Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Scissor Sisters: Too vulgar for the likes of us

Or at least it was too much for MTV to play the video for "Filthy/Gorgeous" when it was released last year. I'm just amused to note that even on gay.com there are (some) people who are scandalized; apparently they think it's a shonda for the straight folk, or something. Anyway, you can watch it here:

(scroll down to Windows/Real Player links under "Watch it Now!")

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Neighborhood watch

On my street, there is a man who stands.

An older man. Kind and twinkly looking enough. Not at all remarkable, really, except that he stands. A lot. In one spot, in front of what one presumes to be his building, leaning against a waist-high iron fence.

He's there in the morning as I head toward the subway. He's there in the evening as I'm coming home. He's there in the middle of the day, on such occasion as I've had to be walking there in the middle of the day. Standing. Not sitting. Standing. And watching.

For a long time, we would exchange smiles and nods as I passed, but no words. And I would think to myself: who is this guy, and what is he up to, and why doesn't he at least get a chair? Is he a spy of some sort? A sentinel, guarding a portal to another dimension? Or is he just some elderly guy who likes to watch; that, and the sensation of cold hard iron pressing into his coccyx?

Finally one day I stopped and introduced myself. Turns out he has a name, and a friendly disposition, and a thick Noo Yawk accent. His story was simple enough: sharing an apartment with his brother (brudder), doesn't like to be cooped up all day. Apparently he's at his post even more often than I knew: often gets up before dawn, he said, so he can get a cawfee and maybe read the paper. Then he comes back to his spot, and so begins his day. He stands, he said, because if he sat down that would really mean he'd gotten old.

So now when I see him I stop and chat for a bit, as do other friendly neighborhood types. Usually about the weather. Once, at the start of a long weekend, he asked me if I was going out of town. I said, "nah, you?" He said, "Nah. I went out to the country once. I didn't like it. I don't like to go where it's quiet. I don't wanna hear the boids go 'tweet tweet.' I like to be where the people are."

So, okay. He stays home, he stands, he talks to people. I figure by now he must have quads like tree trunks. But he's become a comforting figure for me, really. Friendly, neighborly, and more reliable than many things, events, and people, here in the city.

Which is why it was disquieting, one day, to pass by his building and note:

1) He wasn't there. Okay, sometimes this happens. But.

2) Standing in his place, in his exact place, mind you, was somebody else. A woman. Little, dark. Smiling. Standing. And watching. Just...watching.

I nodded hello, smiled, and continued toward the subway. But inside, oh inside, I was all a-whirl with anxiety. What could this mean?

I walked on. Somewhere, in the distance, a dog barked.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"The Fall of a True Believer"?

So titled this MoJo piece about Jack Abramoff.

"To Marshall Wittmann, a former Christian conservative who now works for the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, the story of Jack Abramoff is the story of a generation. 'It's a classic tale of intending to do good -- and doing very well,' he says. 'The pledge of all these Reagan revolutionaries was to overturn the iron triangle of Congress, the special interests, and the lobbyists. Instead, they've found themselves comfortable with big government, as long as it cashes in for their clients. I remember all these people as insurgents, revolutionaries to overthrow the establishment. They became the establishment in such a short time in an orgy of moneymaking. They ran the Republican revolution off the rails.'"


That's if you buy that it was a "fall." Alternately, you could go with the simpler theory:

"'I don't think Abramoff ever stood for anything,' says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 'I think Abramoff just stands for greed. I think Abramoff is a terrible human being and should get anything coming his way.'"


I was inclined to go with the latter explanation. And yet I'm reading this and it does seem that Abramoff was some sort of zealot. Starting as a lad.

"IN THE HEAT OF A LOS ANGELES summer afternoon, the 13-year-old set off from home and began walking the five miles to synagogue. He was hungry and thirsty. It was the Jewish holy day of Tisha B'Av, when observers are not allowed to consume food or water for 24 hours. Grasping for his own interpretation of the law, the boy had convinced himself that he wasn't supposed to ride in a car or even wear shoes.

He walked along the fence of the Los Angeles Country Club, an institution that historically excluded Jews. The pavement was hot and full of small stones, and his stocking feet began to blister. But when a member of the synagogue offered him a ride, he refused. To young Jack Abramoff, the religion of his ancestors was perilously close to fading away in his generation. He wasn't going to fail it."


Okay. But why? According to the story, his turning point to fierce ascetism in the name of his forefathers came after watching Fiddler on the Roof. Somehow I tend to doubt that it's ever that simple.

