Monday, March 31, 2008
Just the other night, Jess and I were heading home from Greenwhich Village after a pleasant evening full of art and Indian food when we slowly became aware that one of "them" was on the train we were on. Having lived in the city for some time now, I've learned the art of avoiding "that" train car. As the train comes to a stop, you casually watch as the cars pass, noting the passenger density, gaging if you'll be able to get a seat or not. Then, you see a car that is half-empty. This train has a bum on it, so you avoid it. Sometimes, however, the trains are so busy you just can't tell, and you don't notice you're on a train with one of "them" until the doors are closed and you've opened your book. Anyway, this particular person, a man claiming to be a veteran, was walking up and down the car, shouting both coherent things, like "Easter Sunday!" and "It is better to give than to receive!", and incoherent things, like "Muthafuher" and "Take a plane!!!" He started on one side of the car and I was on the other. Eventually he made his way to my side and stationed himself diagonally across from me. I buried my nose deeper in Mann. He let loose a pair of thick loogies which made an ungodly sound on the soiled subway floor. He then resumed shouting and while he was jingling his panhandle, some coins bounced out. He marched forward to pick them up, bellowing to a kid in a pair of New Balances to "Move, Punk!" Once he had collected his lost coins, he left that side of the train feeling sufficiently guilty and marched to the other side, whereupon he threatened some female passengers thus: "I'm-a cut you up!" Not clear on the sincerity or really the direction of this threat, Jess and I switched cars at the next stop.
Another time Jess and I were walking down 5th Ave in Park Slope and we were passing a bank. A terribly loud, bulging, shabby, oldish woman with stringy brown hair and beady black eyes was hollering at people not to help her, but simply to give her money. As I walked passed, on cue, she yelled, "Give me some money." Slightly shaken by her hoarse, dire voice, Jess and I continued walking only to hear her yell, "88, feed me!" I was assuming she was talking to the guy in the Michael Irvin jersey, so I kept walking. To my surprise, I found myself terribly angry that this woman had the nerve to do what she was doing - that is, making people painfully aware of their advantages in life. Not only that, but of what they are wearing or how they look (she called me "Handsome"). Jess asked rhetorically why this woman wasn't outside a bank in the Upper West Side of Manhatten or some other area where there's a lot more wealth. I say rhetorical because the answer is readily obvious; someone would complain and she would be promptly removed. Then she would be dumped in Brooklyn, where she can solicit freely because a.) no one has enough free mental space to care enough that someone is yelling at them and b.) the police have far more important things to do - like gangbusting and prostitute-ring-ousting - than to remove an obnoxious beggar. How is it that this person exists? Is she just crazy? Or is it a symptom of a much larger problem?
Between these two encounters, I've come to a loose, metaphoric conclusion. You know how when you make sugar cookies, you roll out the dough, and then you use various shapes to cut out your cookies? Well, people like me or you or the businessman on 6th or the hooligan on Franklin are all defined shapes. The "others" or, for the lack of a more accurate term, bums, are the extra dough that isn't quite a shape. It has potential to be made back into a shape, but there's always a shapeless remainder. Insofar as this makes any sense, these people become foils, or mirrors. They show us what is wrong with the whole baking process, and I don't blame them for hating me for not giving them money.
Perhaps I've been too hard on these people. Perhaps they have severe mental problems and are really just tragically out of touch with reality and I should be sad that no one has been able to or chosen to help them in the necessary ways. I believe this could be the case. But then I think of this other homeless man I've seen several times all over the city who pushes around a shopping cart full of his effects. Dressed like an urban monk of some kind, he curls up on two-seaters beside car-to-car passageways with his cart parked by his side. Swilling an unlabeled two-liter bottle, he doesn't say anything, and doesn't smell. He settles in and closes his eyes. As far as I'm concerned, either this man is nuts, or he knows something I've yet to learn.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Clark and Michael
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found
In the liner notes to One Kiss Can Lead to Another, Cookies lead singer Margaret Ross describes the production direction she received while recording; “Gerry [Goffin] asked for me to sing not too loud, just natural. I think it was just two takes.” Lyrically little more than a repetitive litany of love’s unexpected merits, “I Never Dreamed” clocks in at just over two and a half minutes, but the gentle simplicity works to hypnotic effect. Lyrics that might seem trite and uninspired on paper become passionate and sincere in the context of the song. Tight three-part harmonies intertwine with a sweetly persistent guitar hook, and in the bridge Ross’s voice takes on a new hint of urgency as she sings the almost defiantly simple lines, “He tells me I’m pretty / And then I feel pretty / He says I make him happy / And then I feel happy.” Love is the consistent preoccupation of the girl group genre but here all of the pretense, drama, and utopian yearning is eschewed in favor of affirmation and acceptance, begging the question ‘what should a love song really be about?’
