Saturday, March 31, 2007

Twilight Zone

Someone told me a joke last night which I’m sure I’ve heard before. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t laugh loudest at the ones we keep in sub-conscious memory. Like they sound new, but somehow they resonate.

Anyway it was the one where the big corporate boss is interviewing 3 applicants for a job and he gives each one $10,000, tells them to spend wisely and come back in a week and report. First one has bought some really great clothing, a great watch and a car, to look appropriately classy as an employee. Second donated the money to the boss’s favorite educational charity. Third takes the $10,000, buys stock, turns it into $20,000. Who gets the job? The one with the big boobs.

Of course that joke was funnier 20 years ago because in this day and time, everyone, including the guys, if they want them, can get the boobs. Put it on their credit card. I wonder if anyone has analyzed what percentage of outstanding consumer credit is for plastic surgery procedures…cosmetic dentistry. I bet it comes second to mortgage debt.
Maybe first.

I was fortunate enough to catch the last episode of that Orange County Housewives series and my very favorite scene was when maybe the oldest of them all, (hard to distinguish with all the ‘work’), takes her turn at chugging a shot, no hands.. .and can’t get her pathetic botoxed mouth around a shot glass of maybe 2 inches in diameter or less. Whines like the pumped-up dramaqueen she is off-camera, that ‘it HURTS!’. Of course we are all feeling sorry for her husband, because he is unfortunately not getting his uxorious oral right, or—No, we are all thinking—it can’t be that small!

On Saturday nights at 5 Am they replay old Twilight Zone episodes in black and white—half-hour movies featuring some great acting talent of the 50’s or 60’s, and presenting futuristic nightmares, some of which have actually come true. Like one last week where this kind of pretty young girl is being coerced into receiving plastic surgery in order to resemble the status-quo human population whose faces are all morphing into a pig-mask. So have you ever noticed, these middle-aged woman—Ivanas, Charos, tons of middle-aged women on the Latin channels, the plastic surgery addict Oprah just interviewed… their pulled-up faces and little poky nostrils are beginning to resemble kind of a cute baby pig?

I had a pet pig once. It was smart; smarter than some of the roommates I’ve had. And cleaner. It did begin to get enormous, and I had to drop it off at this custodial farm in Vermont where it learned how to ice skate. They had a frozen pond and for some reason it was like addicted to running across. People actually filmed this. But it didn’t seem like fun for the pig, it was like compulsive. It was driven. Maybe it was fucked up because I abandoned it. It was trying to drown itself and failing, because of the ice. Who knows? Pigs are smart. Maybe it was a frustrated, suicidal hedge fund manager, punished to return in his next life as a future non-kosher dinner. Anyway, I came up to visit it at about the 850 pound point and it was smart enough to ignore me. That weekend my friends slaughtered it on ice and stowed several pounds of pork in my trunk as a sort of joke which I didn’t get until maggots had moved in, as well.

Okay-- on to the third of the three little pigs: the investment banker pig. Three years ago I had a tip about some biotech stock which I asked the nice man who keeps my pathetic retirement account to buy for me. For my cute little IRA which will guarantee that I have enough for 3 daily bottles of Ensure for exactly 2 years after I surrender to social security. That is, assuming inflation keeps pace with my extremely slow-growth IRA. So anyway, I ask this guy, my ‘portfolio manager’ to buy 1,000 shares and he asks me if I want my head-examined, if I am such a moron that I think he has nothing better to do than answer crank calls from people who cause him more paperwork than income every year, tells me to keep my mind on music or welfare or whatever it is I do, and not ever to call him unless I think I am dead.
He sounds exactly like my father.
Today I hear the stock has not just tripled but like sextupled. Another Imclone story.
Do I call him? No. But do I feel jealous of these people who own big pieces of the 32 million shares, who paid three bucks and will sell for fifty and will pay more tax on that one deal than I will earn in my entire life? I do. I am an artist. I COULD have been an investment banker. I CHOSE this life. Well, not THIS one, but something similar. Oink.

I admit it. I don’t feel pure and unsullied by greed and filthy lucre. I feel jealous. I feel cursed. Broke. I admit it. I look in the mirror, simultaneously guilty of at least 3 of the Deadly Sins, expect to see my nose flattening and my chin receding. But just like the girl in the Twilight Zone episode who awakens, much to the audience’s relief, to the frail human face she began with, and cries at her failure to be transformed into these human pigfaces… well….

Some days, like today, I look in the mirror and see the face of failure. Some days it’s my face. Some days failure is a pigface. And today it was the failure to see the pigface. At least no one blew my house down today. Tomorrow is another can of worms altogether.
It’s near-dawn and I can smell bacon frying in the kitchen below me. Oink-oink.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Which came first, art or the egg?

