Thursday, November 8, 2007

The saddest thing I've seen in a long time.

Yesterday evening I found myself tired, work-weary, achey-heeled and on the one train descending the island of Manhattan on the 1 train after a rather trying day at work. My commute is just a bit too short to get any serious reading or napping done, but just a bit too long to be totally consumed by what's on my iPod. Needless to say, the black nothingness streaming past the window (or even worse, in the case of track work, trickling past the window) provides little distraction. (I miss the elevated trains of Chicago; great voyeurism there.) As a consequence, I am often drawn to watching my various fellow riders. I'm not going to argue that New Yorkers are naturally more interesting than the people anywhere else, but with 8.5 million people crammed into the roughly 300 square miles that make the five boroughs, sheer numbers dictate that one may run into a particularly beautiful, crazy, or foul smelling person at any time.

Unfortunately, last night failed to prove interesting. An overweight, middle-aged white woman reading John Grisham. Guy in a suit, overcoat, and cashmere scarf that alone must cost more than my entire ensemble. Twenty something latino man in baggy pants with an affable smile. And directly across from me an utterly unremarkable white woman in her twenties. Dressed nondescriptly in conventional contemporary garb so unremarkable I can't even remember it well enough to describe. She was pretty, but in a patently average way. So average that the only feature to stick out in my mind was her eyes: not earth-shattering, but larger than normal. Opened with a doe-like look of innocence and worry. She looked like she might be more quickly to tears than most, but equally more embarrassed by her tears than most who cry easily. They darted around the car, her eyes, not suspiciously, but curiously. There was nervousness about her, but it was not paranoia. It was the sort of nervousness that is rooted wholly in self-consciousness.

She carried an essence that was evocative of every shy girl you knew in high school. You know the girl of whom I speak. She sat next to you in a class or two. She was friendly, you knew she was smart. She always had an extra pencil when you forgot yours, she chuckled earnestly (if self-consciously) at jokes, but she didn't say much. Maybe one day you accidentally discovered something fascinating about her (like she was an aficionado of Wordsworth, she was an amateur calligrapher, she played the piccolo beautifully) but just as likely you never found out anything about her. She was the generic, nice, shy girl about whom no one really knew anything except her two closest friends. That was the air this woman on the train projected. All this analysis, of course, is hind sight.

She got on the train at 72nd St. and I had already pretty much lost interest in her as we pulled into 66th. I thumbed a page in my book, but was too tired to really read, so I turned up the Bob Dylan on my iPod and glared at my reflection in the window across the train, making faces at my reflection as I often do, naively believing this egomaniacal activity to be subtle enough to escape the attention of my fellow riders. I'm sure it doesn't, but it's a lie with which I am comfortable living.

As the train lurched out of the Columbus Circle station, I straightened up inventoried the ephemera on my person to ensure I had everything for my disembarkation at 50th St. Just as I confirmed the presence of my coffee cup, I looked up to see this unremarkable young woman fumble through her bag, in the universal behavior of every commuter everywhere who is bored and needs reading material or other distraction. She pulled out a dark green Barnes and Noble shopping bag, and hesitated before reaching in. This may be the glorious vision of hindsight as opposed to the myopia of present-tense being, but my memory assures me that at this very moment before she reached into the bag, I sensed a sadness about her. I was eager to see the book, as I judge people harshly on their train reading materials (and often have been known to carry out whole 30 second love affairs in my brain with women who read books and magazines of which I approve).

As she slipped the book out, I could immediately by layout and color scheme tell it was one of those insipid "...for Dummies!" books. Immediately, judgment was rapidly setting in my brain. I kept looking still, however, for I wanted to know about what she was a dummy, and therefore seeking personal enhancement. I had steeled myself for the inevitable eye roll, because I had assumed this woman was going to read up on how a "dummy" such as herself might learn more about wine or HTML or fly fishing or knitting or Canada. As opposed to an eye roll, however, my eyes were almost (literally!) brought to tears when I saw this: "Breast Cancer for Dummies."

As I stood up to exit the train I felt sort of punched in the stomach. I'm not an insensitive person, mind you, but in any densely packed city you learn to blind yourself to the sadness of others for the sake of convenience. However, the poignancy of this moment filled me with emotion and sucked the air out of my chest for a moment. I semi-audibly gasped "Oh God!" twice as I exited the train.

Immediately, my mind went flurrying about with tragic fantasies of the process that led up the purchase of this book. This young woman wide-eyed in a cloth hospital gown on an examination gown in a sterile white room as an infuriatingly professional and emotionless doctor discussed her diagnosis. Or, the night previous, sitting on her couch in sweat pants with her legs curled up underneath her, her half-read novel splayed on the coffee table next to a cup of chamomile tea with her cell phone to her ear while her mom told her the "bad news." OR EVEN nude to the waist in a light pink towel staring into the steamed mirror in her apartment feeling with her right arm elevated above her head, left hand gently squeezing her right breast and wondering if that lump she feels is a symptom of her hypochondria or if it is a sign that her body is betraying her. I fantasize about any of these scenarios leading to this young woman screwing up all her courage; deciding that knowledge is the best weapon. I imagine her nervously peering through the health section at the Barnes and Noble, feeling embarrassed for buying a "For Dummies!" book in the first place, and much less about something with the gravitational pull of cancer. Of paying for it with cash so at least she'll be semi-anonymous to the cashier while she buys this book that she feels silly even buying. I imagine her riding the train home, sitting across from me, and feeling the radiating warmth of this book through her bag. The temptation to pull it out and read it. The struggle of will to keep from pulling it out in public, because the topic is embarrassing. Because the book is embarrassing. Because she doesn't want people like me judging her or feeling sorry for her or wondering about her because she's basically a private person and would really not have anyone know or inconvenienced or even interested in her and her relation to this hungry disease. And eventually, the desire to read more about what she most fears is too much. She cannot wait until she gets home and this train is slow and she's nervous and sort of bored because the train is always boring and what the fuck, it's New York City, who cares who sees you reading a book about breast cancer? Who cares? No one will say anything as a subway car or street corner is actually the most private place in the world, anyway, she rationalizes. No one opens up to those around them on the subway. It's even less likely if they seem in trouble, because it's just best to keep moving and go about your business because you don't have the time or the emotional energy to get yourself even for a second mired in someone else's shit. Hell, its more private than her living room where she can hear her roommate alternately fucking or fighting with her on-again off-again boyfriend. And moreover, the temptation to read is just SO strong. Obviously this cancer is consuming most of her thoughts, if not her body yet or her mother's or friend's or aunts or whomever's, it's got her mind and her emotions in its grasp, so why NOT JUST READ THE FUCKING BOOK ON THE TRAIN? No one will even notice, anyway...

All this ran through my head as I went through the turnstile, before I even hit the street level.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Absolutely true story of stupidity.

An absolutely true encounter I had at a Duane Reade drug store:

One Friday evening I found myself trudging home fairly early for a New York Friday night, and in the back of my throat I felt the taste for beer. I'd already had a few earlier that evening, and as an unrelenting hop-head, it only seemed logical to purchase a six pack for a nightcap. (I have a chronic condition with two beverages: beer and coffee. If I have one, I generally feel the need to have several. This isn't so bad with coffee; I just get jittery. With beer, however...)

For whatever foolish reasons, I popped into the first purveyor of beer around: the Duane Reade at 42nd St. and 8th Ave., directly adjacent to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. As a consequence, I immediately regretted my choice of beer-buying venue, but having committed to the cause I found the most desirable six pack (Brooklyn Lager) and made my way to the front.

Because it was midnight on a Friday, only four registers were open and each line was about 12 deep with bridge 'n tunnelers, slick with hair gel, fresh off buses from Bayonne and Red Bank and Piscataway buying their Parliament Lights and their Binaca breath spray, gearing up for their nights on the town. For only the fifty-seventh time that day, I wonder why it is I live in Midtown.

I often think Duane Reade should adopt "You'll wait in line and pay too much, but we're everywhere and always open!" as their slogan. That's about all they've got going for them.

After ten minutes of waiting in line, listening to idle Jersey chatter about who was looking "fine" and who's a "slut," I get to the front of the line. I plop my beer on the counter, fumble through my wallet for cash. For whatever reason, Duane Reade is the only place in New York City that makes you verify that you're over fifteen to buy a six pack. Luckily, I've been successfully drinking legally for several years, so I pull my license out and plop it out on the counter.

Like many states, New York notes its organ donors on its drivers licenses. The Empire State, however, boasts this fact in bold, blood red. My intentions to give away whatever is left should I meet full-force with the front of an express bus are clearly noted.

What follows--I swear on my mother's grave--is as close to a verbatim transcript of the exchange I had with the woman behind the counter as my flawed memory will allow:

Counter Lady: Oh, you're an organ donor?

Me: Yes.

CL: What have you donated?

M: (Awkward pause, fearing I had misheard over the din of Jersey boy chatter). Ex...excuse me?

CL: It says you're an organ donor. What organs have you donated? [The kicker!] What you missin'?

M: (At this point realizing this is NOT a smart ass joke by a retail worker on her last nerve), no. That...that means if I die...they can use my organs THEN.

CL: No shit! So THAT'S what that means! ? I've always wondered!!

I choked back laughter, attempted to compose a face that did not belie the underlying shame, pity, and amusement I felt for and at this woman, and trudged out...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It Only Looks Quiet from the Outside

"If only all the contradictory voices shouting inside my head would calm down and sing a song in unison, whatever it was I wouldn't care as long as they sang without dissonance; yes, and avoided the uncertain extremes of the scale."

-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Needless to say, one's window into individual selfhood is muddled enough without supposing any insight into the lives of others. Thoreau, however, was a pompous ass, and therefore pretty damned cocksure that he new precisely what was going on in the lives of the "mass of men." Easy for a pretty boy on a faux-sabbatical to a pond just outside of Boston to say.