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Looking at it one way I guess I could say that all my life I've been engaged in temporary work. I've never felt an eternal commitment to any sort of position that I may have taken but that's beside the point; these past three months I have made a commitment, a commitment to be fleeting in my actions. Invest myself in something? Pfft! To all those 'building a career' I ask you; are you reaching glorious heights or are you digging yourself into a ditch?* Now when people ask me my occupation I say "Temporary Worker!"
Certainly it has its downsides but, over the course of my various placements I've learned, it has its upsides as well. The greatest of all aspects about temporary work is that you know it's going to come to an end. There's no need to worry about making a good impression and saving face in anticipation of seeing the same people five days a week for the rest of your foreseeable future. Not at all! All parties involved know that after the two weeks-or however long your placement might be-you'll never see each other again and if you do you just pretend that you don't recognize each other. The best perk of this particular advantage is that, knowing the end is in sight, that's theres no way to save or prolong your job, you can just as easily tell the boss to "Shove it!" Haha! Isn't it amazing to know you have that ability. It is a liberating feeling to know that whenever you want you've got an escape hatch readily available. It's as easy as one, two....no...it's even easier than one, two, three. It's just two, two words, "I quit."
Moving on another great perk is that no one expects much of you. They think I must be a dunce-I have successfully avoided all words three-syllables or greater for a good many months. Continuing, because they think me to be incompetent I've avoided having to make workplace decisions that will affect the outcome of any situation, and if the situation begs me to make a decision, I don't, I just say, "I'm a temp!," and then I go get someone. The only decisions I've made in the past few days has been do I have one or two squirts of cream in my coffee.
Do you like lacking responsibility and learning how to do new dull things? Well temping is great for you! You don't have to learn how to do any new dull things, you get to stick with your favorites! No one trains you how to do more than two tasks, anything more than that and, cost-analysis wise, they'll be putting more time and effort into you than you're worth to them. At my two prior assignments, rather than teaching how to do necessary tasks they let me sit at the computer, playing on the internet, listening to music and reading digitalized books. The life!
So for everyone, temping isn't the only option but oh my it's a grand one.
Young Mavis had the vocal talent to be a star in any genre but in "I'm Coming Home (parts 1 &2)" it becomes clear that no other genre but gospel could ever be as deserving of her formidable gift. Pops Staples is an impressive vocalist in his own right, but when paired with his daughter's other-worldly contralto his own voice becomes deferential, almost too innocent and inexperienced to do anything but provide only the most modest support and harmony. The song opens with a few ominous, echoing notes from his guitar and for the next seven minutes the song belongs to Mavis as she exhorts the audience to notify heaven of her imminent arrival. For Mavis, salvation isn't a desire but an inevitability. A child who is "born to die," she sings of her ascent to heaven as a triumphant homecoming, and her unwavering self-assurance is almost intimidating to listen to. Death holds no fear in this song, and Mavis seems to be only passing time until she regains her rightful place in heaven. As the song develops, a hundred Arethas for one Mavis begins to sound like a bargain. We may listen to Mavis Staples sing, but Mavis Staples sings to God.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
My friend Jacob pointed THIS SITE out to me. I thought some of you might find it amusing / uncomfortably familiar. There is a pretty extensive archive of these comics if you have a few minutes to go through them
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
1. Anna’s Tacqueria – This place absolutely never disappoints. You can get a fantastic bean and rice burrito for under $5. The service is fast, the ingredients are fresh, and the servers don’t speak English. I do not have enough good things to say about this place. You can find Anna’s at Coolidge Corner, Winchester St/Summit Ave., the MIT student center, and Davis Square. There may be more, but I haven’t found them yet.
