Confidence Games

July 23, 2009

“It’s a confidence game.” He explained to me.

“You’re an art dealer, there’s a buyer; you’re selling fakes and he’s not rich. Everyone’s playing each other. Everyone’s in on it. A confidence game.”

“That’s the theme anyway.”

I found myself at the Public Theater, meeting a director who, after talking to me in line at a show called “Rambo Solo”, had decided that I might be right for a part in his next downtown-theater mash-up.

In truth, there was some vindication in it. I could be pissed off finally at the theater teachers of my youth, Ms. Baehr and Mr. Meacham who cast me in side-lined roles and drove me (mercifully) from a future as a “drama kid”.

But I also felt taken aback.

Why would somebody who met me in a line waiting for a show think to cast me in a play. What was it?

“Well,” he told me. “Honestly, you talked to me about theater in the line and how you love it and you had so much to say.”

“And I thought to myself, this guy’s got some confidence. He could sell it. And I thought, why not give it a try?”

I smiled.

“Now do you think you might have problems memorizing lines?” He asked.

“Well,” I told him. “I’m good at Karaoke.”

***

Is it wrong that I’m the kind of guy who needs to get a little confidence to have some?

Just a little confidence mind you, not a lot.

When my therapist asked me if I was the sort of person who depended on other people for my self-opinion, I told her “No, I don’t think so.”

And then after a moment:

“I mean, well kinda. But no.”

That might seem like a back-handed admission, but I think it’s probably more complicated than that.

For instance, the other day I found myself applying for a job (as I do so often nowadays), I sent in my cover letter and my resume and I got an email back.

The email was of a simple mass type, with a little bit of personalization (It included my name).

It simply told me that my application had been received, that qualified candidates would have two-to-three rounds of interviews and that they would keep me posted.

Stepping away from my computer, I felt it.

“Dan!” I announced as one might announce grandly over G-Chat to a friend.

“I have just received a letter telling me that I am in the running for the position. They have emailed me back! Ha-ha!”

Except I said “Ha-ha!” neither in a Nelson-from-The-Simpsons way (Haha!) nor in a casual laughing sense (ha,ha), but rather in the triumphant roar of one who was at least under consideration for a job, for in the land of the blind men, the man under consideration to receive an eye at least, well, he’s doing pretty good.

Except all of this was on G-chat so it probably lost its intended fervor.

“yeah” was Dan’s monosyllabic response, which came much later, probably not until after he’d taken a shower or something and when I asked him if he applied I met a blank screen staring back, wondering at the efficacy of G-Chat for immediate communication.

Still, I had gotten a confidence boost.

Similarly, when I go to my writing group every week, I make it a point always to bring in pages of my own. Something inside me tells me that if I want an environment of working writers, I have to hold myself to the standard I’d hold them to and come with pages every week.

But everytime I write my pages, a dread fills me of how they will be received. Will the 5-6 people who attend weekly find them wanting? Trite? Laughable (but in a bad way)?

Inarticulate horror mixed with vertiginous anticipation fills me, much as waiting for the results of AP scores once did.

But so far I’ve been coasting and every week I hear people tell me “good job”, “I really liked it” or “It’s great to hear your pages.”

When I hear things like that, a part of me blanches in embarassment or happiness, but another part of me grabs the comment and builds with i so the next time I say something douchebaggy or authoritative, I can mentally reference the praise or the happiness shown to me by someone and use it as a bulwark against uncertainty.

“Oh,” I’d think. “I can give suggestions to other people about their writing because I’ve had X,Y and Z tell me they like mine.”

Similar to this is how I functioned in film school, with what seems now like an upward build toward self-satisfaction. The same friend from G-Chat, Dan Pleck, would mock me on the set of my films and when I was talking with an ex-not-girlfriend of mine who was younger, on how I always seem to give advice, which is as much about my fond memories of earlier years in film school as any sense of expertise.

In other words, I can feel confident in certain situations by reliving good experiences from the past, no matter how minor they might be.

***

The inverse is also true.

When I feel I have no experience or only bad experiences in something, it’s hard for me to take a leap or act brave.

Contrasts of this are apparent, like on Karaoke Mondays where I belt out songs and always keep going even I mess up or make a “vocal miscalculation”.

When I went this Monday, sans a certain Beardo, my friend Andy Roehm stepped up to come with, making it a drunk-old-time, singing AC-DC and songs in falsetto.

When I trapsed around the bar, singing Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E”, I was congratulated about “my baritone” and given a thumbs up by the bartender Colin, the karaoke DJ we love and respect.

But when Andy started asking me about my love life, I didn’t know what to say. I had always felt like to get in the game you needed some experience and I felt that all my experiences were poor or sorely lacking if present at all.

“Don’t matter, dude.” Andy offered. “Best thing I ever learned was that most girls are just like guys: DTF. They’re looking to fuck just as much as us.”

