Friday, April 25, 2008


Harrigan is a docent at the Guggenheim, leading tours — "interactive discussions," which I now realize is redundant, "of current exhibitions" — and I thought it would be fun hearing her talk and a wide open door into art appreciation, so I followed her and about seven other people around the museum's current show, Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe. Not to be confused with the similarly-subtitled X-Files movie coming out this summer, like nine years too late.The centerpiece of Cai's show is Inopportune: Stage One, seen here lifted off someone's Flickr page. It's a pretty spectacular sight, and I don't have my own photograph because the Guggenheim has a team of security nazis telling tourists "no photography" and just being utter tools in general. I'll have more to say about this later.

It took me a while to get a grip on what's going on here, even though Cai's liner notes (or whatever the art museum equivalent is called) make a point of his trying to make the show straightforward and free from the elitist art references that occlude so many other modernists' meanings. First I saw a bunch of cars hanging from the ceiling with colored light rods sticking out of them. Then the colored light rods sort of fused with my mental images of fireworks, which is closer thematically, yet still utterly wrong as an abstraction of the artist's experience and intent.

I've never been good at this art appreciation thing. I sat through my Art Humanities class in college convinced it was one giant trick question: everything was pulled from somebody's ass, on either extreme of obvious or obscure and never just fitting together neatly. We might be looking at a slide of Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch and the professor will point out that the figures of Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist form a triangle, and a triangle has three sides, and there are three manifestations of God in the Holy Trinity so (duh!) this painting of Mary, two creepy naked babies, and a bird represents the Holy Trinity, and the class will be gaping like she just solved the Da Vinci Code. Connecting any three points with straight lines will make a triangle — sort of the definition of a triangle, there — and there are lots things that come in groups of three. Maybe Raphael was foreseeing the Stooges. It's possible.

Spoiler alert: Inopportune is Cai's artistic depiction of a car-bombing, conceived in the media frenzy after 9/11. We got the background from the non-interactive part, the respite, of the discussion: Post-9/11, pretty much up till the present day, the morning news would start your day off with whatever footage of a car skeleton, a rubble-strewn street, and some number of people dead came over the wire last night. In his frustration, Cai and his uncredited team built Inopportune, a kind of multiple-exposure image of a white Chevy exploding up into the Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda. I was actually pretty fond of Fireworks in Dangling Cars, at least on an aesthetic level, but it's one of those things where you take a second look and see the work of someone who's bitching about media overexposure through a five-story installation in the entrance of a major museum. Discuss.

The methodology behind these "interactive dialogues," Museum Tours 2.0, comes straight from the darkened college lecture hall. Harrigan gave us a little background, then asked, "What do you see?" There's always somebody in the group who's really eager to speak up, plus somebody in the group ready to give an abstract answer to a very temporal question. "Liveliness. Chaos." (It's not Mondrian, but you'd need a really OCD life to pull uncontrollable chaos out of Cai's exhibition.) "Why do you think Cai insisted on using American cars?" Harrigan asked us, loaded but inevitable, and, "[There's an unmodified white car on the lobby floor, by the admissions line, and another one on the top floor, at the very peak of Wright's famous circular ramp.] Do we think the cars are falling, or are they going up?" And Final Jeopardy: "Why do you think Cai chose to call this show I Want To Believe?" In teacher mode, and she's good at this, Harrigan reminded us that there are no wrong answers — no mention of stupid answers, however — so feel free to speak up...

...except there are wrong answers, and I respect Cai for that. The cars, another spoiler coming up, are deliberately falling upwards, for example. This revelation turned him from an attention glutton in my mind to a pretty clever guy, at least with regard to Inopportune. You can't pick up the visual evidence in the picture I copied, but Cai's car-bombing in time transitions from (an abstraction of) reality to a sort of consoling quantum-mechanical fantasy: the explosions' colors become cooler and less realistic, blues and pinks, as the installation reaches upwards, and he imagines the car landing on the top floor, whole, and upright. Cai's thoughts on the piece pretty clearly draw an image of hope against the depressing media blitz, but that's really facile for somebody in his position, like I said, hanging from the ceiling of the Guggenheim over thousands of gawking visitors.