At any rate, Abramoff clearly is and was fervently dedicated to...something:

"Abramoff set out to mobilize the conservative movement around the causes he was hired to represent. One of the first was the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth seized from Japan after World War II. Under a special covenant, the Pacific island chain is exempt from certain federal laws, setting its own immigration policies and minimum wage. This has allowed companies like The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch to manufacture clothing with the "Made in U.S.A." label while employing thousands of Asian 'guest' workers at $3 an hour. Observers have reported 100-degree factory floors, mandatory unpaid overtime, and crammed barracks with no running water surrounded by barbed wire. 'We have evidence that at least some of the Chinese workers, when they become pregnant, are given a three-way choice: Go back to China, have a back-alley abortion...or be fired,' then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt testified in Senate hearings in 1998. Three years ago, a group of manufacturers settled a union-sponsored class-action lawsuit for $11 million.

In 1995, with pressure mounting to strip the Northern Marianas of their special privileges, island officials contacted Abramoff. He flew to the commonwealth and came away convinced the reports were exaggerated. He also believed -- truly believed, say his colleagues -- that the islands represented federal deregulation at its best. 'He called [them] a unique political experiment," says Roger Stillwell, a former Democratic lobbyist who also worked for the commonwealth. 'Jack said, "We have to protect this, because what they have would be real advantageous to the United States."'"

Whatever this is, clearly it goes beyond simple selfishness and greed. Maybe it's an ideology of selfishness and greed. Frankly, I prefer the less pure version.

Or maybe this is simply what sociopathy looks like.

Still, it's telling that so much of this is done in the name of morality. Is it just that old canard about piousness at work? Are we seeing the last refuge of these scoundrels? Or is it legitimate to call this a form of morality? It's fucked up according to my sense of morals, but there does seem to be a belief system of some sort at work here. Abramoff and all his Christian fundamentalist buddies. Patriarchy Pals. And whether you're talking about America First or Biblical mandate (either Testament) or plain old malignant narcissism, when you look at the current government and its high-ranking supporters, it is impossible to conclude anything but that they truly believe that they're better than everyone else. In that sense, their behavior has been entirely consistent with their morality, such as it is.

My question, always: where does that elitism come from? Certainly the narrative of "we are God's Chosen People, let us go forth and conquer" is written into the founding of this country as it is in the Books of the people who landed here, but that isn't enough. There are other Americas, other Christianities, and, as Abramoff himself noted, other ways of being Jewish. (And thank G-d for that, says this nice Jewish American girl who finds Abramoff doubly embarassing).

And then, too, consider:

"'I love this bitch talk you punk ass bitch,' Abramoff emailed Scanlon in an exchange about racquetball. 'As soon as I get yo ass on court, you be crying like a baby!'


"'According to your emails,' Senator Campbell read from a script, 'you and Mr. Scanlon referred to tribes as morons, stupid idiots, monkeys, f-ing troglodytes...and losers.' The senator looked up. 'Why,' he asked, "would you want to work for people that you have that much contempt for?'"

Why, indeed.

Or, well, Abramoff already seems to have answered that question in his own emails, viz:

"'The key thing to remember about these clients is that they are annoying, but that the annoying losers are the only ones who have this kind of money and part with it so quickly.'"

...but it still doesn't really answer anything. Why the greed in the first place? And why the contempt?

But, so, who to turn to for answers? Lakoff? (I still need to finish Moral Politics). Should we just consider this as a fundamental difference in philosophy? Should we maybe look to Alice Miller and her theory of "poisonous pedagogy?" Is the real problem here not so much the Father but the fathers? Tell us about your childhood, Jack, George, Rush. No, really. What the hell happened there to make you such gaping black holes of people?

Monday, January 23, 2006


So this is, or just was, the number one song requested on iTunes. On heavy rotation on the radio, too, no doubt, but I haven't listened to plain ol' radio in ages now. I might have remained oblivious to this one except that I caught the video on MTV whilst in a hotel (yes, I've turned into one of those smug obnoxious "I got rid of my cable and it feels GREAT!" people. It's only 75% because almost everything sucks; another part of it was wanting to save money, and figuring I might as well begin by cancelling a subcription to a service wherein almost everything sucks). Just so you know: it's even dumber out loud than it is on the page. Which is saying something, considering that it's an ode to the ineffable hipness and aesthetic charms of really, really expensive dentures.

I have bitched about the gangsta zeitgeist before (which, as observed by 50 Cent, if not Dubya himself, extends well beyond hip-hop culture), but I don't think I'd fully expressed just how much I hate pop music right now. R&B that sounds like it went through the deflavorizer, with maybe a side trip through yodelling country. Country music so full of patriotic smarm and bombast that it would probably make the "Ballad of the Green Berets" author cringe with embarassment. Bubblegum that tastes like it was scraped off the bottom of a formica table from some mall that never left the 80's, with a roll or so through 90's grunge (oh god, how I HATE that nasal, whiny drone they all seem to have these days...) The hideous and inexplicable longevity of Mariah Fucking Carey.