In some ways, the thought of that was even scarier than the idea of persuading them.

And even my Karaoke skills were built up through Rob telling me after every number that he liked it “for it’s class”.

Another place I face this is in my improv class, which is all the harder considering how I expect myself to be at good at it and find myself instead falling flat at every exercise, seeing my classmates get better.

Every time I sit down from volunterring for a sketch or a scene, I sit down less willing to go back up again. After all, I’d just messed up the scene before and with enough consecutive chances to prove myself blown, I felt like I was on a downward hurl.

“You are the only one who can defeat yourself.” My dad told me. But the nerd in me thought, “Well a ninja or a samurai could defeat me too.”

My brain went haywire. I was terrible at improv. I was terrible at life. I smelled bad. I hadn’t taken a shower. I was gaining weight. Seth Rogen was losing weight.

This was not a cycle I wanted to continue.

But then a girl in class gave me her number and asked for mine.

And then we talked about in being in film school and PAing.

And then we did a sketch where we two hipsters in a record store where she mocked me for not liking Joy Division because it wasn’t obscure enough.

And then we made plans to go see a show later that night.

And then I went to the bathroom at the place my class is held and looked at myself in the mirror, looked at my hair and turned sideways and thought:

“You know my hair gets curlier when it ain’t washed. Maybe this night won’t be so bad.”


Lyrics and Laying Blame

July 19, 2009

When I got home Friday night, the first thing I wanted to do was write.

A friend recently asked me for counsel on whether to seek therapy.

I told her she should if she thought she could use the help.

Why not just get a blog like you, she asked. Isn’t writing your life the same thing?

It was difficult for me to explain to her that it wasn’t.

Case and point though, when I got home Friday night I was in a dangerous state of post-drunk melancholy and just wished ill towards all the people who I felt wronged by that evening.

But that was really only way I felt.

The prevailing sentiment had nothing to do with them, but rather towards my need to externalize experience in order to deal with it effectively.

By all accounts, I had just had a pretty awful evening. I had been slammed with girls pushing me around, dealing with the effects of too much alcohol, within and without.

I wanted it just to go away. I wanted it not even to be in my mind, for it to be somewhere else, for it to exist only virtually.

Thus, I sought to put it on my semi-regularly trafficked blog.

Not a good way to forget something, I suppose.

But that’s my thought process.

I write in order to live and I live in order to write and, currently, this is my safety valve, the conjunction of those two needs, the public ramifications of which I still don’t fully comprehend.

When I woke up the next morning, my first thought was that I was glad I didn’t write the vitiriolic post I had intended. But after pieceing out the rest of that Friday evening I went ahead and wrote something anyway.

What I wrote I didn’t think vitriolic. I aim in all of my writing to rig up complex images of people. Not only is it a more accurate way to describe them, it’s also a more effective way of writing. If one is presented with characters featuring both good and bad, characters motivated for their actions, it’s easier to accept the world of those characters as one’s own. We need ambiguity and complexity because it’s what we recognize in our daily lives.

Still, the effect of my post, which did accomplish (along with a barbeque visit to my friend Frank) a sense of serenity, was that of a public shaming.

When I saw Ashna on Saturday night, she apologized profusely, noting that she was drunk at 11am when I had spoken to her and hadn’t been aware of what she said. Still, we were meeting to go to a mutual friend’s party and as we sat on a stoop in Williamsburg talking out, she seemed to shake and cry in a dismal terror, not just because she had hurt me, but because now she had to face a room of people who, having read my last post, might view her monstrously.

“I deserve it.” Ashna said. “But still.”

Even Diana sent me several text messages that I’d rather not have gotten first apologizing for hurting me, claiming ignorance, then, claiming horror at her own actions, vowing to abstain from interference in my life.

As I look objectively back on both Ashna’s apology and Diana’s, I wonder if this is not better in some ways, judged by me, than what could have happened had I not written about it all.

If I hadn’t written about it, in the only way I knew how, I would have felt worse about the whole situation, Ashna would have forgotten or passed over it in the complex series of events dictating her own life and Diana certainly wouldn’t have given two shits, content in her life of dreamy flirtation. In a way, by writing so publicly about it, I had forced them both to confront their actions and how they’d hurt me, it seemed like justice, in a way that otherwise, justice might have not have been achieved.

But simultaneously, I think about the idea of publicly shaming someone and how I felt having experienced it. Whether it was pooing your pants in second grade or being rejected by a girl who you gave a poem to in eighth or a girl who closed her mouth when you tried to kiss her at the prom, public shame stays with you.

I described to my therapist the other day how the worst moments of my life flash before my eyes, things I’d rather not remember. I told her that I can sometimes deal with it, surpress it further or accept it, by going over the thoughts, the shameful moments in my head and trying to understand them or forigve myself, but sometimes it’s not so easy.

