Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bearded Lady!

Couple of things: first, I saw the Japanese movie "Late Spring" last night with a friend from work. The professor introducing the movie--it was open to all students and staff at the school, but was being shown as part of a film class--made it sound like it was going to be the type of movie I don't like. He droned on and on for fifteen minutes about the Zen-like aspect of the filmmaker Ozu's work, about the space between events and how his movies weren't about plot but rather about character development. No where in there did I hear the words "explosion," "mind-bending," or "light projectile weaponry," and I was sorely concerned. But then it turned out that the movie was great! I stayed interested and engaged through the whole thing, except the five-minute Noh theater performance, which made me fall asleep a little, and then I cried at the end. Which leads me to believe that all the other deathly boring "character-driven" movies I've seen have, in fact, sucked. It wasn't just me and my short, comic-book-driven American attention span! Hurray!

Now, the bearded lady.

I'm short and the counter at work is tall. When people walk in, all I can really see are their shoulders and heads. So when a bearded person with long hair and an Aloha shirt walked in, my first thought was, "Here comes Tommy Chong!" I got up from my desk and my coworker who sits behind me muttered something I didn't quite hear. Tommy Chong opened his mouth and spoke to me in the sweet, high-mannered voice of a lady. I really, really hope my surprise didn't register on my face, because I was shocked. I've been around cross-dressers and transgendered people all my life; this woman was neither. If she'd been a biological woman transitioning to male, the hormones would have changed her voice at the same time as they gave her that fine, luxurious biker's mustache. And if she'd been a biological man transitioning to female, she'd have shaved that shit. Obviously, one cannot simply ask, "Lady, what's with the 'stache and goatie?" so I just had to send Tommy Chong on her way.

I turned back to my desk and my coworker said, "Didn't you hear me?"

"Why? What did you say?"

"When she walked it, I said, 'female.'" He paused, and in all seriousness added, "She's nice. Teaches a circus class."

Saturday, September 25, 2010


"Fela!" is a masterful Broadway musical about the life of Nigerian musical superstar and inventor of Afrobeat Fela Kuti. I went last night to have-look and consider it the best musical I've ever seen. It takes place in De Shrine, Fela Kuti's Lagos nightclub, in the 1970s, where Fela and his followers would gather to dance, play music, smoke pot, attend consciousness-raising lectures, and perform Yoruban rites.

This is a very different musical, in that it demands a level of participation from the audience that most performances don't. The fourth wall isn't just broken in "Fela!" It doesn't even exist. From the first, Fela, played by Sahr Ngaujah, speaks directly to the audience, welcoming us to De Shrine and schooling us on musical theory, dancing, and African politics. He's pretty much the only speaking character in the play, barring a few choice words from the ghost of his mother Funmilayo Kuti, played by Patti LaBelle. It's almost a one-man show, but not really, because Fela was the voice of his generation, so when he speaks, he speaks for all of the dancers and musicians and radicals who lived with him in his compound across the street from De Shrine. He speaks about his childhood desire to get out of Nigeria and live in London or America, his political awakening in the Black Power nightclubs of Los Angeles, his return to Nigeria, and his love for his country's potential, mixed with his hate of his country's corruption. Fela Kuti was arrested over 200 times because he spoke out openly against the generals and multi-national oil and diamond companies that made Nigeria the most corrupt country in Africa. But even after soldiers raided and burned his compound, torturing and raping his friends and murdering his mother, he never abandoned Nigeria for a safer life in exile.

"Fela!" is funny, sad, hopeful, and has GREAT music. It won well-earned Tonys for Best Choreography and Costume Design. The men wear tight bellbottoms in bright primary colors, and the women wear funky dayglo combinations of traditional post-colonial Nigerian and pre-colonial Yoruban dresses. Scenes in the underworld have the dancers in shaggy, spiky animal- and plant-spirit costumes that glow white and silver under blacklight. The dances are a similar combination of Yoruban rhythms and more modern African movements--I think. I have to just guess because I've never seen dancing like that before, that uses such grand, sweeping gestures with the whole body. I've also never listened to Afrobeat before, but I made a Fela Kuti station on my Pandora account and right now I'm hearing Fela's "No Poi" from 1975.The BF and I had to make a choice between going to see "Memphis," the 2010 Tony winner for best musical, and the musical it beat for the prize, "Fela!" I read descriptions of both of the plays and suggested that "Fela!" might be the more consciousness-raising choice. Though both plays feature mostly-black casts (disappointingly rare on Broadway) and deal with issues of race, music, and culture, "Fela!" has the more difficult task of also presenting audiences with what could very well be their first glimpse into Nigerian culture. I only have the barest knowledge of mainstream Nigerian history, never mind their counterculture movement.

When I told my sister my reasoning behind going to "Fela!" instead of "Memphis," she laughed at me and said I was turning into such a liberal. Maybe, but the truth is, New York is less integrated than Hawaii. I don't see as many mixed-race couples in this city, and I have to make an effort here to seek out and attend events that aren't majority white. In Hawaii, no such effort is required; it just sort of happens on its own. I'm not criticizing. There are so many people here that it's easy to fall in with groups of people you're comfortable with, whereas Hawaii is so small that you either interact with everybody or you interact with nobody.

