Tuesday, June 26, 2007

PUNK WISDOM

PUNK WISDOM: Fuck you very much for asking. I will be only myself. Time spent thinking of what I should be doing is lost time, time I might have used to do something fun. Of course, thinking these things is the antithesis of punk. PUNK WISDOM is not about thinking, it is about doing. It is about the present as opposed to the future or the past.

Perhaps this is the stuff from which great things are made.

Or maybe I'm just punchy from the heat.


Friday, June 22, 2007

It Happened in Williamsburg


Last night I hosted a comedy show in Williamsburg.

For those of you who aren’t from around here, you may appreciate a short geography lesson. I live in South Brooklyn, or Brownstone Brooklyn. It’s a charming, picturesque area filled with boutiques and yoga classes and stay-at-home Dads. People have backyards here. They know about wine. If they don’t have kids yet, they are practicing their parenting skills on their dog(s). North Brooklyn, the area that includes Williamsburg, used to have a lot of loft space, so gentrification of the former slum (anyone read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”?), was begun some years ago by artists looking for space. The artists have since been more or less priced out, and have left in their wake a hip, if ugly, area. Lots of tattoos and vintage dresses and serious philosophical talk about non-serif fonts and internet phenomena. Lots of bands with names that have the word “Cheese” in them.

I used to live in North Brooklyn. Even though I went to art school, and a small, liberal arts college, and have short hair, I could not really hang with the scene there. For me, and I judge not the many who have made it their home, Williamsburg and the neighborhoods around it is just a little too far on the “Trying” side of the “Being vs. Trying” spectrum. I chose the quieter, if less hip, South, and I shall never go back.

Unless it’s for stage time, of course, for which I have gone to far worse places, believe me.

This was a bar show. Often, bars that have stages set up for bands will find their one comedian friend and say, “Hey, friend. You’re a comedian. That’s a stage. How ‘bout getting a show together? We’ll have a comedy night! Everyone loves laughter!” The problem with this mentality is that unlike a band, a comedian is dependent on a focused audience in order to be effective. Usually the bar will set up some tables and chairs in front of the stage, where a few brave souls will sit and watch the show, while another throng of people gathers around the bar, somewhere away from the stage. The poor comic has to try to get his/her hilarious message to those who are interested, over the swell of the drunken, half-listening bar rats in the background. This was exactly the situation I faced last night. I would add only that the microphone was turned up too high, so my set was twice interrupted by some feedback in the style of the late Jimi Hendrix, but without the LSD.

Sounds pretty bad, right? We comics are sluts for stage time. We’ll do any show, anywhere.

I was hosting, as I said, which I do often and pretty well. I open the show, do maybe ten minutes, then introduce each comic. To be a good host you have to be able to improvise—make fun of the crowd without alienating anyone, and know when it’s good to do a couple jokes in between acts (like if someone just bombed or if the audience seems tired), and when it’s better to just bring on the next act. The audience also sees you as the person in charge, so if shit goes wrong, you may have to address it.

My friend Ben was in the middle of his set, about halfway through the show, when the heckling started.

We comedians can handle heckling. “I think I’m funnier than you” drunken spouting in a club, that sort of goes with the territory. But these guys last night were out of hand. There were three of them, and they sat way back at the bar, miles from the stage. I would describe their style and attitude as Hipster-Thug; trucker hats and hair and little jeans, with a side helping of blood lust.

Ben was having a great set, one of the funniest I’ve ever seen him do, and I’ve seen Ben’s act maybe fifty times. He was really getting into his groove when all of a sudden, from the back of the bar, with the subtlety of a Celine Dion power balad we hear: “You suck! Get off the stage! You’re a fucking pussy”, etc. Ben got mad, started yelling back. It went on from there. Comic after comic went on stage, interrupted periodically by touretic outbursts from these PBR-pickled hooligans. By the time I got on stage to bring up the last comic, the threesome had moved from the back of the bar to the table closest to the stage. They had quieted down some, but I could tell they were waiting to make their move. I decided to do a couple of jokes, loosen the mood a bit, when one of the three—big-ish with black curly hair so perfectly coiffed that it looked like a wig—stood up and asked me for the microphone.