3/29
Okay, so tonight I glanced around at the TV monitors in my gym, just to take a little inventory, see if I could pick up any pattern. The evening gym population is pretty much young single professionals with a few middle-agers sprinkled around. The usual basketball fans, ESPN, a few CNN-watchers--mostly those without headphones looking at the bylines, always the Law and Orderers, one or 2 on MTV, I Love New York on VH1, the E channel—but amazing how many of these people are tuned into the Food Channel. I mean, it used to be daytime mothers and housewives who watched Julia Child and that English guy. Okay, I admit I was addicted to Project Runway for a month or so and had a small crush on Sam in the last Top Chef season until I figured out how ridiculous it was to be watching a reality show based on the completely untelevisable of the five senses. I mean, we can judge fashion—we can see the rooms the designers are putting together on the latest series, we can judge hair competitions and bathing suits—but food? Like watching a color challenge on a black and white television. Maybe someone figured out a wired-up American brain actually had most activity during commercials for edibles. Snacks and TV have long been marriage material. I just don’t get this… like Silent Music Videos. Whatever.

What does get me is the remarkable set of teeth on literally every single one of the contestants. Are these people remade for television? Styled? Has it been noticed by marketing experts that Americans cannot bear to watch any TV Talking heads with human teeth and thus each one is given a set of perfect white porcelain veneers? Or are they just actors—are they pretending to be design students or ‘foodies’(God, I detest that word). A friend of mine knew one of the Top Chef contestants. But does that make her real? These people have jobs, but we all know nearly all of the restaurant personnel in Manhattan are acting like waiters and waitresses, waiting not on customers, but for their big break.

Which brings me to the next issue: if you want to see talent in this town, we used to say, look to your waiters and bartenders, not to the mostly boring and worn-out song and dance acts you see on stage. Serving you your cheesecake and expresso is the next Lou Reed or Patti Smith. Maybe. Maybe Not. Because they can no longer afford to be bohemian couch-crashers on the Lower East Side and you have to practically earn a banker’s salary just to afford to share a couch in a small room in New York City. So some of them wait tables in upscale restaurants and earn more than any young musician earns in Manhattan which sort of edges them out of the category of starving artist and maybe diminishes their true creative capacity. Let’s face it, the extremely well fed in this town, and those with the perfect white teeth, are not exactly going to be motivated to create cutting edge art. What they are creating, or acting out, or thinking about, is Food Channel art. There is even Food Channel sex, now—that hunky Australian who picks up women in the grocery store and goes home with them…speaks the suggestive language of pounding and rolling and pressing… is that not the current version of the locomotive in the tunnel? Come to think of it, he has great teeth, too. So do all the pretty-great looking girls he picks up, like they are freshly air-brushed and waiting with plenty of gas in their cars and I’ll bet they have clean bathrooms in their suburban little homes. Or sets. I get mixed up. But the Take Home Chef needs huge perfect teeth to eat that great food he cooks up. And to laugh on-camera. And to offset his Rod Stewart haircut. Rod Stewart undoubtedly has perfect teeth now, too, even though he’s English and the English have a tradition of pride in bad teeth. But he lives in America now. Hollywood. He watches the food channel and smiles, shows teeth that look as though they have never ‘lived’, never worked, never suffered, chattered or gnashed around under duress or sleepless nights. Never opened a Heineken.

Even the Extreme Makeover people who, incidentally, don’t look that bad at all to me. Maybe a little too real for TV, at least at the beginning. But no Quasimodos. And most of them look not much younger or better afterwards---except they do get the teeth. But afterward—at the welcome-home party—their families cry and smile and hug and are extremely poised for regular people in front of cameras. They are well-dressed and their teeth look great. Am I missing an episode? Or are American teeth getting fatter too? Whiter?

So I am wondering—I really, really need some dental assistance. Should I audition for Top Chef? I’d never make the cuts…Extreme Makeover? I don’t really like the haircuts. Should I take my issues to Tyra or Dr. Phil? Last Comic Standing? It’s all pretty pathetic, and I’m pretty sure they are actors because I telephoned Bravo and asked if there would be a Harlem version of Desperate Real-Life Housewives and would I get the teeth now or later and they hung up on me.

One thing for sure, on the television channels most watched at health clubs, there is not going to be much art. In fact there is not going to be too much art on any TVs because real artists, from what I can see, have bad teeth. For real artists, Art comes before dentistry, art comes before food. Americans don’t like bad teeth, don’t want art on TV. And they are right. So give up, PBS. I admire what you do, I certainly raised my kids on Sesame Street, I appreciate the Masterpiece Theatre efforts, but Art doesn’t belong on television. The Food Channel and Bravo have shown us—not matter how hot the chef, no matter who wins, all television is missing the fifth and now most important sense in our overweight US culture: Taste. And if, in our cyber future, there is enhanced full-sensory HD television…I’m sure we’ll all be too fat to move from over-channel-eating.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'll take Manhattan

3/28

So while the tenuously elected chief executive and his poker-boys persist in racking up anti-American sentiment and we are all sitting ducks here in Manhattan…when, we question, is it really time to leave New York? We are well accustomed to living in the ‘slightly elevated’ fear zone, somewhere between orange and blood-orange. This statistic is not nearly as affective as the daily weather report. So what will prompt a census-worthy exodus at least of the undesirable less-than-rich? When the price of a subway ride reaches $2? When the pleasure of a Haagen Dasz medium cone without sprinkles costs more than I make in an average hour? I think I passed those benchmarks last year. And of course, Cold Stone beat out Haagen Dasz, while the monthly unlimited metrocards give one cause for rationalization. Why, I can go to the Strand and back twice in a day, and average out at seventy cents a ride. Which softens the cold reality that the cost of a proof has risen from 97 cents to $1.49. So the Strand is now air-conditioned, the art section is well-lit and organized—it even has its own floor which was perhaps redone by a Pratt Interior Design Graduate.