When I have to deal with those things, spectres plaguing my mind, it begs the question: who am I if I inflect such things upon others? Is that justified despite the hurt?

The altruistic thing to do, or the medium, might be just to write in a journal, or to find some way to work through it on one’s own, forgiving or ignoring the people or confronting privately.

Usually I find that not to work, but simultaneously, posting on a forum that no one can delete or moderate but me, seems like a coward’s way out.

I remember when one of my ex-not-girlfriend’s ditched me on Valentine’s Day for John Weeke, I was pissed as hell and I wrote it all down, but I didn’t post it on facebook for all to see–that would have been juvenile–I sent it as an email to her, which still wasn’t a good idea, but at least it was direct.

She sent me an equally scathing email back and I felt bad for a while but then I moved on. And I don’t feel bad about it anymore.

Though for the record, I still think she was pretty much a cunt to me.

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Still, the whole issue raises questions of responsibility in my writing. When art intermingles to closely with life and when writing becomes a  safety valve, an escape for one’s emotions, the consequences can be unexpected and weight on their own.

I don’t have an answer for any of it. Shitty things happen and might probably continue to. How I deal with it, I’ll deal with it.

And I’ll try my best to deal with it well.

***

In unrelated news, I’m down one karaoke buddy.

Rob “Beardo” Malone, of some-to-be very funny sketch comedy that I saw a preview of last night, departed today for Washington state to go act in my friend Zach Weintraub’s super-indie unfortunately-named film Land of the Lost.

It’s a good thing for Rob. He loves acting and is damn good at it to. He’s the sort of out-sized out-bearded type that always gets the parts and the ladies. And the ladies’ parts.

But it means that I’ll be down one guy to go karaokeing with on those epic monday afternoons we’ve been regulars this summer.

The last time we went (a Wednesday make-up session for a missing Monday), Rob and I actually managed to a duet, singing the part of two mobsters from Kiss Me, Kate, the musical adaptation of Taming of the Shrew, singing a song appropriately titled “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, a paean to the virtues of learning the Bard for his appeal to women.

But beyond duets, whether it’s belting out a James Bond theme (Rob claims he hasn’t done the same one twice, I don’t believe him) or me comically straining my voice to do “Young Americans”, we manage to always seem to have a good time, which is strange given the context of the usual loserdom of Monday-afternoon drinking.

But there’s something cathartic in it all. Something about embracing how losery, unemployed-and-unemployable-y, beard-y (in one of our cases) we are that seems to sink so down in to depths of inadequacy that it comes out the other side.

To put it simply, Karaoke’s a fucking fun time, but it does feel very lonely to sit at a bar and do it by yourself. With another person, you have a built in audience and with a person Rob you have a playful competition, someone who you can match wits and voices with, trading quibs about the Jason Lees of the world as you flip through looking for the next song.

“I wrote on Jason Lee’s wall the other day, asking him who would win in an emotion-off, him or J.D. Amato.” I told Rob as he flipped through the Hall+Oates section of the Karaoke listings book, several columns deep.

“Jason Lee’s in Iceland right now.” Rob said, without looking up.

“I thought it was funny.” I told him.

“I think they’re both going to be offended.” Rob told me, still not looking up.

“Why?”

“Because they have emotions, Nick! Jeez!” Rob said, looking up. “They’re not robots!”

“How do I know? Jason Lee-bot?”

“Would be balanced out by an Armond White-bot.”

“Good point.” I said.

“Rob!” The Karaoke DJ announced.

“Careful of this one.” I told Rob. “I picked it out.”

Rob shook his head, shook his beard.

It was “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal.

“Now that your rose is in bloom. A light hits the gloom in the gray.” Rob said half-bored after a long session belting.

“Kiss from a Rose.” Rob reads at the end of the song. “Top Karaoke Hits Monthly. 1999. Copyright. Oh.”

The writing fades from the screen as the music channel playing Peter Gabriel comes up to replace it.

“Thoughts on Peter Gabriel?” I asked Rob.

“Did the soundtrack to Last Temptation of Christ. That was good.” Rob commented. “That and Solisbury Hill.”

I nodded as we looked through the books for more songs.

Rob got strep throat the next day.


Friends: A Tragedy in Parts

July 18, 2009

As I clutched my last 24oz Coors Light Tall-Boy can in my hands, I was witness to a sight I’d rather wouldn’t have seen and which I did see for too long a time.

A girl I had just made a “date” with sitting in a young man’s lap in front of me perched between his crotch and his leg, stroking his neck while playing with his necklace, occasionally contorting to kiss parts of his upper torso. In retrospect, it almost seemed more like an absurdist performance, something like out of one of my movies than out of my actual life.

And the young man whose lap my (now former) date was sitting on was none other than my best friend from college, Jonny-Jon-Jon.

Ironically, we were listening to the Human League.

Or maybe not, Jonny-Jon-Jon has a sick sense of humor.