And yes, I'm well aware that there are all kinds of wonderful and quirky artists out there, old and new, and with the advent of Modern Technology, one has more access to an astonishing diversity of music than ever...if one only knows where to find it, of course.

But if an anthropologist from the future were to pick up a time capsule full of mainstream (whatever that truly still is) popcult from right now, I think she'd probably file it under "Big Honking Signs That The Culture Was In Trouble." And no, this does NOT mean that I think what we all need is a return to the days when everyone knew their place, Great Classics were taught in the schools, the streetcar cost a nickel and the goddam kids stayed offa my lawn. I don't honestly know when or where things (can we vague this up any more?) were truly, unambiguously "better." Because the answer to that is almost always "it depends on who you ask, and when." More to the point, for most of the supposed golden ages, I just wasn't there. And memory, personal or collective, is a devious editor.

All I do know is that right here and now, it's a stupid, mean, crass, cowardly, greedy, unimaginative, soulless time, and that therefore it's no surprise that music (among other things) sucks, on the whole.

And now, get offa my goddam lawn.

Weird: science.

I come from an academic mixed marriage: my mother's a language professor, my father's a chemist. For most of my life, I was quite clear that I came down on the Arts and Letters side of the divide; the Sciences were dull and frustrating, at least as I experienced them in school. Anyway I understood a lot more about what my mother did for a living than I did my father; whether this had to do with the fact that my mother simply talked about her work and made it a part of our everyday lives much more than my dad did (for years I was convinced that his job primarily consisted of going to lunch), or whether it came down to my innate predisposition, I don't know. Anyway I loved reading, and math bored me, so that seemed to settle that. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew it had to involve writing. When I decided that theatre was the path for me, my identity seemed clearer still. Humanities. Words.

Over the last few years, I've been slowly (very slowly) shifting my focus and interests, to the point where I'm looking to go back to school (again), for to become a psychologist. In order to get into one of the programs I'd be applying for, I needed certain core undergraduate-level psychology courses that I hadn't taken the first go-round through B.A. land. So off I went. Imagine my surprise upon being informed that psychology was considered a science, and as such, we would be learning certain basic principles, studying human biochemistry, and taking part in lab experiments, among other things that I had never thought I'd have any truck with. Imagine my further surprise to realize that I was actually getting into this aspect of the field (to me it's truly a hybrid profession, neither fish nor fowl, and you can approach it as a counselor, a bodyworker, a socio-political advocate, a hardcore scientist, a philosopher, or even an artist...or any combination of those and more). Okay, statistics are not my thing, but knowing how to prepare and run an experiment is really useful and enlightening. And understanding the body's influence on mind (if you can truly even distinguish the two) is something I'm finding profoundly satisfying.

And it occurs to me, now: it's just barely possible that I might have had a less negative impression of science(s) as a kid if I had just had decent classes. After all, before I started studying the stuff (or so-called) at school, I was avidly reading "Cosmos" and trying to learn to identify all the birds I saw. I even had a little chemistry set when I was eight. My interest in the subject waned rapidly once I got beyond "hey, pretty colors!," but still, it was there for a time.

And then came biology, with its frogs and formaldehyde. ("This is froggy's last day, so be nice to him," quoth my sophomore teacher, holding up a hapless, squirming amphibian by the haunch before dropping it unceremoniously back into the tank). My question, then and now: isn't biology about the study of life? Wouldn't it make more sense to learn about the way animals live before we open them up and poke about their insides? And chemistry (as taught by one jerk and one deaf lunatic), and all the maths. Oh, god, the maths. I know now that there are people who "get" math in a way that I don't and probably never will. All the same, if I'd at least had some idea of what on God's green earth I was supposed to do with this...well. All I knew was that I was dutifully trying to replicate formulas that someone else had solved/done before me, and that was it. You did it correctly or not, and that was all. I hated it.

Rereading Orwell's "Such, Such Were the Joys," a memory of his dire time in an English boarding school at the turn of the last century, I was struck that for him, science represented both unconventionality and freedom. It was a respite from the rote, insanely dull drills of Latin and history; it meant going out into the field or the woods or the waters and looking at plants and animals. Touching and exploring and asking questions. Seeing for himself. Unlike the rest of his education, it must have seemed real to him, or realer, anyway. Ironically, this was at least partly because at the time, science wasn't considered terribly important. Anyway, you didn't need it to pass your exams, and that was what really mattered.

