Thursday, February 25, 2010

Once more, with jolly fat guys

Today it's snowing. Again. Great big fat snowflakes the size of silver dollars, and it's slushy and wet and gross and nobody's having fun anymore. I've been pretty good about winter so far. Compared to my first winter in New York, I've probably cut my bitching and moaning down by at least 60%. I've tried to enjoy the snow and the hot chocolate with whiskey (it's such a struggle!). But today I'm bringing home an air conditioning unit, which people give away for free in this weather. It's way to early to even think about cranking up the AC, which means that I am so ready for winter to be over that I'm actually fantasizing about the wet, rancid heat of August on the waterfront.

But I press on optimistic-wise because my whiskey isn't gone yet and I do so love my new neighborhood. I haven't written that much about Cobble Hill since I moved there from Bedstuy, and I should probably mention that it's just great, really super, a grand place to live. There are five bookstores within walking distance of my apartment. Five! One of them, Freebird Books, is literally next door to me (though they're only open on weekends) and tonight I'm going to the book club meeting there. Another, Book Court, was voted Best Bookstore in the Village Voice's Best of New York 2009. Book Court is the go-to bookstore for famous authors promoting their wares to Brooklynites, and I get that feeling I mentioned earlier about this maybe being a famous place I should know more about, but don't.

Anyhoo, last night I went to Book Court for a reading by Jeff Garlin, who did the voice of the Captain in 'Wall-E.' He's also an executive producer and regular actor on HBO's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.' Jeff Garlin's new book, My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World, is about him losing weight, so there were lots of fat jokes and Jewish humor. "To the three Gentiles in the audience, hello, welcome."

My favorite part was when a cell phone rang in the middle of the reading. Normally this is the worst part of any public gathering. Jeff Garlin fell silent. I could feel the audience stiffen as one, ready to stink-eye the hell out of the inconsiderate jerk who left their phone on.

"That's my phone," the author said sheepishly. Oh, haha, then it's okay, everyone laughs. "Let me see who it is." Even better! More laughing!

"Hey, it's Richard Kind from 'A Serious Man.' Did you guys see 'A Serious Man'?"

This is Brooklyn! Of course we saw 'A Serious Man'! Richard Kind was the loser brother who slept on the couch and had a machine to drain his neck boil and was arrested for sodomy and gambling. Awesome!

So he takes the call. "Richard, why do you always call me when I'm performing. Seriously, I'm at Book Court doing a reading! Here, listen." He puts on his speaker phone and suddenly we, the audience, are talking, or more accurately laughing, to Richard Kind.

It doesn't get much sweeter than that.

Monday, February 22, 2010


My Daddio and his brother used to sit outside of the Baptist church on Sundays listening to the choir and songs of worship, though as little white boys, they never went inside. This was the 50s, after all. He told me that he learned a lot about music from those Sundays on the steps. I always imagined what was going on inside as that scene from "Blue Brothers" when Jake and Elwood go into the church and get saved and everyone is singing and clapping and the black people are doing somersaults in the air. Now that's church.

Since it's Black History Month, I took my co-worker up on her offer to go to her church, which, according to the other people in the office who'd been, was pretty much just like that scene in "Blues Brothers." So yesterday, I attended Sunday services at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Queens. Forgot my power drill in her car afterwords, too. Have you ever been to a black church? You should go. It's all kinds of awesome. Everyone's singing and clapping and holding hands and yelling "Hallelujah!" and "Praise Jesus!" As my friend RiskingHemlock said when I told him where I would be on Sunday, "They party down with Lord!"

It's not what I'd call a leisurely experience. The service lasts three hours and you get really emotionally connected to what's going on. The sermon has a lot of call and response. People stand up and raise their arms if the spirit moves them. The organist plays a chord to punctuate the pastor's words. There's a lot of audience participation. And one woman in the choir had this shiny pink thingie, almost like a fairy wing, that she whirled over her head when she was singing. I was jealous; I wanted a fairy wing, too.

The theme for this week's sermon, delivered by Reverend Elaine, was about discrimination, so we got to hear about Paul and Barnabas, circumcision, President Obama, and her childhood church in Tennessee. My favorite bit was about a young woman who had to get up in front of the congregation and apologize for getting pregnant out of wedlock, "But the brothers never had to get up and apologize for getting the girls pregnant!" Lots of approval from the crowd on that one. And when this woman got going, she sounded exactly like I always imagined a black preacher would sound, with gasps of emotion at the end of some of her words. "And God-ah! does not discriminate-ah! against you because you're not light enough, not dark enough, not thin enough-ah, not tall enough, not smart enough, or not rich enough! Turn to your neighbor and say, Jesus loves you and so do I!" Lots of turning to your neighbor, lots of hugging and shaking hands and offering words of encouragement. It was great.

