Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My mom's gallery opening was tonight, and I was pretty proud of her. I had to be, considering the way she's been hyping her show for the last two or three months now, and how it's been years since she got her pottery — or her "artistic clay pieces" — in any sort of exhibition. I went to the opening last night after work, partly to support her and partly to placate her since she's pissed at me for not getting her an anniversary card even though this conversation about a week beforehand:

Me: I'm gonna give you a card for your anniversary.

Mom: I don't want a card.

Me: Okay, then I won't give you a card.
So some mixed messages there.

I've never been to a gallery opening before because, honestly, staring at art gets old real fast and I didn't really know what to wear. I wore a black, black shirt thinking it would make me look either Bohemian or dandruffy or possibly ridiculous. I had no idea. I also had trouble deciding whether my iPod mug-me earphones would make me look hip or conceited. Turns out that what my mom was calling a "gallery" could more accurately be described as the "lobby of a hostel for starving artists, the ex-homeless, and recovering mental patients," so really all I had to do was splatter paint on my jeans and I would've totally fit in. Mom was evidently HIGH coming up with an artistic outfit: she was the fifty-year-old white woman wearing a red silk kimono and I wish my camera-phone took better pictures so you could laugh at her like I did. Mom was offended, which is bullshit because she's not a vampire and mirrors exist.

I totally underestimated how interminably boring this gallery thing would be. For a musical diversion, the curator hired these stoned dudes who lived in the building to randomly bang a drum and puff away into a trumpet and call it "fusion jazz," which made my brain want to leap out of my head and strangle the musicians. And how long does it take to look at something hanging on a wall? Three seconds? Five seconds if it's really interesting? Maybe ten if you're thinking of buying it? So I don't know why the hell I had to spend two whole hours there. I think Mom was supposed to be schmoozing with New York's art literati, who were either not present or blend into an indigent crowd really, really well. I spent a little time by Mom's pottery, looking like I was really into it in the hopes that other people would wander over and want to buy a piece, but that didn't happen. Otherwise, I pretty much just found a bench and sat down with the homeless folks.

First, we need to talk about last night's Prison Break. Is Fox River the shoddiest prison ever built or what? It's like if IKEA built a prison — one riot and the whole damn thing falls apart. It makes Michael Scofield's whole tortuous escape plan seem kind of unnecessary when the front door's pretty much already off its hinges.

I skipped out on my Confidence Course last night because I was afraid Bob Danzig might try to draw attention to me and I, ironically, lack confidence. Damn you, vicious circle of insecurity and shame! Also, I'd like to extend a special thanks to all the friends I called or emailed about heading out to happy hour and maybe getting me drunk before this whole confidence class thing, not one of whom got back to me. Yeah, that makes me feel real good about myself.

I told my therapist — okay, therapists — about the first meeting of the Confidence Course, Bob Danzig, the whole curriculum there and I got back some psychobabble about the place being a "safe environment." The classroom lays under the threat of Bob Danzig congratulating you — yes, you , personally — for some middling acheivement you'd rather he didn't make a big deal out of. Like, last week Sandra asked me what I did in my free time and I told her I was writing the Great American Novel because (a) I already confused her when I told her I "freelanced" and I wasn't eager to use a word like "play" with multiple, ambiguous meanings, and (b) even though she's asking me these personal questions about how I get along with my family and where I met my friends and stuff, I wasn't sure whether the truth — my hobbies include watching television and masturbating chronically — was appropriate here. Anyway, Sandra told the class and then every time Bob Danzig mentioned one of his books he'd give me this very intense kindred-spirit stare that felt like your friends at the bar, physically prodding you to talk to an attractive woman even though she's way out of your league.

Frankly, I don't need to be told how awesome I am. It makes me less confident, actually. I feel like a fraud, with Bob Danzig babbling on about how wonderful it is that I'm a writer even though my writing career is pretty much a long string of frustrations. I'd rather people had low expectations of me and they could be unduly impressed whenever I pull of the most mundane tasks without making a total ass out of myself. That's the mindset that works for me: I have high standards and low expectations and at least I'm rarely disappointed.

Anyway, my therapist compared this whole confidence class to a big mistake I made back in college, learning how to (sort of) swim. Briefly, I started this mortifying swimming class petrified to take my feet off the pool floor and my hands off the pool wall. Three months later, I was comfortable curling into a ball underwater, floating a few inches away from the pool wall, and I felt very good about that. Of course, this was a mistake, because now it gives my therapist and my parents and my conscience this metaphor about how I'm capable of overcoming adversity and my irrational fears, and now I feel like I should conquer my other anxieties even though hiding under a rock is easier.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Art Mobs

My parents bought me a membership to the Museum of Modern Art as a birthday gift, because... apparently I'm into art? I wasn't aware. I'd already seen pretty much all of the important pieces in the museum's collection many times over, and I've long since stopped getting anything out of the art. Mostly I use my membership if I'm in the area and need to go to a clean bathroom. The thing is that most of this modern art —— and I mean the good stuff, Picasso and Pollack and de Kooning and Rauschenberg —— completely stumps me. I have no idea why I should care, and I hate that ArtPhone personal-curator thing the museum rents out to you. I had a friend back in high school who thought those ArtPhones insulted her intelligence: "I have eyes, I have a brain, shut up." Not me. I'm all for the help. But if you're an art historian by trade then you're legally required to be a snooty bastard and talk in an affected British accent, and that just makes me want to clobber a docent with a Brancusi in frustration.