Ultimately I think almost any subject can be dull or interesting, alive or dead, depending on not just who's teaching it (yes, fun, sympathetic teachers always help), but the philosophy behind the teaching. For me, science was dead because I never understood why I was learning about any of this. Had I had a better grasp that at bottom it was simply about "finding out how the world works," I probably would have been a lot more interested. The fact that I *did* get that English was a way of finding out how the world works might have been because I had better teachers in that subject, or it might just have been because I already had understood the magic of books from a very young age, and even the dullest class wasn't going to take that away from me.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

King Kong is a ding dong

Although you may want to take my take with a fair helping of salt.

Confession #1: I walked out, about 2/3 through. Although it's just barely possible that one of these days (most likely when it comes out on DVD) I'll go to the trouble of seeing that last hour. Maybe.

Confession #2: I may be one of the only people in western civilization who never saw the original(s) and in fact hadn't known much about the plot before I saw this one (and then later read the reviews). The gist and the big finish, sure; but I hadn't ever really known how they got there.

Which means that I had always assumed that the racism people attribute to the movie only had to do with the subtext (what with the brute's ravishing of the delicate blonde and all). I hadn't known there was also that whole "savages in the jungle" scene. And I certainly didn't expect that level of...well, savagery.

I find myself agreeing with the camp that suspects Peter Jackson was (at best) not really being very conscious here. For one thing, there is that one noble black guy, the first mate (the only non-white in the picture who couldn't be mistaken for an extra from "Dawn of the Dead"), who not only dies whilst heroically saving his white comrades and protege, but telegraphs his death for a good five minutes before the inevitable denouement. "Run, you fool!" I wanted to shout. Then I dropped my four-dollar water bottle, and promptly forgot about his or any of the other characters' problems, as ultimately I didn't really give a shit about any of them. Which was really the bottom line, for me; but, I'll get there in a sec.

Then, too, it seemed to me that the demonic natives looked just an awful lot like Jackson's orcs.

That wasn't enough to drive me out of my seat, though; what finally did it was that I just wasn't having any fun. And yes, the CGI was astounding, especially Kong himself (and that's the only reason why I'm just a tiny bit sorry I didn't stay till the end). Visually it was a treat. I think if I'd had more understanding of exactly went into all those amazing effects I'd probably have appreciated the whole thing a lot more. Also probably would be true if I were a film buff and understood all the nods and homages and so on.

But, I'm not. And, taken on its own terms and not as a beloved classic or a visual tour de force, the movie simply didn't work for me. Too overblown to be camp and too preposterous to be anything else. I didn't even enjoy it on a "thrill ride" level, and it's not that I don't ever like such movies. I thought "Jurassic Park" was completely daft but it still had me jumping out of my seat, for instance (from which film the best action sequences in this film seemed directly ripp'd). Whatever it is that Spielberg does to make you suspend and jump and scream, Jackson doesn't have it, at least not here.

And without the "AAHHH!" factor, the Skull Island stuff just seems ridiculous. I mean, come on, I heard myself saying out loud, a number of times. What the fuck is that chick made of, anyway? Silly Putty? If you don't want to show the full-body bruises and crushed ribcage that (at least) istm would inevitably result from being clutched in a giant paw and flung about at dizzying speeds, not to mention the whole vines-and-narrow-escape-from-being-a-dinosaur-hors-d'oeuvre sequence, well okay (she is a dancer after all, and hence rather agile and springy); but jeez, something. Projectile vomiting from the vertigo, perhaps? It's not like it would've added significantly to the "ick" factor. Was her lingerie even mussed?

And "come on" was also my reaction wrt the characters and their actions. Starting with: *why* the fuck doesn't the screenwriter just jump off the goddam boat? I mean, seriously? Okay, it's not exactly naturalism here, but surely if it's supposed to be that he, like the crazy/smarmy director, is motivated by the fine, dark love of adventure, it wouldn't be too much to ask that they establish something to that effect? Even a comic book character deserves that much. And if it's the glamour of film that's drawing him away from not just his play rehearsals but his whole fucking life, well, it's pretty damn obvious that this is not a glamour flick. Not to mention the boat itself, and again I come back to my point about the curious lack of vomiting in this picture. As it is, he just looks, well, kind of lame. And while Watts is cute and all, I just do not buy that her limpid gaze, blonde locks, and winsome pratfalls are enough motivation for that entire fucking hardbitten crew to go on a blind chase after her into what sure as shit looks like certain death. And Jack Black...well, 'nuff said.

