21 August 2007

Laurentius Livermore

Everyone knows about Wikipedia, of course, but slightly fewer people are aware of Vicipaedia, the Latin Wikipedia. And fewer still have their own entry in that august journal, but apparently I do.

Actually, my presence there has little to do with any merit on my part, and much more to do with a professor by the name of Jacob Love, apparently was a Lookout Records fan (at least judging from his online screen name, which was taken from an Operation Ivy song), who did the translation work and put me among the immortals.

I only had a vague memory of this until I had a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter who's doing a story on the (alleged) resurgence of Latin and somehow had me pegged as "a Latin buff." While it's true that I hold Latin in the highest regard, think it's a tragedy that it's been removed from most school and university curricula, and hope (possibly in vain) that it will one day be restored to its rightful position as one of the crown jewels of Western civilization, I'm not sure I qualify as a genuine "buff."

While I can usually decipher inscriptions and school mottoes, not to mention most of the magical spells in Harry Potter, I'd be hard pressed to get through even a few pages of the Aeneid without wanting to strangle someone, most likely myself. It's not that I find Latin difficult - in fact back in high school I used to study it for fun, to the point where I neglected my other subjects - but I just didn't study it long enough. Two years in high school, plus lots of altar boy prayers, have left a substantial vocabulary inculcated in my skull. Hell, more than four decades on, I still remember most of the declensions and conjugations. But in order to successfully decipher the classics, I would have needed another year or two of college level Latin, and though I took one intensive course at Berkeley (six hours a day, five days a week, the equivalent of one year in 10 weeks), I stopped just short of gaining a real mastery of the material. Story of my life, really.

Anyway, the reporter and I ended up mostly chatting about our mutual Anglophilia (now there's a country that at least for a while knew the true value of Latin) before referring him onwards to Dallas Denery and Dr. Frank, two genuine classicists who, in one of those myriad injustices with which the world is rife, have yet to make their own appearances in Vicipaedia.

More Movies b/w Goodbye California

There's been a bunch, so I probably won't remember them all, but here are some:

El Cantante

Complete trash with a good sound track. I've always liked salsa, even though I don't know much about it, and since I've been living in New York, I've become more interested in Puerto Rico as well, so I was already planning on seeing this film even before Luis invited me to come see it with him and his friend Vicente.

As it turned out, I may have been one of the only gringos in the house (Luis is Mexican-American and Vicente is Spanish; pretty much everyone else in the theater seemed to be Puerto Rican), but no matter: even I could tell that apart from the music there was very little authentic about this Jennifer Lopez vehicle, and anyway, it's hard to make a romantic film about a guy (the singer Hector Lavoe) who insists on systematically drugging himself to death. Your basic "Yeah, I know he was a hopeless junkie, but he was a beautiful man" kind of fluff which is never going to ring true with anyone who's known a real junkie or three. But it was fluff with a good salsa beat, and I still enjoyed it. It could have been so much more, though.

King Of Kong

I really only went along to see this because a fair sized delegation from the Pop Punk Message Bored crew was going (if it had been up to me, we would have gone to see Superbad instead), but I enjoyed it anyway, despite nearly falling asleep at the beginning during what seemed like an unnecessarily detailed exposition of the intricacies and inner workings of the video game Donkey Kong. A game which, I might add, I have never played in my life, not even in its 80s heyday, and which I'd heretofore had pretty close to zero interest in.

King Of Kong is a Spinal Tap-type documentary about some truly bizarre characters whose entire existence seems centered around a biter competition to be recognized as the world's greatest Donkey Kong player. The difference being that, unlike Spinal Tap, these characters are apparently real, as is their bitter competition. Admittedly, I wasn't fully convinced by the movie itself, even when Chadd Derkins, who knows a bit about video games himself, assured me that this was not a mockumentary. It wasn't until I got home and did a little internet fact-checking that I had to accept that yes, there really is a parallel universe out there where 1980s arcade games are pretty much the only thing that matters.

Then I started thinking about how my own social set - especially the pop-punk segment of it - would look under the microscope of a competent documentarian. Our weird private language and in-jokes, as well as our internecine battles over the most esoteric minutiae of punk rock dogma would no doubt appear ever bit as bizarre and opaque to the "normal" filmgoer (assuming many or any of those would be interested in watching us in the first place).

And the same thing could be true about a local bowling league, the pigeon fanciers society, or a trainspotters convention (trust me, those of you who haven't lived in England; the latter two actually do exist). For that matter, not to be too flippant about it, many religious groups could quickly become the butt of other people's jokes if their thoroughly honest theological discussions were filmed from a certain angle.

Okay, point taken: we're all weirdos. Entertaining movie, anyway.

This Is England

I saw this on a rainy and chilly, i.e., very English-feeling night, and it brought loads of memories and emotions flooding back. Set in 1983, very near to the time when England started drawing me into its orbit (I'd first visited there in the mid-70s, but it wasn't until the 80s that I began to sense I was destined to live there), I was reminded of the pervading ugliness as well as the discreet charm of workaday English life.