For most Manhattanites who simply proffer a plastic card when their turn at the register comes up, it is a small price to pay, to live in what they think is the eye of the universe. Shops and businesses blatantly raise numbers and add zeroes while the overly well-dressed accede as though it is gauche to even look at a receipt. These come in two varieties: the massively wealthy, for whom the ‘out’ column, no matter how quick and steady the flow, cannot offset the ‘in’ column, because as we all know, Wall Street bonuses for last year alone, Manhattan only--- could have filled Bono’s poverty urn several times over; and the massively in-denial debtors, who are stoking profits of the huge banks and credit card companies exponentially, while having a pretty good life, I must add, especially if one is fond of the color red. There is a kind of macho barometer here—some of them daring fate from the driver’s seat of their Hummers, signaling with a rolexed arm—real or fake—after all, it has been centuries since there was a debtor’s prison— these days it is like climbing a kind of Mt. Everest of debt and thumbing their nose at the rest of us.

And for the rest of us-- non-climbers--the badly dressed or even the decently-dressed frugal ones who pick up the cast-offs of the upper class at thrift shops, life’s pleasures have changed. I remember signing my first lease in Manhattan, after a fiscal paternal lecture about the wisdom of keeping one’s monthly rent at the level of one’s weekly salary. That has changed. These days, if one stubbornly insists on pursuing an alternative or self-employed lifestyle which doesn’t involve scamming or skimming off the good fortune or stupidity of our neighbors—well, let’s just say that 9/10 of my income goes just to my apartment. In a good month. Which leaves, after being gouged for the privilege of a television and telephone signal, less than an average panhandler makes in an average day. I have cast an envious eye, many days, at the girl with the dreadlocks outside my Starbucks who has claimed for 19 months that she is pregnant although she has not taken a single day off. Maybe the father is an elephant. Anyway, not only does she sock away a healthy 3-figured non-taxed income, but she gets cup after cup of dark-brewed excellent coffee, not to mention an occasion half-sandwich, while poor slobs like me have to pick up coins dropped alongside parking meters to cover the recent increase.



Oh, yes, there are foodstamps. But there is also that pioneer Manhattan pride. Because the offspring of the former upper-class New York are among the financial untouchables. I know them. They eat Thanksgiving dinner at my place, on the table I inherited, sitting on thrift shop chairs, guitar amplifiers and aborted school carpentry projects.

Do I feel superior because I ride the crosstown bus on my unlimited metro card to the Upper-Upper West side where I am nearly the only customer who pays with actual money? I do not. I do not feel superior ever, not for one second, anywhere, because I am too busy feeling actual hunger—yes, the kind that Knut Hamsen felt in that great novel he won a Nobel Prize for so he never again had to actually write another hungry book nor did he actually, once well-fed, ever write another Nobel-worthy one.

Is that the clue? That talent and the burn of the artistic flame is inversely proportional to bank account, to comfort? The old Bohemian formula? Not quite. Or is it, as some of my old, non-suffering friends pose, that I am morally superior to them because I don’t have money? Not quite. Bob Dylan still writes decent songs, occasionally. Picasso still painted masterpieces. Granted, they are the minority. But could it be that I have grown so intimate with the habits of poverty that we are co-dependent?

Last week I actually bought 2 Megawhatever Lotto tickets. Okay, I know. Whatever. I did it. Even though my son taunted me that Someone was going to win and it certainly would not be me…. but when I looked up the results—oh my God—first 3 numbers—exactly as my ticket.. I began to panic. Jesus—what if,,,, and then every pathetic homeless person who already has my pathetic non-cellular number will be hitting me up, lined outside my door—I’ll have to hide, I’ll have to dress properly, wear makeup, not just mail away checks but attend charity benefits, have my hair done, buy clothes, shop for clothes, buy a place with huge closets, hire a maid… until I felt like I was going to throw up. Thank God the three following numbers were completely off. I actually breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my 13 block walk to save 70 cents on a gallon of milk. How would I fill up my day without such things? The hours spent stuck in trains, waiting for a crosstown bus for 40 minutes late-night because a cab is just not part of the religion of poverty. Nor are Macdonalds, movies, videogames, theatre, museums,downloads, ipods, plastic surgery, new clothing. Decent dentistry.

