Enter the Antwoord

This piece is dedicated to my favorite person in the world, M. Berlin, though he might not love me as much.

“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who know about Die Antwoord, and those who are about to find out.”

I stand outside the Gramercy Theater, watching people dressed as cowboys and Indians enter the venue to find standing room for Die Antwoord.  This is going to be interesting, I think to myself.  As if Die Antwoord wasn’t theatrical enough, the show has to take place on Halloween weekend, making it impossible to separate the everyday run-of-the-mill freaks from the fakers.  This makes for a most disorienting experience.  The band in itself is an inspiring visual masterpiece of at-home, prison-ish tattoos and big dicks in Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon boxer shorts.

My friends raved about Die Antwoord’s set at Coachella just this past year and I had been trying to get on the bandwagon ever since.  Antwoord is one of those bands that I feel obligated to appreciate for their sheer level of absurdity bordering self-parody, even if I can’t imagine buying any of their music or listening to it for enjoyment purposes.  They’re just a little more out of the box than I normally care to venture.  Their last video featured a forest of dildos for fuck’s sake.

But enough about that.  Let’s Enter the Antwoord.

On the back wall, grainy footage of Die Antwoord’s teeth and tattoos plays.  The images have the same greenish, grainy quality that I so loved in Hostel and other such films about getting body parts sawed off.  Oh, the terror.  The lights rise to reveal a hooded, masked fellow manning the turntables at the back of the stage.  This is DJ Fish Sticks, something I learn (to my delight) when the lady half of Die Antwoord, Yo-Landi, yells it later on through a mouth of gold teeth.  Soon after, Fish Sticks is joined by his comrades: a hidden man in an outfit that smacks of executioner-cum-burlap bag (Ninja) and a toe-head, menacing-looking blonde (the aforementioned Yo-Landi) in a glorified white Snuggie covered in the band’s signature cartoons – vaguely Aboriginal faces with rounded teeth.

The crowd bounds with the beat immediately.  Up and down, up and down.  It is an infectious enthusiasm and even though I can’t understand half of the words in their South African lexicon, I find myself yelling “I’m a Ninja/ You a Ninja/ We’s a Ninja/ HUH!”  And later, when Ninja instructs us to sing along to a tune loosely about “You’re mother’s private parts in a fish jar” I’m standing with everyone else yelling foul mouthed things repeatedly in words that may as well be German – I have no idea what the fuck I’m saying but I’m pretty sure it’s offensive.

Die Antwoord’s gimmicks are so gimmicky that I have a hard time believing that they aren’t for real.  It’s too ridiculous to be fake.  Yo-Landi’s post-lobotomy haircut, Ninja’s Vanilla Ice fade, the excessive lyrics about tits and dicks.  Halfway through the set, Ninja breaks into an acapella rap, the words clearly audible (though still evading my total comprehension).  He’s talking about coming up or being a nobody or something like that and you get struck by the honesty, the serious look in his eyes that tells you this is no joke.  And when he is joined soon afterward by Yo-Landi, both getting right back into another song, you get the feeling that you’ve stumbled upon two little kids rehearsing for the rap group they want to form when they grow up into a mirror in their parent’s bedroom.  Oddly, you end up being charmed by this terrifying twosome, to the point that when Ninja comes out rapping into a gigantic penis, you want to hug him for being the best little boy he can be.

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That Strange, Funny Feeling

I lift my arms and lean them back overhead, luxuriating in a standing version of a pose I woke up in this morning, soft and stretchy.  I close my eyes, enjoying the moment until something signaling PAIN!  BLINDING PAIN! wakes me from my lazy yawn.  As I pull my arm down to get a better look, I remember what I have so inconveniently forgotten just a moment ago: there is a giant, exposed light bulb on the wall – the kind with the silver dome on the outside, which, in addition to providing an interesting light quality to a room, also has the ability to burn your flesh quite badly, it would appear.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from my hand’s brief visit with the bulb, being as it isn’t often I throw my body willy-nilly into extremely hot objects, but when I bring my left hand to my line of sight, I notice how my skin has formed its very own bald spot, white in the center surrounded by a circle of brown – neither of which represent my true pigmentation.

“Oh.  Hmm.  I think I just really burned myself,” I muse out loud to my client as I stare down at the wound and note the way my skin has effectively melted away, pushing itself around like a gob of drying paint or a newly freshened pedicure thrust prematurely into a pair of shoes.  “What should I do?” Calmly, I hold my left wrist so as to not harm myself any further.