The pebble dash houses, the insta-slum council estates, the droll humor coupled with an undercurrent of menace and violence all rang true: England in the 70s and early 80s felt very much like a failed state, if not a doomed civilization. This tale of young boy befriended by "good" skinheads before being sucked into the orbit of some psycho and racist yobs was chilling but not at all far removed from the realm of possibility. England today may/does have its problems, but they're a far cry from the general despair and disillusion that stalked the land during Maggie's early days. In fact, I found myself having a newfound appreciation for the woman. Not that I think she was a nice person, or that many of her policies weren't pursued in terribly inhumane ways, but that perhaps no other leader could have picked a crumbling and derelict country up by the scruff of the neck and told it to get on with things the way she did.

I also found myself reflecting on my own time in England, what it was all about, why I went there and why I'm not there anymore. I often get very nostalgic when I familiar sights or hear familiar accents on the television or the movies, but this time I wondered if my ten years there had been little more than some lengthy and ultimately pointless detour. No, that couldn't be true, I argued with myself: I learned so much and had so many amazing experiences. But what, my other half shot back, did it all add up to, apart from learning a slightly different dialect and being surrounded by people who appreciated and encouraged the sardonic and sarcastic attitude that was always getting me threatened or beat up in America?

Some day, looking at the whole of my life, those ten years in England might qualify as my years in the wilderness, but then hadn't I previously offered up a whole other decade in the actual wilderness of the Northern California mountains? Could it be that my life is fated to be nothing but a series of wilderness detours? Will New York someday seem like just another of them? It feels very much like home to me now, though, which for all my time there, England never fully did.

Oh, right, movie review, not soul-searching and self-obsession: yeah, good movie, well worth seeing, especially if you care about England or harbor romantic illusions about it. A bit visceral at times, but hey, that's life, innit? Oh, and the experience was heightened by a posse of real skinheads (okay, as "real" as you're likely to see these days outside of a gay fetish bar) who came stalking in and occupied the back row just as the film started.

Based on many experiences at punk gigs back in the 80s, I instantly tensed up, assuming that they were there to wreck the show. They were probably going to throw beer cans at the screen, or demand that all the other patrons shout "Oi oi oi" along with them, but apart from a few giggles, they were good as gold. One of them got so drunk that he staggered out mid-film, taking several minutes to find the exit after literally almost walking into the screen, but that was at a point when the goings-on in the film were so grim that a little comic relief was in order.

Okay, there are more films yet to write about, but it's 3 am. Why am I suddenly seeing so many movies? You might infer that I have no life, and you might indeed be right, but hey, watching movies is sort of like life, isn't it? Anyway, in a couple weeks time I've got another real life-type event: I have to fly to California, pack up all my remaining belongings and furniture stored there, and drive them out to my new apartment in New York.

Despite all my traveling around this country and Canada, it'll be my first time driving all the way from one coast to the other in single trip (I've done California to Michigan and variations on that theme by car many times, and Vancouver to Halifax by train, but never California straight through to New York). I guess I should think of it as a big adventure, but it's also kind of scary, because it means finally and totally saying goodbye to California after almost 40 years of having some connection or home base there.

And why am I doing this? Pursuing my destiny, or continuing to wander like Moses and the Israelites in search of the Promised Land? I guess we'll just have to wait and see about that, but any of you residing in what are usually the flyover states but are about to become the drive-through states for me, feel free to come on down to the highway and wave hello and best wishes as I come rolling by.


A somewhat chilly and rainy autumn-like night seemed like a good time to see a movie about flying a rocket ship to the sun.

Sunshine is based on some dubious - or at least highly speculative - science: the notion that when our sun begins to die, plunging earth into an eternal ice age, it can be kick-started back to life by dropping something called a "stellar bomb" the size of Manhattan into its core.

Never mind that I'd always been under the impression that a) when the sun actually dies, it will erupt into a supernova that will incinerate the planets as far out as Mars or Jupiter; b) that the biggest nuclear explosion human beings can generate would have about as much impact on the sun as dropping a lit match into a forest fire the size of Texas, this tale of eight astronauts attempting to pilot a bomb-bearing spaceship straight into the sun is a riveting tale indeed.

Of course there's also the fact that if you really want to deliver something to the sun, it's pretty simple: just blast a rocket in its general direction and by the time your rocket is inside the orbit of Venus, the sun's gravity should take care of the rest (any astrophysicists reading this, fell free to correct me). Okay, so the whole premise of the film is utter nonsense; it's still great entertainment, and as one review said, "You'll never look at the sun in the same way again."

For instance, I've always had a pretty good opinion of our nearest star. Apart from the occasional sunburn and the paint peeling off my old car from from overexposure (but that's more the stupid Toyota Motor Company's fault than Old Sol's), the sun has been nothing but good to me. I mean, think about it: it sits there for billions of years dishing out warmth and light and making all life possible without asking a thing in return. I mean, you don't get much more benign than that. No wonder the ancients worshiped it as a god.