No, Ellison (not to be mistaken with the the other Ralph E. of American letters who was bosom buddies with this ersatz-recluse) seems to describe any experience of the human condition with which I am personally familiar. Needless to say, on account of my interiority complex (and general solipsism) I take my mental and emotional temperature with a fairly nauseating regularity. That notwithstanding I must say this: Hank, this shit only looks quiet from the outside. When you live inside this head, the desperation's pretty goddamn loud.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Metropolitan Chauvinism: An Open Letter to New York

Dear New York:

You're better than this. You're smart, you're sophisticated, you're pretty (if a bit dirty), you're always up for a party, you're cultured. Why must you take cheap shots at everyone else?

I almost wouldn't mind your discussion of your supremacy. I'd chalk it up to narcissism. I wouldn't always agree, but I'd forgive you for having a high opinion of yourself. You're pretty sexy and smart, and you have a rapier wit, I'll grant you. Sometimes the truly talented and beautiful get a bit of an ego, and it's understandable.

But, WHY-OH-WHY, adoptive city with whom I find myself falling more and more in love, must you take cheap shots at everywhere else? Baby, it makes you look insecure. It makes you look like you're afraid you maybe don't match up to Chicago or Philly or Boston. Look, I know you and I haven't been together too long. I know I was with Chicago for a long time before you. I know it makes you insecure, how beautiful she is with that huge, natural lakefront and those skyscrapers. But, baby, you've got the Met and the MoMA and the Lower East Side. Guys who think you need a straw and bag for every beverage purchase including coffee. You've got falafel from a cart at five am while still drunk on a Wednesday. Baby, you've got a lot of things that Chicago doesn't. Look, I know, Chicago and I are still friends...and I'd be lying if I said I didn't still understand why I loved Chicago...but I'm with you now. So could you please stop with the unfounded cheap shots?

You always say Chicago's a rube, but baby, you've had Republican mayors for well over a decade. You say Chicago's uncultured, but that's not fair, you're three times as big. No, no, no! I'm not saying you're getting fat! Are you even listening to me?! All I'm saying is, every time you take a cheap shot at the Midwest, it makes you look cheap and jealous.

Except Indianapolis. She's ugly and boring. And Cleveland. And Milwaukee. And you can say whatever you want about the West Coast...'cause San Fran, LA, and Seattle....all total sluts. Not classy like you, baby.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Emotional Weight of Minutiae

It's interesting. I've run across an object I have not seen in over seven years. The object, itself, is about as noteworthy as, well, it's so damned un-noteworthy that no simile really fits. Its indescribable ordinariness is its most noteworthy characteristic. It's a small, white cotton pouch large enough to hold, maybe a dollar in quarters. It was given to me seven or more years ago by a girl with whom I thought I might be in love. Note that I say "girl" not out of latent sexism, because at the time, I, too, was just a boy. Barely 18. An age at which I shaved out of a flimsy hope that I was manly enough to merit it instead of any actual need.

In it, originally, was a ring. A hammered silver ring that is still, to this day, on my left middle finger. Needless to say, I look at this ring everyday. It holds no special meaning for me in a day-to-day sense. It is simply THE RING THAT IS ALWAYS ON MY LEFT RING FINGER. Once in a while, someone might ask where I got the ring, and I explain that someone I dated a long time ago bought in Mexico when we were both young and stupid teenagers. Even when I explain its origin, I don't really think about the weight the relationship had on my young, stupid life at that point. Moreover, I talk to the now woman who gave this ring to me many years ago on a fairly regular basis. Now she is just my old friend, and to be frank, my past infatuation lingers only in the way one remembers a fairly intense dream. I don't consciously think about, and even when I do, the most intense memories are ones of shame at stupid 18-year-old shit I said in the wake of our stupid-18-year-old break up. I was an idiot at the time, and carry shame like a camel, so that's what sticks with me.

But today I discovered this little pouch. The pouch which carried the ring she gave me after her trip to Mexico with her family after Christmas break our freshman year in college. It's a little dusty, having been at the bottom of a cigar box filled with concert ticket stubs, matchbooks from bars and restaurants to which I have not been in years, a couple of marbles that have no particular significance to me, and a drawing an old friend made in high school. Strangely, unremarkable though it may be, I recognized the pouch immediately.

Upon looking at it I knew immediately what it was. This isn't surprising to me. I remember a lot of unnecessary crap. What was striking, however, was how immediately emotionally evocative this little scarp of cotton was. Strangely, the ring that was the actual gift, is something I associate with my hand....but the little pouch it once came in, is EXTREMELY powerful in its ability to elicit emotional memories. I remember feeling helpless and blissful to be receiving such a nice (and intimate) gift from this girl. I remember thinking that this pouch with this ring in it symbolized something....I symbolized the sort of shit a ring might when you're 18 and in a doomed situation with someone. I mean, in retrospect, it's sort of hilarious how serious I was about things there. A) I didn't know shit about shit, but B) the relationship was so very 18 and thoroughly doomed, anyway.

Still...I suppose there it is interesting. I have a watch that was my grandfather's that I wore everyday until it broke. To be frank, at some point, in the front of my consciousness it became just my watch. But I'd find things of his I hadn't seen in years that would send me into really intense emotional states. I suppose, if you want to imbue an article with emotional weight, you really have to hide it from yourself in a place where you'll only discover it every so often. Maybe that's what's so great about old photos...

Monday, May 7, 2007

Sex and Sociology and the Academy: Is The Emporer Shakin' his Junk With No Clothes On?

I studied sociology at a school that brags, fairly or unfairly, a *moderately* noteworthy reputation on the subject. Needless to say, like all social sciences, an investigation of sexuality permeated my sociological studies. On one end, there was a greater focus on sexual orientation as a socially salient identifying factor on par with race, socioeconomic class, gender, etc. This I buy totally and without any reservation. Being gay, being straight, being bi, being transgendered; it matters. Sexual orientation affects all situations just as British theorist Richard Dyer once said with regard to race, "seldom is it the only issue, but it's never NOT an issue." This I believe whole heartedly.

However, the post-feminist climate of social sciences and humanities often has me all bugaboo.

FIRSTLY--I consider myself something of a little f feminist, in the primary definition of one who believe in inherent equality of abilities, while also accepting and embracing differences between genders. This comes from a post-World War II move in social theory that, distilled to its purest essence says we're all people. No one (or at least no one group) is inherently good or bad or smart or stupid or ugly or evil or rhythmic or taller or what have you. It's a comforting, we're-all-just-people-swinging-on-this-crazy-rock-that-circles-some-90-million-miles-around-the-sun. I am very much into this populist notion, not as a product of my bed-wetting progressive politics, but rather this opinion has caused my populist progressivism. The reason isn't any sort of religious fervor, but rather, that I've never seen any compelling evidence to the contrary. We're products of our nature as well as our nurture, but in the long run I just don't see any meaningful justification that any one person, in a vacuum, should be any greater or lesser than anyone else inherently. My feminism is merely an offshoot of this.

HOWEVER, since the 1980s the capital F feminist movement has begun to confound me. I am not offended, but rather confused. Capital F partisan Feminists in the last 20 years have done some incredible things such as bringing awareness of the horrors of genital mutilation to the world, promoting breast and cervical cancer research, furthering the cause of conception and abortion rights, to even the good ol' fashioned feminist business of fighting patriarchy through policy and empowerment to name just a very few of the major accomplishments of feminism in the last 20 years. On the other hand, there have been academic feminists involved in political fights that have little impact on the lives of real people who have been in (TONGUE FIRMLY PLANTED IN CHEEK) dick-measuring contests over pornography over this time frame. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon both spent large segments of the 80s and 90s proclaiming porn and erotic work as "acts of rape" that should not be protected by free speech. On the other end of the spectrum, there are post-feminists who proclaim participation in porn and exhibitionism to be the ultimate expressions of feminist sexual empowerment. Maybe my opinion on the subject is invalid (or at least not particularly germane to the topic at hand) as I am a straight, white, college-educated male of middle class standing, but we white guys are pretty known for expressing our opinions whether it's our place or not so I shall express the disjointed confusion that pass as my opinion on the matter: Maybe somewhere between clitoral piercing and public sex shows on the one hand and the sort of vehement anti-porn stance that makes for the strange bedfellows of Andrea Dworkin and Jerry Falwell, there is room for some sort of truth or understanding or reasonable, workable compromise. (We white guys, always trying to be moderate in the midst of revolutions!)

Firstly, I am vexed by porn in general. Obviously, being a secular humanist populist libertarian (and occasional libertine) I am obviously loathe to promote any policy that promotes the limitations of speech. Just as we ought be able to yell "Theatre!" at a crowded fire, why can't we look at dirty pictures occasionally? That being said, I come from a liberal family but from the slightly reserved and thoroughly WASP-ish Midwestern exurbs just outside of Chicago, so it has always caused me slight blushing to discuss porn in polite company. Moreover, possibly given my background, I cannot help but feel some of the erotic charge of porn in contemporary American society comes from the shame and repression surrounding it. Feeling a little dirty can be kind of hot, am I wrong?

On the other hand, porn involving or even fictionally depicting actions by those who did not consent (or those who are unable to consent: children, animals, the developmentally disabled, etc.) not only strikes me wrong but also engenders the sort of revulsion that, after the gagging subsides, engenders a sort of righteousness. It is this righteousness vis-a-vis revulsion that allows me some sympathy for Dworkin perspective. We are all revulsed by different things and by different degrees. Andrea Dworkin's specific sexual past is marred by such horrors that it strikes me as unsurprising that she was wholly intolerant of pornography in any form. That being said, I'm not sure it's a rhetorically strong standpoint from which to draft policy.

So where does the line get drawn? There are some people who find any number of specific kinks to be either incredibly hot or morally reprehensible. There are plenty of us who find porn kinda tacky. (But sometimes that tackiness is kinda hot, too. It's all taboos, and the erotic power of taboo has been so long documented that it hardly bears mention.)