But as I sat there, taking in this spectacle, I moved, intractably for the evening, inward, trying to examine exactly how I might have gotten here and where exactly I fucked up so bad.

***

My other best friend from college, the second one I ever made was a guy named John Weeke.

As I often recount, I met John Weeke my second day of college on an NYU-sponsored tour of Chinatown. We must have been destined to be friends back then or at least the result of good planning by the NYU Freshman Welcome Week committee.

We were both there to see if we could scam good food off of NYU, we both already knew Chinatown. We both admired video games and anime–to lesser or greater extent: John was obsessed with the works of Miyazaki, while I had a broader range of anime interest that encompassed but didn’t stop with the Master. I talked a lot, walking around Chinatown, John talked a little. I admired him for his thoughtfulness, he msut have admired me for my freedom and goofiness with words. What’s more is that in him I saw someone close enough to myself, yet different enough, that I could aspire to the good qualities that he had, that I could learn something from him–and maybe him from me.

We spent Freshman year in a haze of acrid smoke, smuggled beers and lengthy (psuedo)intellectual conversations, held sitting in the pathetic prison block dorm rooms that were assigned to us as freshmen. Eventually, John accrued what we called “the harem”, a group of women who were all pretty interesting in their own way, who all were united by a common cause: wanting to fuck John. I marveled endlessly at this phenomenon. “I hate to tell you this, John.” I would tell him one day, trying to riddle-me-this, over a walk down to Gray’s Papaya. “I hate to tell you this, but you’re just not that much more attractive than me, no offense. How the fuck do you have all these women on you?” But John would shrug and say little. Maybe a lethargic “I dunno” to complement his slightly-stooped tall-and-curly gait.

Fast-forward to recently, John and I had fallen out of touch.

As was the plan, thought up upon meeting, we had complimented each other well in film school. We held parties, we lived together, we collaborated on projects. At least two of my films (The Big Night and I Wanna Hold Your Hand) were co-directed with John, a result of both my admiration for his sense of aesthetic and my terror of facing the lack of my own. He was always around to throw ideas off of, to talk about baseball, to want to catch a few beers or a good bottle of wine. After Freshman year, we decided to move in together as roommates in Carlyle.

But there were problems as there always are. John was always short on cash and he sometimes put me in a tough spot, allowing me to pay for things that we really should have split. There were creative differences, the insistence uniformly of all my teachers that I should find my own voice and that my reliance on John was a crutch. There were relationship issues as I kept making new friends who were sometimes vibrant, sometimes crazy but mostly active, while John seemed to reclude into his crowd of, what I deemed then, unsavory characters who I credited for John’s withdrawal into himself and to drugs and alcohol. Finally, there were personality clashes, John was often cold and calculating, something that had served him well in a life where people weren’t always looking out for his best interests, as they had for me growing up, but which made him at sometimes a fairweather friend.

It’s difficult to describe a friendship and impossible to do it in so few words. All I can give is a sense of a bits of how I feel about it looking back.

The last time I saw him was about a year-and-a-half after we moved out to separate places from our place together in dorms. It was a party for his graduation, a semester early. We hadn’t been involved, by that time, in each other’s projects for a while. John had made his Junior film, his last, with a skeleton crew with only one person I knew, while I had just shown him the script for my advanced, which he gave me kind words for, saying it was “the best thing you’ve ever written”.

It was at a superhero bar in the scummy part of Brooklyn he was living in and I think I might have written about it then, though I don’t care to look back.

We talked a while, while his irrepressible father filmed the event and, for once again, John was the life of the party, the center of the storm, amidst free PBRs and cheap shots.

There’s a lot of moments I could mention, good and bad. How we stayed at his house in Rome one summer while I wrestled one of his many dogs, one of the first times I overcame my fear of them. How we would sometimes go down to Chinatown repeating the ritual of ice cream and food I had founded with my friend Frank. How he would ask for a six pack and then pretend like he thought I was buying it when we got to the store. How he left with a girl I liked a lot, sitting heart-broken in my room on Valentine’s Day. How we made some of things I’m most proud of artistically in my life together and how we laughed the whole way through it, chuckling and giving each other silly high fives.

I got too drunk at that graduation party of his, kissed a girl I shouldn’t have and haven’t heard from him since.

And that was it.

***

Jonny-Jon-Jon, not to be confused with John Weeke, has been well documented on this blog.

On a crazy voyage we once took walking across the Williamsburg bridge, we had once stopped in to a bar I used to frequent, Goodbye Blue Monday, to hear the live music on a late Tuesday evening. The songs were uniformly terrible, but I had at least sympathy for the group of 17-18 year-olds from Baltimore who had driven up all this way this morning so they could play for free at a shitty bar in Bushwick. The band was called “Sharks with Knives”, which the lead singer, who looked like a chubby-clone of the lead singer of Green Day, described as his “solo project”.

