In January of 2006, You Learned:
HOW TO EAVESDROP, EPISODE 653.
I first learned about my favorite local coffee shop through a friend in AA. (To clarify, she is a friend, and she is in AA. I am not in AA, so she is not my "friend in AA." We met in a store, when we both grabbed for the same discounted double-headed black dildo at the same time. She tugged her way, I tugged mine, and we laughed and laughed and laughed. We've been fast friends ever since. Again, just to clarify.) Apparently, because the coffee is so strong, it attracts a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous members and Narcotics Anonymous members. (but hopefully no Coffee Is Too Delicious For Words Anonymous members) While in treatment, addictive personalities tend to transfer their addictions into other places — caffeine, nicotine, God, etc. — and this coffee shop is the caffeine equivalent to the crack houses so dearly missed.
Because the shop is sprinkled with recovering addicts, you get to overhear lots of choice dialogue, due in large part to the rhetoric addicts learn while in AA/NA. Like today, I heard a guy sit down with a female friend of his and declare, "I've got a mini-problem." Later, I heard this: "...arrogance, zealotry, rage…and a bunch more..."
Also, yes, I am looking straight ahead, over the shoulder of a large, well-dressed black man working away at his laptop. His screen, which is strategically angled away from the two young women seated next to him (running lines for a play), has been displaying web page after web page of oiled, black female asses stuffed into lingerie. Progress.
HOW TO KICK PEOPLE: "DANCETOPIA SUPERMIXX".
Yes, tonight is How To Kick People and, yes, I'm officially giving only 2.5 hours notice. But that's long enough to drop your loaf of artisan bread and hop on a Concorde — YES I'M TALKING TO YOU, FRANCE — to see guests Victor Varnado, Paul Ford, and Von Von Von.
Plus, the first 50 people in attendance will receive an H2KP mix CD featuring some personal favorites from Bob & me & tonight's guests, plus rare and live recordings from past H2KP musical guests. We're pretty happy about that stuff, particularly because a couple of people were kind enough to donate music to us, just for the disc.
The show details are at www.howtokickpeople.com. There isn't much time, you know.
HOW TO TAKE THE WORLD BY STORM, ONE COMPOST HEAP AT A TIME.
A small, middle-aged fellow bundled up in Patagonia outerwear (the official brand of Park Slope First-Wave Gentrifiers) just popped into the coffee shop to drop off a flier for his band. The band is called PUSSY ENVY and, according to the parenthetical qualifier below the band name, they are a "(PUNK BAND)."
And guess what? They're looking for a drummer with the ultimate goal of securing a record contract. What's that? Already too punk for you? Then you'd better stop reading right now because, guess what else? As far as PUSSY ENVY is concerned, with regards to finding the perfect financially-driven punk rock drummer, "age and sex are unimportant." Did someone say "Oi?"
Sure, maybe it doesn't matter whether you're a middle-aged guy with curvature of the spine or a post-middle-aged woman who lights candles whenever she's listening to Stevie Nicks records. It's all "punk and roll" to PUSSY ENVY. Whatever! NOT IMPORTANT. What is important, however, is that their mission statement burn through layers of Gore-tex and alpaca wool and right into your soul, like a dagger aimed at the heart: "WE JAM. WE GIG. THEN TAKE THE WORLD BY STORM. YOU DIG? ARE YOU READY FOR THE RIDE OF A LIFETIME?..." My answer, after a split second of consideration: no. But maybe your answer is "punkyes!"
And sure, if that same flier were stapled to a telephone pole in Williamsburg, it would have been torn down within seconds of being posted, and then the telephone pole would have been burned to the ground. But this is Park Slope, where we keep things freaky, cats. So keep your eye-rolling and carefully mussed hair to yourselves, Williamsburg, and over here in Park Slope we'll punking our asses off with PUSSY ENVY, to the sound of future record contracts and the hard crunch of guitars and organically grown Gala apples purchased at the co-op. Or should I say PUNK-OP? You're right. I shouldn't.
HOW TO NAIL IT.