The worst offender, by FAR, are the dickweeds at the Frick Collection, who probably have wet dreams about Fragonard and Ingres. Example: On Fragonard's The Progress of Love, "Ze history of zis paintings is one of ze most powerful evocations of Love in ze history of art.... Together, zey illustrate a love story zuch as any of us, might have known." I wonder how hard the Frick curators looked for someone with the appropriate Rococo French accent for the role of "Fragonard Enthusiast." Nothing particularly substantive, just this ostentatious, effusive outpouring of love for what is admittedly some cheesy artwork.

They're a little better at the MoMA, but they could still turn the arrogance down a lot. "Here, the whole thing deconstructs as you look at it, and the spaces in which the figures are all formed, I think, contributes to that level of uncertainty." Whatever, dude. My brain shuts down whenever it hears the word "deconstructs." The MoMA also encourages its visitors to do something incredibly pointless: you can create your own audio tour of the museum. I don't know why. I guess if listening to people who know what they're talking about isn't good enough for you, you can listen to clueless morons with no idea what they're talking about. That'll be enlightening.

If you are going to the MoMA and you don't want to listen to the jerks who took your twenty dollar admission fee and another ten dollars for coffee on the fifth floor cafe, may I suggest trying Art Mobs from Marymount Manhattan College. They set a few of the paintings to music, which I thought was kind of a waste of time, but the commentary is, for once, honest and critical, passionate about art but not necessarily, instinctively about the art. One of the commentators blames Chagall for the schmaltzy, "reductivist" Fiddler On The Roof sentimentality that characterizes the nostalgia of Judiaca; another group of commentators have a "dramatic interpretation" of Pollock's Echo: Number 25, 1951 where they look for the largest phallus in the painting. It's actually more eye-opening than I've made it sound.

Also, can we stop bringing our goddamn little kids to art museums where sophisticated people like me are trying to become cultured and look at paintings of naked ladies? There were these fucking kids running around the sculpture garden because apparently it's a playground, and they weren't becoming cultured at all. I mean, for twenty bucks, the least they could do at the museum is provide some sort of child check, where you'd put your little brat in a cage with some food and water and then pick them up once you're done. Next stop is gonna be the Museum of Sex, where no one under eighteen's allowed in.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I joined that playwrights' workshop last night, but nothing absurd or humiliating happened there and frankly, I'm shocked. I can't think of anything snarky to write, so instead I'll tell you how I'm totally losing patience with Nip/Tuck, which had its third season premiere last night. I could have easily waited a few more months for the premiere because I still feel dirty from last season's heavy-handed serial rapist sub-plot and because after two seasons, the writers on Nip/Tuck refuse to schedule a lunch with "subtlety." Would we see more crazy doctors slicing off their own faces? Would we see transsexual pederasts make out with their own children? Would we get a new sophomoric aphorism — "beauty is a curse on the world" — because clearly we're idiots who can't quite grasp the point of the show, that constant striving for outer beauty exposes inner ugliness?


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Come Up Here And Say Hello"

The number one fear of Americans is public speaking. You know what Americans' number two fear is? Death. Death! How did death get to be number two? This means that a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. —Jerry Seinfeld

I signed up for this public speaking course because, well, I'm a pussy, and today was the first class. Let me describe the class in one word. Super-awkward. One hyphenated word. Frankly, I could not have been more uncomfortable if I'd peed on myself during class. Well, no, I guess that would have made it more uncomfortable.

It's called "The Confidence Course" and those Madison Avenue geniuses who wrote the New School catalog copy said it's something like "more than a public speaking course, this is a blueprint for life." I lack confidence, so I got sucked in to crap like that. I actually signed up for this other public speaking class at Union County College right when I got out of college, but I chickened out. I mean, it's a useful skill being able to speak in front of a crowd and I would've liked to take the class, but it's not my fault campus security wouldn't validate my parking. I mean, they might have validated it, had I asked, but I didn't. And then there was the Toastmasters meeting that at least wasn't totally mortifying.

I arrived forty minutes early and when I got up to the room, I hid in a corner. Literally. I don't know why — I didn't want to be the first person in the classroom (actually, I didn't want to be in the classroom at all), and I didn't want to stand outside the classroom door like there were ghosts in the room or something. It seemed best to stand alone in an alcove and hope that no one else afraid of ghosts runs into me there. Do we all see why I need to take this Confidence Course thing?

Okay, whatever, that was just me being a jackass. Eventually, I'm in the room and I pick a seat at this big conference table and a few people start trickling in. Then, still maybe fifteen minutes early, in walks The Presence. His name is Bob Danzig and he exudes confidence and sangfroid like I exude a healthy man-smell... er, smell. Bob walks right up to you and looks you in the eye and says, "Hi, I'm Bob Danzig. It's great to see you," even though he's just met me and honestly has no idea whether it is, in fact, great to see me or not. He shakes your hand with this death grip and immediately gets way, way, way too close. I'm more or less set to give him my name, rank, and serial number, "Hi, Jay Harris. Nice to meet you," a little move I perfected in college and Bob wants to know all our hopes and dreams and ambitions.