What somehow became clearer in the post-9/11 media coverage, and I think what's so obnoxious about the images of terrorism broadcast that they reinforce the fundamentalists' attitudes towards your fear and your role in the larger world. The crawl, the talking heads, the dead count in Iraq (but, rarely in the Sudan, Myanmar, or — until it could be linked with Westerners protesting a sports event — Tibet): the world is so complicated, run by corporations and institutions, that you, the average nine-to-five worker or dispossessed immigrant, have zero agency. You might join with 71% of your fellow population calling for an end to the war in Iraq, and the guy running the show just says, "So?" With Inopportune, Cai crosses from media outsider to insider (the fact that he was always an art insider notwithstanding) and becomes the same shrill, dogmatic voice that pushed him into the project in the first place.

Inopportune rejects dialogue, and I feel like it does so much more insidiously, non-profit, than the media does. Yes, you can talk about the work, how it makes you feel, how you respond to it, in a group of six camera-wearers and a grad student volunteering her time. So long as you're insulated, you remain a consumer instead of a producer. So long as what you say doesn't actually matter. That's why you're not allowed to take pictures — it's not like the artist doesn't want his work preserved as a framed two-dimensional digital representation, because there are plenty of professional photographs of I Want To Believe flying around the web. Cai... well, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt... his patrons maintain their power, their importance, by being the sole presenters of the work, just like the mass media. Why have curators if some yokel visiting from Podunktown can decide whether Cai's work is important, and by whatever philistine pseudo-Democratic American Idol Kinkade-skewed criteria they use, no less!

So I'm being subversive here, saying what I really think of the piece, just like getting your daily news off of But I realize that without Cai's notes, and the Guggenheim's curation, I would've just been looking at some cars with lights. It's not that I mind being told what somebody else thinks; it's the disingenuous nature that starts controlling how I think that bothers me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Biggest Earth Day Hypocrisy Award Goes To...

...the "Green Issue" of Vanity Fair, the multi-inch thick magazine that includes an entire rainforest in every issue. Old-growth rainforest, the classy stuff. And who better to embody the spirit of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" than the Material Girl for the cover?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's A Blanket!

I am such a sucker for mood lighting, soft techno-lounge music, and gimmicks, so I've been dying to spend an evening at trendy Manhattan club Duvet. Duvet, in addition to throwing Hunkmania every Friday and Saturday evening ("Indulge your bachelorette party fantasy, celebrate a birthday or the have the ultimate girls night out. Celebrate being a woman and enjoy life with these Sexy HUNKS!"), spoils the "dress to impress" crowd's hedonism with bottle service in bed, literally. Thirty dining beds, banquettes, and seven private "intimate" bedrooms where you either want to be the night's first couple or you want to just avoid. (I assume they're for people who don't exactly have a private zone at home.) Everyone's got to stand out somehow; if I ever got the chance to own a club, I'd call it "Hammock" and replace all the seats with... well, hammocks. Hey, it's better than my other idea, "Bidet." (But worse than my blanket fort cafe idea.)

I got my chance last night, cover-free, courtesy of Netparty, and it was... I guess the right word would be "comfortable." Really, all the excitement you'd expect from sitting on a bed. But as someone who'd like to see Western fashion move towards an all-pajama direction, I felt a sort of kinship. Like if you go the Olive Garden, is there any good reason you have to sit up straight, keep your feet off the table, not scratch yourself there?

Mites. Forgot about mites.

I thought folks would be claiming beds right away, but it looked like young professionals showed up for the happy hour first and sleepytime later. Personally, I like exploring first, so found the Ice Bar, the jellyfish aquarium (Duvet's website says it "houses over 100 exotic jellyfish," but I counted five), the bathroom, then found an empty giant bed and, you know, sat on it. Pros: 400-count sheets, imported Italian pillows. Cons: not as comfortable as the Brookstone bed, not allowed to jump on the bed (I assume, I didn't ask), and right, no duvets! Took my shoes off. Laid back, curled up. Wasn't bad. I mean, I could do the same thing at home; I even have the right lighting.

