Once Upon A Summer

June 22, 2009

Summer’s here.

A bit obvious I suppose.

But I guess when you’re not actually doing anything, as June comes to an end, you realize that your bound not to be doing even more as the “summer jobs” fill up and friends jet-set or couch-sur or road-trip or so on.

In a way it’s comforting: New York City is a big place and it’s nice for a summer to get to sit back and explore it, leisurely at one’s own time.

Still I think back to previous summers and what I’d usually be doing.

Camps. I’ve been to so many of them I feel like making a Holocaust joke (my right, like eating matzoh, as a Jew). Speaking of which, my camps always were full of jewish kids, which i’m sure could be some sort of interesting study, how the grandparents got out of camps, moved to America, had kids who put their kids right back in them.

Ich, off color, I know.

Still, I remember my various camps.

School camp at Poly Prep as a middle-schooler, sitting around waiting for someone to do some sort of theater game with me, or let me swim in the pool, or play soccer poorly.

Arts/Sports Camp, OMNI Camp it was called. I remember going there because my parents though Interlocken was too expensive. It was the sort of place that had everything, from Archery to Musicals. I remember sleeping in those log-cabin stink-house bunk-beds with kids who mostly made fun of me, for what I can’t even remember now. I remember a Guinean kid named Peter though,  my primary tormentor, who was older (13) and respected by my the bunkheads around him. He was a bad kid, sneaking out and playing jokes. I think we looked up to him because he had a manhood-measuring British magazine insert, something called “Measure Your Wallace” which he spoke about admiringly while I tried to listen to audiobooks in horror trying to figure out what this conversation was about and if my testicles had in fact descended, as they were discussing.

I also had my first kiss that summer, my first real one anyway, which I feel like I’ve discussed here, with a girl with pretty long black hair and braces which I thought were cute. Her name was Leah and I thought she was the moon-and-the-stars when she played Fagin, “the miserly old Jew” in the camp production of “Oliver!”. I helped her cheat on her boyfriend and kissed her with tongue, a transgression I was simultaneously ashamed of (she’d asked me not to) and proud of, heart beat-beat-beating as I went back to bed that night, one of my sole sneak-outs of camp-time.

Of course I remember my time at Putney, the camp I’d later go on to teach at. The horror of friendlessness, juxtaposed with a confidence built on anger and social incompetence. The poetry I wrote to a girl who I’m still, sadly, friends with on Facebook and how she rejected me nominally for Emile Hirsch, though I found out later it was for one of those tall, skinny Jews who I’d later come to admire for their coolness, since I was getting rooted to the world of mid-build stocky ones. I never did kiss a girl at Putney, those camp days, but I did sit on a lawn while people played a guitar, on those legendarily green Vermont hills, staring out at the starlight.

Fast-forward to 20 years old and I was back there, an assistant teacher, but I’ll admit I never felt that way, like a teacher; I always felt like a camper again. As a result, I was enthusiastic, exuberant. I was focused on befriending the students, helping them, but most of all being myself and making up for lost time, being young in the way that I couldn’t be young in high school. I emulated the mannerisms of a camper, for good or ill, skipping around the greensward of the campus, trying to hit on my fellow counselors, when time allowed. The last part didn’t end up working out too well, precisely because of my mindset: my fellow counselors were either serious-minded teacher-types who wanted to go into the world of academia or hippy-New-Englanders, who seemed want to reenact the bacchanal scene of Wet Hot American Summer on a daily basis. I was explicitly not in the joke, performing my job as if it was Commedia Dell’Arte and I was Arlequino, always playing tricks and fooling even myself.

In the end, you realize both that “you can’t go home” and that Bon Jovi’s a piece-of-shit musician. While I think I did manage to make an impression on some of the students I worked with, I realized that as you get older, you’ll never be one-of-them again, a fact which in the moment seems sad, but which I was familiar with as I’d often been an outsider to my age-group.

