Monday, October 30, 2006

The C-Word (Or, Druthering Heights)

At some point after college, I started answering the easy, getting to know you question "Where did you grow up?" with the one-word answer: Cleveland. It was an upgrade of sorts to my previous, more accurate response: Kent, Ohio.

Cleveland is only about 30 miles from Kent - less than an hour's drive - so it was only a slight stretch of the truth. The switch to the C-Word also eliminated the word "Ohio" from my answer. Despite the fact that Ohio is just to the left of Pennsylvania, a frightening number of Americans get confused when they hear the word spoken aloud. The multiple vowels throw some into a tizzy - reminding them of their geography quiz shortcomings ("is that Idaho? Indiana? Iowa?"), blending them into one long-I sound, cascading over one large corn field.

At the time I started using the C-Word, I was living in Boston - a place well known for being xenophobic, to say the least. Bostonians are native-born or nothing at all: they consider people from neighboring Connecticut freakish and rude (they're nearly New Yorkers, after all) and Rhode Islanders ethnic to an extreme. So, my saying "Cleveland" quickly and bluntly to the "Where'd you grow up...blah blah" question turned into a sort of defense strategy against Boston's offensive social "graces".

Say what you will about New York, but Boston is an intensely rude city. Natives don't mean to be rude, but they're frugal when it comes to the lighter emotions. They just don't throw them around, using them up for any old occasion. It's not in their nature to help themselves to the glorious, giddy buffet known to the rest of the world as politeness or G-d forbid, "being nice" for no reason at all.

For example, when I first moved to Boston, my ex and I went into the massive Lord & Taylor department store looking for furntiure. Considering the size of the store, it seemed like the kind of place that might have anywhere from several to thousands of bookcases lying around for sale.

Entering the store, I slid on my most midwestern nice-guy persona and approached the first saleswoman I encountered: a seemingly meek, sort of dusty looking gray-haired matron at one of the fragrance counters.

"Excuse me, does this store have a furniture department?" I asked. I smiled at her, giving her my best isn't-he-a-nice-boy routine.

The matron gave my ex and me the once over, rolled her eyes, and sighed heavily as if she could not be bothered. She then bellowed in a husky, whiskey-at-coffee-break voice:

"Lord and Taylor hasn't sold furniture since 1963."

She left me no choice - I had to drop the Midwestern act.

"I'm sorry to bother you," I replied. "But we weren't alive in 1963."

To prevent these sort of situations, I developed a chilly front. I learned to answer questions quickly with the least amount of detail. So, "I grew up in Kent, Ohio - where Kent State is" turned into: Cleveland.

Once I moved to New York, I still used the Cleveland answer - but something different started to happen. This started to happen:

"OMIGOD! Are you from SHAKER! I know lots of people from SHAKER!"

The "shaker" being referred to here is not a kitchen utensil or a sexy epileptic. "Shaker" is short for "Shaker Heights" arguably one of Cleveland's most affluent suburbs, which seemingly exports its entire young adult population to Manhattan every year. Even when I dropped the Cleveland routine and started just saying "Ohio", there would still be the unavoidable whelp of: "SHAKER! OMIGOD SHAKER!" on more occasions that I would have liked.

The best/worst of these six degrees of separation moments came a number of years ago at a business meeting. I worked for a small design firm at the time and a few colleagues and I were at a large publishing company for a series of design reviews. Before the largest of the meetings began, the topic of "where'd you grow up..." came up as one of those smells-of-corporate-horse shit moments as the perennially loathed "icebreaker".

Fearing an "OMIGOD SHAKER!" moment, when it was my turn to speak, I went for the most specific option: "I'm from Kent, Ohio."

Across the massive boardroom table somewhere in the sea of client faces, a demurely Midwestern voice wailed: "That means, you're a ROUGH RIDER!"

I'm sure I turned purple.

