Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bruising your bits on the Rodent Hour

Tuesday nights are for Rachel pretending to be cool.
You are listening to the Rodent Hour on Pratt Radio!
I know my life  may look like a glamorous whirlwind of wild hedonism and vice, but it's all a clever ruse, because the truth is I'm the kind of person who uses words like "ruse" and gets her microphone cut off when she goes on too long about X-Men. (In my defense if you listen to the broadcast on the Rodent Hour's soundcloud account, you'll hear the guitarist raising the topic. I just ran with it.)

So this is my side project, co-hosting a live music show on college radio. Which would be a LOT cooler if I didn't, in fact, graduate from college half a decade ago, and also if I actually went out to clubs and concerts to see the bands who play for us every week.

After Slim Wray played their set and my co-host Matt thwarted me and guitarist Hauser from talking about X-Men, we all gathered in the green room for the team photo. As you can see, I'm doing all right so far. At least I'm not trying to wear that sea foam green guitar with the avocado trim. I know my limits.

Here's what happened right after that picture was taken.

I offered to take the picture of the band and our sound techs with L's professional camera, which weights about seven pounds and is the size of a puppy. He put the strap around my neck and gently tried to guide my stubby fingers to the big "take picture" button. The enormous camera slips out of my creepy little child hands and falls.

My first thought was, Shit, my student's camera is going to shatter into a million expensive pieces on the floor! My second thought was, No, it'll be fine, the strap is around my neck.

I didn't have a third thought because at that point, the strap went taut and the camera swung right into my vagina.

I crumpled to my knees. Yelling "Fuck I bruised my pussy!" seemed inappropriate, so instead I squeaked, "If I was a guy, I'd be throwing up right now."

Had there been even one other woman in that room, I would have had a cold bottle of water on my vag and an arm to help me to the couch before you could say "why is that camera so fucking big?!"

But alas, there were only men. So immediately someone yelled, "Take her picture now!"

As you can see by the lack of a picture of Rachel crouching on the floor with her hands on her crotch, I ran away before that could happen.

There are many fun ways you can bruise your lady-bits at a rock show. I wouldn't recommend this one.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Last Sunday, I went to Lincoln Center to see "Monkey: Journey to the West," a mixed-media stage show blending animation and music with live action. It's an adaptation of the classic Chinese novel "Journey to the West" by Wu Cheng'en, which is the epic tale of the Monkey King and his friends traveling to India to find  the true teachings of Buddha and bring them back to China.
Road trip!
This show is a collaboration between Chinese and English artists. Chen Shi-Zheng wrote the text and directed, Damon Albarn composed the music, and Jamie Hewlett did the animation and the costumes. I became interested in the show because I saw some of Hewlett's concept art for "Monkey" on one of my comic book websites. He drew the indie comic "Tank Girl" back in the 90s, so he pops up on my nerdy radar every now and again. 
There's a movie, but don't watch it. You still have so much to live for.
However, watching "Monkey," I wasn't reminded of "Tank Girl," or even Hewlett and Albarn's other famous collaboration, the band Gorillaz. This show tripped some unexpected memory triggers from way back in my small-kid time that had nothing to do with indie comics or animated musical collectives.
Fun fact: Albarn and Hewlett were both born in the Year of the Monkey.
One movie that had a great impact on me as a child was "Farewell My Concubine." It's the story of two Peking opera stars who meet as children in an opera school, rise to stardom together, and come crashing back down under the rising tide of the Cultural Revolution. There's some gay stuff, too, but that's a little too complicated to get into right now. 
In Peking opera, all parts are played by males, even the female roles, and an actor who specializes in the female roles is called a dan, and the dan in this story is in love with the jing actor, who specializes in playing generals and kings, but the jing doesn't love the dan because he's straight and instead marries a prostitute who--fuck it, just watch the movie.
I've only seen it once in my life, but certain scenes remain vivid and arresting in my imagination: a mother cutting off her little boy's finger in a snowy alley; two aging actors burning their costumes in a public square while the Red Guard of Chairman Mao jeer at them; a young man in a silk gown throwing a pair of slippers at the feet of a prostitute. 

