Monday, November 26, 2007

Have a Very Polemic Christmas

Here's an article in the NY Times Sunday Styles section — which I don't read — about the latest trend in eco-friendly holiday gift giving, and the resentment it creates among some people who do read the Sunday Styles section. The holiday drama starts with a socially conscious nucleus gift-giving handmade recycled crafts or charitable donations and the once-valent rest of the family, expecting real presents, turning resentful. Not to mention euphemistic: "We spent so many years so poor, where we didn’t have the money to do much,” said Cynda Reznicek, whose sister gave her a compact flourescent light bulb last Christmas. "We're at the point now where we can be a little more extravagant.... It's just a joy."

This is the point where I fruitlessly remind you how Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of our Savior, and peace on Earth, and mirthful times with your friends and (possibly politically backward) family, and spreading Christianity by co-opting a pagan solstice festival. But that's not what struck me.

I always thought there was this tacit rule in society that when someone gets you a gift, even if it's a light bulb — which, let's be honest here, ranks above underpants and below socks — you're either under twelve years old or otherwise at least feigning gratitude, you selfish jerk!

Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar on environmental issues at the American Enterprise Institute — I'll point out that's not really any sort of credentials on this issue, but anyway — accidentally clears up the spirit of gift-giving: "The point of the holidays for many people is the joy people get in giving." No... if you're bitching about what you unwrapped, then the point of the holiday is the joy you get in receiving, potlatch be damned. You know, every family has their Christmas issues, and most of those are way more trivial than the health of our entire planet. The difference is the twenty-five year old rivalry between your two uncles because one got a car as a graduation gift back in 1982 and the other didn't doesn't manifest itself when presents get unwrapped. "A power drill! That fixes everything, for the remaining hour we have to be in the same room."

I'm not judging, although avarice does rot your soul, but the gift is supposed to be a gesture of generosity and not a fantasy of watching football on a big TV or impressing your girlfriends with designer shoes. It's one thing to expect something else, but to actually complain about the light bulb is the mark of someone who, next year, seriously deserves to get shit. (I was going to say "coal," but an environmentalist wouldn't give coal as a gift.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Year of the Robot

Every Christmastime, I take an hour and drool over the bi-annual Sharper Image catalog, and imagine our dystopic future ruled by superfluous gizmos from Korea. Progress marches on this year, with the catalog's opening pages devoted to pet robots of every conceivable species, from vacuum cleaners (now with "anti-tassel" technology!) to insects to re-animated Elvis. Elvis lives!

When the androids become self-aware and the revolution inevitably happens (June 12, 2012: mark your calendar), there really won't be any greater indignity than being killed by a three-hundred dollar animatronic rockin' Elvis.

Okay, no robot apocalypse, but the damn things still creep me out, especially as they're evolving into more "lifelike" creatures of servos and sprockets. Pleo the Brontosaurus here, or whatever he's supposed to be, "develops his own personality, moods and habits," needs training and socialization — he really seems like a lot of trouble. A pet without the dander, and the affection... so he's pretty much Pig.

I find these androids just a tad condescending towards humanity. Not so much the engineering nerds at Honda creaming themselves over Asimo because it's been years since they've had contact with an actual human being, but the rest of us. He can run, he can dance, he can play the trumpet! Big deal — I can do all those things, plus I can walk downstairs without toppling over. (Usually.) Suck on that, Asimo!

And you know what else Asimo can't do? Love, that's what.

That's what frustrates me with this so-called robot vitality, and I see us raising a generation of children believing computers can show true empathy. And the reverse, like when you're stomping on ants and there's a half-crushed one writhing, waiting for the sweet release of death. It doesn't count as a living thing until it's squished on its thorax with those six little legs twitching pathetically in the air, and Wittgenstein notwithstanding, suddenly your sick mind apprehends how that feels for the poor thing. And someday robots will get the same recognition — that's what "lifelike" means, after all — and hippies will protest over the poor working conditions, long hours, and meager pay for all the Screwbots and Weld-O-Matics toiling away in factories for the benefit of the rich first world.

