Addendum: A Comparison

December 31, 2011

I didn’t think this deserved a separate blog post, but as I sit outside the Cinematheque Francais, locked out, due to the apparent inability of one cashier to sell me a different kind of ticket. (“Monsieur Americain.” they snickered at me before a previous film), it seemed like the right time to expound on a comparison that came to my head, drunkenly wandering this city.

New York is like my mother, though I know it may not be to many. It’s my home, the place I know best, where I come from and where I sometimes need to escape from.

And if New York is my mother, then Paris is my douchebag friend.

Hear me out! I have a reason for this. These words chosen carefully and if that carefulness came at an intoxicated time, let me elucidate them in a time of lucidity.

See, Paris is frequently late, snobby about shit and making fun of you (and everyone else it seems like). It’s more fashionable, better looking, it is *constantly* reminding you how much more sex it is having than you. It likes shitty European house music and “the best of” American Jews (Dylan, Cohen, Woody Allen) and sometimes it just totally fucking bails on you.

So why do you keep it around?

Well you don’t always hang out with Paris. Sometimes you try ditching it and talking to your New York friends on G-Chat or playing video games, just to piss it off.

But at the same time, let’s be honest, Paris is fucking interesting. It’s really, really cool. And for every time the Karaoke at the Pub St. Michel won’t start (with its pitiful list of songs) because they don’t know or care where the DJ is, there’s the cinema you discover doing dual Cronenberg-Scorsese retrospectives, the video-game district you didn’t know existed, the conversation about Clint Eastwood’s “The Rookie” you have with an Abu Dhabi TA who you never meet again. Even on the shitty nights, Paris can sometimes turn around and make you feel like it really does care about you, like you’re special because you’re chilling with it. Like you got your own cool rapport.

I’m still pissed off that the Karaoke didn’t work. The alternate joint I went to our of frustration with waiting closed as I got there and said they didn’t know when they’d be open (really?). And it’s annoying to be sitting on the damp bench across the street from the closed bistro across the street from the Cinematheque.

It’s New Year’s Eve and if I was in New York City, I would be near people who care about me, with places to go and be warm and taken care of, I’d have a plan. And I’d be sure to check in with my mom.

But sometimes, you don’t stay at home, because you want an adventure, because you want something new in your life. Because you want to see what can happen.

So you call up your douchebag friend Paris. It knows a few parties it’s heard about vaguely, though who really knows, man. Maybe we can try to find some chicks from Latin America and get ’em dancing. Or talking about how depressed you are or whatever you do, Nick.

Yep, Paris, whatever you say.

It’s going to be a new year.

20111231-145733.jpg


Breakdowns/Breakthroughs

June 29, 2011

 

I let this make me feel bad for a little while.

A friend of mine seemed to be having some sort of psychotic break, or “social media meltdown” as I heard it referred to which, unsurprisingly, is a real thing.

Apparently some sort of traumatic or inferred-as-traumatic event caused her to begin going on a massive Twitter and Facebook rant that lasted for days, literally, without sleeping, going off much in the character of the things posted above, about “rich white people with penises”, smoking “rainbow blunts”, ranting at the CIA, Barack Obama and, perhaps most strangely of all, Judd Apatow in an attempt to have all of her political anti-male/society rants as some sort of case that she should be hired to help him explore “#FemaleComedy”.

Of course, I was fucking stupid.

This had been going on for days when I first saw it (and as far as I can tell is still going on). It seemed clear to me that this was some sort of psychotic-break, some sort of Charlie Sheen-level of lack or disregard for self-insight. What’s more, as the internet is prone to do, people were fueling her rage with re-tweets and likes and sympathetic comments. She even called out people who would try to message her or text her trying to help her or talk her down.

Which is why I thought it was a great idea to publicly write on her wall, trying to gently call her out on her behavior and tell her I was worried about her.

Dumb, I know. This whole thing was a social media rampage from which making yourself identifiable to the government by tweeting at them about your drug use was not enough to calm her down, why would I be able to?

“Well,” My pops said when I showed him over an iced coffee. “It’s always attractive to think that you’re the one person who can reach somebody.”

Truth.

I did just want to help this girl, as I wanted to help myself. She was a friend, someone who’d I gone through traumatic experiences (not her fault) with before and she supported me when I had gone through similar, mostly non-social media fueled rants based on my anger at authority figures. I also wanted to not see this anymore, the stream of information brought to my face by Twitter and Facebook by this person off-the-rails. As my friend John Beamer would tell me “I’m addicted to hating it” and I was until I finally stopped following her, stopped looking, fearing I was just playing in to whatever was hurting her.

Which this might too, for all I know. I defended her from my friends when they belittled her, because she obviously seemed like someone who was sick to me. But in posting this am I feeding into the frenzy? The obvious answer is yes. But this person has already chosen to put this out into the world and the internet. We’ll see what harm posting this will do. It’s just that I haven’t yet isolated how to feel about all this or how others do. Is this what Charlie Sheen’s friends think before they disconnect with him? Is this what I think when people tell me things about my sister? Is this the work of a crazy person who cannot be helped until she comes down, or some sort of crazed inside joke as she so frequently claims it is?

It struck me at the wrong time, anyway.

I had just been turned down by yet another lady, who had made me very excited via our obvious mutual nerdiness and the sense of excitement/electricity we felt talking to each other before an improv show. Too sweet, it would sound except it fulfilled my fears when it turned out whatever I thought wasn’t real and even asking her out to dinner was a step too far. I struggle frequently with my own sense of “creepiness” or “unattractiveness”, the sense that girls want me at a distance, fine to talk to, but any move I make is unwelcome. It’s this sense that keeps me tentative from making strong romantic moves, having confidence in myself or feeling good or hopeful when I meet someone. It’s a sense founded in my own history and one which I feel many people struggle with and find ways to overcome with booze, pot or experience.

Getting turned down for dinner was, of course, something I did appreciate since it was a clear move that told me to back off, rather than the once-upon-a-time “oh you don’t like me, six months in?” but of course, the value of that honesty (appreciated) is always tagged-on-the-end with that sense that you are unloveable.