My first husband was a rockstar of sorts.. I can hardly remember dinners at Lutece, at La Grenouille. I do remember the crowds, the assholes. So ask me-- what was the best meal I ever had? It was poached eggs and cream of wheat with orange juice at New York Hospital after 5 days of an IV and nil-by-mouth because of a ruptured appendix. That was bliss. You see, heaven is a relative thing.

Tonight I went by a Food Emporium on 14th Street at midnight where the bakery guy gave me not only a bag of yesterday’s bagels for a buck, but croissants. Flaky, buttery, not-yet-stale croissants. 25 cents. I brewed up a cup of this Puerto Rican coffee I’ve discovered which comes in a vacuum-packed brick for a $1.50 pound. Black, rich, dark and I’ll bet any Manhattan Gourmand would choose it over Starbucks in a blind taste test.
In fact I’ll stake the free Lotto ticket I got for hitting 3 numbers on it. And I’ll take Manhattan—my way, straight up…the way it used to be. I think.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

White Gloves

3/27

I’m sitting with my laptop in Starbucks, because as much as I hate to admit that I support corporate coffee culture and hate the decaffeinated hip muzac, it provides a refuge when in-house teenage hell becomes unbearable. Also, because my overworked no-view apartment gets no more than a small shaft of reflected light for about thirty minutes a day, I can re-charge my solar-powered watch in their all-glass hideaway, not to mention occasionally cop some highspeed internet time.

All of a sudden the room and my screen go dark, we feel this rumbling underfoot and although well-protected by headphones, I can lipread the staff screaming GET OUT!!!
MOVE! And thwack goes my headset, grab the laptop as an explosion rips across the street—black smoke, a manhole flying…we are running, girls in green are screaming, women are crying… and I have one of those moments which creep down New York spines frequently since 9/11…where you see your life and your city flash before you…. and I am thinking, yes, the media has been repeating—‘it is not if…but when…’ and you think about children and feel guilty, and you have read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and maybe thank God in the back end of the split second that you will be blown away and not have to roam a desolate and terrifying landscape scavenging for a mushroom, an untainted can of beans, a scant ounce of kerosene….
And while the smoke clears, from one block away….no, people are laughing… walking… the Starbucks girls are still shaking like green leaves, but the traffic is moving….here come the Firetrucks—one after another… the comforting heroes with the clothing that weighs more than the average Upper East Side woman….and no, it is not a bomb, no act of terrorism—but a simple manhole incident—the melting snow, the salt, the insulation, the methane gas—whatever… and all is well… and your coffee is annoyingly there in the locked store, and you can’t really admit that this is one fifth of your daily food budget and you want it…but the girls do retrieve your jacket and keys, and it is not quite safe to go back… But you can go home, upstairs to the endless HipHop Saturday soundtrack---except-- wait—no electricity… well, no problem…you are alive, you are well, no one even stole the $5 from your coat pocket…. And no HipHop. And the kids have no distraction but cellphones, so they go off, and it is dead quiet, because rich and not-quite-as-rich in my building—everyone flees to the country on weekends or maybe pretends to. Anyway, I go out in twilight, remember to leave a flashlight in my mailbox, and return to absolute darkness of stairwell and hallway, with Con Ed putting up barricades—not a good sign.

Last week on our block a massive sinkhole which could have buried an SUV (wishful thinking) opened up. This has happened before. I call it the ghost of 96th Street. Many nights I have strummed a guitar in my building and experienced light dimmings and a feeling of cold. A Russian composer once lived in my place, I have learned, and she occasionally critiques my musical abilities.

I realize I am going to have to cook up the perishables, which will set our poor household back… I hook up the old-fashioned phone I save for these emergencies, and I light some Christmas candles. I feel good.

Kids return; much whining—no NCAA playoffs, not much of anything but pounds of chicken with pasta, and huge bowls of yoghurt. I am offering bonuses for extra milk drinkers. I hate wasted food. Con Ed is digging in…I am set for a few days of this…

Admittedly, it does get tired—I misplace my glasses and cannot see well enough by candlelight to find them… annoying to light the stove with matches, I lose some work due to lack of phone machine, can’t recharge my laptop, get sick of playing guitar, can’t find anything, can’t distinguish between black shirts…really, really suddenly crave Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde, some ice, whatever…

Kids become exhausting and exhausted… by midnight they pass out, and suddenly—the power is back—I spend an hour resetting computers, stove-clocks, answering machines, etc… go out to high-five the Con ed guys, take one last longing look at my cold coffee still locked up in Starbucks…and venture into the elevator where draped over the railing of our funky 80-year-old Otis is a pair of elbow-length, white kid gloves, fit for a Princess.
Is this a joke? A souvenir? Like a forgotten glass slipper, there in our elevator which has been useless and unoccupied for the past 8 hours. My Russian royal composer? The Ghost in the underground? The Manhole poltergeist? Something evil? But they are white—so white.