But in this film - and here I have no reason to doubt the science - as soon as you get in closer proximity, the sun becomes the ultimate killing machine, capable of incinerating anyone or anything in the blink of an eye (and, speaking of eyes, capable of instantly and permanently blinding anyone who looks at an almost totally filtered version of it).

Of course it doesn't help that people seem to get a little loopy - make that a lot loopy - as they enter into the sun's gravitational field, but I'll say no more about that for fear of spoiling the plot for those of you who might wish to see it. Because this isn't exactly a high-budget film, the sets and the effects are somewhat limited, but are effective nonetheless, even though they often consist of little more than flashing lights and some great crashes and bangs that sound not unlike what you'll hear in a multi-level subway station.

Which was why, waiting for the L train at 6th Avenue while the F and V rumbled overhead, and seeing the lights of the train as it came barreling down the tunnel toward me, I pretty much relived the terror of the film while at the same time marveling at the way many things we think of as completely mundane and normal are very nearly as amazing as rocket ships that go to the sun.

When I got out at my stop just as a rocket ship-sized semi roared past on Metropolitan Avenue and then left me standing there in sudden silence as the rain started to fall in earnest, it felt more autumn-like than ever, and for once I didn't feel at all melancholy about the prospect. In fact, after what I'd just seen, taking a bit of a break from the sun seemed downright inviting.

12 August 2007

Oh To Be In England...

...now that football season's here.

Yes, it's been a seemingly interminable - what, almost three months? - wait since the curtain came down on the last Premiership season, and here we go again: just when I was beginning to get used to having my Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays free, the marathon begins again. And now that I'm watching my matches on television rather than in person, there's actually a lot more of them. Especially since I'm considering getting Setanta in addition to the Fox Soccer Channel: it could mean that I'm barely able to leave the house until the FA Cup comes around again next May.

Not that I've been completely starved of football these past few months; there's always something, if not on FSC, then on one of the Mexican channels. Which reminds me of something that came as a revelation to me the other night while I was watching some lower division clash from the ass end of Southern Mexico: every time there was a lull in the action, a band would strike up a few bars of the Mexican Hat Dance.

What's remarkable about that? Well, I guess I'd just assumed that the Mexican Hat Dance, like California burritos, was essentially a gringo takeoff on Mexican culture, and that real Mexicans would never dream of having anything to do with it. Guess I was wrong; either that, or some American TV producer had got in on the act and convinced someone to play the MHD as a way of adding an air of verisimilitude for the Norteamericano audience.

Anyway, this morning I watched Man City systematically take West Ham apart, and while in an ideal world I would have liked to have seen both teams loses, West Ham for their dodgy dealings in the transfer market last year and Man City because they're now coached by Sven Boring Eriksson, the inflicter of untold misery on English football fans and ruination of two World Cups and a European championship.

Unfortunately, Sven's team done good today, and thoroughly deserved their win. Liverpool, who squeaked past the perennially tedious Aston Villa thanks to an own goal, not so much. In fact today's second match was totally forgettable affair, but that was all right, as the plumbers were busily making a racket in my apartment trying to fix the pumps so there won't be any more floods.

But tomorrow - in a mere 6 1/2 hours, actually - I've got to be up for the real start of the 2007-08 season, as my beloved Fulham go charging (or more likely skulking) into the macerating maw of Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. Fulham have never won at Arsenal, never once in their entire history, and I'm not counting on much different a result this morning. In fact, there's every likelihood that this could be a bleak and truly dismal affair, and that crawling out of bed to watch it will be the equivalent of witnessing a 90-minute train wreck that I just can't turn my eyes away from.

Ah well, hope springs eternal in the youthful heart, they say. Or was that the foolish heart? At my age, it's definitely got to be the latter, but hey, at least until 2 pm UK time, we won't have dropped a single point and have every bit as much a chance of winning the championship as anyone else. Yeah, right, but what I guess it comes down to is that opening day is like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny for grownups. Until they've actually delivered that lump of coal, the world is full of infinite possibilities.

11 August 2007

On The Town

A couple nights out this week, both low key, both strangely, quietly satisfying. Well, actually, I've been out most nights, but I'm not counting movies (Die Hard and the previously mentioned Chuck and Larry), just events where live music was involved.

Tuesday night saw me rolling up on my bike to the Lost and Found tavern in Greenpoint. I didn't get there till quite late, but it seems to be the kind of place where everything happens quite late, almost ostentatiously oblivious to the fact that some New Yorkers do indeed have jobs or school or similarly boring obligations to contend with on a Wednesday morning.

I hung outside - it was a very nice night - shooting the breeze with Mikey Erg and my old friend Justin "Sully" Sullivan, who to be honest, I barely recognized now that he's acquired a few years/layers of Greenpoint/Williamsburg patina. Which was true the last time I ran into him, a year ago on the G train when we were both coming home from the Rancid show.