Which is what lead me to text my ex, when I was downtown one day and wanted to get coffee. It wasn’t that I wanted to “get back together” with her, though I still miss our times together. I just wanted the sort of friendship I had often mocked among my friends who kept their exes close; the sense that even if there’s not something romantic going on, there’s still that part of you that cares deeply for the other person. That doesn’t want to see them hurt. There’s still all that knowledge and love, somewhere there. Not all the things you once shared, but something. A reminder.

I saw her and I didn’t find that. We caught up and talked a while about what our friends were doing, our families. It wasn’t a disaster and I didn’t try anything stupid. But there wasn’t that informed interest anymore, an excitement at familiar things, but no connection. I tried to make myself vulnerable, telling her about stupid things I’d done, my family, even asking her as we left if she still thought of me, thought of us, at all.

“Well, I mean. I remember you.” She said. “You are in my thoughts.”

But that wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear.

I broke down crying the next day in therapy, wondering if she’d ever loved me, if I’d ever been loved.

And then, of course, I talked to Rob who has his own complicated relationships and friendships as well.

“Of course she loved you.” Rob told me. “Anyone could see it, see how close you were. Maybe because of that, she was afraid to be close to you.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Rob continued. “But maybe she thought if she made herself vulnerable to you or showed affection, you’d take it the wrong way.”

Rob was right, of course. Even if I hadn’t, it was a legitimate fear to have. A man desperate for love seeking affection in his life can run mistakenly at what’s in front of him, as I’d done so before.

“But also don’t take this the wrong way.” Rob said. “But you’re also a lot cooler now than you were then, Nick. You kinda woke up, grew up.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, towards the last two months before the breakup, whenever anyone would ask you howsit goin, you would give them a list of everything wrong in your life and then just list Eva as the only thing right. But there was so much more going on in your life than that, so many other good things.”

“It changed you after that. You started cheering up a little. It’s nice to see, frankly.”

With that, Rob provided the insight I hadn’t had in so long.

In the wake of my first meaningful relationship, I’ve felt a lot of nostalgia and longing and pressure to find that sort of happiness again, an edenic vision of something that I had lost.

But the reality is that I was so caught in remembering how I great I felt, that I missed that I really felt like shit back then.

So to Nina, who is still there on the internet, ranting for all I know, stuck in some place of disconnection from reality, this is what I say to you:

Find your friends, find the people you trust, the people with beards (if you’re me) or whoever in your life cares about you. Just check in with them, be honest.

Because it’s easy to waste your time feeling angry or sorry about things that have no relationship to reality, the truth, and the possibility of really kicking ass in this world.

That night, I wrote my first new web series episode in 5 months, full of Matt Chao beating me up on crutches, a party where I drank too much and insulted filmmakers and a conversation with Rob where he sets me straight over the internet, while talking about Shelly Long from Cheers.

Everyone enjoyed it and, even if they didn’t. the writing group happened, we drank and we talked about movies and caught up.

We went to the Odessa Diner, because Rob wanted a good grilled-cheese sandwich and I drunkenly ordered some Chicken Parmigiana that ended up being surprisingly good.

Crispy and crunchy on the outside.

Some good cheese, some good pasta, a nice waitress who tolerated the circus of a bunch of film kids coming at 11pm and gabbing drunk-loud about whatever.

I felt good about my life.

And didn’t tell anyone, anything else.

***

ODESSA DINER

Chicken Cutlet Parmigiana (w/pasta upon request)- $13.95

Avenue A bet. 7th and 8th. St, near many homeless people.

6 to Astor Pl, F to Lower East Side, 2nd Ave. L to 1st Ave.


Role Players

May 4, 2011

I should reveal, I don’t watch myself on television.

“Why not?” Chadd asked me as we walked down the side of Union Square.

It was a beautiful day out, the type I enjoy and others see as dreariness, not so sunny and probably around 57, with just that edge of chill that keeps you going, makes you remember you can feel the world around you.

More importantly, it was the day the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck re-opened and we were off on a mile-walk pilgrimage.

“I don’t know.” I replied. “Maybe I’m too self-conscious. I just don’t he said.”

“Well, I think you were awesome.” He told me with his definite Ohio certainty.

“Yeah, you gotta admit, it was a great scene.” chimed in my quasi-roommate John Beamer, along for the trip.

Saying I was self-conscious was easy and mostly true, but the truth is that seeing myself on screen is knowing how I’m portrayed to America. It’s one thing to be on these shows, to be in the moment, to try to be yourself or at least show your best side and another to see what you’ve created, pass judgment upon it, another level of reflection.

Who is the Nicholas I am? A question I thought I was past back in film school where I made movies about failed dates-that-weren’t and awkward family moments, and cast the non-daters and my family respectively. Who was the Nicholas on screen there, that version of me, that other me, that character? Was it just a side, an exaggeration or some aspects of myself? A “Persona” like in the video games I so enjoyed or, more frighteningly, was it the real me that other people saw when they saw me, was this the finished product?

These all seem like strange, reflexive questions, but take for example how we experience our own voices, something I feel I’ve brought up before.

When I speak I hear myself with a deeper voice, an octave lower, coming deeper with the vibrations of my vocal chords creating a base that permeates in my body. At the same time, my brain paints over the parts of my voice that are undesirable, a lisp, a stumble, a slurring of words. I don’t even hear them unless they’re very pronounced; they’re the part of the “white noise” my brain tunes out.

Such is an example of the gap between self-perception and reality. The person listening to me hears the lisp, hears the octave higher, there’s that difference and it’s difficult to change, barely known or recognized.

Such measured ignorance is what I persist on in my life now, as I’ll choose to read my tweets, but not google myself, choose to hear about the show, but not watch it.

People tell me not to change, to be myself. I worry if I see the person these people like on TV, that need in me to feel like I have to correct myself, to hide my weaknesses, to present a stronger front, it’ll coalesce, I’ll become closer to that Nicholas and farther from me.

And so when the two pretty girls on the Big Gay Ice Cream line in front  of us recognize me, I talk as myself. I give them food advice. I go into the zoned-out, gesticulating trance I go into when thinking about restaurants.

And I make it through, ice cream in hand and that much better.

“Dude.” Chadd told me. “I will tell you why this fame thing is good. The hardest part of meeting someone is just saying hello and now you have beautiful women coming up to you, doing your work for you.”

“Whatever, I’m not going home with them.” I said, neutralizing it. Who knew which me attracted them?