It is interesting how time slows down in instances such as this.  Time moved at a glacial pace when I was about to be T-boned by a Jeep Grand Cherokee on my driver’s side door – a real stupid ass deer-in-the-headlights moment for me.  Time also paused at great length when my brother sent a bar glass flying into the side of my hand once.  It took me quite a few moments of dumbly observing the deep white gash on my hand that slowly began to flood with fresh blood to realize that I was going to need to go to the emergency room.  Fuck, fuck, fuck.

We rush into the kitchen where Craig hands me a paper towel filled with ice cubes.  I feel nothing, surprisingly.  Only when I think about the massive scar I have created for myself do I regret my negligence and when I think about the white patch of skin never meant to be seen am I overwhelmed with waves of nausea.

This reaction is typical of me.  When I was in kindergarten I thought it would be a swell idea to go boogie boarding on cement.  Yes, I remember the moment when I picked up the light foamy board and took off running through the birthday party.  I don’t, however, remember actually eating shit, though I do recall thinking that on water I would have traveled much further; my chin had provided an unwelcome brake for any momentum over the pebbly ground.  I did not cry or make a fuss and when I looked at myself in the mirror while my friend’s mother assessed the damage.  What went through my head was the child’s equivalent of, “Holy fuck.  That looks weird.”

I keep pressing down on my hand, keeping it covered with a towel, praying that if I keep it out of sight I won’t start screaming.  Or throwing up.  That would be a viable option at this point, too.

 

 

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Let it Fall Fall Fall

I am restless on this fall day and I pace pace pace my apartment.  Remembering things, forgetting things, remembering and then forgetting again.  The wind sways the trees in front of my bedroom window with a heavy hand, the boughs now clearly visible, revealing neighbors I never knew I had and Long Island City beyond me.  Last night I fell asleep with a foreign light pouring through my window, pinkish in hue, from the building that had been hidden these last few months.  That building with its god awful matching patios and linear exit signs.  Oh, how I will miss the leaves.

It is three p.m. when I leave the house and when I do it is warmer than I thought it would be and I am sad it has taken me this long to get outdoors.  I pass by my favorite house, the one that has the uncanny chameleon-like ability to match the sky, no matter what shade, bleeding away from the earth in the most beautiful way.

The streets smell of these leaves that were just a few weeks ago much higher, greener, and more to my California liking – the dusty smell of them now fallen, assuming their post-mortem shrivel into sad little crisps that disintegrate underfoot, rendered just a brief memory in the dream of a tree.

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Hipster Love Story: Los Angeles

They met on a photo shoot sometime in December.  It wasn’t cold and there wasn’t snow because they both lived in Los Angeles – the east side, of course.  Tommy was the photographer and Brie, the model, even though neither of them were technically employed as either in real life, at least in the traditional sense.  She was only 5’6, waiting tables until she could act in indie films – the real “art house pieces”, she called them – and he was never really capable of getting the composition just right in the nightlife shots he took for a living.

None of this really mattered, anyway.  The line wasn’t really a line just like they weren’t really what they were.  Their friend Dan made expensive t-shirts out of used canvas bags from WWII, though he didn’t have any buyers yet and no one was sure if he’d be able to find them.  The clothes were horrifically scratchy and left you feeling quite raw after a day of wear.  The hope was that Dan’s friend in that popular band that now had a song playing in the background of some car commercial would wear it out in public.  Dan said that sometimes his friend dated pretty celebrities and could be found in the tabloids.

Anyway, all three were in the Age of Favors, when all of your friends didn’t have more than two dimes to rub together and neither did you.  You helped each other out to ensure the favor would be returned on your own project, if you ever ended up with a project.

When she first walked in the door, she spotted Tommy crouched down in the corner, his long arms helping his hands toy around with some camera equipment.  He stood up and introduced himself, extending a soft hand that partook in the hard work of fine grooming and not manual labor.  “Tommy,” he said.  Brie couldn’t remember if she responded with her name, but she thought she did.  And then Tommy walked away.  She liked the way his arms hung loosely at his sides, pale and thin, even though she was aware that this physical attribute generally led to bad sex in her past experiences.

Tommy watched as she made her way into the kitchen.  Cute, he thought.  He had a thing for chubby girls; he couldn’t tell you why.  Though it could have been Mabel.  Mabel was his unrequited childhood crush.  Each and every time he had grabbed her by the hand to lead her behind the bungalows at school – with the intention, of course, to kiss her – she would rebuke him.  “No, Tommy,” she would say as she pushed him away, a smile pressing itself into her thickened cheeks.  Tommy couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want a kiss from him, plenty of girls did.  Mabel was the chubbiest girl in class and no one else was trying to make out with her.  So why not kiss him?  Was he that repulsive?  He knew he wore too much cologne – his mother told him often – but he thought his recently grown-in teeth were rather nice, though he could probably do with some braces eventually.  But that was later down the line.  In the fourth grade, everyone had crooked teeth.  Kiss me, Mable.  Kiss me.

