The Feeling of Deep Depression Accompanying The Realization That One Hasn’t Seen Enough Movies at The New York Film Festival And That It Is Now Over

October 14, 2009

“Nicholas Feitel has been a writer, an actor and a college student for some time now.”

“As a writer, his work has appeared in New York City in print and on the web.”

“As an actor, he has appeared in theater Off-Broadway, in commercials and on The Tonight Show With David Letterman.”

“As a college student, well, he’s almost graduated from NYU Film School.”

“Currently, he splits his time between writing as a Contributing Editor for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and his beautiful girlfriend, Eva.”

***

This was what I came up with, more or less, at the prompting of a field titled “Director’s Bio” on the website for the South by Southwest Film Festival.

Actually, it’s what I came up with about the fourth-or-fifth time after my work was erased, abandoned, rethought or, in one particularly savage case, X-ed out by some unsuspecting or malicious malefactor at my work.

“Drat.” I cursed mentally, secretly glad on some level that the situation had given me permission to use the word “drat”.

In fact, it was my work that had persuaded me to submit my thesis, LOSER to that particular festival, since I had met a young lady I knew from high school who happened to work for Jim Jarmusch’s production company, and as we took the awkward “I haven’t seen you in 4 years and wasn’t even sure if you were really cool then” walk, she mentioned that SXSW was good for “first-timers” as I indicated that in fact the arriving “E” was my train.

I had gotten done with 13 or so other applications, met with various degrees of ease through the past couple months and culminating in a recent bout of hysteria over the incompetence of the United States Postal Service.

Namely, I had shipped something Priority Mail, only to see it delivered 7 days later (as opposed to the “2-3” advertised) on a Saturday morning when, of course, the festival offices were closed.

When I used the tracking service I had paid so much more for, as an additional option on the automated machine, to figure this out, I found out I could not schedule a “redelivery” as advertised by the website. Instead in was in the festival’s hands to decide whether to send someone to go pick up the film from the one numb-nuts stupid enough to ship via U.S. Mail.

“It’s more expensive, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t get there.” I announced unceremoniously, headphones-in-ears at the late-night-services of a FedEx facility.

And I walked out proudly.

Only to discover that the receipt containing the tracking number that would give me so much joy in the minutiae of where my package was, had blown away down Hudson St, down the shutter-closed driveways of nearby UPS and down toward Tribeca.

“Shit.” I said to the wind, disappointed that it wasn’t “drat”.

***

One would think with all the pomp and circumstance of my self-appointed/created “Director’s Bio” that I might actually have it in me to see the films put on by the company for which I was supposedly a “Contributing Editor”, capital C, capital E.

But of course, I didn’t.

Or I mean, really I did.

I saw Kanikosen and Ghost Town for the actual job at Film Society, which I reviewed here and here, respectively. I saw Trash Humpers, the new Harmony Korine film for fun, which had a cool, if sophomoric effect when the filmmaker recognized me. I saw Hadewijch and Everyone Else in a case of Harbold-ian misunderstanding, wherein my friend Chadd blearily misinterpreted a mid-morning “what’s up” as a “Hey, will you buy me tickets for that Bruno Dumont film that you are seeing later this evening?”, which ended up well (even though the Dumont film was French-weirdocratic stuff) since Everyone Else was an ok “Germ-blecore” time (Trademark Pending) and we got to go out with Whit Stilman, by luck, after the film, who was nice enough to buy Chadd and I our drinks and discuss the modern cinema with us, even though we collectively bit our tongues when he dissed Johnny Guitar as “definitely a bad movie”.

I even got to see one of my favorite films of the year from perhaps the filmmaker I most aspire to, Todd Solondz, which I did write about for Film Society, though I’d have seen it for fun too.

But still, the feeling set in on me, on a Saturday morning, when I headed uptown perhaps ambivalently and missed my comped screening of Bong Joon-ho’s Mother, only to find out that there were no more screenings left of the film.

When I think of the New York Film Festival, I think not only of the movies I see there, but the experience as a whole and the past I’ve had there. I remember contentious or ludicrous Q+As, last minute viewings of 3-hours-films, the satisfaction of getting in to sold-out screenings for just 10 bucks waiting in what felt like the winner’s line outside the theater, or just the high caused by too-many free-espressos from the “gratis” Illy guys who seemed to serve you endlessly like bartenders who just don’t know when to stop.