I leave them there, make some winking Cinderella remark to one of my neighbors who returns on Sunday evening to find their clocks reset, strange electronic glitches in their
appliances…. By Monday the nouveau rich (intentional deletion of the ‘e’) investment bankers who are trying to take over the building have theorized that the whole thing is a hazard, we must knock down, mortgage, renovate, whatever… anything to purge the building of writers, musicians and sub-billionaires. I try to get my Con Ed guys to testify that it had nothing to do with our old wiring and medieval plumbing but even they are a bit baffled by the fact that only our building had been without power.

I of course know that it was just ‘winking’ at the posh pretentious brand-new neighboring buildings. An elegant ‘note’ in the elevator, left just in case someone didn’t get it, sticking its ghost-nose in the air to these people who fail to respect the hundreds of venerable and dead and un-monied but clever old-Manhattan tenants who spent nights with candles, without television, certainly without the internet and maybe without telephones or central heating. This is, indeed, and will always be, a ‘white glove’ building.

The gloves have vanished. I wonder if any of the nouveau wives or daughters tried to stuff their greedy fat hands into the delicate fingers. Bob Dylan, so many years ago, knew about these debutantes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Saint Anna Nicole

3/23

So yesterday I had to go up to the Bronx and I always get an earful on the 4 train. My favorite character was a guy asking for money with unmatched crutches who seemed to have been miraculously healed when a Beyonce look-alike got on at the Yankee Stadium stop.

To get her attention he started his soliloquy, louder and louder, rhythmic almost like a rap…and by 183rd St. he was going on about Anna Nicole Brown Simpson. That got me.

I have always been an Anna-Nicole fan. Not only is she the visual counterpart of a double-scoop home-grown peach-vanilla pure-cream deja-vu, but she’s southern and dumb and childlike and the ultimate version of 21st century innocence. The true Madonna. If Andy Warhol were alive he would have absolutely canonized her. This could be the closest thing we have to a Virgin Mary, and I am getting more and more sure that the whole paternity issue is getting so sticky, we may all discover it was an Immaculate Conception. Because our poor voluptuous Anna was so drugged and medicated out of her mind, I doubt she had any clue or memory of consummating any marriages. It’s a good thing nearly every staged moment of her poor recent life is on film, or she would have had absolutely no idea of what she’d done or with whom. Not to mention the fact that, like Mary, she had to witness the excruciating crucifixion of her son.

Or for the Old Testament fans among us, just imagine, like Isaac, Anna Nicole lounging in her voluptuous pink satin bed, and here enters Howard, her protector/lawyer who had been by her side, maybe ear-prompting her for years, hanging in there through thick and thin (literally), for the ultimate pot of gold at the end of the Anna Nicole rainbow. How did this sudden role- change come about? It’s not as if poor Howard wasn’t tempted before; I can imagine there was little modesty in her household…but somehow, he went from employee/father-figure to husband/lover. Okay, she apparently trusted the guy. But how about the other contender? What if he glued a little extra pelt of hair onto his arms, a little sandpaper on his cheeks, and slipped inside the luscious Anna who was moaning for Howard, or maybe it was that Bahamian bodyguard. Undoubtedly she was in her usual semi-comatose state and found it hard to distinguish between reality and reality-show.

So who gets the birthright—or, in our case, the baby with the billionaire bank-account? In the Bible, there was no trial. Of course, Jacob had to pay later on for duping his old father, even though it was his mother’s idea (most of the villains in the Old Testament are women), duped by his father-in-law with the unattractive Leah who he managed to impregnate nearly constantly, no doubt fantasizing about her fair sister, while he grew biblically older and maybe less passionate. But the birthright went through Jacob, no matter how unfair. And Esau, unlike Cain, didn’t take revenge on his brother. He was just hairy. No tabloid trial. People had lives then, things to do. And Jacob was smart. That used to count. But for that matter, so did goodness and virtue. In modern times, such things are neither insurable nor bankable.

While America waits on pins and needles for DNA results which may or may not paternalize the dark and hairy one or the blond guy, I choose to believe that the conception was immaculate; that Anna Nicole herself, had she lived, couldn’t have been
any more informative than the whole parade of clowns who made her death and funeral not just spectacle and sensational but disrespectful to the very fragile human body which does not age well post-mortem no matter how much botox and silicone has been injected.
Not to mention participating in the ultimate Great American Quiz Show. Do we want the verdict? Deal or No Deal, Howie? In the newest Gospel version of the story, not only the poor son was sacrificed, but his mother who, in the purest maternal fog, grieved herself to death and was subsequently crucified and humiliated by the media. Saint Anna. Warhol might have silkscreened her with a crown of diamond thorns.

And hey, has anyone suggested cutting the baby in half?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bitch-slapped

3/22

Okay. What did Naomi Campbell do, throw a phone at someone? I thought that was Russell Crowe. Did he have to pick up garbage? I forget. Was there a picture on page 6 of the Gladiator dressed in a John Doe jumpsuit or was that just one of my fantasies? Maybe he had to pay some real money to his victim—cover the plastic surgery he will not need for the rest of his life, compensate for the week of fame the guy enjoyed as Russell Crowe’s little hissy fit. So what did Naomi Campbell do, bitch-slap her nanny?

