Thursday, December 30, 2010

You're the top, you're 2010

The Best of Me:
A year ago I couldn't have compiled this list, but I've massaged my writing brain more and more this year. And  sometimes even I like the results:
1. Nanowrimo: the more I look at the draft I plugged away at during the month of November, the harder it is to find something I want to share. Not that I'd forgive myself for not achieving perfection on the fly. No. But sometimes, it was close enough for jazz.
2. My Blogcritics review of  The Wonderful world of Kittens. Really one of my best reviews ever.
3. From my work blog, a tribute to Lawrence Welk.
4. Ditto, an announcement for a lecture by Greil Marcus, which gave me the opportunity to pay homage-cum-satire to his associative leaps, if not to his signature contradictions which run along the lines of,  "It was the yes that means no; it meant nothing; and everything"  not a direct quote but That's How He Writes And In What World Is That Good Writing I Ask You? Anyway, it was a grand chance to reference Bigfoot and Marie Osmond in the same post.
5. From DCist, my review of Robert Ryman and Pousette-Dart at the Phillips.

Best Sandwiches:
Classic bahn mi at baoguette (NY)
Meatball bahn mi at BaBay (DC)
Pastrami on rye at Eisenberg's (NY)
Firehouse 14 at JJ's Cheesesteaks (DC)
Cheesesteak with wiz at Cosmi's Deli (Philadelphia)
Spike's Sunnyside @ Good Stuff Eatery (DC)

Otto Dix @ Neue Gallery
Yves Klein @Hirshhorn
Robert Ryman @ Phillips
Miroslav Tichy @ICP
Muybridge @Corcoran
The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry @Met
Bern Porter @MOMA
Artifice @ Delillis
Pieter Hugo's Nollywood @Yossi Milo
This clock, from a gift shop in Front Royal, VA:

Winter's Bone
Last Train Home
The Social Network
And I named it last year but it only got a semi-commercial US release this year so it's worth mentioning twice: Henri-George-Clouzot's Inferno, which features some of the most stunning cinematography I've ever seen.

honorable mention: Easy A, Daybreakers, Runaways

Meh: Wild Grass, Black Swan, Piranha 3-D


I've barely listened to any new music this year, and none of what I heard (pace nice albums from younguns Allo Darlin' and oldies the Vaselines; new ones from Taylor Swift and M.I.A. haven't hit repeat for me yet) knocked me out like the Chic box set. But I heard a number of revelatory things from the past and far away thanks to my homie lapinfille's voracious youtube investigations. These are just a handful:

Rita Pavone, "My name is potato"
Bruno Lomas, "Ven sin temor"
Michel Polnareff, "La poupee  qui fait non"
Olavi Virta, "Hula hula hula hoop"

And one of the most amazing things she has ever found:

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Adventures of Separated Siamese Ventriloquist Dummy Triplets on the Wheels of Steel

lenny's girl
Lenny's Girl.

The complete 1,726 word output of Day 19, slightly edited,  annotated in italics. This begins the story of how a separated Siamese ventriloquist dummy triplet happened to end up wearing the skin of one Archibald Tunbridge.

Chapter thirty-eight. [As we are still adhering, in principle, to the "Fifty Easy Pieces" framework] The Triplets of 42nd Street.

"Well as my sistuh intimated," applied Butter,"we were more than a little in debt to Doctor Billy the K. And as Doctor Billy the K was being hassled by bill collectors from everbody and their separated Siamese twins, from the shoemaker to the baker and the candyman and the insurance agent [the daily word requirement during NaNoWriMo encourages a variety of word padding strategies, one of the most potent of these being The List] , he was desperate for cash."

"Yeah, and what better assets--" at which Cheese shook her money maker, a miniature aluminum crank-turned press that, not unlike an elongated penny machine, turned nickels into the state quarter of the great state of Wyoming,"than owers?" She batted her eye lasciviously at the black patches of the interstate that rumbled by in the evening sky.

"And we had medical bills to pay! I can't tell you how hard it is for separated Siamese triplet dames to get medical insurance! Forget dental!" Crackers indicated by speaking those words in the language they all spoke and understood in common to varying degrees of comprehension.

"Mhyea, mmuh meemus is mmhed mhup!" muttered Butter. [As I have not been listening to the speech of muffled Ventriloquist dummies on a regular basis this month, it took me a moment to figure out what Butter is saying here: "Yeah, my teefus is messed up!"]

"So the three of us - we was Billy the K's featured hoo-ers!" salted Crackers.

"But how come I never seen yer other sistuhs before ta-night?" Morty asked by raising his voice questionignly, indicating the desire for an answer to his stated inquiry.

"They always woiked the Lower East Side when you and I went to the movies." clarified Cracker.

"Oh," was the mildly comprehending reply of Morty.

"Anyhow, we were the vent triplets, and we were famous from here to Bangkok!" bragged Cheese.

"There wasn't nuthin' we couldn't do with a bottle a' linseed oil," boasted Butter. [The linseed oil bit was suggested by V.]

"From the back alley to the Plaza Hotel to Buckingham Nicks Palace, we plied our trade wherever it needed to be plied!" reminisced Crackers.

"You could tell our satisfied customers by the glowing reviews they gave to us. 'I'm satisfied!' said one custumuh in particular, as his satisfaction was guaranteed and met by our services of linseed oil and post-linseed polishing."

"Boy I knew my way with a chamois!" boasted Butter." Why I remember one time this mark left wid a big shiny smile on his mug."

"Umm, so how did youse all get outta the business? And why are you all on this bus?" wondered Morty out loud, and many others on the bus silently.

"Funny that you'd ask! That's an innarestin' story behind it," observed Butter, accurately."It all started when Cheese and me were makin' the rounds of the bodegas in Alphabet City - you know they need their Cheese and Butter in that part of the town. And then one day ..."

Chapter thirty-nine. Cheese and Butter in Alphabet Bodega City. Premiere: that part of town.

"Cheese and Buttah. Getcher Cheese and Buttah fah sale!" sashayed the sisters on the corner of Avenue A and 4th Street.  [my brother's old neighborhood] "Get it while it's fresh, boys!"

"Linseed oil! Linseed oil rubs! Getcher rejuvenating linseed oil rubs right here!" It was a familiar voice.

"Crackers, whaddre you doin' on this beat? I tawt you were runnin' 'round uptown wid da high class types."

"I got dis mark whose a habder, a habber, a han - a tailor, and he's richer than Rockyfeller! Why I bet we could roll him fer somethin' in the excess of many dollars of money."

"Since when were you such a shyster? I thought you were the good twin, Crackers?" emoted a concerned Morty.

"Just wait a minnit, will ya?" Crackers carefully laid out her plan. "Ya see it's like this ..." she leaned in to whisper and huddle inaudibly with her sisters, who mumbled incomprehensibly to each other in make believe conspiratiorial tones. "We'll do what?" protested Butter, for no apparent reason, being that complete sentences nor barely even a dipthong was pronounced. "Why do I always get the short stick?" lamented Cheese, ditto.

Chapter forty. A Tunbridge born every minute. Premiere: New York, 1986

One fine sunday morning all dressed in finery and such, the triplets rounded the corner of 25th street to the Antiques Garage Flea Market in Chelsea, a known hangout for one haberdasher named Archibald Tunbridge. And like clockwork, he was there, his Filipino houseboy Pedro in tow, at 8:00 am sharp Sunday morning, fresh from morning mass. Crackers, Cheese, and Butter awaited their turns inside.

"Good morning Estelle [this happens to be the name of an antiques dealer at whose picture booth I have thrown many ducats]," Tunbridge greeted one of his regular dealers. "What do you have for me today?"

"Well Gee Archie," Estelle smelled a mark when she smelled one [there's evidence in my basement], as she was smelling one at the present time of this scene, shortly after 8:00 am of a Sunday afternoon in Chelsea. (Her booth was near the entrance.) "Have I got a piece for you!" Aware of Tunbridge's expertise in the ventriliquilar arts, the savvy dealer spied a most unusual specimen that practically gave her a wooden lapdance in the form of a doll that she found in her pick-up truck that morning.

"Exqusite detail!" murmured Tunbridge approvingly as he examined Crackers from head to toe. "What is this - the fabled spring-loaded double take!" She took his huge paws and wound Crackers head counter-clockwise to cock her shutter and then touched a hidden button behind the base of her neck to release the impeccably timed head shake. "Why, if I didn't know better I'd say she wwas batting her eyes at me."

"Like the narrator said, she's an unusual specimen!"

"Boy I'll say!" said Tunbridge. "What do you want for her?" Crackers contineud to bat her eyes at the bald man. "I'll pay anything!" Crackers started to purr. "ANYthing."