The Sharper Image needs to re-brand. They're not lifelike, they're bipedal toasters, although now I expect to see Toaster-Bot 3000 in next year's catalog. (Headline: "Your new robotic best friend wakes you up, makes breakfast, and dances!")

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I Am Swank, Briefly

My high-powered NJYP connections introduced me to Netparty, a site organizing networking functions for young professionals, and apparently people like me as well. Netparty held their premiere NYC event last night, where 1700 young professionals were expected to crowd into a club, trade business cards, and possibly hump each other, but in a totally professional, business-casual way. I went, expecting the social-phobic, fish out of water disaster these things usually collapse into — but I enjoy these stylish clubs, first because I get off on that slick, trance, mood-lit ambiance and second because I feel like someone important walking into this secret, sacred space, like Page Six or Heidi Montag might stop by and I'd get to be on the other side of the tabloid glossy for once. As if that's a worthy goal, but I think we can all agree that it sounds better spending tonight like every other night, commuting home, stuck in traffic.

The party was held at Hiro, an exclusive club that usually has no reason to be open at six on a Tuesday night. I confirmed this with a couple of the bartenders. Hiro is one of those obnoxious places that's kept hidden from the plebeians — 371 West 16th Street doesn't even exist during daylight hours, camouflaged as a service entrance for what I always thought was a homeless shelter but turns out to be an expensive hotel. It's easier to find at night because you can just look for the line of beautiful people heading into the Maritime Hotel's service entrance. I arrived a few minutes before the party sort of kicked off at six and the line was already down to the corner.

I was probably the only person waiting on line not talking into, e-mailing from, or texting on some kind of handheld electronic gizmo.

I'm generally super-awkward at these events and I somehow found myself sitting at the dudes' table. All of you with — not social skills so much as social confidence — haven't experienced this phenomenon, but basically you're hanging in the clu trying to look engaged, failing usually. One of the system admins already at the dudes' table — everyone at the dudes' table is inevitably a system admin — calls you over and you collapse, sucked into this black hole of low self-esteem, and wind up sitting with dudes sadly pointing out who's hot, or even more sadly not pointing out who's hot. Dudes and their repressive asexual work ethic are actually here for networking.

Here's where the night becomes awesome. So I'm at the dudes' table trying to explain this Netparty concept to some system admin who doesn't really speak English and is, seriously, expecting someone to make a presentation tonight, and just generally getting frustrated cause I've been sitting at the dudes' table since I was seven or eight years old. I want to escape and I see the woman who was in front of me on that long, long line outside sitting by herself. Understand: I never do this. I've never done this. But I was totally sick of being this guy's instruction manual — "No, you have to go and introduce yourself" — that I excused myself to go "mingle."

I went up to... the bar.

I checked out upstairs.

I brought my drink into the men's room. I've never seen this before: they have all this metrosexual styling product over the sink and a guy who charges you two bucks to use it. I'm a firm believer that you can judge the classiness of a joint by its bathroom — fake white marble, high-velocity hand dryers, those big bowl sinks. Hiro had the bathroom of your corner deli, plus the guy selling fancy soap or whatever was sort of creepy.

I left the bathroom and, out of places to wander, I introduced myself to the woman from outside. "I remember you from the line..." I'm not sure what the big—

Hold on. I'm forgetting something. It didn't hit me till later, but: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can't figure out what I was afraid of, since this went smooth as, well, curling up in a ball and floating underwater. Sure, the circumstances were really favorable — no competition, plus I had an opener, plus I don't know what the hell Hiro put in my drinks but I was spinning for hours — but still, in instant replay, it can't see my looming disaster approaching from anywhere at all. There's a moral somewhere in here; I really hope I can dig it out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Your Dog Looks Like a Whore

I wish I could have more nice things to say about the folks at eccentricpets.com because it looks like they do some really good, important work. They're in the animal rescue business, finding homes for unwanted pets... and then dressing them up. I believe I have a new arch-enemy. Putting a raincoat on your dog when you're taking him for a slushy walk might not be too bad, but this meretricious greyhound mini-skirt or the dress for a guinea pig or hamster robs every last shred of dignity from a creature who eats its own poo. (Really, click on the link because that hamster dress needs to be seen to be believed.)

