July 30, 2007

Lost To Experience

I stumbled across the Victoria Regina Tarot years ago during a time when it seemed clear that all new decks were either under- or over-inspired. I was glad enough to get to see the pictures online, it didn't matter that I couldn't afford the $25 or whatever it cost to order it. I visited the page often, admiring the devotion to some classic card designs, the handsomely perverse twists on others. It was at once cozy and phantasmagorical. I looked forward to the day when it would be mine.

Sadly, by the time my financial situation improved, the deck was out of print. The remaining used decks on Amazon had already been plundered by the time I discovered this, and now when there are any decks at all to be found there, they're a lot pricier. Again, just out of reach.

While we're on the subject, Grey Gardens closed this weekend. I was so curious to see the final result of what happens when one takes this:

...and turns it into this:

Unfortunately a couple of really expensive months (as well as an overly optimistic idea of how long such a wildly successful, award-winning show would continue running) kept me out despite my best efforts, all the way down to the closing performance on Sunday.

None of this has anything to do with the importance of money or the presence of hard luck. There are just too many things to want in the world, and too many wanters. The wanting of a thing is what makes it beautiful, and I can dine on that in the absence of a square meal.

Oh, and speaking of want, the first three people to comment get a three card reading on the subject of their choice. Ready, go!

July 26, 2007

Missing in Action

If I hadn't gotten stuck working (waiting tables, strangely enough), I would have gotten to catch M.I.A.'s show tonight at Studio B, literally around the corner from my house. As I have resigned myself to experiencing it vicariously via YouTube, the least I can do is share:

July 24, 2007

"In which much drudgery bears a little fruit..."

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The new issue of CORK ANIMAL is posted and ready to be devoured!

So many great stories this time; the theme of on-the-job horror really inspires people to let fly. Enjoy, and feel free to share your own tales of woe in the comments.

I have three of my own stories in the mix. Here's an excerpt from one, about my halcyon days as a graveyard shift waiter-slave at Denny's. The other two stories are worth poking and reading around in the issue to find!

"I grew to crave the thrill of almost certain nightly disaster, the Russian roulette in which the number of chambers, let alone bullets, was constantly changing. You could do everything right and then drown under a wave of too many customers, or you could have everything in your favor and ruin it all yourself by absentmindedly tilting your wrist two degrees, allowing a ham and cheese omelet to slide off its plate and ooze like a mutant slug right down a woman's back. Even then, as you hid in the kitchen so you wouldn't have to face the Omelet Lady, you knew that in an hour everything would be reset: all new customers, all new traps and landmines. I would see my fellow waiters and waitresses go down in flames on either side of me, peeling out of formation to rinse the syrup out of their hair or dissolve into hysterical tears in the manager's office. We were extras in an old submarine movie, running around in a panic throwing levers and shouting into radios while red lights flashed and water sprang through the leaks after each enemy fusillade. Some bore the strain better than others. A waiter who was an ex-marine developed a bad habit of settling problems with his customers out in the parking lot; I hated and admired him.

Once I found my footing at Denny's, I became a rogue entity, shortcutting my way to supremacy and undercutting each new bureaucratic contrivance that stood in my way. I gained access to the label makers they used to make our nametags, and before long the floor was humming with servers named Hoss and Lolita and Ichabod. I managed to escape every single mandatory staff meeting, leave a half hour early every shift, and read the newspaper in plain view of the office's two-way mirror. What could they do to me? Sonny, the waiter who relieved me from duty at six AM, was on work release from prison, dropped off and picked up by the grim penitentiary bus. Clearly the management had more to worry about than my saddle shoes..."

July 22, 2007

This Message Will Self-Destruct

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Dwellers of New York, brace yourself for an imperative.


Okay. Look ahead on your calendar, brush friends and lovers aside (or better, bring them along), and buy tickets in advance to this wonderful show.

But, you say, but but but. But that's weeks away. But it's kind of a hike for me. But I don't really like theatre that much. But I'm tired on weeknights. But no one will go with me. But I'm a very busy person who people love and I barely have five minutes to myself. But I'm a whiny little bitch and hate fun. Go ahead, get it all out of your system before proceeding. I'll wait.

Here are the details, for whenever you're done. Matt Chapman and Josh Matthews are performing their "SOLO: a Two-Person Show" at the HERE Arts Center on August 8th and August 9th. Tickets are $15 and are available right here.