Brie introduced herself to the makeup artist who, surprisingly, was the only person in the room to have achieved moderate success in her field.  “I work the makeup counter in Nordstrom, but I’m going to go freelance soon,” she told Brie.  The makeup artist kept talking but Brie was distracted; she watched the to-and-fro of Tommy’s hands pushing his black bangs out of his blue eyes.

There was something quite feminine about him, Brie thought to herself.  The way he moved had a grace to it ordinarily reserved for dancers and nancy pants.  Was he a nancy pants? You never could tell these days, now with the boys dressing in Helmut Lang and wearing pants that hugged everything, and she meant everything.  Broken Social Scene’s “I’m Still Your Fag” played in the background and Brie laughed to herself because she thought it was ironic or serendipitous or something.  Wasn’t it one of those?

 

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Man with Van: Part II

We cross the bridge and I’m sitting in the white pleather and chrome disco chair I purchased in Massachusetts four months ago.  It does not come with a seatbelt.  The boys nurse the remnants of their beer, Raul preferring to savor his own, taking small sips in between accelerating and switching lanes.  Raul’s brother, however, has long finished and mocks Raul for being such a bitch.  Another thing I’ve learned from Raul’s brother is that warm beer is not beer at all.

By this time, we have all bonded as a result of my “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em” approach to the day and their summer beer buzz.  Raul’s brother calls me “Jen” in a way that a friend does after years of good laughs and good times.

“Yo, Jen,” he says.  I lean forward in my disco chair.  “You smoke?” he asks.

“What, like, cigarettes?” I offer. “Noooo.”

“What else you smoke?” a mischievous lilt in his voice.

What transpires is a thinly veiled admission that will eventually give Raul’s brother free license to roll a joint and hot box the back of the van on the way back over the bridge within the next two hours.  Though when he does this, he is generous, passing the dutchie to the lefthand side as it were, I still decline, explaining that I have to go to work later.  Though Raul’s brother can’t really comprehend this (for obvious reasons), Raul himself understands; he quit three years ago because of “productivity issues.”

Apparently Raul used to work for a cable company some years back and in the morning he would smoke.  A lot.  He would get so high and so hungry that he would go to the same diner ever morning and order stacks of pancakes, bacon, eggs, the works.  He’d sit there, drinking his coffee and licking his plate, watching time pass by like the syrup on his food.  It didn’t matter how many appointments he had that day or what time the appointment was; he was always late.  Really late.  Eventually, after seven years of working with the most lenient boss in the world, Raul was laid off.  At which point, he started this fine business.  Lucky me.

As we drive through Brooklyn, I get a brief lesson in the light-hearted animosity that exists between Dominicans (Raul and his brother’s nationality) and Mexicans.  Raul’s brother yells out the van window at a group of Latino men standing on the sidewalk in words I don’t understand.  I ask what he’s said and he tries to conjure up the translation for me, something that loosely means, “Fuck your heritage.”  Offering an explanation, Raul’s brother tells me that Mexicans are always trying to be smarter than Dominicans.  This would understandably be irritating; it’s like other people trying to be smarter than me.  I get it.

By the time we get into my new apartment, empty and aching for my things, the three of us have become real good chums.  Raul’s brother tells me about Dominican food and tells me he’d be more than happy to teach me everything his grandmother taught him.  The two regale me with stories of their times dirt biking illegally through government property – how they broke ankles and faces, the time Raul’s brother got forty-three stitches in his arm, times they nearly killed themselves.  The blood, the guts, the glory.

My landlords are at the building when we arrive.  I whisper a hushed apology for showing up like the Clampetts, my mover’s van still shuddering noisily as he parks.  “Are you okay?” Tim asks.  “One of those days,” I lament, exaggerating my discomfort.  Truth be told, I live for these days because, frankly, Bekins never sounded that interesting anyway.

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Man with Van: Part I

The movers are late.  After half an hour I call, giving faux casual concern when I ask if they have someone gotten lost in the Manhattan maze.  “This is Raul’s brother,” a man says, “We’ll be there soon.  No problem, lady.”  His casual demeanor is even more casual than my own – the interactive equivalent of a puff off of a joint.  Words luxuriating in the air like dank smoke.  I hang up the phone, processing the lack of apology and the feeling that I will be working for these two today, and not the other way around.