In case your poor pet didn't look ridiculous enough in the "Dazzling Doggy" mini-skirt at right, you can contact Ruth Regina at Wiggles Dog Wigs for the full-on canine tranny look. Half these dog wigs are so freaking ridiculous they couldn't even get a dog to model them. Dude, they're dogs — they already have hair and unless they're performing in a Vegas show they don't need more, and they certainly don't need it to be platinum blonde. Words fail to describe how much I wish I could lock this woman in a room for a week with all of her over-coiffed dogs.

Man, I don't even have any vitriol left for "animal communicator" Donna Velardi.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Meeting

I met up with some friends, and some friends of friends, this evening and brought them to P.S. 1, which... if you ever want to impress your crew with both how much obscure, over-the-river New York City you know and how coolly Zen you are, P.S. 1 is the singular place to bring them. It's a branch of my still-loathed Museum of Modern Art and full of dippy, over-commentaried installations, but redeemed by James Turrell's awesome sanctuary Meeting, guaranteed to leave jaws agape.

It's both easy and hard to describe: a white room, wooden bench around the perimeter, and a hole in the ceiling. A skylight, literally. Turrell pulls off some sort of optical illusion where the ceiling's maybe twelve feet over your head, your eyes scan across to the hole and the sky is right there. At my first Meeting, there was a debate among my friends, "Is that just twilight projected onto a screen? It has to be. I bet they're pumping cold air and wind in the room... no, look, there's a plane. How did he do that if it's a screen?"

Once your mind resolves the issue, the Turrell room is a great, chilly little place for meditation. No one will stop you if you need to sit in lotus position for hours or perform corpse pose on the bench, and there really aren't too many places where a bunch of grown adults, strangers to each other, will lie on a dirty carpet together and it won't be awkward. Plus we got lucky with a perfect, deep pink evening where the illusion crept closer and closer as dusk turned to night.



Credit for the photos goes to Harrigan, who's a photo ace. Seriously, she was setting the aperture and exposure manually. I can barely take pictures that aren't motion-blurry...

Same scene. My picture:


Harrigan's picture:

Not that my picture doesn't have its charm, but I was going for something a teensy bit different.

Also on display, this guy. Min Tanaka, a conceptual artist putting on a special live exhibition. So watch the video, and see if you can guess what his conceptual art gimmick is. (Note: I had the camera sideways, filming, figuring it would correct itself. Oops. Doesn't matter, since he's not any less inexplicable rotated ninety degrees.)

video

If you guessed that he "dances the space around him," because you are unaware that "dance" is an intransitive verb, then you are correct. Also, he doesn't like being videoed, since some security ninny told me to put the camera away, even though there were at least five professional photographers in the room, blocking everyone's view, and taking snapshots. So I didn't get on camera the part of his dance where he randomly bangs his head against the wall, presumably because the space told him to do so.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I'm really glad the New York Shipping Association put up this ad for the ports of New York and Newark, because I used to load and unload my dry shipping all on my own, with the cargo ships dropping anchor in my driveway and holding the steel shipping containers in my front yard, but it looks like contracting that to an outfit that's not twelve miles inland, and with stevedores and giant cranes, will be a lot more efficient. Now if I could only find someone to deliver my mail for me and a place to land my 747.

In my first reading of the ad, though, with the foreign couple and the line "From brides to bulldozers..." I thought the port was advertising their smuggling operation for mail-order brides and eastern European prostitutes into the U.S. Turns out they're just talking about importing wedding dresses and silverware, but I have little doubt that the Port Authority has more skill with shrinkage and political graft than they do with wordcraft.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Singapore Weighs In

Not exactly a nation known for its subtlety, the Singaporean press gave us this well-labeled political cartoon yesterday, with so much blunt symbolism that, at first, I mistook it for a French New Wave film. It strikes me as one of those newspaper cartoons from the days of the Hayes administration, when Americans were a humorless people yet to evolve to drawing satire, and just as inscrutable. Why is Bush holding that "Anti-Terror Ally" square? I know America and Pakistan are allies in the War on Terror, or at least we are on paper, but... And is Musharraf hugging that Dictatorship tiger or trying to control it? What's with the sandal? The footprint of tyranny? That doesn't make sense.