“Well, anyway, the brunette was pretty hot, I checked her out.” Chadd said.

And went back to eating his Bea Arthur.

***

Rob Malone stole my iPhone at a warehouse party.

I guess it was too tempting to him, or at least, at that party, he was too cool.

It was a Saturday and a welcome one at that.

After the usual struggle of my Improv 401 class (more on that later), I came home to a mostly naked John Beamer, lying face-down in his loft-lite John-cave, mostly passed out.

“Wake up,” I told him. “Najia and my dad are coming over.”

“Which one first?” He groggily replied.

My friend Najia had just been dealing with a med-school break-up and wanted to come over and chill with some filthy bros for a while, knowing at least hanging with us would be different than the collection of hard-studying, hard-binging med students she saw every day.

My dad just came over to fix a couple light bulbs.

John eventually got dressed and showered, while Najia and my dad and I took part in a guessing game over speakerphone with my mom looking for wine she could use and my dad answering with a head shake while we translated, all while he stood on a step-ladder trying to fix a fixture.

Eventually, Dad left and Rob and (the villain) Andrew Parrish came over and we sat around watching Buckwheat Groats videos on my TV for a while and trying to figure out what we would do.

Najia and I bonded a little over love lost and found and the small steps we’d take in getting over (kind of) our exes. It was refreshing how un-weepy it was.

But eventually we headed to the party, where I couldn’t drink due to a sinus infection and to which John war a blazer I told him “you could probably pull off if you had a mustache.”

“Definitely.” Najia added.

The party was hopping, a warehouse/studio space, nestled deep in Hasidic Williamsburg off the J train.

As we walked down Lorimer, I was struck by those same uneasy contradictions present in me due to my Jewish heritage.

We crossed the street and averted our eyes, to avoid the pack of 8-14 year old girls, dressed in black who ran up into their vesitbules turnings their heads from us at their mother’s behest, or out of instinct.

“This must be my fault.” Najia said, indicating her brown skin, though they couldn’t have known she was Kashmiri Muslim.

“Actually, it’s all of ours, a little.” I told her. “They’re turning they’re heads because we’re unmarried men and women walking together. The Haredim do not allow young and men women to intermingle as such and don’t allow their children to see such behavior as common. They’re not allowed to watch movies or television that show such things either. When I sat on a plane with a Haredi couple back from Israeli, even the married wife covered half the screen during ‘The Sound of Music’, covering the male characters when they appeared.”

“That’s a little intense.” John said. “You’d think New York would be a bad place to hide from the world.”

“On one hand, they want to maintain the culture they’ve created, to honor God, to preserve a set of values they see as degrading in our society.” I answered. “On the other, is the explanation I tend to: Jews, throughout history, were always isolated in the ghetto. When others stopped doing it, we did it ourselves.”

But I still felt that tinge of sadness as I passed people who could be my cousins and saw the shame and fear they felt towards me, as I headed towards illicit activities, while they celebrated the sabbath.

The party was good. Sam Baumel who threw it in honor of the expansion of his production company, did a good job enticing artists and performers to show up, giving the whole shtick the feeling of an old-school Chelsea-style opening.

He also had the good graces to use Ro-beardo Malone to promote the event, which later got Rob and his beard some hot-girly attention for his dance-worthy celebrity.

I had fun, wandering the sea of people, climbing the many flights to the beautiful Williamsburg roof, seeing Najia and John unwind a bit, each talking around, falling into their own and swallowing the social bit, which weirdos like us sometimes neglect.

It can be good to remember there are other people in the world to talk to.

Rob borrowed my camera for a while, took some shots, before I tracked him down and grabbed my phone. He seemed pre-occupied anyway and even Andrew couldn’t find him when we went to leave.

We left without Rob, saw the Groats perform in the East Village and headed to respective homes.

Najia had a good time. John wasn’t hungover. Andrew in slightly less villainous (or deceptive) fashion even invited me to Fast Five the next day with his hot GF Kelly Hi-Res.

And I–

“The girls surrounding me had one question.” Rob told me the next day. “How do you know ‘Nick from Bethenny’ and how did Sam get him to come here?”

***

It’s not every day I eat pasta for lunch.

But this day, I could use something.

I was burnt out from replying to tweets like they were text messages (they are kind-of), trying to figure out my friends prompts of “how cool I was” and dealing with a slew of shifting demands from an ending workplace situation.

Add to this my sinus medication keeps me from tasting things as normal and having an appetite (“a blessing” John thinks, a curse in my mind), I figured I could use a treat.

Pepe Rosso, the original one, still reminds me of my sophomore summer in Italy.

The middle-aged man behind the counter cursing loudly in Italian.

The Roman Catholic church next door.

The Salumeria and Latticini on either side of the street.

And a place you can get a bowl of pasta and a salad for 8.95.

I did the honorable thing and brought the couple nearest the window their paninis; there are no waiters at Pepe Rosso and I was in the way.

I sat down with my WTF podcast in m ears and poured spicy olive oil and vinegar and parmesan on a small, provided plate and stewed it together with a warm piece of bread.

I soaked up the oil from my simple salad, I sloshed the fresh mozzarella in my pasta around the sauce.

I didn’t lick the bowl out of some sense of class.

I bussed my table and thanked the man, still cursing in Italian on the phone.

“Ciao, saluti.” I told him.

“Thank you very much!” he replied liltingly.

And with a smile, I was gone.

***

PEPE ROSSO TO GO

Penne Tomato Basil with Mozzarella and Mixed Greens Salad- $8.95 (12-4 only)

Sullivan St bet Houston and Prince Sts.

CE to Spring St. R to Prince St.

***

One last thing, as promised earlier, about the improv from last week.

Recently, there’s been a surge in my blog traffic due to my recent… semi-celebrity and my posts on some larger sites.

I figured with that traffic I owed some more explanation in my state of mind.

Improv classes can be stressful, particularly when there’s that air of competitiveness. As John puts it, if the UCB aims towards sort of ideal society, its “the most cutthroat sort, a society founded on always being ‘on’.”

But there’s also the ways that improv has improved my life, meeting new people, giving me a community, learning to play me and accept my choices and instincts on a base level, with grace.

When I finished a class I took with a great teacher, Ms. Ashley Ward, she did what none of my improv teachers had done before and took us all aside, one-by-one at a bar, and gave us notes individually.