I've been to a lot of different kinds of religious services. In New York, I go to the synagogue on high holy days with the BF. At home in Hawaii, I'm a member of a Zen Buddhist temple. I went to a Catholic service in Peru where I didn't understand a word and wasn't allowed to go up to the front to get a cookie, which was my perception of communion. I've to youth group retreats with a Baha'i friend, Lutheran services with my college roommate, and one full moon celebration with a bunch of lesbian witches. When it comes to religion, I've been around.

So when I say that my Sunday in the black church was the best of all of them, that's really saying something. (No offense to the witches, you used to be my number one, it's just that your music wasn't as good.) Services at the AMC reminded me, more than anything, of the funerals and baby luaus we used to have in Ka'u: the exuberance, the joy, the rocking out, everyone at ease with the balance between the spiritual and the physical.

Speaking of the physical, I mentioned earlier that I left my power drill in my coworker's car, which bears some explanation. I don't usually bring power tools with me to houses of worship, though I did get in some good jokes about Jesus the carpenter. "I thought we were going to build something!" The BF wanted to borrow my drill for his latest film project, but he already had so much to carry on Sunday morning that I offered to help him out by schlepping the Bag 'O Drill. He got on one bus, I got on another, and I looked down and realized that I had kept the bag. Okay, I thought, I guess I'm taking the drill to church. But I didn't take it into the building with me; that would've been weird. When my coworker dropped me off at my apartment afterwards, I forgot to bring the drill up with me. I expect I'll get it back today after work.

Turn to your neighbor and say, "Jesus loves you and so do I." Yes, right now, wherever you are. Put a little bit of awkward into somebody's day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Geez, the marketers don't try very hard. "Snowmaggedon." Pretty sure that's what they were going to call the second Star Wars movie but went with "The Empire Strikes Back" when they decided not to shoot the whole thing on Hoth.

We're supposed to get a buttload of snow dumped on us this evening, and since New York is apparently the 3rd worst city in the country for winter weather, I guess that means we all have to curl around our space heaters and weep quietly now. My office has already declared tomorrow a snow day, which is great for the student workers and great for the salaried crew, but the Mighty Temp here depends on those paid hours. Bummer for me and the latest mushroom growing in my apartment.

Seriously, where do these things keep coming from? This one was under my Dustbuster. Tomorrow I'll have to declare Mushroomggedon and Windex the hell out of it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bad Movies

I can remember the exact moment when I realized that movies could suck. It was spring break of my senior year in high school, and me and three bestest friends took a real grownup ladies-style road trip (actually we used planes and buses) to Honolulu, the big city, the tourist ghetto, home of the former largest mall in the world. The day after the U.S. invaded Iraq, we were hanging around watching "The Fast and the Furious" on television, and I suddenly had a thought: this sucks. Striking in its clarity, simple, direct, and timely. This movie is terrible. Vin Diesel's hotness redemes nothing. I'm going to graduate high school in a month. My government lied to me. We're at war. G-d, this movie sucks the paint off the walls!

I know that 17 is a little old to discover crappy movies. I can thank my parents for that. Daddio had a huge collection of movies, some bootleg, some legit, that I watched ad nauseum for many years, and they were all largely awesome: "Aliens," "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones," "Blues Brothers," "Coming to America," "Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Natural Born Killers," to name a few. He didn't keep junk in his library and wouldn't take me to the movie theater to see anything he didn't also want to see--"Waterworld" (screw all of you, I liked "Waterworld," they filmed it in Kona and I recognize the extras), "X-Files," "Star Trek: First Contact." There were bad movies out there, but Daddio didn't allow me to be contaminated by them.

Mum didn't usually watch movies, she read books, so our video collection at her house was almost exclusively Disney classics, sent by her parents, and anyone who has a soul knows that "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin" are great. Sometimes she took us to the Naalehu Theater, one of those fabulous plantation-era movie palaces that every little village on the Big Island used to have, and we'd watch whatever blockbuster Hollywood deigned to toss our way. "Jurassic Park," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Interview With The Vampire," "The Lion King." Solid, dependable movies with decent writing and good special effects.

And once, she pestered me and my sister for months about renting "Empire Records" from the Ocean View Minimart. "It'll be great, this movie looks cool, why don't you girls want to watch this? You know what, forget both of you, I'm renting it, I've asked you for months if you want to watch it and you never do, so guess what, it's Mommy's turn and I pick Empire Records." Of course, it was awesome, though having to admit that she was right almost ruined the experience.