I should tell you a little about Bob Danzig. Bob was the CEO of Hearst Magazines for a number of years; after he retired, he became a professional lecturer and author of seven inspirational novels including Angel Threads, Every Child Deserves A Champion: Including The Child Within You, and There Is Only One You: You Are Unique In The Universe. That last one, I told to Anne around the time we started dating and she replied, "Thank God," and I knew right then that I loved her. Bob is essentially a live-action Chicken Soup for the Soul book, and as the seriously embarrassed owner of six standard Chicken Soup for the Soul books, two teen Chicken Soup for the Soul books, a college Chicken Soup for the Soul book, the travel-sized CSftS book, and two CSftS teen journals, I know how to spot 'em when I see 'em. Danzig has even written his own (probably) derivative CSftS book with the (definitely) derivative title, Vitamins for the Spirit. It bears repeating: Bob Danzig is BETTER THAN YOU.

Unlike some of us, Bob is not at all shy sharing details of his family life, but in short, Bob Danzig's family is BETTER THAN YOURS. Bob's wife of FORTY-SIX YEARS is a concert vocalist who wouldn't go back home with him on their first date. He has five wonderful children, all entrepreneurs — although Bob doesn't word it that way. In his words, "NONE of my children EARNS A PAYCHECK." One of his kids is a professional photographer, one's a musician (I think), one's a yoga guru who started her own super-successful business making knit sweaters in the styles of the forties and fifties and — just in case you're not quite getting Bob's point as he gloats about his family — she survived cancer as a teenager but lost her leg, bladder, and kidneys. So — and I just came out of a three-hour nap — Bob Danzig's offspring are BETTER THAN YOU.

Really. No wonder he's fucking confident.

Anyway, Bob sits down at the head of our conference table and he just starts having random conversations. There's four of us in the room and — again, like he cares — and asks, "How was your day?" He doesn't know what we do, he doesn't know if we have jobs, if we just got fired, if we lost our girlfriends, if we're drug dealers, if we have loved ones who died in the hurricane, if we work at the Holocaust Museum gift shop, whatever. He assumes (correctly) that we're going to want to tell him about our days. I assume (correctness unknown) that when he gets to me, he won't care. In any case, my day is "Okay," because I'm still a disaffected high school student and he's my mom.

Class starts and Danzig kind of lays out a summary: He's going to give us some "tools" to become more confident. Two things about Danzig's speech patterns. First, he uses variants of the phrase "tools to do such-and-such that will make you more confident" a whole damn lot. Every time he says it, I mentally replace the word "tools" with "liquor." And second, he throws students' names into his lecture, so he'd say something like, "...We're going to give you tools for making a speech, Jaaaaay." Combined with his supernatural ability to make eye contact, this is extremely disconcerting. The first time he did it to me, I shot upright in my chair like, "Oh, oh, okay, I'll give you my full attention.... Wait a second. I was giving you my full attention."

The first third of the class or so was Bob giving us these little Dale Carnegie tips for easier conversations. (By the way, if your emotional health in inversely proportional to the number of Chicken Soup for the Soul books that you own, then reading Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People before you've even graduated from high school makes you downright certifiable.) I'll give them to you, so your turd conversations can turn into gems. Smile. Use the other person's name, but in a natural way. Ask gentle questions. Make the other person comfortable. Be an aggressive listener. (I don't know what that means.) Take an interest in the other person. See how confident you are now?

This was all prelude to the inevitable dreaded ice-breaker exercise, mysteriously placed about forty-five minutes after the class started. Which ice-breaker would it be: the one where everybody takes a handful of M&Ms and has to say something about themselves for each one in your hand? Or would it be the one where everybody picks a revealing question out of a hat? No, in the spirit of confident conversations, it's the one where you talk to the person sitting next to you for five minutes or so and then you have to introduce them to the group. I was talking with this woman and she was asking me questions and I was coming up with confusing answers that were, in theory, designed to not make me look like an ass because that always works so well. Conversation time ended and introduction time began, and that's when I realized that... well, I didn't forget to get this woman's name, but I did forget to remember it. I was also too busy worrying about how I'd introduce her and how she's introduce me and how I wasn't being a good conversationalist to actually remember anything she said, which sort of defeats the whole point of this exercise.

Fortunately, before we all introduced ourselves, Bob had us each write our names and what we hoped to be getting out of the course on an index card, so I cheated and took a peek at Sandra's (yes, it was Sandra, now I remember...) name. I stood up and gave Sandra some incredibly lame and incongruous (and sweaty) introduction, and then shut the fuck up for the rest of the class.

Also, we learned about the importance of not worrying, but worrying well. Renaming your worry "Anxiety" and then remembering how you got through similar Anxietys. Or something like that. I was really too busy hating myself to pay attention.

Anyway, there's five more classes left, and I plan on getting totally hammered before the next one. I don't know what the plan is for next week — probably more stuff about worrying well. In the last three classes, we get to give presentations on an assigned topic. Won't that be confidence-building? I think if I want more self-confidence, it will just be easier to go out and buy a gun. Won't make me a better public speaker, though, but I get the feeling that when you're a gun-owner, people listen to you anyway.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Happy Stupid Holiday

Today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Really. I forgot all about TLAP Day because my brain cells are occupied with more important things like the lyrics to "It's A Small World" and the fact that Bob Saget's latest sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, premieres tonight. I will not be watching it. But my boss, Ken, brought it up this afternoon, although I'd like to point out that Ken has not once, in fact, talked like a pirate today. Good for him.

