position, I lovingly picture my own death. It's one of my favorite melodramatic tics. Next time you feel very sick, lie down on the floor – a bed or couch will not do; they're both far too convenient choices – and remain there, either on your back or side. If you have uncaged pets, probably a minute or too will pass before they start investigating. You will want to pet them, because they're totally adorable. RESIST. As they begin sniffing around your expiring body, tickling you with whiskers and hairless nose tips, a feeling of satisfaction will swell within you that surpasses the potency of the world's strongest antibiotics. I only wish I could convince loved ones to do the same, while I lie there, shivering. I want to be touched by noses.
Since I've fallen sick, my appetite has gone missing. It's hard to swallow, and nothing tastes like anything – even the Twizzler I tried to eat last night turned into a plastic garbage bag twist-tie once it touched my numbed tongue. (I threw out the remaining Twizzlers, in a fit of Gothic despair.) This morning I woke up pretty wiped out, primarily because I sweat through a t-shirt, sweater, and windbreaker in my sleep last night. I was running late so I didn't bother to replenish my precious bodily fluids and by the time I arrived at work, dizzied with a fever, I was so dehydrated I could have even drunk a Sierra Mist without cringing. Fortunately, one of the delis near my office sells fresh orange juice. And by "fresh," I mean "once fresh, poured into plastic cups and then frozen solid over the weekend and thawed out first-thing monday morning."
It was so perfectly cold in my hand that I had to exercise a great deal of restraint just to keep myself from popping a straw in it right there in the deli. That would have been crass. However, when I crept back to my desk I loved the orange juice like a woman. I still couldn't taste anything – which was good, because then I would have known exactly how long it had been since this orange juice was actually fresh – but I could feel its rush of freezing cold numbing my throat, and I felt healed. I can't ever go back to that deli, of course, because nothing can make me that happy again. (After typing that last sentence, I just threw out my laptop, in another fit of Gothic despair. sigh. When my fever breaks, I'll find a way to finish this story.)