Half his considerable weekly pay-check before taxes later, Tunbridge continued apace through the market, a wodden crate marked "Crackers" carried behind him by his Filipino houseboy, Pedro.

"Hey, Senor Tunbridge," Pedro tugged at his boss's tweed tails. "I theenk some lady is wheespering your name."

"Why, I don't hear anything Pedro. Oh, I forgot, in your native land the lack of sound in the country fine-tunes your ears to hear a far greater range of sound waves than the most aurally accomplished sugar-talkin' Yankee."

"Si," said Pedro in a language that was not his native tongue but which set him in good stead with his upper-class betters. "Eees deefeecult for you, easy for me."

Pedro recalled watching Senor Wences on a little black and white tube television back in the homeland. Since he was a youg barefoot boy, who typically of a young filipino boy in those times was thrown into the river at birth to learn to swim, a tradition that led to entire schools of toddlers swimming the shores and dragging fishing nets to catch bluefin tuna and Betty Croacker and Acoustic Eel, he watched Senor Wences on tv and hoped that someday, he, Pedro, would grow up to paint his hand with lipstick and tour the great cruise-ships of the oceans wide and entertain people from all walks of life and have steak every day and spinach with lots of butter. Little did he know that, although the one dream was dashed when he lost his legs in a pinochle accident, another of his wishes was about to come true in a manner he had never dreamed of.

"Psst ... Aaachie!" It was Cheese.

"Who ... where? Well what do we have here?" Tunbridge stopped at a booth manned by one Leonard of Queens. [another antiques dealer with whom I've been known to do business]

"Hello dere Mistuh Tumbridge - yo're my favorite customer! Say, ain't this doll here a beaut? I just found her this morning - I moved the potato and there she was! Ain't dat nuts?"

"She is indeed, and is the very sororal image of the specimen I have in this crate here," he tapped at the crate carried by Pedro.

"Si," confirmed Pedro.

Crackers winked at her sister from between the wooden slats.

"She even has the very same spring-wound double take mechanism - a fabulous specimen." He twisted the mechanics as he did before and released them to the same satisfying shake. Cheese batted her eyes at Tunbridge.

"Ees almos like shes plirting with you boss! What a crazy doll! You will hab more pun with two of them, no boss?" observed Pedro.

"Yes, Pedro, yes indeed will I hae more 'pun' with two of them. I'll taker her, Lenny."

"Whaddevuh you say, Professuh." Lenny gingerly wrapped Cheese in cheese cloth, meaning in this case the clothes she wore.

"Hey Senor Tunbreedge, I might be going crazy but I theenk you got another customer calling your name."

"Psst! Yoo-hoo! Mister Tunbridge! Hellooo!" whispered Butter from a vintage spinach crate. An expresion of childhood longing passed briefly over Pedro's swarthy pace.

"I'm co-ming!" Tunbridge sang and positively loped toward his suitress in a box. Butter batted her eyes before he even touched her spring-loaded double-take button. "Why, these dolls look like they could be triplets!"

"Siameeese treeplets, boss!" Pedro accurately observed.

"Siamese ventriloquist dummy triplets? Don't be absurd!"

"Absurd? Me?" Pedro mumbled from behind a fake nose and glasses with bushy eyebrows pattered after the late actor Milo O'Shea.

Her vendor, whose name was George, and was a horrible horrible person [he is], told the strange story of how Butter walked into his business. "I wuz just settin' up here this morning when dis doll heah just showed up outta da blue like! I had an empty spinach crate here with the colorful label ya see there, and next ting I knew there was this crazy doll sprawled out in the box like Brooke Shields at a Princeton frat party!"

"Yes, very good, I'll take her!!" Tunbridge, suddenly in no mood for stories, even nice stories about three bears and porridge or about grandma and a wolf who ate her up or about a princess who lost a shoe somewheres, hurriedly reached for the remaining wad of cash in his almost bottomless pockets. "Pedro, now I have in my posession three of the most exquisite creatures in the history of ventriloquism. Do you know what this means, Pedro?"

"Well, boss, my Eengleesh she ees not so good!" claimed Pedro, who in fact went to night school and took English and got a B. "But I theenk she meeans you can like live your dream to be Goldilocks and the three bears!"

"Quiet, Pedro ..." urged Tunbridge, "I don't want anybody else to steal my idea ..."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nanowrimo Day 18: in Which the Author Creates a Character for the Sake of a Moderately Priced Pun

cheddar cheese
I continued to follow the jawless ventriloquist dummy where he led me, but the river was  treacherous and in parts uncrossable. To fill in the plot gaps: Tunbridge, last seen on the bus talking to Mmrma/Mortimer about the fate of his beloved Crackers, had disappeared at an I-95 rest stop. His return had something to do with Woody Harrelson but I'll leave that for another day or the chopping block. This was the entire day's output of November 18th, selectively edited for spelling.

"You were looking for me, perhaps?" Tunbridge spryly climbed down from the luggage compartment, where he had been listning this entire time ... and scheming!

"TUNBRIDGE!" All in attendance cried out with a gasp.

"That's ME!" Tunbridge pointed a thick thumb at his barrel chest. "Or is it?" He removed his tweed jacket and unbuckled his khakis to reveal that which nobody in attendance could have ever imagined in their wildest dreams. [Note: at this point the subsequent character steps out of the aforementioned character's skin. This a crucial plot development.]

"Great Senator Kennedy!" Tex exclaimed, to the general confusion of his fellow man, for, the more apropriate ejaculation would have been,

"CRACKERS?" Morty looked from one Crackers to another Crackers, and then back again. He examined each Cracker's wrist for watchband straps, and then remember his crackers had been keeping time with a pocket watch. He did a double-take unencumbered by spring action. His head-bone stretched out several inches from his neck-bone in exasperation. "Why, I , err ... who ... what ..." Morty fell as if to faint, but quickly righted himself with a nudge from his Crackers.

"Sweet pea, yesterday, I knew that someday this day would come, but today, I didn't know it wouldn't be tomorrow. I thought it would be next week or maybe right after the high holy days, or maybe on the third thursday of May in an odd-numbered year divisible by three."

Crickets chirped.

"Morty, this is my twin sistuh, Cheese."

"CHEESE?!" The townsfolk shouted.

"Let me take a pictcha!" Ernesto, presently catching Damon Runyon fever along with da rest of dese mugs, took a look through da lens and made a pickchah of everybuddy all smiles.

"--that's Siamese twin sistuh, sistuh!" declared Cheese.

"Make that Evil Siamese Twin sistuth, sistuh!" clarified Crackers.

"Specifically, Evil Separated Siamese Twin sistuh, sistuh!" clarified Cheese, who at this moment it is too bad is not named Butter.

Is there such think as Siamese triplets? Have Research and Development on that, please?

R&D: Author, you can write whatever you like. If you wish there to be Siamese triplets for the sake of a cheap pun, then there are Siamese triplets.

Author: Thank you, R&D.

Suddenly, another figure descended from the luggage compartment, mysterious, unkown, barefoot and pregnant with more questions than answers.

"-- Make that Siamese triplet, sistuh!" clarified Butter.

"Crackers! Cheese! Butter!" The assembled masses cried out all at once and at different times, and in varying states of hunger for snack food and spiritual healing and physical comfort and potatoes and gravy and pajamas and cranberry sauce. It was, after all,  nearly Thanksgiving.

"That's right, aseembled masses," chortled Butter.

"I was born a freak!" cried Crackers.

"An evil freak!" pointed out Cheese.

"Whu? My sweet pea who is the dearest light oh my light and soul of my soul, aka Crackers - she was born evil?!"

Crackers hung her head sadly." It's true, Morty. The three of us, me, Crackers, Cheese, and Butter, were boin attached at the brains. Our dear muddah didn't know what was comin or how many! Labor was intensive and inefficient. The division of labor belonged to the people. Boy it was ruff gettin' around! We did cartwheels that would never end!

"I was the evil triplet always tryin' to drag my sistuhs into the paths of rabid wolves when I was safely ensconced in a cave. They were toin apart limb from limb all regulah like on a consistent and occasional basis of time and space. Why, their dresses were regularly in tatters like rags and such while I was in the finest of evening gowns even in broad daylight. Vera Wang designed my onesies! When Doctah K --"

"DOCTOR K! YOu mean Billy the K was a doctuh?! Well I'll be a separated Siamese triplet's sweetheart forevuh!"

"MORTY!" Crackers moved as to hug her sweetheart forever but first she had a story to tell - a tale of woe! "Well foist I gotta tale uv woe to tells ya." She chewed gum and talked at the same time. She was that evil. "It was Doctor Billy the Kay, moustachioed pimp bastard and world-class Siamese-triplet separating surgeon who took the awl to our triumvirate of vaudevillian devilry."