“You’re real hard on yourself, Nick.” She told me, sitting across from her at the Triple Crown. “You think being hard on yourself will make you better. But it won’t, it’ll just hurt you. Don’t think you need to be better than you are right now given you’re experience. You’re just where you need to be. You’re doing great. Believe that.”

In the competition of it all, in the craziness of not knowing your life, it can be easy to assign blame to the things that are stressful. To be hard on yourself and others.

Ultimately, who am I to pass judgment on what brings others happiness and me as well?

When I went up to my current teacher, the pretty objectively funny Will Hines, and told him that I thought I was struggling and did he have any advice, he told me: “Why do you think that?”

Ultimately, in improv or in life, there’s that sense of narrative that need to say that you’re improving, that you’re better, that you’ll go somewhere, you’ll succeed.

It’s part of the uncertainty of being my age as much as the uncertainty of most other ages I’m guessing too.

It’s harder to just accept where you are for as messy and strange as it is.

Where I am is taking comedy classes, sketch and improv, most of which I enjoy.

I spend a lot of time laughing and thinking and interacting with people who I respect.

That seems like a good template for a life.


Virtually Defriended

November 3, 2010

“So I guess I can never write you anything again.” Chadd told me. “Otherwise it’ll just appear on your blog.”

It was the night before Halloween and Chadd was dressed up snazzily as The Invisible Man, with gauze, a suit and a trench-coat, while I was wearing a quickly splintering beard as a Hasidic Jew.

“I guess you should probably be careful what you say then.” I told him. “I’ve got a good memory for these sorts of things.”

And he laughed.

After opening last week with a mixed-critique, Chadd clarified that he didn’t want to get me down with his criticism of my script, something I knew well. The point was it just sucked to hear bad news, even though I had rather hear the truth than lies or nothing (or at least, what I can accept).

The party we were at (actually the disused fire escape of the party) was one of the big, expensive-ish open bars I was surprised to hear about on Halloween, but which apparently existed universally for that date.

My costume had gotten me some looks up-and-down the street and later a man in an inflatable stripper suit would try to rub up on me, presumably to make my costumed character uncomfortable. For all my discomfort growing up in New York, dealing with my own perceiving and perceived judgment by the ultra-Orthodox community here in NY, my Halloween costume ended up being a strange lesson in “walking a mile in their shoes.”

After all, when I came into work my co-workers couldn’t recognize me for a while. They look puzzled or stunned, or as if they didn’t know how to react. I felt uncomfortable thinking I was the source of such emotions until they were broken with laughter, recognition.

I ended up missing out on a hangover from that pre-Halloween night (though I had one for Halloween, later), heading home early and not taking full advantage of my open-bar privileges.

Eva wasn’t there and, without her, I mostly don’t see the point of parties, anymore.

I awoke Halloween morning to John Beamer in his now continuously-labeled John-Cave (my laddered sleeping-loft), who at least had a decent story.

***

For one of the first times my therapist asked me: “What are you talking about?”

I should explain.

I’m not sure what sort of relationships people have with their therapists (if any), but mine amounts to somewhere between a Jewish confessional and a conversation.

My talk with her usually has to deal with things I am uncomfortable about, things I want to change, but also whatever is on my mind, to which she replies.

She is obviously a warm, intelligent woman, of around my mother’s age, who shares at least some of my interests. We could discuss politics, or film, or the merits of the book Holes (many).

Our talks are not usually a cryptograph, in my mind at least, where I recount my vivid dreams seeking to explore past trauma, though to be truthful I don’t know where my therapy is going.

Rather, our talks are usually processing how I am feeling and how I can most accurately portray what’s on my mind to her, so she can take it in, so she can see it.

I remember when I read a review of In Treatment, the show I like especially because of how it contrasts/compares with my own experience, I was made uncomfortable by the assertion that “therapy, on the part of the patient, is often a series of defensive lies”. (Which I guess I could see as being some of the play of the show.)

That’s not what I want to do, what I am doing, I thought with less than certainty.

Which brings me back to the explanation that I tried to give to my therapist to understand:

“Dealing with people that are being guarded makes me uncomfortable. It just makes me feel uneasy. I have been told or accused in the past of having some mild form of Asperger’s, a convenient excuse for some of my less social behaviors, but one quality I have is that it can be difficult for me to tell whether someone is being serious or not. So I guess when I talk to people, in social situations, and they seem guarded, they seem not present, not there, it feels like a trick. Like they’re deceiving me. It makes me feel uncomfortable, as if someone was calling me stupid. And worse, it makes me unsure of myself and the world around me and how to judge it.”

When my therapist asked for more, I tried giving it. I talked about “a wall” I felt around some people, I talked about meeting people at the UCB, after classes or a show, telling them a story and seeing the disconnect on their face. I guess the context of the lack of connection/understanding mattered almost as much as the situation itself. If this was going to be my life, how would I get people to deal with me on my level.

At film school it was easy, since there was more time to feel around an angsty crowd, to grab friends and leave friends and adjust socially to a place that was comfortable. But maybe the added context of my life is what adds the pressure and not just the “wall”.

At home, John Beamer tried to tell me that if I followed comedy, this would be the way of the rest of my life. People would be guarded, people would be fake.

“People leave themselves for on-stage.” John said. “Anything that’s unsavory or strange they leave there, to use in their comedy. Because in real life, off-stage, you can’t be that jerk you were just lampooning, you have to be a winner.”

“A winner”.

After I voted yesterday, I broadcast my vote for a local NY politican and internet-meme Jimmy McMillan and defending my vote, I managed to offend an ex-co-worker so badly that she de-friended me on Facebook.

I said the wrong thing at the wrong time I guess, but I was shocked when it happened. I had just talked to this woman, a talented up-and-comer, a few weeks ago at her request. We’d had a nice long conversation that had gone amicably and well.

And that was enough that she absented herself from my life. I couldn’t see it, but I just felt bad.

That night, I couldn’t sleep, until I did.

***

When heading home from the aforementioned, mind-bending therapy session, I had another mind-bending thing happen to me: free food.

I actually did a double take to stop on the street. A truck called Malaysian Kitcken had pulled up and was offering samples (in 45 minutes) of Malaysian food, in order to promote it as a viable NYC take-out option.