Being as out of the loop as I am, I didn't even know that he was the drummer for the Radio Faces, the band I'd come to see; the last time I'd seen Sully playing music was with his old Long Island hardcore outfit, The Insurgent. Anyway, the Radio Faces were good, very good, even, more power-pop than pop-punk, not that there's anything wrong with that. My only objection: their first song, something about a Party at the Bushwick Hotel, went on forever, with the chorus being repeated at least 150 times, well, maybe 50 times. Point being, the song's very good and catchy, but repeating the same verse and chorus over and over doesn't make it any more so. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Every song after that was shorter, hell, the set itself was short, and ended rather strangely, with guitarist Nato still plunking away as though he meant to start another song, while other members of the band began taking down their equipment. I walked part of the way home with Hallie Unlovable, who's leaving on tour this weekend and won't be back until Labor Day.

"Oh my god," I said, that means your New York summer is already over, and it's only the first week of August!"

"Yeah, well, I'm about ready to get out of town," she said, but I still felt wistful, not because I wanted her to stay here if she wanted to be elsewhere, but because if her New York summer was ending, it brought home the point that it wouldn't be much longer before mine was too.

And by Thursday night, it really felt that way, because it was almost - not quite but almost - too chilly to hang outside of Hank's Saloon wearing only a t-shirt. As at the Radio Faces, the crowd was small but devoted. Actually, there were quite a few people there, but I'm only counting the ones I know, insular and parochial bastard than I can be at times.

The occasion was the final show by the Impulse, another power-pop outfit with some of the same strengths (and a similar weakness for the occasional too-long repeating chorus song) as the Radio Faces. Singer/guitarist Adam, formerly of Dirt Bike Annie, the quirky, seminal band that almost single-handedly kept New York City pop-punk alive in the dark ages of the late 90s, is ostensibly retiring from rock and roll in order to move to Florida, take care of his kid, attend university and do similarly adult things.

As exuberant as the music was, there was an autumnal chill to the affair, and I'm not just talking about the weather. The Impulse hadn't been around that long or achieved a whole lot of recognition beyond a moderately-sized group of friends, and maybe because of that, it felt sad to see it ending, especially since Adam is almost the living, breathing epitome of a rock star, so much so that it's almost hard to imagine him ever being anything else.

And yet so the dream ends, at least for now. It wouldn't surprise me to see him suddenly re-emerge from Floridian exile at the head of a far more massive band, but neither would it surprise me if it really is the end for his rock and roll fantasy and the beginning of what will hopefully be an equally satisfying adventure in normal life. I know what it felt like: when you're getting into your late teens and you're still hanging out on the street corner not knowing what you're going to do with yourself when summer ends, and meanwhile seeing your buddies gradually drift away to the service or college or marriage or careers. Like they're all growing up while you don't know if you can or even want to.

I got to this show hell of late, too, and missed Short Attention, but most of the clever, maddening and annoying crew were still there. Grath McGrath was walking around with a lifelike and life-sized stuffed dog under his arm, which I found strangely disconcerting, and Bill Florio, that prince among men, gave me, Crafty Dan and Jackie O. a ride home in his little hybrid car, the first I've ever been in, along the BQE with its mega-spectacular views of lower Manhattan on a night when the lights burned with mad translucent fire.

Here Comes The Rain Again

It was very nearly a precise replay of a few weeks ago: a storm arriving in the predawn hours, rain lashing furiously on the windows, lightning flashing like a strobe light and thunder drowning out all other sound, followed by the gurgling sound of water springing up through the floorboards and turning my entire apartment into a wading pool.

The only differences: this time I knew the storm was coming, so sleep, even before it arrived, was out of the question, and because of that, I had most things up off the floor and - theoretically - out of reach of any possible floods. The other difference: this time the water was almost twice as deep as last time, and reached places I'd never thought of as being in danger.

It was discouraging, let me tell you. It had only been in the last couple days that everything was completely dried out from the first flood, and I was still in the middle of putting stuff away again. If I'd been more diligent in doing so, lots more things would have been soaked this time. The futon sofa, untouched by the previous inundation, soaked up water like a giant sponge, so much so that it took two of us to carry it outside to dry in the sun. Shoes were floating everywhere, along with the rugs, trash cans, storage bins; oh, it was a real laugh riot.

I took it all in surprisingly good spirits, though, laughing and joking with the neighbors, many of whom had experienced similar or worse disasters. But not the old guy two doors down, who usually whiles away his days on the porch dispensing friendly greetings to everyone who passes by; today he couldn't stop pointing out that his was one of the only completely dry basements on the block.

"Come and look, there's-a no water, come and look," he demanded, which a few of the neighbors found exasperating, dealing as they were with anywhere from six inches to six feet in their own homes. By the end of day I felt more a part of the neighborhood than ever before, being unable to walk more than a handful of feet down the block without someone stopping me to ask if the water had gone down yet or to say, "So, you're moving down the corner house, huh? Bet you'll be glad to get out of the basement!" How the hell does everyone on the block know when and where I'm moving when a few weeks ago I would have told you they probably didn't even know I existed?