Everyone burst into laughter and suddenly I felt like everyone had a fully detailed, annotated account of my sexual history in front of them. Instead of the meeting's notes, they all had a triple-X rated booklet entitled They Call Him T-Bone: Mr. Messersmith is a Rough Rider!, complete with full-color photos and a fold-out centerfold detailing my rough ridin' technique.

"I totally grew up in Aurora, Ohio." the voice continued through giggles. I looked up to see a pert, Cameron Diazy blonde woman in her late 20s in a twin set and pearls. "We used to play your school in Field Hockey."

As soon as the room stopped spinning, I composed my embarrassed self well enough to explain that Kent's high school was named after Theodore Roosevelt and that our school mascot was the "Roosevelt Rough Rider" named in honor of the fighting crew he lead in the Spanish-American War.

The laughter in the room subsided, but I could still feel a sort of jokey hey, stud vibe in the room. Luckily, the blonde from Aurora left her job shortly after that, so I wouldn't have to bear the heat of the "get it, get it, rough rider" comment ever again.

I guess there is power in the C-word after all.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Love Will Keep Us Together (Or, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Again)

John Cameron Mitchell's new film Shortbus is something of a revelation.

The movie received a lot of hype - even during its production phase - due to one thing: the actors perform live sex in the film. For this reason, I was a little wary of seeing it, since this use of XXX sex seemed like something of a stunt.

I realize now, after seeing Shortbus, that my initial reaction was born out of one thing: my own (lowered) expectations in terms of cinematic sex. Hollywood has commodified sexuality to the point of abstraction. We, as movie goers, see so much sex on screen, yet most of it is unreal and deeply unhuman. It has no relationship to us - it in fact has no relationship to anything at all (except for perhaps, a chase scene or a plot point that needs advancing).

Shortbus, while skirting around the darker sides of sex (obsession, jealousy, etc.) marches fully into the lightness, thrill, and (sorry) joy of sex. It focuses on sex's ability to bring humans together in ways that nothing else can. For that reason, watching sex in Shortbus isn't pornographic or even mildy titilating - it is wholly illuminating.

The sex isn't about sex; the sex is about salvation.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

One Whole Ass (Or, Unnecessary Less-Than Pithy Witticisms)

Tuesday night I was at the end of my block, about to hail a cab. One was already pulled over at the curb at the corner, but I couldn't tell if someone had just entered it, so I looked for another to come down Seventh Avenue. The door of the waiting cab opened - a good sign, since I was about to be running late.

Two uppity, well heeled gays got out of the cab - one was screaming some rather embarassing, racially charged epithets, the other angrily stomping away. To end the tirade, the screamer grabbed his crotch and yelled: "Suck my dick and go back to India you cocksucking mother fucker!"

I wasn't sure if I should get in this newly vacant, cocksucking cab - but my lateness got the best of me.

I got in the cab and gave the driver a once over. After going through a quick mental diagnosis (was he foaming at the mouth? was he nude from the waist down? was he sitting in a pool of his own waste? was he listening to conservative talk radio?), I figured it was worth a shot.

"What was that about?" I asked.

The cab driver sighed heavily. "There was a little old lady waiting there at the corner and they pushed her out of the way to get this cab. I told them they were rude men."

My inner Midwesterner went into a wild panic: did I just double cabjack this poor little old lady?

"Um, was she still waiting there?"

"Oh, no. She got another cab. I don't like rude people, and I didn't want those assholes in my cab."

My inner Midwesterner, still cranking overtime, overtipped like an Upper East Side matron when the cab finally dropped me off at my destination.

I could only think of my sweetly altruistic cabbie: boy, do you ever have an uphill climb.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Best of Everything (Or, Giving Mildred Pierce Realness)

On exiting the gym yesterday morning, I was nearly knocked to the ground by an FBQ* doing her best attempt at the You-better-believe-I'm- beautiful-goddammit faux model stomp. Barrelling down Eighth Avenue like her ass was on fire, she was wearing a chunky grey wool sweater with huge shoulder pads belted at the waist, grey wool slacks, grey cowboy boots, and grey leather gloves. Rounding out the look was a Louis Vuitton-or-is-that-Coco-Canal portfolio clutch.

