Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Literacy for Queers

I somehow landed not one, but two queer-themed literary events on my agenda last week. The first was a Queer Librarian event on Saturday night, and the second was a talk by noted queer author Samuel Delany just last night.

Queer Librarians--as my sister says, "Are there that many of them?" Judging by the size of the crowd at the Stonewall Inn on Saturday, I'd say that's a resounding Yes. Some of the people were from my company, both students and faculty from the Library Science program. There probably were some employees of the Public Library system there, but I think the majority of attendees came from the world of fringe libraries: zine curators, underground film archivists, and of course the editors, writers, artists and filmmakers that produce what the libraries curate. And I'm not going to rule out the possibility of people who were just there to fulfill a sexy librarian fetish--or a book fetish in general, why the hell not? It's the Village!

Although I like to think that Internet was invented just so I could broadcast my misguided sense of importance to the world at large, it's clear that the real beneficiaries of this great cloud of information we humans have created are people and ideas on the fringe. One of the zines I picked up at the event had a story about the writer looking up "homosexual" in the dictionary when she was six because she lacked any other source of information or research tool to discover what she was. Now any person with an Internet connection can go online and find poetry, music, academic articles, political discourse, support groups and pornography that speak directly to them and their experiences. We're unshackled from the myth of monolithic culture in a way we've never been before, and perspectives that historically haven't been aired now have their own Library of Congress classifications. The walls at the Stonewall were decorated with library call numbers for topics like "older bisexual men" and "history of transsexuals," and all the televisions were playing the original British "The Prisoner," which isn't exactly literary but fits the interests of that weird and nerdy subset of people who use library call numbers as party decorations.

Fun detail, when really butch women get dressed to the nines, they look like a cross between Buddy Holly and the 11th Doctor on Doctor Who. ("Bow Ties are cool.")

On Monday, I went to the first hour of a talk by Samuel Delany, who says he hasn't considered himself a science fiction writer since his 20s but is still mainly known as that queer experimental science fiction writer. He's a great public speaker. Some writers aren't--Alice Waters can suck it--and others are, and Delany was one of the good ones. For example, I learned that it's entirely possible to write and publish 5 novels by the time you're 22 if you're also leaving your apartment at least 3 times a day to have anonymous gay sex with half a dozen people at a time on the Lower East Side.

Speaking of different perspectives, Delany told a story about why science fiction is relevant because of its ability to describe different worlds, which aren't as far away as we think. When he was living on the Lower East Side in the 1960s and having all that delicious sex, he was also married to a woman who wore the same jeans size as him. One day she came home wet from the rain and he gave her a pair of his jeans to wear while hers dried off. She stuck her hands in the pockets and gasped. "They're so big!" Curious, he looked at her jeans and realized for the first time that pockets in women's jeans "couldn't even hold a pack of cigarettes." He could barely imagine what it must have been like to live in a world without pockets, and realized then that women lived in a completely different world than men. So he began to write stories from the perspective of women and queer characters to describe these different worlds, some of which have actual aliens but most of which just have people who feel like aliens in relation to the world they live in.

Good stuff, lots to think about. I like to cultivate life on the fringe.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Letters to the past

Dear Past Rachel:
Yes, you're seven years old and you are Catwoman. I know you're feeling awesome about it, even though the costume is a little off-model and you're vamping in a parking lot in front of the pizza parlor in broad daylight. Good for you.

Things are a little tough for you right now. You're cross-eyed and have a terrible haircut. Being Catwoman helps, but unfortunately, it's not going to get better just yet. You'll be cross-eyed for a while longer, you'll have to wear braces, and when you start getting tits, one will clearly be bigger than the other. By and large, it will suck.

But guess what? One day you grow up and you get to look like this.Now you're Catwoman and you're on your way to a party in the East Village in New York City. Hair all grown out, eyes straight, teeth straight, well-titted, got your own blog--life is pretty sweet for you. You even still have those original leather gloves from your first Catwoman outfit, but you left them at home because they have some holes between the fingers now.

Just remember, you may clean up good and know your way around a ball gown, but while you may sashay into parties thinking that you look like this----the vast majority of the time you're still sort of goofy-looking, especially when you're having a lot of fun and haven't practiced your drunk-face in front of the mirror. Observe.In fact, that maniacal grin and scrunched up nose is pretty much your default setting. You don't really need to be drinking. Observe again.
Oy. That's harsh. But your loved ones assure you it's part of your charm. Besides, you're Catwoman! And look, you won a book at the Halloween party! So all in all, we made good, little kitten. Real good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Night Occupation

I open today's post with a folktale.

"Long ago, in the district of Ka'u on the Big Island of Hawaii, the ruler of that place decided to build a temple. This ali'i was hard and cruel, demanding hours of backbreaking labor from his subjects. Stone by stone the heiau was fitted together, while crops withered and children cried from hunger, and men and women whispered their displeasure with the ali'i in the dark of the sleeping huts.

Remember that this was in the old days, when a ruler was considered a direct descendant of the gods. An ali'i of the purest bloodlines was so sacred that if his shadow fell on you, you would be put to death for profaning him.

But still, the commoners whispered.

Finally the people completed the heiau, a mighty terrace on the shores of Punalu'u Beach, and their ruler was pleased with their accomplishment.

"All that remains," he said to his subjects, "is for you to place the image of the godhead on the altar."

And his subjects replied, "Oh King, you should put the sacred ki'i on the altar, for only you are worthy of its divine presence."

This seemed a good idea to the ali'i, so he stood beneath the great stone image of the god and pushed with all his might to slide it up the stone ramp set before the altar. His subjects took hold of the ropes wound round the ki'i to steady it as the ali'i pushed.

Then, just as he reached the top of the ramp, the commoners cut the ropes and crushed their ruler to death underneath their god.

And thus the people were freed."

I grew up in the district of Ka'u. The old proverbs of Hawaii call my district "land of the rebels," because Ka'u has a long history of taking shit from exactly no one, as this story demonstrates. I wanted to tell it not just because a tyrant get smooshed by a stone idol, even though that's pretty metal, but also to open a discussion about the responsibilities of those with power.

If you have more money that you or your family or your family's family can ever spend in a lifetime without resorting to crazy rich-people schemes like dipping all your yachts in gold or grafting metal to your skeleton so you can be Wolverine, don't you have a responsibility to spread that wealth around to those of us without gold yachts and Wolverines? If you have been blessed, like our Ka'u ali'i, with the social position necessary to make your workers tremble as you walk by, don't you have a responsibility to not be an utter cock about it?

These are the questions raised down at Occupy Wall Street in New York City's Zuccotti Park. I spent my Friday night at the occupation, where the commoners aren't quite at the point of cutting the ropes, but we're getting there.

On the ground, it's pretty awesome. I sang Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" with a group of Spanish-speaking poets who were all worked up about something. I've forgotten too much Spanish to know exactly what it was, but I stayed and listened for about ten minutes in fascination because it was the first time I saw the human microphone in action. Sound amplifiers aren't allowed in Zuccotti Park, so the speaker yells, "Mic check!" and everyone who can year him yells back, "Mic check!" and then everything the speaker says after that, the crowd repeats, so people standing in the back can hear what's going on.

Of course, you don't need sound amplifiers at the drumming circle, where the usual shirtless ragamuffins that spring up like mushrooms around social justice movements can be found banging on trash cans with two-by-fours. But this is New York, so there were also some trumpet players in business suits jammin along. I listened to them until they had to shut down at 6PM--new agreement between the drummers and the residents in the area--and then I went to the Tree of Life, where the Hare Krishnas had set up an altar by a scraggly tree. We all had some yoga and meditation and prayed for peace and healing, with an emphasis on our fellows harmed in Occupy Oakland. I talked to the people sitting next to me for a bit, a nice artist-type from Queens who had been down there with his tent for about a week, so he still smelled okay, and another Brooklynite visiting the occupation for the first time, just like me. And since this is New York, the guy on the other side of me on the bench was this massive Teamster with a great thick gut and a handlebar mustache chanting "Ra-ma-da-sun."

While we were meditating--yes, I'm a massive hippie, I went to the protest and parked myself in the meditation circle, and if I'd brought my drumsticks I would have thrown in with the drummer-mushrooms--this guy behind me was engaged in an intense art performance. He was in an orange prison jumpsuit with a black bag over his head, and he knelt motionless with his hands behind his back surrounded by hand-painted cardboard signs protesting the treatment of prisoners both domestically and overseas in secret prisons. My favorite sign read, "I don't want coins, I want change." And man, this guy did. Not. Move. He was kneeling on concrete, actually up on his knees and not resting back on his heels, for the whole time I was in the meditation circle, a good half hour, and he was still there when I left for the general assembly. That's what it's like down there. People are putting themselves in extreme discomfort--it's going to snow later--for causes they really, REALLY believe in.