'I can't believe there are three of you!' Doctor Billy the K shivered in his flashbacking timbers of hirsute horror. 'Man, this will be a difficult operation.'

"So you can imagine from that flashback there that our confidence was not high in this sausage-fingered moustachioed man of medicine. Would yours have been? How about YOU?"

"Who are ya talki'n to Crackers, you'r talkin' to the back of the bus and tehre's ain't nobody there!" Morty fied.

"Oh yea! Well It was a marathon surgery, and ma and paw paced back and forth in the waiting room while Uncle Pat was praying that the devil had not visited upon our family this unholy trinity of us."

"And the ting is," interrupted Cheese, because she was evil not only in the ways of the Good Book but in the ways of the okay book, Emily Post's Ettiquette, which specifically addressed interruption of your separated Siamese triplet as a faux paw. "The ting is, as we were attached at the brain and such, the tissue we shared was continually comminicatin' all our thoughts and poisonalities amognst each other. I was born the goody two-shoes, ya know! I said my prayers every night and looked both ways before crossin' the street and said please and thank you. What a sucker I was!"

"And so was I!" Butter pleaded her case. "I was so pure and smooth like an Easter lamb. Crackers was so named because she crackered her way outta the womb!! So after the operation, imagine our collective surprise when me and Cheese - innocents both! - toined out the evil ones and Crackers got to be the goody two-shoes."

"Well I was a hookah and every ting," noted Crackers.

"Hay you're right - you were a vent of da night as dey say! Say Buttah, whadda ya think of that?"

"Gee I dunno about that Cheese."

"Well it was kind of indentured servitude and all, it's not like it was in my nachah - or was it?"

"Anyways," continued Crackers, who although she was now good and all, did not like to be interrupted, and grew redder and redder with each sister's interruption, shouted," HEY LEMME FINISH MY STORY PLEASE IF THAT'S OKAY WID YOUSE!"

Relative silence ensued, accompanied by occasional slack-jawed incomprehension, straight-mouthed indifference, eyebrow-raising malfeasance, winking impishness, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

"Tank you!" added Crackers, proving indeed her goodness as a good triplet. "As I wuz sayin', umm, what was I sayin'? Well Doctor Billy the K having puhfoimed surgery on us, having all manner of lovers for hire mopping his brown at regular intervals and passing the scalpel when he asked for it, if ya know what I mean."

"What do you mean by that?" Said Tex, from whom we haven't heard a lot lately."I come from Texas, and they don't say that where I come from! In Texas!"

"Well cowboy," Crackers addressed Tex, who was not an actual cowboy but a shipping magnate who wore a cowboy hat and a string tie and knew where to get the best barbecue in Texas,"Do ya want me to drawr you a pictcha?"

"I sure love me some pictures. Why, back home in Texas, I got a lotta pichtchas on my wall. YEEEE HAWWWW!!!"

"Hey hey hey down cowboy, settle down will ya? I'll drawr you a pictcha later. After Doctor Billy the K was done with us and the last beads of sweat were wrung from his drenched moustache and eyebrows, we were kind of a little beholden to him."

"Is that why Billy the K stole you aweay from me at the movie show?"

"Movie show? What kinda talk is that? Movie show? What year do ya think this is, it's 1987 and yer talkin' like an old timer. Movie show. Sheesh." This was the evil Butter. She was mean and rancid, and was not available in your dairy section. She was ill-churned was this butter, milked from sour Bessie, the sourest farm cow on any farm there ever was!

"Ahem, If ye'll let me continue! Ahem. Billy the K changed our lives - but it weren't necessarily for the better!"

I wonder why - he's the greatest dancer ...

"Hey wait a minute, we already saw that flashback!" Morty pointed out this word padding device.

"So yer right!"

"So I visited the Indian years later, and when I told him 'How,' he said 'Fried," like he remembered me and everything!"

"Knock knock!"

It was a scene of chaos and mild confrontation erupting into occasional fisticuffs which escalated into World War. Famine and locuts plagues the world and her people, and the good and the bad alike, the separated Siamese triplets and Jo-jo the Dog-faced boy alike because enemies, brother attacked brother attacked the mailman. The nation would little remember what they said on the bus, but little will they forget what they did on the bus.

"Hey, wait a minute," asked Morty, pleading with the newly assembled guests to give him sixty seconds of their time for him to mentally digest their recent verbiage." "What have Cheese and Butter been up to all this time - besides pretending to be Tunbridge and whoever Butter was pretending to be."

"Carrot Top," clarified Butter.

"You mean you are the greatest prop comic in the woild next to Gallagher?"

"That was none other than  me! Statue of Liberty!" Butter waved her finger as if she was holding a foam number one hand.

"You are Carrot top!"

"I toured with the greatest performers in entertainment history and had audience with world leaders and Barbara Streisand. Boy I was king of the Vegetable tops! I Lorded over Broccoli top and Kohlrabi Top and Cabbage Head. Lettuce head was my slave. Tomato head my window washer. Bok Choy top my chef.”

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Five Stages of Post-NaNoWriMo: Denial (PG-13)

First stage: Not bad - it started to work here!
Second stage: I guess it's okay
Third stage: Hiding under the covers until spring

An excerpt from Day 15, slightly edited.

