Sunday, December 20, 2009

Proper first day of winter

Last night, New York City lost another $10 to $16 million. If you'll recall from our previous lesson on NYC snow management, that's one million for every inch of snow that fell in the first big storm of winter, which is handy, because today is also the winter solstice and thus the first day of winter.

Way to get with the program, Mother Nature.

But MN wasn't the only entity with great timing yesterday. I myself stepped out of the laundromat with my heap of clean, neatly folded clothstuffs just as the first flakes fell, narrowly avoiding the dreaded task of dragging my laundry cart through the snow. My first winter snowfall in New York, I was sorting my laundry and thinking, "La la la, how fun this will be, to tow my laundry in the gently falling snow on this early winter's morn." Ten feet out the door, I thought, "This is really f**king awful!" Nothing is worse than dragging the laundry cart through the snow: ice gets kicked up from the wheels, people don't shovel their sidewalks so the cart becomes a plow, and you have to lift the whole thing up and over the ankle-deep puddles of slush and motor oil every time you cross the road. Blech. Of all things to be avoided in the wintertime, laundry in the snow tops the list, along with the joining the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and standing in line for four hours to ice skate in front of the tree at Rockefeller Center.

However, if you're like me and have no where to go today, and you've patched the leaky parts of the window frame with white duct tape (so it blends with the wall), and you've got a fire escape attractively heaped with undisturbed snow, winter in New York is a dandy thing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Be Italian

Last night, I got to attend the New York premiere of the movie "Nine," starring DanielDayLewisMarionCotillardPenelopeCruzKateHudsonJudidon'tcallmeDameDenchSophiaLorenandFergie. Whew. Lot of star power in that picture. Everyone except Sophia Loren attended the screening, and for those curious about how much celebrititis I was exposed to, I did get within touching distance of Judi Dench and Marion Cotillard, and within spitting distance of Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman. According to my good friend and fellow blogger RiskingHemlock, I was also seen passing by Daniel Day-Lewis on the red carpet, but I must have been too distracted by how pretty my shoes were, because I didn't notice. Seriously, look at my shoes! Plus, I got to walk down the red carpet twice; there was an issue with our tickets, so we had to go back outside to confer with the publicists and then walk the whole gauntlet again. Nobody paid attention to us, but I felt a little sorry for all the big stars who couldn't walk three steps without having to stop and pose and be blinded to the point of seizures by the flash bulbs. Let me say, sometimes it's nice to be nobody.

Of course, those who remember my trip to The Daily Show already know my views on celebrities: they look just like they do in their movies, only more real lifey. Not that I'm one of those I-don't-care-about-meeting-celebrities-because-I'm-too-cool-and-secretly-jealous-of-them people. I might have squealed and hopped about like an idiot if I'd actually gotten to meet any of these people, but since I just SAW them, I managed to keep my composure and not embarrass myself or the BF's family.
I was more excited about getting to sit next to Uncle G--- in the theater, one of the BF's hanai relatives, because he knew all the good gossip about the non-movie star celebs in the room and kept up a running commentary in my ear about who produced what Disney movie, who directed which Broadway hit, who gave money to which hospital and why, and of course, who was sleeping with whom. We also talked about arms dealing, and then he showed me a picture of his dog. Good times.

As for the movie "Nine," it was excellent. As good as "Chicago" and way, way better than "Memoirs of a Geisha," (which, much like the "Matrix" sequels, I just pretend never happened). The songs were great and eminently hummable--I've been crooning "Be Italian" to myself all day--and get this, it was honest and emotional, a thoughtful, intelligent musical that's also a big budget star-packed extraveganza. When they sang, I cared. It seems to come from some Bizarro version of Hollywood, where movies are sumptuous, sensory delights that have something sad and important to say about love and the human condition, and DON'T use 'splosions to say it.