My search for a mover began just two days previous.  Living in New York City, you get this perverse notion that everything you need can and will be provided for you immediately, whenever you want it.  Sandwiches, coffee, you name it.  For whatever reason, mostly lazy complacency, I placed movers into that same category.

A Craiglist query led me to a long list of “Man with Van” search results.  The phrase was alien to me until I moved here; my first experience being a late night, overpriced trip from Park Slope to Chinatown, where I chatted obnoxiously to a man who barely spoke English to mask the terror knowing I was driving across the Williamsburg Bridge at 10 p.m. with a complete – albeit hired – stranger.  Neither the sofa I was carting nor I, myself, were chopped into convenient pieces.  Crisis averted.

The minutes dragged on slowly.  Every second longer I had to stay at that apartment meant another half of Tums I would have to ingest on account of the not-so-latent anxiety that I would have to encounter my roommate one more time.  Over the last two months, I had become incredibly adept at sensing when she had left the building, mostly indicated by the rapid decrease of my own blood pressure.

Cars pass outside my window, honking and angry the way they always are.  The fire truck in the station adjacent to my building comes in and out multiple times.  I scan the clusterfuck street from hell for the clean maroon cargo van displayed in the advertisement.

Flat rate.  Reliable.  Man with Van.  347-555-5555.

The photograph below the advert was obviously a stock photograph, but one that I assumed was chosen based on the car that they actually owned.  Using an image of a van just to further point out that you provided one in said service seemed so unnecessary that I didn’t even consider it as an option.  That was until about 11 a.m., at which point I established that I am a naïve little idiot.

A white, rust-eaten van pulls outside of my building.  The anterior walls are marred with claw-like scratches and cigarette smoke pours out of the open windows.  It might have been new in 1995, but I could easily be off by a decade.  Please don’t be them.  Please don’t be them.  Please don’t be them. I chant to myself in vain, knowing deep in my gut that this is most certainly Raul and I have most certainly been duped.  The man in the passenger seat scans the building for a number and, upon finding the one above my door, hops out.  Mother fuck.  My doorbell rings.  Mother fuck fuck fuck.

I open my door to the hallway, watching a short man in a gray wife-beater tank and shorts near his ankles walk towards me.  I brace myself for the ever-real possibility that each Craiglist experience can lead to death, which I’m sure it says on their website in a disclaimer written in Size 7 Helvetica.

The man is Raul’s brother – the casual puff of smoke I mentioned from the phone half an hour earlier.  He tells me his name but I immediately forget it, mostly because my Fight or Flight instincts obliterate useless senses like hearing and comprehension.  I hold my keys in my hand in preparation for turning my fist into a Wolverine-like weapon where I gouge this dude’s eyes out or break my hand in the process.

He surveys the living room with my stacked boxes and few bulky items, their size and number seeming larger than in actuality, its contents threatening to eat the room whole.  I blame this on my soon-to-be-ex-roommate’s hulking seven-foot tall entertainment unit and her recently acquired piece de resistance – a brown, cracked leather sofa wrapped in brown tape – picked up late last night for $40 bucks or for free on some rotting corner of downtown Manhattan.

On his face is a look of malpracticed concern.  “How much did my brother quote you?” he asks.  I know I’m headed down a slippery, scamming slope – a slope I will slide down with venomous words about false advertising and piece of shit cargo vans, a tirade finished off with a dollop of “Don’t even fucking go there.”

I tell him what his brother told me: $150 for one trip and another $50 if we had to come back for more.  He places his hand on the corner of a stacked box, looking upwards like a plumber surveying a broken water main, and tells me that he thinks it’s going to be more.  Curtly, I inform him that he’s more than welcome to leave if that’s the case; I’ll just figure out what to do on my own.  I do not tell him that if he and his brother had shown up in a shiny maroon van that I probably would have allowed myself to be the shmuck who falls for that type of garbage.

After a phone call in Spanglish to his brother – the only part of it that I understand is a “I’ll do it.  I don’t care” – he drops the price gauging altogether.  That’s the last I hear of that.

As a child I moved houses only a few times.  Each involved me hand packing my life and wrapping it in newspaper.  From there, everything went into a U-Haul with dirty floorboards or got shuttled via inefficient mini-trips in one of my parent’s cars.  We never hired movers; movers were for rich people.  Once my mom researched a company called Bekins, an upscale moving service with a green logo and typeface that reminded me of an organic grocery store.  After the Northridge earthquake in ’94, these trucks were everywhere, moving people out of state, out of shattered houses and into temporary homes.