Free food that has the word “asian” in it you say?

I was there.

For 45 minutes.

Waiting in line for a small plate.

Which this was not.

Because those Malaysians (actually white PR guys repping Malaysian food) did their job and right after my sample, I went barreling over to Laut, the much lauded super-stealthy Malaysian joint on the side of Union Square which recently (and to me, totally unexpectedly) received a Michelin star, despite offering Thai-style take-out lunch specials!

Which is in fact, the sumptuous picture you see before you, a Malaysian Chicken Curry lunch special stuffed full of string beans, sauteed okra and savory bits of chicken.

My stomach rumbled for it as I gulped it down, licking the box after completion.

The curry was neither the gulpy-creaminess of a “Tikka Masala” nor the dry mild-spicyness of a “Massaman” curry, nor even a doubly hot “Vindaloo”. Instead it was peppery, probably influenced by the advertised “fried chiles” and bound together by coconut milk, which made it light and cut the spice while keeping the flavor.

In the end at home, I was kicking myself for not going to this place when I lived, for almost a year, a block away from it.

But what can I say: Chipotle was new then.

Ah, what a time.

***

LAUT

Malaysian Chicken Curry Lunch Special w/Brown Rice- $10

17th St bet. Broadway and 5th Ave

NQR456L to 14th St.-Union Sq.


Happy Jew Year

September 12, 2010

I got this email a few days ago and I showed it to Chadd yesterday.

“Wanna see a preview of my new blog post?”

He was sitting in the corner of a small Alphabet City apartment, drunk, moody and uncharacteristically quiet, wearing an angsty Vincent Gallo t-shirt and so I thought I’d give him a little pepping up.

“Like I need one, like everyone should care.” Chadd told me.

But he did a double take when he saw it.

I had shown up barely announced to the cramped apartment with my best friend Frank and his friend Army Rob in tow, with a six-pack of Labatt Blue out of the sort of courtesy that one brings to a party in the form of beer or beer-like substances.

The main attraction though was a “Return to/from Russia” theme, espoused by the fur cap Bobby Olsen was wearing when I entered and the horseradish vodka shots, chased with mini dill pickles, that Dan Berk made us all take.

“I want to go to the vodka closet!” Dan declared after one particularly strong whiff of horseradish. “At these clubs around the city, you can go into an icy closet and there’s just a shit-ton of vodka and you can drink as many shots as you can take–30 shots, whatever.”

“Yeah, how much is that?” I asked.

“Nothing, it’s part of the club.” He replied.

And I nodded and chewed on my pickle.

Chadd looked at me seriously and tried to convince me that this was an augur that I should write a short film for Colin Quinn.

“Give him something he won’t expect, man.” He told me. “You’re good at that.”

I wasn’t so sure, about the idea or the script, but I took it.

Soon Chadd left and so did the rest of us. Frank and Army Rob were happy for the funny vodka, but complained heavily about the walking load of going anywhere from Alphabet City.

Army Rob wanted to try Karaoke for the first time, so I got him jazzed up with some pointers, describing to him my strategies versus the balladry of the other Ro-beardo Malone and how he belts out Celine Dion songs like they were covers by a one-Rob-Malone-band, but Army Rob not having Rob-knowledge, it was somewhat lost on him.

Planet Rose was packed full, though, of “bridge-and-tunnel” folks and the new place I tried, The Karaoke Cave (a Matt Chao rec) was also packed with 30-minute wait times on songs.

Frank and Army Rob went home, to Frank’s karaoke-less relief and Rob’s only slight disappointment.

For me, the horseradish vodka was enough to get me to bed.

***

Working in the movie theater lately has alternated somewhere between frustrating and fulfilling.

It’s always better when I have something else in my life, something to look forward to, some hope that this isn’t my endgame.

“I’m taking classes, somewhere, anywhere.” One of co-workers told me. “Because if this is the only thing in my life, I’d go insane.”

And while I reached a periodic low sometime last week, recoiling still from blowing my one audition, this week I had a good meeting with a manager, booked another audition and, most importantly, found a new video game to play.

I also gained some confidence from a writing group session which reached a good 6 or so people when I thought that no one would come. I made some revisions to a script, drank some good beers, and chatted about Mochi with a tipsy Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise while I escorted her to a dinner-date near by.

Andy Roehm liked my script so much that he ended up bugging me about it at work.

“Dude,” he began, in his usual So-Cal invocation. “I know those characters. I’d do justice to it, man. I’d do it right. You know it.”

It was fun being pursued like this, fun to know that people still like what you gotta say.

And it was funny seeing Andy say this, while wearing a black visor, preparing to clean a bathroom.

It was somewhere between feeling bad and feeling better that Mr. Quinn came by.

His show was over, so he must have lived the near the theater. He recognized me from an earlier time I took his ticket.

We chatted for about ten minutes, during the n0t-busy hours, about comedy, filmmaking, my posture (which he told me could be improved by “Alexander Technique”) and my favorite podcast, “WTF with Marc Maron”, which he said he was going to be on “just because you asked.”

“You’re the only reason I’m going on that show.” He told me and I probably blushed.

He solicited seeing my movie when I told him I was a film student and got back to me that same night.

It’s always a pleasure when someone like that is a decent fellow to you.

I guess working at the movie theater has its’ ups.

***

The downs, I suppose, came when I worked my first ever double shift: 17 hour straight.

It was going to be an event, opening and closing on a Friday. I told all my friends to come and see movies and drink coffee and soda and eat popcorn and candy: anything I could offer them for free.

Anything really, to have at least someone come and keep me company through what was bound to be a stressful period of my life/day.

As it happens, noone came. At least not to see a movie.

J.D. Amato came almost incidentally, as part of pre-show ritual of getting out the jitters through visiting multiple coffee shops.

Mr. Amato had amazed all my friends upon graduation college a year later than us, by landing a big corporate ongoing gig. Even though he wasn’t there anymore, he still seemed to be walking on air, producing shorts for the UCB’s website (which he created) and for Funny Or Die. In his “spare time” he also improved on teams, putting on shows in cool-sketchy venues.

In short, he seemed to have the sort of creative-artistic “progress success” that seemed to elude me and my friends, who found ourselves in various degress of “working in a movie theater.”