Mmrma climbed onto the empty seat behind Hannah. He gave her a thumbs up with his good hand. “Mmy mmhr, mmtah! Mmt mh nmnms meenn mm mn-my mwless mmntrlst mmy mmre!”” (1)
Mmrma’s seat-mate, a balding New York haberdasher and antiques dealer named Archibald Tunbridge, was understandably surprised to be addressed in such a manner by a one-eyed jawless ventriloquist dummy; but not because it was the first time he had ever been addressed in such a manner. “As a matter of fact I have.”
“Mmm mmk my mmx mfm!” (2)
“Perhaps some other time. But as a matter of fact I saw a vent not unlike yourself just recently in my shop. I was sorting a collection of photographs of Eleanor Roosevelt when a burly moustachioed man demanded I buy something from him. He strolled in with his raccoon coat and pointed a chorizo-sized finger at me accusingly. “Hey Mistuh, whadd’ll you give me for this here item I got?” he threw a stained shoebox on my meticulously organized mahogany counter, a cloud of dust rising from the sudden onslaught of boxy gravitas he visited upon it. The dust, mind you, not coming from my well-kept premises, but from the aforementioned gentleman - if I may use the term in the broadest sense - and his unsolicited delivery.”
“Mmmh, mmh, mg mh mm mnt mmmdy,” (3) an impatient Mmrma pleaded.
Archibald Tunbridge paused to examine his ragged cuticle and polish it with an ermine-collared 24 carat emery board. “Well if you’re going to be rude I suppose I can not tell it to you at all.”
“Mmmght, mmght, Mm mmrry mmldy. Mw mt mht mhe mmssve mmmsgggrmh mm mo mn! Mmmease? (4)“
“Very well,”Tunbridge continued.”I put on my archival gloves and waited for the cloud of dust to settle. I brushed dust off the top of the shoebox with a fine-fibred whisk broom I keep on hand for such occasions. And I opened the box. When I opened the box, I was startled - what I saw was a rare 1927 Ginger Jane ventriloquist dummy with the articulating elbows and the five-key eyebrow control, with hand-tooled ginger strands, and the spring-loaded double-take.”
Mmrma raised his eyebrow excitedly.
“In exquisite condition such a specimen would fetch a high four figures at Sotheby’s. But this poor creature - she looked like she had been tortured at the hands of some crazed, vengeful madman! Her once flowing ginger locks were singed a Thanksgiving turkey brown, one luminous green eye had been ripped out of its socket and her finely sculpted jaw was completely gone. I looked imploringly at the handlebarred demon who presented this ghastly wooden sacrifice before me.”
At this Mmrma shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and began to shudder imperceptibly.
“Eh, you know, I gave it to my kids to play with - I can’t believe they never learned to take care of their tings!”
“Sir, I’m sure you know this is a very special doll, but you’ve done terrible things to it. No doll should be treated like this, especially not a Ginger Jane!”
“Yeah, if I wanted ta be lectchered at I’da gone ta Town Hall. Tell ya what, Professah, I’ll leave this doll in yer capable white-gloved hands and whatever you do with it is fine wid me!” Billy the K waved his own massive paws in front of his face. “And do somethin’ about the dust in dis joint - no wonduh business is sowuh! Haw haw haw!”
Mmmra was now in tears of rage. “Mmmsth! Mmmsth! Mmse mp! Mh mnt mke mn mmr! Mt ms mh mho mhnk mh ms, Mh Mnt mnd mn mmr!” (5)
“I do apologize if my tale is rather graphic, sir, “ Tunbridge paused, wiping his bald pate for dramatic effect; if this had been for comedic effect, he would have contined the wipe down his face, brushing past his nose and turning his smile into a frown.”And I may have embellished somewhat as is my wont. But I assure you, good man, this tale has a happy ending. “
“Mmth! Mm mstle mt mh mmnmashm mf mr mst mmark!” (6)
“Sir, if you are who I think you are - and your behavior certainly indicates to me that you are - I can’t say I understand what you’ve been through, but please be assured that my intentions were noble and restorative. In fact, perhaps I can do for you what I did for the one you know as ‘Crackers.’”
“Yes, your Crackers is alive, Mortimer.”
“Mw mee, Mh mh mmst mmws mh moid mn mh mng mme - mh mmst mmws mh muh moid mvuh! May, mhw mmhm mu mn mnnsnd mh Mm myin moo mrs”? (8)
“Well, in addition to my expertise in the fields sartorial and antiquital,” - Mmmrma rolls his eye a hair at this, - “I am an expert in the field of sub-esophagal and reconstructive ventrilinguistics, and I determined what she was saying by examining the ligature of Ginger Jane’s - your Crackers’ - machinery as she struggled to explain to me her predickamentation. Err, predicament. And, although yours is a more common, dime-store ligature, I could extrapolate your meaning from the painful lessons of your Crackers.”
The guitar riff from Sister Sledge’s “He’s the greatest dancer,” - who can blame Will Smith for sampling it - plays.
“A strobe-light seems to flickr in the eyes of Archibald Tunbridge’s photographic memory. “Many splinters and liters of wood glue later, Crackers was able to tell me her story unencumbered by pain. She was a marvelous specimen, as I’m sure you knew - as she told me you knew,” Tunbridge raised an eyebrow. “She told me after Billy the K wrested her away from your Lawrence of Arabia-loving arms, he kept her hooked by means of the very substance that gave her the monniker you and all the other 42nd street swells knew her by. Billy the K had a cadre of females known for their great expertise in the art of seduction-for-hire in his collection of lost souls, but this Ginger Jane had a special spot in the devilish place where one presumes he kept his hear imprisoned, like another one of his indentured charges.
Here’s what we call our golden rule
have faith in you and the things you do ...
“Billy the K took Crackers and her sisters to the disco every night - cruising for Johns of course, but also because they loved to dance - especially Crackers and Billy the K. Despite their discrepancy in size - so she told me - the rhythm and the drugs flowed through their lithe bodies - or, rather, her lithe body and his malevolent animal hide; and although I am personally more interested in the pleasures and creations of the intellect, I can envy the figurative creative flow of the dance, however primitive and epinephrine-fueled was their hedonistic ritual.”
Mmrma nodded, catching the Professah’s drift. He already knew Crackers could shake her moneymaker, but he hated knowing that Billy the K was a dancing fool himself. Mmrma despised and at the same time envied what sounded like an undeniable terpsichorean talent.
“But Crackers longed for you, Mortimer. Through the disco haze and the pills and the glitter and lights, the free-floating feeling of indestructability that her namesake poison gave to her, even after seventy-two sleepless hours at a time of non-stop dancing and hooking - something tugged at her, fingered her keys if you will, and in the middle of the dancefloor at Studio 54, one night she said to Billy the K, ‘Oh Mortimer, turn me around again!’
"Billy the K stopped and looked at her, the rainbow lights darting around her face, the structure that had captured the imagination and hearts of so many ventriloquist audiences spanning five decades - but never like this gem of the ocean ... and Billy the K slapped her. Hard. He was a big man, as I’m sure you remember, and his soft voice made his penchant for horrible violence all the more shocking. Her jaw came off with that one swipe. Splinters flew over the lighted dance floor ..."
Good Times
These are the good times
leave your care behind
These are the good times
"Crackers stared at Billy the K in disbelief, too stunned to feel the excruciating pain."
But Mortimer could feel it - it was the pain he lived with every day, all the more acute knowing that his beloved met the same fate. His one eye stared into space. He was thankful that she was better, if the Professah was not steering him sideways. And he wanted to know what happened. But it was the worst story he’d ever heard.

(1) “Hey there, mistah! Bet you nevuh seen a one-eyed jawless ventriloquist dummy before!”
(2)”Well knock my socks off!”
(3)”Yeah, yeah, get to the point already!”
(4) “Alright, alright, I’m sorry already. Now quit with the passive aggression and go on already. Please?”
(5) “Mistuh! Mistuh! Please stop! If it’s who I think it is, I can’t stand no more!”
(6)”Mistuh! I bristle at the connotations of your last remark!”
(8)” Aw gee, that’s the best news I hoid in a long time - the best new I eveuh hoid evuh! Say, home come you can udnerstand what I’m sayin’ to yers?”

Saturday, December 04, 2010

In Which the Author Allows Himself to Write Without Producing A Masterpiece Every Time Out then Doesn't Allow Himself to Write Without a Living Ventriloquist Dummy Every Time Out

One of the many ways I procrastinated during NaNoWriMo was the time I spent finding good coffee (thank you Baked and Wired in DC, and Stumptown and Joe the Art of Coffee in New York) and a nice quiet cafe where I could sit down and write. (Note: do not try this in Georgetown on a Sunday.)  It used  to be when I walked into a cafe and saw people writing - and I mean, using pen or pencil and paper and writing - I'd think, "poh-ser!" Now here I was sitting in cafes pawing at my laptop for a couple of hours a day Writing A Novel. Because it's cute when I do it.

I had given up caffeine sometime during the second or third Snowmageddon. Maybe cabin fever ramped up my baseline anxiety, but I had become more aware of what caffeine did to me since I'd started meditating. I'd started mindfulness meditation practice to learn to relax, of course. But through the books of Pema Chodron as well as the evening meditation group I was attending once a week, I slowly learned that the key word might not be RELAX so much as gentle. I knew there was always a lot bouncing around in my brain, circuits firing and re-firing until they shorted out and sometimes started to emit sparks and smoke.  But we all do that, and when you learn that, and when you learn not to judge yourself and that imperfection is the rule ... well it's a goal that's ever truly reached but it's  a process
that you keep processing, like a regular kitten on a branch.

duckling and kitten reign
So I signed up for NaNoWriMo for reasons similar to why I took up meditation -  to get over that self-judgement, to allow myself to write something that wasn't a masterpiece (cf. title). Okay, NaNoWriMo *was* a Journey, sans amazing animals, except for the very end, where I was inspired by mountain lions in the news on November 30th to devise a surprise attack that ended up with Kitty the mountain lion accepting the Oscar for Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in an all-feline version of The Miracle Worker; and which brought me to my 50,006th word.

But I digress - isn't that what NaNoWriMo is all about? Letting the mind go and following it. (Um, caffeine agitated me, blah blah, back up to three cups a day and that's alright too.)

The other major form of procrastination was finding what music to listen to while I was writing. Selected inspirations:

1. Seeburg 16 rpm department store music (youtube)
2. Aphex Twin, "Cliffs" (youtube)
3. Weschel Garland, "Hi (Friends)" (itunes)
4. Glen Cambpell, "Witchita Lineman" (youtube)
5. Brian Eno, "1/1" (youtube)
6. Penguin Cafe Orchestra, "Penguin cafe single" (youtube)

Electronica seemed to help the most, and pushed me through the early stages of the Mmrma story, but it got an even bigger push when I put on the Chic box set.

the two of us
Disco, particularly the variety produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, was perfect for writing. In terms of meditation, it wasn't so much concentration practice as openness practice, and what you opened to was rhythm: the beat gave my fingers, with their limited typing skills something to propel them as if the keyboard was a dance floor and my fingers wore bell-bottoms. And the story went with it. I'd never much cared for Sister Sledge's "He's the greatest dancer" when I heard it on the radio as a kid (I vaguely remember having the 45 and burning the edge of it on a dare); but hearing it on the Chic box set was a revelation. The stuttering guitar line sounded like The Meters' Leo Nocentelli on coke. The repetition was hypnotic, the strings sliced at the tension, and that sick keyboard fill slices finally lets it out like an alien baby out of William Hurt. I became obsessed with the song, and it even inspired a plot line - with Crackers, the second living ventriloquist dummy in my tale.

I didn't realize Crackers was a character at first, but as soon as I named her she was there.  In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I didn't go back to edit the previous day's work, but I'd often go back to what I'd written earlier that day to expand upon it.