I don't know, but I kind of like it. I've never been that big of a neighborhood person before, but I guess I'm becoming one. When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood kind of like this, where everybody knew everybody's business, and it used to drive me crazy. Maybe it will again some day, but right now it's cool to feel a part of things.

P.S. Today it's been raining again, not hard enough to flood, but enough so that all the stuff that was drying out isn't drying out anymore. And the temperature has dropped into the 50s, and I've had to wear a jacket for the first time in months. Not cool. Well, not unless you like winter and/or San Francisco, because that's what it feels like.

10 August 2007

Private Splendor, Public Squalor

I don't have many complaints about New York, and in general, I think it's headed in the right direction. I know, I know, people assure me that if I stick around long enough I'll have plenty to complain about, but so far so good.

For the most part. However, when I went for a swim at Brighton Beach last week, followed by a walk up the boardwalk to Coney Island, I couldn't help feeling this was an area where the city could do better. Lots better.

Many people don't know it, but New York City has some pretty spectacular beaches. Maybe not the equal of Ipanema or Bondi, but there are miles of beautiful sand, water that's just about the perfect temperature for swimming (well, for a couple months of the year, anyway), and when the heat of mid-summer descends upon us, you'd need only a few palm trees to complete the illusion of a subtropical paradise.

Well, except for a few minor details. The Parks Department (assuming they're the ones in charge) does a creditable job of cleaning the sands, but cigarette butts and broken glass still get dumped there faster than it can get picked up. But what are you going to do? Millions of people use the beaches, and it's probably too much to expect them all to be civilized.

But what's really missing are the most basic facilities. I haven't been to Rio, but at any fair-sized beach in Sydney, there'll be at the very least a changing room and a concession stand; about the best New York has to offer is some truly rank public toilets.

I discovered this when I decided to change back into my street clothes for the trip back to town (I'd worn my swim suit under my clothes when I came to the beach). I walked over a mile and a half without finding a single place to do so. If worse came to worst, I thought, at least I could change inside one of the toilets, but many of them had "No Undressing" signs, and the others were so tiny and so squalid that you wouldn't want to remain inside of them any longer than absolutely necessary.

I finally found one large public toilet near Coney Island that people were using as a changing room, but it clearly wasn't designed to be one, even though there was plenty of space if it had only been laid out sensibly. What was even more ridiculous was that New Yorkers (who knew?) are apparently an extraordinarily modest lot: whereas in Sydney, people would have simply dropped their drawers and got on with dressing or undressing (hell, in many cases they'd do it right out in the beaches, about half of which are clothing optional anyway); here they stood around grimly and shamefacedly waiting for the handful of toilet cubicles to open up.

And what a grim experience it proved to be when you finally got inside one: nowhere to set your things down except on a filthy toilet or on a floor awash in liquids of indeterminate origin, and barely enough room to move, let alone wriggle one leg at a time out of your trunks and into your jeans. Next time I think I'll just ride back to the city in a wet swim suit rather than face that prospect again.

And on an only slightly related note: what's up with the museums? $20 "suggested donation" to get into the Metropolitan, and the MOMA doesn't even bother with suggestions: it's just plain $20 or get lost.

Now we all know that New York is an expensive city, but those kind of fees necessarily preclude all but tourists and the middle and upper classes from experiencing one of the greatest cultural resources in the world. When I was a kid, our family had very little money, but several times a year my dad would pile the whole family into whatever old jalopy he could keep running at the time and haul us down to the Detroit Art Institute or Historical Museum. The cost? Zilch, nothing, nada. It was totally free, and I don't think it's overstating the case to say that that fact helped change my life.

Those visits helped establish a lifelong habit, but more importantly, gave me the first inkling that there was another world possible beyond the grim belching smokestacks that might otherwise have circumscribed my Detroit existence. After I left home, no matter if I was dead broke or even homeless, I'd still stop in at the museums, sometimes to immerse myself in culture, sometimes because it was the only place that was warm. Sometimes I'd spend the day; other times I'd walk in for a quick 10 or 15 minute breather, a refresher course in what it meant to be human.

All that changed when the authorities in their wisdom decided that society could no longer afford free museums. There were discount plans, sure, and one or two days a month when the great unwashed were still allowed in free, but they were missing the point: that the people who often needed museums most were those who couldn't or wouldn't rustle up fifty or a hundred bucks to take the family on an outing, and who might never set foot in one unless it was there and available for free on a regular basis.

I can safely say that if museums had been charging the 1950s and 60s equivalent of $20 a head when I was a kid, I might have visited them once or twice if I was lucky, rather than the literally hundreds of times I did. And my life would have been infinitely poorer for it.