Moreover, another issue is how pornography affects the actual, REAL LIFE sexuality of people. I can only speak anecdotally as I am not in a graduate program, and do not have a grant for research. But I can say that I have known many people for whom porn has played (in my humble estimation) a disproportionate role in the foundation of their personal sexuality. I have known women who liked being called "slut" during intercourse, who enjoyed having the a man ejaculate on her face. I have known men to exhibit the same kinks, a long with a host of others. To a certain extent, I cannot help but think that pornography's thumb print is on those kinks. I am not wholly passing judgment, however. What gets you off, gets you off and I figure as long as no one is emotionally or physically damaged as a result and both parties consent to and enjoy the actions taking place, I see no reason to hold back on doing whatever it is what you want to do. (NOTE: At this point, I'd like to note that I am consciously withholding mentioning any personal kinks out of both embarrassment as well as some semblance of editorial objectiveness and detachment. Plus, of the two people who will even actually read this, you don't wanna know. Suffice it to say, as a temperate honky, I fall somewhere between prude and "freak" on whatever scale one may be measured upon, as evidenced plenty by the, I'm sure, weirdly tacit admissions that permeate the subtext of my writings (or ramblings) on the subject.) That being said, I have known some for whom porn has not only warped opinions on what sex is and should be but has led to disappointment in the act of sex.

Still, though? Disgusting to some, titillating to others, foundational to conceptions of sexuality to others, and finally the ultimate act of empowerment of yet others still. I read Ariel Levy's book Female Chauvinist Pigs which sets out on an investigation--and criticism--of the new wave of "sex-positive feminists." As a reluctant moderate, again, I must say that Levy's analysis both merits praise and criticism. While I agree, Gloria Steinem would choke on her own tongue to discover that there are drunken college girls who think of flashing their boobs for Girls Gone Wild as the act of an empowered woman, I also DO NOT think thong underwear is yet another form of patriarchal bondage to keep women down. The argument by the "sex-positive" feminists is a valid one: as sexuality is a part of fully actualized humanity in a general sense, then of course it must also be part of feminist empowerment. I've always said feminists are the best lays. Calm down. It's irony. Partially. As part of feminism is both a move toward equality, there is another component that is the celebration of femininity. A part of said celebration must also be a celebration of the female body and of female sexuality in a way that is empowering. In the context of intercourse, this means comfort with one's own person (body and soul/mind/spirit what have you). Ultimately, you're going to be a lot more fun in the sack (male or female) if you're not weighed down inhibition or shame.

So, there is empowerment quite easily found in sexuality. But at what point does feminist sexual empowerment merely become an easy framing mechanism for justifying crude participation in vulgar patriarchal sexual structures? While thong underwear as anti-feminist weapon of the phallus culture may be a bit extreme, is porn? The participation there in? Can it be empowering? What about promiscuity? Can it be an empowerment in some cases and subjugation in others? Can subjugation itself, if consented to, be empowering? I think the answer is yes, sometimes. But feminism can also be an easy justification for behaviors that actually bespeak shame of femininity manifest in outward expressions of sexuality to please the patriarchal masses. Needless to say, empowerment must come from within and it must be an internal choice of the individual. One can't afterward use it as a flimsy justification for flashing your boobs in a bar that was actually the product of drunkeness and an insecure inability to say no to crowds of cheering frat boys. That being said, OBVIOUSLY, most of the shame of the situation ought be borne on the shoulders of the frat boys for trying to subjugate said woman thusly.

I think all of this exemplifies my relatively wishy-washy point: there are no hard and fast rules with regard to sexuality. Acceptability is determined only by its participants so to say "porn is harmful" is just as foolish as to say that "porn can't be harmful."

ANYWAY...these previous ramblings prove that I'd make a lousy doctoral candidate. I'd rather discuss 27 issues surrounding what root issue than say any one specific thing with any serious research or analysis. BUT...these ramblings all stemmed out in my brain from an interesting piece I heard this evening on NPR about race in the sex industry. News and Notes with Farai Chideya is a news and round table discussion show that airs Monday through Friday that takes a much under-represented African American perspective on the news and tends to be of interest to me. Today they were discussing inherent racial distinctions with regard to sexuality and the sex industry. This ranged from the rather standard depiction of African-American hyper-sexuality (as evidenced by anything from Mandingo to the late night programming on BET Uncut) to a discussion of wage disparity across racial lines in the sex industry.

The main guest discussing the wage disparity was Siobhan Brooks, a former stripper turned PhD candidate in sociology at The New School. (FULL DISCLOSURE: The New School is my current employer and probably had something to do with why this story caught my ear and sent my brain spiraling out in the directions it has for the past hour and a half.) Ms. Brooks was part of a relatively famous unionization effort in a strip club in San Francisco and is now writing a doctoral dissertation about wage disparity along racial lines in the sex industry. She told of being underpaid in her stripping experiences and being told, ostensibly, that her black body was worth less in the stripping market than the bodies of those of her white counterparts. Ms. Brooks' analysis was compelling: essentially since she was black, and therefore hypersexual (theoretically), she could not earn as much given the cultural perception that she would "give it away for free," so to speak. Presumably, white women were conceived of as harder to get naked, therefore more coveted, and of more fiscal value to the club.

This is the sort of thesis I always found compelling in my sociological studies: simultaneously defensible and of interest while still, quite possibly, utter bullshit. Interesting bullshit. Bullshit that could be backed up, interpreted, and analyzed. Bullshit for which the analysis thereof may well prove of actual importance, but bullshit in that the basic premise from which it was drawn was based on a series of assumptions that are simply a pain in the ass, rhetorically, to defend. Still, in sociology, the process of arguing a premise is as (if not more) important than its actual veracity with regard to the real world. Then again, who am I to say? I could not propose a better argument for why she was paid less. Perhaps a general focus on an Anglo-centric standard of beauty? That's probably just as indefensible but somehow fits more with my perceptions of our culture. I've never been a black woman though. Ms. Brooks may well be right.

Regardless, after batting this idea around in my brain, and finding it both clever in its development (who am I to judge, Ms. Brooks is obviously ten times the scholar than I) and questionable in its validity, I was left with one final question: "Yeah. All well and good. But if you're going to fight racial prejudice and injustice, aren't there more important venues in which to fight it than the sex industy?"

Upon asking this of myself, I was instantly transported back to a 19 year old Zak, sitting in an Asian American literature course I took as part of my other major in college: English. On this particular day we were analyzing an essay from a collection of Queer Asian literature and analysis. The particular essay in discussion this day was one a gay Asian man had written about his dismay with regard to the portrayal of Asian men in mainstream gay porn. I admit a great ignorance about gay porn, mainstream or otherwise, but his argument was that gay Asian male sexuality in porn was often submissive to the point of shame. Always the penetrated, never the penetrator and often subject to succession of multiple (or even simultaneous) penetrations that constituted, if not quite rape, a definite depiction and fetishization of the perceived weakness of Asian men.

Several people in the class did not even attempt to mask their disgust at any discussion of homosexual acts, which did nothing to further the conversation. One female student, however, asked a question that both irked me and interested me, which was virtually the same question I found myself asking earlier tonight, some six years later: "Why porn? Who cares? It's porn. It's not like it's a high-cultural form. Aren't there bigger fishes of injustice to be fried?" (I'm paraphrasing, but the gist was the same.)

I mulled this about and just as I was about to decide whether this question was a valid criticism or further prudishness, a young woman on whom I had a tremendous crush raised her hand. What she had to say only furthered the crush I had on her.

"Yeah. But porn's honest. I mean, what turns you on, TURNS YOU ON. You can't lie about it, you can't hide from it. It's subconscious."

My torch for this girl burned at a new height, as not only did the sun make her raven hair shine beautifully, but she was also much smarter than me...and few things are sexier than smart girls who use the phrase "turn you on" in an academic setting while still being learned. It was a brilliant analysis! (NOTE: She was never interested in me, though, in retrospect she must have known I was head-over-heels for her. Of course, theoretcially, it was a secret crush, but I'm certain the aloof, disenchanted, distance-attempting-to-pass-for-intelligence air I copped around her must have completely belied my true intentions. Last I heard she was dating the same poetry student she had been for the entire time we were in college.)

Regardless, this statement exemplifies my entire point, if I have one. I get frustrated, at times, with the academic study of sexuality and porn because there's a prudish part of me that thinks that it's a masturbatory exercise that serves only to inflate the egos of those reading and discussing the material at hand. However, sexuality is unintentionally honest due to its unconscious nature, both on the individual and the macro level. Simply put, we do not control nor are we even completely aware of what turns us on, so it can serve as a tremendous barometer in the gender-relations of culture as a whole. Plus, sex is just plain fun to talk about.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

My Bag: Yes, I am Writing about Myself in Third Person.

That damn green bag. He always has it with him.

He wears is strung diagonally from right shoulder to left hip, always.

Its presence provides himself with some sort of security. Prepared for whatever situation the city might present him with. Perhaps wearing it such as he does is reminiscent of a seat belt. He feels strapped in while he ambles about New York City, a city in which he does not feel quite at home. Something to protect him.

Its contents are as thorough as those in the purse of a mother of a small child, though different in their nature. A half drunk bottle of Diet Pepsi for fear of thirst. Two books, should the whim to read either fiction or non-fiction strike. Several pens accidentally stolen from his office job. A Moleskeine journal should some sort inspiration strike, a plain steno pad for the more mundane details of life like shopping lists, addresses, telephone numbers. A rumpled and out of date issue of Sports Illustrated that had an article about the Cubs from some months back. A tin of Altoids. Several half-spent books of matches. Hand lotion. An umbrella in case it rains (although the only rain that has fallen on him since he bought the damn thing was on an awkward stroll from Times Square to Penn Station in which he forgot to bring his bag). A folded copy of the Times' arts section with a half-done crossword puzzle. (He has no idea about Oscar winners from the 50s, so he is at a loss with regard to its completion. It is only slightly less outdated than the Sports Illustrated.) Two condoms. Various rumpled ATM receipts. A spoon. Three nickels, two pennies, and a dime that were hastily thrown and as yet unretrieved from the last time he went through a metal detector. An inhaler. An iPod. An emptied blister pack from gum long since chewed. A birthday card from his mom, only under a month old.