It’s an experience each year, one best served with a liberal helping of filmie-type friends, with whom you can share conspiratorially, the nerdy glee of knowing that you’ve seen the new (insert douchebag-y filmmaker here) movie 2.5 weeks before the rest of art-house crowd of New York City will see it, that is, provided that most of the art-house crowd didn’t just attend that very same screening you just did and realizing that yes, they probably did.

So I mourn even though I’ve seen more movies than most at the festival, the lost opportunity in not seeing more.

And, simultaneously, I feel happy that I even feel sad about it.

If that makes any sense.

***

Finally, a word on something.

I have been much maligned (in my eyes of course) for my lack of anticipation for Where The Wild Things Are, mostly stemming from my (mostly one-sided) feud with superhero enthusiast and professional douchebag Dave Eggers.

However, at MoMA on Sunday, I had the opportunity, extremely begrudgingly, to see what was billed as a “making-of” documentary, but what turned out to be a portrait of Maurice Sendak, author of the book of Where The Wild Things Are, called Tell Them Anything You Want.

The movie was lovely, the best sort of short documentary, the one that attempts not to know it’s subject, but to understand him on his level, for a moment.

Sendak is a unique talent and Where The Wild Things Are is only one of his magical books that I was lucky enough to enjoy as a youngster and which have changed the lives of many a youngster before they did me.

He’s also a daringly funny person, extremely morbid, constantly discussing his own death. He’s filled with a uniquely Jewish blend of the ability to put himself down while simultaneously pointing out how great he is.

In the documentary, he discusses in the same breath, his loving relationship with his caretaker and his mother’s failed attempt to abort him. When the interviewer gawks, he shows incredulousness.

“What?” He asks, with his old crotchety Jew-tude. “It’s the truth. They told me flat out: We couldn’t afford you.”

Sendak is too great a character to describe in a blog post, but one thing the movie (which was recently itself shortlisted for this year’s Oscars) reminded me of is how much I like Spike Jonze.

Jonze, another Jewish kid, was sorely missed in such films as Synecdoche, New York and The Science of Sleep, that he could have tamed with his unique-but-limited sensibility as a director.

Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are both brilliant films and owe much to him, though they also are considered “Charlie Kaufman” movies.

What’s clear from Tell Them Anything You Want though, is that Jonze understands Sendak. He knows his story, his emotions and the feelings behind the book.

As such, with much humbling-and-bumbling, I recant some of my pessimism towards Where The Wild Things Are.

I like Jonze. I admire him.

And I feel like anyone who can make such a loving-compelling-understanding documentary about Maurice Sendak and his work, can bring an understanding to a film adaptation of his book.

Reviews have already come out for the film, ranging from Ed Gonzalez’s mostly positive Slant review to David Denby of the New Yorker’s review which is significantly more mixed.

As I said, nowadays, I hold out hope for the movie that it might be good or at least well-meaning.

But for now, at least, I can rest assured that if it’s bad, I’ll have a name to blame that’s not Jonze:

That *motherfucking* Dave Eggers.

What a douche.

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Triple Feature on the Down and Out

October 7, 2009

“Nicholas, a thing you should know: Excuses are for the weak.”

At an unpaid job, it’s easy to find yourself somewhere stuck in adolescence at the same time as you might be trying to free yourself from it.

After all, you’ve just spent the majority of your life at this point referring to your superiors (teachers, professors) as Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. (or later as merely, “Professor”), all as part of a system of pedagogy that seems to ensconce you in its own rules separate from reality.

The transition from school to unpaid work then is different from a job, where addressing your bosses like you once addressed those old superiors only entrenches their perception of your stance in adolescence, while you are simultaneously guided from that stance.

Thus the security guard, among many others at my work, had taken up a mentorship of me, that included such bits, as the phrase about excuses.

I think at the time, the phrase was meant for a failure to deliver a package.

But I feel it draw on.

***

I’ve found myself not writing and not for lack of things to write about.

I’ve been seeing films at the New York Film Festivals, plays on Broadway and downtown and living life at a general pace.