A friend asked me if I was going back there this summer and I vacillated for a while. I waited to here whether the head teacher I’d worked with, John, was going back. In his own way, unknowingly, John had perpetuated my fantasy of reliving my camp life, since he had mentored me and taught me too and he was yet another role model for me to look up to in my life; a film nerd who had settled to a life of making art in polyglot form, teaching and living with a cute, artistic girlfriend. Like other idols of mine, he seemed to have it all. When I didn’t hear back from him as to whether he was going back this summer, I let the opportunity pass me by, which I kick myself for on ocassion, but also upon thinking of a return, reel with the thought: “What the fuck are you thinking?”

Instead, I find myself back in New York, busy, unexpectedly, seeing films at film festivals, trying to improve my Karaoke skills and going out to Brookyln-roofs and Chinatown and downscale Manhattan bars looking for a beer under 7 dollars.

When I was at my friend Frank’s house, his mother, who I always liked, a highly-overqualified neurotic-Jewish public-school teacher, made a passing comment to the lot of us who were about to head out for the evening.

“I remember after my undergraduate.” She said. “That was the hardest part. Because you’ve spent so many years with institutions and returns and friends and you realize that there’s no one to go back to. You go back to graduate school, but there’s really no going back. It’s always different and it’s never going to be that way again.”

“Well,” I said, considering. “Currently my plan is denial. That’s working out pretty well for me.”

And I laughed as I left the house in a crowd, down the same steps I’d walked on for going on 11 years.


On Being About to be Graduating College, Drinking Milkshakes and Seizing the Carp.

May 6, 2009

It was a Latin joke that my teacher used to make.

My teacher, Mr. Gini, a man with a fine mustache and demeanor–a Brown graduate–who would come in to class with a tweed suit every day, though his swarthy-look and dark-black-hair must have proved that he was too young for such attire.

Maybe he was the sort of man who aspired to such vestiments of tweed–someone wanting of tweediness. It’s not the worst thing in the world to want to be an academic, to feel compulsed to inculcate young minds with Latin grammar and conjugations as you yourself were once inculcated.

I did him poorly though. Even though I much admired him, him and his tweedness, his nerdiness, his earnestness and his love of poetry. I admired him for his pretty, vivacious, spunky wife, who I met while traveling on a Latin trip, getting drunk for the first time and drinking Ouzo with some fellows from Missouri, who made me feel significantly cooler than I had any right back then.

Plus one of them had a curly Jew-fro, something I admired and would later self-incorporate in a sort-of-form without ever acheiving the loftiness of full-on tight-curled exuberance.

I did Mr. Gini poorly though, pulling out the lowest score, a 1, on my AP Virgil exam. I had no patience as a senior for Virgil, as I had once had for Catullus as a junior. Back with Catullus, I felt a sympathy, a synergy, a longing towards that sense of romantic hopelessness he embodied from across the ages, while I had no such sympathy for Dido and Aeneas, with their troubled star-crossed love. Love to me then was only a longing felt unanswered, not a troubled beast itself.

The low score I’m sure must have hurt him–Mr. Gini–and I think that the powers that be at my high-school must have given him a hard time. I didn’t care for anyone but myself back then, in my brooding leather-jacket days and so the 1 was at most, a mild embarassment. I was even already in college and ready to defecate on anything I could build-up enough courage to vandalize at that school. But I hadn’t meant any harm to Mr. Gini, a gentle man, who wore tweed suits.

He used to tell us in class, the high-school juniors-and-seniors, with a slight smile and a bit-of-wit from beneath his bristly mustache:

“Carpe Diem–Seize the Carp.”

It was a joke that resonated to Latin students, cut-ups and New Yorkers. It was stupid but smart. And it always brought a smile to my face.

***

I was trying to find “Wave of Mutilation” on LimeWire and that’s what made me late.

While I’ve cited it in the past, I love my Pandora Radio. The new music I hear is often great, opening me up to new artists or songs, but it’s really hearing the things I’ve heard once before that’s gets me.