And there are a LOT of causes. The meditation circle was for general peace and healing, but there were people protesting nuclear power, environmental degradation, fracking, the wars, high housing costs, student loans, the government, the wealthy. One tent cluster was "Queering the Occupation," which is cool. But all of these grievances are ultimately about the same thing: the people with the power and the money have too much of both, and they've forgotten that the commoners are the ones who make it possible for them to have that power and money. If you're a stockbroker making millions from trading IBM and technology stocks, what gives you the right to make 400 times more than the people working the retail stores that sell the product; or the factory workers in China putting the product together; or the miners in the Congo digging out the zinc and copper that makes up the guts of all our computers and cell phones? We achieve NOTHING on our own. Everything we achieve, everything we ARE, is thanks to our fellow human beings.

We live in a world so globally inter-connected that it is objectively wrong for a tiny fraction of the population to keep benefiting so hugely from the labor of the rest of us, while we scrape and struggle to just survive. This isn't about being jealous of gold-plated yachts or wishing we didn't have to work for a living; this is about working two jobs and still having to decide between paying for birth control or eating meat this month. Yes, this happened to me, right around the time I started this blog. I went with birth control and ate a lot of beans, which is a decision that no one should have to make in one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world. At the time, I was ashamed of it, and thought there must be something wrong with me, that I was being irresponsible with my money or being lazy and not trying hard enough. But there are hundreds of people down in Zuccotti Park, and thousands more across the United States who are in the exact same situation, and we're out there in parks and squares to say that it's not our fault. The poor will no longer be ashamed of our poverty. It's time for the wealthy to be ashamed of exploiting the poor.

The protesters are doing just fine down by Wall Street. They have a first aid station with free medical care, a comfort station giving out clothes, blankets, and condoms, a library, and a play space for children. One of the librarians told me they had more donations than they could fit in the park; the organizers have had to rent off-site storage space to handle the overflow. Volunteers handed out little cups of pretzels, chips, and of course granola, and I think someone was passing out pizza, too. It's going to snow today, which will be miserable for the people camping out down there, especially since the fire department took away everyone's heating elements and generators, but as far as Hoovervilles go, it's damn pleasant.

One thing that kind of bothered me: Occupy Wall Street is a total tourist attraction. Everywhere I went, people were taking pictures and video of the protesters, the signs, the drumming, the meditation circle--man, is there anything less conducive to cultivating inner peace than having flashbulbs constantly going off all around you? I didn't bring my camera, as you can see by the lack of pictures in this lengthy post, and I'm glad I didn't, because the camera allows you to separate yourself from the consequences of the situation. When you're a spectator and not a participator, you absolve yourself of responsibility toward the occupiers and their quest for social justice. I understand the need to document the movement for both posterity and so the authorities can't get away with any beat-downs or secret arrests, but I am neither an object of anthropological interest nor a subject for your "edgy" vacation album on Flickr. If you're going to photograph the proceedings, talk to the people in front of your lens, ask our permission to use our images, or at the very least be part of the human microphone and help spread the message. Don't just be a tourist, because that cheapens both the cause and the people involved by turning us into objects you can gawk at, instead of humans you identify with. In my experience, there's no quicker way to make someone or something an "other" than to photograph or film them without talking to them, because this allows you to build an opinion about them based on a silent, static image and your own prejudices. There is no truth down that path, take it from someone whose image is scattered around in world in various "Hawaiian Vacation" photo albums.

That's all I have to say for now. It's started snowing outside. I hope the occupiers get their generators back soon; that citizens stop having to choose between health care and food; that the health of our planet can take precedence over the desires of the wealthy few; that human resources can be utilized without human exploitation; and that we can have peace.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tom Sawyer: An American Ballet

So why was I in the ghost metropolis of Kansas City, Missouri, marveling at the intact bronze-work and the lack of excrement in the flowerbeds? Why, to attend the world premiere--and inaugural performance in Kansas City's new opera house--of the Tom Sawyer ballet!

I've only ever seen one full length ballet, and I've seen it many, many times: The Nutcracker Suite. Every year at Christmas time in Hawaii, we'd go to the Aloha Theater to see the community ballet troupe perform the perennial classic, usually because we knew the little girl who was playing Clara. I always looked forward to it because I could hum all of the tunes. (I feel the same way about opera: if I can hum the tune, I'm interested, otherwise I'll probably fall asleep.) So I don't know as much about ballet as I do about, say, feminism or Batman, but I know just enough to get myself in trouble. In true Tom Sawyer fashion, I'm going to just charge on ahead and pretend like I know what I'm talking about, and we'll see what shenanigans ensue. That's the American way!

This is the the first full-length American ballet based on an American story, composed and choreographed by Americans. Ever. (Suck it, Russia!) I love the eminently-quotable Mark Twain--"Clothes make the man; naked people have little or no influence on society." He's considered the first truly American writer, so it's entirely appropriate to base the first American ballet on his classic "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." So much of the beauty and genius of Twain lies in the words themselves, so I imagine it was a challenge to adapt "Tom Sawyer" to an art form totally devoid of words. Look, Mum, no lyrics! I'd say the ballet succeeds in this goal, particularly in the second act, where Tom and Huck spend the night in a graveyard and witness a violent murder. All of the best dances come in the second act. Muff Potter's "Duet for a Man and his Flask" is my particular favorite. Why can't I look that graceful when I'm lurching around drunk in a cemetery? I'm also fond of the fight-dance between Injun Joe and Doc. It made me wish someone would make a Batman ballet, just so I could see more classy, violent men brawling and dying in a most beautiful fashion. From a technical standpoint, however, I'd have to say that the Dance of the Stone Angel is probably the highlight of that act. The music and movements are so perfectly aligned in their eeriness that even a layperson like myself can tell how truly original and inspired it is. That said, really all of the second act is just outstanding: the tombstones coming to life, the fireflies, the ghosts, the Sprite Circus, the zombies (the program says they're goblins, but when a gray stiff-limbed fellow clambers out of a grave and menaces a teenager, that's a damn zombie). This is the act that other ballet companies will choose to perform when they can't do the full-length version.

The highlights of the first act are the opening scene--Tom tricking his friends to whitewash Aunt Polly's fence, possibly the most famous moment in all of American literature--and Tom and Becky's pas de deux in the school classroom. Appropriately, Tom and Becky's other pas de deux in the cave is the highlight of the third act. We heard a lot of the music for this ballet before we saw any of the choreography, and Big Sister said of Tom and Becky's theme, "I can just picture that part of their dance when they're across the stage and fluttering their fingers as they run toward each other." And that's exactly what happened in the ballet! Good call, Past Big Sister.

I feel nice and patriotic about joining the international ballet scene with a traditional American ballet of our very own. As for hum-worthiness, that prize goes to the Mississippi theme, or as I like to think of it, the Great American West song, appearing as the overture for the third act and reprised in the final number. If I was slightly more tech-savvy, I'd post a sound bite for everyone, but I don't know how to do that, and writing, "da-da-da-dada, da-dadada-da-da-DADA!" doesn't really capture the breadth and majesty of the music. You'll just have to wait until it comes to a city near you!

And now, the after-party! Here we all are, Big Sister, her Fiance, Mum, and Big Island Rachel in a halter dress and my great-grandmother's rhinestone jewelry. That dress I'm wearing may look nice, but a week later I've still got a bruise on my neck from the halter-bra I had to wear with it. Oh, the trials of the well-titted woman!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kansas City--where'd everyone go?

I've been around. Lima, London, Prague, Rome, I've seen my share of cities, and just like people and particularly beloved stuffed animals, they all have their own personalities. Honolulu is a drunk chick past her prime dancing alone in front of the speakers at a bar. Spokane is a fat guy who wears his good sweat pants to the Arby's in case he runs into a potential lady friend. Lima is a scrawny ten-year-old with no shirt and an AK-47. New York is a lot of fun when she does a couple bumps in the bathroom with you at an art opening, but she'll shiv you as soon as look at you if you're not careful.

Now I want to have a conceptual Halloween party where everyone has to come as a different city. I'd come as Lima. Smear fake blood all over my ear and neck like my step-grandmother when a beggar reached in her car window and yanked her earring off. That place was harsh.

So I've been around, and I have to say that Kansas City, Missouri was one of the strangest cities I've ever visited.