There was no way I was going to give this guy this mic. Even though everyone in the bar who wasn’t a comic was begging me to do it, screaming for me to do it, even as he got closer and closer to the stage with a menacing look and his hand out, I was never going to put my mic in it. Because fuck him. After all that? I’m going to give this douchebag what he wants? No way!

I started doing a sort of Southern preacher thing. “I’ve worked too hard to get up on this stage! I’ve done open mics that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy! Can I get an amen, my brothers!” Still the guy stood there. I kept talking, making shit up, talking about how the guy could play me in a movie of my life, telling stories until finally he and his friends turned and walked out of the bar.

Let’s hear it for the little victories in life.

Afterwards, Joe, one of the guys who runs the show, approached me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re my fucking hero,” he said to me, “You can MC my show anytime.”

I just smiled, shook my head. “I’m not a hero, Joe, just a girl doing her job."

I was a camp counselor, after all. If you've faced a cafeteria filled with hormone happy Jewish kids on a ritalin vacation, you're pretty much ready for anything.

Good to know I could finally put those skills to good use.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Things I have done to make myself visible (In no particular order)


1. Wear very bright pink lipstick.
2. Perform—on a stage and elsewhere.
3. Behave in such a way so as to convince others that I am funny and creative.
4. Walk around in outrageous clothes and jewelry.
5. Keep a blog.
6. Write—plays, screenplays, letters, emails, jokes.
7. Lose weight.
8. Say incendiary things in public.
9. Try hard to be someone’s friend.
10. Project myself as a talented person.
11. Sing.
12. Dance.
13. Cook.
14. Go to parties and act impressive
15. Find a good relationship.
16. Play hard to get.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Addendum

Beyond being drug addicts and prostitutes, the disappeared women of Vancouver were people. Their underclass status allowed the police to be niggardly with time and money, causing the investigation to stretch on for years, enabling a serial killer to abduct more women.

For specific information about these women as individuals, rather than as nameless, faceless sex-working drug addicts, check out www.missingpeople.net. Here are some images from Lincoln Clarke's book Heroines, about women in the Downtown Eastside.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Visible Art, Invisible Lives


I am collecting my thoughts on art and usefulness. I was ready to write a whole snarky entry about a performance video I saw at the Brooklyn Museum’s Global Feminisms show. The piece is by Rebecca Belmore, a native Canadian artist (I have come to understand that her First Nations background is important to her definition of herself and her art, which is why I include that information). Her piece is called The Named and the Unnamed. Here is the aforementioned snarky entry that I had begun to write about it:

“What is the point of this shit?”

This is the question I asked myself while watching a video of a Canadian woman expending considerable effort freeing the skirt of her red dress from the wooden board to which she had just nailed it. It was hard work, pulling the skirt from the nails, and it caused much ripping and sweating and groaning from the Canadian. Then, the minute she finished yanking the skirt from the final nail, she walked a few feet over from where she had been standing, and started nailing the tattered remains of the skirt onto another board just so she could wrench it off again.

It is not the artifact itself that seemed pointless to me--there was a kind of beauty in the repetitive action, the sight and sound of the ripping material, the saturated red superimposed on the drab urban squalor in the background. Its projection over a scattering of illuminated tungsten light bulbs added to its pleasing visual effect, as did the black words scrawled across the arms of the artist. If beauty were the purpose of the piece, I would not hesitate to applaud it as an unqualified success.

But that’s not why she did it, this Canadian artist. Beauty was the intentional and somewhat unimportant byproduct of a statement she wanted to make. Rebecca Belmore (That’s the artist’s name) wanted to—commemorate? memorialize? draw attention to?—the disappearance of some other Canadian women.

And then I started reading about these disappearances, and my will to critique sort of deflated. It really is a pretty gruesome story. Some 54 prostitutes disappeared from Vancouver’s Skid Row, the Downtown Eastside, between 1983 and 2001. The police did not even get involved until 1998, and did not make an arrest until February of 2002 when they arrested a pig farmer named Robert Pickton. His ongoing trial for the murder of 27 women began in January of 2006.

