Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cold Wet American Winter

We're getting another 6 to 8 inches of snow today here in New York. The officemates are speculating that as soon as we can't see the main campus from our windows, we should all just go home. Manhattan already disappeared in the cloud of white, as did the dome of the Greek Orthodox church in Williamsburg, about a mile north of us. The Big Boss is blaming me. He says I brought it here from the islands.

This is easily the worst of the three winters I've experienced in New York. Normally it doesn't snow this much. We get one, maybe two big messes dumped on us a season. This will be the sixth or maybe even seventh big mess, and that doesn't count all the days that it's been snowing but not sticking. I'm starting to feel a bit like Benicio Del Toro in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" when he tries to open the salt shaker of cocaine while speeding through the desert in an open convertible and it all blows away in the wind.

"Did you see what GOD just did to us, man?"

I wonder if anyone is surfing down in Jersey today.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Man vs. Parking Space

So while I'm at work soothing the jangled nerves of this great country's future tempers/part-time indie filmmakers (which is pretty rich coming from me, considering the path my career took during my first two years in New York City), I have to wonder: what's going down in Cobble Hill? What happens in my neighborhood while I'm sitting high up in my sixth floor office, gazing out the window and wondering if the guy in the window across the way is wearing a shirt or if his bare chest is really that alarming shade of maroon, and should I call someone for help in case it's the latter, or would that just result in awkward inquiries and possible legal action?

On my walk to the subway this morning, I passed a car trying to pull away from the curb, but because there's currently more snow on the ground than on the bathroom floor of Studio 54 on New Years Eve, it was going nowhere fast. The first couple guns of the engine, I figured the driver would give up and go back home for a smoke and another cup of coffee. Even as someone who's never driven anywhere other than the Big Island, I knew that car wasn't getting out of that snowdrift. But the dude just kept gunning that engine, even though steam was coming up from where the wheels were melting the snow and the street stank of exhaust. I actually turned around and walked backwards on an icy sidewalk to see how far this was all going to go. Dude was still standing on that gas pedal before I had to turn around and go about my day.

Ten hours later, I'm walking the same route back home from the subway, and damned if Dude still isn't trying to get the car out of that same parking space. The car hasn't moved an inch as far as I could tell. And now he's got about five or six friends gathered around him giving advice. They've wedged a bunch of flattened cardboard boxes under the wheels to try and get some traction. These are my neighbors, toiling away under the streetlamps, undaunted by the cold, probably trying to get the project done before we get another three to six inches dumped on us tomorrow.

Here's the thing: I know that Dude wasn't trying to get out of that parking space the whole time I was at work. That's just silly; he had to have taken breaks, gotten some lunch, maybe called a cousin with a garage in Sunnyside to get advice, otherwise he'd have run out of gas and burnt the motor out. But in the movie of my life, from my limited little Big Island Rachel perspective, that man devoted his entire day to getting that car away from that curb, slowly adding and losing friends and comrades on his mad quest for glory, trying hot water and sand and sawdust and salt and all manner of schemes to lose his car from winter's vile grip--to no avail. Many were the times he sank down to his knees on the sidewalk and cursed the cruel fate that doomed him to this exercise in futility. Perhaps he reflected with keen awareness the hubris that led him to own a car in New York City. Perhaps, even now, at this late hour, he struggles on, dauntless (what is daunt, by the way, does anyone know?), unswayed by the dark and the cold and the exhaust fumes. A lonely warrior, a brave soldier of Cobble Hill.

He stands as a beacon of hope and perseverance to us all.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

And Tartuffe?

Americans don't really do farce. We do great satire, but I think we take ourselves a little too seriously when it comes to comedy. At the end of the day, even the stupidest sitcom has one or two moments where the characters turn into real people, have a heart-to-heart, and remind the audience that for all their crazy schemes and outrageous situations, they're just like us: flawed, but fundamentally human.

Farce, on the other hand, is basically a live-action cartoon, and relies on unrealistic, somewhat one-dimensional characters who are just too stupid or greedy or awkward to generate sympathy. Farce lacks self-awareness and sentimentality. "Seinfeld" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" are the only two American TV shows that I can think of off-hand that could be called farces, because the characters don't invite empathy or even feint toward personal growth and development. They aren't humans, they're caricatures.

I happen to love farce. I feel that outside of a really good sitcom like "Roseanne" or "Community," sentimentality in comedy is unearned and unwelcome. It always feels like it was thrown in at the last minute because logic dictates that 1) comedy makes you laugh, so 2) comedy makes you happy, so 3) comedies must therefore have happy endings for the characters (hence the old writer's expression, comedies end in weddings, tragedies end in funerals). It's sound logic if you're a good person, but I'm actually kind of a bastard and I like to laugh at the stupidity and suffering of those hapless on-screen idiots.

One of my favorite purveyors of farce--besides most of the comedy lineup of the BBC--is Moliere (real name Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622 - 1673), a Frenchman who Wikipedia calls "one of greatest masters of comedy in Western literature," so you know it must be true. Last night, a friend took me to see an off-off Broadway production of Moliere's "Tartuffe," presented by the Workshop Theater Company, and a grand time was had by all.

"Tartuffe" is about a con artist who pretends to be a devote religious man in order to worm his way into the household of an aristocratic gentleman. The gentleman thinks the sun rises and sets out of Tartuffe's ass, but everyone else in the house knows the man is a hypocrite and a fraud. They just can't convince the master of the house to see the truth, and Tartuffe's influence is wrecking everyone's life. Will the gentleman force his daughter to marry Tartuffe? Will Tartuffe succeed in seducing the gentleman's comely wife? Will that sassy servant ever shut up? Are they really going to do this whole thing in rhyme?

The cool thing about a Moliere production is that even the English translations of his works can be set to rhyme. If you have actors that can commit themselves to what basically amounts to bawdy Dr. Seuss dialogue, the whole thing really pops. In college, I saw a production of Moliere's "The Miser" that wasn't in rhyme, and it was good. But the surreality that's the bedrock of a good farce gets a chance to shine when the characters speak in rhyme. See what I did there?

And here's a tip for the out-of-towners. Off-off Broadway shows are surprisingly affordable, less than $20 a seat, with professional actors and everything. I highly recommend going to an off-off Broadway show rather than a Broadway show if you're coming to visit me. The terms "Broadway," "off-Broadway," and "off-off Broadway" just refer to the number of seats in the theater, not to the location of the theater itself. You can see an off-off Broadway play without leaving the safe and shiny tourist ghetto.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Years Redesign

I rather like the Buddha and Lady Liberty together like that. Not a lot of people realize how many Buddhists live in Hawaii. Mum and I were once in Hilo, on the east side of our island, for a Christmas concert with the children's chorus (we were music geeks together for a brief time, Mum and I, she in the adult and me in the kiddy chorus). We decided to drive around the neighborhood after the show and look at Christmas lights, but we didn't see a single display. Took us twenty minutes to remember that Hilo is mostly Japanese people, who are mostly Buddhist, an equation that results in a net total of zero Christmas displays. Lovely gardens, though. Rains quite a lot on the east side.

This Christmas I was back on the Big Island for holiday, visiting with Mum and Sister. I managed two days of work in the Sister's office--my customer service stories pale in comparison to hers, she works with addicts and youth offenders--one trip to the beach, one moonlit walk around the cow pasture and coffee orchards with the cat at four in the morning, one day of ironing quilt material, and three days of yardwork in my nightgown with no underwear on.

All in all, a successful vacation. Good to be back, everyone. Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!