There's nobody there. No people on the street, no cars on the roads. All of these great parking places and empty real estate, and nobody there to use it. But what's really strange is how clean and well-kept this empty city is. No trash on the streets or in the gutters; no vomit or dog shit in the floor beds. There's all of these lovely late 19th century and Art Deco buildings, as preserved as a Hot Pocket, that no one has graffitied or gouged with knives. All of the bronze decorations on the fountains and street lamps are still intact, not stripped down for the scrap metal. And lofts--lofts for sale and rent everywhere! But no dogs, no strollers, no people, no cars. It's like walking around a movie set before the cameras get there, or like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

I exaggerate, of course there were a few people on the street, but a LOT less than even Honokaa or Naalehu on the Big Island, and those towns have a couple hundred people living there compared to over a million who are supposed to live in Kansas City. We could walk around an entire city block and see maybe three other people.

And again, the lack of people wasn't as surprising as the quality of the infrastructure. It would be one thing if it was a dying city and the whole place was a shithole held together with duct tape and collective prayers of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. But this was a nice place, with immaculate landscaping and a brand spanking new opera house in the center of town. Roger Daltry was playing the concert hall on Thursday night! Kansas City is not podunk or small apples. (quick aside, New York City got it's nickname "the Big Apple" from traveling acts who called the towns they stopped in "apples," and since New York was the biggest stop on the itinerary, it was the biggest apple. The more you know!)

At the after party on Friday, all any of us out-of-towners from Kailua-Kona, New York, Seattle and Miami could talk about was the emptiness of Kansas City. We all agreed that it was, without a doubt, the weirdest city any of us had ever visited.

Good barbecue, though.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Wedding!

The BF and I have been to at least one wedding a year the whole time we've been together, and until last Sunday, all of them had been on my side of the family. We've been to a wedding at Disneyland where the guests were given Mickey Mouse ears instead of champagne; a sunset wedding at Hulihee Palace on the Big Island; and a hillbilly wedding at a campground in Idaho. The reception was held in a barn and my cousin Ted got drunk and fell into the bonfire, but he wasn't hurt so it's okay to laugh about it. Actually, that whole wedding was a pretty accurate picture of my family. The catering was barbecue, we tapped the keg before sundown and everyone brought out their car whiskey to pass around while the little kids threw things in the fire to see what would burn. Good times.

I imagine the BF felt the same way at his brother's wedding on Sunday. It was the first wedding on his side of the family, and also the first Jewish wedding I've ever attended, which meant instead of the couple's first dance, we did the communal Horah dance and lifted people up on chairs. Every single person who went up on the chair was gripping that thing for dear life, so I'm guessing it's kinda scary, though not having gone up in the chair myself, I can't say for sure. Still--white knuckles, every one of them.

There was also a LOT more talking than any other wedding I've been to. Something like six or eight people got up to make a speech, and each of them had two or three typed pages of notes. They were all very good speeches, because it was a crowd of hyper-educated Jewish East Coasters, and I gather this is pretty usual for this type of gathering, but I'm not going to lie--I liked the dancing best.

The location was tits, by the way, a vineyard outside of Charlottesville, Virginia with polo horses in the pasture next door. Waiting for the ceremony to begin, a bunch of us went down to the fence to pet them and take pictures of each other with the Blue Ridge mountains in the background. Here I am! I clean up real good, don't I? You'd never guess I was from hillbilly stock.
The only part of that trip that wasn't so much fun was the airplane ride. Now, it wasn't the smallest plane I've ever been on. That honor goes to the 12-seat puddle jumper I once took from Moloka'i to Oahu where the pilot requested that we all "lean forward" during take-off. But this plane, a two-propeller 34-seater, got the Indiana Jones theme music stuck in my head for days. All we needed was a couple of brown fedoras and the yellow map with the red line moving across it, and we'd have had ourselves a real adventure on our hands!

Mazel tov.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Poetry Beat

One of my favorite writers is Diane di Prima. You might not have heard much about her. She was a Beat Poet--still is, I guess, does a person stop being part of a movement when the movement has moved on to other things?Anyway, you wouldn't have heard much about her because all of the other famous and "important" Beat Poets were dudes, and she was writing at a time when there wasn't really any societal or artistic freedom for women.

I'm considering Diane di Prima today because last night, my poetry teacher took me to an event hosted by her feminist poetry collective at the Dixie Club in SoHo. (There's no part of that sentence I don't like.) They showed a 26-minute indie short film called "The Poetry Beat," about the life and work of di Prima, which included interviews with women who knew her back-when, women who were influenced by her work, and di Prima herself, now living in San Francisco with her poems, watercolors, and little yellow dog. There were poetry performances by di Prima at all stages of her life, from when she was a well-titted young woman with golden-red hair, until today, still well-titted at 77 but a bit grayer in the hair.

My favorite anecdote was from a woman who hosted di Prima at a commune in Maine one year. The commune had 8 children under the age of 2, so when di Prima got a bit of royalty money from one of her books, she celebrated by buying the commune women a crate of Pampers diapers (until then, they'd been using and endlessly washing cloth diapers). The women loved it, but the men complained about how much waste disposables created. "It was an easy way for them to be down on Diane without calling her a pushy woman," said the commune manager.

I like that story because it illustrates the problem I have with the Beat movement. On the one hand, I like the writing that came out of it, but on the other hand, some of its more celebrated figures were raging misogynists. Jack Kerouac can go hell as far as I'm concerned. His book On the Road made me cross-eyed with rage. It's supposed to be about these guys who are all hip and free and not tied down by societal bonds, but they're constantly getting women pregnant and then abandoning their families to hitchhike across the country. Freedom bought for the price of a woman's suffering. Disgusting, I say!

Diane di Prima really gets it, though. I wish I had time to find some of her poetry to put up here, but my break is almost over and I guess I should get back to working for the Man so I can earn my cheese and waffle money.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane in Brooklyn

Tornado, earthquake, a tsunami if you count the one that came from Japan to my relatives on the Big Island, and now a hurricane. This is shaping up to be a really weird year for Big Island Rachel. No wonder church attendance was so good at the Catholic church on Court Street today.

Being from Hawaii, I have a Girl Scout badge in Hurricane Preparedness--Survival Camp at Kilohana, 1997--and good thing, too, because my little perfectly-Rachel-sized apartment on the East River ended up being in the evacuation zone. My Daddio left me a voicemail AND sent an email telling me to head for the hills and "don't do that family thing where we say, 'What is this strom you speak of, I can handle it!'" It was sound advice from the parental unit to the latest generation of that family the other kids were warned never to play with. I confess that I did have a passing fancy to stay in my apartment just to see if I could handle it, but when Daddio tells me to get out, I know it's serious.

Fortunately, me Mum was in town and staying a few blocks inland out of the flood zone, so I spent the night with her after hurricane proofing my apartment. Here is my "go-bag." Sure, it has all the usual stuff: passport, computer, three books, two graphic novels, five comic books (my worst nightmare is being stuck on a deserted island with nothing to read), blankets, clothes. I also brought Spam, couscous, my teddy bear (seen squashed up against the plastic bag) a chocolate donut that has been in my cupboard for so long it qualifies as a scientific experiment, and candles, except the only candles I had were tiny little Chanukah candles, so I ended up having to bring my menorah, too, since it was the only candle holder that would fit them. And of course, you can see my blue rubber boots there. A girl on the street yelled, "A shout-out to all my sisters rocking the boots and shorts!" I was the height of fashion that day, even without a bra.

I hung up my heavy winter curtains and covered the body--I mean, all of my clothes with my winter down comforter. If I'd been more clever about it, I would have simply lifted the closet rod off the wall with all the clothes still on it, but as you can see by the bare rod resting on the heap, that eminently practical idea didn't occur to me until it was too late. I figured that if the worst did happen and my windows burst apart in the gale like deadly flowers of glass and mayhem, all my expensive and fancy clothes (not always correlated, my fanciest gown was only $10 at the Hilo second-hand store) would have a modicum of protection.