Needless to say, he could stand to clean the damn thing out. Moreover, it's not like he carries anything essential in the damn thing. Everything he deems "essential" are in the overstuffed pockets of his jeans or in the pockets of the green corduroy blazer that has on almost as often as the bag.

It's a nuisance. He bumps people with it on the sidewalks and in the subway. He is always catching that comes down over the top on doorknobs. Not a graceful man, when this happens, he usually gets spun all the way around and gets a flustered look of rage and embarrassment on his face. He gets it caught in revolving doors.

It's not even like it's a particular nice bag. It's an old army suprlus bag, and its olive drag is faded by the sun. There are at least two pronounced coffee stains on it. Loose threads hang from the bottom.

Yet, he carries it with him always. It's, apparently, his bastardized superhero utility belt.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Problem with the 24 Hour News Cycle is here Really Ain't That Much Going On

I, like far too few people in the current zeitgeist, am constantly frustrated by the vast majority of media outlets and their "news" coverage. Suffice it to say, it's a relatively rhetorically weak position to begin any persuasive piece by discussing noting that your opinions are more sound than many of those around you, but so often we're all saying such things with the due subtlety of WASP-y "politeness." I dispatch with such pleasantries, if for no other reason than I am a pompous ass. Such is life.

My arrogance notwithstanding, I now, only slightly by choice, live in a world without television. Even if I had one, I assure you, I am far too broke to avoid the 8,000 cable channels I once "enjoyed." Regardless, the hyperactivity of the sensationalist of the American news media still penetrates into my life. I consume media I deem worthy at a pace voracious enough to be worthy of note. I have listened to as much as 10 hours of public radio in a given day multiple times. (With the baseball season upon us, I have stepped away from NPR news a bit to listen to my beloved Cubbies as they flounder in their attempts to throw, hit, and catch, but I still get my news fill.) I am an avowed NPR junkie. To the point where I have embarrassed myself at parties with my dorkiness. It's not Magic Card or Dungeons and Dragons, but it certainly ticks on the dork scale.

So I listen to a lot of public radio. I deem it worthy, whereas I deem FoxNews or CNN unworthy (if also unaffordable). Why? A liberal elitism? Oh, sure, I mean...that's part of it. FoxNews is a wellspring of right-wing partisan hackery, sure. I am, however, willing to say that CNN is almost as bad, in spite of its relative impartiality. Why? Perhaps it can be chalked up to market motive of commercial news media, but there is no depth. There is constant repetition of sound bites and sexy little stories, celebrity gossip, "human interest pieces," the rah-rah jingoism of patriotic war stories, and sappy montages of human tragedy. What there lacks, however, is substance.

Wow. Earth-shattering. Cable News lacks substance. Brilliant, Zak. People should sign up for my fucking newsletter.

...and I could leave it just at that: that the 24 hour cable news realm lacks substance. BUT, that would leave my analysis as paltry and watered-down as theirs. Partially because I'm exhausting and partially because it illustrates my point, I am apt to delve a little deeper.

First and foremost, there is a focus on simplicity in television news. And, moreover, a supposition that only providing the "what" of any given story constitutes impartiality. A supposition that it's simply enough to know that x-number of troops died in Iraq today, that President Bush vetoed the most recent bill for allocating money to troops in Iraq, that a hurricane HAPPENED. Sure, stating simple facts provides the simple facts, but maybe the simple facts simply aren't enough to truly understand something. This is a crime of which CNN's Headline News is most guilty. Also the USA Today newspaper.

Many media outlets, however, SEEK to delve into the deeper issues surrounding the attendant causes, effects, and motives behind the goings-on around us. FoxNews is, perhaps, the most notable. They LOVE expending great wind about dealings on Capitol Hill. Yet, they rarely provide actual substantive material on any such goings-on, because there raison d'etre is provocation. And, for all I can say negatively about FoxNews, I'd be lying if I said they weren't provocative. Sadly they provoke while rarely evoking.

The "substance" of FoxNews is often glib and shallow screaming matches between those of presumably opposing sides. The problem with their coverage is not even so much rooted in their right-wing bias as it is in their belief that every subject is absolutely binary. More ignorant is that the supposed binary nature of everything can be assumed to be exemplified by the two major political parties. Firstly, while not an original point at all it bears repeating: MOST STORIES/ISSUES/EVENTS HAVE MORE THAN TWO DISTINCT PERSPECTIVES! MOREOVER, any rational human being can often understand or have empathy for multiple perspectives on any given issue. Often, they can do this while still having a solid opinion on said issue.

So why is this binary so oft used? Well, for the first part, it sells. It offers a "joiner" mentality that is easily marketable. When there are only two sides to a given issue, one is naturally going to be drawn more to one or the other, whether or not that actually represents the full story or their full understanding of it or even of the possible understanding they could have were there more information made available. Moreover, humans are competitive animals. We take pride in the other guy's opinion (like his asshole) stinking, while ours may be rosy fresh. When there's only ONE OTHER OPTION, of course we cling to the one with which we most agree; no matter how much that position may still be pounding a square peg into a round hole, it's a helluva lot better than the other one. In short, if there are ONLY two opinions, we are naturally prone to identify with one more than the other and that sense of belonging and having camaraderie is pretty intoxicating, and therefore profitable.

But, this binary is only possible by looking shallowly into things. So shallow analysis is all that's permitted, lest we know that there are more options than just two. If there are more than two, we might find one that fits more appropriately, but we would be part of a smaller clan and we would find that less appealing to the part of us that wants company in our righteousness.

Perhaps more sinisterly, shallow news analysis is marketable because its marketed as the only bill of goods available. While P.T. Barnum made a great deal of hay on his adage, "No one ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of Americans," it is a glib and short-sighted way of looking at US media markets. We are, believe it or not, NOT inherently simplistic. It is my optimistic (and bed-wettingly liberal) opinion that if we offer people the option of seeing A) the whole story and B) that they are smart enough to make an informed and multi-faceted opinion based on such information, they will do just that. Make an informed decision, that is. It is, however, easier for those in the business of news to have myopic and simplistic news coverage.

It's easier, in part, because it's always easier to oversimplify. It requires no great brains at work. More importantly, however, it requires less time. Firstly, all cliched aphorisms about time equaling money actually turn out to be fairly true. Profit motive does, to a certain degree, breed efficiency. But efficiency cannot trump quality. Or, more aptly, SHOULD NOT trump quality. Alas, so often it does. Glib views on complex issues coupled with childish partisan bickering that passes as impartiality (or, if you prefer, a "fair and balanced look at the issues") does not make up for honest research, exhaustive vetting, and careful explanation. Television news, however, is constantly under a time crunch caused by both the short attention spans of viewers and the need to squeeze as much advertising into a given hour as humanly possible.

Firstly, the short attention span of the television viewing audience is as much the effect of television programmers as it is a cause of anything. It's become a vicious circle. We have become accustomed to rapid fire news coverage and entertainment. The accustomedness has bred a stronger appetite for a fallacious brevity that passes for succinctness. The quicker we get it, the quicker we want it. We lap it up like dogs. This isn't a discredit to us, as the viewing populace per se, but once again, if we perceive it as the only game in town, we are prone to wanting it as quick and slapdash as they can sling it.

Additionally, as inherent in its very name, commercial television is WHOLLY dependent on advertising. They have to cram as many ads in as possible. I seem to remember reading the averaged "30 minute" program is actually only something like 21 minutes of actual content. The remaining nine minutes are ads. Think about that. Roughly one third of the television we watch is merely advertising. The consequence is, of course, there's no damn time left to say anything meaningful or substantive about the causes and effects of a given "news" event. We have enough time to say, very vaguely, WHAT happened and maybe to argue like schoolchilren about it for another three minutes before another Viagra commercial needs to come on so the bills get paid on time.

What is most galling, perhaps, about cable news is that in spite of their shallow and truncated news, there is still not enough to talk about for 24 hours straight. Simply put, not enough happens. OR, rather, plenty happens, but not enough that is easily marketable in one to three minute segments. Hence the sensationalization of relatively meaningless items. The actual content of the Kyoto Protocols is too complex to go into, but one can talk about Martha Stewart's incarceration 35 times a day at 45 seconds a shot. There isn't that much going on, especially when one wants a bite size news chunklet. Hence, the need to invent, exaggerated, and sensationalize.

HENCE my love of public radio. No advertising. This offers a great deal of latitude. I will not even begin to get into the self-censorship that is caused by corporate sponsorship of the media, as that is a whole other ball of wax, but the lack of advertising offers a great deal of time to talk about the news with something that resembles real depth and analysis. Moreover, radio offers an ability to multi-task that television does not. Sound is something that we contend with all day long while going about our daily tasks, be it conversation or music or jackhammers. We can take it in at our own pace as we wish, or block it out should something more immediate demand our attention. However, we are visual creatures and find the combination of auditory and visual stimuli both engaging and distracting. We cannot look away. We cannot do anything else. I could never watch 10 hours of television news, it's too active and I'd never get anything done. I can, however, listen to 10 hours of NPR while I get dressed, while I work on spreadsheets at work, while I write emails, while I make my bed. And I can absorb it.

However, as we cannot do anything else (well, anyway) while we watch TV, it's easier to try to cram more into less time. The net weight loss by doing so, of course, is substance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Series of Tolerable Miseries.