I apologize for this "p.s." of self-absorption, but this needed to be added. My friend, Justin (a.k.a. The Bug, a professional wrestler in the independent circuit), just sent me a very perfect comment regarding my comedy face in the photo for the New York Post. He said, "are you posing for a velvet hobo painting?"
I have to admit, the similarity is remarkable:
Don't I look like someone who just ate some shoe leather, and then hopped a freight train to Whistler's Junction?
[Weirder still, my head shot expression is even more similar to this hobo painting. The only difference is, in my head shot my tears are not painted on, but my beard obviously is.]
Also, apropos of nothing, you know how sometimes you put 75 cents into the vending machine because you've made a bargain with yourself where you get to eat a two-pack of Drake's Cakes Ring-Dings, and your conscience gets to take a nice, long nap? Well, did you know that when you select "E8" and the petroleum-greasy robot-made cupcakes drop from their perch, that soft THUD you hear when they hit the Access Reach Tray™ is the same thud your self-esteem makes when it drops out of your soul? WELL IT IS.
HOW TO YUK IT UP.
On the evening prior to this morning's photo shoot, an ominous email was transmitted. It was from the newspaper's photo editor, and included instructions on appropriate attire—no white clothing, no FUBU, tuck your swastika medallions inside your shirt, etc.—and then, added, "if you have any comedy-style props, such as wigs, please bring them to the shoot." Oh jesus.
(Here comes that classic observational comedy setup) Have you ever noticed how every newspaper and magazine article written about bloggers is required to include a photograph of the subject in his "natural" environment i.e. perched awkwardly behind a laptop computer? (Special rules apply to risqué bloggers, who are permitted to be photographed lying belly-down on a bed, sometimes dressed in lingerie and, of course, always perched behind a laptop computer.) For mainstream publications, photographs of comedians have similar rules requiring that the subject look at nutsy and hilarious as possible. Because, really, how is a casual reader of the newspaper supposed to know he or she is about to read an article about comedy, unless the comedian(s) pictured are farting on each other, bugging out their eyes, or stuffing banana cream pies down their pants?
Bob and I discussed the implications of this email, fearing the worst. (i.e. clown noses) We decided we were going to remain absolutely dignified throughout the photo shoot, and the photo editor could eat a bowl of Penis Chow™ if he/she thought we were going to lower ourselves to clowning for the camera. This decision made a lot of sense to me, personally, for reasons beyond my own principles. See, I'm not a very photogenic person, and have a difficult time relaxing for photographers. Therefore, any attempt to pose makes me look as stiff and awkward as an American hostage getting ready to disparage Western Devils in a home made video on Al Jazeera. I'm a bit better in motion—not much better, but better nonetheless.
But what truly amazed me was, once we were on-site and getting ready for the shoot, how instantly we degenerated into a wackadoo minstrel show for the photographer. I mean, full on grinning and shucky-ducking and rubber-facing. It was almost effortless. Even as I was stretching my face into its most hideous pantomime expressions, there was a tiny voice inside my head asking, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" But that voice was powerless against another, much louder voice, telling the tiny voice to, "SHUT IT, BUDDY. CAN'T YOU SEE I'M BUSY BEING A STAR??" It all just happened so fast, as I jumped at the photographer's suggestion to "try that 'see no evil, hear no evil" thing and then, later, grabbed another comedian roughly, as if intending to comically punch his face to death. I sincerely have no idea what either of these suggestions have to do with being funny, but there I was. It was like an out of body experience but, instead of astrally projecting my soul so it was looking down on my corporeal form, my soul just decided to leap from my body and jump into the body of a shittier comedian.
After it was all over, I felt foggy and aching, like I'd just come out of a chloroform nap. I could barely remember what happened. I'm still not sure what I was doing, although I know my smile lines hurt, and my penis smells faintly of whipped cream and bananas.
[Addendum: I wrote this before the NY Post story was published and I'm pleased to say they chose one of the most conservative photos taken that day. Look at this and imagine how much worse it could have been.]
HOW TO GET COOKING..