Needless to say, "Nine" will do much better in Europe than here in the U.S. Not to trash the motherland, but the masses tend to have piss-poor taste when it comes to entertainment. The last time I was in Amsterdam, I went every day to the movie theater because it was colder than a witch's tit outside and there's only so much Dutch television I can watch in a hotel room smaller than a Manhattan studio. And all of the movies I saw were studio-funded Hollywood movies with mainstream actors--no foreign or arthouse or even indie flicks--but they were just so GOOD compared to the studio-funded Hollywood movies shown here at home. They were intelligent, character-driven, witty, and thought-provoking, like nothing I'd heard of in the States! Admittedly, at the time I was still living in Honolulu, and we don't get much besides Asian cinema and 'splosion-fests from the mainland, but still yet--it felt like all the movies I would have wanted to see were made for export.
That's why I'm way happy and feel very fortunate to have gone to the premiere of "Nine." I'm glad to know that people are funding this sort of project, and that other people are watching it, and that movies can still be magic with nothing but great actors, great costumes, great music, and great scenery (CGI, I'm glaring at you across the room).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Just turn the oven on!"

You know how irritating it is when you argue with your parents and they turn out to be right? The opposite happened to me tonight, but it was just as irritating.

I love my new little apartment, my Rachel-sized den, but the radiator is in the bed alcove, so the front room gets chilly. I've been planning to get a space heater to keep my feets warm. This is a good plan, a sound, fire-marshall approved plan, one socially acceptable by East Coast standards.

But says the peanut gallery in Hawaii:

"Just turn on the oven Turn the oven on and open the door, didn't your Dad ever teach you that redneck thing? It's not dangerous, why would it be dangerous? Just turn the oven on, it's a heater! You call your dad and you ask him and he'll tell you, just turn the oven on!"

And since I'm on Skype, Mom can see me as she says all this. She can see me NOT turning the oven on, NOT following her advice. More to shoosh her than anything else, I pull all my pots and pans out of the oven and turn it on. I've never turned on the oven in this apartment before (not much of a baker and I don't have shrinkydinks), so I'm not sure what to expect.

My poor neighbors...

About two minutes later my smoke alarm goes off, high, piercing shrieks, stinging the eardrums. I yank the carbon monoxide alarm off the wall and fling the batteries to the floor, yank open the windows, and finally stand on a chair and cover the alarm with my hands.

"Did you open the windows? You should open the windows. Take the batteries out! Can't you take that off the wall? She can't take it off the wall, I don't think she's doing it right. My babe, did you open the windows?"

"Yes!" I yell. "Yes, I opened the windows, yes, I took the batteries out of the carbon monoxide thingie, and don't TELL me I don't know how to dismantle the fire alarm, I've been taking them apart in every house I've lived in since middle school!"

A damp cloth over the alarm does the trick. I stand on the chair, holding the dishcloth over the speaker, and yell at the Skype some more.

"Turn on the oven, Rachel! Just turn on the oven to heat up the room! What a great idea, Mom."

"I think you should get a little space heater," she says.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eddie Would Go!

Today, for only the eighth time in its 25 year history, they held the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Surf Contest at Waimea Bay, North Shore, Oahu. The reason this surf contest has only been held eight times is that it requires waves of at 30 feet, because that's how much ass Eddie Aikau kicked when he was alive, and North Shore only occasionally gets the right kind of waves. (Note: a wave is measured from the bottom of the trough to the top of the crest.) Seriously, this is easily the sickest swell I've seen in my lifetime. I've been watching it live streaming all day and I'm sure the neighbors are wondering what's going on. "Oohhh, oh no, OH MY G-D, YOU'RE KIDDING ME!"

People slept overnight on the beach at Waimea Bay to get a good spot for viewing. Police estimate that 30,000 people are crammed into the valley for the Eddie. They've got Big Island boy Shane Dorian (my fav), seven-time world champion Kelly Slater, Eddie Aikau's relative Clyde Aikau (who's 60-freaking-years old!), and a whole bunch of other cool dudes. They compete by invitation-only, and if there was ever a day when I desperately wanted to be back home, today would be it. I want to be at the Eddie.

Two stories: Eddie Aikau was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay, born and raised on North Shore, descended from a kahuna nui (high priest), and a crew member on the Hokule'a voyaging canoe's maiden voyage. The Hokule'a, still sailing today, was built according to ancient Hawaiian traditions. Its navigators use no modern instruments to sail, only stars and wind and waves, so on its maiden voyage, when it capsized and stranded the crew in the open ocean, there was no way for them to call for rescue. Eddie volunteered to take his surfboard and paddle to Lanai to get help. The last anyone ever saw of him, he was paddling away from the Hokule'a and tossing away his lifejacket. The rest of the Hokule'a canoe managed to flag down a passing airplane and continue their voyage to Tahiti, but Eddie was lost to the ocean, because--here it comes--Eddie would go.