I really wanted to get out my laptop and shine under its soft gray light, but the mattress and booze still didn't put me enough at ease. Inevitably, someone thinking they're duly pitying me would come up and remind me, joshing, "Hey, work is over! Get out there and have some fun!" Which would be the point — not that my personal projects, this writing and stuff, isn't fun to me — but nobody's drifting my way in the first place and I only opened the computer like an anglerfish, passively luring folks over. I do want to try it some day, but I need to think of a witty, but friendly retort first. Instead I started chatting with this girl whose friends left her alone — second unsolicited, unprompted conversation with a chick ever! Yay! (?)

I'd go back, with friends, but I bet what you're dying to hear about are the bathrooms! God, the best thing about these posh places are the comically nouveau trendy bathrooms, as if the concept needs improvement. Duvet has two bathrooms, both obviously designed by someone who's never used a public bathroom before. First motif is the one-way glass doors, so there's a mirror on the outside and tinted window inside, so you don't miss a minute of the party while you're evacuating. Of course I knew no one could see inside, but the setup doesn't ameliorate any piss anxiety, especially since the top floor bathroom's right freaking there, behind the clear jellyfish tank and it's a swinging door and there's no lock. Second motif is no toilets or urinals, just a drain running along the wall, like the one you're not supposed to use at the gym shower, and kind of fenced off. I took pictures. I hope they're expecting me to tie my horse to those posts or something, because there's no way I'm peeing there.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Since when did the Germans become masters of understatement? I'm talking about this article from Reuters, "Thief deposits loot with victim."

BERLIN (Reuters) - Three days after stealing a rare collection of coins, a thief in Germany took them to the bank for safe keeping -- and delivered them into the hands of the man he had robbed.

"I don't think the thief was expecting that," said a spokesman for police in the western city of Dortmund on Tuesday.

No, I'm pretty sure if the thief knew the banker was the guy he robbed, he would've chosen a different bank.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

People Are Fungible

Mermaiden (probably not her real name) posted this comment after I got all ambivalent about, and I think it reflects a couple of my concerns, too:

do you really think online dating is a good tool? i have had a few interests online, and i do think it is a very easy way to meet people, but being pooled by your personality and then randomly selected for only certain individuals kind of ruins the whole natural selection process, don't you think?

And I was (am) a little concerned about the same idea that Mermaiden had. It sure beats arranging a marriage to the best-bred person your family can afford. I assume. I guess it depends on the size of your dowry, how many cows or Emperor coins or sacks of grain your betrothed can get for you. But not that I've gone through the whole First Meetings™ process or anything, but it feels inorganic in its own special way.

I don't think it's the mechanics of Internet dating that's the problem. Way back in the days when your father might try to marry you off to the local duke before you hit puberty, people were having unseen forbidden, chivalric affairs via furtive epistolaries, collected in tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Pyramus and Thisbe, lead actor from High School Musical and lead actress from High School Musical, you know. I had my own impossible online love back in the "You've Got Mail!" days when you couldn't be online for too long before someone in the house picked up the phone and left nothing but miles between the two of you. I was in New Jersey, Jenny a.k.a. (I already tried — the address is long dead) was in Georgia, and we shared a genuine, redemptive love — where the mere fact that you're sharing yourself with another soul makes all the shit disappear — across six-hundred fifty miles.

That's the thing about the internet, like the letters of Heloise and Abelard, it connects your thoughts and your ideas and whatever sort of schmoopy emotion's festering in your minds. It's the same stuff that makes you smile when you meet someone special IRL and, okay, you're not gonna get to hit that over the web (no matter how much some people will try), but hire a prostitute if all you want is to snap the release valve on your lust.