2. Union Bar and Grille – I ate an appetizer here that I will never forget: Salad of mixed tender lettuces with shaved fennel with radicchio, cucumber, and sheep’s milk cheese. It may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. This place is in the swanky South End.
3. Asmara – I had never had Ethiopian food before, and I ended up enjoying it. You sit around a big wicker table thing and eat with your fingers by picking up food with little pieces of soft, flat bread. My friends say the bread has the consistency of human skin; I guess I go that feeling, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. A fairly inexpensive place in Central Square.
Close calls: Fajitas ‘n’ ‘Ritas near Park Street, Mike’s in Davis Square, RedBones in Davis Square
1. The Publick House – This is a bar right down the street from my house in Washington Square. There is a three-page beer menu and they have imports from all over the world and have a great selection of microbrews from all over the country. You can get sampler paddles with four half pints and cheese boards that feature a wedge of imported cheese, homemade mustard, bread, and mini pickles.
2. People’s Republic – This is a Soviet-themed bar between Harvard and Central Squares. Darts in the corner, hammer and sickles all over the place, and a slightly unsettling lack of windows really brings the place together.
3. The Burren – An Irish bar in Davis Square. On any given night you can hear local musicians and Irish immigrants playing authentic music in the corner in one of the booths. I also saw a homeless guy play the guitar and sing in a (more) drunk-sounded Tom Waits style. It was pretty awesome.
Close calls: Grendel’s Den in Harvard Square, Shay’s Pub and Wine Bar in Harvard Square
1. The Public Gardens – It’s just a nice place to walk around. The swans and the swan boats make me smile.
2. The bank of the Charles by the Esplanade– I sit here and watch the boats on warm days. One windy day I saw three people fall in the water and one boat capsize.
3. The Harbor Walk – Every time I walk out here on a warm day there is an extravagant wedding going on. More than half the time, the groom is a sailor. I always want to sing “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).”
Close calls: Boston Common, Beacon Hill
1. The Top of the Hub – There’s nothing like seeing the city from fifty stories up! It really helps show how messed up the city layout of Boston is. There is also a bar up there that makes very strong gin and tonics.
2. The Boston Aquarium – One word: Penguins
3. The cemeteries downtown – I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved old cemeteries, and the ones in Boston are some of the oldest in the country. John Hancock’s grave is phallic – very, very phallic.
Close calls: MFA, The Freedom Trail
1. Noam Chomsky – Kinda the be-all-end-all of Boston thinkers. My cognitive science group got him to come talk to us (www.bsocs.org). He’s a very meek and timid man when you meet him, but when he gets up to speak, he is totally willing to call you stupid in front of two hundred people – one of my friends got it bad from him. He wears his jeans hiked up very, very high.
2. Steven Pinker – He’s another big guy in language from Boston. He just wrote a book called “The Stuff of Thought” which deals with profanity, sexual language, and innuendo. He gave a talk at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square and said every dirty word I had ever heard in my life, and then some.
P.S., Tabernacle is the worst swear word you can say in Quebec according to Pinker. Can anyone verify this?
3. Dan Dennett – A philosopher at Tufts who looks like Santa Claus. I’m not a hundred percent in love with his particular views, but he seems like a guy who you could go have a beer with. I shook his hand at a conference – he has a firm shake for an old guy, much firmer than Chomsky’s.