I could only imagine the inner voice driving this all-too ingenue-in-The Best of Everything attitude down the street:

"I'm going to get that job. Then, later today, I'm renting myself an affordable, furnished studio apartment. After that I'll hit the town - I'll snag an investment banker before 8. When that falls apart for the usual reasons, I'm going to have an illicit affair with my boss that I'll regret in Act Three. I am flawless. I am taking Manhattan by storm - and I just arrived this morning!"

Regaining a sense of balance after the near fall, I noticed that Miss FBQ was cutting quite the swath down the avenue, turning the heads of even the most jaded New Yorkers. Everyone from elderly ladies shuffling into the bagel shop to those waxy dudes that hand out the flyers for the newly arrived, yet highly mysterious art of eyebrow threading were dead in their tracks.

Miss FBQ stomped out of sight shortly after that. The shoulder pads and brisk sense of self were gone forever.

Now that I think about it, I should take back everything about The Best of Everything attitude.

That was all a lie.

I'm sure my dear friend Miss FBQ was really channeling something from the Mildred Pierce School of Mannered Womanhood - something a little more like this:

"I'm going to liquidate all of my assests for my bitch daughter. Later today, I'm going to turn the other cheek when she fucks my husband. After that, I'll buy her a new car because I'm afraid she won't love me otherwise. I am a successful business woman after all and I can afford these things until Act Three, when I realize my asshole husband - the one dicking my bitch daughter - has stolen all my money. Today, I am taking Manhattan by storm - if only I hadn't left my pistol in my other pocketbook."

*FBQ = Fierce Black Queen

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Yes and No (Or, All Tomorrow's Parties Are, Like, History)

The first time I saw the teaser trailer for Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, I was beyond excited. The mad rush of beautiful imagery flowing over New Order's "Age of Consent" had me more than a little giddy. The combination of these elements screamed one great thing to me: someone has finally picked up where the great Derek Jarman left off.

I thought that someone had made a truly fantastic and modern mash up film about a historical figure everyone loves to hate.

A few weeks after seeing the trailer in the theater, I found it online, downloaded it, and would show it to just about everyone who came over to my apartment.

The film opened Friday - and I (insert your choice of adverb here: nerdily, retardedly, geekily) had to see it that afternoon. Twenty mintues into the film I realized my initial giddiness was all for naught.

It seems I was terribly wrong.

Marie Antoinette is a thoroughly flawed film - it amounts to a very detailed yet light account of the doomed Queen. While incredibly beautiful to watch, it lacks the kick I expected it to have (and the kick it needed to work effectively).

The film has hints of greatness (read: it has hints of Derek Jarman - but not enough of him), but it required a far more aggressive take than Coppola provides (or perhaps, was able to provide). I think that Coppola's gut instinct was right - to give Marie Antoinette a more identifiable, contemporary personality - but she lets it (and everything resembling narrative) fall short. A sort of Californian flatness (is Coppola judging her main character? is she envious? is she just into the shoes?) pervades here - as does the lack of a strong point of view.

Put another way, the insertion of one (much discussed) Converse sneaker and the use of a handful of great British pop songs from the 1980s does not equate anything close to radical cinema.

As the saying goes, if you choose to break rules, you should break them hard.

P.S. More than one reviewer has referred to the music used in Marie Antoinette as "Lots of Fun!" Gosh, now that you mention it, starvation, over-taxation, and rebellion are "Fun!" too. Too bad Coppola forgot to put those in the all.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sympathy For the Devil, Part 2 (Or, That Unfortunate Business of Timing)

The "second" Truman Capote movie, Infamous, opened in theaters last week.

Much has been written about this film coming too close on the heels of last year's Capote - but the thing is this: it's much better and more accurate than the "first" Truman Capote film.