It occurs to me that the day-to-day business of living in post-industrial America is struggling through an extensive series of tolerable miseries. Traffic, crowded subways, wet socks, waiting in line, overpriced and watered down mixed drinks, lumpy mashed potatoes, runny noses, broken umbrellas, hangnails, blisters, head colds, bad cell phone reception, inconsiderate piles of dog shit on sidewalks, underwear with worn out elastic, computer crashes, gas prices, income taxes, aging, unwanted body hair, vacuuming, dance music, and those tiny, useless napkins they have at fast food places that are too small and too thin to be any fucking good at wiping up anything. Et al, ad infinitum.

We as children rapidly learn how to tolerate these tolerable miseries so that we may become adept and understanding and handling much larger ones. It is no wonder that children scream on airplanes, it is only by conditioning that we adults do not. Airplanes are pretty unpleasant places. Moreover, I feel that larger miseries only become apparent when we have learned to deal with smaller miseries such as soggy French Fries and dandruff. I have often noted children more upset about having to wear a tie or a dress than the misery of the funeral for which they are wearing it. Real misery is a luxury only appreciated when immediate miseries are either dealt with or merely tolerated.

That being said, this is not all bleak. If it were not for tiny miseries, tiny joys would be a hell of a lot less fun. An ice cold beer, a smile from shop clerk, a good punch line...

It's not to say that misery and joy are in any sort of balance. Be it the devil's fault as the subway preachers would have me believe, or merely the entropic nature of the universe fighting desperately to expand into more disparate chaos, the bad shit is winning. But if it weren't for having to work late on a Friday or tepid coffee, maybe orgasms and afternoon naps in hammocks wouldn't be quite so nice.

I am tired and feel like this is an embittered chicken soup for the soul. Plus, who am I kidding? Even if life were ALL orgasms and afternoon naps, I think I'd find a way to appreciate it. Struggle, struggle, struggle!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Non sequitir.

Generally, although irony will never die, I am of the opinion that non sequitir as a humorous device is all but dead. There is no money in absurdism, as the laughs it can get have already been obtained. That being said, I still dig naturally occurring non-sequitir. For example, the other day I bought a cigarette lighter and realized a day later that it had a sea shell on it and the inscription: "Amorous feelings of beach."

What the hell does THAT mean?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007: A Disjointed Eulogy, A Defense, a Big "Up-Yours" to the Academe Who Wishes to Sell him Short

So, like many who claim to be somewhat literarily minded, I was a bit saddened by the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. this week. Vonnegut was something of a hero to me. He has often been relegated to mere fodder for masturbating, zit-faced teenage boys who don't know how to talk to girls, but I cannot help but defend his footprint on the literary and cultural landscape of 20th (and a bit of 21st) Century American letters and culture. To be fair, I discovered and truly fell in love with Vonnegut when I had zits, was unable to talk to girls, and my masturbation output was at an all-time high, but he was somewhat more than this.

Since his past there have been many comparisons of Vonnegut to Mark Twain in the media. I argue that this comparison goes further than the fact that both were moustachioed smart asses from the middle of the country. Both men meant more to their specific zeitgeists than just their novels. Both Twain and Vonnegut are remembered most notably for their one canonical novel as opposed to their entire oeuvre. While both Huckleberry Finn and Slaughterhouse-Five are undeniably important American novels that exemplify the contexts in which they were written, both men are sold short by the remembrance of just one novel. Both were stellar essayists, enlightening and hilarious speakers, and cynics par excellence. Both men serve as prime examples of the American Smartass Satirist (or ASS for short), which ought to be a more vaunted position than it currently is. In a culture as surreal and self-serious as ours, we need the court jesters to point at our culture and laugh at its ugliness.

Vonnegut, in many ways, was more than the sum of his novels. He was more than charming in his wit. There are plenty of arguments for the disdain the academy often shows his work, but the real one is simply that he sold books that were colloquial and witty without obtuseness. Obtuseness and obscurity are what gives graduate students intellectual erections, and because many of these folks had first read Vonnegut in high school, they have sold him short once coming to academic power. It is my assertion that they, too, discovered Vonnegut while zit-faced and unable to get laid in high school. Upon discovering like-minded, self-important, bookish types such as themselves in college and graduate schools, they have since gotten laid. They did so, however, while discussing Proust or Pynchon or Gaddis and therefore think that Vonnegut is bereft of literary merit because it never impressed the cute, shy PhD student with glasses at the last department cocktail party. That's my Freudian explanation. Take it for what you will.

There are legitimate arguments for Vonnegut's shortcoming as a writer. Perhaps the most compelling is the feminist argument that his female characters have all the strength and agency and full-bodiedness of stale Miller High Life. My argument against this, however, is that all of Vonnegut's characters -- short of Kilgore Trout -- are, at best, two-dimensional. His characterization of women does not bespeak a deep-seeded misogyny, like, for example, John Updike. Updike's women are all mothers, whores, or some combination thereof, whereas Vonnegut's women are just like his men: foils and tools and seldom, if ever, the point of his novels. They are the necessary cogs to keep the machine of a novel afloat, but it is the narration and the situations that are the, for lack of a better term, POINT of his work. (EDITORIAL SIDENOTE: As one with an almost infinite faith in the descriptive powers of the English language, "for lack of a better term" is an incredibly weak rhetorical device. There is always a 'better term," given the scope of the English language, but I am simply too lazy to find it. Forgive me. This essay is being written on-the-fly while I am tired, drinking beer, and far too lazy to edit or vet too heavily. Forgive me short cuts, forgive me my sins.) Vonnegut's books take a broad lens approach to the human experience and the American culture of his time, due in no small part to his Anthropological background from the University of Chicago. His characters are everymen and everywomen who are playing out the parts that could be anyone, or rather are PRECISELY anyone by design. Unlike John Irving--whose characters, at his best, are so lifelike that if one were to place a mirror up to the page would find it quickly steamed with the breath of their vibrancy--Vonnegut was concerned with a macro-level analysis of the society which surrounded and confounded him. So, sure the women were weak, but so were the men. They didn't matter. They weren't supposed to.

No, the driving force of Vonnegut was cultural-criticism, satire, and cynicism. While many third grade teachers and greeting card writers are eager to tell us that it is far better to be a dreamer than a cynic, Vonnegut's cynicism was refreshingly optimistic. Sure, Vonnegut informed college graduates that things were bad and only to become more "unimaginably worse," but inherent in that statement is an optimism. Those who are cynical are cynical only because there is an assumption inherent that things could or should be better. Moreover, Vonnegut's cynicism exemplified his assertion that artists were the "canaries in the coal mine" of culture. His cynicism reflected, merely, the ugliness of World War II, Watergate, Vietnam, Nagasaki, and any number of other sadnesses visited upon humans by other humans during his tenure on this earth. Vonnegut's cynicism presupposes that it is not only possible that humans SHOULD be nicer to each other, but the more electrifying belief that they actually CAN. If that isn't optimism, I don't know what is.

In closing, I can only hope that Vonnegut's understood importance grows. He was, undoubtedly, the first literary figure to truly captivate me. As this is the case, I am aware that I am prone to lionize the man and his work given its influence on me at a time during which I BEGGED for influence. Upon reading of his death, I had to admit some particular disappointment that he died old and weak and frail from brain injuries caused by a fall. As something of a hero, I would have initially hope for a romantic death. Even the natural progression of his "noble suicide" by Pall Mall to crippling lung cancer would have proven a more romantic death to me. But, upon further investigation, I am heartened that heroes of a sort still get to be weak and feeble and human and susceptible to falling down the stairs while advanced in age. His death demonstrates, as does his oeuvre, that we are all weak and feeble human beings and that no one is better or more entitled to a glorious death (or life for that matter) than anyone else. As with any example of just how fragile we are as human beings, there is an obvious sadness to how little we matter, but an equally huge relief: that which we do on earth makes us no less or no more human (and therefore fallible) than anyone else. Cheers to that equality.

Simply because I cannot resist the temptation, allow me to close thusly: Kurt is up in heaven now. So it goes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Put Yourself in My Shoes.

Say, for a second, you are me.

You live in Hell's Kitchen, on a rather unfashionable and grubby block of what is rapidly becoming a very fashionable and ungrubby neighborhood. You live in a dilapidated but serviceable tenement in the West 40s that is, mercifully, not full of the yuppies that seem to be conquering the neighborhood. That being said, you wish there was something that could be done about the mold on in your shower and that your bedroom were bigger.

You have a neighbor across the hall that is very friendly, but a bit manic. She is very chatty with you in the hallway and you've helped her with her groceries. You've even scooped up a dead mouse with snapped neck that was crippled in a trap in her kitchen because she is paralyzed with fear over mice. Mice are unavoidable in your building. Still, when you chat with this neighbor, you're never sure that you completely are communicating. You understand the words, but rarely the context in which they are said. It always seems to be completely non-sequitir small talk. You'll mention the weather, she'll complain about Mondays on a Wednesday. Also, her eyes are often bloodshot.

Imagine now, if you will, that she knocks on your door at 11:00PM on a Monday. You answer and she is particularly manic and in desperate need of aluminum foil. So much so that she even says, "I just need a little bit to, um, wrap something. I don't even care if its used!"

Would you conclude that she was a crackhead and needed tinfoil for a fix?

Yeah. Me too.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Seeming (and Seamy) Cloak of Anonymity.

In THE GREAT GATSBY, Fitzgerald notes, "I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."

New York City is a large party. Or it would be if you could afford for it to always be a party, and alas I cannot. That being said, the point here is still apropos. There is a definite privacy that comes with being around thousands of people at any given second. The streets of New York City provide a cloak of anonymity that provides one with a sense of privacy, and enables one to discuss any number of private and intimate matters while walking down the street. I'm no better as I've had frank discussions about sex, money, and all that which is deemed inappropriate dinner-party banter by the WASP-ish voice in my head while wandering through the streets of this town.