November 13. Morty talking here - I added paragraph breaks but this is otherwise unedited:

"Bill was laid up for months after that - with his bum leg and my bum jaw, we couldn’t get work! Before that, the two of us - who wouldn’t hire us? Nobody wouldn’t hire us, that’s who! We were living like the Kings of Kentucky! Champagne baths for Bill, warm sponges for me.  And the dames! Somethin’ about a man drinkin’ a big glass a water and whispering sweet nothings  through a wooden dummy - and I liked to roll my eyes a lot while I told them stuff, it knocked ‘em out!  
"And you know, Bill likes to think he calls all the shots, but if you want me to let ya in on a little secret ... he doesn’t!  Sometimes Bill can be passed out drunk on rye whiskey - and beleive you me, if it happened once or twice it happened a few dozen tiems and then some. But while he’s lying on the parquet in complete oblivion - that’s when I take over! That’s right, me, Mortimer! I call the shots, I make the moves, I turn my head this way, I turn it that, I flap my jaw like this, see, like I’m doin’ now? ‘Cause I’M CALLIN’ THE SHOTS, SEE? 
"And if you think the dames come running when Bill is runnin’ the show,  you ain’t seen nothin’ like when I’m runnin’ the show! I can do things Bill can never dream of - that most dames had never experienced before - and never will again!  None a them goils ever sawr a fella turn his head around 360 degrees. You shoulda seen the look in their eyes! You could almost say I ruined them for men of flesh and blood. Once they get a taste of Mortimer! I tell ya. That kinda precision, it really does somethin’ to a lady. Really turns the faucets on, if you know what I mean. I mean - you oughtta know what I mean, ‘cuz YOU’RE a dame! Man I had to lock the doors at night it got so rough. The little dames, the big dames, the blonde dames, the brunettte dames - it was like we were the Beatles! Not a lotta redheads, though,  because Bill is funny about them, he got hurt once, ya know how it is. Well maybe you don’t!  
"But,  man it was really living! And then, after the accident - we were doin’ so bad, we were trying to beg for money, for work, but  - I was gettin’ to be too much of a burden to him,  so I run off in the middle of the night. I was down on my luck, I wouldn’t sleep - I wouldn’t eat! I rode the rails lookin’ for work, running away from it all. And Bill came running lookin’ for me too, he musta looked in every freight car between here and Tijuana! He finally found me right before I was gonan end it all - I had a rock tied around my waist and I was just gonna go down into the rivuh. I’d just let the rock go when Bill saw me and jumped in after me. Without a jaw I woulda been gone that much quicker, you know? And you know what I hated most Betts? You know what was the woist? I couldn’t even tell him thank you proper like. He knew, but I wanted to say it, I wanted him to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, ‘Thanks fer savin’ my life, Bill!’
“When you met us, Bett, we were trying to make it in the Big City ... we were ... I’m ashamed to say it, Betts - we were hustlers! We walked up and down 42nd street, all rags and ass - we’d do it for a fin, we’d do it for a buck, we’d do it for smack ..."

At some point that evening I told V. that Morty had become a Times Square hustler and would do anything for smack. "Anything for a snack?" she asked me. (She also had a great line that I'll have to steal later: "These holes in my arms ain't from termites, sister!")

I went back to add:

"... we’d do it for snacks! Please mistuh, I bet you’re so big, I’ll work for peanuts, and I mean peanuts!  Boiled peanuts, honey-rasted cashews,  Jordan almonds, Brazil nuts,  chocolate-covered spanish peanuts, beer nuts, you name it, if it was a nut, I did bad things for a can of them. And I had a baaaad habit, it goes with the trade - tracks marks all over the woodgrain. And I don’t have to tell you somebody like me, without a jaw - well, I was popular in my way, a lotta the showbiz types - I’m not the kind to name names but if I were, a lotta Emmy-winning actors, with beautiful actresses and beautiful children at home - why, they’d be ruined! But I don’t like thinking about those days Betts. Nobody should have to go through what I been through Betts. If I never see another boner again it’ll be too many! Sometimes I wonder how the both of us didn’t end up in the East River tied around a jukebox.
“That’s why Bill couldn’t talk when you met us, Betts. He’d fallen a long way, a lot further than twenty feet to the ground, a lot further than twenty feet underground if you get my picture. Yours was the first kind face either of us had seen in a long long time. The big city eats you alive Betts! It eats you alive ... eats you alive ... eats you alive..”
Crackers was on the way.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


That's how many words I wrote during November for National Novel Writing Month (affectionately known as NaNoWriMo.). The organizers of NaNoWriMo encourage those who take up this challenge, which entails writing an average of 1667 words a day for 30 days, to develop outlines and characters and notes - anything but actually writing the book. But that felt like cheating to me (outlines and notes are part of writing, are they not?), so I wrote without a net, as it were, though I did come up with a concept on October 31st:

I thought my working title, Fifty Easy Pieces, gave me a framework that would give me some direction, but also left it wide open for whatever performance art piece my gallery-crawling hide could come up with. My artist was loosely based on Marina Abramovic, who I wrote about here, and some of the pieces I wrote were not so thinly disguised variations of her work. I also wanted to use the exercise to work out ideas I had for my own art, like for an abandoned department store that played old muzak tapes, or a piece that would take place on a bus.

But it was a lot harder than I thought, and I found myself committing that most base of artistic sins, one that plagues the work of  talented but precious artists from Tom Robbins to Tim Burton: I was trying too hard. I kept up the pace for the first week, but much of what I wrote, which I plan to throw out, came off labored and forced. Hannah wouldn't take me through the month. The second week began badly, as my word count went down to 800 on the 8th and 117 on the 10th, the lowest word count I posted all month.

So what did I do on the 11th? I went to New York, where I thought I'd get some writing done (and see the opening night of The Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway, but that's another story).

And it worked -- before I even got to the Lincoln Tunnel. I was on a packed Boltbus with minimal elbow room when I began to write my performance art piece to be performed on a moving passenger bus. Hannah would maker her way around the bus chatting up passengers and using a different persona for each passenger (psst - trying too hard) and one of the first passengers she chatted with was a ventriloquist named Bill.

My interest in ventriloquist dummies grew out of a fantastic gift from my homie, a Carol Channing dummy that became a recurring inspiration for photo shoots. But when it came time for my fictional dummy I wanted to find a model, a name, and somewhere on I-95 I Googled "ventriloquist dummy," and the resulting images which led me to eBay and what would turn out to be my muse for the rest of the novel.

I didn't start writing about him till the next day, but when I did, for the the first time since I started NaNoWriMo - maybe the first time ever for me - instead of me writing dialogue for a charcter, the character spoke for himself. The trouble was that spoke the way you’d expect a jawless ventriloquist dummy to speak:

”Mma dmmt seah!” exclaimed Mmrma, struggling with his deformity. “Mha, Mma nemmh mmep mha mmrst mmdy mmre!”

I was touched by his inability to communicate, and identified with the inarticulate longing to communicate. The dollar bill, used for scale in the eBay listing, also hinted at a Skid Row past. But I couldn't sustain the jawless patois, which is harder to write than you'd think, so I devised a way for him to get his voice back and let him sing. An unedited excerpt:

While Mmrma was sleeping, his legs started to twitch. He was dreaming - he dreamed that he was running in a field holding hands with Hannah and he had his jaw back and two eyes to see her with. He looked at her and she at him, and he dreamed within the dream, of a grueling twenty-four hour surgery that restored his voice and his vision. He dreamed within the dream within the dream of the time he told Hannah all about how he lost his jaw and an eye.
A bassline begins and Glen Campbell sings, “I am a lineman for the county ...”
“Bill was a telephone man in Louisville and he took me along on jobs. We’d roll along the country roads in his Chevy pick-up truck and he’d strap me along his leg while he straddled up the utility poles. We climbed as high as the birds, Betty [the name of Hannah's persona at this point] , we could see for miles - it was the most beautiful countryside you ever saw Betty! It was a hard living but man I woulda paid for that view - I’d pay to see that again and I’d take you and we’d count the pigeons - we’d count the pigeons Betty!”
And I want you for all ti -i -ime
“Then one time a storm was coming, but we were young and cocky and we thought we were invincible.
‘Are ya sure you should go up so high there, Bill, I mean, doncha see the storm clouds comin’ - can’t ya see them Bill? Bill!’ 
‘Aw c’mon Mortimer, we’re almost up to the top and after I check out the cables we’ll head right back down.’ 
‘I got a baaad feelin’ about this Bill. A baaaaad feelin’.’
And wouldn’t ya know I was right! The storm moved in quicker than he thought and a cloud pased on right over us and it got almost pitch black. ‘Ah, let’s get back down Bill, this makes me noivous!’
‘Oh alright, if you say so Mort--’
And then - I didn’t know what hit me Betty. It was like the sky opened up and went right through this bag o’ bones!” Mmrma knocked his head, whole now. “The bolt struck the pole and Bill came tumbling down twenty feet and as he slipped off my face caught one of the climbing pegs on the utility pole - BOOP right through the peeper! Tore my eye out and ripped my jaw clean off! I still get nightmare about it Betty! I wake up screaming, except I can’t scream. Get it, Bett? I CAN’T EVEN SCREAM! All I wanna do is let out a big holler, let out the pain, but I can’t Bett, I can’t! I CAN’T SCREAM!”