If this blog is mostly comprised of the write-able moments from my life, then I haven’t been at a lack for them.

Monday evening, I returned to Planet Rose Karaoke with a mix of shame and uneasiness. I had skipped a week again, after not being able to go for so long due to my play. Not only I had skipped the week though, but I had also missed my friend Colin The Bartenders’s birthday, who I consider my friend due to our mutual affinity for Karaoke and the compassion that he would show for Rob or J-Sam and I on a slow-down Monday afternoon.

Then again, it’s always hard to gauge with people who are paid to be friendly to you (or paid to sell drinks or both).

But either way, he’d invited me to his birthday party and I had flaked out and not gone and instead come crawling back to his establishment.

But as I talked to Colin he accepted my apology and I as sat there and did my first song and friends poured in, I felt a flash or a convulsion through my body, a slight spasm or charge of energy.

A sense of uneasiness flaring up as it left my body, a sigh.

Finally at Karaoke again, as I waved from some light Beatles to Neil Young to Springsteen, finally, I was at home.

***

Or the day I went to go see a Triple Feature on Faith, consisting of A Serious Man, The Invention of Lying and Anvil!: The Story of Anvil.

A Serious Man, I saw with my mother and Eva, after a lunch with waiter service at Katz’s on a busy Saturday morning, the first I’d ever had for waiter service. For me going to Katz’s personally, it was always more satisftying to get your sandwich from the guys at the counter, preferably the old Russian Jew who seemed both worn and timeless. It satisfied that New Yorker element in me that wanted personalization, attention and that satisfying sense of oversight, as if the sandwich maker was working for you personally, in your one-man-enclave of meat.

Still, the ‘rents were taking me out and a lunch at Katz’s is a lunch at Katz’s and was particularly appropriate for that movie.

A Serious Man was the most Jewish film I had ever seen, in more ways than one.

My mother had told me, after the film, that somehow, a friend of my grandmother, the Time critic Richard Corliss, had found the movie “anti-semitic”, a claim I find both difficult to understand and oddly fitting with the film.

You see, for all you goy readers out there, A Serious Man is very much about the questioning nature of being Jewish and the way that life can be interpreted. As a story, it can be seen as a retelling of the book of Job, with the suffering of a righteous Jewish man before the whims of G-d. However, as a film it reads like a Jewish text, with many questions poised to the viewer, ethical and otherwise.

Even from the prologue we are given a whopper:

Was the husband, attempting kindness, right in the prologue? Or was the wife right in her attempt to defend her family?

Either a way a man is dead and it is left for G-d to judge.

Which is the point of the film, as beautifully illustrated in the story of “The Goy’s Teeth” (The Sheherazzad of the film). God is unknowable, his workings a question, the answers to which we create in our decisions in our existence.

This is not an easy thing to accept, or even a rational one, but it is a very Jewish thing.

Which is probably why, in The Invention of Lying, a very un-Jewish film, religion is posed as a massive lie of useless proprotions.

The first film directed by Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras), the story is a parable unsure of its own meaning. It tellls of a world where everyone tells the truth, unable to lie even by omission, talking incessantly even when irking other people.

As a concept, this should be close to my heart, but on screen it gets tired fast and when the movie veers into Gervais (the main character) inventing religion as part of his sole capacity to lie, it becomes as saddled with concepts it can’t handle as was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by its unwieldy invocation of Hurricane Katrina.

For The Invention of Lying, religion is just another lie people would rather cling to than the unfortunate circumstances of “the truth”. But part of the failing of that film is that faith in itself is not a lie, but a gamble. When there is no certainty people try to find a concrete answer (the search in A Serious Man), but the absence of an answer is not a meaningless void, but a vast, unknowable expanse (think glass half-empty/half-full). In Lying, Gervais attaches his pessimism awkwardly to a standard “rom-com” shell, but his failure is to understand the forces he wrestles with.

In the final film of the triple-feature, Anvil!: The Story of Advil, possibly the best film of the three, seen lying in bed with my girlfriend on VH1, using the Time Warner Cable “Start Over” feature, we finally get characters comfortable with their faith and place in the world.