Yet, according to a website by the guys who started Talk Like A Pirate Day (and by the way, who's surprised that men thought of this?) millions of people "from South Africa to Australia, from New York to the Pacific Northwest" are talking like pirates and just begging their co-workers/friends/family to kick the crap out of them. Unless you're participating in this holiday, you can probably imagine just how quickly stuff like "ahoy, matey" and "avast, ye scurvy scalawag" gets old. Damn fast. I mean, I just read the first page of the TLAP Day website and I wanted to keelhaul some peg-legged bastard.

Since any idiot can apparently create a holiday and have a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist carry it to modest success, I have a few ideas I'd like to test out. I'm counting on all of my eight or so readers to make these into the giant celebrations I imagine they deserve:

  • November 18: Great American Horse-Tranquilizer Out. That's the same day as the Great American Smokeout, but I figure that if you weren't able to give up smoking, you could at least not feel like such a loser by going cold turkey from the horse tranquilizers.
  • June 8: National Statue Humping Day. I think banks and government offices should be closed in honor of Statue Humping Day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Block Party

This afternoon: the second annual Kempshall and Chetwood Terraces block party. I guess we have a lot of bored, stay-at-home moms on our two streets, because the planning for this block party somehow morphed it into a Carnivale-size event, complete with deejay and a pool (no water in the pool though...) and enough crappy homemade food to feed, well... a neighborhood. I was hesitant about going though, because I'm a bad neighbor. Not like bludgeoning the gossipy lady across the street to death with the blender she "borrowed" from my late wife who she was blackmailing bad — more like I've lived on this street twenty-three years now and I know approximately zero of my neighbors bad.

That's not totally accurate. I know the lady who walks her cocker spaniel. But I did say I knew approximately zero. And I don't technically know the lady so much as I know her cocker spaniel.

I had pretty low expectations. It's not that I enjoy my reclusive life so much as I just don't think I connect to anybody out here in suburbia. Everyone's either a new parent — we've got thirty-three kids under ten living on our two streets — or they're a retired couple. Kids straight out of college generally live somewhere affected by urban sprawl, where the singles' scene is hotter. The best I can hope for is an attractive milfy housewife whose workaholic husband ignores her during the day, and judging from the block party, I'd say that's a long shot. No one with even that Felicity Huffman plain-but-worth-settling-for look. We have a lot of mom-butt on our street.

Mom introduced me to a few people who I guess could best be described as (a) the biker couple, (b) the black family, and (c) some guy named Doug. We all had those Hello, My name is... tags so that made the introductions, well, still pretty awkward but at least I didn't forget my neighbors' names five seconds after the introduction. Here's how reclusive my family is: There's this couple Stanley and Edna. Stan and Edna have lived on Kempshall Terrace for twenty-four years. I've lived here twenty-three. Mom and Dad lived here for twenty-eight. That's nearly eight decades combined, okay? Yet somehow today is the first time any of us has met Stanley and Edna. It's the same freaking block! They live less than a hundred yards away! Meanwhile, Anne moved to China last month and she doesn't even speak the language but within a day she's made friends.

I find that depressing. (Not that she made friends quickly, that I don't.) So I took a break from the block party, mixed a stiff, stiff drink and went back kind of tipsy. That helped.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm taking this public speaking/self-confidence course at the New School, unless of course I chicken out beforehand. The hope is that after six weeks of feel-good classes, I'll return to Fanwood invigorated for the next block party.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Jay Finds His Mission In Life

I just found a new role model in life. It's this guy here→

His name is Suresh Joachim and while some people are out there curing cancer or rescuing hurricane victims, he's living out my dream by getting his lazy couch-potato ass into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest time spent continuously watching TV. Seriously. Almost three days and nights straight. This is what man has evolved into.

This is perfect. Joachim holds sixteen Guinness records — things like longest time spent standing on one foot and longest time spent bowling — which probably means that, like me, he has no real job. Unlike me, however, Joachim has no shame, since he completed his pointless stunt on the Live with Regis and Kelly show, either making some deep meta-televised statement or proving that he's a media whore. Also, he only watched ABC's quality programs for his record-setting attempt, meaning he got an eyeful of everything from The View to According to Jim. Joachim clearly has a high tolerance for pain and George Lopez's family-friendly humor.

Aside from that, I don't see any reason why I can't amass enough Starbucks and Red Bull to stay awake for, say, four days watching television. I mean, that's pretty much all I do anyway.

Another hero of mine: Richard Canzler of Australia who, on June 19 of this year, set a new world record for most bras unhooked in sixty seconds. Richard, we salute you, and the many, many parasites we imagine are living on your body.


I just find this amusing...

When I was in high school, there was extracurricular club called SADD, or Students Against Drunk Driving. They were the ones responsible for the wrecked car on the campus lawn. But I was at the school's website tonight — and I don't really remember why — and I found this on the Clubs and Activities page:

SADD - Students Against Destructive Decisions

SADD is dedicated to serving the student body of SP-FHS in raising awareness of the consequences of destructive decisions, as well as encouraging students to make healthy choices.
"Destructive Decisions"? Drunk driving is no longer glamorous enough to keep kids after school drawing up posters and holding bake sales? You know what they should do to get more people at their meetings: free pizza. Or free booze. You know, whatever gets the children excited.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

More Fall TV Reviews: Reunion and Bones

Here's my self-promotional bid for a job as a TV reviewer at one of our local newspapers. Not that I have anything against the Star-Ledger's current TV critics, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz. It's just that I'll watch TV and write about it for free, so why pay more?