It was nice of J.D. to come though, and our talk precluded a long relationship we hav had now, playing Words With Friends on our iPhones.

The other person who showed up, was my Mom with two slices of Two Boots pizza, one my favorite, one hers.

It was a very nice gesture and one that I appreciated. So much, in fact, that that picture is all I managed to take of them.

The one slice, my favorite, the Mr. Pink, has marinated chicken, plum tomatoes and roasted garlic on an otherwise normal slice. It’s chewy and chicken-y and spicy with greasy cheese binding everything together, kind of like a streamlined chicken parm.

My mom’s fave, she was loathe to tell me about it, but turned out well, the Tony Clifton, which has Vidalia onions and wild mushrooms and some nice sauces.

I usually don’t like mushrooms and onions on my pizza (why my mom was scared to tell me), but really you just appreciate anything in that sort of circumstance and I warmed to Mr. Clifton quickly.

I got through the shfit somehow and went back to work the next day, still burnt, and somehow I feel like weeks later, I still haven’t recovered.

I celebrated Rosh Hashanah recently with my family and told my mom how much I appreciated the slices.

The next day, Eva’s Rochester-Irish father took me out to brunch and brought up the new year.

“Blessings on your face.” He told me.

“What?”

“I think that’s what you’re supposed to say on the new year.” He said.

I wondered if my acne had gone away.

***

TWO BOOTS

1 Mr. Pink (Chicken, Tomato, Garlic) and 1 Tony Clifton (Vidalia Onions, Mushrooms)- $7.50 (or free if your mom brings it)

Bleecker St between Broadway and Crosby St.

BDFM6 to Broadway-Lafayette/Bleecker St. R to Prince St.


A Happy Whatever

December 31, 2009

As a Jew, I had two Christmases this year, neither mine.

Unfortunately, I was sick for all of them.

And the cure, well, the cure might be worse than the medicine.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Even though I feel like I made this blog specifically not to review movies, coming off a gig doing just that, I feel both a need to voice my opinion in this holiday-awards-season time as owed to my viewers (hi, mom) and also, I understand the complete hypocrisy/ridiculousness of that notion.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: here’s some more reviews.

If you’re here for them, you can read ’em and move on. There will even be a nice “***” thing I do separating the reviews from the rest of everything.

But if you’re here in part or whole for my fucked-up crazy-life or lack-thereof, then stay tuned.

Cue Looney Tunes theme.

***

Why did everybody think that Milk was such a bad movie? Sure it was somewhat conventional, somewhat stylized. But it had some good gumption some attempt at honest feeling, if not always honest representation. What it did, which I thought admirable, was to bring gay themes into the mainstream in a way unlike Philadelphia or even Brokeback Mountain for that matter. It was trying to make an (excuse me) “straight” gay movie. I thought that was a pretty cool idea. If the alternative is something like A Single Man, then I’m not sure what everyone’s compaining about. Not to say that A Single Man, fashionista Tom Ford’s directorial debut, is a terrible movie (or a terrible “gay movie”), but that it’s art-house preen-and-sheen feel inauthentic and often inappropriate. The film features the chance of a lifetime for Brit actor Colin Firth, who had previously been mired in Brit-pop Rom-Coms. Here, Firth gets a chance to try to show not only the longing of a British college professor deprived of his lover by a car accident, but the restraint and distance that both British culture and the still-closeted early 60s enforce upon him. Sounds pretty good, right? And when we focus on Firth’s performance it is. But the film is shot in such a way that is showy, as in ostentatiously, self-consciously arty, showing strange angles, saturated lighting and boring fantasy sequences. The world Firth inhabits is lush when, based on the tone of the film and the Isherwood novel upon which it is based, it should be spare. One longs for Mike Nichols or David Cronenberg to swoop in with their opposing, but well-championed views of matters of the heart and home, just so we could get a clear picture unsullied by all of Ford’s excess. Still, Firth never missteps and co-star Julianne Moore (over-shown in the publicity, offensively to make it seem like an actual “straight” movie) phones in a decent performance as Firth’s fag-hag. Overall though, perhaps I’m too harsh. Ford has some bad stylistic tendencies, but he at least picks good actors and some interesting source material. Like other new directors this year, if he can learn to pair down his stylistic flourishes, he might amount to something interesting.

Chalk one up to Chadd Harbold. I know he gets a lot of mention on this blog (what, the guy sees movies with me constantly), but he had bugging me since our time drinking espresso up at Lincoln Center for the New York Film Festival to see Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. Now, to be fair, Chadd can have a much different taste than me in movies. The classic example is (as I’ve mentioned before) where Chadd wants to see some French movie about some bored artist who can’t decide between his two or more smoking hot women (I think this is why Chadd originally wanted to see Nine) and where I want to go see something like Ninja Assassin, because it has a lot of ninjas. All of this is basically saying that Chadd has a more “European” taste in film perhaps, while mine might be a little “continental”. Anyway, I usually lump Haneke in with a European sensibility but when my frenemy A.O. Scott of the Times got on his high horse to say he hated the film, while the critic from the New Yorker who hates everything, Anthony Lane, called it a masterpiece, I decided it might be worth my time. What I got for the crowd I was surrounded by at the first 1pm showing at Film Forum, I have to say, was very satisfying. As I understand it, the theme that pervades much of Haneke’s cinema is an indictment of the perversion and degradation of an idealized world, the idea that the kids are not “alright”. When I saw his original Funny Games (not the remake, I hate Michael Pitt), I thought this message was shown both too obviously and too pessimistically. It’s not interesting for me to see total misanthropy in cinema. But I didn’t get that from The White Ribbon. What I got was almost a film-noirish type detective story about where the roots of a seemingly idyllic community in 1910s Germany went wrong. We see the story through the eyes of an imperfect, but generally well-meaning character, a schoolteacher, and what’s more there are other well-meaning characters as well. Unlike the rootless monsters Haneke dredges up in Funny Games, we are always given a pathology of evil in Ribbon, to explain how these good townsfolk went so bad. Even more than that though, crucially, like horses led to water, we are allowed to determine when we drink. Haneke never forces meaning on us or makes the connections concretely. Instead, he allows the audience to witness his characters without creating a morality play. By doing so, he actually manages to show more respect for the atrocities committed in the film, showing one of the better uses of violence I’ve seen in filmmaking in a while. So, bravo, Chadd. You win this one. But it doesn’t mean that all those things I just said about The White Ribbon couldn’t just be applied to Ninja Assassin. I just blew your fucking mind.