It was November 12. I was in New York, and I wrote 3064 words that day, and also found time to eat at my favorite ramen joint, do a gallery crawl in Chelsea (I quite liked the paintings of Tony Scherman at Winston Wachter and Paulina Olowska at Metro Pictures, and the sculpture of Kristen Morgin at Zach Feuer), and see a documentary on the influence of Finnish television broadcasts in Soviet Estonia.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Patricio has been busy, Part 2: The Wonderful World of Kittens

The "Homewreckers." Courtesy Bright Red Rocket.
Article first published as DVD Review: The Wonderful World of Kittens on Blogcritics.

Microcinema International is best known for distributing video titles from outside the studio machine, and featuring, at minimum, upper-middlebrow aesthetics. Among their recent releases are Seven Easy Pieces, a survey of performance artist Marina Abramovic’s 2005 Guggenheim residence; Tatsumi Hijikata: Summer Storm, a document of Japanese Butoh dancers; and the 2002 science fiction feature Teknolust, which stars art-house darling Tilda Swinton in a quadruple role as Rosetta Stone and three Self-Replicating Automatons cloned from her own DNA. (I didn’t believe it either. ) So it was with surprise and delight that I spied on Microcinema's docket of upcoming releases the title I present to you today: The Wonderful World of Kittens. Is this a lowbrow, if adorable and fuzzy, anomaly in their catalog? Is this kitten-porn elevated to the level of performance art? Perhaps the answer is a little of both.

Divided into chapter titles such as “Molly Kitten Plays with a Thing” and "Kittenball Championship," The Wonderful World of Kittens offers surface cuddliness as advertised. At the same time, it is not lacking in the depth one is accustomed to from purveyors of independent cinema.

The chapters are divided between interior and exterior set pieces. In the former, the kittens are frequently let loose on studio backdrop muslin, but there is no reining in the exuberance and messiness of reality, as the kittens wreak havoc on the varieties of man-made ball. The tour de force “Play Ball!” offers a rhythmic electronic score punctuated with electronic pan-flute sounds, signifying the kittens’ abandonment of high society for primeval nature a la The Blue Lagoon. As the program is rated C for Cute, these young explorers will not discover their sexuality. At nearly ten minutes, “Play Ball!” is a long chapter of this wonderful world, but will human civilization degenerate even more quickly? It ends with a kitten batting at the camera, which goes chillingly dead — just like The China Syndrome.

The music for The Wonderful World of Kittens was composed by artist Brian Dewan, whose original music and drawings have also appeared in a series of filmstrip programs. (In 2000 I saw the artist present these charming filmstrips at Brooklyn's Pierogi Gallery.) His score for Kittens is more interesting than you'd expect from your standard baby animals video, though not so interesting that the music overwhelms the kitten play. Still, Dewan pushes the envelope of pet sounds in such chapters as “Kittenball Rematch,” which introduces free jazz violin tones as a musical counterpoint to the feline chaos.

As the chapters unfold, Molly Kitten becomes a clear stand-in for the artist. Molly "Plays with a Thing," is "On the Prowl," "Is Curious." Are these not the concerns of the creative class? Is the reference to Ulyssees more than coincidence? Yes yes yes she said yes.

Kittens reaches its dramatic peak with the startling “Homewreckers.” It begins with the tranquil repose of a sleeping black kitten, but soon breaks down into a scenario of home invasion not unlike Michael Haneke’s brutal film Funny Games. Finally, the program ends with “Naptime.” One can only guess what adorable horrors will ensue upon awakening. The Wonderful World of Kittens was originally released by Bright Red Rocket in 2008. It will be available from Microcinema on October 26 — just in time for Halloween.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Patricio has been busy

I was a writer before I was a photographer. This year I've neglected my photography but have been writing more than ever before. If neglected this blog last month, it is in part due to the fact that I have been busy writing for three other venues:

The one I get paid for, as part of other duties which I've always had a hard time explaining to people.  Trust me, I work hard for your tax dollars, and last month wrote about various composers' birthdays and seeing Sir Paul McCartney on tv., where I have recently published reviews of documentaries about ventriloquism and controversial artist Brock Enright.

And, where my arts reviews began appearing last week. Yesterday my review of the Poussette-Dart and Robert Ryman shows at The Phillips Collection was published.

With this flurry of activity, I wish I could work on my own stuff. It's not a matter of time, really - a friend once told me that if you wanted something to get done, ask a busy person. It didn't make sense to me until I became a busy person myself. But I'm struggling with my own projects, and the struggle begins with what my own project would be.  How will I marry writing with photography? As I work on, or avoid working on, applications for photography competitions, I face a blank page.
The answer must be right in front of me. I'll let you know when I find it.

As an aside - or is the answer somewhere within? - last month I had the opportunity through to meet a number of musical heroes: Elvis Costello, Jack White, Herbie Hancock, the Jonas Brothers (well, somebody's heroes). I even got a glimpse of Paul McCartney being whisked away to an official dinner. I took photos of my friends with some of these luminaries, but absent Taylor Swift there was nobody I was excited enough about to want to have my picture taken with them.

But the week after the all-star soiree, I met somebody I did want my picture taken with:

Me and Tommy Wiseau

Tommy Wiseau is the auteur behind the cult phenomenon The Room, and I don't use the word auteur ironically. For all the press calling this "The worst movie ever made," for the awkward dialogue and acting, the writer/director/star has some kind of amazing vision. Not everybody hears that whistle - unlike many bad movies, what makes this enjoyable has nothing to do with camp or a wink-wink knowingness. The charm of Tommy is that he doesn't know. As much as the audiences that pack houses to see him at midnight screenings aroudn the country show up to laugh at him, he stands by his vision. It may not be a coherent, comprehendable vision, but it's clearly a vision - Citizen Kane homage aside, what other movie is like this?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

I, Hoarder: 180 gram vinyl edition

ahd bae tha' fr'a dollah

I have three different vinyl pressings of Love's desert-island-disc Forever Changes. I have two Dexy's Midnight Runner's lps - most don't realize there was more than one, but it predated "Come on Eileen" and is more informed by Northern Soul than the Celtic whatever of their second album. I have no fewer than four Sheena Easton albums (at least three of which were purchased in the last twelve months, none for more than a dollar), and this afternoon discovered I still had the promotional album card - a thin slab of cardboard with the cover art on one side and promotional text on the other - for her Strut album. Does anybody out there like jazz tumpeter Woody Shaw? I have several of his 1970's lps for Columbia, the entire run of which was collected on a box set by Mosaic Records, but I've never listened to them and can't remember where I bought them - maybe one or two came from a trip to Amoeba Records in Berkeley in the '90s. Man I bought a lotta records there.

In short, I hoard vinyl - I have hoarded it since the 80's, and have memories of the dollar used bins at Kemp Mill Records in Georgetown where you could have picked up a mono pressing of St. Pepper for less than $10 (sadly, I didn't). I remember when Zodiac records, a Latin music specialist on Columbia Road, mysteriously acquired an incredible record collection full of punk/new wave lps that they were selling for $1.50 a pop. I picked up early Roxy Music, Todd Rundgren, John Cale solo records; I passed up a first pressing of  X-Ray Spex' Germfree Adolescents because I already had a copy. Too bad, because a few years later I saw them selling for three figures.

In the early oughts I lost a few boxes of records to mold damage owing to a flooded furnace room, but besides that I've never made a concerted effort to shave off the collection's unruly beard which is now several ear-splitting decibels beyond ZZ Top.  In the ensuing years, there has been a resurgence of record stores (and I mean record stores) in this town, with three excellent sources of used vinyl within walking distance; the dollar-bins at one of those shops is the bane and boon of my existence, full of strange records of all lands with jaw-dropping covers that - well, like this:

Or this:

you too can help prevent national mp3 download day

There are thousands of lps in my basement, and I weeded a boxful this week. Some were easy decisions: did I ever need the Blow Monkeys lp? I'd always thought their hit, "Diggin' your scene," had an unresolved chorus that should have gone on for another bar. I don't think I ever listened to Difford and Tilbrook's post-Squeeze album more than once - for that matter, I can say the same of Squeeze's last album, and do I really need any besides Argybargy? If that? They were a band I used to eat up like corn flakes but they no longer stay crispy in my milk. I never listened to my Guided by Voices double-lp bootlegs, but I'll probably give those to my brother if he wants them. And I always thought Pussy Galore was trying too hard.

