In December of 2006, You Learned:
THIS WAS POSSIBLE WHEN WE STILL HAD AN OZONE LAYER.
Remember when it used to snow? And you relied on snow, and other cyclical seasonal changes, in order to feel sane? Well, this video might make you feel nostalgic.
Last winter, Bob Powers, Lisa Whiteman and I created this video for a How to Kick People Show. We never ended up screening it because of some technical problems and now, one winter later, I thought it would be nice to edit it a bit and send it out as a holiday greeting.
You can view it as a holiday card on the H2KP site. I hope you're well.
I NEVER WANTED TO EULOGIZE YOU ONLINE.
I spent a lot of time yesterday talking to Paul, and others, about Leslie's death. Paul was one of the first people I thought of when I heard she'd died. Paul, and Josh, because I always believed the three of us were sort of invisibly bound by her. We were all, at one time or another, Leslie's pet projects.
Leslie Harpold was one of the first people to befriend me online, in 1996. At that time I didn't know you could actually do that—just say "hello" to a perfect stranger whose face you've never seen, and stick at it long enough for a friendship to follow. She found my personal Web site—it was easier to find them then, because there were only five or six of them—and bullied me into writing a column for a zine she was going to launch the following January. (Again, I didn't really know you could do that online.)
Leslie decided I was a writer long before I did, and I'm grateful for that. I was reluctant to consider that anyone would want to read something I'd written, and I honestly believe that any courage I've been able to summon to share my writing was ignited and fueled by her insistent suggestion. Leslie stuck with me, even when it required foiling a lot of my very exhausting self-doubt, because I was her project.
Really, though, we were all her projects. It took me a while to see that, and why it was actually very sad. She dedicated so much time to getting the rest of us right that I fear she left very little room for herself. She made a lot of well-intentioned promises she couldn't keep. And I know, as frustrating as that was for her many, many friends, it was about a thousand times more painful for Leslie. She did not want to disappoint any of her projects.
Paul and I were joking that Leslie would have found all of these online memorials perfectly nauseating, and would have some incredibly caustic words to share about each and every one of them. I know this is true, because Leslie would have read them all. I'm very angry she's gone, since I could tell she had finally started to take on herself as a serious project, and was really getting some work done. I'm angry because she got cheated out of finishing it on her own.
THE 'GO TO' JEW.
Here's what happened. You woke up this morning, immediately fired up your computer just like every day. After checking your stocks, today's weather, and searching last night's "Missed Connections" on Craig's List for your name—then, after getting no results, revising your search to be more general, with descriptors like "F Train" + "The Namesake"—you browsed straight to your favorite daily, must-read web site: Epicurious.com's 'Daily Dish.' And that's when you saw my byline. "I didn't know Todd Levin wrote for Epicurious.com—my favorite daily, must-read web site!" Well, he does now.
Actually, it was funny being asked to review two books of Jewish humor. First, I hate nearly all Jewish humor. I hate all the puns and the jokes about holes in bed sheets and rapping Hasidic Jews, and the substitution of popular Jewish iconography into a well-known historical or cultural idea. I really find it all embarrassingly nerdy and distasteful. Maybe I'm not being clear enough. Here is what I think is a quintessential example of "Jewish Humor," and one that I've fabricated for the purpose of this example:
A poster for a movie called "Jewish American Beauty." It features the famous Mena-naked-in-rose-petals shot from American Beauty but here, instead of Mena Suvari, it's a badly Photoshopped Barbara Streisand. And, instead of rose petals, it's BAGELS!!! My word. The tag line: "...Look Schmoser."
SIDEWALK GAME SHOW.
While walking along Houston Street, I was stopped by a female police officer. She was blocking foot traffic from passing the entrance of a warehouse loading dock, though gave no indication why. Soon, I was joined by two or three other pedestrians in waiting. The woman to my left seemed annoyed, or was at least preparing herself to feel annoyed and inconvenienced. I think this is a common behavior in New Yorkers—a constant internal "should I be annoyed at this?" alert.
Suddenly, a parade of young, sad-faced gentlemen proceeded out of the warehouse, escorted by other policemen. Each of these men had his hands bound together with chains, and another length of chain continuing down to his feet, which were also shackled together. Some of them were clutching lunch sacks, holding them with their fingers in a kind of pincer grip.
The way they were chained up forced them to shuffle or, if they wished to draw attention to themselves, frog walk all the way to the law enforcement bus blocking the truck entrance at the loading dock. And because they were so slow-moving, we all had a pretty good, curious look at them. I would say the men, most of whom were mustachioed, shared a common but vague ethnicity. It was something like Indopaktinorabian.
And because of the combination of heavy bondage, police presence, and uniform ethnicity, we onlookers were afforded the chance to play one of my favorite street games: "WHAT KIND OF RACIST AM I?" That's a game where you, the onlooker, get to silently speculate about why these particular men were being arrested, by assessing their ethnicity and crime most likely committed by said ethnicity. And your answer determines exactly what kind of racist you are.
Short-haired, middle-aged woman on her way back from firing someone:
"These men are illegals, and are being deported."