But with Chemistry, those ideas, the stuff that really grabs your love muscle (sounds dirty, not meant to be) is pretty contrived. You get your picture, your profile, "about my match," but you don't actually communicate, which some people say is key to a relationship. If someone thinks you're hot, the two of you get to fill out a Relationship Essentials questionnaire, which is such a turn-on, and if your potential affection survived that, there's a short essay part of the courtship. I don't care how compatible Dr. Helen Fisher says we are; this all just the opening act you have to sit through. Stilted, perfunctory, not why you're here. So I just plug in my answers and hope she plugs in hers and wait excitedly (read: anxious as hell) to get to the stage where she or I either comes alive or dies a pathetic, lovelorn death.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I'm disappointed in San Francisco, their Olympic torch relay, and mostly their attempts to quarantine the torch from protesters like it might catch social consciousness germs. I expect that crap from Paris or London, or pretty much anywhere else in America, where people playing games, and corporate sponsorship of the same, have always outweighed the rights of oppressed peoples half a world away. But San Francisco has a pretty sizable and vocal population pressing for its own basic human rights concerns, so their indifference — tacit support, really — for the Tibetan genocide is so... decadent and Western.

I'm particularly amused by the official Chinese response, first and foremost by the simple fact that these Communist fogies who order protesters murdered believe they have a right to an opinion, period, and that we have an obligation to listen and agree with it. China called the protests "an obvious act of defying the Olympic spirit." You know what, China? How about you get back to exporting bird flu and poison toothpaste and shut the fuck up, okay?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I bought my ticket to Berlin today. May 9. Non-refundable. I spent an hour building up my chi before taking the leap, and I've been feeling like I used up all my hit points, not to mention twenty-three hundred dollars, on this purchase. I'm trying to be positive — great deal on airfare! JFK to Berlin and Budapest to Paris to JFK for $618! That's less than eight cents a mile! — but here's what I can't stop thinking. Foreign language. Roommate. Foreign languages, plural. Fifty or so peers. What if I don't make friends? How do I get from Tegel to the hotel? I don't even know what hotel I'm supposed to get to.

I worry about my inability to micromanage this tour.

I was at work when I booked the tour, so I went back to my desk kind of shaken. I told my boss... I e-mailed him, even though he sits five feet away from me... I told him that I wouldn't be in for twelve days in May and, parenthetically, that I bought a ticket to Berlin. Oh my God, he couldn't have been more excited. I got the same thing from people when I went to Italy, and I'm speechless at that. "I think this will be really great for you!" "Tell me more, are you in Berlin the whole time!?" And of course, since I e-mailed him, "Oh, why didn't you tell me the good news sooner!?"

Uh... you are aware that you're not going to Europe? Right? You're gonna be stuck here, working.

But it balanced out, since I told Mom ("Oh, by the way, I booked my tickets today. And we're out of Poland Spring.") and she was noticeably less thrilled: "Are you sure you don't want to wait till tomorrow?" Thanks, Mom — after I booked the trip. Real encouraging.

Monday, April 7, 2008

You know your community ate paint chips as a baby when it can't even get a parking lot right. Here's the recipe for a perfect parking lot: Take one parcel of land, cover in asphalt, paint lines. Then leave it alone, you're done!

The year you get your driver's license is always the year your high school messes up the parking situation — they had no idea so many juniors would be driving to school! — and I've been touchy about parking injustice ever since. There was this permit system with stickers and registration numbers, so different people could park in different spaces in different lots at different times. The inevitable daily result was that all of your available spaces were filled, plus there'd be plenty of open spaces that you couldn't use since you didn't have Alpha Level 2 Code Black privileges. I suggested an alternate system, where whoever arrived at the space first got to park there — you know, just like in every other parking lot on the planet. But I think it was less about the parking and more about the power trip, which is so egregious. I mean, I'm already driving to school in a beige 1988 Ford Taurus station wagon, how much more humiliated do I have to be?

Ever since, I've been waging a one-man protest against parking meters and their partners, the two-hour residential parking limit. I'd rather the signs just
say outright Fuck You, Commuters!

Here's how things stand right now: Last year, the daily parking rate at the train station was three dollars. The Borough Council, or whatever cranky old people make the decisions in this town, raised the price to a round $3.25 — claiming that they had to raise the price to cover increased sales taxes. Sales taxes went up 0.25% but the town council raised the parking fee by 7.6% to cover it? Someone needs a new calculator. But that happened without too much incident. Then, maybe a month ago, the train station ghosts put signs around the building that the machine outside that eats your dollar bills and shits parking tokens and change was now out of service, because the town was "in the process of selecting a new system." I don't know — I would've probably waited until the new system was installed, or being delivered, or at least chosen, before decommissioning the current system.