It's worth mentioning that one of the few unmitigated triumphs of New Labour in Britain has been to do away with all admission fees to state museums. All it took was a relatively minor redirection of tax money, and suddenly kids from families like mine were again able to wander at will among the treasures of the ages. And if Britain can afford to do this, how is it possible that New York and other American cities can not? At a time when New York City is growing richer by the minute, possibly richer than any city in the entire history of humankind has ever been, it's not just ridiculous, it's practically obscene that we can't afford such simple amenities.

07 August 2007

Chuck And Larry

Hey, I'm only human, I have character defects like anyone else, and one of mine is that I enjoy Adam Sandler movies.

Actually, I'm not sure this is a true character defect, although it is certainly treated as one by my more cultured friends. Say something favorable about an Adam Sandler pic in their presence, and I'm likely to hear, "Oh, just because you've moved to Williamsburg doesn't mean you have to go all ironic on us."

But there is nothing whatsoever ironic about my delight in the broad, slapdash, hamhanded - yet ultimately loving - swipes at popular culture and society that Sandler specializes in. I know I waxed rhapsodic on here about his last movie, Click, perhaps a little too rhapsodic, because a week later I couldn't even remember what the movie was about (something about a TV remote). But I remember it was good. Or at least pretty good. Didn't make me want to slit my wrists, anyway.

But this new one, I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, is a whole new order of wonderful. I thought the previews looked pretty funny, but I still wasn't sure I wanted to see it until some prissy queen wrote into the Village Voice complaining that it was "completely homophobic," apparently because the word "faggot" is used a few times (only by very bad or ignorant people who get their comeuppance, of course; Hollywood in 2007 would never dream of releasing a mainstream film that made gays look like anything but cuddly Will and Grace-style pets).

When Miss Thing went on to fulminate, "I've never been more offended by a movie than this one," compared it to gay bashing, and finished up with, "I've never been more let down by the Voice" for giving it a semi-favorable review, there was no longer any doubt in my mind that I had to see it.

Apparently quite a few people felt similarly, because even on a Monday night, with the film on three screens in the Times Square multiplex, every showing was sold out. I was lucky to get a seat at all, and when I did, it was sandwiched in between half a dozen clearly heterosexual couples happily munching on what theaters somehow get away with selling as "nachos" (basically corn chips that you dip in orange-colored Elmer's Glue, it seems).

It was a very mainstream and very straight audience, definitely drawn from (way) uptown and the boroughs, and I realized immediately where much of the antipathy toward Adam Sandler comes from: he appeals to what my downtown and inner Brooklyn friends would consider the "wrong" sort of people, though of course they'd never admit it out loud.

Anyway, the movie is hilariously crass, full of fun, and still manages to make a few good points about tolerance and open-mindedness. The audience may not have been entirely won over to this point of view, as there was still a good deal of ew-ing every time things got a little too gay onscreen, but this stuff takes time. It's not that long ago that the idea of a largely working class and ethnic audience paying money to be entertained by an unabashedly pro-gay comedy would have been nearly unimaginable.

But did I say "pro-gay?" It's not really; more like pro-human, pro-doing or being or feeling whatever the hell you want to do or be or feel. Despite being essentially a straight person's take on things, it'll do more for the cause of tolerance and understanding than every overtly "gay" movie I've ever seen, not least because it treats gay people as just plain people rather than as the special, almost magical creatures Hollywood usually serves up, capable only of being noble yet doomed victims or incredibly witty and stylish professionals whose primary purpose in life is to show clueless straights how to dress, shop, eat and dance.

One more point in favor of Chuck And Larry: it's totally Brooklyn-centric. The accents, the backdrops, the attitudes: I don't think any of the characters ever bothers to set foot in Manhattan. It's loud, trashy and irreverent - the film that is, but yeah, Brooklyn, too - yet shot through with home truths. Take your favorite uptight gay activist to see it ASAP.

Postcard Punx

I've long been bemused by the time capsule kids who dress up in picture-perfect representations of punk fashion circa 1982, and I've grown steadily more bemused in recent years as the costumes grow ever more precise and formulaic even as the kids wearing them grow farther and farther removed from the time period that spawned them.

I guess the equivalent would be if my late-60s gang of late teenage/early 20-somethings had spurned the hippie look in favor of dressing up in zoot suits and rocking out to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. I mean, what prompts kids to slavishly perpetuate an era that ended before most of them were born? And by the way, why 1982 punk style and not 1977? I think I know the answer to the latter question: by 82 there were more spikes and studs and bondage trousers, i.e., the overall look was more preeningly peacock-like than the Sex Pistols/Clash era style, which tended more toward the generally disheveled and in some cases could even be mistaken for the early hippie look.

Anyway, there's quite a little aggregation of postcard punks who hang around - some might say infest - St. Mark's Place and Tompkins Square Park, and while some of them have been there so long they've gone feral, the majority, I suspect, commute in from the suburbs to destroy society on the weekends. I've actually overheard a couple of them calling their mothers in Connecticut to let them know they'd arrived safely in the city.