Infamous is much truer to the spirit of Capote - in all his fluttery, queeny, bitchy, hilarious, and - all too often - desperate and ill-tempered ways. The world of New York high society - in which Capote was willing court jester - is also shown here in full view - as is his deeper working relationship with Nelle Harper Lee (played - in an actual, embodied, truly character-acting Sandra Bullock).

What's most interesting about Infamous is that - despite the occasional monstrosity of Capote as an emotional extortionist and thief - it shows how deeply human he is (without judging his actions) and how he still had an alluring magnetism at his ugliest moments.

In hindsight, Capote now seems alarmingly mainstream in its stance - the artist/writer is cast and judged as the uncaring Monster, eventually devastated by achieving his goal of changing the face of non-fiction and the soulless (and gay) urbanite who only cared about himself in the end.

What that first film doesn't really show - is that artists - even at the basest level - are empathic by nature. While the intent of the artist can be called into question after the act of creation, the living, breathing process of making art - even when it involves using the lives of others as a source - is a distinctly humane experience.

Above: Hope Davis and Toby Jones as Slim Keith and Truman Capote in Infamous. Below: The real Babe Paley, photographed in Vogue in the 1960s.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Last Tuesday (Or, Scenes from The Visitor)

I shot these photos of a film shoot from one of my apartment windows last Tuesday. After a little research on IMDB, the film in question appears to be The Visitor, starring character actor Richard Jenkins (seen in the last of the three photos here).

It was exciting to watch this - from four stories above - for about five minutes.

The amount of manpower that film shoots employ always bewilders me - there were no less than 20 crew members to shoot about 30 seconds of two people quietly talking on the street.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Languish Is The Word I Use to Describe (Or, Where's My Head At?)

So, I know.

I know this poor blog has been in "Languish" mode for quite some time.

Quite a long time, actually.

I dropped off writing regularly sometime in May, with occasional bursts of imagery here and there. The reason - mostly, is that I have been working overtime on some visual projects which are finally up and running: [a new website for my graphic design business].

and [a collection of artwork I've been making over the course of the last several years].

So, if you're so inclined, you can check these out when you can.

Oh, yeah.

One more thing...

I also promise to be funny again sometime very soon...


Friday, October 13, 2006

The Slow Death of Manhattan - Part 74 (Or, Condos For Everyone!)

The legendary CBGB's is closing this weekend. Taking its place - presumably - given the economic climate and icky, glossy sheen of the new New York real estate market - will be some sort of tower of luxury-meaning-prefab-cheap-as-shit condos with midwestern mall-worthy retail space on the bottom floor.

Good times.

(Of course, what I mean to say is, when is the horseshit of overdevelopment ever going to end? Seriously.)

Above: A "spoof" of Lou Reed and Patti Smith from a recent Saturday Night Live. Not really funny ha-ha, but it still carries the anger and hostility of all good satire.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fall Just Gets Better (Or, For Your Consideration)

Coming soon to a theater near you...

"Someone has killed their children and made them into cookies and I want to go see that."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Requiem for a Libertarian (Or, Things I Thought I'd Never Say or Think)

I never thought I'd ask for America to have more Republicans - but, I wish to G-d that there were a few more Barry Goldwaters around to kick some ass.

Hell, I'd settle for just one.

Mr. Goldwater was the rare politician to speak his mind - and the rarer Republican who was pro-privacy, pro-choice, and pro-gay rights. In today's semi-ludicrous world of politics, his opinions, once considered well to the right of conservative, make him sound far left of today's Democrats.

Toward the end of his career in the 1980s, he famously told a reporter: "I think every good Christian ought to kick Jerry Falwell right in the ass."

He also commented - upon his retirement - that he was glad to get out of politics since the Republican Party was no longer recognizable to him, after they moved toward focusing on social policies and Evangelicalism.

"They're all a bunch of kooks now," he said.

Necessary viewing: Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater currently on HBO on Demand.