The new American punishment is the bitch-slap, the ‘give me your hand and I’ll give it a little tap with a newspaper, rolled up with page 6 on the outside.’ Yeah, that’s it. A day sweeping floors that have undoubtedly been swept the night before, with a bodyguard, a couple of Starbucks coffee breaks, and a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Like these Enron guys… the endless trials until we’re bored sick of the television coverage, and what… we take away one of their islands, one of their yachts? And then the verdict is overturned and another trial is scheduled and by the time the whole thing has been resolved or not, there are way more important things going on. I lost $8,000 in Enron stock because some pathetic broker looking to make his portfolio look extra sweet got duped. So what happened? Endless paperwork I did—Xeroxed stock transactions, statements, documented my own stupidity in triplicate, mailed it all in, only to receive notification that the settlement would not even cover the cost of the postage it took to send the proof-of-loss paperwork in to the attorneys. Who got bitch-slapped here?

Remember the Exxon Valdez incident? What is the stock trading at today? The amount of money they actually forked over was the equivalent of you or me giving a homeless person a penny. A penny we found in the street. If that. A few years passed by, a few Great American Scandals, and we forgot all about that, except for a few Green Party activists who happen to live in Alaska where some of the beaches still stink. Bitch-slapped.

So what was the point of Naomi’s little pantomime… to show that justice is served in New York City? Where are the hundreds of kids in this town being mistreated—in foster care, being used for a bigger monthly check for their parents…babies, left in garbage cans, on doorsteps—underfed, underloved by teenage parents who are being told by the Christian left they are good girls for not having abortions. Are the mistreating Moms cleaning up somewhere?

How about the goddamn Wall Street crooks; there’s this, and there’s that verdict; one is overturned, one is convicted—then appealed. In the end these guys haven’t lost a silver-served meal; one of them just bought a 6.5 million dollar condo across the street from me for his son. And the doormen doff their hats and call him Sir while the rest of us poor schmucks are being collection-agency-threatened for unpaid parking tickets for violations we didn’t even commit with cars we can no longer pay for.

I was stopped last year swiping into a subway station. I was rushing and had pulled out my kid’s school card by mistake. Did I use it? No. But I was stopped by an undercover cop and issued a summons for using am illegal pass. What a vigilant law enforcer. Did he check to see that indeed I’d swiped my own adult one, and to answer the question why, if I have an unlimited use card, would I choose NOT to use it? I had to waste a whole frigging day in a courtroom in Brooklyn where my case was dismissed, but I had to eat the cost of the two confiscated cards. Not to mention an unpaid weekday. Bitch-slapped. Me. For being a law-abiding citizen.

God forbid I should have thrown a cell-phone. Let’s say my child decides to just invent that I threw a cellphone. I’d be hauled off by ACS and my child would be put into a foster home. No office sweep for me, no photo-op.
I know a guy who went out with Naomi Campbell. She went ballistic on him, too. Was it worth it? Definitely a great looking piece of ass, he said, but for the drama, he’d rather have Angelina Jolie.

Did Naomi put those sanitation department photos in her photo album? In her portfolio? Sure, she’s looked better on the runway, on her way into courtrooms, screaming at future ex-boyfriends in VIP rooms. Who cares about these spoiled celebrity brats? Little Tara Reid running her SUV into a building and crushing a few bones. Did she have to change bedpans for her hospital victims? Did she have to mow someone’s lawn? Buy her own groceries for a week? I forget.

Bring back the pillory.

Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

American Pussy(cat)

3/21

More and more Americans are watching TV while they exercise and more and more reality contest shows are cropping up to entertain them while they climb fake stairs and run on treadmills. This is TV sports for the non-sporting. You can even bet, call in, comment, pick your ‘horse’, get a ringtone, email, vote, blog, complain that the whole thing is fixed, slam the judges, whatever. Much like sports, and unlike our pathetic pedestrian lives, there is a winner. And like our own lives, aside from the one lucky duck, the rest of us are losers.

The latest of these is the Pussycat Dolls contest. The Pussycat Dolls, who in another time would have been a Las Vegas act (wasn’t this the name of the blue-collar strip joint in every town in America?), are sort of a cross between singing Rockettes and a Victoria’s Secret show. I have to admit, that Loosen up your Buttons video was not only synchronicitous but airbrushed-supermodel-stunning. And, above all, sexy. Like they inserted the ‘cat’ in the name just to make it PG.

So this is not just America’s Next Supermodel, because all these girls are at least as great-looking as any Tyra Banks season finalists, but they actually have talent—or enough of the new television-ready version of talent to sing and dance their perfect leggy bodies into an airbrush-perfect supergroup member, with just enough variation to be distinguishable from Posh or Maya or whoever the other personas are. They are the new movable Barbies.