Hence, the Eddie Aikau.

Second story: my first winter on Oahu, my roommate Robin and I got up at 4 in the morning to catch the 55 bus from Kaneohe to North Shore to watch the Haleiwa Surf Conest. The college dorm had chartered a van to take students up to the contest, but Robin and I always were unconventional, and that day it paid off. The surf had been so big the night before that the road up to North Shore was closed for all traffic--except the public bus. Robin and I were the only people in the bus, on a deserted beach highway, watching the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean on the way to the surf contest. And Robin, good Southern Californian girl from San Clemente that she is, nearly fell over with excitement when she got her picture taken with Kelly Slater.
I find it only appropriate to close this post by saying that the winner of the Eddie Aikau of 2009 is Greg Long, a Southern Californian boy from San Clemente. This one's for you, Robin. Hang loose.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I missed a flash mob

If you've ever watched a musical and thought, "People don't burst out into song and dance in real life," then you need to watch's Best 10 Flash Mobs of 2009. Take a look at number 3, the Elf Yourself flash mob in Union Square. As soon as I saw this video, I felt like punching a hole in my wall. I was there! And I missed it! I was in Union Square on November 3rd, shopping for clementines and a whole roast chicken, and I saw all these people milling around the subway entrances dressed as elves, but rather than hang around like a sensible person and see what they would start to do, I went about my business and MISSED THE FLASH MOB!

Oh, by the way: A flash mob is when a group of people in a public space suddenly start dancing the same dance. Fans of "Rocko's Modern Life" may remember this happening in the Spring Cleaning episode. "Rehersals were on Tuesdays. Didn't you see the flier?" I get a little choked up watching flash mobs and I don't know why. The impromptu expression of joy? Sympathy for those who had to coordinate such massive displays of cooperation? Memories of May Day at Naalehu School? It's a mystery to me.

Going back to Union Square, I must add that the elves weren't the only weirdos hanging around that day. There were also a bunch of teenagers doing cosplay (dressing up like anime characters) and taking pictures in Union Square. I don't know what they ended up doing, but I missed that cool thing, too.

The lesson learned: if you ever see a group of people all dressed the same milling around in a public space, stick around.


It's a strange word.

That's the only segue I could think of. Christmas is here. Talk all you want about "the holidays," put those light-up Menorahs on the dashboard and cut the mistletoe at Stonehenge, but that's all part of the politeness conspiracy because December is still. All. About. Christmas. (In the Western world. I don't think Iran is gonna have a tree lighting ceremony this year.)

Here are some things I know:

Jesus was most likely born in April, not December.

The Christians appropriated many pagan festivals, most notably Saturnalia, when developing Christmas.

Most cultures in the world have some sort of celebration around the winter solstice because hey, the sun doesn't seem to be around as much this time of year, should we be worried?

Here are some other things I know:

Stores put out the Christmas decorations on Halloween.

All but the most militant of non-Christian families need at least one picture of their kid in Santa's lap.

Americans can't agree on much, but we can all agree on Christmas: there's gonna be a tree, the color scheme is red and green, and the main food is either turkey, ham, or goose. Adults will get blasted on rum and eggnog and kids will get blasted on candy canes. And presents--oh, will there be presents. Most likely brought by a fat guy in a red suit. In Japan, he's called Annual Gift Man and he lives on the moon.

Even the act of NOT participating in Christmas--agreeing not to exchange presents, going out for Chinese food on Christmas Day, scrubbing the toilet and watching anime until your eyeballs bleed kung fu--validates the holiday, as the very reason for your protest is still Christmas. It's omitted, but it leaves a pine tree-shaped hole in your life that other people can sniff out from a mile away.

I'm putting all of this out there for everyone to read because I only want to have the bah-humbug conversation once. We can all agree that Christmas is a holiday cribbed together from various traditions that has degenerated into a celebration of conspicuous consumption. And the music sucks.

There. It's said.