Now in New York and away from my family or any friend close enough that I could justify abusing without shame or remorse, I had no other option but to put my move into the hands of another.  I contemplated renting my own truck and doing it myself, but the thought evaporated quickly.  “Treat yourself,” my mom said, “Just sit back and let them do it.”

By the time Raul parks their hulking piece of rust, I have already started to put my boxes out on the street.  I can’t help but help.  That and after watching Raul’s brother manhandle my boxes clearly marked “Fragile” I realize that the only way I am going to be able to decorate my new apartment with the delicate nic nacs of my former life, I’m going to have to do some of this myself.

It’s the first of September and the day is hot, ridiculously hot in an unholy way that makes you think about killing people.  Sweat drips down from my armpits and into my tank top like it did back when I played organized sports in high school, uncontrollably and unattractive torrents of I-can’t-help-myself sweat.  I’m in good company, though; Raul’s brother’s gray shirt is sopping wet in the center, a dark gray bib imbedded in his gray tank.

“Hey, Jen.  Is there a grocery store around here or something?  I need to get a drink,” Raul’s brother asks.  Me being me, I offer like a PTA Mom to go get them a soda or something if they’re thirsty.  And me still being me, I don’t understand when Raul’s brother says he can go get it himself.  “I’m going to play a joke on Raul,” he explains.  I’m not sure what type of joke involves soda, but I do find out that apparently there is a type of joke that involves a can of Coors Light.  Raul’s brother comes back with beer in a paper bag and two cups.  Apparently the joke’s on me.  Then again, I already knew that.

While the boys drink beer next to the van, I continue to unload my life onto Broome Street, careful to avoid the piss and spit that so lovingly cover its sidewalks.  Raul’s brother attempts to teach me a valuable lesson of life – one of many he will dole out that day – when he tells me that it’s important to have fun, especially on hot fucking days like today.  “Otherwise, man.  Pssshhhh,” he says into his cup.

The apartment is nearly empty, save for my platform bed (which we momentarily think might fit on top of the van) and the sofa.  Raul runs some sort of packer’s mathematical equation in his head and begins to push all of my stuff that’s already in the van closer together.  “It can all fit,” he says as he crams my leather chairs into one another, collapsing the walls of cardboard boxes.  His math was a bit off and his logic premature; when he goes back inside to “measure” the sofa, he just gives a shrug followed by, “I think we’ll have to come back.”

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Edit or Die: A Clint Eastwood Film

*Spoiler Alert

If you want to see this film, though I implore you to not, I suggest you do not read this piece; it will ruin all of the bad that awaits you.  Thanks.

The credits roll after two hours and nine minutes of eye-rolling, shift-in-your-chair boredom.  I emit a heavy groan, this time audible.  A Clint Eastwood Film.  Motherfucker!  I knew it.  I knew a movie I loathed so much could only be made by Clint Eastwood himself, possibly the most boring human being to ever put pen to paper, eye to camera lens, finger to a guitar string.  And the fact that in his films he takes it upon himself to be in charge of too much of the above – macro managing things he has no business macro managing – make his movies the most unedited, masturbatory pieces of filmmaking I have ever seen.

Allow me to elaborate.

This weekend I was taken to see Hereafter, a film starring Matt Damon, as seen on blue posters across the city, reminiscent of some Sci-Fi channel nonsense that would neither inspire nor offend.  When the time came to purchase my ticket I didn’t resist, though I would have had I known this was of the great Dirty Harry’s handiwork.  In fact, I would have hugged my friends, wished them good luck, and headed out the door, saving myself $13 and two hours of nonsensical doldrums.  Alas, I had not properly done my research, so I got my ticket, walked inside, and awaited the movie with the hope that I have at the beginning of every film.  Blow my mind.  Make me feel.  Be fucking interesting.

Hereafter is none of these things.  In fact, I can’t even tell you what Hereafter is really about because it doesn’t ever make it to any conclusion, let alone climax.  The premise (if you could call it that) is Matt Damon’s character is a psychic medium that at some point made a good living connecting people with their dead loved ones.  Eventually, however, he stopped, explaining, “A life about death is no life at all.”  Thanks, Clint, for your ability to string Hallmark cards together and call it a God damn movie. And so, Matt took to working a blue collar job on a bay somewhere, wearing a hardhat however briefly and taking cooking classes in his spare time, you know, to relax or something, but I don’t really know because it’s never explained.  He simply shoes up in a kitchen one day standing in front of a butcher block and wearing an apron.