Okay, perhaps you need a little context, a little coaxing in order to feel good about this transaction. I've seen this show several times at various stages in its development, and from the very first occasion I felt especially moved by it. Matt and Josh are part of the physical-theatre troupe Under the Table, which they formed with other alumni of Dell'Arte International and which has thrived in NYC for five years. I've seen almost all of their shows, each more brilliant than the last-- as a jaded and failed theatricalist, the fact that I truly mean that should say it all.

SOLO is the story of two brothers enduring perils, feats of strength, and adventures beyond reality to deliver a mysterious letter, discovering along the way that one of them-- or perhaps both-- may not who the other thinks. Deceptively complex and refreshingly simple, I guarantee you will not forget it anytime soon.

The show is being performed as part of the American Living Room festival, so for your admission you will also get to see two other pieces (which I have not seen and thus will not effusively vouch for). Considering that SOLO is itself worth the price of admission, feel free to regard these other two shows as a bonus. You get to support three groups of artists for the price of one, you get to laugh until you hurt, and then you get to go home feeling like you have a life. You win!

The last trick in my bag is that I will try to attend both nights, and will surely see you there if you are able to commute all the way from Lame-Excuseville. It's been a while since we've talked, yes? Held hands, shared a cookie? One of these two nights could be our night. But get out of line and I'll slap your face. Fresh.

July 19, 2007


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Bottle: still there (inviolate).

July 16, 2007

Oops, a Memory:

The weeks before the Iraq war began were restless ones; everyone in New York City seemed to be shuddering in paroxysms of optimism, outrage, or hopelessness. Up until the very moment that the announcement was made that the war was underway, it still seemed possible for us to wake up, stretch, and chalk our bad dreams up to indigestion.

Megan had booked her flight many weeks in advance, not intending to visit the anthill right as the flood hit, but finding herself nervously here nonetheless. Everywhere we walked, there was shouting. Every corner had its prophet, every park had its encampment of protestors, and every action had its equal and opposite reaction-- the strain of 9/11 had turned many everyday citizens into hair-trigger headcases ready to flip out and hurt someone, anyone, many someones if necessary, if the tone of the political discourse in their immediate surroundings was not to their liking. I don't remember the early spring weather; I remember the hundreds of police officers I saw every day, the constant volley of sirens that made sidewalk phone calls impossible, and the television screens in every store and restaurant showing the same handful of maps and video clips over and over again. Depending on what a person hoped to find here, it was both the best and worst possible time to be a tourist.

By Wednesday, March 19th, the city slipped into a quiet funk, waiting for the announcement that was rumored to be coming that night. I decided to take Megan to Saint Reverend Jen's Anti-Slam, knowing that an open-mic night was practically the only place where people would be talking as hard as they were drinking. Reverend Jen is your basic Lower East Side icon and cultural benefactress; her Anti-Slam and her Troll Museum are just two of the services she provides as a self-styled "sex symbol for the insane" and "patron saint of the downtrodden and tired". Anyone who wanted six minutes of stage time had but to show up, pay three dollars, wait patiently, and BYOB in order to make their sweaty, faded Art Star dreams come true.

It was a gamble as far as entertaining out-of-town guests went; some of the most incendiary acts I've ever seen took place in that dark, beer-drenched room, but sometimes whole evenings' worth of performances tested one's endurance until it seemed impossible how long six minutes lasted. Sketches, songs, burlesque, stand-up, monologues, paranoid rants, often people just reading straight out of their journals. The audience was supportive as a matter of policy; every act, no matter what it was, rated an enthusiastic "10".

The mood was dark that night, with almost everyone using their six minutes to weigh in on the inevitability of war, the nonexistence of weapons of mass-destruction in Iraq, and the exploitation of our city: our long, narrow island had become a lever planted just below the heart of the nation, and from where they stood our leaders could use it to move the world. There were cynical laughs, there were a few tears. Just before ten PM, word from the street drifted in that the announcement had been made, that there were explosions over Baghdad, and all hopes for an emergency enlightenment were in vain. The laughs grew queasier, but no one could bear to leave. We were a captive audience, a vigil, and a bunker that night, waiting to see what would happen next.

The answer blew in from the street right in the middle of someone's six minutes. I turned to see a hulking figure in rags pushing into the crowded foyer, holding an immense boom-box on his shoulder. His face was almost completely obscured beneath greasy hair, dirt, and thick, smeared glasses. I thought he must have wandered in accidentally as people commonly do, curious about the applause that was audible from the sidewalk. However, Reverend Jen brightened visibly at the sight of him, and broke protocol by immediately ushering him to the stage ahead of whoever was still on the list. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm delighted to introduce a surprise guest star and my personal hero, Saint Brad Prowley!"