I had this idea in my head that mainstream movies were by and large good; that only indie schlock-fests like "Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death" were truly awful; that Hollywood had my best interests in mind.

I know, I was a weird kid.

And when we finally got cable television, my convicition that good entertainment prevailed only grew. A whole channel just for cartoons, and another for science fiction, and another for hard science? I can't tell you how many hours of high school I spent parked in front of the Discovery Channel working on abstract paintings and eating olives straight out of the can. Those were the Halcyon days...

I don't what it was about "The Fast and the Furious" that ruined all that for me. I'd seen enough terrible horror movies with my friends to know that bad movies existed, and I'd even seen enough mainstream movies, sold to the masses like freaking hotcakes, to know that Hollywood churns out trash like an Amish woman churns butter. "Queen of the Damned," I'm glaring in your direction. But I guess I thought those movies were the aberration rather than the norm. I kept the faith. And then, we went to war and I had the entirely new experience of wanting to turn off a movie without waiting to see how it ended. "That's it," I thought, "stick a fork in me, I'm done, and maybe it'll distract me from the pain."

I don't want to blame the loss of my innocence entirely on the Bush administration, but it does make one wonder, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Geek Chic

"He dresses like Buddy Holly." "I guess that's cool." "Yeah, but I think he does it unintentionally." The Venture Bros.

My favorite geeky-girly website Heartless Doll has a list of 10 "Geeky" things that aren't geeky, so quit acting like they're geeky. The list includes glasses, thrift stores, computers, NPR, and ninjas. From the article:

"Can we pinpoint the moment at which dorkiness became the new coolness? Nowadays, it seems like anyone with a pair of glasses and a couple of vinyl records can call themselves geeky--often, in fact almost always, with pride. And those of us who have been actively and persistently mocked throughout our youth and beyond for being genuinely deemed uncool by the Cool Kids, well, we don't take kindly to this whole "dork is the new black" or whateverthefuck."

I remember reading something to this effect in the book "American Nerd: The story of my people," by Benjamin Nugent, and also on the website Stuff White People Like. All I have to do to see the phenomenon of geek chic in action is look around me on the subway: the sweater vests, the knitting, the horn rimmed glasses and skinny jeans. New York runneth over with hipsters proclaiming their nerdome. It's currently hip to be square, and frankly, I don't like it anymore than my lady friends over at Heartless Doll.

See, I was never cool. Well, maybe for about an hour in the early nineties, when I dressed up as Catwoman to go to the grocery store--that was pretty badass. Other than that, not so much. I had to wait until I hit college before the things that made me an outcast in grade school became socially acceptable, and even that shift required some major changes in my wardrobe and behavior. Drinking helped. So did makeup and a pushup bra. But in many ways, I'll always be faking it, because no matter how interested I seem when I'm talking to you about politics, music, or the history of the Lower East Side, some part of me is always thinking about the Enterprise. (That and rhyming couplets.)

At first, I was happy when nerds went mainstream, because that meant more of what I like. More spaceships, 'splosions, vampires, ninjas, and Japanese stuff. "District 9" and "Avatar" are both up for Best Picture Oscars this year. The new "Star Trek" rocked pretty hard, and "Venture Bros." is on its fourth season. But it's a mixed blessing, because while nerd culture is considered cool, being an actual nerd isn't. Ever hear of cyberbullying? The cool kids took computers and turned them against us. Our sweet, precious computers, in the hands of the enemy. *sniff* The hierarchy didn't change, but the nerd identity was appropriated by the ruling class, leaving us with less than we started with. I call bullshit on that!

All things considered, this is a minor irritation in my life. Fashions change, geek chic will be replaced by the next big thing, and hopefully we true nerds can be left in peace with our robots. However, since February is Black History Month, I'm going to lay some heavy on you and give you something to think about. How many white kids do you know who dress and talk like MTV rappers? My people back in Hawaii, how many Jawaiian and contemporary hiphop radio stations are there? Mainstream culture appropriated the black identity and sold it to us as cool, but ask any actual African American and they will tell you that it is still not cool to be black in America. Or look at it this way: does anyone think that the success of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" made it any safer or more acceptable for two gay men to walk down the street holding hands?

I'm sure fellow nerd and all-around awesome dude RiskingHemlock will have something much more profound to say on this subject, so I'll kick it over to him. RH, what do you have to say about geek chic? Do you feel cool yet?