For the most part, no one cares what you say as long as it's not directed at you and you're not blocking the sidewalk. I, however, fancy myself somewhat writerly, and therefore pride myself on observation. This is, of course, horse shit as I A) have not published anything since high school nor actively sought publication and B) am really just an unrelenting voyeur. So I eavesdrop to a nauseating degree. Ordinarily nothing juicy is said, but today while walking down the 16th St. toward Union Square I heard, with all due awe, incredulity, and respect, a woman exclaim to another, "NINE AND A HALF INCHES?!"

Monday, April 2, 2007


I like how radiators look like spines from above.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blue Canary in the Outlet by the Lightswitch.

I don't care how old and embittered I get, I don't care how dated the production sounds, I don't care if it proves I was a really big dork in high school: LET IT BE KNOWN HERE AND NOW AND FOREVER MORE! "Birdhouse in Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants continues to be one of the best pop songs ever written. I will cut anyone who wishes to disagree. Ok, not cut. But soundly disagree with them.

There is great therapeutic qualities to listening to your favorite songs and albums from a decade or more ago. One will learn two things: 1) How much he/she has grown. 2) How the greatness of a specific song can outstand aging or even TIME itself. Seriously. Trust me.

Also, Frank Black's "Teenager of the Year" album will still carry water, no matter how many years have passed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Lean-Seeming Hunger Easily Mistaken for Ambition.

I have taken, of late, to walk home from work. I work in Union Square and live in Hell's Kitchen, so it makes for a pretty good walk. 40 minutes to an hour, depending on whether or not I stop in one of the funky little grocers on 9th Avenue in the 30s and 40s. It has become, possibly, the best part of my day each day. It's easy to forget or miss large chunks of this city by taking the subway. At least in Chicago I could look out the window as the trains were above ground 90% of the time and some neighborhood could pique my interest as I passed. Underground, New York looks all the same.

I get home feeling really invigorated for about fifteen minutes. I feel ambitious. Ready to accomplish things around my apartment. Alas, this wears off and I take a nap. Still. I save $2 in subway fare, so I suppose it's been valuable. And I've seen people argue on the sidewalks in too many languages to count. Thus, my advice: go for a nice long walk. Even if you don't live in New York. Hooray for walks!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Statistic of the Day: A Horrifying Look into the Numbers That Shape My Life

Absolutely TRUE statistic about my day today:

Today I consumed 88 ounces of black coffee and I listened to over 8 hours of public radio. Terrifying reality: this is true MOST days.

My previous favorite personal statistic was a trip to the grocery store in which my old roommate and I purchased:

72 Cans of Beer
30 Rolls of Toilet Paper
4lbs. of unshelled peanuts.

When you add up the numbers, it's amazing I'm still alive.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

On Oliver Sacks, Music, the Brain et al.

So on a hot tip from an old friend, I took the trek up to Columbia University to see Oliver Sacks speak on his new book about music and neurobiology. I cannot help but find Sacks uniquely palatable as scientists go, in that he treads that middle-brow road like Malcolm Gladwell is to sociology and social psychology. I can handle the heavy-duty sociology, having something of a background in it, but I don't know much about the brain so, Sacks' populist approach to it (complete with layman language and witty asides).

He was introduced by a seemingly affable doofus named Eric Kandel. I ran into both in the men's room prior, I knew it was Sacks, but had no idea who the doofus with bow tie was as he genuflected toward Sacks about what an honor it was to introduce him. I later learned he's a Nobel Laureate. You think with the prize money and recognition Kandel would learn to wear at least a less audacious bow tie, but if you're a Nobel Laureate, I suppose you are entitled to where what you damn well please. Gabriel Garcia Marquez could speak to me while wearing thong panties and an orange cardigan and I'd still listen with rapt attention. Praise wins you credibility amongst the unwashed masses which, in turn, affords you just about any level of contrived idiosyncrasy you wish. To Kandel's credit, after a few minutes of praising the institution that pays his bills, he had a few subtly cutting barbs at the expense of now deposed Harvard president Lawrence Sommers, and I always appreciate those, as he is a sexist, classist dick.

Anyway, the gist of Sacks' talk was on music and the brain. I am interested in both, so it was captivating to say the least. Additionally, it was nice to go out to a lecture again after lo these many years of my not being able to attend such things due to work schedule, laziness, lack of accessibility, poverty, et al. The questions that arose in my mind, however, were of a critical nature. Partially, I think, due to my general belief that it is important, even as an unwashed pleb, to question the methods and results of the intelligensia, and partially due to my general tendency toward rancor these few days. Firstly, the focus seemed to be on classical music. All of Sacks' case studies were specifically motivated toward patients' reactions to or passions for classical music given any number of neurological anomalies. Fine, all well and good, but what about jazz, if nothing else? Jazz is a cognitively complex style of music too, damnit! Then again I give Sacks some slack as he is in his 70s and has been entrenched in the academy for a long time. Those snooty types rarely cut loose.

Additionally, there was a surprising level of tension between Kandel and Sacks on stage. It was subtle, but Kandel referred to Sacks as a "public intellectual," which is a sneering barb often directed at folks like Howard Zinn. What it means is, "I resent you because you sell books and cater toward a more populist audience as opposed to writing the sort of highly specific gibberish that only I and those of my elite club of neuroscientists/physicists/historians/whatever can understand." My stance is both roles are important and given that it was an event for Mr. Sacks, Mr. Kandel would have done well to keep mum during the question and answer session as opposed to interjecting with his highly specified critiques to all of Sacks' answers to, what were quite frankly rather insipid, questions from the peanut gallery.

On the other hand, what maybe fascinated me the most about Sacks' lecture was his discussion of "amusia," which is a condition in which an individual is incapable of deriving pleasure or understanding or even any comprehension with regards to music. One of the case-studies Sacks told of said that listening to, say, Bach was tantamount to listening to one "bang the pots and pans in [her] kitchen around." I can only imagine how awful and alienating a disorder this can be. It strikes me as worse than being blind or deaf or any specific sensory disorder because physically all the capacities are there, it's the understanding and comprehension that lacks. Additionally, were I to suffer from amusia, I would--I'm sure--be exhausted by everyone telling me about that on which I was missing out. For all music to be noise is like having all flavors bitter or all colors drab or I dunno...being able to orgasm, but sensing it with the same lack of feeling that one might generally associate with a handshake. I thank the lord that I can be passionate about music, even if I don't understand the musical theory behind a given piece nor why my brain receives and interprets it the way it does. Some joys are fine just as simple, beautiful mysteries. Legitimate aesthetic response is simple, beautiful mystery and the world and any individual in it needs as many simple, beautiful mysteries as possible. There are far too few in the human experience; I'd rather not lose any.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Hey! Who's in the garage!?"

I get a LOT of wrong numbers. I have a Chicago number for my cell phone and am loathe to change it for fear of having to then deal with telling everyone I've ever known that I have changed it. So, I continue to get a lot of wrong numbers from Chicagoans.

The most frequent are calls for The Family Medical Network, a subsidiary of the Resurrection Health Services of Chicago. My number is FOUR digits off from there and I know this because my old doctor in Chicago was part of this network. (Funny story: Co-Pay checks for his office were to be made payable to "Resurrection Services," which I thought was a pretty ambitious claim for an MD. "Doctor, quick! Get the Lazarus device!")

These tend to be dull. Tonight, however, I got a perturbed woman who wanted to know, "Hey! Who's in the garage?!"

Nobody here but us chickens.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bitter lamentation of one who is frustrated by hipsterdom (but secretly kinda wants to be a part of it.).

Things bicycles are:

1) A means of transportation.

End List.

Things bicycles are not:

1) A political statement.
2) A fashion accessory.
3) A lifestyle choice.
4) A hipster-phallus extension.
5) Anything other than a fun and healthy way to get around.

Get over it. You WILL NOT change the world by welding bike frames together and going to critical masses. If you wish to change the world, quit wasting your time feeling superior to those around you because you built your own fixie and join a goddamn non-profit or volunteer for a campaign or even write a goddamn poem. The power IS NOT BETWEEN YOUR LEGS, jackass. Were there to be any power in you, it would be located between your ears. Alas, perhaps your image-consciousness has blinded you to that.

Also...that mustache looks silly. So do those girl-jeans.

I am cantankerous grump, I know. Also, the cool kids rarely ask me to come out and play.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Nap time.

Take a nap. Indulge in the olfactory narcissism of finding the smell of your pillow uniquely appealing and comforting. Unwrap, unwind, slip away. Sure, at some point you'll have to come back and it will all still be here, but for 20, 30, 40 minutes in a day, there is room for a brief respite from the attendant demands of selfhood.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Universal Truths. (or at least, I think they are....)

1) Andy Dick is not funny. Nope. Not even a little bit.
2) Jonathan Safran-Foer is overrated. VERY overrated.
3) David Foster Wallace is NOT.
4) The Food Emporium on 42nd St. and 10th Ave. is, apparently, run by drunken chimps who don't know shit about produce.
5) Andy Dick is still not funny. Not even his last name.
6) NPR is the last worthwhile broadcast news outlet in the United States.
7) Barack Obama could well become president, as long as people stop spending all their time and energy telling everyone that he can't.
8) Peter Francis Geraci is the most important litigator of his time.
9) I really ought to be asleep right now.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

New Word!

Interrobang! An interrobang is the delightful combination of the exclamation point and the question mark. If ever a new punctuation mark was necessary, it is this one. When written, it looks vaguely runic, but far less clunky than "?!". Sadly, the blogger typeface does not allow me to type one, so you'll have to look for it at a typeface near you.

Combining this with my quibbling over addressing letters in New York it's amazing that A) I ever managed to hold down gainful employment B) I have ever known the touch of a woman. For those curious, I have blissfully enjoyed both, thank you very much!

Just the sort of quotidian minutiae that concerns me and keeps me from more pressing matters...

I have been sending out an almost unfathomable number resumes (EDITORIAL NOTE: I don't know how to put the damn accents in on this blogger, please forgive me) and cover letters over the past few months. As of yet, I do not have full time employment. Perhaps my distraction by niggling details such as this keep me from actually doing enough to get my ass hired. Regardless, I am disheartened by the lack of standardization in the style with which one writes an address in New York City.

