Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I had my palm read Friday night, and that's what the woman told me. She was under the impression that I was in my late 20s, and when I whispered to her my actual age, she looked disappointed. "It's not too late," she said, letting go of my hand. "You could still choose the other life," but she didn't look like she meant it. Then again I'm not sure how skilled a professional she was; it was my left hand, and I kept waiting for her to mention the fact that my ring finger basically forms a triangle with the rest of my hand, which is unusual, but she never did. So I'm not too worried about the rest of her forecast. And besides, it was free. You get what you pay for.
She was the middle sister of three long-black-haired dames lined up at this bar called the Garage. I ended up there because I'd been out for beers with some kids from school, at a funny German bar called Lederhosen, which has an enormous mural of Alps-ish scenery filling the walls of the entire back room and serves beer in 1-litre steins. "Oh, I'll just stop in for one" goes from self-delusion to honest goal at a place like that. It was fun. Afterwards, several of us were standing around outside the bar pretending to smoke cigarettes when it started to rain. It was like 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but it rained anyway, really ferociously, and all but two people in the crowd had umbrellas with them. Amazing! How had they known it would rain? There'd been no indications. Or had I missed them? I'd been studying. Anyway, it poured, and as we walked toward the subway a couple of us were trying to decide if we should continue to bar-hop despite not knowing a single thing about a single bar in the vicinity. It kept raining as we stood there deciding, so finally someone said "How about that place there" and we scurried in.
It was the Garage, and while getting beers I was pulled into conversation with a guy who later ended up dancing very closely with one of the three dark-haired ladies at the bar. Then the band started up. My two colleagues, a girl and a boy, and I retired to a table with our drinks. (One girl had deserted pre-beer, citing an understandable preference for a steaming rather than a frosty beverage.) Eventually the fellow, a DC newsboy who wears a sportcoat like a good old-school reporter should, suggested dancing. There was already some going on. We joined in. One of the three dark-haired ladies at the bar demanded that the band play "Stormy Weather," and the band obliged. The drummer was hot. They all are, I guess. I crept to the ladies' room. When I came back, my colleagues were embroiled in conversation with the leader and oldest of the three. She was a trip. They were all triplets, in fact, no no, just sisters, no, it turned out they weren't probably related at all by blood, but the three of them together made for an odd and very New York style of night. The oldest one ordered the middle one to read my palm, and that's how I found out about my complicated future. Although it's just as likely, I guess, that they were studying my hand to create opportunities for groping around in search of a wallet or something. You never know; it could go either way.
Eventually they left, and later, so did we.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Les, I put a few big words in there for ya!
(And yes, I know the thesis is a little crazy; the prof seems to be fine with that.)
[title would go here, if I could think of one]
Suppose you were allowed, without fear of discovery or reprimand, to sock George W Bush in the teeth. You'd probably do it. We all probably would. And Bush isn't the only likely victim in this fantasy. Think about the people who, every day, send you into a spitting rage: your ex, your boss, your personal trainer, that guy who just cut you off in traffic. The late-shift barista. Your copy editor, or, if you are a copy editor, that writer who resists all understanding of the apostrophe. "You hate your boss at your job," the Flaming Lips sang on Bad Days, "but in your dreams you can blow his head off."
Even perfectly reasonable people sometimes have the urge to bestow violence upon the deserving. In real life, of course, we can't do any such thing. Common sense and the social contract are there to stop us. But we can go to a movie and watch somebody else do it.
Action movies are best for this. For example, several scenes in the otherwise forgettable new gangster-cartoon movie Shoot 'Em Up will resonate with those of us likely to flunk out of anger-management class. In one scene, the film's post-apocalyptic hero, Smith (Clive Owen [author's note: aka my boyfriend]), decides to steal a fancy car purely because it's parked illegally in a handicapped-parking space, the implication being that anyone so insensitive deserves to have his car stolen. Seconds later, Smith is enraged again because the driver in front of him consistently fails to use his turn signal when changing lanes. When the sloppy driver then throws a discarded paper cup out the window, Smith explodes - he speeds up and, still driving the car he removed from the handicapped space, bashes the litterbug right off the road. Social contract? What social contract?
Movies let us do the things we wish we could do in real life, whether it's shooting bad guys or bedding good guys. "You're sorta stuck where you are," the Flaming Lips song continues, "but in your dreams you can buy expensive cars, live on Mars and have it your way." Movies make it easy to rob banks, steal cars, smash through plate-glass windows, fly, flirt, win every time. In this way they make life tolerable. Some movies offer hope, some release. A film like Shoot 'Em Up leans toward the latter. The ersatz satisfaction achieved through vicarious violence holds at bay a vague but persistent sense of despair that creeps in when we start to ponder our helplessness in the face of quotidian evil. Inside the movie theater, you get to fight back. You don't have to suppress your anger and act like nothing's wrong. You're allowed to break free of all those civilized constraints. You're supposed to, in fact. You're supposed to laugh when Shoot 'Em Up's antihero corrals a mother who's beating her child and gives her an instructive spanking. You're supposed to cheer when he interrogates and then assassinates a once-decent politician who has sold out and become a hypocrite. It's about time somebody taught those people a lesson, isn't it?