Of course, I went for a walk this evening and bought a new lp, Excavated Shellac, a collection of old string-centric 78s from foreign lands compiled by the curator of the blog of the same name, and issued by Dust-to-Digital, producers of the fantastic Goodbye Babylon set of old gospel. I bought it at Melody Records, the best new record/CD  store left in Washington, DC. I remember buying a picture-sleeve 45 of "(Just like) Starting Over" at Melody Records, when they were still at the corner of Connecticut and Q, the week before John Lennon was killed. Over the years their stock shifted from vinyl to CDs and now they again have a healthy selection of new vinyl. When I bought a Big Star 45 at Melody several months ago, it was the first time I'd bought a 7" single from Melody in more than a decade.

The thing is - I could have bought a whole stack of records from the dollar bins I could have bought twenty one-dollar records for what I paid for Excavated Shellac.

My apologies to those not infected by vinyl geekery. I feel I've gone on ad nauseum like a friend goes on about where he's seen what movies and how he saw  that movie at the Jerry Lewis Cinema in 1971 and how an appallingly expurgated version of it ran on the CBS Late Movie in 1975. I have waxed more than was my intention, and could wax some more. I have a problem. I am a recordaholic.

I'll post updates on this continuing crisis, as developments occur.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago: part 3: Flushing

I go to New York regularly but I seldom venture out of Manhattan and even more seldom into Queens. I may complain about increasing gentrification of  the Lower East Side or the Sexandthecitification of The Bowery but I never run out of things to do there. Well for once I was at a loss for things to do, and maybe the few hours I spent in South Philly gave me a taste and yearning for a big city that was not losing its regional character. Forty-five minutes on the subway, to the eastern terminus of the 7 train, I found that character in Flushing, where the advetrtising was predominantly in Chinese even before I got out of the station.

Whenever I watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations,  I always salivate over at least some of the regional dishes he tries, and no less so than when he devoted a program to New York. Still, as I tend to do with things I see on tv, I forgot about it. But my friend G., whom I've run into in several different neighborhoods in New York over the years, strongly recommended The Golden Mall in Flushing, not just for the food but for the sensory overload. Thanks, G.

Xi'an Famous Foods, was easy to get to but not that easy to find - I saw at least four different entrances to Golden Mall, and couldn't reproduce how I got there. There is basement entrance to 41-28 Main Street on the corner, and if you can find that, you'll find the liang pi (cold noodles, $5, pictured) and the lamb burger ($2.50, not pictured - it looks like a sloppy joe, but, laced with green chilies and cumin,  it tastes much more fantastic), and have an outrageously good and spicy meal with change from a sawbuck.

About a block down and across the street from Golden Mall is the Tai Pan Bakery. Wouldn't animal cupcakes be an intriguing variation on the cupcake craze? The mobile cupcake van could tweet that they're running out of goat. This ram was made of two layers of tiny sponge cake with a creme filling. Not as sastifying to eat as it was to photograph.

See the sidebar on seltzer in part 2. This can of agua con gas is courtesy of the cafe at PS1, the Long Island City affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art, which are both currently exhibiting surveys of performance art - in general at PS1, and, specifically, Marina Abramovic's at Moma. Also recommended at Moma: the work of found poem/collagist/ Manhatan Project scientist Bern Porter, which I found more inspiring and much less crowded  (I was the only one  there) than the Cartier-Bresson show upstairs. Peppy, a performance artist in his own right who travels with me frequently, is courtesy of my homes. The patriotism is from one of the dollar stores (real cost $2.99) in one of the sensory-overloaded malls along Main Street in Flushing.

Finally, it took me years of visiting New York before I found a chocolate chip cookie to go back for.  Within stumbling distance of  Eisenberg's is this chewy, vanilla-soaked answer to your cookie questions, from The City Bakery, which is home to an annual hot chocolate festival and the sippable cuppa cocoa you see here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Daido Moriyama: Stray Dog of Tokyo

Article as  first published on

Daido Moriyama, along with Nobuyoshi Araki, was part of a new wave of Japanese artists to break out of photographic traditions in the late '60s. For Moriyama, these traditions included things like focus and a level camera; his high-contrast, grainy black and white images are pure street photography, but he's just as likely to print images that are all blur and texture as he is to point his lens on disaffected youth and the banalities of everyday life. Whatever the subject, or lack thereof, his best work is full of energy, and pushes the limits of the form and what constitutes photography.

Moriyama has largely avoided the media, but that changes with the feature-length documentary Stray Dog of Tokyo (a reference to the title of one of his books), which includes extensive interviews with Moriyama as well as with the often hilarious Araki, and Japanese magazine editor and photography critic Kazuo Nishii. More intriguing for photographers, like myself, a single camcorder follows Moriyama on a photo shoot wandering around the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, not unlike the titular stray. The camera also follows Moriyama to the darkroom, though he shares none of his developing formulas, perhaps not even to himself. Nishii recalls an exhibit which required an enlargement of one of Moriyama's prints, but after a photo lab was unable to replicate Moriyama's print, a consultation with the artist revealed that he himself couldn't remember how he printed that one.

Photographers like me will also be curious to know what equipment he uses. Araki explains that his friend almost always ends up borrowing a camera, which then becomes his. Moriyama's first was a toy camera made of Bakelite (the rugged substance that makes up any number of Brownies and other plastic cameras), and has always felt that you can make a good picture with anything. Then again, the 35mm point-and-shoot he uses on screen appears to be a Ricoh GR1s — no Leica, but not exactly a cheap camera either. But the small, wide-angle compact is perfect for his "no-finder" aesthetic; instead of looking through the viewfinder, he looks in one direction while pointing his camera in the other - from his chest, from his side, even from below his waist. In this manner, the wide-angle lens is likely to pick up whatever it was in that direction caught his eye, be it a businessman out on the town or a group of schoolgirls.

Stray Dog of Toyko also shows Moriyama shooting his very first digital still and video footage - the documentary was shot around 2000-2001, when digital was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. The results are funny, and, despite high-resolution color, recognizably Moriyama. But don't think that he's abandoned the analog. In addition to a steady stream of monographs, Moriyama has lent his brand name to a pocket-sized toy camera that uses 110mm film and is packaged with a small print of his signature stray dog.

In a perfect world, a documentary about Moriyama would be shot in grainy, hi-con 35mm film - something along the lines of Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's now classic documentary of the defeated and soon to be dead Chet Baker. Stray Dog was shot on video, but is edited well enough to rise well above the usual level of documentary as DVD extra. Students of photography and observers of modern Japan alike will learn a lot from 84 minutes with Daido Moriyama.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago: part 2: Manhattan

My next stop was New York, where my usual first stop after getting off the bus or train is for the double katsu at Go-go curry, the sole American outlet of a Japanese chain that honors New York Yankees star Hideki Matsui with a gorilla mascot and an excellent roux-based curry. But I was heavy laden and saved my Japanese jones for the Tan Tan Men @ Menkui Tei in the East Village. I don't know how many times I'd walked by this place before finally venturing in last year, but  since I've discovered it, I haven't been to New York without stopping by. The ramen noodles and spicy ground pork are perfect for a cold winter night. The $4 Sapporo draft makes it fine for all seasons.

Depending on the browser you're using to read this, about here you'll see what layout designers call trapped white space. I learned about trapped white space, and that it was something to avoid, from, if memory serves,  Mr. John Bailey, the contracted liaison between the high school yearbook staff I worked with and whoever our publisher was. I never forgot the lesson, and in fact much of what I learned about photographic composition comes from cropping photos for the yearbook, even though I wouldn't pick up a camera for some years after that. So if you happen upon a 1983 or 1984 Aetonian, and find a photo of my friend Jim waving from across the school library, his hands strategically, and unintentionally,  spread from a vortex formed at the base of a crucifix (thank you, Society of Jesus, for the strong education); well I didn't mean to crop out the top part of the crucifix - it was an editorial decision made above us.

As this digression may have entirely negated the trapped white space I was  afeared of, let us continue apace.

New York hotels don't often have the "continental breakfast" that many chain hotels offer guests, but The Mave (on Madison Ave) had good coffee and okay pastries available from 7-9 every morning. But getting up before 9 in the morning in New York isn't something I normally do. So to fuel up for a morning of browsing in the Antiques Garage, I wracked my brain and then Google to find the name of the sandwich shop I'd seen written up in the blog Jeremiah's Vanishing New York for their exemplary formulation of the iconic New York drink, the egg cream.

Eisenberg's is the name, and at 22nd and 5th just south of the Flatiron Building it's another of those places I've probably walked right by a few dozen times, blissfully unaware of the deliciousness within. When I found the place, I couldn't even remember resting my eyes upon it for even a glance before. I had the pastrami and eggs: juicy, spicy, tender pastrami, the best I've ever had (and that include's Katz's Deli).

That's the egg cream. I haven't had enough egg creams to maneuver the nuances of seltzer-to-syrup proportions, but I can vouch for its tastiness.