For example, I have seen an address such as the one for the Hunter College School of Social Work written the following ways:

129 E. 79th St.
129 East 79th Street
129 East Seventy-Ninth Street
129 East 79th St.
And any and all other permutations thereof.

I, myself, have chosen to write the direction out and abbreviate the street, because I have felt most comfortable with that. Regardless, in Chicago there was a defined system. I used to work at 25 E. Jackson Blvd. The direction was ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS abbreviated, as was the street. Numbered streets on the South Side were ALWAYS written numerically. New York seems to have NO standards. Is there a New York style guide I failed to receive upon crossing the GW in my Budget Rental truck? Moreover, why should I give a good goddamn about such minor things? Yet it bugs me, nonetheless.

It's a good thing no one else reads this. I don't know who but me could be interested in such things. Don't even get me started on the hyphenated street numbers for addresses in Queens, either...I have no idea WHAT the hell they mean.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Art School Toilet Humor.

I am temping, currently, at the New School. Bohemian such as it is, I am heartened by any institution whose bathroom graffiti send me to a dictionary in order to decipher their wit.

(EDITORIAL NOTE: For those who wish to quibble about number agreement in the previous sentence, "graffiti" is a plural noun. JUST LIKE "DATA!" One piece of graffiti is a graffito, one item of data is a datum. And I am an elitist ass for knowing so. Somewhere, however, my paternal grandmother is smiling upon me for knowing these things. Of course, the rest of my blog is stained with the red ink of judgment from beyond the grave, for all my previous usage and grammatical errors. C'est la vie.)

That being said the graffito in particular that caught my attention was a drawing of two Pac Men, seemingly drawn by different hands at different times. A response to the other. What I can only assume was the original was a Pac Man simply asking, "Precarity?" The adjacent Pac Man responded, "INDEED!" Additionally, the responding Pac Man--drawn in purple--had gigantic, sharp teeth like a child's drawing of a dinosaur. Initially, I figured that "precarity" as a mistake, when really the author wanted "precariousness." Ok, so I'm playing like I'm really friggin' smart in my blog. I was PRETTY SURE that the noun form of "precarious" was "precariousness," awkward a word though it may be. I, however, second guess myself constantly, so I looked it up. What I learned is that, rather than misusing "precarity," the creator of this particular tag is much more clever than me. Instead, it's something of a neo-Marxist statement about labor. According to the good folks at Wikipedia, "Precarity has been adopted in leftist circles as the English-language equivalent of Precariedad, Précarité, Precarietà, terms of everyday usage in Latin countries that refer to the widespread condition of temporary, flexible, contingent, casual, intermittent work in postindustrial societies, brought about by the neoliberal labor market reforms that have strengthened the right to manage and the bargaining power of big and small employers since the 1980s." ( ) Hence, I suppose, the teeth on the respondent's Pac Man.

Regardless, this particular bit of bathroom art packed a particular poignancy for me as I saw it while taking a shit on my lunch break at a woefully underpaying temp job. Irony? Nay. PROPHECY!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Global Warming.

So, I was on my lunch break today. It is a balmy 20 degrees in New York City today, with wind gusts topping 40 miles per hour. As I stepped out to buy a cup of coffee, I was accosted by two canvassers who were trying to get people to donate money to a cause to help fight global warming. Given the weather today, all I can imagine is that these guys have heard a LITANY of the lamest global warming jokes ALL DAY DAY LONG. "I could use some global warming now, HAR HAR HAR!"

Luckily, even though I am loathe to pass up low-hanging fruit when it comes to humor, I was able to resist the initial urge as it worked its way through my brain. I tell ya. That sort of temperance is a sign of maturity.

I was young and needed the money.

So, I moved to New York in late November and things have not gone as planned, per se. I have spent the past two-plus months unemployed, and only in the last couple of weeks have I washed up on the margins of employment: temping. At a scant $11 an hour for dreary data entry, and given that this temp job only came about last week, I have spent a fair amount of time looking for other avenues to generate some cashflow.

Frustrated with feeble attempts to sell my labor, I first looked into selling my body. Not quite ready to Midnight Cowboy it up (I still have some pride), I looked into selling stuff I produced in abundance. Sadly, no one wanted my gutter Pollack blood, nor my gutter Pollack sperm.

At an impasse, I feebly wandered the "gigs" section hoping something would arise. Very quickly, I learned that unlike my blood or semen, there WAS a market for my gutter Pollack opinions. No market for my body, but plenty of market for my soul. AND THAT'S HOW I JOINED A FOCUS GROUP!

For $85, I spent two hours discussing a brand of ROT GUT brandy (that shall remain nameless) that is more commonly associated with men warming their hands on garbage fires under highway underpasses than it is with, say, snifters and cigars. They're looking to class-up their image. That's why they called ME in. Well, me and several other middle class males aged 21-35. (We're a good demographic.)

So, after work I road the 4 train up from Union Square to Grand Central, to go to Focus Suites (slogan: "Our focus is on YOU!") on Lexington Ave. and 41st St. After being screened in the lobby, having my ID checked, and being ushered through a turnstile (recorded by video cameras all the way), I took an elevator up to Floor 13. Entering the Focus Suites was something like being in a juror pool. They took my name and assigned me a specific color for your specific focus group. I then sat in this holding pen, with all the other colored groups awaiting word from whomever was conducting your particular focus group. Luckily, unlike jury duty, they had refreshments! For free! If there's one lesson I've learned on this earth, it is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS abuse free swag when it's offered. Two little sandwiches, three cups of coffee, and a couple of tasty Danish butter cookies later, the green group was called. For some reason unknown to me, two guys from our group were bumped at the last second. I wonder if they were still paid without participating. If so, I'm insane with jealousy. Some guys get all the breaks.

We were ushered down the hall, our party consisting of a very tired (and possibly stoned--very bloodshot eyes and quick to chuckle at anything) Asian man in his mid 30s; an effeminate 20-something business consultant of mixed racial heritage; a very angry and tired looking Latino man in his early 20s; a very tall and charmingly disinterested African-American student in his early 20s; an incredibly relaxed, saracastic African American tow-truck driver from Queens in his 30s; an African American middle manager with a garish take on business attire (pinkie rings, gaudy paisley tie, cream pinstripe pants, vibrant blue shirt...imagine if Superfly worked at a bank and was TRYING to tone it down, but not quite succeeding...); a white, late 20s airline agent with several bracelets of the "Livestrong!" variety, 5 o'clock shadow, and spikey hair, who seemed to find himself VERY amusing; and ME, an out of work, college educated whiteboy from the country whose allowed his embitteredness to take over in venues such as this.

We assembled ourselves around a board room table and the first thing I noticed was the obvious one-way mirror that comprised the whole of the back wall. It was corporate-board-room-meets-store-managers-office-that-you-got-dragged-to-in-Kmart-when-you-got-caught-shoplifting-GI-Joes-when-you-were-nine. The nice thing, though, was on the sidebar....there were more cookies and coffee! And the classiest touch of Focus Suites was that rather than having chintzy, environmentally unsound styrofoam cups, they had honest to God stoneware mugs (all of which reminded me that their "focus is [me]"). Hanging above the board room table were several microphones, and we were instructed to direct our name placards toward our facilitator. Coincidentally, this also pointed them right at the one-way mirror, behind which, it was immediately apparent to me, stood the corporate toadies. Watching our every move. No doubt taking very bland notes peppered with bland and meaningless buzzwords like "actualized consumer," and "new market potential" and other things so specific and dreary I couldn't hope to know or understand them.

Sitting at the head of the table was Ron, an African-American man in his mid-fifties. He was, at least in the beginning, likeable enough. Corpulent, slightly amusing. There was a hint of Al Sharpton about his appearance, but if Al Sharpton had taken a different turn and began conducting focus groups. He was decidedly less "corporate" than I had expected. He wore a sweater and slacks and looked comfortable, letting his sizeable belly hang slack. There were no ostentatious flashes of wealth about him or even about projecting "standardized norms of professionalism." His language seemed generally genuine, with only a few brief moments of that syrupy ersatz-sincerity that is the hallmark of the contemporary corporate world. Still, he straddled that awkward position of trying to be both professional/corporate while still being streetwise/accessible/charming. That being said, he rang a lot truer than most people I have met who were acting on behalf of a corporate interest. So much so that he hardly masked his disdain for certain members of the group (read: me) as the evening went on, but there's more on that later. Regardless, I'd rather him dislike me than continually flashing the Pepsodent smile and nodding vigorously with faux interest at everything I said.

After a perfunctory round of demographic collection--names, ages, occupations--around the table, we settled into discussing booze. QUESTION: What was the last brown spirit YOU purchased? Quickly it was determined that I was the only scotch drinker in the room. That's fine, I'm one of the few scotch drinkers under sixty. This, however, was the first step in determining my continued irrelevance to the advertising agency that was handling this paint thinner of a booze. Nope, they were into brandy. Brandy that is shamefully marketed toward poor and working class African Americans. HOWEVER, they are undergoing an image campaign, so it became abundantly clear that the upshot of the ad campaign was that this particular NEW, FANCY, UPSCALE version of drinkable kerosene was a tool, apparently, of upward mobility.

We began to look at possible print advertisements for this particular booze. Always in groups of two, always similar in theme, always eerily sepia in color, presumably to mimic the color of the brandy? All of the ads but one featured young, attractive black people who were appearing varying states of upper class, in spite of the fact that this brandy (I was made aware by my African American focus group brethren) is, in Harlem, generally associated with paper bags and panhandling. (I was unaware. Most of the poor drunks in Chicago drink malt liqour.) One set of ads featured a white male, 20-30s, adjusting his cufflinks. He had the far off, distant smile that is ONLY found in alcohol and tobacco ads, as though he was transcending the quotidian anguish and ennui by being A) rich and chic and B) by drinking shitty brandy that was posing as something better. The caption read, "Graduate to X.O." (X.O. being the new, shmancy version of this swill.) It's counterpart featured a picture of hiphop artist Cee-Lo (to people as unaware of contemporary hip hop as me, the short, squat, bald guy of Gnarls Barkley fame) wearing an ostentations white linen double-breasted suit, complete with muted pin-stripes, a silk tie as wide as a soccer field, and a tri-folded pocket square. It screamed hip-hop ostentation.