Now, here's a dirty little secret of mine: I love Christmas. I love the colors and the lights and the parties. I love to dress up and get sloppy-giggly drunk with my friends (an activity not strictly confined to December). I love Christmas trees and Christmas lights and garland and the Christmas ornaments we used to put on the tree when I was little. I love getting presents and when I have the money I love giving presents and there's nothing like the hush of Christmas morning when everyone is sitting at home in their pajamas drinking eggnog at 10 in the morning. I never take my Christmas lights down. I still don't like the music, but I do love Santa.

In Ka'u, Santa was always played by this guy named Eugene Dudiot who was burned black as lava from his days out in the Hawaiian sun. (Ka'u is actually called "land of the burned backs," which isn't as cool as its "land of the rebels" nickname, but is pretty accurate nonetheless.) Eugene Dudiot--like "dude," but "dude-wah." Santa Dude-wah.

I'll leave you with that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chronic City, stoned and slightly disappointing

Any writer under 35 and worth a damn lives in Brooklyn. I'm not saying I caused this phenomenon--though it does give one pause--but because that's just the way it's been for the last five or ten years. I read it in my last issue of Poets & Writers magazine.

So when the most successful bookstore in Brooklyn hosts a reading by the most famous of the Brooklyn literati, I'm in there like swimwear. I read Jonathan Lethem's book "Fortress of Solitude" my first summer in New York and loved it so much I almost jacked it from my housemate when I moved. Lethem's newest book, "Chronic City," is one of the New York Times' Top 10 books of 2009, and I got myself all jazzed up to see him read from it at Book Court tonight. The BF even got there early to get us good seats.

And it started off great. The bookstore lost their microphone stand and had to stick the microphone in a pumpkin. Lethem came on, looking lean and sassy (can guys be sassy or is that only for ladies?), and said we were welcome to come and go as we pleased, that there were lots of good bars in the area and to "keep our options open."

Problem was, that wasn't just a clever way to put the audience at ease. Five minutes into his reading, I was considering those other options. "Chronic City" was just plain dull. He started reading in the middle of the story without any description of what we'd missed in the earlier chapters, so maybe there really is something wonderful and rare about this book, but I was pretty bored. The three characters were smoking a lot of pot. I think that was the problem. If I want to experience smart people getting really, really high and boring each other with big words and metaphysical discussion--well, actually, I wouldn't want to experience that (again). Stoned people do not a story make. The BF and I made our graceful exit after putting in our obligatory half hour, but it was a rather disappointing experience from an author that I know has more talent than that.

Plus I really wanted him to chuck that pumpkin in the audience and he never did. Le sigh...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brass band in a glass box

Apparently November 30th is a holiday: Winter's Eve, according to Lincoln Center and the Apple Corporation. I enjoy holidays and celebrations of most kinds: Arbor Day, May Day, Emancipation Day, Summer Solstice, National Mustard Day--I'll get behind any excuse for a parade and a party. It's in my blood. The City and County of Honolulu once said that they were going to put a cap on the number of parades going through Waikiki because "81 a year is excessive." Eighty-one parades a year? Sweet Santabot, that's more than one parade per week! Over a thousand hours of lion-power a month (estimates may vary)!

New York City seems to have a similar problem. They even have a hotline you can call during the summertime to find out if somewhere, at some time during the day, there's going to be a parade. On our last episode, I spoke of my avoidance of the Big Big Apple Events like St. Patrick's Day and New Years Eve, but I neglected to mention my delight in the Small Big Apple Events: Turkish Independence Day, the Brooklyn Book Festival, the Mermaid Parade, and the New York Anime Festival (small by NYC standards and definitely not mainstream).

Winter's Eve falls into this latter category. I suspect Lincoln Center made up this holiday, though like Cabbage Night in New Jersey, it might just be new to me. That's okay. I got to see the oddly specifically named New York Philharmonic Principal Brass Quintet perform a free concert in the gleaming glass box that is the Apple Store. And they didn't just phone it in either, they played for a solid hour. I thought the tuba player was wearing blush--turns out playing tuba for an hour without stopping will put a glow in a man's cheeks. After leaving the Apple store and it's red-shirted employees, I followed the sound of rhythm and caught a bit of a killer drumline performance by some very nice(looking) young men.

Winter's Eve: next year, I'll leave out shave ice and holly for the Frost Elves in hopes of good tidings and attractive drummers for the coming season.