Of course it wouldn't be practical to go around arguing that all politicians who violate their own moral codes should be shot. A person could get into trouble. So we hoard our fury, our disgust and disillusionment, all of our messy and irrational feelings, until we're in a place where expressing them is appropriate, where they can't do any harm.
Inside a movie theater, people become invisible. There's a magical transformation that starts when the lights fade. It turns an ordinary human into a weightless observer, a bodiless pair of eyes. The same sensation often occurs in foreign cities where, wandering unfamiliar streets, you recognize no one, no one recognizes you, and the inability to understand the language isolates you to the point that you start wondering if you can, actually, still be seen. When you're in that state - an invisible, floating perceiver - actions have no consequences. You can do anything you like. It's easy to be brave, because there's no risk; you're not even really there.
The problem is that when we come back to ourselves at the end of the movie, we find that we have left our rage behind. It's been spent, exorcised. Watching a good movie - or even a bad one if it's exciting and involving enough - is cathartic. But catharsis purges. Aristotle believed that watching violence on stage drained the viewers of their own turbulent emotions.
Partly that's what we want from movies: to be relieved, tranquilized. Purging angst through drama sounds like a fine idea if we're talking about cases like road rage, bullying and petty annoyances.
But is it wise to habitually jettison anger? When the urge to fight back is so easily worked out and smoothed away inside a darkened theater, is there anything left in us for the real world? What if films are taming our spirit of outrage and lulling us into submission? In other words, do we really want to let Clive Owen take care of the bad guys for us? As tough as he is on screen, Shoot 'Em Up's Smith can't do much about our real bullies. Dictators, terrorists, secret governmental endorsements of torture - these things are beyond the reach of silver-screen avengers.
It's tempting to declare helplessness in the face of such enormous evil and continue fighting our battles in an arena where we know we'll come out as winners. And the movies do help us get through our days without going mad. But given the state of the world, shouldn't we be a little mad?
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
"It's a highly astute and exciting move that will unleash transformational opportunities ... the very beginning of a whole new journey for all of us ... we are keen to engage with you directly in as many ways as possible."
Oooh - that sounds dirty! But maybe fun, too - especially if everyone in the company suddenly starts affecting a posh accent.
In other news: One recent night I spotted a little red Honda Hawk parked on the street outside my apartment building, and I realized - with something like horror - that it gave me a much more visceral thrill than I would've felt if I'd merely seen George Clooney or Brad Pitt. Today on the walk back from school I saw another one, gray, and I waded through a band of Chinatown moppets leaving kindergarten to get a better look at it. Every time a bike of any kind goes by, I practically break my neck to check it out. Can you say addiction? I knew you could.
Misc updates: I guess I never wrote about my grad-school orientation. I won't now, either - it's old news. David Carr from The New York Times came to speak, and he was very weird and hilarious. Advised us to abandon sleep and do everything, even if it means doing most of it poorly. Hmm. Well, it is NYC...
Some of you probably don't even know what I'm doing in New York in the first place. Well, half the time neither do I. But I'm out here temporarily, getting a master's in journalism at NYU, in a program called Cultural Reporting & Criticism. (Sorry if I'm repeating myself here. Feel free to skip ahead to the juicy parts. Oh, wait...sigh.) It's all about writing cultural commentary, New Yorker-style essays, better and meatier reviews of books/films/etc, and articles about things happening in life that aren't "hard news." My aim is, basically, to write the same kind of stuff I was writing before, only better, and more often, and for more than ten cents a word.
So far there's been more reading than writing, as we're supposed to get a feel for how we fit into the ancient hallowed tradition of criticizing other people for a living. The first few things we read were from the 1840s (Margaret Fuller). Since then it's been people like Dwight MacDonald, George Orwell, Randall Jarrell (famous for his poems, but I like his essays better), Pauline Kael, Norman Mailer (my neighbor, by the way, here in Brooklyn Heights - how's that for posh?), Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Greil Marcus etc.
We got our first writing assignment back on Friday. Disastrous, to a man. The whole class was scolded with almost comical severity. (Meaning that it was so harsh it would've been funny, except that The Controversial Katie Roiphe can actually be kind of scary.) Yep, we suck. All of us (that's the only good part). Overall, Results were Very Disappointing. Rewrites are due this Friday, and I think it's safe to say that everyone is terrified.
But hey, at least someone's reading our essays. Nobody reads essays anymore.
Anyway. Here is a picture of the sign on my apartment building, where I sleep and type and in front of which I can usually be found sitting on park benches reading ancient literary critics:
It's an old hotel, almost certainly haunted (see? it says SPIRITS right there on the building!).
And here are some trembly nighttime shots (no tripod, sorry) from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, two blocks away:
Doesn't it look fake?
The benches on the Promenade are usually full of people making out. Gross.