The three friends I went to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus with were stoned but, due to my cold and my extreme sensitivity to stimulants, I was actually significantly more fucked up than them. Which was a good place to be seeing the film, Gilliam’s newest venture, since it allowed me not to care about some of the more tawdry examples of CGI-effects the film presents (particularly poor when compared to 250-mil Avatar) and also, somehow, allowed me to pick up the plot clearly despite the unanimous confusion of my three friends and all the reviews I had read. Basically, Gilliam’s latest craze-fest is a parable about storytelling, about imagination and the way that we frame our own lives and ultimately, how that understanding frames the choices in life we make. Christopher Plummer plays the titular doctor, once a great monk tasked with “telling the world’s story”, now a shabby sideshow-attraction carting around London in retro-fashion by horse. He has a daughter who’s due to the devil (an excellent Tom Waits), a street ragamuffin (this is London after all) who pines for the daughter and a con man who can’t remember who or what he’s supposed to con. This last part is played by Heath Ledger, in his last incomplete role, but also by Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and Jude Law, all of whom deliver top-knotch work. And regardless of what you might think or what one might suppose about the movie going into it, it’s not about Ledger, even though the theme might tangentially touch on his death. What it is is a look into an imagination beyond James Cameron’s, a place of fanciful storytelling and meaningful moral stakes. Gilliam may not be as grand a filmmaker as Cameron and Imaginarium isn’t as grand a film as Avatar (what is?), but it’s a smarter, wiser film and Gilliam, for all his years, never lets the magic not feel fresh.

I slept through most of Police, Adjective, though later my girlfriend Eva would tell me that about three things happened in the movie total and that I was awake for one of them. She seemed generally well disposed towards the film though.

***

And why did I sleep through a potentially important awards-season movie that was part of the Romanian film movement that I often enjoy? For the same reason I slept through a bunch of Christmas and passed out on Eva’s mom’s bed with Family Guy: Volume Seven playing on the TV: because I’ve been effing sick.

When I went for my first Christmas, a Christmas Eve celebration with Eva, her father and her father’s girlfriend, Rebecca (Eva insists that all girlfriends be mentioned by name on this blog, herself included), I had a pretty great time, since I was in the fortunate position of some empathy from her parental’s, I was in my home-base Manhattan and Rebecca had cooked some delicious Dal with carrots and sweet potato. It might seem strange that while some people get claustrophobic in the low-ceiling limited atmospheres of New York City environs, I feel the most comfortable knowing I’m in a box. As a Jew on Christmas, I marveled as Eva received present after present, including a strange custom I knew nothing of: a large red “stocking” full of small gifts like Silly Putty and fake moustaches and miniature dogs (four of the same kind , looking in the same direction). When I later discussed this phenomenon with my friend, producer and fellow Jew, Dave Broad, we remarked on the relative paucity of Hannukah gifts.

“I got a sweater that was my dead grandpa’s. And another sweater that wasn’t.” I offered.

“Hah,” Dave chuckled in a swarthy base tone mismatched to his skinny NY-Jew frame. “My mom gave me a wooden block for Hannukah once with words that said like ‘peace’ and ‘ceremony’ on them.”

“Shit,” I remarked, with genuine surprise. “Why not a lump of coal?”

“Well, I remember growing up that I wasn’t allowed to play video games or watch a lot of TV, you know.” Dave told me. “And when the Nintendo 64 came out, my brother and I wanted it desperately. So to my surprise, my parents relented and we got jobs, walking dogs and stuff, the kind of jobs you get that age, to make some spare bucks. And we worked and saved and we got a tag, because back then you got a tag or a receipt to pick up a big thing like that and then you’d go to the store to pick it up. So my parents picked up it for us, wrapped it up and said ‘Happy Hannukah’. Like, they had just gotten it.”

“God, that’s balls.” I remarked.

“Yeah, but I might try to ask them for a computer, since they didn’t get me a graduation gift yet, pull some of that Jew guilt right back on them.” He suggested.

“A dangerous tack.” I replied. “I had asked my parents for something along the lines of a college graduation gift only for them to shake my hand and say ‘Congratulations on that diploma; we paid for it.”

Then Eva came and we ordered some French Toast.

Anyway, Eva was showered with gifts in her pop’s Battery City flat while I, unbeknownst to me, was being showered in something quite different.

You see, Eva had a dog, Audrey, named for Audrey Hepburn, whom I told Eva she reminded me of in Funny Face, when she showed up to my house in a turtleneck sweater. And while I’d been aware of my cat allergy for some time and the deleterious magic it works on my sinuses, my dog allergy had only been recently discovered and so the avoidance of it had not yet been ingrained. By the time the night was coming to a close, I realized as my nostrils and then my ears swelled up in their interiors, that I needed to step outside for some air. But of course, once you know you need to, it’s already far too late.

My allergies made me susceptible to a cold or a sinus infection and god, if I had never prayed for an infection so hard in my life. You see, a sinus infection can be cured with antibiotics overnight. But I’ve never taken anything that’s made a cold last any longer.

Through Christmas day, to my second Christmas at Eva’s mom’s house in Jersey, I could not taste, smell or talk in an un-funny manner and worse yet, I was passing out in the middle of the day even more than my own famed father, reknown for his ability to fall asleep not mid-word or mid-sentence, but mid-syllable. It was tough, all the moreso because I’m sure I didn’t make a good impression on Eva’s mother or her dinner party by passing out to Family Guy, drooling on her bed while a meet-and-greet was going on in the living room next door.

And god also, if a cold doesn’t remind you of how you depend on other people, for with proper distraction a cold’s only an inconvenience, but alone, unfocused, it’s a menace.

But the flipside, as I emerge from my disconnected Christmases into my New Year, is that I see the people around me getting sick and I smile.

My girlfriend, my dad, my sister–excuse me, my girlfriend’s name is Eva–they’re all getting sick and it’s because they love me enough (or are stupid enough) to interact with me even when I’m like this.

It warms my heart. Partly with Schadenfreude but mostly with love.

And after all, isn’t that the meaning of whatever this end of the year jumble is.