(Oh, I get it: it's a flip-flop. It would just be easier on my brain to move on to a cartoon reinforcing the idea that Fred Thompson is too scripted.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Missed Connections

Reuters reported the most saccharine news article since Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack met cute, a true Big Apple love story that absolutely never happens in real life: New Yorkers rally to help online romeo. The timeless love story goes like this: Boy sees girl on Number 5 train. Boy falls instantly in love with girl. Boy loses girl. Boy posts crude drawing of girl on website. The whole freaking city of New York searches down girl. Boy and girl go on Good Morning America. Dopey women across America squee.

The story's just like out of a movie. No, seriously.

My personal Cupid must be broken. He doesn't drive hot girls to sit next to me on the train, or inspire a captivating Chemistry.com profile, or stir a whole jaded city to search for my soulmate. Ass. Can I trade him in and get another one? Preferably one who'll get my cute barista whose name I don't know to chat with me and see the sweet, vulnerable, yet surprisingly virile guy beneath this tortured soul, pining over lattes and pastries..... I'll stop now.

I guess I just don't understand what makes this random subway guy any different from the hundreds of other random subway guys and girls posting on Craigslist's "missed connections" bulletin board. "R train from 57th to Lex - m4w -26."

"Irish Actress at Whole Foods - m4w."

"Beautiful man in Yale sweatshirt - w4m - 28."

It's a giant anthill out there — strange enough, though, that it's got to be at least ninety percent the drones who are posting. (Also, ants don't need wings. They're fucking creepy enough already.) What are the odds missed connections could ever possibly work out? Like, example: "Blonde on The E Train - m4w - 30." This blonde on, well, the E train was "reading a book and seemed totally into it." She has to be looking for a missed connection, on Craigslist, recognize herself, try to place the guy that's all wistful over her, and want to meet him. "I looked at you one last time and you and I met eyes for a second. I wanted to say hello but didn't feel like making a semi spectacle on train, so I am trying to find you here." Seem likely?

But this guy gets put on the Jumbotron? Not fair! I'm saying right now that once I'm rich, I'm gonna set up this laser system to draw my face on the moon. That ought to catch the attention of that cute barista whose name I still don't know... although once you're rich, I bet you don't have to be quite as tacky to find love.

Speaking of which, here's another Reuters romance (sort of) article: "No deal! Woman's bid for rich husband deemed poor offer." This gold-digger posted what's got to be the most heartfelt ad ever on Craigslist. "I dated a business man who makes average around 200 - 250. But that's where I seem to hit a roadblock. $250,000 won't get me to Central Park West.... I know how that sounds, but keep in mind that a million a year is middle class in New York City, so I don't think I'm overreaching at all." She described herself as "superficial," like, no shit, bitch.

A "mystery Wall Street banker" replied:

Your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into perpetuity ... in fact, it is very likely that my income increases but it is an absolute certainty that you won't be getting any more beautiful!

So, in economic terms you are a depreciating asset and I am an earning asset. Let me explain, you're 25 now and will likely stay pretty hot for the next 5 years, but less so each year. Then the fade begins in earnest. By 35 stick a fork in you!

It doesn't make good business sense to "buy you" (which is what you're asking) so I'd rather lease.

Sounds to me like some mystery Wall Street banker is in lurrrrvvve. They really do sound perfect for each other. She can fritter away her afternoons in Bergdorf Goodman and Jimmy Choo while he's at work fomenting the inevitable class war, then they can spend their nights together having passionless sex and beating up handicapped orphans.

I'm just kidding — I'm sure these two utter tools would never beat up handicapped orphans. There's no money in it. But organizing handicapped orphan streetfights....