Because when you hear a song you only half-remember, it stirs things in you, memories, sensations, the experience of where you heard it, it takes you down a path. There’s a feeling of comfort though, of home in that sort of half-remembered memory: an uncertainness, but a comfort nonetheless.

So when I left my shower this morning, having woken up early (7:45am, I find it hard to sleep late, as of late), I combed the “thumbs-uped” songs from my Pandora station looking for songs to add to my phone. Songs like “Sister Golden Hair” by America, which I knew primally, from movies and my youth, but which I never knew the name of. Songs like “Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed I had heard in a movie I liked. Or songs like “Wave of Mutilation”, the Pixies, which I was played by my 26 year-old film-teacher riding shotgun, stoned, through the back-forests of Vermont.

It was for this reason, picking and choosing and looking and downloading the songs I half-remembered so I could always listen to them on my phone that I was late, despite being early to picking up student-rush tickets for “Next to Normal”, the Broadway musical, and subsequently did not get them.

I’ve had a checkered relationship with musicals in my life, but they’re somewhere in my blood. My grandmother and grandfather on my mother’s side were both, at one time, “musical theater people”, dancing, singing, performing. I was in some in high school, though I never was a star, and I seem to recall a propensity for messing up my lines, improvising or choking at the inopportune moment. I remember my fellows in those musicals.

They’re all gay now.

Anyway, my entree in to film was also a flight away from musicals, away from what I saw as folly, or the perceived failures and inadequacies of my youth.

But just as film had gotten me out from the musical, it found me back in it. A film like Chicago seemed to take a dark spin on the genre, even if it was done somewhat inadequately (I particularly doubt Renee Zellweger’s ability as an actress and Rob Marshall’s ability as a director) and when I saw Singin’ in the Rain, I was reinvigorated to the potential the musical might hold. When I started seeing Broadway again, in the lapse of time between my Junior and Senior year, I was still stuck on seeing plays, what I thought the “legitimate theater”, but after a hint took me to see Passing Strange, I wanted to see more.

Next to Normal seemed an interesting choice. A musical about a dysfunctional family with a bipolar mother that takes place largely at home and in the treatment facilites and therapy sessions the family endures. It seemed like an interesting direction for the genre and as with most things, I wanted to take advantage of it while I was still a student, in the nether-region I inhabit: devoid of class, but not yet graduated.

But as I said, I was too busy browsing songs at home, at ended up in line at 9:45, before the box-office was open, but about 25th in line for tickets and boxed (and sold) out.

I ended up at 10:30 searching for a purpose, searching ofr a milkshake. I had nothing much to do right then, but I found myself near one of the places I’d read about in the Times: City Burger, a reputable establishment. As I was planning on walking down to Shake Shack to kill some time anyway–it was only 10:30–I decided to eschew such plans and try out this joint which happened to be open then.

I had some good grub there, but some good gripes as well. The Turkey Burger ($5.95) came with “the works”, a combination of toppings I’d encountered at Goodburger among other places: mustard, mayonaise,ketchup, lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles–a combination I asked for all of except the last (I am the one Jew non-pickle-lover). The combination was pungent and good with a kick, but overwhelmed the thin patty of turkey-burger I received in the middle. I felt slightly eschewed–this was not a hot dog and thus did not need excessive relish. The french fries ($4) were pretty good, better than Shake Shack’s–which I generally feel are overrated–and flavored with some pepper or paprika, a light touch which I appreciated. Plus the fries came in abundance, in such abundance in fact as to feel like a great deal compared to the burger itself. The Black+White shake I got ($5.50) was also huge and not bad at all. Shake Shack is obviously known for it’s shakes and this was not the Shack’s equal for its legendary “hot-fudge” Black-and-White, but it didn’t disgrace itself either, instead providing a strong counter-point to the burger-and-fries, along with something to take for the road. My only gripe there was for some reason a Black-and-White was 50 cents extra–as if it was some fancy French-dimension to add chocolate syrup to a milkshake. Even though they don’t know the Black-and-White in Vermont (napkin-drawn diagrams were required to explain it, provided upon request), it’s less exotic than say, Strawberry, here in New York City and I don’t see whyever it should cost extra.