I also filled up the bathtub. I got to impress a lot of people at work on Friday by informing them that the bathtub full of water, a standard preventative measure when a hurricane is bearing down on you, was not really for drinking, but rather for flushing the toilet in the event that the electricity went out and the toilet couldn't pump water into the tank. For reasons unknown to me, New York City water is a gentle shade of teal. I'm not sure if this picture really captures that soothing, sea-like hue, but trust me, that shit is teal.Saturday night was spent on the stoop of Mum's sublet, drinking wine and singing all the songs we used to sing when she drove me to high school in the morning. I think I slept through the actual hurricane, which didn't pass over us until 2 or 3 in the morning. It passed quickly and had downgraded to a mere tropical storm by that time anyway, but Mum said the winds still sounded like a freight train as they roared through.This morning, we went to inspect the apartment. The windows are all unbroken, but two of the three windows had leaked and there were a few puddles on the floor. The curtains in the bedroom were so heavy with water they'd pulled the curtain rod down. But underneath the down comforter, the body--I mean, my fancy clothes were bone dry. Everything is coming up Milhouse. Thanks, Girl Scouts of America!

And the bathtub? Totally empty. I always suspected that my bathtub plug was slightly defective. Oh, well. If there had been serious enough flooding that the power had gone out (all New York City power lines are buried in the ground), my riverside apartment would have had sewage and river water backing up into the pipes, and flushing the toilet would have been an exercise in futility. Rank, rotting futility.

Here are some tree branches that fell over. Fellow curious Brooklynites for scale. So long, Irene. Don't let the doorknob hit ya where the door should've bit ya.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake in Brooklyn

The Big Island gets little tremors all the time. We're volcanic. It happens. It's not supposed to happen in New York City. If I'd known I would have to deal with earthquakes and tornadoes in addition to fucking WINTER, I might have just stayed in Hawaii with my earthquakes and tsunamis. At least there we have perpetual summer.

Virginia just had a 5.9 earthquake that we felt up here in Brooklyn, first as a maybe-it's-just-me tremor and then as a holy-building-evacuation-Batman shake that left us milling about in the parking lot for about half an hour in some pretty gorgeous late summer weather. So it wasn't all bad. I was standing by the office printer with a piece of paperwork and thought at first that I was having a sensory flashback to the great Hawaii earthquake of 2006. But then the hangers on the coat rack started to clink together and the floor began to sway like a boat (we're on the top floor, six stories up, so sway is actually a good thing. Sway saves. Brittle breaks.). My coworker told whoever was on the phone with him, "It's an earthquake, get out of the building," hung up, and looked at me and snapped, "Get moving!" Combat veterans: they always know what to do.

It's a good thing we just had a fire drill a couple of weeks ago. Everyone scurried briskly down the stairs, making loud human-noises similar to wildebeasts evading lions on the savannah. "Don't panic, don't trip, don't puke," I told myself. Self, all excellent suggestions. I was one flight of stairs away from the outside world when this guy in front of me suddenly stops, turns around, and says, "I'm going back to help get Admissions out of their office!" I shoved right past him, because Hero, I'm too young and pretty to die! Let others perish, I've too much to live for!

I got out into the parking lot, looked down, and realized that the only thing I brought with me was the piece of paperwork I'd been clutching when the quake began. I felt like finding the student who gave me the paper and saying, "When disaster struck, yours was the only thing I thought to save!" I didn't feel too embarrassed, because one of our student workers was in the file room before she evacuated, and she brought the paper she'd been holding at the time as well. And it was one of my emails! Bonding moment!

Hanging out in the parking lot with everyone from my building was actually pretty fun. If we'd had a couple of kegs and a grill, we could have made an afternoon of it. Alas, they made us go back inside and work for another hour. We received emails and text messages telling us that "the buildings are secure and workers are to resume all activity." So I went back to copying my sexual organs on the Xerox.

You know. Like ya do.

Natural disasters--I use the word loosely, I don't know if much was actually damaged, especially not this far away from the epicenter--have a fun way of bringing people together. It doesn't matter who's the boss of who, or who makes more money than who (whom?). If that building goes down, peasant and noble are squished alike.

Terror of the wrath of the gods: the great equalizer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

New York Fucking City at it's Fucking-est

I wish I'd come up with that quote, but it's from Craig Ferguson's book, "American on Purpose."

I don't know if it's living in New York or working in customer services that's done this to me, but I am now totally willing to yell "Fuck you!" to random strangers that piss me off. Last night, I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond in Manhattan to pick up a bookshelf. It was my second bookshelf that week. The first one I bought was so awesome that I had to go back and get another one, exactly the same, so they could ruminate side by side, groaning and satiated with all of my pretty, pretty books. So sexy.

These bookshelves are wood, so they were too heavy for me to get on the subway. I had to hail a cab. I put the shelf in the boot, buckled myself in, and said, "I'm going to Brooklyn." Cab drivers hate it when you're going to Brooklyn, but the law says that when a taxi picks you up, the driver has to take you wherever you want to go. Which is what I said to the driver when he said he couldn't go to Brooklyn because he was on his way to pick up a fare at the airport.

"I'm in the car, the law says you have to take me to Brooklyn," I said, smug in my New York knowledge of taxi guidelines.

"Oh man, oh man, I can't take you, I have to go pick up this other man, I'm going to lose a hundred dollars if I can't make it, I've worked hard all day, I thought you were just going uptown--"

"I'm going to Brooklyn, you're required by law to take me there, why'd you stop and pick me up if you can't take me where I need to go--"

You have to imagine both of us talking at once. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I caved first.

"Fuck it! I'm not going to sit here and fucking argue with you! Get my shit out and hail me another cab."

Rachel from the Big Island would have never said "fuck" to a stranger. Big Island Rachel is sorry she didn't say it louder. New York Fucking City, everyone.

He got my shelf out, but didn't get me another cab and I didn't get his license number. I really should have, and I immediately scolded myself when I realized I'd forgotten it, because I wanted to report him. I still do. My heart beats angry every time I think about it. I want to put on my Catwoman costume and go beat the crap out of someone. My desire for retribution is great!

I should just let it go before this city gives me a heart attack

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Death sits a few rows back to avoid the splash zone

Now I know why the best seats in a theater aren't right up front, but a few rows back. Actors spit, especially when they sing. It's a little like going to the orca show at Sea World.

My very first autumn in New York--I guess that would be 2008--the BF and I went to a reading of a musical in progress called "Death Takes a Holiday." About a month ago we saw a preview of it, and last Thursday, we went to opening night. "Death Takes a Holiday" is exactly what it sounds like: Death, feeling professionally drained after the slaughter of World War I, decides to kick back at an Italian nobleman's villa and take the weekend off. To quote Futurama, Death does "human stuff. He learns, he laughs, he loves." I suppose you could classify this musical as a romance, but like many works set in the period between the world wars (the show is based on a an Italian play by Alberto Casella from 1929), there's something melancholy and almost hopeless at the heart of the story. The gaiety of the 1920s is a deliberate rejection of the horrors of war, a sort of "No, we're going to have FUN now, damnit!" frolic intended to mask the existential crisis many faced in the aftermath of the years of senseless slaughter and pain. In the show, Death is a handsome, somewhat kooky Russian prince, but beneath that, he is also a stand-in for the nobleman's son Roberto, who died in the war. "Death is in the house," sings the nobleman, speaking of the actual Death vacationing at the villa, but also perhaps alluding to his absent son, dead but still lingering in the memories of the villa's other occupants: mother, father, grandmother, sister, widow, the younger sister of his war buddy. And although the nobleman's daughter Grazia falls in love with the man Death, on a symbolic level Grazia's love of death can be read as a kind of despair. Nothing lasts forever except death, so why not love Death? It's the only constant you'll ever get. The show I saw doesn't play this angle at all--it's a pretty straightforward love story that reads more as an affirmation of life than a rejection of it. "Life's a joy/Life is apples and lemons and lime trees" is pretty far from the ideas I've outlined above. But every American writer worth her salt has spent time in Paris in the 1920s, sucking up the Fitzgeralds and Hemingways and Steins like so much Prohibition champagne. Woody Allen just released a movie about that whole scene, "Midnight in Paris," which addressed the concept of nostalgia without touching much on the deeper fears and anxieties that everyone felt as they tried to return to some kind of normal life after experiencing a war that made literal mincemeat of concepts like "normal." So whenever I experience art from or about that period, I can't help but remember what's going on beneath the joy and the smiles.

Enough of that, though. Life's a joy! It's summer in New York and I got to put on my big-girl shoes and go to the theater!

Here's what I like about theater people: many of the agents, producers, and various creative and financial associates I saw on opening night remembered me from the reading. The reading that happened almost two years ago. How is that even possible? I can barely remember what subway to take to work in the morning. (Just last week I got on the F instead of the G and was 10 minutes late to the office. I was distracted thinking about the unknown creature currently living in my bedroom ceiling.)

We got to go backstage and visit with the cast and crew before the show started. There was a table covered in pastries and cheesecake, but when he saw me looking at it, the BF whispered, "That's not for you." He knows me well. The musical director, it turns out, lives in the BF's neighborhood and is hapa-Hawaiian. The island diaspora. We're everywhere!