I think my favorite regional cuisine is Thai food. My least favorite? Diarrheagional cooking.
This web site is officially closed!
HOW TO HAVE A FANCY WEEK.
December was a month without entertainment. It was a lot of moving, straining, negotiating, visiting, visited-ing, drilling, mopping, hanging, and confusing. I wasn't doing shows, wasn't really giving myself time to write, and despite a really nice break from work, most of my free time was devoted to all things not-very-creatively-satisfying. (I did paint some door hooks green, though. Jealous?)
2006 is already shaping up pretty nicely, though. I've already had fun at a couple of shows, including the Ritalin Readings on Tuesday. (I only wish I could have seen all the other readers that night, but we were sort of corralled in the green room like ASPCA rescues, to make room for the legit audience.) On Tuesday I also found out I got into the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen this March, which was pretty cool news.
and if you already thought that was navel-gazing...
Finally, I had The Strip Show with Bob this week, and it might have been my favorite lineup of people we've ever hosted. The comic strip fans in the audience seemed really happy, as did the performers. More than a few people in attendance told me they weren't fans of comics and were a bit skeptical about a show like this, but were quickly won over.
I think there's a general impression that comic strip artists are angry shut-ins and misfits, and this is probably true to some extent; but many comedians suffer from the same problems in the 23 and 3/4 hours they aren't on stage. And we were lucky to have pretty charismatic presenters. I nearly lost my shit when Michael Kupperman did his loud, insane impression of Jesus' wicked half-brother, PAGUS. And Evan Dorkin, whether he realizes it or not, is really a stand-up comedian who happens to also be and incredibly gifted illustrator. He frets a ton before the show—a quality I really recognize in myself—and after his set he genuinely has trouble gauging whether the performance went well, but when he's up there on stage, in front of his work, he is just so completely in the moment. Really biting and funny.
I have always loved funny comics, and it's ridiculous to me that somehow along the way I've been allowed to be simultaneously a fan and peer of incredibly talented people like Kupperman, Lauren, Emily, and Evan.
The other (personal) bonus of doing The Strip Show was that it was an excuse for me to draw, something I rarely take the time to do anymore. When I was a kid, drawing was the only thing for which I had any patience. I hated reading, so much so that I was responsible for introducing an amendment in my fifth grade class' policy on book reports: thanks to my endeavors, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books were considered legitimate subjects for book reports, but it was required the student must read two CYOA books for every normal book. (My book reports usually went like this: "In The Adventure of Pirate's Cove, I came upon a pair of caverns. I chose the cavern on the right, which was filled with vipers. I won't give away the ending, but let's just say I wouldn't make the same choice again.") I hated practicing violin, so I never did. And at the year-end third grade student symphonies, I was relegated to the pizzicatto plucks on "Pop Goes The Weasel." I found this strangely satisfying because, let's face it: that's the best part of the song.
But I had endless stamina for sitting in my bedroom, drawing with the office supplies my dad stole from his job. (In a speech I wrote for my dad's retirement, I made a joke about all the office supplies he stole for me, including huge reams of paper and boxes Templar pencils and Bic flairs. When the speech was delivered in my absence, my mother edited that part out, fearing my dad's 25+ year employer would revoke his pension.) I think all that time spent drawing was how I developed a real affection for solitude, because it was an area I devoted myself to fully, in complete silence, for stretches at a time.
Even now, when I sat down to draw for the show, I instantly remembered how much I liked concentrating on the challenge of getting shapes and shadows correct, and making the finished piece match the way I'd pictured it in my head. As I write this, I realize it's all very obvious, but it kind of helps me to write it down, if only to remember that I can actually focus on a singular task for an extended period of time, without needing to check my email or add an item to my Amazon Wish List.
For The Strip Show, Bob and I did a piece at the top where we explained that we'd also gotten into drawing original comics, even with our limited talents. And we presented them to the audience, inviting them to critique them against the comics our guests would be presenting.