The worst stuff we heard there though was a black dude in drag wailing the words “White Pussy” over and over again, over an equally wailing piano.

“This is fucking terrible.” I commented to Jonny-Jon-Jon, sitting at our table.

Jonny-Jon-Jon answered non-commitally, flipping through a late 50s LIFE magazine, several of which were scattered throughout the bar.

“What are you talking about?” Jonny-Jon-Jon said. “Pitchfork would call this: haunting.”

If John Weeke was a friend because he was relatable, Jonny-Jon-Jon was one because he was different; a character or caricature representing a sort of ur-cool, or, as I’m sure he would put it: “I am the Neil Cassady of my generation.”

He isn’t, but I always had a good time hanging around him, or at least usually did, or at least the good times outbalanced the bad.

Jonny-Jon-Jon and I had met the first day of orientation, when he put on his name-tag, “Jonny-jon-jon-jon-jon-jon-jon-jonjon” and given my wise-assedness, I decided to keep calling him that, or at least an abbreviated version and it mostly stuck.

The nights I spent hanging out with him managed a difficult interplay: he was certainly harder into everything than I was, drugs, alcohol, women, but I made a good straight man to his craziness and maybe I needed a bit more craziness in my comparatively button-down life while he needed someone who wasn’t such a goddamn phony.

Mostly I saw my nights with him as miniature movies: stories I witnessed with minimal audience participation. But they usually involved pretty girls, crazy times, darkly little bars and other things out of songs by The Doors, who I found out the other day, were film students from UCLA.

Usually, I’d come out with him on a random whim or phone-call. He’d be flaky and not come, or I’d expect his flakiness and not show up, but when we managed to get together, we both seemed to have an appropriately fun time for our respective fun levels. I had my boundaries (Don’t depend on him, expect randomness, don’t go anywhere near any girl he’s ever been with) and usually they held up well, to the effect that I got to get out a little more and hangout/have a good time with someone different than me, but with mutual respect/admiration of sorts within our own confines.

At least, usually.

I read in the New Yorker the other day that the singer I had seen that night at Goodbye Blue Monday, M. Lamar (a name I found out by searching “white pussy” and ignoring spurious results) was featured by a critic in that magazine as “haunting” among other raves. I called up Jonny-Jon-Jon to tell him in disbelief when he told me that “was I still coming tonight”, Diana was going to be there.

***

“This sounds bad.” I told Ashna. “Diana. This sounds like a bad idea.”

Diana, best remembered here, was a girl among the line of girls who had previously broken my heart and also just about the only girl that had caused Jonny-Jon-Jon and I to cross swords. Jonny-Jon-Jon and I had both falled for her while she was wearing ridiculous big-hipster glasses and a big human smile at a party that Jonny-Jon-Jon was bartending. I got into a balloon fight with her which she didn’t remember before I lost her in the crowd. I told Jonny-Jon-Jon to look out for her and let me know if he saw her, at which he saluted, shook and afterwards took her home and good and fucked her. They dated for a while and though Jon was aware of the story, Diana didn’t remember me, though I of course, remembered her. My friends advised me to forget about it, but as Jon and her relationship came apart, as relationships with someone who described himself as “the Neal Cassady of our generation” are prone to do, she started spending time with me and Diana is very beautiful and very open and she has a good smile and I didn’t have a chance. I fell for her hard as she spent time with me and my friends, went out drinking, giving me a playful impromptu kiss-on-the-cheek before running away one night. It’s funny how small things like that can seem so significant to a person, compared to the sudden insignificance of the hours of sex and affection she’d lavished on my best friend.

After the incident described in the aformentioned post, I had stopped contacting her, a measure taken to protect myself as much as anything else. Diana was too happy-go-lucky, too pretty, too nice, I could forgive her too easily, but it wouldn’t be good for me. What’s more, I couldn’t even trust or gauge her on how she felt, which made me feel even worse about myself, that I was blowing up any sense of scale of us having been involved.

But when she started contacting me again recently, I at first didn’t reply, but then feeling came flooding back to me, all the good moments, how my friends envied me for hanging around this beautiful girl and that kiss down near Bed-Stuy and the shortness of breath I felt around her. First I asked about a movie but when our schedules didn’t sync she asked about a “dinner date” and it was all I could do to cotnain myself as if nothing had happened.

“Relax.” Ashna told me. “It’ll be okay.”

Ashna, another best-friend, my third chronologically perhaps at college, was someone who I shared an emotional bond with. Another beautiful girl, smart as a whip and fierce with her reasons and feelings, Ashna and I shared both a similar work ethic but also a predilection for difficult emotional situations. Throughout the years we’d known each other, we’d remained somehow platonic friends, a difficult feat for me with women. We were always going through though, our own personal earthquakes, through which we maintained our friendship by stabilizing and cleaning up each other’s tremors. By supporting each other and just being there, corny as it sounds.