My favorite part of the evening was meeting Death's understudy, who was called upon at the last minute to step in and play the lead on opening night. The actual lead had to stay home that night because he lost his voice. As the director said, "Death takes a medical leave of absence." And having seen the lead in the roll in previews, I have to say that I prefer the understudy's Death. "It's straight out of '42nd Street'!" said the BF. "The lead breaks her leg on opening night and the young understudy has to sing her part. 'You're going out there a nobody, but you have to come back a star!'" I don't know if the understudy gets to be a star now, but he definitely deserves to be. His Death was whimsical, unpretentious, and sweet. There was a lightness, a bounciness to him that the regular Death lacked. Understudy Death felt like he was actually on holiday; Regular Death felt like his mind was still back at the office.

Speaking of the office, New York and the surrounding areas are currently in the middle of a heat wave. On Friday, the heat index, which is like wind chill and basically means "what does it FEEL like," was 115 degrees. Today, it's only (ha) 89 with a heat index of 97. I know I really should go downtown to get all happy-weepy at the county clerks office, since today is the first day of New York Plus Gay Marriage, but it's nice and air conditioned in my apartment, and I've got blueberry beer. How would Captain America handle this situation?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Undulating Wall of Sound

Summer is here! This is my fourth summer in New York. I moved here on July 8th, 2008, which means today is my 3-year New York anniversary soon. Praise me!

This is my first summer NOT doing gigs with the Village Voice street team. On the one hand it's nice, because I don't have to haul 30 pounds of earplugs and condoms around in 90 degree heat and listen to band after shitty band play the same bad indie music at the Knitting Factory. But on the other hand, street teamstering did get me out of the house and all around the city, and it gave me some good stories to tell at the bar.

Looking back, I would recommend that any young person moving to New York City get themselves one of those part-time jobs in promotions of some kind. It's like New York boot camp, where you have to find your way around using public transit while loaded down with massive amounts of crap, make nice with the mouth-breathing freeloaders that come to free crap like bears to a campsite, and learn to withhold free crap from said bears until they cough up some personal information so your parent company can bombard them with offers for more free crap. It's the circle of life, and it moves us all down the bowels of this great city we call home. You learn pretty quick whether or not you can hack it in New York once you've worked Electric Zoo.

All of this is on my mind lately because one of my coworkers recently said good-bye to a young relative who lasted exactly 5 days in New York City before she moved back home. She didn't even make it a week. Poor soul. I can relate. I was so freaked out my first night in New York City that I threw up in a Polish restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. I probably wouldn't have left my room at all if the BF wasn't there to hold my hand and show me around. A lot of credit also goes to my old housemates at 187, who took me to parties at the Tip Top and let me drink with them on their roof. New York is a scary place, and you need nice people to hold your hands while you paddle around in the shallow end, but eventually you need to just dive in there on your own and swim for all your worth.

Shoots, all that talk and I haven't even gotten to the subject of my post, which is a picnic I had with some friends on Governors Island last Saturday. I brought a shower curtain to put under my picnic blanket to protect us from getting swampass, which I feel was pretty clever, and in true Hawaii-style, there was WAY too much food, even with 3 friends showed up unexpectedly and doubled the size of our party. We were ostensibly there to listen to a free classical music concert, but instead of a little Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel and we'll call it a day, the orchestra played with minimalist, experimental composition from 1964 that the program described as "an undulating wall of sound." In my opinion, that phrase should only be used in a bedroom context. We listened for about 10 minutes before we completely tuned it out and talked about cheese. Apparently you're supposed to treat cheese like a live cat, and not put it in a body bag and stick it in the fridge.

Who knew?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

"The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" has 7 endings. I counted. And one of those endings has 3 sub-endings within it, so we're talking about 1 ending for every 45 minutes of the entire 14-hour extended edition trilogy. I'm not going to name all of the endings, because we've got a lot to cover today and I still have a parade and a musical to write about, but I just want everyone to be on the same page.

Ten endings. But the movie needs every one of them, because while Fellowship had just 1 linear storyline, and Two Towers had a hefty but still manageable 3, ROTK is juggling anywhere from 3 to 7 separate storylines at any given moment. At the midpoint of the movie, about two hours in, here is a rundown of the action: Gandalf leading the troops of Minas Tirith; Pippen caught up in the chaos of the burning city; mad Denethor plotting to commit suicide and take Faramir with him; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli taking the Road of the Dead; Theoden and Eomer mustering the Rohirrim; Eowyn and Merry riding in disguise with the Rohirrim to battle; Frodo and Gollum climbing to the giant spider; Sam cast out by Frodo on the stairs of Minas Morgul. The movie seamlessly weaves all of these stories together without sacrificing good pacing, character development, or emotional resonance.

Watching Fellowship for the first time, I was enchanted. "Look at the pretty elves, look at the ugly goblins, how will our heroes get out of this jam?" Watching Two Towers, deep in the midst of my nerdy obsession with "The Lord of the Rings," I was exhilarated. "Such a faithful adaptation, so much gallantry, oh cost and the glory of battle!" (Never things I said out loud, life was difficult enough in high school without talking like a Renaissance Fair groupie.) But watching ROTK--there's a scene in that movie where the enemy is about to break down the main gate of Minas Tirith with the big wolfshead battering ram, and Gandalf says to the soldiers, "Whatever comes through that gate, you will stand your ground," only to flinch back in consternation as "whatever" turns out to be fully armed and trained cave trolls. That's what watching ROTR was like. I thought I knew what was coming through the gate. I had no clue how powerful it would actually be.

I think by the time Peter Jackson & Co. were putting together ROTK, having already released the first two movies and seen the audience response, they were a lot more certain and sure of themselves. In Two Towers especially, there's a bit of hesitancy in the switch between storylines, which was cleared up in the theatrical version but really shows in the stuttery pacing of the extended edition, like the filmmakers were unsure where and when to go from Helms Deep to Osgiliath to Fangorn Forest. But in ROTK, they not only seem more confident in their ability to handle multiple storylines, they actually embrace it.

I'm thinking of the scene where Denethor sends his son Faramir out on a suicide mission to retake Osgiliath from the 100,000 Orcs that now hold it. While Faramir and a scant 100 or so knights on horseback ride across Peleanor Fields to Osgiliath, Denethor tucks into a hearty lunch and Pippin sings a slow, haunting little song in the empty, echoing hall. Now, I respect Peter Jackson and can't say enough good things about his movies, but in many ways I think he is a very conventional filmmaker. No one is every going to call him an auteur or say his movies are "experimental." (Example: one of the reasons Lord of the Rings holds up so well, 10 years later, is he eschewed CGI whenever he could, relying on techniques as old as film itself, like forced perspective, matte paintings, and miniatures. You could almost call him old-fashioned.) But that scene in the hall is a truly masterful and original piece of film, so wholly different in tone, pacing, sound, and editing from every other battle we see in these movies. Pippin's song would be sad enough, overlaid as it is on that pitiful company of men riding in slow motion to certain doom, but coupled with the sight and sound of Denethor snorking down his lunch, it becomes a heartbreaking and biting commentary on war itself (which is pretty bold for a movie where the opposing army is the literal manifestation of evil, so you don't have to feel bad when they all die horrible, horrible deaths at the hands of our heroes). The mad lord devours red tomatoes and red wine and cracks apart turkey bones to suck at the meat, like he's eating the bodies of the men he's just sent out to die in his name. The young man sings, the horses hooves pound, the knights yell, and the Orcs draw back their bowstrings for the killing strokes, but it's all muffled, drowned out by the smacking, gulping and chewing of Denethor in his beautiful, empty throne room. The arrows fly silently. We never even hear them hit their targets. And to cap it off, a shot of Gandalf, the most powerful wizard in the realm, who defeated 10,000 Orcs at Helms Deep, now slumped with despair in an alleyway, staring hopelessly at a pile of empty wooden crates as if they were the coffins of the dead.

Damn, I love this movie.

Now let's discuss the parts that made everyone in the theater applaud. Legolas bringing down that oliphant. Yeah, that was pretty sweet. Sam rallying Frodo for one last push up Mount Doom to destroy the Ring. "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you!" I get goosebumps just typing that. And thank you, all my fellow audience members, for clapping at that scene and not repeating last week's incident of giggling awkwardly because you can't help seeing teh queer everywhere you look (weirdos).