They do - even the weekenders - tend to affect a rather grubby look and a fractious demeanor, and one such lad swaggered - as much as a scrawny 17 year old wearing a heavy spiked leather vest on the hottest day of the year can swagger - into the pizza joint on the corner of St. Marks and Avenue A, where I was quietly enjoying my dinner.

"Yo," he barked at the counterman, "Let me use your restroom."

"We don't got no restroom," he was told.

"Yo, don't tell me that, I know you got a restroom, c'mon, man, what do I gotta do, buy something? A Coke or something? Hey, I'll just give you a dollar if you let me use it. A dollar and a half. Cash, man."

The counter guy stared silently at him with that blank look that New Yorkers seem to reserve for the most obtuse out-of-towners. The kid fumbled for something to say, and I, thinking I could maybe break the impasse, said, "Hey, you know there's a public restroom right over there across the street," pointing in the direction of Tompkins Square Park.

The kid, who clearly hailed from what they used to call "a good home" even if he hadn't washed his baby face in a couple days, seemed taken aback, as if he were debating what the appropriately punk response should be. He briefly toyed - at least it looked like it - with the idea of telling me to go fuck myself or threatening to stab me, but then his face softened, and he spoke softly, the way he might if he were addressing his favorite teacher back at Darien High School: "Oh, I know about that restroom. But those toilets are so dirty."

Larry And The Cable Guy

It's probably at least a bit remarkable that I've managed to live as long as I have without ever having - until today, that is - the apparently near-universal experience of waiting for The Cable Guy. I felt a little like Morrissey singing about his hairdresser: "I sense the power within the fingers, within an hour the power could totally destroy me - or it could save my life."

I mean, who cares what kind of haircut you have anymore? With a good internet connection you never need to go out in public again, and if anyone insists on knowing what you "look" like, there's always Photoshop and artsy emo (aka blurred) portraits from ten years ago.

But get disconnected from the worldwide web and you might as well not even exist, or at least it's a lot harder to find out what time movies are playing or what the weather is like in Ulan Bator this time of year. So it was some trepidation that I parked myself in the front window to watch for the Time Warner van. Friends with experience in this field laughed at my childlike trust that the cable guy would turn up at all, let alone during the 4 hour window that I'd been promised.

However, the laugh was on them, as barely an hour and a half had passed before a very polite "technician" phoned to say he was in the neighborhood and would arrive at my door in about 15 minutes. He was there even sooner, and I could even forgive him for double-parking and then sitting there in his van for another 10 minutes while he ate a bag of greasy ribs. I could see him licking great dollops of sauce off his fingers, and hoped that he both had a large supply of napkins and would use them liberally before he came into my house and started, um, touching things.

He turned out to be a fine, jovial fellow, which made it hard for me to be cross about the fact that he didn't seem to know much about cables or computers. But he was smart enough to test all the cables and tell me that they were fine, and to tighten up the cable on my modem, which made all the right lights come on, even though the internet still didn't work.

And that was about it. Maybe I needed a new modem, he said. Or maybe not. He didn't know why my computer still couldn't connect to the internet, so I should probably call customer service and ask them. I didn't bother pointing out that I had already called customer service a week ago, which was why he was here in the first place. I thanked him for his efforts, waved goodbye, and then went back and tinkered around with my computer some more and voilĂ , the internet appeared! Unfortunately I have no idea just what it was that I did to solve the problem; otherwise I would be down at Time Warner tomorrow applying to become a "technician" myself. But never mind; the cable guy was nice, he showed up on time, and somehow between the two of us we made the internet work again. If only every story in the naked city could come to such a happy end.

04 August 2007

Beardo Nation

I don't have any right to complain, I suppose, having chosen to live in this neighborhood, but there are times, most frequently in a packed car on the L train, when I question my own judgment in having voluntarily subjected myself to being surrounded by people with some of the worst dress and grooming sense in history (well, at least since the 1970s, which is far as I care to go back, lest I have to start ruminating on the horrors of paisley bellbottoms and other atrocities of the 60s).

I mean, Williamsburg, capital of post-collegiate America that it is, should be awash in beautiful young men and women, or at least one would think, but instead it provides a daily assault on the senses by hordes of what would appear to be derelicts, at least in embryo if not of the fully sprung variety.

But before I go any further, I should clarify: when I say "people," I actually mean the men, because most local women manage to look at least interesting, and sometimes downright fabulous. And for the most part, they tend to wash both their clothes and hair on a regular basis. The men, not so much. Not hardly at all, in fact.

I know I'm in danger of sounding like one of those fuddy-duddies who used to fulminate about "dirty hippies" or like Ronald Reagan, who once said of the 60s counterculture: "They dress like Tarzan, look like Jane, and smell like Cheetah." But at least I'm not going on about how, "You can't even tell the boys from the girls."