Reunion looked like crap from the ads, like someone said, "Let's take Dawson's Creek, set it back in the eighties, and let's throw in a mystery so people will keep watching even though these characters are boring as hell." I wasn't going to watch it, but then the New York Times weekly television insert did a front-page story on Reunion and I thought that it couldn't be that bad. Well, it is that bad. Even for FOX, the network that thrives on ridiculous conceits (i.e. Prison Break, Skin, 24) like I thrive on Prozac, Reunion looks desperate. First of all, the show's not going to tell us which one of the main characters is dead in the opening scene. I guess the lazy-ass writers thought it would just be easier to give everyone stilted, unnatural dialogue where they can't mention the deceased's name rather than write material that actually illuminates the inevitable death around May sweeps. Strike one.

Strike two: Are these six kids all great friends? I can't tell. Someone only tells me how close they all are like every five freaking seconds. Just random extras will walk into the scene and say things like, "I've never seen six such good friends, and I knew they'd be friends for the rest of their lives." That line, by the way, comes courtesy of the gang's high school newspaper photographer, who's delivering the eulogy because.... why? Their junior varsity football coach wasn't available? All I know is that if my high school newspaper photographer were delivering my eulogy, I'd probably... well, I was going to say that I'd kill myself, but I suppose that wouldn't work out too well. Okay, anyway, they're great friends and we have the photos to prove it except they never actually do anything reminiscent of what people who are friends with each other actually do. There's a lot of brooding in their clique, and they spend a good deal of time yammering about how awesome their lives are, and there's some man-hugging. But nothing that indicates these people are actually friends. Like I said, lazy-ass writers.

Strike three: Every forty-four minute episode chronicles exactly one year in the story. So we have episode titles like "1986," which ends with the gratingly obvious line, "So that was 1986. Now, why don't you tell me about 1987? That way, we can bludgeon our audience with the setup for the next episode." Just tell the damn story; don't make me get a calendar to keep track of your stupid show!

The worst part is that the whole flashback-to-the-eighties structure gives the producers license to clutter the soundtrack with those kinds of songs Michael Bolton reminisces about in VH1's I Love The 80's, songs that really should have been put out to pasture back in, well, the eighties.

We also had the premiere of Bones last Tuesday, a show that proves Joss Whedon is a god by making David Boreanaz somewhat watchable. (I'm still not shelling out ten bucks for Serenity though.) Boreanaz is basically typecast as dour, lifeless Angel, although since Bones is a plain-old CSI ripoff instead of a unique genre-twisting film-noir-meets-fantasy black comedy, we get fewer crazy make-up effects. More insert shots of people putting dirt into test tubes, though.

Also, there's this woman played by Emily Deschanel (who FOX is plugging like anybody's actually heard of her before) nicknamed "Bones." And she's a forensic anthropologist, whatever the hell that is, which means she studies bones. And she and Angel solve crimes by examining the victims' skeletons, and skeletons are made of bones. Get it? Oh good, you're not retarded.

There's also a supporting cast of irritating know-it-all scientists, each one wackier than the next. You've got your innocuous intern toady scientist. You've got your crazy paranoid conspiracy-theory scientist. You've got your sexually liberated well-adjusted scientist. You've got your generic scenery-chewing scientist. Basically, all they're missing is a mad scientist with the Einstein hair and the thick glasses cackling maniacally over a leyden jar. None of them can go a scene without mentioning how they're all super-cool cause they know all these awesome science facts, but how they're also emotionally damaged and unable to relate to, you know, those of us who manage to get along without throwing the words "diaphantious soil" into our conversations. Oh, did I forget to mention that Angel and whatsherface have issues? I did? How silly of me...

Her parents disappeared when she was a teenager and now she's afraid to trust anybody who's not a rotting corpse. And he lost his soul and killed lots of people, then he got his soul back and is racked with guilt. No, really, that's the subtext. Somehow, this gives them license to behave as childish, narcissistic assholes oblivious to the consequences of their actions. I don't know. That shit works on The Sopranos, but not so much when you don't have an anti-hero.

On a side note, there's an early scene where the forensic anthropologist lady is at an airport and beats up one of our nation's crack homeland security officers, which I find quite disturbing. Not as disturbing as this, but still, I'd prefer our homeland security department had the upper hand over the forensic anthropologists when it comes to stopping terrorism.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Way back in my sophomore year of college, I was in this creative writing class. We'd write up an assignment every few weeks and when your turn came around you'd "workshop" your poem or short story or whatever. That is, you'd print out copies of your work for everyone in the class and you'd read it aloud like it's second grade or something and then there's a constructive criticism portion of the evening where everyone tells you how awesome your clumsy, self-indulgent prose is. It never suited me very well, largely because I suffered from chronic writer's block during that period of my life — a period which started around tenth grade and continues to this day.