The awe in her voice was unprecedented, and we stared as the apparently-homeless and confused-looking Mr. Prowley stood there blinking back at us. Then, with a single press of a button, he came to life. Familiar music began to spray out of his stereo, and before we quite knew what was happening, he was belting "Let's Get It On" with a passion that Marvin himself would have admired. The audience went mad for it, screaming like teenagers.

"We're all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me, sugar
Since we got to be
Let's live
I love you"

With the ease of a toilet being flushed, the room was washed clean of its rancid depression and refugee-camp atmosphere. Somewhere in another hemisphere there were bombs being detonated "strategically" over civilian targets, and there was nothing we could do about it now, at 11 PM on a weeknight, but scream and sway and laugh our asses off and Get It On. The only time Prowley seemed to acknowledge the audience's presence was when he paused long enough to answer a chorus of screams with a defiant, basso profundo belch straight into the microphone: Let's see Marvin Gaye play that to the Apollo crowd.

After one more quick song, some sweet John Lennon tune, Saint Brad Prowley hurried out the front door as suddenly as he'd arrived, not having spoken a single word. Meg and I intuited that we had reached the closest thing the evening would provide to a climax, so we took a powder, still living comfortably in that moment. It turns out we were about to re-live it: Prowley had set up camp on the curb in front of the Bereket Turkish Kebab House, singing wide and loud into the street with stereo blazing as some stopped to stare and even more to dance. Tomorrow belonged to surges of protest in which cops braved rain to grind college students' faces into asphalt, to the trading of our confidence as a nation of free people for bitterness and paranoia that would last for years to come, though we didn't know either at the time. We joined the dancing crowd for his entire rendition of "Kung Fu Fighting," making the only magic that wins wars.

More Brad Prowley...

July 12, 2007

Follow the Black Rabbit

The gallery of artist Beth Cavener contains more beauty and horror than the casual observer may be prepared for. Her animals are naked, alive, and strangely human. Her statement:

"There are primitive animal instincts lurking in our own depths, waiting for the chance to slide past a conscious moment. The sculptures I create focus on human psychology, stripped of context and rationalization, and articulated through animal and human forms. On the surface, these figures are simply feral and domestic individuals suspended in a moment of tension. Beneath the surface they embody the impacts of aggression, territorial desires, isolation, and pack mentality.

Both human and animal interactions show patterns of intricate, subliminal gestures that betray intent and motivation. The things we leave unsaid are far more important than the words we speak out-loud to one another. I have learned to read meaning in the subtler signs; a look, the way one holds one's hands, the tightening of muscles in the shoulders, the incline of the head, the rhythm of a walk, and the slightest unconscious gestures. I rely on animal body language in my work as a metaphor for these underlying patterns, transforming the animal subjects into human psychological portraits.

I want to pry at those uncomfortable, awkward edges between animal and human. The figures are feral and uneasy, expressing frustration for the human tendency towards cruelty and lack of understanding. Entangled in their own internal and external struggles, the figures are engaged with the subjects of fear, apathy, violence and powerlessness.

Something conscious and knowing is captured in their gestures and expressions. An invitation and a rebuke."

July 9, 2007

Situational Ethics (and Wayward Bones)

Andromeda II

Nathaniel told me about the skeleton last night. While poking around down at the shattered docks that terminate Huron Street, he came upon this specter marring the skyline, dangling from a beam about twenty feet from shore. I was determined to get some pictures of it before it was lost to the elements or wanton desecrators.

As I loaded my camera and prepared to leave, I was stung by the terrific acquisitional instinct that is so problematic in our society. I decided to test this urge on Nathaniel, who has always stood alone among my friends as an individual who will not cheat, will not tell a lie, and would loan me his last dollar if I asked. He is the closest thing I have to a conscience. So on my way out the door I poked my head into his room and said, "So... I think if that skeleton is still there, I'm going to get it." He looked up and without a second thought said, "Wait for me, I'll come and help."

That is how I came to find myself straddling a beam ten feet over the water this afternoon, sawing through an old rope as quickly and covertly as possible. As confident as I'd been that I would score my prize, I hadn't thought far enough ahead to bring a knife, so I had to employ the bottom of a broken bottle as my tool. This required great concentration, as my flesh was notably less durable than the adversarial rope. The physics of the situation were not working in my favor; I was balanced in an awkward position on rickety ruins, trying to liberate a fifty-pound humanoid without losing it to the deep or hacking into myself. About halfway through the rope I decided to be realistic and bleed a little. Nathaniel informed me from the shore that we had antibacterial Band-Aids at home. There was clearly no turning back now.