I don’t know. Originally I was struck by the time and effort that this Rebecca Belmore wasted in making this piece. Wouldn’t she have done more good by funneling those resources into a more direct action? She could have volunteered at a women’s shelter or a rehab center or raised money for the victims’ families. But she is an artist, the argument goes, not a social worker or a fundraiser or a politician. Her role is to commemorate, memorialize, draw attention to an issue. But, to what end?

Artists did not cure AIDS, for example. They wrote about it, painted about it, performed about it, sang about it, filmed movies about it, did anything they could think of to commemorate, memorialize draw attention to it. But cure it? Did they help anyone? Well, they helped themselves, undoubtedly, since AIDS directly affected so many in the art community. But Canadian junkies don’t go to art shows. Prostitutes are not healed by performance art. What about homophobes? Do they go? Policy makers? Do Republicans go to galleries?

It’s a confusing issue, kids, ain’t no question about it. Maybe I myself stand as reason enough for Belmore to have made the piece. I saw it, I remembered it, it inspired me to look up the story of the missing women, inspired me to write about it here. Maybe it will inspire you to read about the women too. And to—what? Feel something about them?

Many of these women’s disappearances went unnoticed for a long time, often years went by before they were reported missing. That is the saddest part of the story for me. It is heartbreaking to imagine a life so solitary that its end concerns no other living soul. And still, right now on this earth we all share, there are people alive and alone; people whose solitude is so complete that their status as alive or dead makes little difference to anyone but themselves.

I am reminded of something said to me once...

I lived in Chile for a year after I graduated college. I met many Chileans who had spent some ten, fifteen, twenty years abroad, in exile. The idea of exile and torture and political upheaval was, of course, incredibly thrilling to me—an American bored by my country’s stability. I was like a teenager jealous of her friend’s trouble at home. Drama, after all, is the fascination of suburban youth.

I remember a conversation I had with one woman who had spent the eighties in either Switzerland or Sweden—the countries have very similar-sounding Spanish names and I never could remember which was which. I was commenting on how unnerving I found the Chilean habit of openly staring at strangers in the street. She responded by saying, “Yes. I noticed when I was in Switzerland (Sweden), everyone looked down, looked away. Nobody looked at me there. I felt as if I’d become invisible, like I’d disappeared.”

Rebecca Belmore got me to notice her, and through her I noticed these 54 lost girls. Because of a piece of art, people previously invisible to me had become visible.

Maybe there is a hope for art, after all.

Sigh...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Very Modern Bride

I am not really a person who goes in for schadenfreude. Paris Hilton’s pending mental breakdown in the face of honest-to-goodness incarceration, for example, does not add any kick to my coffee. Perhaps it’s because Paris’ life never seemed so wonderful to me before her conviction. A person who posts a video of herself staring blankly into a video camera while being taken from behind by Shannon Doherty’s ex-boyfriend, is not really a person I feel needs to be destroyed.

Someone who just won $10,000, on the other hand? Fire away, says I!

Heather Warnken was voted Modern Bride of the Year by the readers of Modern Bride magazine. What’s so winning about Heather? Well, let’s hear what she had to say in her audition video:

I want an inspiring career. I want my work to really matter. But, above that, my biggest goal in life is to be a success as a mother and soon a wife to the love of my life.

That is modern!
If I can survive my law school finals while planning the most memorable destination wedding Sonoma has ever seen for 200 of our closest friends and family, and always keep putting love and family first, I guess that makes me the Modern Bride of the Year.

Jeez. Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re very serious about your wedding, Heather. I hope you’re not letting your law studies distract you from important decisions about flower arrangements and seating charts. Maybe you should put that “career” thing on hold for awhile…at least until you’ve figured out what your theme should be! That is, if you really want it to be memorable.

Other highlights of Heather’s application?

If I were given a superlative title like in high school yearbooks, I’d be voted: Biggest Character (per my fianc√©!)

What does that mean? Anyone? Help me understand!

Here is my personal favorite:
If I were stranded on a desert island with my fiancé and could bring only three things, they would be: An Ipod with speakers, a blanket and sunblock!