I couldn't possibly have understood this movie as a child, considering it's subject matter. For a long time it was one of those movies whose name and plot I couldn't remember, and sometimes I wondered if I made it up. It was this mysterious childhood artifact that I carried around in my mind, like a one of those ancient tables covered in writing that historians can't decipher. 

And then came the Internet. All I had to do was Google "Chinese movie little boy finger cut off" and boom! "Farewell My Concubine."

I'm not a technophobe and I don't long for a time when I couldn't spend six hours on my couch watching cartoons on my laptop while I cruise my tumblr feed on my tablet. But sometimes I am nostalgic for a time when there were still mysteries that couldn't be solved in nanoseconds by our boxes of light that hold all the information in the universe. 

Anyway, I discovered that "Farewell My Concubine" was adapted from a novel of the same name by Lilian Lee. I read it for the first time in the summer of 2007 during my first trip to New York. I bought a copy of "Farewell" during my touristy visit to the famous Strand bookstore, along with a novel by Maxine Hong Kingston called "Tripmaster Monkey," which was about a theater troupe in 1960s San Francisco putting on a performance of--wait for it--"Journey to the West." 
I've long lost both of those books. They were probably abandoned at some point in my journeying, as I am wont to pick up books on the road and then leave them by the wayside because books are fucking heavy to lug around in a rolly-suitcase. 

BUT--watching "Monkey: Journey to the West" reminded me very strongly of all these works and clarified a lot that was unclear or confusing about them, especially the opera scenes in "Farewell My Concubine." There's only so much words can do to convey the feeling of watching a stage show, and the movie focused more on the lives of the performers than the performances, so I was always a little fuzzy on what Peking opera was like and how it differed from Western styles of musical theater. As soon as Monkey stepped out onto the stage, stamped his feet and sang "I am Monkey!", I got it. There's so much meaning and character development conveyed in how the performers move and speak, and you can tell what type of character they are--trickster, drunken lout, aging general, goddess, demon--by these rather minimalist markers. I suppose the word to use is "stylized," because the characters are archetypes that are revealed through their styles of speech and movement. 
Guess which one is the trickster Monkey King who stole the peaches of Heaven and pissed on the Buddha's palm.
Now I've been jazzed up for a while about going to see "Monkey: Journey to the West" because of the aforementioned Jamie Hewlett connection (and also because acrobats!). I told everyone at work I was going, since I tend to get excited about things and then not shut up about them because I am apparently a four-year-old. Anyway, my Tall Boss mentioned that his wife, who is a Beijing native, hated this show. I don't know if she saw it during of its first runs or if she just heard about it and disliked it on principal, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of it. In fact, I can see why she might hate it. If you grew up knowing a bit about Peking opera, a show like this might seem like a gaudy, tasteless spectacle designed for a dumbed-down, Westernized audience without patience or appreciation for the purer traditional form. 

And that's fine. It's a valid opinion to have. I don't like hula 'auana. I think it's haolified and lacks the underlying power and majesty of hula kahiko, so I understand traditionalist objections to a work like "Monkey: Journey to the West." I wouldn't agree with them in this case, because I enjoyed myself immensely at "Monkey", but on the other hand, I know nothing about Peking opera except that I think they allow women on the stage these days. 

I bring this up because both "Farewell My Concubine" and "Tripmaster Monkey" dealt with the preservation of traditional performance styles, and traditional values, in the face of sweeping societal upheavals. Do you change the show when your audience changes in order to remain relevant in a modern world? Or do you preserve the show as it was in the past, even at the risk of losing your audience, so the audience doesn't lose or forget something about themselves? 

Of course there's no right answer. Or rather, the right answer is somewhere in between. The tricky part is that you can't tell whether the answer was right nor not until several generations down the road, when your descendants look at your decisions and either praise or curse you for the history you made for them. 

You just have to leap, and hope for the best. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer so far

It's an on-time post! A rare occurrence this summer, which is weird because I'm actually doing a lot of activities. I just get to post day and think, "No one wants to read about that." Somehow I think my life is actually less interesting when I'm being social.