Not pictured: the cortado from Joe's the Art of Coffee on 23rd St. near 9th Ave; the best cuppa joe I've had since returning from a trip to South America last year. Which reminds me. Among the culinary discoveries I made in South America, besides the fantastic $9 steaks to be had in Buenos Aires and the revelatory bacon cheeseburger I had in, of all places, a Ruby Tuesday's at the Santiago airport, was agua con gas. In restaurants, diners are offered the choice between agua con gas or sin gas, the latter being regular tap water and the former being the carbonated water known here by the brands Perrier or San Pellegrino, and the generic seltzer.

Me gusta!

In DC it's easy to get Perrier or San Pellgrino or club soda in single-serving bottles. But seltzer is a rarer bubbly animal.  Merriam-Webster defines it, with endearing circularity, as water from the German town of Selters (what genius added the "z"?!), and if I am reading the wikipedia article correctly, there appears to be no real difference between seltzer and other carbonated water. But seltzer is a lot more fun to say and write, and hear, which you can do right now from the disembodied neutral voice of Merriam-Webster online. And it is part of the regional lore of New York, so much so that the city was abuzz when the last remaining seltzer-delivery man had to take time off to recover from an injury in 2009.

Which is a long way of saying I get seltzer, be it in egg cream or in its raw form, whenever I'm in New York. Your corner bodega chooses Canada Dry, but the seltzer syndicate is in completely different territory in Penn Station, where Hudson News proudly stocks only Seagram's seltzer.

The foodstuffs pictured above and adjacent to these spring-watery passages are, first, what remained of the fish special at Cucina di Pesce. I never got what the name of the fish was, despite hearing it at least three times from my friendly waiter Sal; and the beginnings of a heavy night's sleep brought on by the same restaurant's tiramisu. I wish there were an Italian restaurant this good in DC, but I know that if there were, it would cost twice as much.

Apologies for the trapped white space.

Part three: Flushing and back again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago. part 1: Philadelphia

For my 1400th post on The Bloggy, Bloggy Dew, and by popular demand (two people asked!) I'll tell you about a weekend that started out as a Timothy Carey tour and ended up a foodie tour of two cities - three if you count the concubine's beef I had for lunch at Pete's Diner back home the day before I left.

I was in Philadelphia for a limited amount of time and wanted to make sure I had one known quantity of cheesesteak before heading north. I'd been to Cosmi's Deli in South Philly once before with my homes. Theirs was the highest rated sandwich in the "Ultimate Cheesesteak Taste Test," conducted by Richard Rys of Philadelphia magazine for Frommer's Philadelphia & The Amish Country, 2007 ed. To give you an idea of the reviewer's local cred, he rated the most famous cheesteak stands, tourist-magnets Pat's and Geno's, at the very bottom of his list. I walked two miles to get there, from 14th and South Street, past a Little Vietnam in South Philly (I saw a couple of bahn mi joints) to get a cheesesteak with whiz, and it was worth the walk.

[Not pictured: a crappy late-night carry-out cheeseteak with scrambled eggs. It wasn't even as good as the cheesteaks I can get at the corner Chinese carry-out back home.]

My hotel was close to the Reading Terminal Market. A sidebar in Frommer's suggested DiNic's as a decent purveyor of the Other Philly Sandwich, the roast pork (John's Roast Pork, rated high in the Frommer's cheesteak list, is reportedly The place to go) . I got one (right) with sharp provolone. It tasted healthier than a cheesesteak, but wasn't *that* much less greasy. I'll have to get broccoli rabe next time. Nice touch: The Thank You for Shopping Here bag.

I don't remember the name of the place whose siren song called me with this display of the Drunken Orange, a rich nutella/whiskey/truffle topping - which made its home on what was, alas, a medicocre shortbread base. Proper shortbread would have made it worth the heavy feeling in my tum tum.

Next stop: New York.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Timothy Carey's 57 Varieties

I went up to Philly last weekend for a four-hour program of films featuring Timothy Carey, the late great character actor who hammed his way through dozens of bit-roles. I've written about him previously. Some of his movies you've seen and love - notably his significant supporting roles for Stanley Kubrick in The Killing and Paths of Glory (his famous scene in the latter involces a cockroach); some you haven't seen and wouldn't love if you had (Chesty Morgan, anyone?) A contrary fellow if there ever was one, he turned down roles in all three Godfather pictures, because, he claimed, he didn't want to be one of those actors who was in it for the money. Chesty Morgan, anyone? I tease, but in my search for the Timothy Carey mysqtique I've watched a lot of bad movies, and the only one I couldn't get through was the so-called sex comedy Chesty Morgan. Which is too bad, because the director let Carey go on at length during a dinner scene where you can clearly see his fellow actors becoming uncomfortable with Carey's riffing.

Carey was also a director, most famously of The World's Greatest Sinner, a film whose reputation was such that Elvis Presley asked to see it (Carey has an uncredited role in the Presley/Mary Tyler Moore vehicle Change of Habit, as a hulking, massive grocery store clerk.) Carey's son Romeo presented a documentary about the making of TWGS (Mike White, who administers the Timothy Carey page on Facebook, writes about the documentary, and the other films shown that evening, here.) and answered questions at the screening. One of his remarks hit on why I'm so drawn to Carey - the guy simply didn't care what people thought of him. If this can be seen in his supporting roles in other people's movies, it goes in spades for his work as a director.

TWGS was rarely seen until it ran on TCM Underground last year. Carey plays Clarence Hilliard, an insurance salesman who up and quits his job to follow his own strange path - as a God. He enters politics as God Hilliard, and also tries his hand out as a rock star. One of the talking heads in the making of documentary notes that Carey has no proficiency on the guitar before making the movie, but claims that he got by on charisma alone, and could have opened for Elvis. That may be overstating things:

The film is a mess, but has a few remarkable scenes. As hard as Carey is for other directors to rein in, he's even less inhibited here, which isn't always a good thing. His performance relies too often on shouting - from streetcorners, from stage. The most memorable scenes are softer, or at least, not as loud: a seduction scene with an elderly former insurance client; and the final revelation.

TWGS has been difficult, but not impossible to see, until recently. Much rarer is Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena, a collection of footage, shot between 1969 and 1974, that was slated for a tv pilot in the 70s. This train wreck makes TWGS look like Citizen Kane; my first reaction was that it was unwatchable, but as it went on and I laughed hard at one and then another ridiculous scene, I couldn't look away, always wondering what the hell he might do next. Carey stars as the roller-skating, bib-overall wearing Tweet Twig, caretaker of a menagerie of animals including goats, chickens, ducks, dogs and kittens (all of which belonged to the Carey family). Who talk. Yes, Timothy Carey made a talking animal picture, and naturally, the German Shepherd has a German accent.

After the four hours of films were over, Romeo Carey, who expressed surprised that more people didn't walk out on Tweet's (several in the audience did) took questions from the audience. I asked if he knew about this newspaper item:

New York Times, May 8, 1957
Missing US Actor is Found

MUNICH, Germany, May 7 (Reuters)--Timothy Carey, 31-year old Hollywood actor who disappeared from his hotel here sunday night, was found gagged and handcuffed on a lonely road outside Munich this morning, the police said here today. They said the actor had hitched a ride in a car driven by two English-speaking men, who held him at gunpoin, robbed him of $40 and finally dumped him by the roadside.

Romeo Carey did know about it. After shooting for Paths of Glory had wrapped, Timothy Carey had been frustrated with the publicity around Kirk Douglas and his other co-stars. So he faked his own kidnapping. In another incident around that time, the crew had gone to a burlesque show one evening in which one performer ended her act in a buble bath on stage. Timothy Carey walked right up to the stage and got into the bubble bath with her.

Carey's son painted a picture of life with father that was funny and uncomfortable. Romeo admitted that he used to be tremendously embarassed by the Tweet's footage. Toward the end of his life Carey became obsessed with the artistic possibilities of the fart. His last, unfinished project was a play called The Insect Trainer, about a man convicted of murder by farting. Carey liked to fart in church, just before reaching out to greet his neighbor in a sign of peace.

Timothy Carey's fart chastity belt
The screenings were held at the International House of Philadelphia (amiably known as IHOP) in conjunction with the show "Dead Flowers" at Vox Populi (link NSFW), where it will run through the end of the month before moving to New York's Participant Inc. Gallery in May. The curator was inspired by the work of Timothy Carey and his refusal to compromise his artistic vision. The show assembles a group of transgressive artists who work with the body: Genesis P-Orridge, Kembra Phfaler, Cynthia Plaster Caster, among others, and a selection of ephemera from Carey's career - film stills and other promotional materials, and, pictured above, a fart chastity belt. The other artists' connections with Carey seemed tenuous to me, other than their shared fixation with their own bodies, but it was a treat to see the Carey ephemera at hand.