Lead singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, are best friends, Canadian Jews and what would be referred to explicitly by most people as “failures”. Once grouped among bands like Led Zeppelin and Metallica, their band “Anvil” now only supports them through three-quater-empty European bars and small-but-dedicated parties around their native cold home. To support himself, “Lips” is forced to work as a porter in a catering service that supplies middle and pre-schools with their bland, pre-packaged lunches.

Despite intense oblivion and ignominy though, the band still acts like a band, replete with the love and fighting, wives kids and dedicated fans that a band that released an album called “Metal on Metal” should have. Some could say these two long-haired, mostly ridiculous Jews are fools or throw-backs, high-school dropouts who barely seem to function in the real world. But much like The Mountain Goats’ song “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of Denton”, even in their 50s, these fellows are convinced they are headed for “stagelights and leerjets and fortune and fame”.

To this end they pursue their goals doggedly, at times pathetically, but never with a lack of enthusiasm or heart.

To this end any success they have is a genuine one, as a reward for their faith.

This is most eloquently expressed in an interview where Robb recalls his dead father, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, who supported him when he dropped out of school to become a drummer. When he saw his son’s enthusiasm for drumming, he dropped his original insistence that his son go to college. “Just do whatever makes you happy.” Robb tells us. A cliche, but one that is pregnant with the faith of multiple generations.

Rock, like Judaism and Baseball, is a religion and Anvil! is a religious movie in the best sense, a companion piece to A Serious Man and a response to the cynicism of The Invention of Lying. Because, for Lips and Robb, no matter what G-d or man throws at this band, they make their own answers and keep on rocking.

***

Yesterday, I realized that I couldn’t write new pages for my script because I no longer had a functioning copy of Final Draft (I’d lost my old one when I went from PC to Mac).

I guess that’s when this all crystalized for me the sense that I was making excuses in my life, as the security guard had attempted to inform me upon my package-ery.

The sense of disappointment in myself snowballed from a question of disappointing the people at my writing group, to whether I would lose my ability as a writer along with my adolescence to whether I was self-destructing as a person and destroying my future in a mass that overwhelmed logic.

But as I talk about Katz’s Deli and Karaoke and seeing movie after movie about faith, it strikes me that the cure for excuses is action, as my security guard would tell me.

And that the only way to cure a guilt caused by lack of writing, is to begin writing.

And thus, here I am.


…And I Knew That I Should Start Writing Again When My Mom Left A Comment To That Effect On My Blog.

September 19, 2009

My mom reads my blog.

Have I mentioned that before?

My dad does too, but he’s sometimes a little more discreet about it.

Or at least, he likes to comment on it in person, in a wry self-deprecating manner as in “So are you sure Eva isn’t your ‘not-girlfriend’, har-har”, as opposed to my mother, who leaves comments on my post like:

“Great job!”

and

“Another well-though-out post! I am so proud of your writing abilities!”

To be fair, such things are not pure embarrassment/mortification.

I should be thankful for a doting mom in some ways, since I am aware of the alternatives, from friends who talk about their parents in past participles to the ones who think “twittering” is a sound attributed to certain avians.

It is a nice thing to hear some encouragement from time-to-time, as well as in some ways, a wholly expected thing from a well-meaning-but-over-bearing Jewish mom.

But it always makes me groan and sigh a bit (i.e: saying the words “groan” and “sigh” out loud) when I check my phone and tell my friends, whoever around me, that my mom just commented on my blog.

Then again, those actions might be appropriate for most things that happen in this forum.

So maybe, I just shouldn’t sweat it.

***

A showdown, recently.

Mexican-style.

Or more like Hipster-Williamsburg-style.

Or Post-Hipster.

At work one day, gathered around the conference table, biding our time, one of my fellow employees, a recently arrived out-of-towner, described how she now lives off the Bedford stop in Williamsburg, to which we all replied with raised-eyebrows-comma-rolled-eyes.

“Hip.” One person said.

“Really hip.” Another.

“Benn to any Yo La Tengo concerts yet?” I asked.

“Actually,” She told us. “It’s not even a hipster neighborhood anymore.”

“Well, what is it?” I said flatly.

“It’s, well, post-hipster.” She described.