Monday, November 5, 2007

Scab

Dear American Media Conglomerates:

I generally sympathize with the working man, the Americans like myself who perform the tedious, backbreaking labor necessary to keep our great nation supplied with the coal, the industrial machinery, or the non-English speaking domestic help it needs to thrive. I'm disturbed when greedy corporations stepping on these good Christian folk, and thankful for the unions supporting our working-class as they struggle to put food on their dinner tables. But with your screenwriters on strike, and broadcasters threatening to fill the airwaves with absurd new reality show mash-ups like Are You Smarter than a Singing Midget Who Loves New York? I feel like now is a good time to compromise a few principles, step across the Writers' Guild picket line, and offer up my writing talent — just to keep television running smoothly, of course.

And also because I'd fucking kill for the job these thankless little sell-out shits aren't doing. I would write for TV shows or movies gratis... I would write for the vast wasteland detritus — Zoey 101 or The Jimmy Kimmel Show or that super-sterile original programming on the ABC Family Channel — just to see my name in the credits and hear something resembling my words out of the actors' mouths. I would pay Viacom, Disney, Warner Brothers or NBC Universal to write for them. FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, ARE YOU LISTENING, STUDIOS!!!???

Not that I'm looking to screw anybody, but it's like watching professional beer tasters or racecar drivers complain about their jobs, but even more oblivious to the irony. I'd just love to watch some NBC exec march up to Tina Fey and throw her 30 Rock words back in her face, "You got into this business because you're funny, and you're weird, and you're socially retarded. And you also got into it because it pays well," and yes, I'd miss 30 Rock but the idea of Tina Fey working some shitty normal job like the rest of us suckers, like Tina Fey as a claims adjuster or Jon Stewart painting dotted lines down the freeway, is just so comically absurd — somebody ought to write it into a Saturday Night Live sketch, if the writers were actually working.

So I'll be stopping by Rockefeller Center and Viacom's headquarters in Times Square tomorrow, pushing aside the picket lines and that giant inflatable rat (I'll stick a few nails in the damn thing if that makes my proposal any more appealing), and pitching my ideas about a new comedy where a fireman and a pyromaniac share an apartment and date women who are way out of their league. Oh, oh, and I've got this one about obscenely rich, spoiled teenagers in Montana who wear skimpy clothes and have sex with each other. And one about four professional women who run their own shipbuilding yard....

Looking forward to scabbing for you!

Thanks,

Jay Harris

Friday, November 2, 2007

Men Suck!

The subway system is Seoul, South Korea is re-introducing womens-only cars, and that makes me sad for our species, as we took a giant step backwards in our thousand century evolution beyond our bestial instincts. Other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, and Mexico City have all decided that grown-ups need to be treated like we're at the sixth-grade dance because the concept of anio means anio, or é proibido means é proibido, or na means na is too mature for us. I think this CBS News report, hosted by a hot blonde chick, about Tokyo's grabbiness problem, more or less sums up the issue in a sexual harassment video right out of the late-eighties. Shiatsu Boss in the video comes off as pretty pervy, like that really unfortunate comely woman wants a shoulder-rub after spending all night in one of those claustrophobic office-tube beds, but I'm damn impressed by the balls on those two office horndogs, ogling that dirty magazine with their co-worker right freaking there! Unproductive, lecherous, and not at all ashamed of it, like it's their biological prerogative.

Turns out that Seoul is a festering petri dish of unabashed sleaze — you know, without trying to be judgmental, except they need to complicate daily life keeping the boys and girls apart so nothing inappropriate happens. I don't even see an attitude problem here, unlike the gender-separated subway cars in Cairo or the antipodal testosterone packed cars on the Paris Metro. When big fat guys are stuffing passengers past the closing doors, there's a bit of plausible deniability — not to mention honest accidents — in the situation that some people who have no qualms about paging through porn while they're supposed to be crunching numbers might take advantage of.

If Seoul ran more frequent, emptier subways, it's not like anyone's going to complain. Other than the gropers.