One of our assignments was to write the first eight or ten pages of a one-act play, which is exactly the type of assignment I despise. In the first few pages of a play, all you're doing is setting some crazy shit up to happen later on, like Chekhov's gun in act one, and I need those remaining pages to prove to my classmates that I'm actually going somewhere with this crap and I'm not just a freaky gun-firing militia nut, metaphorically speaking. I find that this chronic writer's block I'm suffering is a good way to avoid having my innermost thoughts judged. So, back then, I procrastinated, till I had about five hours before my turn to present and the following brilliant verbiage down on the page:

[untitled play]

by jay harris

act one

scene 1
you can see how, even in my early years, i eschewed the artistic banality that is upper case.

Then suddenly, miraculously, the muses smiled upon me and in a fit of logorrhea, a play emerged from my pen, fully-formed, like Athena springing forth from Zeus's head. We workshopped it to rave reviews, which doesn't surprise me since you could vomit on a piece of paper and pass it around the workshop and everybody would come up with something positive to say about it. ("The color of this puke: I really think it makes your characters resonate with me.") I'd like to tell you more about my play, but I really don't know what to say. I believe my play is either really good or really pretentious, and I'm inclined to think it's the latter. It's this sort of surreal, hysterical-realism hodgepodge with more references to the "meaning of life" than could possibly be healthy for a young playwright, although its superficial depth definitely appealed to the workshopping folks. There was this one girl, Sasha, who commented something like this to me, "You know, I don't really know what you're trying to do with this, but I feel like you do," which more or less sums up the problem: I have no freaking clue what my play is about either.

Despite that, I've gotten a lot of mileage out of my play, workshopping it in three different college creative writing classes while being too stuck on my magnum opus to complete anything new. Now, I've learned that there this theater group near my home and they hold workshops for "emerging" and "undiscovered" playwrights. I was on the phone last week with the guy in charge, and he told me to send along something I've written and he'll see if I'm worthy of joining their little writers' circle or if I totally suck. And it's been three years now, and the only thing I've got written is this sophomoric drama. I've become obsessed with polishing it up, which is a very sad, futile process. I'll spend hours agonizing over a single word — should I use "overwhelmed"? "Deluged"? "Engulfed"? — while helpless over the play's huge pink-elephant problems. The characters are distant and unrelatable. The play has no articulable raison d'ĂȘtre. I use obscure and esoteric storytelling techniques that are inappropriate to the material, whatever it is....

Now that I actually write that out, I'm not sure what I'm worried about. Sounds like all "modern art". I'm sure they'll love it.

Friday, September 9, 2005

So This Is Where All Those Hundred-Dollar Bills Went

I went down to Atlantic City today to make some money the lazy way, with skanky waitresses comping me drinks. Last time I went down to AC, I fell in love with the place for three reasons:

  1. I'm a nerd, and I could put that B- I got in discrete math to work down there, mulling over probability shit like standard deviations and Bayes' Theorem.
  2. Atlantic City, or at least the cheap and tawdry Sands casino where I hang out, is overrun with the elderly and terminally unemployable, and that boosts my self-esteem immensely. (Just how tawdry is the Sands? October at the Sands is "Tony Danza October"! Friday, October 7, 10pm. Saturday, October 8, 9pm. The talented singer, dancer, actor and comedian brings his unmistakable charm to the famous Copa Room.)
  3. At least three-quarters of the people in the casino are there by themselves, and therefore desperately friendly.
So maybe it was just me, but it seemed like today everybody was mad tempermental. Like, we were playing seven-card stud when a geriatric-fight nearly broke out after everyone showed their cards and one old dude called out someone else's hand and this third old guy just snapped. Later on, there was this guy at the table who was either (a) a moron or (b) someone only too eager to give his money away. But he was confused about making his bet and lacked the English to properly express his confusion, so half the table started heckling and intimidating him till he left. And then the other half of the table, realizing our resident sucker just got scared away, started yelling at the first half. It's fun cause all of these people are in their late hundreds, and I would've given anything to see one of them beat another one with his walker.

And at blackjack, a fat man and an old man got into an argument about who knew more strategy:
Fat Guy: I've dealt blackjack for fifteen years, so if you think you know what you're talking about, I think I know more.

Old Guy: I've been playing blackjack for fifty years now. In the forty years that I've been playing blackjack, I've never hit a twelve against a two, and I've been playing for about forty-five years.
I too felt an urge to strangle a couple of my tablemates to stop their damn bitching about someone stealing someone else's face card. Frankly, I'm of the opinion that if you've never taken a goddamn math class and you don't have a solid grasp of what a random distribution is, you shouldn't be allowed near hundred-dollar bills. I accidentally hit thirteen when the dealer was showing three, and Fat Guy lectured me on how I messed up the deck for everybody else. Listen up, Tubby, the deck is shuffled. The cards are in a random order. The following card is just as likely to be good for you as it is to be bad. I can't believe this jackass has the bankroll to bet forty bucks a hand, and with all the math I've got on my side, I can only afford to bet five.

My big casino discovery was this game called Pai Gow Poker, which I can only recommend if you have lots and lots of aspirin handy. Even describing the game hurts my head. You're dealt a packet of seven cards from the Shuffler-o-Matic, and you use five of the cards to make a "high" poker hand and the remaining two for a "low" hand. You win if your high hand beats the banker's high hand and your low hand beats the banker's low hand. Here's the thing: because it's an "Asian" game, the dealer's always this screeching Chinese sweatshop manager woman who totally loses her shit if someone makes the smallest procedural mistake. She can't just take your money — she's gotta make a big scene, and then the other people at the table take a cue from her and they go absolutely apeshit.