Thick-necked guy in expensive-looking, supple leather jacket who kept trying to catch my eye in that 'we both know what happened here' conspiratorial kind of way:
"Terror cell. I call them how I see them, and it's a good thing we got these guys."
Grown man in Columbia sportswear jacket and brown suede fedora:
"They were importing flying carpets."
THIS IS A BLOG ENTRY.
Today, someone sent me a link to this article about the contents of large shipping container filled with Doritos® washing ashore on the Outer Banks. In the article, people are pictured gathering the Doritos along the beach, and collecting them in large plastic bags. At first I thought these people were from the Parks & Wildlife Commission, which is the name of a commission I possibly just fabricated but believe in my heart is very real. I assumed they were cleaning the beach. However, the article seems to indicate they were actually a group of soccer moms who saw this as an excellent opportunity to stock up on Cool Ranch Doritos for their worthless husbands and ungrateful children.
I wish I could be there right now, on Dorito Beach. I would love to spend the afternoon attempting to roll those little guys back into the sea. They must be so frightened.
ANSWER THE FAKE DOOR IN YOUR FAKE PAJAMAS.
I attended the theater last night, as the guest of a friend. That last sentence, in its impressive economy of words, should tell you several things. First, that I am fancy and rich because I see plays. Second, I also have a tremendous depth of character and intellectual weight because I didn't just "go" "see" a "play." I attended the theater. Any idiot can go to a play and clappity-clap like trained seals while Rosie O'Donnell jumps around in her Seussical hat. It's easy. You just sit in your big, dumb chair with your dribble cup and sit still for a bunch of hours, with your fingers and mouth covered in melted chocolate. But try ATTENDING THE THEATER sometime, joker. It's a whole different scene. Champagne. Caviar Po'Boys. The works.
Finally, that sentence was designed to make very clear that I have important friends who are happy to share their privilege—i.e. free theater tickets—with the likes of me. (either that, or I am a high-priced homosexual escort.) The truth is, I rarely make an effort to attend plays on my own. It seems like an expensive way to hear Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. Vol. 1, as dramatized by members of Cirque Du Soleil. But, beyond the cost (in dollars and lives), I also find I have a hard time sitting through even the most gravely serious staged drama without giggling a little bit.
No matter how well-acted, or how naturalistic a set is designed, the whole experience of live theater just strikes me as a little ridiculous. All of these grown-ups in their fake living room, standing around or in front of perfectly good furniture, holding empty coffee mugs, or bouncing on the balls of their feet just offstage, poised in front of a flimsy prop door, waiting for the audio technician to cue a very loud canned doorbell sound effect. And all of those strategically set family photos because, after all, this is someone's home we're peering into from our theater seats. There is a history here. Never mind the guy seated behind you who keeps rattling phlegm around in his throat; we are all witnessing a life inside a snow globe.
It just seems like such a silly pursuit for adults, even if they are creating (sometimes) serious art. Occasionally I can focus and allow my disbelief to suspend itself but something always draws me back out of the action, and I begin asking myself completely disruptive and inane questions about the construction of the play, rather than about the play itself. For example, I might zero in on a book on a character's bookshelf and think, "Shogun, by James Clavell, huh? That's a weird choice. No one has read that book in the last 25 years. Oh, I'll bet they just purchased a crate of books from the nearest Goodwill store, and filled these bookshelves with them. There is no way this character has read that book. Lousy cheaters." Or, last night, I just kept laughing to myself, thinking of how funny it was that the character of the town sheriff was actually just a grown man in his fifties with a fake, plastic gun strapped to his belt. It just seemed completely idiotic.
I was trying to think of why I lose focus so easily during plays set in very true-to-life locations. (rather than more experimental plays where the only set dressing is a pair of painted black cubes, a portrait of Mao hanging in space, and a garbage can with the word "MORALITY" spray-painted on it.) Is it because a play, because of its limited format, can't easily direct or restrict your focus? Movies, while just as ridiculous as plays with regards to the men-and-women-shooting-plastic-guns-at-invisible-dinosaurs factor, at least exercise greater control in helping you to accept the fantasy they present you. With editing and framing and music and dozens other techniques, movies tell you where to look and, as best as they're able, how to feel.
Unfortunately, in a live production, apart from using lighting or pronounced staging tricks that threaten to compromise any sense of realism a director is trying to achieve, there isn't much that can be done to train the audience. While two characters argue on their couch downstage center (lingo!), if you decide you'd rather stare at the desktop computer upstage-left, and wonder what brand it is or if it's fully operational, a play affords you that luxury. In a movie, if a director doesn't want you to see that computer, you won't see it. In a play, it's not as easy, especially if you are the type of theater-goer who either A) finds home computing equipment fascinating, or B) has the attention span of a small, retarded dog.
I sometimes think about this when I put on a funny wig or outfit in order to make my very important art. How did I allow myself to get this old, without prohibiting myself from acting this stupid? I feel like I must have said this before, to nearly everyone I know, but I honestly can't believe how much I've been encouraged (creatively and even financially) to engage in totally childish behavior. Sometimes I wonder if I'm no different than those theater actors bursting into their fake living rooms after coming out of the "cold" and taking off a pair of winter boots that are neither wet nor dirty. Then I remember what separates me from them: I am very cool, and they are not. I take consolation in this fact.