For example, so far this summer I've been to three dinners with the BF's family--once for the Fourth of July, once for some English cousins moving to the city in the fall--and just last Friday, a dinner with cousins that live in the city but we literally never see except at Passover. New York is weird that way. Your relatives can live 20 minutes away on the subway and you'll see them maybe three times a year. Is it like this other places?

Also this summer, the BF and I went to see a South African stand-up comedian at The Culture Project on Bleeker Street. I love stand-up, and this guy was great. His name is Trevor Noah. You should follow him on twitter or facebook or whatever platform you use to avoid reality (I prefer tumblr).

A couple weekends back, R and I went hiking in Wawayanda State Park in New Jersey, and she still hasn't sent me any pictures of that hike except for this one. Hopefully that will change in the near future.
It's a turtle.
And on Bastille Day, the BF and I celebrated our 6 year anniversary. We each got to pick an activity, and I don't mean to brag, but my activity pick was amazing. We took the free ferry to Governor's Island to ride on 19th century carnival equipment.
I am killing summer.
That is a bicycle carousel. You turn it by pedaling (the BF says there's a motor in the center, too, but I prefer to think that it turns by the power of imagination and joy!), and it goes both backward and forward. BF says it's much easier to pedal backward than it is to pedal forward, oddly enough. I wouldn't know, because I sat in one of the red velvet seats and put my feet up like a princess while he sat on one of the dinky bike seats and did all the hard work.
I just hotted up the place.
I love Governor's Island. It's a car-free national park, and the free ferry leaves every half-hour from the park by my apartment. They moved the ferry docking this year; it used to be right across the East River from me, and the Battery Tunnel vent shaft, but now it's about a quarter of a mile down stream. The ride there is longer, so there's time to admire the scenery and watch the containers getting unloaded on the docks in front of of my building (which I can juuuust see over the big pile of salt).

The city has been doing a lot of refurbishment on the island the last couple of years, turning the old army base buildings into gift shops and pop-up art galleries and museum. There's art installations on the lawns, tree houses, playgrounds, bike paths and barnyards.
Barnyards designed by Rene Magritte.
The BF's activity turned out to be a walking tour of Jewish heritage sites on the Lower East Side that lasted for three hours in the 95 degree heat. But y'know--heritage, and I got to meet a kitty in an old synagogue that's been turned into an art space.
Highlight of the day for me.
Also we got to eat the most amazing pickles at the end of the tour, and the BF got me bubble tea as a reward for not whining once.

Later that evening, we went out for Ethiopian food and ate spiced pastes with our hands. A good time was had by all!

And have you been listening to my radio show? We're having a short summer season. Last night, my co-host was away on vacation, so I brought in my friend J to work the soundboard (and she thought I was joking when I told her I couldn't turn on my own microphone). J hooked her computer up to the studio speakers so we got to watch the first 20 minutes of "Captain America" with the audio blaring out on the brand spanking new equipment like we were in Martin Scorsese's living room. The band Hurrah! A Bolt of Light played an amazing set and we all ate cornbread. You can listen to the whole broadcast here if you missed.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Continuing the annual tradition of going to at least one wedding a year with the BF, two weekends ago we were in Buffalo. Specifically, Lockport, which is about 20 minutes south of Niagra Falls. We didn't go to the falls. Instead, we sat in a parked car outside our hotel. This was a lot more fun than it sounds.
We have more pictures of this car than we do of the actual wedding.
The wedding was fun. It was in a vineyard, so there were some very bold chickens and some ponies across the road for us to admire. Being rather distantly connected to the bride and groom, our table had to wait the longest for dinner. But we made up for it at the morning-after breakfast when the newlyweds sat at our table and we all had mimosas together. We won brunch!

We toured a house in Buffalo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright the day after the wedding. The BF very impressively got us out of Lockport, to our activity, and then to the airport entirely on Buffalo public transportation. It's weird to get out of New York and use another city's transit. There's a lot more ugly people on the buses in Buffalo than there are in New York. I don't know why this is, I'm just putting it out there.