Ultimately I just found myself asking: why? Why remake this? Why tell this story? Yeah, it had really cool SFX possibilities (which were duly manifested), but so could any number of movies, old and new. Why this? Why now?

Even without the anvilicious Meaningful Display of "Heart of Darkness" (as read by a wide-eyed cabin boy) I was getting the impression that Jackson wanted to do "Kong" at least partly because something about that old subtext or narrative or whatever you want to call it still speaks to him. In both LOTR and this, now: it is a very heavily white and male cast, along with the odd fair maiden or so, heroically fighting off the forces of darkness, quite literally. Dark, filthy, subhuman savages (and one sort of noble savage, if you count the giant monkey). Not to mention dank caves and swamps full of icky sticky devouring spiders (and now Alien-styled worms as well). The horror, the horror...the symbolism.

I'm not saying Jackson intended any of this (I just don't know), or that the movies' worth depends on their political correctness...or at least awareness. I'm just saying: I don't think I relate, really.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nobody knows I'm a thespian

My main theatrical thing is/was writing, but I've trod the boards a few times. My stage resume is short but glamorous. One of my earliest roles, as mentioned elsewhere, was a giant card. Later I would go on to tackle such meaty challenges as Third Chorus Girl From The Left in Oklahoma, or, most recently, Green Fairy in Astonishingly Ill-Conceived Production of Iolanthe at Dyke Drama Collective, which is probably worth a story in itself, sometime. As a girl, I was in a family friend's pastorela (Nativity play)three years running: once as a dancer, twice as the roller skating angel who comes in to bilingually announce the birth of the baby Jesus, after comically crashing offstage and then limping back on.

But my finest moment onstage, and possibly ever, was in a university production of a little play called Sapientia. Perhaps you've heard of it. It would be more likely if you happen to be an aficionado of dramatic works by tenth century nuns.

So, Sapientia, by Hroswitha Von Gandersheim. One of the grad-student dramaturgs decided this would be a cool thing to put on as a late night cabaret, as it ran well under an hour. What her other criteria were in choosing this, I do not know, although I have my suspicions (more on this later). The original text was a bit...problematic. It may be the world's only play to contain a ten-minute explanation of a mathematical problem, for a start (as proof of the existence of God. don't ask me how. i was never very good at math).

The plot and characters and dialogue were, well, not nuanced, but then it was a "morality play." Gist: a wise woman (the eponymous Sapientia) and her three little daughters, Faith, Hope, and Charity are spreading the word of Our Lord Jesus, when news of them is and their subversive new faith is brought to the ears of a Roman emperor, don't remember which. It starts with an "H," I think. Let's call him "Hattie." Hattie has Sapientia hauled in front of him, but, being a reasonable tyrant, he tries at first to talk sense into her, to get her to Come To The Dark (pagan) Side. Sapientia defeats him in a dazzling show of logic (viz math problem), so naturally, Hattie's only recourse is to torture and kill each of her daughters, slowly and horribly, unless they recant their heretical faith. None does, and they are, each in their turn, gloriously and bravely (and bloodily) martyred, followed, at last, by Mother herself. The End.

Now, it seems quite likely that this play was not intended to have been performed per se, seeing as how it called for special effects that would've made Mel Gibson plotz with delight--beheading, disembowling, budding adolescent breasts sliced open only to spurt milk instead of blood (more on this in a moment)--and tenth century convents, as far as I know, were not known for their sophisticated SFX technology. Neither are producers of late night university black box cabaret shows, of course, but this did not daunt our director, who also dabbled (to put it kindly) in design.

So, for instance, she made paper-mache kiddie "heads" for Hattie's henchperson to throw before Sapientia's agonized eyes as proof of the dastardly deed, per script directions; they landed with a hollow "thunk," as I recall, and the one meant to represent mine had blonde curls glued to it, probably culled from Barbie dolls. Faith, the eldest (age twelve, in the script), had her tits cut off. Since she has a line about "Behold, instead of blood, a stream of milk is flowing!," the director decided to have her wear water balloons filled with yep, you guessed it.

My role as Hope, the second daugher (age ten) was to be eviscerated. Since there wasn't an opportunity to go backstage and change costume,--white nightie-like outfits for all of us--her solution was to sew a rather bulgy pocket on the front of my nightie with red velveteen intestines stuffed inside, later to be tweezed out by the henchperson (cackling with Pythonesque glee all the while). Sadly, they had a tendency to peek out of the pocket before it was disemboweling time, which kind of spoiled the, you know, surprise.