We have a temporary system in place. A police officer stands by the parking meters with one of those metal cash boxes, and civilians hand cash over to a cop in exchange for parking rights. I'm not saying anything unscrupulous is going on with people paying a police officer to avoid getting a ticket, but it doesn't look that good. Maybe if I slip him a twenty, he'll let me park in a handicapped space?

On March 29, the town raised the price of daily parking again, announcing that as of April 1, keeping your car in the lot for a day would cost five dollars, a healthy 54% increase... and, I guess they chose their new parking meters, because the same promulgation made clear that the fee was five bucks in quarters. For those of you doing the math at home, that's a hundred quarters a week. Video arcades don't have that many quarters. There's a part of me that's really looking forward to the first of the month, when all the daily parkers head to the bank across the street to exchange a hundred dollar bill for two thousand quarters.

Fanwood (rightfully) claims it needs the extra revenue after the governor cut the state aid available to small towns, but it turns out our town seriously overestimated the demand for inconvenient five-dollar parking, especially after consumers are already being gouged by New Jersey Transit, the Port Authority, the MTA, and oil companies. The lot, which used to be filled to capacity, now operates at about forty percent... so now the town is making less money off the lot than they were before.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Family Circus Isn't Funny

Remember back in the good old days of the newspaper comics, when Gary Larson would every now and then publish a Far Side that was utterly bewildering to anybody who's never been dropped on their head. I think this Family Circus is Bil Keane's homage to a master.... The only thing is that with Larson, even when you couldn't figure out why the comic was funny, you at least knew where the joke was supposed to be. This Family Circus is... uh...

Well, in semiotic terms, the drink signifies... No, that doesn't work.

But in context...

It's like Keane was smoking hash one day and drew up this brilliant anti-comic epitome of The Family Circus. Where there's normally an observation of Jeffy's limited grasp of some common English phrase, instead Keane filled his circle with the most extreme, anodyne scene possible. A modern artist would invite the audience's participation and interpretation, but since I have no interest in the characters, Jeffy and his perpetual look of shock, or his father whats-his-name with the missing eyes, I'm starting to wonder if Keane's not testing me. I think he wants vindication, proof that anyone not chuckling at Jeffy pestering the Lord to bless his Spiderman action figure is a sexual deviant raping American values and destined to be left among those screaming and gnashing their teeth during the End Times. Take that, parodists! Teaches Me About Me

It's been six days since I began looking for love on, and I don't think it's going the way I expected. The way it works is every day, you log in and rate whoever the Chemistry's sophisticated algorithms matched for you. Then — this is what I look forward to every day — you click on the "Refresh Matches" button and five new matches appear. It's like a slot machine of love: "Big money! Big money! No whammy! Stop!" The site is supposed to spit back personalized relationship matches approved by Dr. Helen Fisher's insights into human nature, but I think it's just handing me profiles at random. (Either that, or I'm inscrutable.... that's probably it.) But then yesterday, Anne signed up with and I was the very first match it sent her.

Now this shatters my whole view of logic gate generated relationships. First thought was maybe Dr. Fisher is onto something. Or there are five or fewer guys on in the first place.

It's tough to judge anybody from their profile alone (because most people write crappy profiles) but Chemistry does provide you with everybody's personality, in pie chart form. I'm not a big subscriber to the whole Myers-Briggs type dichotomy matrix idea, so I guess it shouldn't bother me too much that I'm a "Director/explorer" but this match is an "Explorer/builder" and this other one's a "Negotiator/director" and whatever, but it does. I'm expecting consistency from the algorithm.

One thing that is almost certain about — and I did know this about myself — is that I have a secret, unexplored five-foot-four fetish. Exactly: seventeen out of my twenty matches so far. Is it trying to tell me something, like maybe I should be hanging out in the petite section of Lane Bryant to look for love?