I found this out by fucking up (or "fouling," as the sweatshop lady screamed it) my very first pai gow poker hand, putting a pair of fours in the low hand but only a queen high for the high hand. Sweatshop Lady flipped over my high and low hands and — remember that Blue Screen of Death when one of those old versions of Windows crashed? That was what came over her face. Does not compute. Fatal exception in 0x0063A28F. She called over her co-Sweatshop Manager, and I swear I could see the gears and springs in her head just exploding as she tried figuring out my hands. "Why you put pair fours in low hand?"

"Cause I'm new," feeling like this shit is about to go from valuable learning experience to total humiliation.

"Next time, ask dealer. I not lie. I help you. If you don't know, ask. Next time. You foul. You ask dealer. Otherwise, you lose money. I show you." For like ten minutes. Or thirty seconds, but it felt like a really long time. And I have to admit that the Sweatshop Lady was helpful and I eventually got the hang of it, but damn. No tip for her. Too embarrassed.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Once Again...

I haven't been keeping up with the news lately because, even without help from Mother Nature, it's too depressing. Incompetent leaders, toxic sludge in the drinking water. I did, however, hear a second's worth of good news on the radio: Calvin and Hobbes is being re-released, and though I'm not entirely sure what the big deal is, since there's like thirty Calvin and Hobbes books out and we get a daily re-released strip on the website anyway. Still, it makes me happy that art isn't dead.

I was at Google News looking for more info on the resurrection of Calvin and Hobbes, hoping that Bill Watterson was going to indulge us with new strips (he's not), when I came across this news story from the AP: Schwarzenegger to Veto Gay Marriage Bill. Which I think is unfortunate, but we can thank a fab-ul-ous God that we've got Canada and Spain and Belgium and Holland, now officially homophobe-free. What bugs me is the quote they got from these stupid, stupid gay activists:

"Clearly he's pandering to an extreme right wing, which was not how he got elected," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, one of the [gay marraige] bill's sponsors. "He got elected with record numbers of lesbian and gay voters who had not previously voted for a Republican, and he sold us out."
So, let me see if I understand this.... You voted for a Republican, and now you're pissed because he has a Republican agenda. Damn, didn't see that one coming. I thought that as a Teutonic right-wing Hitler-idolizing womanizing testosterone geyser, he'd be totally for gay rights. I see him at the Pride parade like every year in a shirt three sizes too small.

Somehow, people are always shocked when Republicans present what their party truly stands for, like they expected David Duke to be psycho, but only a little psycho. Remember when everyone was scandalized when Trent Lott told us that America would be better if Strom Thurmond, rest his senile soul, won his 1948 presidential bid on his segregationist platform. Oh my God, Trent Lott's a closet racist? He's a rich, powerful, white guy from Mississippi of all places. I can't imagine him being a racist. (By the way, kudos to Trent for at least being honest for once. Maybe at Jesse Helms' hundredth birthday party, he'll let slip that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11.)

Back to my original point, stop your goddamn bitching about how that Gays For Arnold political campaign wasn't such a great idea after all. In America we get the government we deserve. You want gay marraige rights, next time you've gotta vote for them. I mean, what about Mary Carey. She probably doesn't have all the great education reform ideas, but I don't think she's all that squeamish about gay rights.

Fortunately, California has this great system where the people can recall the governor.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Strange how quickly my feelings of pity and munificence towards my fellow man fade. I came across Nicholas Kristof's op-ed in the New York Times today, where he excoriates the Bush administration for, in a few words, their pathetic response to Katrina. Our consoler-in-chief literally told refugees in Mississippi to, "Hang in there." I believe he's quoting from that inspirational poster with the cat hanging two paws off a tree branch.

Here's what drives me insane about my fellow Americans: Kristof complains about New Orleans' unpreparedness, about the bureaucratic bottlenecks and delays getting aid to the Gulf Coast, about the administration's general unwillingness to perform the unpleasant functions of government... but he complains rhetorically. "Why have aid and security taken so long to arrive?" "Why wasn't more preventative action taken?" Mr. Kristof is a smart man, and I think he's wussing out this way: Our nation's disaster prevention and recovery efforts failed because our government is run by incompetent, petty boobs. We elected the guys who are inclined to trivialize and politicize tragedies and disinclined to offer any real relief, and what kind of Platonic, anti-democratic grouses are we to now complain that our government is trivializing the tragedy?

So I'd appreciate it if people — especially, let's say, the media — might stop acting like it's such a huge freaking shock that our "compassionate conservative" leaders are giving Katrina's victims lots of conservativism and not much compassion. And also, I don't want to hear some hick standing waist-deep in water bitching about how the food's coming too slowly or how there's not enough National Guard troops or whatever. Don't tell me that this is an inappropriate time for a civics lesson — if someone had taught these folks before the hurricane hit how to elect leaders who'd actually do their damn jobs in a time of crisis, we wouldn't have the situation we do now. We would have put all those thousands of people on trains and moved them to Chicago or someplace while Katrina was still ruining vacations down in the Caribbean. We'd have a plan for stopping up those levees if they broke. There would have been reserves of food and water and National Guard troops already down in New Orleans, instead of in Iraq.