Quite the contrary. If only there were a bit more androgyny, if only a few of these potentially good-looking young men's idea of "masculinity" didn't entail making themselves look as grotty and unkempt as possible, with the ideal image apparently being a 70 year old Bukowski at the tail end of a three week Night Train and crystal meth binge.

Mostly, of course, it's the beards. Why? We didn't endure the travails of all these centuries of civilization building and razor inventing to come to this feral pass. Or did we? Is there where it ends, with a whole tribe of what are presumably among America's best and brightest (certainly if the amounts forked out on college tuition by their doting parents are any indicator) deliberately uglifying themselves as a statement against... what? The commodification of contemporary culture? The fact that they're only 25 years old and already getting too paunchy and disheveled to look good in their super-skinny American Apparel shirts?

Of course the women are not without blame in this matter: as long as they're willing to tolerate or even embrace guys who sport the beardo/bum look, there will be ever-growing legions of new young men who say to themselves, "Shave? Why bother?" I'll admit I'm a bit squeamish, but every time I see an even moderately good-looking girl sucking face with some human Brillo pad, I'm simultaneously astounded and appalled.

"How can you do that?" I always want to ask. "I mean, even with your eyes closed, it still feels (and probably tastes and smells) like you're kissing the ass end of a wombat, doesn't it?" Admittedly, I have met one girl who forthrightly claims that she's sexually attracted to beardos, up to and including Abe Lincoln, but she's clearly in a small minority. What of the others? Are they that hard up? So lacking in self-esteem that they can't even say to a potential suitor, "Yeah, like I really want to make out with Charles Manson. Go home and shave before you even THINK about trying to talk to me, loser." In my experience, women have never had a problem with speaking that forthrightly in the past; what could have changed?

But I guess I'd be overlooking the regrettable fact that people still met and spawned all through the 1970s, the last time dirty, smelly beards were in fashion, and that in fact many of today's most visually offensive hipsters may even have been the offspring of some of those squalid couplings. So perhaps it's an ancestral memory thing, though thinking further, I realize that most of Williamsburg's most bearded denizens these days are more likely to have been born in the 80s, when people were clean-shaven, watched John Hughes movies, and committed few fashion crimes more egregious than big hair and Kajagoogoo.

So I think we really could expect better, but unfortunately probably won't get it. In the meantime, I will have to console myself by meditating on the misery endured by those who insist on sporting face muffs and dressing in head to toe dirty black during these 95-degree days with humidity to match. Hopefully this will have a seriously deleterious effect on your sperm count and you at least won't reproduce.

02 August 2007


For once I actually have an excuse for not posting anything new on what has lately been this sadly neglected blog. Shortly after I got back to Brooklyn after a 10-day sojourn in California (and you didn't even know anything about it, did you? not a word of griping from me about how much San Francisco or Berkeley suck, either!), my internet connection (my very expensive internet connection, I note, unlike my free Berkeley internet connection - see, some things are actually better in Berkeley) decided to go walkabout and/or wonkers (my new coinage, combining, duh, wonky and bonkers, hope you like it).

I knew I'd been spending way too much time on the internet, albeit little or none of it blogging, but wasn't aware just how dependent on it I'd gotten. Not just for killing time, though there's certainly that, but for so many of the day-to-day functions that heaven knows how people managed to deal with before the internet was invented. Like looking up phone numbers, for example; who has a phone book anymore? I realize some profligate people call information at whatever number(s) they're using nowadays, but I quit that when 411 stopped being free.

Or, for example, when I decided to take to my laptop to the public libary and take advantage of the free wireless connection there. I wanted to look up which branches had wireless and what hours they were open, but where do you find that sort of info except, of course, on the internet. Anyway, trusting to memory or instinct, I'm not sure which, I found my way to Bryant Park, located behind the main library at 5th adn 42nd, where I'm currently sitting at a nice little table, conveniently shielded against the blazing sun (currently 95F/35C) by a lovely garden umbrella and watching a couple new skyscrapers being built virtually in front of me).

My trip to California was not something I really wanted to do, especially in the middle of my favorite time of year in New York, but I'd promised to help my mom with some things and also had a bunch of old business to clear up there myself in preparation for what now looks like my permanent move to New York. Can't remember if I mentioned it in my dispatch about the flood, but part of the fallout was that I have to move out of the place I've been subletting. I wasn't looking forward to spending the last month of summer in what has sometimes been described as New York's premier blood sport, the apartment hunt (especially sans internet!) but then the super called yesterday and offered me a place all of three doors away. It's more expensive and has its drawbacks (but on the plus side, it's on the third floor and presumably safe from floods), but it looks like I have my own apartment now, or will come next month.

Enough personal minutiae: I really only stopped by here to let any faithful (or otherwise) readers know that I was temporarily out of the electronic loop and not to expect much from me (not that you probably were anyway) until next week at least. Oh, and while I was in California, my personal computer genius friend Patrick Hynes helped set me up with some new computer wizardry which may help me finally get my long-promised website off the ground. If I ever get an internet connection, that is.