Close calls: Ray Jackendoff at Tufts, Daniel Wegner at Harvard
Monday, March 24, 2008
4 for $2 at most grocery stores
I’m all about the fruit cup these days and Dole delivers in a big way. Dole manufactures 13 varieties of fruit cup ranging from standard fruit cocktail to more elaborate parfait combos, but I’m stuck on their tropical fruit variety. The DTFC is a blend of pineapples and red and yellow papayas in pineapple juice. I’m not sure if I would recognize a papaya in the wild, but in the fruit cup format they provide the perfect color complement and flavor foil to the livelier pineapple. Instead of syrup, Dole uses natural fruit juice, which leaves you half a cup of quality juice to sip at your leisure. I like to team the DTFC up with a Sunbelt Fudge-Dipped granola bar, crackers or a banana and use the shot of fruit juice to chase down the other snack. No one wants to look like a hobo eating out of a can, and from a style standpoint, the DTFC has a sleek and classy minimalist design. There are no logos or nutritional info stamped on the cups themselves and from a distance the clear plastic could be mistaken for an actual tiny bowl of fruit.
Verdict: If you’re looking for a between meal snack to keep you going, the 4oz cup doesn’t stand on its own, but as a companion snack it has the versatility to go with either sweet or salty options. It’s slightly pricier than larger canned fruit products, but the quality of fruit and portability make it worthwhile. Bravo, Dole, bravo.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Most Enjoyed of 2007
1. Atonement – I sat next to an old woman who cried steadily through the last third of the film, pausing only to throw a look of stern disapproval at me when I opened a package of peanut butter crackers. How could I eat while true love suffered?
2. Rescue Dawn – reminded me how wonderful Herzog is; he simultaneously has the most discomfiting and most beautiful style of any director out there.
3. No Country for Old Men – There was nothing I didn’t like about this movie. Loved the soundtrack.
4. Eastern Promises – Say what you want about the Daniel Day Lewis squint and glower-a-thon in There Will be Blood, Mortensen’s terrifyingly charismatic gangster was the best performance this year.
5. Lars and the Real Girl – You have to be a cold, cynical S.O.B not to think this is charming.
6. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – I realized while watching this that – aside from Trey Parker and Matt Stone movies – I’ve never seen a musical in theaters. Maybe I enjoyed this just because it was different and fun.
7.The Bourne Ultimatum – Bourne action films have never let me down. Teaches other franchises important lessons about consistent character development as a means of obscuring the fact that you’re making shit up as you go along (Pirates and Spiderman take note)
8. There Will Be Blood – This needed another hour’s worth of movie in the middle to really be amazing. I was frustrated and annoyed by a lot of this movie, but it stuck with me in a good way.
9. 2 Days in Paris – this isn’t a great movie, but as far as comedy/romances go it was one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite a while.
10. Grindhouse – going to the movies should be fun! Watching these two films separately at home in their uncut versions isn’t an especially enticing prospect, but the entire experience was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve spent at the movies in a long time.
ALSO (ALMOST) GREAT: Live Free or Die Hard; Lust, Caution; Michael Clayton; Hot Fuzz; 3:10 to Yuma; Zodiac
SURPRISE ENJOYMENTS: Black Snake Moan, Waitress, Hot Fuzz
DISAPPOINTING FINALES TO PREVIOUSLY ENJOYABLE SERIES: Pirates of the Caribbean 3; Spiderman 3
DIDN'T GET THE JOKE: Superbad; Knocked-Up
THE WORST: Agnew and I walked out of Halloween and demanded our money back (free passes were given – I spent mine on the marginally more watchable American Gangster) but the disgust I felt that night pales in comparison to the emotions stirred up by another ill-fated cinema excursion. Dave, Nate, and I snuck into Juno one night and were immediately punished with a 90 minute onslaught of sickening Gilmore Girls meets Pulp Fiction hipster palaver. From the second Dwight from the Office refers to Juno as “home skillet” to the soul-crushing moment when 16 yr old Juno’s water breaks and she yells “Thundercats, GO!!” each line of dialogue made me physically flinch in discomfort. I would rather be water boarded than go through that again. I’m already bracing myself for next year’s entry in the big studio formula comedy with clever marketing scheme disguised as critically acclaimed witty and honest independent flick with endearing soundtrack genre.