In said cooking class, he meets a bubbly, ridiculous brunette played by a wide-eyed and self-aware Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard’s porcelain-faced, ginger kid.  They establish some sort of superficial relationship there, feeding each other black beans in a ten minute scene talking about what they’re “really in cooking class for” and guessing what the other person is putting into their mouth while wearing blindfolds.  Not only does this scene drag on for decades – utilizing a time lapse (Jesus Christ) for when it’s Matt Damon’s turn at the palate plate – but I really don’t want to see Howard’s mouth open for so long in anticipation for a spoon in a display of not-so-subtle cliché sexuality that I notice the cleft down the center.  But this is what happens in this movie: I am often so fucking bored that I pay more attention to the minutia of what is not technically part of the storyline than what is, because the “what is” doesn’t matter and is making my brain rot like an US Weekly Magazine.

Though Howard’s screen time seems quite generous, the character’s role in this movie builds up to nothing of any real consequence.  After spoonfeeding each other for hours, Howard asks Damon if he’d like to grab food with her.  She shuts down his suggestion that they grab a bite nearby, scoffing with a “We’re practically professionals ourselves” or something to that effect.  Instead, she insists that they cook dinner at his place though they don’t know each other well.  It is there that Damon begrudging reveals his curse as a medium.  This, of course, piques her interest and she begs him for a reading.    Damon, for about the fifth time in the film demurs with his tired “I don’t do that anymore” and, for the fifth time, breaks down and does it.  Too naïve to realize that Damon might be able to pick out a glimpse of a conveniently disturbed childhood, Howard panics when he does, her big eyes wide-eyed with tears and her bottom lip quivering.  She grabs her coat and leaves and, from what I can remember, does not return, thus providing the weakest example of how Damon’s psychic ability is ruining his life.  With only this scene and Matt Damon’s multiple references to “This is a gift and not a curse” and grouchy “I don’t do this anymore”s – I am left to believe Damon is just a lame ass pushover who doth protest too much.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the two other stories that take place in this movie, interwoven like so many other scripts of the post-Crash era, where everyone exists in a tightly interconnected and 6-degrees-of-separation-ish world.  Which, by the way, is a gag that works only so many times until you just want to throw a book at the writers, screaming, “Just give me a fucking linear narrative about one person, you asshole!”  The ending is spoiled from the get go, and – being as bored as you are in your seat right there – it is your job to attempt to figure out how they are all going to come together.  And, of course, they do at the end of this movie, though in a sloppy and haphazardly way that leaves me irritated the rest of the evening.

The first B-story is about a French anchorwoman on some sex trip with her boss in the tropics.  She’s affable and tan and, unfortunately, she leaves in the morning to buy travel gifts for her man’s kids, walking to the open air bizarre and buying bracelets made of shells.  She is paying for her trinkets when the tsunami comes barreling down the road, palm trees and telephone poles snapping like twigs before the deluge of water sends her running (laughably) down the street with a young girl in an attempt to outrun it.

The most interesting part of the film – perhaps only one, rather – is this Hollywood recreation of a tsunami crushing down on a city.  The ravenous surge of water, bodies colliding unforgivably with pillars and cars, the uncompromising nature of nature and how insignificant a thing we humans really are.  Although, to be honest, I don’t surmise to guess that Eastwood was really shooting at achieving any of these things; his goal merely to find a dramatic and visually shocking context for a near-death experience [The French news anchorwoman dies and is revived, the event haunting her vaguely throughout the rest of the movie and without any real urgency or point].  The tsunami holds no real importance in the story other than filling the movie’s CGI budget.  For all it matters, she could have nearly drowned falling off the deck of her yacht, only to be saved by talking sharks.  Which, as it were, would have made for a far more interesting movie.

The second B-story tells the heartbreaking story of a little boy who loses his twin brother in a car accident while picking up heroin-detox drugs for their train wreck yet unrealistically loving mother.  Eastwood attempts a more subtle approach here when it comes to retelling the aftermath of this great loss – there is a scene after his brother dies where the living twin looks over at his brother’s empty bed that is quite touching, but that subtly is destroyed when they don’t just leave it at that but force the boy to deliver the line “Goodnight, James.”  And just in case we missed the whole point the first time around, they do it again later for good measure.

Anyway, so this boy’s story is basically about his attempt to reconcile his brother’s death, researching fake-looking You Tube videos about faith and chasing down various mediums and experts whose practices seem neither wholly illegitimate nor wholly comical in their farce.  It is during this montage that I walk outside to check my emails, take a bathroom break, and eat some almonds, which proved too noisy a snack choice for the theater.