Now by this point of course you're saying, "oh, that sounds like brilliant camp! of COURSE the director meant for it to be funny!" And she did, she did. Mostly. I mean, she did have a good sense of humor, and there was that one rehearsal where Faith's water-balloon tit was tied too tightly and when they went to "slice" it the liquid kind of arced across the stage in best money-shot fashion, and after the director finished rolling around on the floor she said, rather regretfully, "no, no, that's too funny, we can't use that." Which to me suggests, in retrospect, that yes, she did want people to laugh...but if it was "too funny," then there wouldn't be any chance of it being taken seriously as a piece of historical interest, which I do think she kind of wanted to happen. Too.

To this end, she'd devised some odd and rather elaborate conceits. For instance, she'd decided that there should be a frame device showing that this is a play being put on by nuns, for nuns, in a convent. Okay. So it's an all female cast, all right; the emperor is a munchkin of a girl about half the size of the chick playing Charity, the adorable eight-year old, but it's okay: it's a play within a play! It all makes sense now! To further establish this, the director had us start by pantomiming a "evening in the life of" before actually starting Sapientia. This meant having us enter by solemnly filing in to the accompaniment of some kind of medieval chant (very pretty), sitting down, and eating a meal, which turned out to be cold rice in wooden bowls. In total silence. And full house lights. Then the head nun/emperor would stand up, clap her hands peremptorily, and this would signal "Let's Put On A Passion Play!"

So, since this is a late night cabaret in a tiny forty seat black box, what this means is that we're sitting mere inches away from our friends and classmates and (God help me) relatives, all merrily passing beer and wine from hand to hand and already laughing their asses off, facing them head on without even a shadow to hide in or a saving line of dialogue, trying to eat cold rice, while the tension builds...and builds...and builds. And let me tell you, if you don't think trying to do this without cracking helplessly the fuck up is an acting challenge the likes of which would stump Meryl Streep, you are wrong, wrong, WRONG. From there on, it only got worse.

Because, you see, in addition to the Charles Ludlam level of props, dialogue, acting, etc., there were a number of additional Ed Woodian factors which weren't intended to happen at all. Like: the stage manager left the backstage phone off the hook one night, so that just as my (first of several) tearful "goodbye, dear Mother, we shall be reunited in Heaven" speech was reaching its impassioned climax--*riiiiing.* There were music cues that didn't go off, light cues that were forgotten (as in, just when the beheading ax was coming down), flubbed lines, dropped torture implements--we were collossally klutzy, collectively, and none of us real actors, to boot.

But the gaffe I still remember most fondly, probably because it resulted in the only standing ovation I have ever gotten in my life, was this:

After I had been degutted, the director decided that it would be cool and maybe even kind of moving to have me give my deathbed speech from the electrics room, which was behind a glass window at the far end of the theatre. So Cardinal Fang-ette would drag my emptied carcass upstage, whereupon my earnest little face was to appear at the window, Sappy would come and press her hands to the glass, and I would have my
swan song...then, blackout.

Unfortunately, the acoustics weren't great, so I had to shout to make myself heard. That was with the door open. But the henchperson would keep forgetting, and, unable to resist the sheer drama of the "slam" noise, shut the door, on opening night.

The actor playing Sappy was of course facing away from the audience, so she didn't even pretend to not be laughing, that bitch. Me, I simply didn't realize, until afterward: once the door was shut, no one could hear anything I said. So there I was, overemoting my little heart out...and looking like a cross between Theda Bara's thallidomide cousin and a guppy. What the hell: applause is applause.

It was sheer love, of course. It really couldn't have been otherwise.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy

Tom DeLay stepping out of the driver's seat for good. Out of his pure, altruistic wishes for the good of the party, no doubt.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Psst: Barbie (TM) has joined the Homosexual Agenda (TM). Pass it on.

Story here.

Apparently, Concerned Women for America are Concerned that adding a third option for the "What gender are you?" question ("I don't know") on Mattel's Barbie Poll will warp the kiddies' fragile lit-tul miiinds.

Concerned Woman Bob Knight elaborates:

"It's the idea that well, maybe people aren't born a particular biological sex, or they are but that shouldn't determine their gender identity," Knight said. "And that's a very big component of the homosexual activist agenda now."

..."In other words, any kid who's not sure about who he is, he's fair game to try to persuade to have same sex acts."

I guess now that Mattel has apparently changed it to "Don't Want to Say," the worry could conceivably be that the kids might develop an anti-authoritarian attitude and become deliquents, or Communists. But at least that's better than having your four-to-eight-year-olds go all pomo homo on your ass. Damn those online polls, anyway.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Possibly the most irritating thing in the world

...is a neighbor who constantly plays music that's just loud enough for you to hear, but not enough to tell what the fuck it is. All I know is, it's either the same damn song over and over and over again, or a series of songs that have remarkably similar basslines. Slow, monotonous basslines.