Me? I’d go with matches, food, and book with a title like: “The Definitive Guide for Surviving on a Desert Island”. But sunblock is good. A blanket's good. I mean, you're going to be there awhile, you may as well get some color. An ipod will be great, too. At least up until the point when you need to charge it. Then you might have to eat your ipod.

Ah, wedding season.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Summer Festival

Walking in a crowd, dodging other people in a crowd--this is a summer festival in a northern city.

Garbage overflows from bins, napkins in varying degrees of cleanliness fly by. The sound of songs you know sung by a band you don’t mixes with the regular city sounds of subways and horn-honking and crazy people. You eat and drink in huge quantities at stadium prices, prices that seem bloated, even in this extortionate town.

You meander through bodies, sidestepping children and dogs and the inebriated masses, feeling a little lost, a little overwhelmed. Then you see the hand in front of you reach back, searching for your hand. And you provide your hand for the seeker—such an easy thing to give, really. It is no trouble at all, really.

And all at once you realize that you have been found.

Friday, June 08, 2007

DENTAL DRAMATICS PART II: Criminals and Communists


The morning that followed Friday night of Memorial Day weekend was inevitably Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. I discovered that most people who work in dental offices, like most people who work in libraries or hedge funds or post offices or as personal assistants to moderately famous film actors, desire not to work. And Saturday of Memorial Day weekend is a perfect day to fulfill that desire. Why would anybody want to look into the dank open mouth of a stranger, for example, when he/she could stay home and grill hot dogs to celebrate our men overseas?

I don’t begrudge anyone her will to BBQ. Just last night we grilled up a tasty pork tenderloin with a fragrant dry rub and some leftover mop sauce. Delish! My point is only that most people’s preference for grilling over working made the task of finding an open dental office on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend a hefty challenge. But, employing the kind of resourcefulness that becomes a personal assistant, especially one who teeters on the verge of utter catastrophe as often as I do, I located an open dental office in downtown Brooklyn.

Downtown Brooklyn is the bustling epicenter of my borough’s criminal justice system. If cheap lunch, world-weary public servants, irritable bureaucrats, or hardened criminals/unjustly accused innocents is what you’re after, downtown Brooklyn would be a wonderful place to start looking. Hotbed of cutting-edge dentistry? Not so much.

Atlantic Dental is flanked by a Kennedy Fried Chicken on one side and a school uniform/ ladies’ lingerie/ bed linen/ auto supply store on the other.

I opened the door at #1 Flatbush Avenue and climbed a dark, rickety stairwell, not unlike the one in Taxi Driver where Travis shoots Harvey Keitel. Atlantic Dental sits on the top of the stairs, on the second floor, protected by a metal cage. I followed the arrow to the intercom and waited to get buzzed in.

Buzzed into a dental office. Are you following this, readers? These are the desperate measures you too would go to if you had a hole in your molar big enough to store a spare Gummy Bear. You too would spend an hour in the “waiting room”, watching The Mod Squad on a teeny tiny ceiling-hung TV, waiting for the receptionist to call your name over the intercom from behind a thick sheet of bulletproof glass. You too would freeze for an additional hour in over air-conditioned back room, sitting on a sky blue dental chair with a huge gash down the center of it, leaking stuffing, while you stare at a poster advertising a new tooth-whitening system that is obviously intended for people who do not release hunks of tooth along with spinach and poppy seeds from their mouths when completing their nightly flossing ritual.

At last the dentist came in. He “said” that his assistant would give me x-rays. I use “said” because what the dentist spoke was really not all that similar to English. The dentist, along with every other employee at Atlantic Dental, as far as I could tell, conducted 100% of his communications with other employees in Russian. In fact, when the aforementioned assistant guided me to the x-ray room, she did so in the company of a husky, buzz-cut man, with whom she did not cease her Russian conversation, even as she was positioning my head on a kind of shelf and commanding me to stare straight ahead and bite.

“Do you see my feet?” she asked, taking a break from her conversation about horseradish or the Ukraine or the size of my ass or any other subject equally incomprehensible to me in this very foreign language.

“No,” I said. “How could I see your feet?” My head was, after all, on a shelf. Her feet were underneath the shelf. I am not a superhero.