So do I feel like my consciousness was raised? Absolutely. And I had a great time. A rousing success all the way around.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blowing up MTA's email

The Metro Transit Authority--services over 7 million passengers per day. It's the largest public transportation system in the country and has the largest subway fleet in the world. They've got this public transit thing down. Here's why I hate them.

I live a good 15 minute walk from the nearest subway, so in the mornings, I catch the B61 bus to the subway station. (I hate showing up at work sweaty.) But two weeks ago, the MTA reduced service on my route, so now the bus is always crowded waaaaay past capacity, in addition to coming so infrequently that I can't just wait for the next one or else I'll be late for work. This morning, my bus driver said that he didn't like it any more than we did, and we needed to raise hell with the MTA.

"You all are just taking it lying down," he said.

No, I thought, not I! When I got to work, I sat down and wrote letters of complaint to the MTA, my local representative, and I would have written a letter to Mayor Bloomberg except his website crashed my computer, and by the time I'd rebooted I'd already gotten distracted by the free hot dogs they were handing out at the campus bookstore.

I haven't heard back from my representative, Nydia Velazquez, but I did get a reply from MTA that I'll post here in it's full fuck-you form letter glory.

"We apologize for the difficulties you’ve been experiencing with B61 service.

Due to personnel reductions and overtime-pay restrictions made necessary by our current budgetary constraints, we may periodically experience intermittent gaps in scheduled bus service. The severely reduced availability to cover employee absences using “extra” bus operators or bus operators working overtime may result in some service not being operated, with little or no advance notice.

In response to your concerns, we notified our Road-Operations Unit. We requested that they give increased attention to the ____ route, make every effort to keep buses close to schedule and properly spaced, and ensure that bus operators are properly accommodating customers at all stops along the route.

We appreciate your continued support for MTA bus service, and assure you that we will continue to make very effort to provide the best service possible with the resources currently available to us.

Thank you for contacting us."

Apparently it was too much trouble to type in "B61" twice. "Never mind, this is good enough, she knows which bus she rides. Let's go get a hot dog."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Inaugural Post of Big Island Rachel's Books!

Hey-o! I've started a new blog. It's called Big Island Rachel's Books and will be nothing but book reviews.

Don't worry, the thinly veiled spells intended to bring about the end times--I mean, the ladylike musings of Big Island Rachel's regular blog will continue. I just want to write about my books, because I love them so. More importantly, I don't want to subject my regular readers to any more posts about comic books. I sense that I'm losing a significant percentage of my already-small audience every time I post this picture.

So BigIslandRachel will continue reporting the actual events of my weird and wonderful life, and BigIslandRachelsBooks will be about books (and comics) I'm reading. They'll link to each other often. You'll enjoy it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Tornado in Brooklyn

My coworker Andy told me to leave when the clock struck 5PM, but I was so close to being done with a massive pile of transcript requests that I ignored him. Holy low pressure front, Batman, was that a mistake. The difference between leaving at 5 and leaving at 5:10 put me on the street in the middle of a Brooklyn tornado, which is neither a fancy cocktail nor a sexual favor, but one of TWO actual tornadoes that trashed Brooklyn's ritziest dog-and-stroller neighborhood and turned parts of Queens into "Escape from New York." Observe the path of destruction!

We all knew that it was going to rain that afternoon, but I don't think any of us were expecting a storm like that. I even forgot my umbrella and simply trusted that I'd get home just in time for the sky to open. It's happened before, and I always feel quite proud of myself when I can open the curtains in the evening and see the little peebles dashing about on the streets below in a vain attempt to escape the wet, because I'm kind of a bastard that way.

But that extra ten minutes had me popping up to street level just as the first drops hit the pavement. Hell, I thought as I ducked under the eaves of the doggy day-care by the subway station, now I'M the dashing little peeble. I did think about making a run for it, but my apartment is a ten minute walk from the subway, and that rain was coming down awfully hard. And the wind seemed to be picking up a bit--more than a bit, actually--wait, what the crapola is happening?! I pressed myself up against the door behind me and tucked my head against my chest as enormous gusts of wind and rain tore through the street. I couldn't see ten feet in front of me. All I could think about was the guy who died on Fifth Avenue this spring when a tree fell on him during a windstorm. Self, I thought to myself, don't be be that guy!

After a few minutes, the storm passed over me and went on to uproot trees in Park Slope, break windows in Bedstuy, and tear off roofs in Queens. I walked home in nothing worse than a steady downpour and the next morning, snapped these pictures of the damage done in my area. If you want to gawk at the carnage done to the rest of the outer boroughs, the New York Times had a slide show up on their home page by the time I'd hung my wet clothes over the shower rod. They also have an appropriately hyperbolic article.

All kidding aside, a woman was killed when a tree fell on her car, and the governor may declare parts of Queens a disaster area. We were lucky here in Cobble Hill to only suffer a downed crosswalk box.