My favorite, the Witch-King gripping Eowyn by the throat and hissing, "You fool, no man can kill me," and Eowyn whipping of her helmet and proclaiming, "I am no man!" just before she stabs him in the face. In. The. Face! HUGE cheer for her big moment, probably the loudest of the evening. I was going to write something like I'm glad she finally stopped crying and just stabbed a dude in the face, but now that I think about it, most of the male characters in ROTK cry as much as she does, so I guess I'm pleased that Eowyn has shown us a woman can be a bit of a weepy mess and still stab dudes in the face. (Not even in the heart or across the throat, but right between the eyes! Or where the eyes would have been if he wasn't a demon-ghost. Not even Aragorn stabbed his enemies in the face, and he ended up being king. Eowyn is harsh, my friends, harsh indeed.)

Nobody clapped for the death of Gollum, though. I suspect that most people feel a bit conflicted about the character. Like Sam, we look at him and feel repelled by his ugliness and contemptuous of his creeping, servile whining. But like Frodo, we feel a bit of pity for him, too, ragged, friendless creature that he is, wanted nowhere and by no one. And the strange thing is, both reactions are correct. Sam is right not to trust Gollum, because the little fucker betrays them at every turn, driving Sam and Frodo apart, delivering Frodo to the giant spider, and biting Frodo's finger off to get the Ring (he and Eowyn should hang out). But Frodo is right to show Smeagol mercy (and isn't it significant that Sam calls him Gollum and Frodo calls him by his pre-Ring name), because it really isn't Smeagol's fault that the Ring drove him mad and twisted his body into his present form. We like Frodo well enough because he's the hero of the story, but he knows and the audience knows that the only difference between him and Gollum is time. Just like Denethor is Faramir's true enemy in the scene above, not the Orcs at Osgiliath, Gollum isn't Sam and Frodo's true enemy, though Sam often thinks he is. The enemy is the Ring, and the Ring works through Gollum, who is the Ring's longest running master except for Sauron himself. They were together for 500 years, Smeagol and his Precious. Whatever mental anguish Frodo endures as the Ringbearer, whatever connection he feels to the Ring, he knows it's a pale candleflame compared to the furnace of need and madness Smeagol must feel toward it.

You want to have some fun? Watch Two Towers or Return of the King and every time Gollum speaks in his evil-Gollum voice, as opposed to his somewhat friendlier Smeagol-voice, imagine that it's actually the Ring speaking. The Ring is an inanimate object and can't talk, and Sauron is a big eyeball of fire and can't talk, so Gollum is the closest we'll ever get to hearing the voice of pure evil. Just a little thought experiment for you, my precious.

In the end, Gollum is a necessary evil. Frodo can't bring himself to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom, but Gollum does it for him, not on purpose, but because he wants the Ring for himself. I think it's significant that the hero couldn't vanquish evil without help from evil itself. Gollum swore an oath to "serve the Master of the Precious," and he broke his oath to Frodo. Frodo warned him, "The Ring is treacherous, it will hold you to your word," and he's right. Gollum breaks his word many times over and into the fire he falls. But he takes the Ring with him, because the Ring is so powerful and evil that it can't be defeated by the forces of good, which it will always tempt, overwhelm and consume. But only the Ring CAN be defeated by the weakness that lies at the heart of all evil things. The Ring rewards Gollum's treachery with a treachery of it's own, but that final betrayal on the part of the Ring was its own undoing. Compare the fate of Isildur, who took the Ring from Sauron ("But the Ring betrayed Isildur to his death," we learn in the prologue) to the look of stunned betrayal on poor Gollum's face as he burns in the lava and silently implores the Ring to save him, or at least explain why. The Ring always betrays. Betrayal is the only way to defeat it.

God DAMN, I love this movie. The books and the movies were such a big part of my life at a time when I was turning into the functional member of society you see before you today, that even now, 10 years later, I can bond with perfect strangers in the movie theater over our mutual love of Lord of the Rings. It's actually the best part of nerd culture, that sensation of instant recognition of a kindred soul.

I've been working on this post for hours now and I'm still finding things to say on the subject, long after I'm sure most of you have lost interest and gone to look at porn. (You heathens.) I guess I just don't want to have to sign off on this post and say goodbye again. The first time around, when I saw ROTK in theaters and knew that this was it, there wouldn't be any more movies, I sort of made a fool of myself. I'm a big girl now, I can admit it. I wept so much at one screening that my friends refused to go with me to see it again "because you cried too hard and didn't want to talk about it afterward." "It's all just so SAD!" I wailed. "Frodo can never go home again! The Ring utterly destroyed him and he saved the world but it doesn't even matter because evil touched him too deeply and now he has to go across the sea to die and NO, he DOESN'T go to live with the elves, it's a METAPHOR for DEATH, didn't you read the Appendices?" (It's a miracle I still had friends to alienate.) But the weird thing is, I felt the same way after this special screening, years after I've moved on to other obsessions, years after I stopped having a copy of Lord of the Rings permanently resting on my nightstand, years after I stopped watching my copies of the movies. I still felt the ineffable sadness of seeing good friends sail off into the west, no matter how much I wanted them to stay.

Welp, I guess I'll go look online and see if they posted any new pictures from Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit"!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Another Tuesday, another 4-hour stretch of watching "Lord of the Rings" in theaters. The first time I saw this movie, me mum took me out of school in the middle of the day so we could catch the very first screening on the day the movie opened. This was on the Big Island, so there were no midnight screenings, but she probably would have taken me to see it then if there were. "I know what's important to you," she said. I love me mum.

The second movie of the trilogy, "The Two Towers," is considered by some (I'm glad this is the Internet and I don't need to back up this claim with any real numbers) to be the best of the set because it happens in the middle of all the action and doesn't have any of the slow set up of "Fellowship" or the long denouement of "Return of the King." It's just swords, battles, and creepy goblins for three hours, at least in the theatrical version. The problem with the extended edition is that most of the added scenes are the slow, character- and world-building bits that were really interesting to me when I was deep in my LOTR obsession, but now I feel like they mess with the pacing of the movie and slow it way, way down. I was in the theater for over two hours before the big battle sequence at Helms Deep even began! That's a bit excessive when you can't stop the movie at the halfway point to have a biscuit and a cuppa, which may be why there were a lot more candy wrappers rustling in the theater this time around. Everyone learned their lesson from last week.

One big problem with "The Two Towers" extended edition is, I'm sorry to say, the extra scenes with Merry and Pippin. When TTTEE first came out, I was really excited to see more of the duo, because their adventures in Fangorn Forest with the Ents were my favorite part of the book. I liked seeing those adventures realized on screen. However, after several years of not watching the movies OR reading the books, I find their extra scenes are just too at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie. The slow pacing and the casual jocularity of the characters' relationship belongs more to "Fellowship" than to "TTT." Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are battling to the death with Saruman's forces, Sam and Frodo are adrift in enemy territory with only a schizophrenic little freak to guide them, and Merry and Pippin are--hanging out drinking magical tree-water? The theatrical version played it just right, because Merry and Pippin went straight from being prisoners of war to trying to convince the Ents to join the battle, knowing that every precious moment the Ents deliberated, innocents were dying. The extended edition adds scenes that actually squander the suspense built up in the first two story lines, and almost trivialize Merry and Pippin's role in the wider story.

Speaking of scenes that just don't fit, poor, poor Eowyn. She is EXTREMELY ill-served by the addition of extra scenes between her and Aragorn. In the theatrical version, she's a capable, stalwart woman of the court, holding strong against the war on her doorstep and the treachery within her own household even as she rages against the societal constraints that prevent her from fighting for her kingdom. She weeps when her cousin and the heir to the throne dies, but even in her grief, she resists the allure of Grima Wormtongue, a man who was able to ensnare the king with his words but cannot sway the princess. When Aragorn calls her "a shieldmaiden of Rohan," you believe that this is a true woman warrior who could conceivably be a better match for him than Arwen. The extra scenes waste all of that and turn Eowyn into a weepy, simpering little fool who throws herself at a man who seems rightly embarrassed at her increasingly desperate bids for his approval. Even worse, some of these scenes are set right next to extra flashbacks between Aragorn and Arwen, which cruelly highlight Eowyn's deficiencies as a character and make it even clearer that her romantic efforts are wasted. In their attempt to give the character some depth, the filmmakers actually flatten Eowyn out and turned her into a romantic comedy cliche. Very disappointing.