More Russian. The man said something about something and she responded with some other thing. Really, I don’t speak any Russian at all. I don’t speak French either, but I would liken the experience of hearing French to sitting in a hotel in a city with the lights turned off and the blinds closed. Hearing Russian is like being wrapped in shroud, in a locked wooden trunk, in the depths of the deepest cave, on an uninhabited planet.

“Please, can you see my feet?” she asked again. Seriously, I was ready to punch this woman. She was small and blonde and pretty, and I was ready to smack her so hard she’d pray for the return of communism.

Speaking of communism…

The dentist himself was about fifty years old. His English was not good enough to work in a bagel store, let alone a dental office. Thus, we can deduce that the man in charge of solving the problem of my holey molar had received his training in? Communist Russia. Does that mean he was assigned dentistry as a career? What were the classes like? “Communist Dental 101: Dentistry as Torture device.” “Interrogator/Dentist: The glories of the hook and scrape for getting truth from subversives.”

Anyway, back to the x-ray machine.

As the huge gap in my tooth most likely makes obvious, I had not been to the dentist in a long time. I have since come to learn that dentistry, like so much of our modern world, has become computerized. A little camera, a couple of clicks and—voila!—there’s your teeth on a big screen. Not knowing this, however, I thought nothing of resting my chin on this very tall machine and waiting while it took a slow picture of my entire mouth. It seemed perfectly natural that the blonde slap-needing assistant should leave the room with her bearish companion and close the door while the picture was being taken. In retrospect, I feel lucky that my leg didn’t turn green. Chernobyl, after all. We can’t forget Chernobyl.

We had to wait for the x-ray to develop so I retired to my sad, freezing room and resumed my study of the tooth-whitening poster. At last the dentist came in and “informed” me that I needed a root canal. I asked him to be more specific, but of course, he had no idea what I was saying. He wrote me a referral for an endodontist—not a specific one, just any old endodontist I could find, and sent me on my way, bearing the x-ray and my as-yet unfilled hollow tooth.

On the way out I saw two men huddled just inside the doorway of #1 Flatbush Avenue, smoking a blunt. It was a good day.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

DENTAL DRAMATICS PART I: The Fellowship of the Floss

It was Friday night, the vanguard of Memorial Day Weekend. It was hot—lemonade hot. Newspaper-flapping hot. The kind of hot that inspires people to forget about hygiene and dive head first into nasty public pools and beaches, desperate for relief. The kind of hot that leaves people heavy and slow to laugh, like a snake after a kill. A midsummer hot, a July hot, the kind of hot that makes me imagine what it will be like when I go to a museum with my child to visit snow.

My roommates, like most of New York City, had fled, seeking out a more pastoral setting for their long weekend, respite from the pungent pizza and garbage smell of New York in summer. Greg and I were looking forward to an empty house, with periodic visits from friends and much intense grilling.

We spent a quiet Friday night at home, and here I was now, flossing, diligently working the space between my second and third molars on the right side. This, my widest space, often stores large offerings from past meals in strings and chunks, so I took extra pains, as I always do, to insure that the gap was free and clear of debris. But I must been expecially enthusiastic that night, because on its final swoop through the space, my floss discharged a sizable nugget—it was hard and sharp and heavy enough to knock against the sink with a “ping” and plummet towards the bathmat with gravitas.

I retrieved the hunk of stuff from the mat and held it up to the light. It was immediately apparent, even to my untrained eye, that what I beheld was a large piece of my own tooth, white-esque and jagged, with a hollow and unmistakably brown interior. I studied it for a moment, with a kind of scientific curiosity, then burst into tears.

An hour later found my poor boyfriend failing to comfort me as I grieved the loss of my tooth, the onset of tooth decay and my failure to heed the dire warnings so prominently displayed on posters in the dental offices of my youth.


“My teeth are rotting out of my mouth!” I wailed.

“There there,” said Greg, patting my fetal-curved back.

“I'm like a hillbilly! I am an Appalachian!” I moaned. (I do apologize to any Appalachian readers. In moments of intense anguish, we can often be insensitive and xenophobic.)

The next day was Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, and I had to find emergency dental care…

To be continued…