For the musically inclined, and to give Idol a bit of competition, at least there is more focus on rehearsing and preparation than the bitchy in-house repartee which all America except extremely stoned 13 year old girls are sick to death of.
On nights when the Anna Nicole Saga and the NCAA are all the reality that’s offered, a good portion of the TV audience is picking their girl, not to mention those men who can legitimize getting a pretty good hour’s worth of girls parading in their high-heels and underwear, and doing it with their wives. It’s not that I’m a prude, although I can’t imagine my Mother bragging to her friends that her daughter went to 4 years of college and is now a Pussycat Doll. Some of us actually find it hard to say ‘Pussy’ without a smirk. But that woman who created them and who is banking 8 figures, 6 of which she spends on botox and stylists—it slips right off her tongue with no problem.

It’s not the girls—they are eye-candy enough, even if the material is old and tired and the routines and butt-shaking gets monotonous unless you are an incredibly lonely guy. I object to the ‘judging’. The panel. The Pussycat mother, the Tyra-figure who is focused and nurturing and straightforward and not too bitchy—okay, I even find her attractive—maternal. But I detest the revolting Geffen Records guy who is everything everyone ever detested about the music business and less, because he is a pathetic throwback to the 70’s and we all know, besides HipHop and its untouchable machinations, the record companies are clinging onto the inflatable liferafts of these shows to spread the declining Pussycat Gospel. I was once in a grunge band signed to Geffen, where they took this grubby but talented Kurt Cobain guy and forced him to do a Playgirl cover like some kind of rock Fabio which not only sentenced the band to rock and roll doom but caused the guy to have a complete breakdown. It was like refinishing a vintage 1955 Les Paul goldtop with pink metallic enamel. Next.
So not only do we have to watch this guy who undoubtedly has 2 or 3 whiny ex-wives and a couple of kids with nose jobs, but we have to listen to him criticize these girls. GIRLS—small-town, some of them-- who are away from home, being scrutinized by all of America including a fairly good-sized population of lecherous men, have absolutely no viable guidance except some coach showing them a strip-joint dance routine and a vocal arranger—telling them they are not up to par, or are growling their vocals, or have pitch issues…when we all know it is basically a strut your T & A goods while putting up a reasonable pageant-worthy musical pretext.

But the real irony is this week--- the guest-judge—is none-other than jailbird Lil’ Kim, whose mouth and undoubtedly other body orifices, like the midtown tunnel, has welcomed just about anything—on the way in and on the way out. True role-model material. Nice to be judged by a convicted criminal whose contribution to female power is making major personal trash and self-humiliation courtroom-newsworthy. Is she an example of the new black pride? Is this a version of 'penance', having to debut post-conviction on American TV, like Naomi Campbell giving the New York Sanitation Department a high-fashion photo-op when someone should be sweeping out her mouth?

This after the poor eliminated Pussycat Contestant from the week before was let go because her audition as a go-go girl seemed a little too professional, a little too ‘unwholesome’. Not to mention that on this episode, Lil’ Kim remarked to one of the taller dolls something like –‘Girl….You Rocked that Pole!’ As much as I try to catch the subtlety, I am obviously missing some crucial criteria here.

Back to my brackets.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Guitarmeggedon

3/20

Can’t believe I ended up in our local Guitar-o-rama at the weekly Guitarmeggedon or King of the Blues contest which is this rock version of American Idol. So there were all these guys sitting on stools – not in rows, but in this chaotic sort of non-arrangement like they gave each newcomer a stool and he was on his own… some clustered, some in audience siberia…all with their cases and leather jackets and cords and pedals and crap lying around. Up front on this stage thing is an arrangement of amplifiers, so the contestant can pick. I sit down in the back and listen to this longhaired store-manager give a speech about how they will be evaluated on musical ability, skill, understanding of blues, and originality. The panel consists of the Grand-Prize Winner last year who is kind of a young Stevie-Ray with Clairol hair, a middle-aged barely recognizable songwriter who maybe opened for Jackson Browne in 1973, and an older local blues guy who has actually played with some of the originals before they died.

So like Guitar karaoke, they get to pick their backing tracks, and here they go—first up an old fat guy who looks like he has been out maybe twice in the past year, and is nervous as all hell and can’t seem to uncurl his fingers which stay stuck in this one lick which he kind of repeats—inside out, upside down, until you start to think his fingers are cramped and the whole thing is excruciating. Basically, the canned accompaniment blows him away. Everybody applauds politely and this one wiry kid in the front has his guitar out and is practicing and playing along and anxious like a young racehorse and gaining confidence. Next up is a young cute kid who I am rooting for but unfortunately he is pretty amateur and the balls of these people to think they can win a contest when they are hardly much more than 2-year guitar owners…. But he is cute, and has some little moves…

Next guy up is old again—like maybe 50, chewing gum like mad, plays along with a sort of Van Halen boogie which he both overtakes and undertakes—has a few chops, basically gets points for effort and the balls to wear leather pants at his age which must be at least 25 years old and he can still fit in. Gets applause because he is from Bayonne. The proverbial armpit of the US.