“i’m just worried.” I told Ashna.

Jonnny-Jon-Jon already had a tendency to place me inconveniently between him and his lady-friends as a sort of cat-and-mouse exercise, but with Diana it would be especially uncomfortable.

“I just don’t want to be put in a bad position.” I told her. “I just don’t want to be stuck there.”

Ashna looked into my eyes as I sat on the edge of my bed while she kneeled beside me. It had been a tough day for her too, full of family craziness and interpersonal angst and self-loathing, qualities I could all relate to, too well.

“Don’t worry.” She told me. “I’ll be here for you. I won’t let that happen.”

Impulsively I picked her up, her light 5-foot-frame easy to manipulate, “portable” I’d called her and smushed her on top of my bed.

“Thank you.” I told her. “Thank you for being there for me.”

I stifled an impulse. I felt sad. I wanted to tell Ashna that the way I felt emotionally fulfilled smushing her on top of my bed, talking, being there for one another, is the feeling I had been chasing looking for a girlfriend or a partner in my life. The idea of an emotional intimacy, of knowing someone and listening to them and knowing how to be there for each other in ways that are subtle and significant. I wanted to tell her that, but I didn’t want to ruin the moment by making it “off” or “weird”.

“Don’t worry.” Ashna told me. “I’m coming with you to Jon’s tonight. And if anything gets weird. We can leave.”

***

“I think I’m gonna stay a while.” Ashna told me boozily from the top of McKibben roof.

After the horror of having to observe Diana, the girl I’d made a date with, make out with my best friend (JJJ)’s neck while my other best friend, Ashna, took swigs from a bottle of Wild Turkey 101, the night had progressed to a party at the McKibben lofts, close to Jonny-Jon-Jon’s place.

At this point, I was just pretty depressed and out of it. I was done with my beers, done with drinking. We had showed up at the party and it was hot, sticky and humid. Instantly, people showed up I knew and knew I didn’t like and suddenly there felt like no reason to stay and invite a worse-off night.

Ashna assured me she could take care of herself. I just left, a disappointed blank.

Ashna, Jonny-Jon-Jon and, mortifyingly enough, Diana had come up to me throughout the evening seeing if I was ok.

“Yes.” I’d give them back and continue staring flat-forward.

To Ashna’s credit, she noticed how the shit with Diana was hurting me and told me repeatedly: “Don’t sweat it. You’re better than her.”

To Ashna’s demerit, she told me the next morning how she had made out with Diana after I left and said with an excited lilt in her voice that her and Diana were planning on “being friends”.

“You know, to put it bluntly, I’m vaguely horrified by that.” I told Ashna, blunty, vaguely horrified.

“Yeah, I guessed that.” Ashna said.

I ended the conversation and furiously ate the plate of fries in front of me, stuffing them into my mouth, like that could shut up my brain.

I had left last night telling Jonny-Jon-Jon at least what was on my mind: That I shouldn’t have come tonight, that he shouldn’t have invited Diana and that if he was going to invite her he certainly shouldn’t have invited me.

I told him, frankly, “this whole thing is too fucked”.

He agreed.

And I did too.

***

I sent a message over Facebook the other day to Margaux, John Weeke’s sister. I had always had a soft spot for her, in a brotherly way, since she was an outspoken, blunt red-head–something I could get behind.

My message was simple asking if she knew where John had gone since no one I knew had heard from him. John had become increasingly isolated in the months before he disappeared of everyone’s radar, breaking off contact with my friends, just as I broke off contact with what remained of his. But I began to wonder to myself what might have happened to him as my friends I continued to flail about, like beached fish in a post-collegiate atmosphere.

She sent me a nice, prompt message back.

John was fine, she told me, happy. He was working as a sous-chef in Alask and managing a trailer park, where he lived.

It sounded like a good life for John, a quiet loner who had loved Alaska when he went there for its rugged independence, strongly resembling his own.

It sounded like somewhere he might be happy.

Somewhere he might have started over again.

She told me that he was responsive to text and email and that he had gotten a new number. (He had deleted his FaceBook and his old number didn’t work.)

She said if I contact him if I wanted.

I told her that would be fine, just to tell him that I had asked.

He had a life to get to.

I had mine.


For The Kiddies

July 7, 2009

ALSO: Courtesy of my Feitelogram station on Pandora:

This is wonderful.

Thank you.


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

May 6, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Carpe Diem–Seize the Carp.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re all gay now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I told her I’d talk to her later.

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

“Carpe diem. Seize the Carp.”

***

CITY BURGER

#2- Burger, Fries and Milkshake- $12.95

Corner of 39th St and Broadway

1237NQRWS to 42nd St-Times Square


Petty Things, Lincoln (b)Logs and Jersey Sleep-Over-Time

March 20, 2009

I’m pretty sure Tom Petty just sucks.