I stopped giving a crap about the people down south once I remembered that Electoral College map from back in November and how there wasn't a whole lot of blue in the Gulf Coast region. Now, I voted for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, so don't blame me. Down in Louisiana, they saw how Dubya handled crises — I'm sure they were watching during 9/11 and the Iraq war and that Janet Jackson Superbowl thing — and they decided that's what they wanted. They wanted the guy who read to children while the terrorists attacked us but who'd keep titties off our televisions. That's who they voted for, and that's who they got. Of course, back then their houses were still standing, so maybe their priorities were a bit different.

Next time, try picking the guy who'll give you aid rather than talking points. It'll turn out to be a whole lot easier than starting your own utopia.

It's my favorite time of the year: the weather's getting cooler, the bugs are dying, and best of all, I'm finally getting my new television shows. What makes the 2005 Fall Season particularly special is the file-sharing protocol Bittorrent; they run the closing credits of an all-new episode and like five minutes later, there's about five-hundred high-def copies of the show circulating over the net. Not only do I catch up on what I missed, like the first season of Desperate Housewives, but also it no longer matters that my parents are too cheap to spring for HBO. I downloaded two shows: HBO's Roman period drama Rome and FOX's prison-escape drama Prison Break. We're seeing a lot of creativity with the titles of these shows here. I believe ABC is premiering a show called Mediocre Family Sitcom with a Laugh Track.

First, Rome, which I imagined was for people who think La Madrastra is the greatest thing ever to spring from a human mind. (Can you believe that Bruno confessed to Emilia that Fabiola had his love child right before she died?!) I took two and a half years of Latin in college, so I've had the joy of experiencing the Roman republic right from the primary sources and I can say that their government was basically an erotic soap opera. Well, I guess so is our government, but theirs was a lot cooler cause there's no media or pundits to get uppity about anything. All these people ever did was fuck and murder each other (usually in that order), then they'd go to senate meetings and gossip about who did who, or who's gay, or who's sleeping with their cousin. Stuff like what Cicero said defending this guy Marcus Caelius against Clodius's charges of treason: "I saw you out in the market, Clodius, with your wife... uh, excuse me, I meant your sister..." Clodius's sister/wife, by the way, poisoned Clodius's enemy Dio and framed Marcus Caelius before having an on-and-off affair with trashy gossip poet Catullus. It is, in the words of the Roman satirist Juvenal, the shit.

Unfortunately, those screen adaptations, not so much. Remember how, in Gladiator, there was Russell Crowe and there was that black dude and then everybody else looked exactly the same, but it didn't really matter cause the fifteen-minute-long battle sequences were awesome? Well, Rome is like that, except for the awesome long battle sequences. Since all the characters pretty much looked the same, all with that mid-nineties Caesar haircut that I guess was all the rage back then, I couldn't really figure out what was going on. I think we're watching the drama surrounding the dissolution of the Roman republic into Caesar's empire, but I have yet to discern why we might care.

I don't want to make the obvious political metaphor: the fall of a decadent empire under the tyranny of a popular expansionist war leader. Stories should be about people, what they need, what they care about, who they are fundamentally, and here Rome leaves me completely flustered. Not only do all the characters look the same, but they all have the exact same empty generic personality, and it's pretty clear from the first hour that there's not going to be much growth happening in the next twelve. The exception is Atia, the manipulative harridan who's a staple of every HBO drama since the death of Livia Soprano.

We don't really have interesting characters, and I can't really follow the story, so why do I plan on tuning in week after week? Boobies. Lotsa boobies. Like a Caligula count on the boobies. I told you this culture was full of perves.

Thursday night, I was watching The Shawshank Redemption, and I was like, "This is weird. I'm not feeling cathartically inspired. And it's been a really long time since I've heard the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman." Then I realized that I was actually watching Prison Break, a big-budget, high-concept, kind of dopey Great Escape story with a multifaceted conspiracy thrown in cause those are in vogue right now. Think Shawshank if it were directed by Jerry Bruckheimer.

In case you're my mom and you don't watch FOX cause you still think there's nothing on that network besides Married With Children and Cops, and you haven't seen any of the commercials they've been running since, like, April, I'll recap the show for you. (Although Mom did watch Ally McBeal. Hypocrite.) We've got Wentworth Miller — and what kind of nerd parents name their kid "Wentworth" — looking a bit like a G.I. Joe action figure: he's stiff, has a blank stare, and is about three inches tall. Wentworth gets himself incarcerated in an Illinois prison along with a hilariously tortuous plan to free his death row inmate brother. Okay, first of all, didn't the governor of Illinois declare a moratorium on the death penalty? And it's not like that happened recently either or anything; it was four years ago. They couldn't have moved the prison to Texas or somewhere during development? Lazy...

Also, what's with these dumbass conspiracies in places they don't belong? Ahem, Desperate Housewives. It's one thing where you've got your characters personally invested and developing as they unravel the mystery, like in The Manchurian Candidate or The X-Files or the works of Thomas Pynchon. (Actually, in Vineland, where the characters all know about the conspiracy but can't be bothered explaining it to the reader, it doesn't work so well.) Do something like Crime and Punishment, where I don't need to worry about solving the mystery so I can enjoy the characters' growth from their actions. The whole keeping crucial info from the audience trick is manipulative, it's flimsy writing, and I hate, hate, hate writers who do that! Just answer my damn questions and let me decide if I like your work already. Now I've gotta keep watching this stupid show to see who's framing the brother. This crap is really gonna cut into my social life.