I took my 50-cent-extra-shake and began the walk downtown.

***

Waiting in line for a cap-and-gown seemed both like some sort of existential journey and a giant let-down.

On set on my film, it was a such a big issue. Remember my parents were there on set with me and even though they were supportive and helpful they also seemed pissed-to-all-shit that I still hadn’t managed to register for graduation. When I tried to explain to them wearily that I had been concentrating on my movie or, alternately, concentrating on not-concentrating on my movie, this didn’t seem to pass a good excuse to them. My last day of shooting was my last day to order a cap-and-gown online.

Wi-Fi was found. Wi-Fi was lost. My script supervisor was put on the job. My script supervisor failed lacking a credit card. I stole my art director’s computer and hovered outside of bistros down University Place trying to find a connection outside of any of them, finally getting my order through, only for my friend Langston–the art director–to be denied his order, as the Wi-Fi gods giveth, the Wi-Fi gods taketh away.

Here, waiting on line, everyone had to wait, cap-and-gown order or no. You didn’t even have to wait in line if you were just getting the cap-and-gown. Order online or no.

I saw people I knew in the line and bumped elbows with them, a signifier of my handsful of The New Yorker and an interesting article, and also a signifier of how little really was invested in exuberance over the event.

I remember when my mom called me to tell me I had earned a “gold tassle” for my academic acheivements I was disappointed that Tisch did not over something in Latin (“cum laude”), instead prefering large ornamental arrangements of string.

The people were nice at least and the line moved quickly enough, New Yorker in hand. The people were nice enough at least for people who were renting you blue robes. I saw people as I walked back towards home, blue robes and hat in hand and nodded to them soberly, giving them the same elbow-fives I’d asked of them before.

When my mom called me and asked what night I wanted to go out for graduation, I snapped after a few rounds of asking me and told her “I couldn’t care less”.

“Tuesday, Wednesday,” I told her. “It doesn’t matter. As far as I know, I’m free for the conceivable future.”

I told her I’d talk to her later.

“Carpe diem”, I thought. The same words I was told upon graduating high school.

“Carpe diem. Seize the Carp.”

***

CITY BURGER

#2- Burger, Fries and Milkshake- $12.95

Corner of 39th St and Broadway

1237NQRWS to 42nd St-Times Square


Hairy Situations

March 13, 2009

I didn’t take a shower this morning.

When I don’t take a shower in the morning, my hair rebels.

Usually I’m pretty principled about taking a shower in the morning, except for, well, when I’m not.

Wake up-take glug of water-check email on phone-dither on the computer a bit-go into bathroom-put on Feitelogram Pandora station on speakerphone-shower-boxers-deodorant-brush teeth-apply various skin products onetwothree-shirt-leave bathroom-pants-socks-refill water bottles-make bed-more dithering-put on sweater-put on fleece-put on jacket-put on shoes (finally)-leave

But really, anything can knock me off track. Any excuse to just lay in bed, leave my sheets, roll out with a sigh and face the world.

Last night, it was because I went out with a friend to let off steam.

We had both been furiously working on our films and I just needed for me someone I could go get a low-pressure beer with. He came over and we drank the residual beers of my apartment: a Dos Equis and a can of Coors Light left over from previous beer drinking excursion. Then we headed out at Milady’s, the bar my dad went to when I was probably just a drunken star in my mom’s eye. The bar was divey without having grafitti and had good greasy bar food, suitable to the crapster Heineken they had on tap. Still, it was just a block or two away and it felt good to have the beer without the pressure, in a place not so full.

But drinking leads to drinking and soon we were off to Thunder Jackson’s, a terrible chain-bar of a place over on Bleecker. Here the night went sour as I was promotionally bought two drinks along with the $12 dollar pitcher I shared with my friend. One was an unrecognizable combination described as “vodkavodka” to me, which was literally squirted into my mouth using a medium-sized vat and a hose protruding from the bar. The other drink was a “grape-bomb”, a combination of Grey Goose Grape and Red Bull which tasted to me almost exactly like a Welch’s Grape Soda (the best soda for bad chinese food, bt-dubs).