I mean, maybe not that he “just sucks”, but that’s he’s just, well, a mediocre musician.

To call him a poor man’s Dylan feels almost insulting to Dylan, but you can’t help making the comparison given the stylized singing and the bouts with the harmonica. Sure, he’s a little more country too, just as Springsteen’s a little more rock-and-roll, but the comparison’s still there.

He’s just not very good. His lyrics are kind of vague or boring or just weird.

Like for instance “Won’t Back Down”. Alright, so we know that you “won’t back down”. You won’t be “pushed around”. You’ll “stand your ground”. And also, again, you “won’t back down”.

Well, I mean, that’s all well and good, but really, who the fuck cares?

You know when Dylan disses someone he gives them a poetic roast. In fact sometimes it feels like just about half his songs are just hater-ballads. Here you just say you won’t back down. Who the fuck is asking you to back down? Me, maybe.

We know in his songs there’s an “American Girl” who seems to be very naive, “raised on promises” who then later dumps Tom Petty (presumably because he breaks them, thus the band name–“The Heartbreakers”) which then later causes him to be “Free Falling”, thus we can assume, reneging on his promise of not “backing down”.

But for some reason when “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (one of the most inexplicably terrible music videos I have ever seen) comes on my radio, I can’t turn it off. It’s enjoyable, even it’s about that same “American Girl”, or Weed or America generally speaking.

I have no idea. All I know is that he sucks compared to so many people I listen to. But he’s like a corn husk you can’t get rid of.

As a New Yorker, that befuddles me.

***

As I mentioned, I’ve started blogging for Film Society of Lincoln Center. It’s kind of like working for the man, but the New Directors/New Films festival (the one I’m covering) is a worthy cause and it gives me a chance to do little jumbles about films in a micro-easy form that I can just spout out in 15 minutes and have them ready pressed.

Here’s my newest post on their site, the first one listed if you go to their page as well. Right now, I’m trying to swing a gig interviewing iconoclastic film reviewer Armond White, who is introducing a film there. Unfortunately, my editor is at SXSW (a place I’d love to be right now) so we’ll see if she can get back to me in time. Otherwise, check out the festival (or at least my stuff).

***

For the next three nights after this one, I’ll be in a land where zombies walk the earth enslaving debased humans as their vassals; some for menial labor and others for nourishment, farmed for their flesh before their bones are tossed casually into lakes of chemical refuse, melting instantly as they hit the surface of the viscous pools.

This place is, of course, New Jersey.

The shoot became progressively jersey-er as I found out more about it. First the director, a friend, begged me to come on as Script Sup, which I told him I probably couldn’t. Then I said I could because I like the guy and he’s working for me later.

Then I found out he was sort-of-directing-it-sort-of-not.

Then I found out that I wouldn’t get to meet the director till set.

Then I found out we had half a crew.

Then I found out I would have to sleep during the daytime in Jersey as well.

Sigh.

But I hold out hope.

It’s hard to be hopeful facing 2 nights in Jersey, but I shanghai’d my friends into coming on set with me last night telling the director “get them drunk enough and they’ll come” and, luckily, my scheme was a success.

So at worst I’ll be in Hell with Friends, which is not so much of a hell at all.

But those sleep-needy daytimes in Jersey.

They’re sending shivers down my spine.

***

Finally, an update.

My frien Lauren Hamilton is one of the two best comedy writers of my age I’ve met and a fine-looking woman, who I was very disappointed upon meeting her to find out she was a lezzie.

“You sure?” I asked her. “You even tried? Cause, I mean. Well, you know. Might be fun.”

“Been there done that.” She told me.

End of story.

I call her Boss now, most times, since she cast me in a web pilot.

But now she’s got her own thing going on in LA, so I’m adding it to my blogroll.

Think of her as a black, hip, lesbian counterpart to my blog.

(That’s fucking impossible.)

But actually, it’s just a soul in the world trying to find love, meaning and the right “your mom” joke from time-to-time.

Enjoy.


In Which Our Hero is Defeated by an Evil but Quite Nice and Effective Multi-National Corporation.

March 16, 2009

The title says it all really.

The ghetto-subway station was kind of awkward on the ride back, as it was me and a guy with some squash rackets for white people in the station and between the two of us I don’t know who was honkier.

I was on my way back from an afternoon of post-hangover ESPN (unusual) and regressive nerdy behavior with some cool-nerdos from back in the day.

The day of gaming had left me somewhat incapacitated. Though I had once had a profound lack of ability to tell what sinuses were, I felt a tingling somewhere near the front of my face and a strange wooziness, probably resultant from my encounter with an amorous cat in Rob’s house.

It was Rob, the owner of the house/foreclosed insurance brokerage we were gaming in, who had advised me not to take out my iPhone in the 21 Street-Queensbridge F station, but really, sadly, the iPhone gave me a sense of security and something to concentrate on other than my sense of racial tension.