Something about these ads offended me. They flicked the guilty, white, liberal node in the deep recesses of my brain. I could not put my finger on preciscely why, but I found these ads racist. I suppose it was that they were contextless. Needless to say, had I been reading the New Yorker, I wouldn't have found the bourgeois honky all that surprising. Nor would I find Cee-Lo surprising in Vibe any number of youth or black-targeted publications. Which is precisely WHY I found them vaguely racist. Because, immediately, I could pick just which publications these ads might be in. I knew their correct context. They both were targeted narratives of upward mobility, targeted racially. With booze as a symbol, and even cause, of status.

Moreover, there was no subtlty to their fallacies of upward mobility. It reminds me of a joke wherein a black man rubs a lamp, finds a genie, and wishes to be "White, up tight, and outta sight!" He is, of course, turned into a tampon. Still, the ad with the white man is an aloof, exquisitely, yet simply, dressed man who is ignoring the camera while smiling a transcendent smile of arrogance and exclusion. As if he knows something that you don't, and it has to do with his superiority.

On the other side, the black symbol of upward mobility was an entertainer. He's garishly dressed demanding attention. This is a continual fallacy of black upward mobility. Entertainment is the only way up, and once one gets there, be sure to wear your wealth ostentatiously on your sleeve! I suppose it plays into an opinion I have, and one I often keep mute for fear of being accused of racism. That being said, I will out with it. I think consumerism is being sold to Black America in a way that does a great disservice both culturally and economically. Look at the ostentation of Sean Combs or Russell Simmons or any number of African American athletes. I am not passing judgment. These people are as much a product of this "get-rich-or-die-trying" aesthetic as they are perpetrators of it. It's just...there's a big focus on getting rich and showing it off in contemporary hip-hop culture...and I cannot help but feel like corporate marketers PREY on this mercilessly.

It struck me part way through that this brandy probably had NO intention of ever being sold to wealthy people. Oh no, far more insidiously, I think their plan was to convince their usual poor customer base to spend five extra dollars a bottle on this X.O. rot gut so they CAN FEEL AS THOUGH they're partying with Jay-Z. It's the same thought I've had about Mountain Dew's EXTREME SPORTS ad campaign. I realized at one point, that they have no intention of getting snowboarders to DO THE DEW. Oh no, they just want the fat-compulsively-masturbating-35-
year-old-virgin-who-still-lives -in-his-mom's- basement-and -plays-D&D- every-weekend base to FEEL like badasses by drinking that stomach-pickling antifreeze.

So, I put a toe in the water. I hinted about the difference in the representations of race. THIS quickly made me a non-entity to Ron throughout the rest of the evening. He DID NOT find it funny when I waved at the men on the other side of the glass. He didn't even let me discuss the tension between flirtation and seduction I saw in the last pair of ads. Which is fine. I was of no use to them, and they were certainly of no use to me.

What I appreciated is most of the people in the group were only there for the money. Most of us saw right through the bullshit. But...there was one the end who actually said, "I dunno...I think I may go buy a bottle of this X.O. They've really stepped up their game..." I didn't know if I wanted to slap him...or cry for the millions of Americans who are so blissfully sold to. Put a new image on the same schlocky bill of goods, and someone will show up, cash in hand.

Still... $85 is pretty good money for a scant two hours of frustration.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Self Discovery is a Crock.

Catchy title, huh?

I don't mean to say that we can't learn about ourselves. Self-discovery, it seems to me, is a process and very legitimate, but there is no terminal point. The only person guaranteed to every be continually surprising is one's own self. Sometimes I'm surprised, even, by how unsurprising I am in certain moments. To say I've learned a lot about myself of late would be an understatement, but to say that I've reached any concrete understanding is so far from reality tha it's laughable.

Life and thought and selfhood is never one thing. It's myriad aspects, thoughts, aspirations, frustrations, questions, emotions all flying a once. Suffice it to say that this is a cheesy cliche, but I'm willing to bear the burden of talking in cliches, should they prove to be true.

I seem to remember something in a literature class in college about how the high-modernists (Faulkner, Joyce, et al) were focussed on the self. On understanding the self. The post-modernists, if I recall correctly, tended to be more focussed on the obliteration of the self.
My Marxist synthesis of these two is that we try to understand the self, but the self is already obliterated. Or rather, that it never hung together as a ONE in the first place. Our brains are very Dada places. Or mine is. It's merely a loose amalgamation of knowledge, experience, pain, joy, love, hate, et al, et al, LOOSELY tied together by spit and used chewing gum and ego.

Hence, I often sit and think, "What am I thinking at this moment? What am I feeling?" So rarely do I get any sort of concrete answer.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What an Exciting Town!

I just stepped out to see two prostitutes and a John getting busted by the always valiant NYPD. How exciting!

We had hookers in my neighborhood in Chicago, too. It's just that the cops didn't really come to my neighborhood.

I feel bad for the two women involved. I saw them allowing a search of their vehicle on sight, which I have learned ANYTHING in my 24 years... YOU NEVER CONSENT TO A SEARCH WITHOUT A WARRANT. EVER. NEVER EVER.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Must be gettin' old...

...or hangin' out in the wrong crowd. I just realized I have more friends in grad school than I do who are in rock bands. That didn't used to be so.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dispatch from an Island off the Coast of America

I live on an island off the coast of America. I wish I could take pseudonym for the isle of Manhattan, but alas, I am cribbing from Spalding Gray. I crib because I love however; it kicks the shit out of "The Big Apple."

There is something outside of America about New York City. It IS American in many ways--some of the worst, if you've ever walked through Times Square on a Saturday--but it's self-consciously made itself an "other." I both love and hate this.

I hail from a region where Chicago was the platonic ideal of city. As Nelson Algren once noted, "Living in Chicago is like being married to a woman with a black eye: there may be lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real." I do miss that hog butcher of a town. Much of what I love about it is its perfect balance of provinciality and cosmopolitanism. I miss working class taverns on every corner (and, yes, bridges that smell of chocolate, too.) The working class seems missing from this town. Sure in the outer reaches of the outer boroughs, but for the most part Manhattan seems to be the playground of the hoi polloi.

On the other hand, there's so much going on here. It's hard not to romanticize the culture of New York. The desire to be seen while pretending you don't care that you're being seen. The desire to be hip without seeming. But what's truly great about New York are the few people who are NOT self-conscious. Those who you see on the subway who are truly presenting whomever they are without the cockiness of the MANY who are trying to hard. I dunno...I ramble. To bed for me. Tomorrow is another work day.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ah, New York, New York! It's a hell of a (parody of a?) town...

So...I started blogging. And my initial intention was to avoid first-person accounts of my life...but the hilarity of my situation was too glaring.

I swear to God, I'm living in a poorly written, hackneyed, cliche movie/play/book ABOUT being a 24 year old to New York. Thus far I've had the obvious heartbreak, the expected urban isolation, the over-the-top poverty. I feel like I might just bust out into song, musical-style at any moment. "I'm just a humble small-town boy...from the rural Midwest! But I've moved to the big, big city to make my fortune. I didn't know it would go like this!"

Seriously. I live in a tiny, railroaded tenement apartment. I'm trying to write. My roommate writes music. We're very "New York" in a way that I find both charming and troubling.

We have a bathroom that's smaller than most bathtubs; we fight a war of attrition against mice.

I do not, after two months of trying, have a job. Instead, I start temping on Tuesday.

The woman across the hall is afraid of mice in a way that I thought was reserved only for black and white sitcoms. She gives me coffee. I, in trade, pick up mice off her floor in various stages of death.

I haven't seen Rent (good God, why would I want to? Lord knows I've heard the goddamn songs when my brother was into it in high school...), but I have a hunch this is how the first act goes. Seriously. It's time to start a novel so I can tell people that, "I'm a writer. I just temp to pay the bills!" I can become THAT guy in this town full of THAT guy.

It's uncomfortable to be trapped in a cliche. But have it be real. Every morning when I wake up. (Ok, ok...AFTERNOON when I wake up.)

What a joke. It makes me want to drink, but I can't afford to. Yay, poverty! Hooray for accidentally healthy livers!

Well...Act I and II of my New York parody seem to be almost's intermission. After the break I'll either A) learn a valuable lesson, B) ride off into the sunset, or C) get cancer.

Monday, January 8, 2007

David Bowie Turns 60 Today!!!

Oh, David! You put the "sex" in sexagenarian!

Five Great Songs to Listen to While Walking Around Manhattan in the Rain

1.) Tom Traubert's Blues by Tom Waits
2.) Days of Wine and Booze by The Minus Five/Wilco
3.) Jacking the Ball by The Sea and Cake
4.) Stay Out of Trouble by The Kings of Convenience
5.) ANYTHING with both Django Reinhart and Stephane Greppalli (seriously, you'll feel like in you're in a Woody Allen movie...a good one, Annie Hall or Manhattan)

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. I'm looking for suggestions.

A Musical Assertion

I have been listening to some old Simon and Garfunkel this evening. I have an assertion to make: if "groovy' were not such a hopelessly cheesy and dated word, Simon and Garfunkel's song "Feelin' Groovy" would be a timeless pop hit. It's hooky as shit, yo. And Art's castrati harmonies are infectious like ebola.

Got Myself a Brand New Blog!

Hi. I decided to start blogging. Too many cobwebs in my brain, need to rid myself of clutter. Here goes.