Speaking of noise.  The score.  Oh, that God-awful score.  Scores are supposed to compliment a film so well that its voice becomes secondary dialogue itself.  This is something expertly achieved in movies such as There Will Be Blood or any Christopher Nolan film.  And, if such greatness cannot be achieved, at least provide innocuous background noise to camouflage room tone.  Clint Eastwood, however, enjoys an obnoxious minimalism that invades each scene like a horsefly on a television screen, obstructing and distracting from what’s really going on.  Often, instead of listening to Matt Damon deliver more tired lines, I am stuck listening to what sounds like a thirteen-year-old boy tuning his guitar menacingly slow.  Pluck…Pluck…Pluck.

In terms of plot, the movie wraps up bizarrely fast, though in Clint Eastwood time it still takes about forty-five minutes and seven scenes that would be left on the editing floor in any other movie.  To make a long story short, Damon leaves San Francisco to travel to London where he ends up at a book fair where the French anchorwoman is giving a speech about life after death and the little boy has come with his foster parents to meet their old foster child.  Damon gets harassed into (yet another) reading with the boy, his dramatic need satisfied in an inconsequential scene of tears and “Don’t go, James.  Don’t go!”  As a thank you, the boy – who is now somewhat of a private eye – has found out where the French anchorwoman is staying, claiming that he knew Damon liked her…blah blah blah.  Damon writes a letter.  She meets him on a sidewalk café.  They shake hands and say hello and it ends.  At that point all I wanted in the world was for this movie to be over, but like that?!  Like that?!  I want my money back, truly and seriously.

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My Brain Is…


Forty-three?  Or was it sixty-two? I stare at the bus chart like a European tourist.  I’d only taken the bus once before, about six years ago, for a reason I can’t even begin to remember.  That memory was an uncomfortable one that took place during a rainstorm.  There were fogged windows and people with wheelchairs.  I stuck to the subways after that.  But Jon said it would be easy.  “Just get off at Jefferson,” he said.  Or was it Jackson…

A bus comes.  Sixty-two.  I think it’s sixty-two.  I had committed it to memory with a reference to the B52s, but I couldn’t remember if the bus I wanted was the one that sounded like B52 or didn’t sound like B52.  That was the problem.  I do things like this all the time – things that seem clever at the time and then only serve to confuse me later.  If I had only looked at the direction each bus was headed, I would have been fine.

I board the evening bus filled with passengers too lazy to walk short distances or so physically limited that their limbs cannot take to the up and down of subway stairs.  I dig into my wallet for my Metro Card while the bus driver pulls away from the curb.  Fuck.  I left my card in my other purse.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I start picking out quarters and nickels from the mess of receipts and gum wrappers in my purse in a feeble attempt to find enough for the $2.25 fare.  The bus driver, still driving, looks over at me as I scramble like an idiotic, fresh-off-the-boat white girl who never takes public transportation.  Three stops down Manhattan Avenue and he presses a button, depositing the paltry $1.35 I was able to scrounge.  “It’s okay, miss,” he says, tired and dismissive.  “Thanks,” I squeak.

I shuffle to the first seat I can find, close to the driver and his big window that I can look out for Jefferson or Jackson or Meserole.  Did he say Meserole? My butt occupies only the last two inches of the seat in my ridiculous attempt to thwart the invitation of the bedbugs that I would imagine prefer to live closer to the wall.  Walls gross me out; they always have.  Bathroom walls, wallpapered hotel walls, the seat closest to the wall in a restaurant booth – these were always kept at arm’s reach, like that dirty kid my ex-step brother used to be friends with in fourth grade.

Without any real firm ground in a chair, each stop sends me sliding across the seat until I hook my leather jacket around a pole for support.  I look over at the woman across from me with her fake Louis Vuitton bag from Canal Street.  She’s looking at me and I wonder if she can see all of my neurosis playing out like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm on mute.  My mom has always said that I’m an easy read.

We pass a street that starts with an M but I wasn’t really paying attention.  I keep listening for Jefferson or Jackson but the announcement never comes.  I just keep hearing the same dinging sound followed by a sign lighting up saying “Stop Requested.”  The bus drives by a Chinese takeout place called Fortune Cookie, which doesn’t seem nearly substantial enough part of a Chinese dinner to name a whole restaurant after it.  Was that Jefferson there?