“It’s like all the hipsters who lived there five years ago left and now the people showing up are people from all over who heard about that it was a hipster neighborhood and who want to be hipsters but aren’t.”

We all took in this description and it sunk in.

“Wow,” I told her. “Apt.”

And there I was, a few days later for a friend’s going away party, in that “post-hipster” neighborhood trying to figure out whether I belonged as a hipster, a post-hipster, a faux-hipster, or just a guy with unceremoniously long hair.

Anyway, I was with Eva, my girlfriend, so the evening was mercifully light on these sorts of contemplations and more heavy in the “stopping ever half-a-block to make-out” department (Yes, I did mention that my parents read my blog.)

In recent days, Eva and I had been trading anxieties about our relationship, with friends simultaneously complimenting us on our new-found happiness and turning a suspicious eye to the alacrity of our affections. Personally, I was most comforted to find out from Eva that we both shared a deep-seeded fear that both that we would lose what we had together and that even if we did stay together, it would be the death of us artistically as writers.

As I walked down the street today, I realized that my perspective on being artist was formed by the book and later the movie of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, about a young girl who smart and intensely stifled develops amazing powers of mental acuity, which she loses upon the happy ending of the book.

For me that book was tragic, because I felt I was living at that age in a stifling hell, but that if I ever got happy, then I might lose something.

The whole thing seemed a metaphor for artistry, one of the dark messages embedded in Dahl’s children’s books and a message I took on, like many messages and commands we hang on to unconsciously from childhood.

But here I am writing and maybe it’s time to grow past that story.

And so much to tell, anyway.

I spent that night, like I said, making out with Eva as she finally got to have her showdown–as Jonny-Jon-Jon arrived at the bar.

He spotted us making out, like bandits in a dark corner and came over.

I introduced him and, as expected, he responded with some witticism.

“Well, you shore know how to pick him Nick.” He commented.

And Eva, bizarre and wonderful, having heard all of the stories about him from me, just laughed at him and stared weirdly as she stuck her tongue in my ear which caused me to make a sound like “Brrrr-oo-ooh!”

Which successfully won her the showdown, as Jonny-Jon-Jon, unable to pick off/mock or try to fuck the girl I was with, went to go find a girl who would react more kindly to his intoxicated state.

Knowing him, I bet he found’er.

But I had my girl, already.

***

Opening night was this past week and it was really, like most other nights.

I feel I gave one of my most intense performances, the one where my character, often played as a goofball, got serious and tried to con the con-man.

I played him exasperated and intense, a feeling motivated by a need to “step up to the plate” or something when pressure is applied to me.

I don’t feel I’m doing the sensation justice, other than to say that I feel a burning sensation, a tension or a boiling, when faced with something I feel is momentous and I try, or something more than my conscious mind tries, to do it justice.

As I ran around the boat that’s my play-thing though, I noticed my sister who greeted me during the show in-between scenes but who I did not converse with.

When I saw her later, it was walking out of a scene to take a couple phone calls, which I saw her do in full-view.

Later, during one of my lulls in the show, I talked about how charged I felt by the night and the energy and how the audience really seemed to dig.

“I haven’t even seen anyone leave.” I told my fellow actor, a curly fellow named Brendan

“I saw one person leave.” He told me.

“Bathrooms?” I asked.

“The other way.” He told me.

And in the pit of me I knew it was Cecily.

When I saw my parents and my grandparents waving to me as I went to get changed, she was gone., a spot on my night.

Days later, I would call my parents and complain about her, ask how she could take phone calls in the middle of the play, how she could be the only one to leave, how she could upset me on my opening night, but I realized that just as they hadn’t been able to give me answers for the last 7 years about her, they couldn’t give them now.

I confronted her on the phone about her behavior, her lack of sobriety, how she’d been staying out late and hanging with the same people she did before her conviction, before rehab.

“I’ll go to meetings. I need structure in my life. I need a job. I don’t have any friends.”

“You said you’d go to meetings three weeks ago and self-control comes from you and if you want structure go volunteer somewhere. If you want friends, go to NA.”

“How could you do that at my performance. How could you think that was appropriate?”

“I was having a bad night.”

“You seem to have a lot of those.”