But enough fangirl bitching. Let's talk about an extra scene that not only worked, but should have been included in the theatrical version. Faramir of Gondor, the younger brother of the Fellowship's Boromir, gets a long flashback that shows the brothers and their father Denethor hanging out before Borormir leaves to visit Rivendell and eventually join the Fellowship. Boromir is a prominent character in "Fellowship," and Denethor figures heavily into the events of "Return of the King," so TTT is obviously meant to be Faramir's chance to shine. In the theatrical version, we don't know a lot about Faramir. He seems pretty capable at killing enemies and being all Robin Hood-y in the forest, and when he finds out that Frodo has the Ring, he quickly pulls a Boromir and decides to take the Ring to Gondor, which probably seems like a good idea when you're the last line of defense against Mordor and you're living inside a waterfall. But Faramir is NOT Boromir-lite, and the flashback shows an entirely different motivation for the character's actions. It's the only scene we ever get between all three family members, and considering how much influence they all have on each other and how strongly their storyline comes into play in "Return", I really feel that this should have made it to the original cut. Their whole situation is so Shakespearean: Denethor loves Boromir more than Faramir, and both brothers know this but love each other, which makes Boromir ashamed of his status as favorite and Faramir both jealous of his brother and ashamed of his jealousy. When Faramir decides to take Frodo and the Ring to Gondor, he's doing it because he wants to honor Boromir's memory, but also to please his father and show Denethor that he, Faramir, is plenty awesome and could do what Boromir could not. It's hard to fault him when we've seen what Denethor thinks of his younger son. "Do not trouble me about Faramir, I know his uses and they are few." Gee, thanks Dad.

When I first read the books, Faramir was hands-down my favorite character because he possessed such clarity and insight into the whole war for Middle Earth situation happening all around him. He's the only one to openly suggest that war has no true winners and that violence, even violence for a good cause, is a fundamentally evil thing. Everyone else, even the hobbits, are so concerned with the tasks in front of them and are trying so hard to just stay alive that they never stop to reflect like Faramir does. This is fine, because it's sword and sorcery and no one really wants to read a book or watch a movie about a bunch of hippies sitting around talking about war and peace. We want to see some burly warriors kicking ass and taking names. But what sets LOTR apart from all of the other fantasy that followed it was Tolkien's willingness to give Faramir's concerns about the true cost of war as much credence as any other character's perspective. In the movie, Faramir says bitterly, "War will make corpses of us all," which is a little simplistic rendition of his viewpoint, but a pretty audacious thing to say when you've just killed a bunch of dudes and their elephant. In the book, he explains himself at length: "But I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I only love that which they defend." (Full disclosure, this was my quote in my senior high school yearbook, because yes, I am a massive nerd.) Either way, this is a peaceful little dude at heart, clinging to his compassion and humanity in a world where such traits will only get you a quick Orcblade in the gut.

After Mum and I watched TTT, I mentioned offhand that her nickname for me, My Precious, was the same name Gollum gives the Ring. "I know," Mum replied, "where do you think I got that name for you?" Which is sweet, but also kind of creepy.

I don't have a lot to say about the extra scenes with Sam, Frodo and Gollum, mostly because I didn't notice any. I know there were some added, but it's been so long since I saw the theatrical version, and that whole storyline is so well plotted and paced, that it just slides by without notice, which is great. If the filmmakers have done their jobs right, there should be seamless integration, not clumsy plot-hindering side adventures (Merry and Pippin) or glaring omissions (happy family time with Denethor & Sons). Anyway, I've got some stuff to say about the character of Gollum, but I'll save it for "Return of the King."

Oh, and one last thing: watching these movies in the theater again is a strange experience because you get large audience reactions to stuff that you've long since regulated to the solitary entertainment part of your brain. "Fellowship" had a lot of people giggling at Legolas's lines for reasons I couldn't figure out (maybe because he tends to be Captain Obvious when he speaks). And TTT got a lot of giggles in Sam and Frodo's climactic scene, when Frodo has his sword against Sam's throat and Sam implores, "Don't you know your Sam?"

Now, I know why people were laughing: haha, Frodo and Sam are gay for each other! But here's the thing. And maybe this is just because I live in New York City and I'm interested in queer theory, but that scene is not gay. In a case like this, sexuality lies in the context of the viewer. Maybe someone could construe the relationship between Frodo and Sam as homoerotic, but only if they have never seen any entertainment with ACTUAL gay characters in it before. For those people, allow me to give you a visual aid.

This is not gay.

This is gay and the most used picture on this site.
In the interests of gender parity, this is also gay.
See the difference? Just so we're clear, deep and abiding friendship between two people of the same sex does not mean said people are gay. It is a nasty and pernicious byproduct of our patriarchal culture that men and women (but mostly men) are not permitted any physical displays of love and affection, such as hugging, or allowed to share deep emotions, such as vulnerability, with friends of the same sex lest they be damned as "gay." This only happens when being gay is considered a bad or transgressive act by society, which doesn't just hurt gay people, but straight people, too, because we find ourselves denied the basic comfort of holding a good friend's hand. Individuals may find that they have to actively battle against such negative societal messages within the space of their own mind in order to break free of such constraints and NOT ruin the most goddamn poignant scene in one of my favorite movies because you can't handle any hint of teh queer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Live theater is just the best, isn't it? Even when you have to leave the apartment super-early on a Saturday to stand in line for an hour surrounded by fat Midwesterners in Time Square just to get a half-way affordable ticket. I'm not exactly bitter about it, because there's a lot of manpower involved in putting on a Broadway show and all those people need to get a living wage. But back in 2006 I saw a few professional operas in Prague where private box seats were only $30 a ticket and standing tickets to a matinee were $3, so bitter, not so much, but a maybe a teensy bit salty.

Yesterday the BF, R and myself went to see "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," a revival of a Frank Loesser musical from 1961 about a brash young lad, played by Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe, who cons his way to the top of the corporate ladder armed with nothing but his trusty How To... book and his killer asskissing skills. We'd really wanted to get tickets to see "The Book of Mormon," but after it won 9 Tony Awards last week, I have a better chance of single-handedly legalizing marijuana than getting tickets to that musical.

So it was either "How to Succeed" or "The Normal Heart," and given a choice between a lighthearted middle Broadway musical and a depressing late Broadway play about AIDS, we went with dancing Harry Potter. Sure, it was kinda sexist--there was a somewhat unsettling number when the secretaries all try to make the female lead marry her boss because it fulfills every secretary's secret dream--but the sight of all those secretaries and well-choreographed businessmen prancing about in slim early-60s suits and ties made up for it. I love the dancing in these middle Broadway, Frank Loesser/Kander & Ebb shows like "Cabaret" and "How to Succeed." It's all just so--symmetrical. I know it's a little passe at this point in time. More shows seem to be either moving toward the slightly looser and wilder dancing in "Fela!" which is a superior musical in every way, or toward parodying that middle Broadway style like "The Book of Mormon." But I think there's still something to be said for a show that's unabashedly sincere about being a traditional Broadway musical. I didn't cry at the end of this, or leave the theater feeling like I'd learned something about the human condition, but I grinned the entire time and have a whole new set of songs to whistle on my morning walk to the subway.

And sometimes that's all you need to succeed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Watching Fellowship of the Ring in theaters--again!

Last night, the BF and I made a special nerd pilgrimage to the movie theater to see a one-night-only screening of "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" extended edition. I saw this movie six times in the theater, or maybe I'm thinking of "The Two Towers" and I only saw this one three times. I can't remember because it was ten years ago.

Ten. Years. Ago.

Fellowship came out Christmas 2001. Jeez, that makes me feel so old. I've been obsessed with these movies for an entire decade. I haven't watched the movies in a while, probably years at this point, but I found that I remembered every single line of dialogue in Fellowship. Hell, I even remembered the DVD commentary for certain scenes! Why I am using memory space for such things? At least I didn't dress up for the screening. I have my dignity.

Actually, nobody was cosplaying last night, which was a bit weird. I'd expected to see at least a few people rocking a ring necklace and bare feet, maybe a sword or two. But no, for the most part it was a mixed bag of young professionals, people old enough to have read a first edition in a haze of potsmoke and Pink Floyd, and couples. Lots and lots of couples. And you know, that gives me hope, hope that one day society will retire the stereotype of the fat, unhappy loner male nerd and embrace the nerd community as it really is: pretty damn normal, actually.

Fellowship holds up very well after 10 years: acting, special effects, sound, music, all of it top shelf movie magic. The version we watched, in addition to be the extended cut, was also digitally remastered for Bluray, so the whole thing was just freaking gorgeous! I saw details I'd completely missed before (and considering I knew every word of the movie by heart, that's really saying something).