In the distance I see the BQE and a McDonalds, at which point I call Jon.  “I’m pretty sure I’m lost,” I giggle stupidly.  “I’m at Broadway and, hmmm, what is this street?  I’m at the highway and Broadway?”  Jon emits a longwinded “Noooooooo!” in the inspired vein of Homer Simpson and tells me to get off the bus and start going the other way.  Now this poses a problem: it’s 9:30 at night, pitch black, and I am no longer within the Polish/ hipster confines of my known neighborhood.  Oh yeah, and I’m wearing my inappropriately short shorts I’ve lovingly dubbed “denim underwear.”  I look up at the looming projects on the horizon with their iron gates and their dim florescent-lit living rooms.  Fuucccckkkkkkkk.

I walk back up to the driver who I’m sure has missed me terribly since our last encounter and I ask him where the nearest subway is.  Whatever he tells me doesn’t make any sense.  All I know is that we are approaching the foothills of the projects and although I am tall, I am probably an easy take.  Any attempt to assume the clench-jawed tightness of a hardened badass only leaves me looking like a pale blonde chick with stomach cramps.

Jon calls me back and tells me to get off the bus and wait for Olivier who is coming to rescue me on a motorcycle.  Thank bloody God.  I request a stop (which I’ve just learned in the last two minutes is what I needed to do back at Jefferson or Jackson because it’s late night service) and exit the front of the bus, thanking the bus driver who thinks I’m a moron but is still nice about it.

Then I wait in front of a hamburger/ taco joint watching SUVs with tinted black windows and big tires drive past.  I stand with my arms crossed and leaning against a well-lit wall looking like a regular James Dean, who, in this case, probably wouldn’t look that tough either, especially wearing these shorts.

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I am done with work and the light lingers in the air, not wanting to leave Paris anymore than anyone else.  Stay, stay, stay.  Pretty girls ride bicycles in high-heeled shoes, looking chic and foolish.  Clouds move with a particular Parisian lethargy.  Life painted out in pensive brushstrokes.

The cobblestone streets like broken teeth and my cashmere sweater too warm for the day.  I pause next to a wall with spider-vein cracks, trying to find directions to meet briefly meet a friend.

I hear words near my face in French but I do not look up; I talk to no one here.  I hear words in English and there is a man, gray haired and wearing a red nose.  “Excuse me,” he says.  I take my headphones off.  “Are you a painter?” he inquires.  I tell him that I don’t paint even though at some point I did, but I was young then and eventually I became impatient with my inability to make the image in my head translate onto a canvas; my hands would never cooperate with my brain.  “Well, what do you do?” he continues.  I tell him that I model and he scowls, confused, like a soothsayer who believes I’ve headed down the wrong path entirely.  “But you have such an artistic presence,” he says, as though I might somehow change the last seven years of my life.

To assuage his concern, I offer that I write, although that isn’t necessarily a visual medium.  He looks mildly contented, though still withholding.  After a pause, “I am working on a project,” he says, “And would you like to participate?”  He tells me he’ll be right back and disappears through a set of pale blue wooden doors that presumably lead into a courtyard and then into an office.  When he returns he is holding a packet of materials stating the intention of a book.  “Mother/ Father” it reads.  I flip through pictures of Freudian childhoods come to life and angry bits of mixed media.

He stands over my shoulder with his hands crossed in front of his belly, watching for my reaction.

I tell him yes.

And I never send him a thing.

 

 

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On the Waterfront

I end the day on the waterfront, watching the sun disappear not behind mountains but buildings.  For purple mountain majesties… the New York redux.  In the foreground are the projects east of the East Village and a power plant of some sort, both getting more dark and shadowy by the minute.

Water laps against yellow plastic buoys and a lone piece of wood that once was a part of a pier knocks against rocks littered with bottles, cans, and plastic cups like unnatural barnacles.  I notice how Styrofoam does not decompose; they were right.

I’m not alone here at sunset, at least not technically; there is a woman and her dog, a man with a ragged beard and a Canon G10, and a group of people filming a rap video without a permit.  I listen to the music loop while a woman with a deep tan and stripper boots gyrates to a peaceful setting sun and lyrics about Baby I’m Going to London and I’ll buy you a bag.

It’s imperfect, this scene.  The garbage, the offensive lyrics about banging chicks, the sickening brown palate of the water.  But it is mine, all mine.  This city is about learning how to make the most out of your sick fascination with something you love and hate so deeply, so simultaneously, so psychotically that the fact the man behind you just asked his friend “Yo, man.  Where’s my kilo?” adds to the charm of your life.

I look out over the water, now black, as the cityscape morphs quickly into a sparkling monolith against a faded purple sky, buildings chunky blue and burgundy daggers, helicopters taking off and landing, rocket jets leaving their white pigtails in the sky behind them like foggy stars.

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