“Is your girlfriend going to help me get a job?”

“I don’t want her to help you.” I replied. “I don’t want her to stick her neck out for someone who I can’t trust.”

“So you won’t help me then.”

“It sucks, but I’ll help you when you’ll help yourself.” I told her.

“Call me when you think you can be a functioning sister to me.” I told her and hung up the phone.

That was a few days ago.

The reviews came in later, from Variety and Time Out New York and they were both very good.

I don’t know how good I feel about it all, but as they say, there’s one more week and the show–

Well, it goes on.


Why I Suck at Improv (but at least the Wings were good)

July 15, 2009

I’m pretty sure I suck at improv.

It was kind of a toss-up if I’d be good anyway.

Sure, the movies I make and the character I sometimes play (loosely, emphasis on loosely based on myself) is kind of funny, kind of a loner, socially inappropriate and maladjusted, sometimes to comic effect.

But the very traits that make that character somewhat funny are sort of antithetical to what appear to be the core traits of improv.

“You just gotta go with it. Go with everything. Be positive” Keith told me.

That last one, be positive. I had a feeling that would be tough.

Keith was my improv guru or “maven”, a term I’ve liked since I was ten and read it (or had it read to me) in a Calvin Trillin audiobook, hearing it defined as “an expert, a guy, a go-to person”.

Keith makes a good improv maven for the same reasons he was a stand-out student at school. Short, balding, Jewish and whip-skinny, Keith projects an air of constant wacky “up”-ness, always adding a lilt or a drop in his voice in casual speech in order to sound like a commercial announcer talking about some illusory product with a funny name like “Whambow!” or “FunPens!”

This one-step-too-far enthusiasm was welcome to me, in somewhat of a same way that I dug Andy Roehm, because of how it contrasted with the usual dichotomy of guarded self-smugness or depressive self-seriousness that seemed to categorize some of my other peers at film school.

What also struck me, however, was something Keith had which nearly noone had that I knew: a serious work ethic. A junior in film school, Keith not only had a website, but it wasn’t one of those bull-shitty “I’m an artist” websites, but actually a vehicle for the prodigious amount of material he had actually made in his free-time. This website, a vehicle for his alter-ego “K-Skill”, had a bunch of videos, some comic/reality pieces, some sketches he had done and just some plain interview/doc stuff he had completed with friends or interesting people. What’s more, Keith had done most of these pieces on his own without the aid of a coordinated “production company” or really any friends to help him.

This was striking as I had seen more than a few people burn out because they never fit in in film school, or struggle once they broke off from their groups. Keith, it seems, had never really bothered, concerning himself with his work and gradually gaining friends and colleagues based on his self-assuredness and attitude. I fell into this category of admirers with others, because as I looked at the clips on his website, I didn’t like all of them, I thought some of them were dumb or didn’t work, but what struck me was even the ones I didn’t like that were obviously not great, Keith hadn’t gotten discouraged after them. He’d just kept making more, just kept trying to get better.

I’m not sure it would be so easy for me to wrestle with failure.

It was Keith who had taken the Upright Citizens Brigade classes and recommended them to me (along with others, like Malone and a funny writer I knew) and Keith with his attitude who seemed liked the perfect candidate for improv’s key mantra of “go with it”.

But anyway, I didn’t have Keith’s positivity and the make-up class I took at Upright Citizens Brigade felt both awkward and freeing to me. I wanted to be good at improv, wanted to go along. I felt like if I was good at improv, if I felt confident about it, I could make friends more easily and take more risks; that confidence breeds confidence. But improv can go counter to one’s comic instincts. We did an exercise called “Expert” where you had to get in the center of a circle of your peers and try to take questions from them on any subject and try to sound like an expert, whether you knew the answer or not. The point was not to be funny, immediately, but to try to hone the skill of “playing to the top of your intelligence” which then could be brought in to scenework.