It was then I noticed that my iPhone headphones were broken, strangely, in such a way that the left speaker would not play any sound, but the little “mini-surround” upper-speaker on that same headphone would. This caused much jostling and sideways-ear-sticking on the ride home from Queens and built in me a determination: I was going to go give Apple a piece of mind.

After all, this was actually the second pair of iPhone apple headphones I’d bought. I mean, the first ones had worked for like 6-8 months, but I had just bought this new pair a month prior. Scandal! Outrage! New headphones were 29 dollars and I wouldn’t stand for such extortion. I rounded up my friends and token Asians, Matt Chao and Kent Hu to go and storm the Apple store like one might storm the Bastille!

But then we were kind of hungry so we went to Pluck U.

Pluck U is a cheap-ola chicken-place over on campus which specializes in “Buffalo-ing” things. Wings, Fingers, Boneless Wings, Cold Pieces of Turkey, Veggie-Soy Wings, Grilled Chicken, Sammies–you name it; they’ll buffalo it.

I got them to Buffalo my “Fresh Chicken Sandwich” ($4.25) and had that with the medium from their list of sauces. The lady by the counter seemed somewhere between bemused and annoyed at my indecisiveness trying to figure out whether Buffalo sauce might clash with mayo or oil and vinegar, before she reminded me that the sandwich had Buffalo sauce on it–no other sauce was required.

The sandwich was yummy, fried and indeed, covered in Buffalo sauce and came with some decent lettuce on a seeded hamburger-bun. What’s more, the price was right and after stealing some wings from Chao, who is the sort of guy who leaves nothing remaining of his wings but clean, polished bones, we were off to the Apple store, to give them a piece of our minds, to declare war on shitty headphones and flashy silhouetted musical numbers!

But then we wanted Ice Cream.

Emack and Bolio’s was on the way after all and none of us were really in a hurry. I mean it was like, still light out. And stuff.

Emack’s is a Bostonian chain and thus I suppose I should bear great hatred towards them, but the fact remains: it’s some damn good ice cream. I got a scoop of “The Original Oreo” on a wafer (not sugar) cone ($4.00) and ate it up in several bites. My friends got some Butter Pecan and another flavor that slipped my mind. The Oreos were whole, embalmed and embedded in the cookies-and-cream ice-cream and the consistency was somewhere between Gelato and Edy’s Homestyle; light, but just about creamy.

Still, anyone who calls a milkshake a “frappe” should go hang themselves out by the front porch.

But not before they serve me, thank you, that was very good.

When we finally ended up at the Apple store, we were set (and full).

I went up with full spead and bearing to the friendly-looking lady in the orange shirt.

“Hello.” I told her. “My name is Nick.”

“Hi Nick.” she said warmly.

“Hello.” I responded.

An awkward pause.

“Well, so I bought these headphones from your store a month or so ago and, um. They don’t work. So, they are like the second pair I bought after the first one broke.”

“Oh no.” She commented sympathetically.

“Yeah,” I offered. “So, I was thinking you could exchange them.”

She smiled.

“Well, you know what, I’m sorry to tell you this…”

The wind-up.

“But you didn’t have to go buying them. We exchange them here for free. We’re actually out of the old headphones, so how about we just give you a brand new pair with an upgrade for free. Just go skip the line over there and we’ll have them for you in a second.”

I was near-instantly given a set of new headphones, these ones with a microphone and a new innovative remote that controlled volume, song choice and answering and ending calls. All with the click of a handy near-neck button.

And then I was out the door, dumbstruck.

In a minute-thirty flat, I had gone from a mild, but inspiring outrage, to something cool and free in my hands standing stupidly outside the door.

It was all anti-climax. And my Asian entourage abandoned me. Chao was off to see his Grandma from Hong Kong. Kent couldn’t Wii since he had a script to write. I was Asian-less.

What’s worse, I was enthralled by the new headset. I could press once to pause a song or play a song or pick up a call or end a call. Twice to skip a song. Three times in succession to go back one. I played with it as I walked home. I called my father to tell him how cool it was.

The failure was utter and complete.

I couldn’t even have a proper walk of shame. I was too thrilled. As I played “American Girl” followed by “The Only Living Boy in New York” and skipped the BeeGees for some Jeffrey Lewis, I forgot that I had been vanquished by an evil, sleek, hip multi-national corporation and that I was it’s tool.

But at least now I could enjoy those cool commercials with the silhouettes.

But my sinuses tingled in remorse.

***

PLUCK U

“Buffalo-ed Fresh Chicken Sandwich”- $4.25

Thompson St bet Bleecker and West 3rd.

ACEBDFV to West 4th.

EMACK AND BOLIO’S

“The Original Oreo” in a Wafer cone- $4.00

Houston between West Broadway and Wooster.

BDFV6 to Broadway-Lafayette.