The first comic I presented was a two-character strip called KOO KOO & NUTTERSBY. The premise was that I was experimenting in creating likable characters but I quickly realized I didn't know how to draw, and didn't know how to find characters who had much to say to each other; all I had was a good name. Here is the strip:
(I also presented a very special political episode of KOO KOO & NUTTERSBY, which can be seen here. I expect this comic to become a huge web phenomenon.)
I then explained that, to get in the right head for creating original comics, I went back and read a bunch of comic strips I really love. Out of that came the inspiration for an incredible new comic about a dry, sardonic rabbit named FARFIELD. My Farfield strips—all hand-drawn! (brag)—are here:
(The two men in the strip are Me [bearded] and Bob [drdunk], Farfield's owners.)
They're also here, and, finally, here.
HOW TO USE FANTASY TO ENHANCE THE STRICT AND UGLY PARAMETERS OF REALITY.
You know how sometimes a really elaborately constructed manipulation can produce the complete opposite effect if any part of that manipulation is compromised? And how the more complex the manipulation, the easier it is to mess up with just the slightest rip in its seams? This is a phenomenon I've written about before, but it never ceases to entertain me with its unintentional sadness. I guess that sounds a little perverse, but I find things like this funny in the same way I enjoy the weird pathos buried within news stories about people who get caught after planting their own fingertip in a Wendy's hamburger to create a needless lawsuit. (Please try to forgive my use of the word "pathos" here. I'm on a fancy streak.)
Today there is a truck parked directly in front of my office building. This is not so unusual, if you leave the statement alone and walk away. You're probably picturing a delivery truck or something. Business as usual. Today's truck, however, had a glass trailer which afforded a clean view of the truck's cargo from multiple angles. The truck was some kind of marketing promotion for a low-cal, low-carb line of snacky foods that will remain unnamed.
The snacky foods have a tie-in with a very popular diet and, to communicate this connection, the truck was filled with a thin carpet of white sand. There was a beach ball. Some beach chairs. A styrofoam cooler. A beach umbrella and a miniature volleyball net, too, I think. (But it has occurred to me that I could be imagining this last detail, mentally adding these accessories to complete the tableau in a way that suits my memory.) And, in addition to all this beach-related stuff, two models in chaste swimwear were trapped inside the truck's glass-enclosed cargo hold, like bored tropical fish.
Obviously, the point of this spectacle was to evoke a sense of "fun" and escape, and to show us (us = poor working stiffs bracing ourselves against a cold and cruel winter) a fantasy that could become our reality if only we stopped resisting and just ate a bunch of low-cal snacky foods with icing on top. (Literally, with icing on top.)
But the fantasy was rudely interrupted by several unfortunate realities. Chiefly, the models were very average looking and (at least when I walked by) were just sitting at beach chairs, hunched over the styrofoam cooler—which was being used as a makeshift table—and glumly sharing a tin of bland low-cal food.
It was really a bizarre juxtaposition, like we'd all been invited to spy on a couple of extremely sedentary gals from the office pool, as they crammed in a quick lunch in their bathing suits. Maybe, for some, that is the fantasy, but for me the gravity of its mundaneness was almost too much. Still, it all possessed a lava-lamp magnetism.
My mind started to wander as I tried to imagine the inner lives of these two glass truck models. I couldn't help tracing an imaginary line from those beach chairs to their very first dreams of modeling, and then trying to picture the exact point along that line where these two women sort of took that dream of modeling and somehow, through an elaborate series of compromises and denials, shoe-horned into the dream the act of eating low-cal snacks in cheap bathing suits, inside a parked glass truck on a busy Manhattan street.
If my gifts of fiction were a little stronger, I'd be inclined to write their story. Actually, while I was riding the elevator back to my desk, I thought of my friend, Bob. His fiction is filled with characters like this, and I spent a few moments fantasizing how he'd turn a scene like that into a backstory. (In fact, Bob, if you're reading this I am giving you an open invitation/challenge to do just that.)
Now that I've written this, I guess the marketers behind this spectacle were totally successful in constructing a fantasy for me—something on which to train my obsessions. Unfortunately, the fantasy could not possibly be further from their intentions.