It was a bit slower than I remember, probably because it was the extended edition, which means more gently cavorting hobbits and uneventful slogging through rough terrain. I think it takes over 2 hours to get to the action scenes in the Mines of Moria, but man, when it does, I'm just as blown away as I was ten years ago. The music and the pacing during the staircase scene, and Gandalf standing down the Balrog on the bridge--it gives me chills all over again. Lothlorian slowed the movie again and it actually sort of dragged during the giving of the gifts scene. I actually almost fell asleep, but that's probably just because it was late and the music is very soothing.

So here I am, ten years later, remembering an afternoon in 2001 when a friend said, "Let's go check out that Lord of the Rings movie, I heard it was pretty good." I'd seen a single teaser for the three movies almost a year before--just a shot of all 9 members of the Fellowship coming over a ridge and looking majestically determined. And some people in the audience were batshit excited, but a whole lot more were like, "Huh, that sounds familiar, didn't my parents read me a a little of that when I was a kid or something?" The books had a big cult following, but it was still just that, a cult classic. And Peter Jackson had one solid, Oscar-nommed movie under his belt, "Heavenly Creatures," but was himself mostly a cult hit for slasher horror flicks like "The Frighteners." New Zealand wasn't know for having ANYTHING Hollywood wanted, much less a world class special effects studio. Nothing about this project should have worked, and yet Jackson got the rights, New Line Studio ponied up the cash (and stayed out of the way because New Zealand is really, really far away from anything), and those plucky Kiwis spat out a masterpiece. As Jackson says in the special introduction he recorded just for these screenings, "It really felt like fate that we got to make Lord of the Rings." It was a labor of love on a blockbuster budget, and it was pure magic.

Ten years ago, after I got home from watching Fellowship, I got my mom's copy down from her shelf and read the entire Lord of the Rings in a single weekend. I've been hooked ever since, and I can't wait to see "The Two Towers" next Tuesday--and then "Return on the King" the Tuesday after that!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Business Model: More Tits!

I'm a feminist and I read comic books.

(Up next, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of No Shit.)

I read comic books and I enjoy images of perfect physical specimens running around in tight clothing as much as the next nerd. But as a feminist, I recognize that this art form has a long history of objectifying and marginalizing their female characters. When Wonder Woman first joined the Justice League, she wasn't allowed to go on missions with the male heroes. She was the Justice League's secretary. Seriously.

Female characters eventually rose to prominence in the comic book universe (though they still have a nasty tendency to get raped, de-powered, or dismembered and stuffed into refrigerators). My two favorite titles right now, Birds of Prey and Gotham City Sirens, star all-female superhero teams, and the new Batwoman comic, debuting in September, is the one of the most hotly anticipated titles coming out of DC's new mega-relaunch of their entire line.

Which brings us to my current feminist rant. DC Comics is relaunching all of their superhero comics (or rebooting, or renumbering, or whatever you want to call it when management says, Screw it, we're starting over). When the new comics hit the stands in September, there are going to be a few changes to my favorite super-women. Gotham City Sirens will be discontinued, with Poison Ivy moving to the Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn joining the Suicide Squad, and Catwoman getting her own solo title.

This is all fine. Catwoman is my favorite character and her last solo title was pretty good, and anything is better for Harley Quinn than just being the Joker's abused girlfriend.

And then I saw the artwork for the new comics. Please keep in mind that this is not fan-art--these are the actual, official DC Comics covers for two of their most prominent female characters.

Here is Catwoman.
Here is Harley Quinn.
Again, official artwork.

Harley Quinn's corset is held up by nothing except the collective horror of female comic book fans. Catwoman looks like she just fucked that condom full of diamonds. The jewels are spilling out onto her cleavage, for chrissake!

THIS is why it's so embarrassing to be a comic book reader. This confirms every negative stereotype of the socially maladjusted mouthbreather drooling over anatomically impossible bimbos in a dark basement that smells of hopelessness and corn chips. It's a corporate slap in the face to every woman who has ever had to endure the leers and condescension of said mouthbreathers at comic shops and conventions. And it's a chilling reminder of what people in power really think about women.

I feel like my 20 years of loyal patronage of the DC brand has just been repaid with a big, steaming pile of "fuck you and your opinions, you useless bitch, go put on something slutty for the fellas and maybe jiggle around a little." I couldn't even go to the comic book shop this week. I was so pissed off at the company that I didn't want to give them any more of my money or support. Instead, I sat down and wrote DC an angry letter, the contents of which are similar to this post, but with a lot less swearing.

So first time I write a letter to the editor, it's about pretend people who dress up like cats and homicidal clowns. I don't know what that says about my priorities. At least I can rest easy knowing that my priorities are still better-placed than whoever approved that artwork up there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Delicious cake, om nom nom.

Hey, there! Still not feeling my best, but I got some happyvibes from my friends about the Literati Scouts idea, so it's all cool.

There was cake at work today. When you work in a large office, or, as I do, in a small office that's nestled in a larger office ecosystem like the seven-legged cane spider that used to live in my bathroom and eat gnats and mosquitoes... hang on, that metaphor got away from me. I was too busy shuddering in terror at the thought of that damn spider. I didn't pee alone from ages 5 to 8. My Big Sister will never forgive me.

Cake! When you work in a large office, cake just sometimes appears. Maybe it's somebody's birthday. Maybe there's a new baby, or a graduation, or we laid siege to another department in the building and are now feasting on the spoils of war. I've learned not to question delicious noms that come my way. My overlords assure me that I am being amply rewarded for my efforts, whatever larger purpose they may serve.

Seriously, after nearly a year in this job, I'm still not entirely sure what I do. The orders come down from the tower, some short guy with two heads distributes the armor, and we ride forth into the haze. I've never gotten a proper look at the enemy--no one has--but the scarred veterans who ply their trade along the walls of the keep whisper that the beasts have command of shadows and shades. Rumors from the hut of the one-eyed witches say that the haze in which we fight isn't a haze at all, but the bodies of the enemy, spread thin and wide like a poisonous gas that hangs over the killing fields. Though if this is true, what then prevents the haze from smothering us all while we sleep?

I don't question. I follow my orders. Answer the phones. Service the customers and polish my blade. The haze is always worse in the summer. Tempers run short. I hope the overlords have lots of cake.

Delicious cake.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

She stoops to conquer

Jeez, that is such a nerdy reference, I think I just earned another literati merit badge. (My troop meets once a month to get drunk in libraries and laugh at the plural form of words like 'apparatus.' Apparati. Priceless!) "She Stoops to Conquer" is an play by George Bernard Shaw, and I got sick and collapsed on a stoop this afternoon. A stretch, I'll admit, but I'm this close to becoming a Murasaki Scout and I really need my "Needlessly Pretentious Referencing of English Playwrights" credit.

You know, I WAS going to write a post about how embarrassing it is to disappear from one's blog for a month and have to come back with a story about nearly passing out on a Brooklyn street corner, but frankly my fake intelligensia survival troupe idea is way more interesting than my failing health. Would anybody be interested in joining the Literati Scouts? I don't know if we can bring alcohol into libraries, but we can discuss our favorite books, writers and poets and drink outside on the steps. New York libraries have very fine stoops.

We could have different levels of Literati Scouts, starting with Seuss and going up to Shakespeare. Both levels require you to speak in rhyme at meetings, so you'll probably want to advance through the ranks quickly, but also not get cocky and overreach yourself. We gotta keep the members humble. Murasaki and Wharton Scouts are responsible for upper-class angst. Bukowski Scouts handle working-class angst. Burroughs Scouts can head the discourse on queer theory, but only if they're sober (ditto for Ginsberg Scouts). Hemingway Scouts bring the drinks and organize the annual camping trip, but must defer to the more-senior Angelou Scouts in discussions of race and gender. Vonnegut Scouts head the Satire Glee Club and the annual Post-Apocalyptic Bake Sale, assisted by their Canadian counterparts, the Atwood Guides. (Scouts are called 'guides' in England and the colonies.) What level Scout would you like to be?

And we could give out merit badges: "Dated like a Jane Austen Heroine," "Maxed out your Library Account" both in library fines and book holds, "Lost Hope in Humanity," "Participation in Slam Poetry," "Pilgrimage to an Author's Home," "Used Bookstore Hygiene," "Accessed a Library's Closed Stacks," "Drunk Relatives," "Eviction from Bowery Poetry Club for Openly Mocking Performers," "Beating Off to Beat Poets," the more advanced "Beating Off Beat Poets," the more popular "Beating Beat Poets," and "Raged Against the Dying of the Light."

These are the badges I have. Feel free to list yours below.