That, of course led to more drunkenness, which led to more bars, which led to unfortunate not-misfires with girls, a slice of over-priced Buffalo Chicken Pizza at 1am and sleep finally.

But when I awoke, my hair had rebelled.

My hair is mutable in the way it behaves. When it’s short after a cut, or long, like when I had a ponytail, it looks straight. When it gets to about mid-size though, where it is now, it changes as the day goes on.

Out of the shower, it’s curly and flat against my head, wet as if gelled.

When I go outside for awhile, I’d say it’s at its optimal: curly, close, but bouncy and good for twirling around a finger during a long lecture or film.

Then, when it’s windy, or when I tease it with my hand self-consciously, it expands, growing to more “jew-fro” (kind) or “Ronald McDonald” (unkind) proportions.

Finally, when I’ve had a long night of drinking, going out, playing with my hair and I wake up in the morning, my hair rebels.

It loses all definition of its curls, emerging into a static, strung-out jumbly mess, like a jumbo-auburn bird’s nest or Lucifer’s discarded halo.

It is what it is, but it seems to affect me if I keep it that way.

For instance, at the particularly early morning therapy, I felt jumbled with my hair that way, apologizing for talking too much about girls, then not enough about girls and then apologzing for apologizing.

“You don’t have to apologize.” My therapist interrupted me.

“I know, but it feels comforting.” I told her.

“Sorry.” I added.

Or when I felt thorny at the emergency insurance meeting held by my school and roasted the crap out of them to two rounds of applause from the crowd (thankyouverymuch), ending by asking the department that perhaps, if they didn’t want any more rigs falling into THE OCEAN (2 so far), then maybe they shouldn’t approve any scripts that take fucking place there.

Or when I felt all jumbled up, talking to my former professor/mentor, the great, mustached Nick Tanis at Caffe Dante. I drank 2 Caffe Mokas and talked about subjects ranging from actors to classmates to iPhones to writer’s block to beer-coffee-combos (hint: bad idea) to an ex-not-girlfriend’s film script which I thought might have a character inspired by me considering that he’s described as:

a. Having a “jew-fro”

and

b. Unsuccessfully trying to hook up with her.

Checkmate.

It even plagued me when I went to bust-a-move playing DDR in Chinatown with my best friend Frank. DDR, usually my virtuosic medium of ridiculosity and occasional only source of physical exercise, this time failed me as I managed with my hop-skip-jump antics only to beat Frank mildly as opposed to viciously dance-thrashing him, considering he had just eaten three-four meals, the result of an exercise-a-holic lifestyle.

I felt as if I wore a crown of sorrow (also of hair) as I trudged home from my day-full of frazzledness.

There were still emails to be sent, filmmaking to be filmmade, so much to do.

But with a hairy disposition, what’s to be done.

I did the only thing I could. I hopped into the shower. I stayed for a while. Kimya Dawson, TV on the Radio and the Johnny Cash cover of Heart of Gold from my Pandora-iPhone. I soaked down and my hair collapsed, falling into my eyes, already half-blind from the lack of glasses.

I finished up, no technique, no routine this time–a relaxation shower.

I sat down, gathered myself and prepared for something I couldn’t be hairy for–writing this.

And then, well, I did.

***

MILADY’S

Heineken- 6 Dollars for a chilled pint. 5 for a mug. 4 for a bottle of Dos Equis or such. Domestic drafts- less.

SW Corner of Prince and Thompson.

CE to Spring St. R to Prince St.

THUNDER JACKSON’S

Pitcher of Coors Light- 12 Dollars (approx 4 or so beers worth).

NE Corner of Bleecker and Sullivan.

ACEBDFV to West 4th St.

CAFFE DANTE

Caffe Moka- $4.50

Macdougal St bet. Houston and Bleecker.

1 to Houston St. ACEBDFV to West 4th.