While I did a good job as an expert (a decent non-drama liberal arts education comes with a minor in Bullshit), the questions I asked (“If 789, should we just all skip it now and go to 10?” “If I were a rich man, noddy noddy noddy, then would I be a real big star?”, “How do I get a girl to like me?”) prompted a moratorium on “joke questions” from me, which left me hanging my head in shame. Better was a stint in another exercise as a self-hating spy who after delicately cracking a safe finds out it is empty only to face an existensial crisis. However, I wrapped up the night with a piss-poor improv scene about typing on computers with a joke about “getting paid in cashews, a raise from peanuts” that fell distinctly flat upon the audience of peers.

Afterwards I was planning to ask the group out for a drink–more of Keith’s advice, a piece of it that I’d been hesitant to take–only to find out that everyone was hungry and everyone wanted a different cuisine. Still, I contemplated switching into this 6-9pm class, partially because the atmosphere seemed more critical (a good thing), partially because there were no confused ESL dudes (as in my normal class) and partially because the teacher was kind of hot and I was trying to figure out if she was close enough to my age and found me funny enough that she might consider joining for a drink as well.

But I should have known that a woman in the improv business, funny and independent, is use to desperate/pathetic man-children attempting come-ons along with their comedies and when I even just asked her about staying in her class she gave me a polite but distinct “Sorry” as I headed out the door, trying to think if I should chock this one up as a “girl” story or another day of funemployment.

***

On my way home, I needed some comfort food to get me over my sexual/comedic inadequacies of the evening and ended up over at Tebaya, a Japanese fried chicken joint that I’d been going to since the days of Neutral Ground.

Tebaya is best known (rightly so) for their chicken wings, double deep-fried until ultra-crispy, drained of all oil and pressed and then covered in a dry black-pepper/garlic miso-glaze. The result is topped with sesame seeds and is as scrumptious as it is addictive. I once brought a batch over to the Gaynor crew/Last Pictures in their office nearby. They protested that they’d already eaten lunch, but by the time I left all 27 wings were gone and devoured and I had only eaten a few.

A dinner combo there comes with a salad (an iceberg-lettuce affair with a single wedge of tomato and some potent soy-sesame dressing) and a 5-piece teba (their name for their wings) on the side. The lunch special is a better deal (3pc Teba, salad and a green tea for less money), but the dinner special was filling and my entree was a yummy Chicken Katsu sandwich (my standby, even though I knew not how it differed from the other 3 or 4 fried chicken sandwiches on the menu) which came topped by something strange-but-good called “soleslaw” which appeared to be delicious buttered-cabbage. The whole thing was filling even for me, the sandwich was a giant and digestion provided me some solace, or at least distraction, on the long walk home down Chelsea.

***

TEBAYA: Japanese Fried Chicken Wings

Chicken Katsu Sandwich Dinner Special (Comes w/ 5pc Teba and Salad)–$8.95

144 West 19th Street bet. 6th and 7th Aves.

1 to 18th St. FV to 23rd st.


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.


“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” up on Vimeo

June 19, 2009

My junior-level film, not perfect, but at least heavily¬†embarrassing¬†is now up on Vimeo, or at least will be when it is done “waiting in line”.

It’s a weird little movie, kind of similar to my sophomore film.

I think… well, I guess now what I think about it doesn’t matter.

Point is, I guess people should be able to see my stuff if they wanna.

Look for a trailer for my thesis, LOSER, next week.

Love and biscuits,

Feitelogram


Night Out

June 17, 2009

I guess it all started with a phone call.

I had been hanging out with one of my friends all day talking about the decomposition of his relationship, a subject that’s always difficult me, firstly because I lack any experience with such things and secondly because I resent that I lack experience in such things.

These days, wandering around New York City, my time more loosely structured, day-by-day, dreams or ideas or wishes pop into my head, unbidden and unwritten, that is if I fail to write them down.

It was about 4 o’clock when this one did: Play.

Play. I love theater, I feel like I’ve been going to see theater for longer than I’ve even been going to see films (though that can’t be true) and something in me enjoys it primally. While it’s true as my teacher Amos Poe says, that the difference between a movie and a play “is that you can leave a bad movie”, there’s something in me, maybe the lonely person in me, that admires the presence of a play, the actors on a stage the fact that real people are there.