Actually, any repeated sound is that much worse if you can't quite tell what it is. In my old place, the people in the apartment right above me used to, frequently, do...something...that I could only guess was a really lively game of marbles. Or, possibly, they had a barrel of ball-bearings rigged to a trip-wire so that every time someone got up to go to the bathroom or something it spilled all over the floor...and then, they had to recollect the whole thing, one. click. at. a. time. Favorite time of day to do this: one or two in the morning. Or there was the next-door neighbor who was training to be on Broadway: never could quite make out which showtune it was, but whatever it was, it was always heartfelt.

Ahhhh, apartment living. Did I mention the part about what the fuck am I doing here, in New York, with the extra-big-buildings-with-their-very-old-and-thinning-walls, among other things? I may have, once or twice, of late.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

High school, cont'd further

Some months after that, the friendship wound down, and at last stopped altogether. There was no dramatic parting of the ways. The phone calls and shopping expeditions just got more and more desultory. The moment that probably should have been a clean breaking point, but wasn’t, came in the library during one eternal lunch period. We were both sitting against the stacks on the wall, and we’d been snapping at each other. The gist was that Rachel was telling me that she was sick of me. Finally I got revved up enough to say, “Well, if that’s how you feel, why don’t you go somewhere else?” She replied, with far more exasperation than warmth, “Where else am I supposed to go?” And that, for the time being at least, settled that. It didn’t occur to me till years later that I would have been well justified in walking off myself, in that case. Or maybe it did occur to me; but, I stayed, until it was over.

I suppose I might also have thought, if incoherently, that it was, somehow, poetic justice. I’d once given my friend Richard the cold shoulder, after all, more or less at her behest, in that library, perhaps in that very spot. Rachel shared the opinion of the overwhelming majority, that “Dickie” was a shrill, giggling, mincing faggot and hence not worth acknowledging, much less consorting with. (“He’s gay,” she told me matter-of-factly, one day in her kitchen. “Everybody knows he’s gay.” Then, with a small laugh, “It’s his fault. He was born that way.”) I had felt both uneasy and annoyed that day, as Rachel urged me away with barely a pretense of politeness; all concessions to conformity aside, the truth was, he did annoy me, quite a bit in fact. Part of it was simply that at the end of the day, we really didn’t have all that much in common, Dick and I; like his overbearing mother, Richard was deeply conservative and conventional in many ways. I did not share his affection for Reagan, or for Bette Midler tearjerkers. I found his sense of humor juvenile, his mannerisms irritating, his clinginess an outright pain in the ass. Even then, though, I knew that at least part of the giggling and the eyerolling and the pestering came from loneliness.

That day in particular it certainly seemed that he knew he was on the verge of being dismissed, somewhere under all the determined cluelessness. His voice had gotten shriller and gigglier even as I squirmed away from whatever he was telling me—something about how he’d gotten on some mailing list but they’d gotten his name wrong, they’d addressed him as “Rickie,” with an “e,” like a girl, apparently they thought he was a girl, too, wasn’t that funny?! Finally I gave up and told him baldly that I, we, had to go, now. I looked him full in the face. That was the day that I learned that you can, in fact, read expressions in peoples’ eyes, not just around the eyes, as I’d been told by my father or some other logical person. Something happened to the blue; it darkened, then went flat. Something broke.

High school, cont'd

The funny thing was, even then I understood her deal pretty well, Rachel: her own mother was a pip. Well, more specifically, what I noticed was this: Rachel's mother would make a disparaging comment to her about her hair, or her thighs, and for the next several months, that would be all Rachel talked about: how awful her hair/thighs/whatever looked. (No mention, however, of her mother's comment in connection with this). When it was the hair, all her money went to mousses, sprays, and gels. She carried and used that "clicker," a cordless small curling iron that heated up to dangerous temperatures quickly if you didn't watch it, everywhere: on line at Magic Mountain, in the booth at Burger King, using the reflection in
the window as a mirror. During the thigh phase, she would slap, pinch, poke, stare, and jiggle whatever there was left to jiggle whenever she got a spare moment. She went on a diet and exercise regime, and could discourse with Talmudic subtlety on the distance between her thighs when she sat down. I don't remember my part when she got into these states: whether I teased her or argued that she wasn't fat or simply
went "uh huh, uh huh." I imagine it didn't much matter.