Everybody gets fucking sick of everyone else and then starts over, all over, again.

What a lovely rationale for a life as a disease vector.


Highway to the Danger Zone

November 14, 2009

I don’t know why I chose that title.

I’m not sure it even makes sense.

I was interviewed this morning. The interviewer was Austin, a handy/capable (not handi-capable) grip and actor from my short-film shoot. I was obliged to work on it, by the law of film-school-favors, wherein if he works on my film for free I am obliged to work on his. What he in turn needed me for was to ask me about life after film school for a documentary project he was doing on recent film alums for his documentary class, ironically the same one I had taken in the same semester he had taken it, with the same teacher.

It was raining, the sporadic, tantrum-style rain of recent New York City days–brief, in intense and varying spurts–and I huddled across the street on the bench in front of the old-fashioned coffee shop, after an early morning wake-up that consisted of leftover sitcoms and an over-dose of repetitive, concurrent video-gaming.

Austin was late by a couple minutes, but staring in to the faces of his crew was like looking in a funhouse mirror into all the ways you might be reflected. One of them was Israeli talking on the phone to his mom in Hebrew and comparing how our recently cut Jew-fros might have matched up had they been present. One of them was talking about an introductory film class disdainfully, since he was unsure he would be able to make a “serious” movie in it, as he said so with a “serious” face. A final one was ministerial, overseeing the others as he picked out restaurants around the street he might take his crew out to, in exchange for their willingness for a film-school school-project schlep.

“Was there any point when you realized that you weren’t going to have a job when you got out?”

Austin came and the interview began. I sat on the same bench facing Austin trying to chose between playing my bravado to him or the camera, knowing my old teacher Sam Pollard would be seeing this and trying to figure out, somewhere in my head, how to make him laugh.

“You know, I’m optimistic.” I told Austin as he assumed the squinting stare of the nouveau-documentarian. “I’ve only been out of school for 6 months. It’s true I used to think that I would have a job when I got out of college, that the people who didn’t have jobs were losers. But I work somewhere I like, even if I don’t get paid and I’m part of something I believe in. Now you can talk to me in another six months when I’m unemployed and my film’s been rejected and I still don’t know what to do with my life. But I live my life in horizons and when this job ends I’ll have one. And I’ll try to find the next one from there.”

The questions continued, but I’m a bad/good interview and every time Austin gave me a question, it was another excuse for me to tell a story, to give a viewpoint. Talking for me, conversation, sometimes feels like a theater in which I can relive the best moments of my life, revive the confidence and energy that I’ve felt previously, or just even articulate and work out what’s in my head, like a shower or a good BM. In any case the kiddos looked on enraptured and I felt like I had a job well-done. I told them whatever success stories I could think of, from my friend Zach Weintraub who had shot a good feature for nothing on a digital-picture-camera, to my friend Chadd, whose star-studded-celebrity-event I was attending the next day. But as they left, I realized the stories I told them, I told myself and that it was time for a self-revival.

***

The truth is, denizens of Feitelogram: I haven’t been writing enough.

Or even more than that, more simply, I haven’t been doing.

When I met with Antonio Campos, he told me to make another short film. There’s nothing stopping me from doing that except for me and my own head. If I wrote something, I could gather friends, shoot on weekends, ask my parents for money probably and they’d probably shell out.

I could sit at home and finish a screenplay I haven’t touched in three weeks, or at least begin the process of beginning.

The truth is, having a job, an internship, some structure, has both stabilized me and squelched me.

Since I have structure to my life, times that I am busy for much of the week, I have less need to write, less emotional, desperate lashing (though I still seem to do much of that here). At the same time, I have less energy to write, less drive, since my job has made it so I can’t attend or even schedule my writer’s group, meaning that I’m not even around anyone who is writing.

In short, I need to work harder or smarter or both to carve out a niche for myself if I want to continue to be creative. When I think of the people who I told stories about to that film crew this morning, it was people that decide to do something, to only worry so much about how good it would be and just get it done. To be creative in the literal meaning of the word.

That’s what I need in my life and that’s where my blog comes in. Where y’all help.

As I once told Jason Lee, whose blogposts have now returned to a consistent diet of job hunting and Nicholas Cage film-blogging after a queasy experience as an Asian-food-deliveryman, blogging is writing, it’s working out your muscles, it’s keeping in shape. It’s a lifeline back to the world of your mind, the world it is easy to get out of touch with when you are forced to explore the questionable territory of your own value by a job or an internship.

It’s good just to keep it out, keep it going.

And if I’m posing, I’ll be damned if I ain’t posing here.

***

If there’s a reason if I gotta self-analyze that I chose this title for this post, it might be an unconscious need for Karaoke.

Much like my lapsed writer’s group, Karaoke has been something missing in my life as I face challenges to schedule it that I did not face in my grand summer of after-school unemployment. It’s become so distant that I often can’t even think of singing my own songs, like I once did, when I spent a whole couple afternoons listening to “Thunder Road” on repeat so I’d get the cadences right as to not embarass myself, which I’m sure I still did.

Instead I think of my friend Rob Returning-Beardo Malone and think of songs for him to do. As a gesture, when we went together, I’d often write his name down for a song I’d thought for him to do, something I had anxious anticipated. As I’ve written before, Rob has a crooner, eccentric-PA style that often goes well with campy songs sung un-ironically like “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris or “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates.

I feel like he could do a good rendition of “Highway to the Danger Zone” if he tried, but recently, while brushing my teeth, my Pandora Radio put on “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day, an iconic song of 90s teen angst which seems anathema to Rob, but which I pondered what his spin would be like. Would he croon it, or go for a straight-up Billy Joe-impression? Or would he simply pass and give me a withering “come on, Bro-ham-amus!” kind of look? I couldn’t say honestly and I smiled through my brushing teeth.

“You know,” I told Austin playing this one to the camera. “Last night I had a friend invite me to see 2012 at midnight. And most people when they would do that, they’d do it with excitement or not at all, dismissing the movie, rightly, as trash. But my friends I made in film school can do it someway where it’s ironic and it’s genuine and it’s a fun time for both of it all at once.”

I paused.

“Doesn’t mean I fucking went, 2012 looks awful.” I said. “But if I hadn’t gone to film school, where would I have ever met people like that?”