Even if I resent drama sometimes (disclosure: I took Playwriting classes in school) in its simiilarities to a game of ping-pong, there’s no denying that it can hit you, send you reeling make you gasp with its immediacy in a way more difficult for film to do. Despite anything that fleabag Gertrude Stein might say, there still is a suspension of disbelief when you see a curtain rising, or a black-out between scenes. There’s faith there, in the storytelling, a need not to be shown things that rivals the goings on a chruch, synagogue or mosque.

But I ramble.

I called up Kent, a play-literate friend who’d just got finished apologizing for being uncommunicative, to see if he’d just go spur-of-the-moment. To my surprise, he said yes, but then an hour later, not to my surprise he said no.

But I still went up to Broadway, to check things out. I was booked through seeing movies in the evenings the next 6 days in a row and I wanted a break; I didn’t know when the next time would be that I could see a play, so I went up to Broadway and left the rest to fate.

But fate wasn’t forthcoming, my parents couldn’t see the play: my mother, then my father. Another friend committed and backed-out in rapid succession claiming a sudden desire to work 5 more hours into the evening on his movie. I was even turned away at the box offices of God of Carnage, Waiting for Godot and Exit The King (It wasn’t their fault; they were closed.)

But that’s when I found God.

Or at least food.

Wandering in the midtown area, I sought to do what I could do as a consolation prize: eat somewhere that I wouldn’t go ordinarily.

I decided on Flip, a burger-joint in the basement of Bloomingdale’s safely hidden away. I’d get a “South of the Birder Burger”, a turkey burger with pico de gallo and monterey jack cheese, with chips and guac on the side, but my feet had other plans.

They took me down old stomping grounds, 53rd St, where my nose and my mouth twitched simultaneously to realize that I was right by the legendary CART.

This was food, 6 dollars of deliciousness, Chicken and Rice and White Yoghurt Sauce and a smattering of that evil-Red Hot Sauce full of burning-burning and pain.

Or was it?

It was still light out. I knew the legendary CART didn’t come round till 8. And it was only 6:20. And these guys didn’t even have the right shirts. They were yellow, but they didn’t have the logo. And where were the guys with the Moses-beards? The accoutrements were all off. I stumbled backwards, googling furiously, with iPhone as divining rod, trying to determine the meaning of this.

I found, to my skepticism, that the real cart stayed on 53rd and 7th during these hours and after a prolonged conversation with the weary, but amused vendors there, I purchased my CART food and walked down the street, with food in my belly and new determination.

So what if they’d turned me away at the box office?

So what if my friends and parents both had ditched me?

So what if I had noone to see theater with but myself? I’d be changed by the experience but I’d talk to someone later. It was worth it, to make time, when I had time.

I went storming back to those box offices, waiting in ticket lines, cancellation lines, beaming, eating, drinking a free Coca Cola Zero someone was handing out on the street (doesn’t taste as good as Diet Coke).

And I was denied at all of them, though strangely, I saw Whoopi Goldberg going into God of Carnage.

What I meant to say to her was “Hey, Whoopi, got an extra ticket?”, but what I ended up saying was “Hey, you spoke at my commencement!”

“Cool.” she replied. “At least I hope you think so.”

But I ended up walking into something interesting, a Lincoln Center young-playwrights Lab performance: a play called “Stunning”.

The writer was Syrian-Jewish and the play was set in the Syrian-Jewish community in Midwood. Having known some of these sorts of people growing up, these self-absorbed jappy banshees, I found the first act of the play, where several of them discuss Tennis lessons pretty unbearable, only to find that its shallowness was a facade, constantly moving in reference to the world around it, much like the floating light fixtures that make up the stage.

But as the first act ended, I felt something missing, so I did something bold, or stupid, or needy, or what have you.

I turned to the person next to me, a much-older woman, another person alone, and said:

“Excuse me, I’m sorry. But can I ask you a favor? You see, I hardly ever go to theater alone. And I really like talking about the play. Would it be alright if I talk to you about it?”

A smile.

“Of course.” She said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hated the characters in a play more.” I told her.

And the conversation proceded from there.

After the play, she hurried out, before I could get more conversation in.

“Did you like it?” I asked after her.

“Yes.” She replied.

And then as she walked out:

“I’m Nicholas!” I said, probably a little too loudly.

“I’m Janie.” She replied, again with a smile.

And it was a nice moment.

And then I went home.