Next guy is young and fat and you can almost smell that he hasn’t done the laundry in months. Sucks and makes that Hendrix face with the eyes closed like he is getting off on his own incompetent clumsy music. A Mirror practicer.

The funniest part is—when they introduce these guys, they list their influences which are like Jeff Beck, Stevie, Jimi, Eric, B.B., etc… and then they let out this absolute amateur bad version of sequenced cliché’s that every bargain-priced book and info-mercial teaches, and which might be amusing if the contestant was a chimpanzee.

Next—a guy dressed up like a Texas rodeo…opens his mouth and he is like from Kurdistan or somewhere and at first I think it is an Allie G imitation and a shtick but no, he is for real. He does one lick, then keeps it going, then loses the time, the rhythm, the progression—but walks—actually walks down the little stage step toward the audience like he was prepped by the American Idol people. I had to cough over a laugh.

Next—ah, finally a guy who can play—actually uses melody, has vibrato, doesn’t just play finger exercises—actually has the guitar sing a little… almost gives you a vibe. Has a brand new lame guitar, but definitely a contender in this context.

Next a guy with studs all over his jacket, like how 80’s can you get, and a hat which falls off during his performance… and these lame cliché decals you buy at the Korean stands on St. Marks’, his pants falling down…gets up with like tons of old pedals and a spaghetti mess of cords.. but this one great looking girl who I was hoping would be a contestant—no, she is actually holding his guitar while he takes endless minutes untangling and plugging in. Then he starts, and it is like a Johnny Thunders contest now—like the guy is saying—Blues? Well check THIS out!
Loud, distorted, and BAD. Then the guy actually starts playing behind his head, and has his eyes closed because really he looks nervous which is really lame for punk blues.

Did I mention—the first fat guy who was nervous has to hold his ears for everyone since number 3, which I hope the judges are noting on their scoresheets. Okay, it IS loud, and each contestant gets progressively louder, but who will admit it. Because it is not the loudness, it is the lousiness.

And after the pseudo-punk guy plays, you almost feel sorry for him, because he doesn’t have the Sid Vicious FUCK YOU thing, actually looks kind of shy… BUT who cares, because the guy’s girlfriend, as he struggles off the one-step stage with all his crap which for the life of us, we don’t know what it did for him…the girl, with this perfect haircut, gives him this absolute look of adoration and pride like a mother at her new baby, and he doesn’t need a contest. Or a guitar. He has something no one in that room has. Even the cute guy, who tried to make a subtle pass at her, was ignored, and is now watching in disbelief, because the guy is pimply, has dirty hair, a shapeless body and zero talent.

Last guy is the wiry guy from the front who has been working out on the fingerboard and I know exactly what he is going to do—be a wired-up Johnny Winter-esque whiz of run-on clichés and arpeggios played at wired-guy speed, because this is the guy who gets straight A’s in school and excels at everything he can memorize. He’ll get a good mark, mostly because of the slim pickings, and the guys in the store are impressed. And he looks like he has a good job somewhere and will spend most money there, or already is a good customer. Originality? It was like a poetry contest with the poets reciting the alphabet forward and backward—no message, no feeling—but he had down the passionate moves—moving up and down , bobbing his head back and forth with the closed eyes, etc…Eric Clapton in a zipfile.

And the thing that killed …in between these guys, they’d play a tune or two from the masters—John Lee, Bo Diddley, Muddy, B.B.,… and in one measure, you’d chill out—like a palate cleanser between courses at a fast-food contest. And I wanted to scream out… LISTEN to THIS, you guys—in 1/100th of the notes—one single measure—even one note—just blew them all away. And made the whole thing ridiculous. Made them all look not just bad but ridiculous.

So was the store making a judgment? Were they trying to make them look stupid? Guilt them into spending tons of money on instructional dvds and pedals which will add ketchup to the stale frozen musical fries they are cooking up? Like most of life, we the poor schmucks don’t get 99 percent of the material the Cosmic Comedians are doling out.

But on my way out of the store, I noticed there was a big sale on the textbook all the local colleges are now using in Music 101… the one that starts with Medieval Monks and goes all the way through to John Cage and Hendrix…with 8 cds and all the accessories. And the 2007 version, instead of the usual title ‘MUSIC’… or occasionallly ‘Listening to Music’ for the Music Appreciation courses… is now just called ‘LISTENING’ because obviously the editors have been to these contests and have heard their students who now buy and own more instruments than were produced in 7 decades previously…

If any of these guys would ask.. because they’re all standing around waiting for the official tabulation—even the guy who held his ears—because they all think they might be the winner…if any of them would ask, would it even be useful to say anything.. because obviously they were not LISTENING… not before, not during, not after. Not to blues, not to themselves, not to each other…they were too busy playing.

Is there any originality left in the world? How can anyone judge anyone else when no one is listening or even has a concept. I step out into the street. On one block alone I am passed by 5 versions of guitar-players, or at least guitar-owners; 4 out of 5 with a complimentary version of a mate. I stop for a slice on the way home. Another ‘Original’ Ray’s.