Clif Bar

January 24, 2009

Apologies to the couple of you whom I told I would write this yesterday.

Yesterday, in fact, I was in a stupor.

I had just come from Judo, still sore from my Physical Fitness endeavors described previously. However, in Judo, there is no mercy. When I could not do crunch my sensei pinched the hair on my leg. When my abs started spasming, he pinched again.

“Sensei!” I protested, grabbing my chest.

“I know. Pain distract from pain.” He replied.

I don’t know about that, but I did a few more until my abs started spasming again, which finaly resulted in me lying splayed on my back.

When I pulled myself out from practice, having almost forgotten my uniform for the fifth or sixth time, I was supposed to meet friends for dinner, however several obstacles presented themselves.

First off, I was simultaneously exhausted and tweaked from Judo, my body coursing with an adrenaline rush that had prompted another comment by my sensei, this time in Japanese.

“Great, he’s talking in Japanese now.” I said.

The sixty-something-year-old dude I was sparring with explained.

He held his hands open.

“Sensei says this much adrenaline.”

He pinched his fingers.

“This much thinking.”

He was right this time though, and I couldn’t think much of anything when I got out.

The second problem was the big fucking sack of soiled Judo clothes I was dragging around. They felt like a Sisyphean rock as I trudged towards the restaurant.

Why I didn’t just drop it off at home first was the third problem: that I hadn’t eaten in 9 hours and am hypoglycemic, a condition which causes me to become, pretty accurately, an enraged sociopath in search of food.

The final problem was that my friends had failed to request a reservation on a Friday night and so there was no table when we got there.

“Well, they said 25 minutes for the three of us,” One of them told me. “So for all of us now, I don’t know.”

“Shit and I’m hypoglycemic.” I said.

A lanky fuck piped up.

“Oh, I have a Clif Bar.”

I gave him the most disparaging look a sweat-soaked Jew with his glasses halfway-down-his-nose could give and walked out of the restaurant.

We roamed from restaurant to restaurant as I called while walking trying to procure us somewhere to go.

At one place we went we were told “if you come right now we’ll seat you”, only to be turned away at arrival. So I did something I had been trained not to; I cursed out the manager asking him what the fuck was wrong with him or whoever answered the phone. It’s pointless as you will likely never see this person again or go to this restaurant and it accomplishes nothing.

Still, as I said, an enraged sociopath.

When I left, shutting the plastic windbreaker door as hard as I could, we finally found a restaurant, a Korean joint where we could all sit down.

At this point I was  a subject of fascination for my companions.

“Dude, are you OK?” A scruffy one asked.

“Grmgh.” I replied as I scarfed down my beer in three gulps.

We were waiting to be seated, sitting at the bar. Since I was so tense, I thought a beer might me calm me down, but all it did was made me wish the glass was made out of sugar-coated-fudge and that I could just break it on the bar and then eat it, possibly using it first to stab the lanky fuck who once again asked–

“Are you sure about that Clif Bar?”

I grabbed my beer. Slunk up and got right in his face.

“You don’t want to FUCKING know what I am FUCKING going to do to you, if you mention that GODDAM clif bar one more time!”

He laughed.

“Grgmh.” I replied and sat back down.

Dinner came and went, though the appetizers couldn’t come fast enough, but I spent the whole meal spacing out, unable to communicate. I would just stare at this things at a 220-degree angle with my head tillted, peering out the sides of my glasses and periodically seeing how close I could get my hand to the table-mounted candle.

My friends once again asked me if I was ok.

“Uhn.” I replied.

But dinner was done and I got Ice Cream next and this finally calmed me down.

I apologized to the lanky guy about the clif bar.

“Yeah, at first I was serious, but then later I was just fucking with you,” He told me.

He was lucky I was no longer hypoglycemic and full of adrenaline.

Otherwise, I would have shoved that clif bar so far up his ass that it’d rupture his intentestines and spill stomach acid on his vitals.

Then I’d ask him.

“Want a Clif Bar?”