One day, she got arrested for shoplifting. I was with her; was, in fact, an enabler, although I did not get in trouble with the store or the law. She had talked about her exploits in petty thievery before, and I'd been...well, not disapproving, I know that much. It did seem daring, exciting, the way she talked about it. I'd never done anything remotely "bad" like that in my life: no smoking in the bathroom, no getting drunk at a kegger, no sneaking out the window after bedtime, and certainly no stealing.

So one day at the May Company, I...nudged her. She was already thinking along those lines, of course. She had enough money to pay for whatever it was (a bra, I think, or a T-shirt: something small), but the checkout line was long, and we were tired and bored. We conferred in oh-so-casual-tones, right there in the store, the pros and the cons. Finally, I said, "go for it." So she did. The old slip it on under the clothes in the dressing room trick. We headed out into the mall, my heart pounding. As soon as we'd passed out of the store, of course, they nabbed her.

We sat in a little grey-metal office in some hidden recess, backstage of the store. They made her sign some papers, and then they called her parents to come and release her, with the understanding that she would not be allowed back in the store for some months, possibly a fine as well. She cried, then, I think. The officers made it clear that I was not under arrest. I felt guilty as hell. To her credit, Rachel never tried to blame me for my part as instigator--not to the officers (who perhaps just didn't care), not to the folks, as far as I know, anyway. Possibly to me, some, afterward.

What I remember more clearly was her saying, in bitter tones: she'd been screamed at and grounded, but not (as she saw it) for stealing, since her mother had known that she'd taken things before and it had never earned more than a tsk-tsking sort of comment. They were punishing her, she said, for getting caught. I figured she was probably right.

I've been thinking about high school, lately.

More specifically, about its social lessons--so much harder than the academic ones, at least for me--and how far I've really come from them.

Rachel was my purported best friend for about two years, although I don't think we ever much liked each other. I'm not sure how much she liked anyone, actually; she had qualities that attracted me to her (could be amusing, smarter than average, liked a lot of the same things I liked, just shy enough to not be threatening), but warmth wasn't among them. Once, I remember, presents were exchanged--it was one of our birthdays, and/or I was going away on vacation, perhaps--and she said, "Well, I guess I have to give you a hug." And did. There wasn't a whole lot of that, though.

When I say she was amusing, I mean she had a certain...style that felt comfortable to me, and presumably vice-versa. A sardonic turn, a shared roll of the eyes, a half-sided smile. She was self-deprecating, which probably appealed to me. In retrospect, she was just kind of deprecating across the boards. The boy she had a crush on was "the Mosquito" (he had a squinchy face as well as the smoothly muscular build that made her tongue-tied and red-faced). Our dogs were "gross" or "mops" (she preferred her cat). Other peoples' appearance were always fair game. For me, too, of course; playing amateur fashion critic was a fun game, whether flipping through the pages of Cosmo in the library or sitting at Sbarro at the mall, sipping diet Coke. One of her favorite words was "normal," and I went well along with it. Normal was good. Normal was safe. Normal was...normal.

I don't remember her ever being particularly supportive of me, except maybe inside that "normal" frame. My hair could look good today, for example, particularly if I'd let her fuss with it with her "clicker." Beyond that...hard to recall, in fact, now I'm trying. I have a feeling it's because my mind would've been so preoccupied with beating up on and second-guessing myself, anything from her would've probably just slid into the general maelstrom. I know there were a lot of "jokes" that were subtle or not-so-subtle undercuts. More clearly, I remember what she *didn't* do: stand up for me when I was under attack from someone else, ever. (A May afternoon, the two of us having lunch on the steps, in the open sunshine, me in shorts; a boy sitting about ten feet away, nasty, relentless: "Why don't you shave your legs?" Rachel looked down or into the distance. I mumbled something vaguely hostile in his general direction, something about why didn't he use acne cream. Rachel snerked. The boy was unfazed, most likely because he didn't actually hear me. Later, me bitching about it to Rachel, who said, with that little half-smile, "Well, he was just commenting." Then: "Anyway, the hair doesn't show *that* much; you're blonde. Probably just because you were in the sun. I have to shave every day." We moved on to comparing our various flaws and faults. Later that week I bought an electric razor).

At the time, I wasn't really cognizant of the nuances in our relationship, such as they were. I certainly would've had a hard time articulating the way I felt, at fourteen-fifteen-sixteen. Once when we were drifting apart, I remember telling my mother that the friendship "wasn't going anywhere," meaning I suppose that we'd gotten into a rut, that the friendship was still really quite superficial, that I didn't really feel like I could confide in Rachel or trust her. My mother said, "What do you mean? Going, where would it go?"