[Addendum: not two days after the challenge was issued, it was met. When I say "I couldn't have done it better myself," I'm not messing around.]
HOW TO MAKE THE LAST PUSH.
I want to apologize for two things: first, being pretty delinquent lately, with regards to our time together. You know I would only ignore you if my life were going really, really well. Or if I were spending every free minute trying to figure out how to store my vast CD collection in the new apartment. Your pick. It's one of those, though.
The second thing I wanted to apologize for was addressing you, The Reader, as if you're some collective person. Like, my pen pal. It's just weird, and probably a bit narcissistic for me to think you require some kind of explanation for the lack of new things on this site lately. I mean, seriously.
Also, here's something I'll apologize for tomorrow when the show's over:
TONIGHT is THE STRIP SHOW! A comedy spectacular created and hosted by myself and Bob "Girls Are Pretty" Powers, featuring some of the funniest, and most original comic strips out there, and the beautiful minds that create them. I've been told that almost all the advance tickets are sold out already, but there's still hope. Click on Ziggy for show details:
HOW TO REDUCE SELF-PROMOTION TO ITS MOST RIDICULOUSLY TRIVIAL SIZE.
I realize it's nerdy to care, but it was nice to see Tremble entries make the "best of 2005" lists for a couple of sites that have no shortage of things to link to. The Internet's truest gent, Jason Kottke included 'How To Avoid The Exhausting Planning And Preparation That Goes Into Making A Second Date', and Screenhead name-checked the ancient - but - still - makes - the - rounds - every - now - and - again 'United States According to My Racist Aunt.' Thanks, fellas.
I didn't make a "best of" list this year because I was a bit busy unpacking boxes, drilling holes (not a euphemism), caulking sinks (not a euphemism), and eating 300 pounds of Christmas fudge (sadly, a euphemism). But just under the wire, on New Year's Eve my friend Jon turned me on to the best album of the year: Paul Stanley's "People, Let Me Get This Off My Chest." It's not a musical album, thankfully, but 70 tracks (about 60 minutes) of the most embarrassing rock show crowd work courtesy of Kiss' aging Star Child. It includes classics like "How many people out there like to take a taste of ALCOHOL!!!!?" (as part of a long lead-up to "Cold Gin") and a special lecture to all those fans in Atlantic City who might feel a bit shy to sing along:
Young people I know what it feels like. You're afraid to sing because you think the cool person next to you isn't gonna sing. Then you find out the cool person's singin' and you're not!
I think it's sweet but maybe a bit naive of Paul Stanley to expect that somewhere in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in a crowd of people who have paid over $40 to see ONE member of KISS perform a bunch of his solo songs about 25 years after his peak, you might be able to look next to you and find a cool person.
I also really love bands that set up all their big hits with incredibly long stories that use the name of the song as the kicker. Paul Stanley does this again and again. Some artists are very well suited to that kind of onstage behavior. For instance, I would be willing to bet Bob Seger sets up his song "Old Time Rock and Roll" by telling the crowd of middle-aged fans who still punch their clocks at JiffyLube, "You know what? I don't like that new time rock and roll. But I'll tell you what I do like? Do you wanna know what I like?..." (cue: piano thumps and a guy who, from 300 feet away, might look a little like Tom Cruise sliding across the stage in sweat socks, Hanes briefs, an oxford shirt and Ray-Bans.)
A band like Nirvana, on the other hand, probably never had Kurt Cobain stop a tune-up to ask the audience, "Does anyone smell that? Do you smell that, boys? Dave Grohl, tell me: are you smelling it? It don't smell like Arid Xtra Dry! No, Krist Novolesic, that don't smell like Speed Stick by Mennen. It smells—I SAID IT SMELLLLLLS—I think it smells like...TEEN SPIRIT!!" (cue: guitar crunch and Tom Cruise look-alike.)
If you're interested, here's a sample from the Paul Stanley album. iTunes calls it "Track 14" but I'm calling it:
And, as a bonus, here's a little track I like to call:
"COLD GIN 2: THE DRINK-ENING!"