During the walk over I had felt very mixed up as to whether snatching the skeleton was a violation of the spirit in which it had been strung up there. As an artist or situation-stylist, how would I feel if I discovered that my interesting contribution to a secluded area had been pirated? Was the river not a more interesting place with the skeleton watching over it than without it? Was I stripping myself of the benefits of this gesture by stripping the docks of their skeleton? Nathaniel was quick to remind me from his solid footing onshore that in a city like this, such an object's life as a public fixture was limited to days, if not hours. If it could and would be gotten, it may as well go to the most ambitious and appreciative adventurers.

If it was ambition that got me out on that ledge, it was tenderness that kept me there. As I draped the skeleton over the beam, I was stricken by the how easy it was to anthropomorphize such an object. It seemed so defenseless; I began to be appalled that anyone could dangle any human figure so vulnerably and abandon it to fate. This was not a raid, it was a rescue mission-- we would give it a better home. And so as I finally chopped through the rope and lowered the body down to where Nathaniel could haul it ashore, what I felt was not the thrill of acquisition, but of a good deed well done. Nathaniel was good enough to carry it all the way home, so that I was free to apply pressure to my cut finger.

The long, conspicuous walk back (and accompanying paranoia as we kept an eye out for the skeleton's former master) led us to a decision that will hopefully transform our mission into a equivalent contribution to the area. When Nathaniel and I arrived home with our new friend, we took pictures of him looking relaxed in his new environment; tomorrow we're going to put the pictures in a bottle and hang it from the same beam. I can only hope that the message will reach the intended party-- and that he or she will understand that their wayward charge has gone to a better place-- but no matter who finds the pictures, the legend of this beautifully ruined place as a site where one abandons and discovers strange and mysterious things will remain intact.

Andromeda V

The Laugh Out Loud Cats

The Laugh Out Loud Cats

The lolcats phenomenon seems to be playing itself out in record time; with I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER? having fast outgrown its burger-laden britches and spawned a zillion knockoff gags, everyone feels obligated to get in on the fun. (My friends and I chose our own targets with an eye for collateral damage.)

With every digital image now ripe for Impact-fonted recontextualization, lolcats has now itself become a cultural reference for artists to recontextualize, and that is how you end up with the refreshingly olde-tyme comic stylings of Adam Koford, whose HOBOTOPIA is a collection of some of the funniest illustrations and cartoon art I've ever seen. His comic "The Laugh Out Loud Cats" takes common memes and pidgin cat-language from lolcats and recasts them as the adventures of two tramp cat-rascals as they ride the rails; the comics are bizarrely endearing and earnest. His cats are so at home in their anachronistic world of internet slang that you get the impression they originated it and that the rest of us took ninety years to catch up. Click the image for a slideshow of the whole set.)

For a small fee you can get one of his original drawings, custom-made from any meme or lolcats-ism that you'd like to see him riff on. I ordered one immediately, determined to get mine before his site was posted to MetaFilter and he became swamped with requests; he chose to refer to a running joke I have with my cat-- that she's saving up bottlecaps and bits of string and other valuable currency to finance her eventual getaway. Tex and I are pretty sure she's been hiding them in our mattress.

If this isn't your thing, then perhaps you'd rather send him the name of a monkey so he can draw it...

July 2, 2007

The Unlikely Vessel

It started with a long walk. There is a place where you can pick your way over broken slabs along the shore, just below the sightlines of the factories and warehouses whose back lots you are trespassing through, all the way to the mouth of the East River, and there you reach this final barrier that juts out over the water, just far enough to put a full-stop at the end of your run-on sentence. I posted this photograph online, and some well-wisher left a note saying "You need a coracle for these situations." A what?

It turns out a coracle is a very small lightweight boat barely big enough for one, a popular mode of travel in the British Isles some time ago. I never really thought of sea travel as an option when I ran out of land, but I'm glad someone looked at this dead-end photograph and saw an opportunity-- and ever since I found out about coracles I've been driving myself restless trying to figure out how to build one.

Of course, not being able to just bop over to Home Depot and haul home a sheet of plywood, my eye has become a coracle-building- materials scanner. Every day as I bike to and from work, every night when I'm out on deliveries, I'm surveying the broken furniture and detritus parked on the curb, trying to fit it all together like a puzzle, ready to pounce. Since it will only have room for me, I don't have to worry about anyone shrieking over my shoulder that I'll never get them to set foot in that thing, oh no sir. Because of this, after days with no luck in the materials-scanning department, I began to get itchy and wonder if I should skip straight to making a kayak out of a tarp and some willow shoots. Cooler heads prevailed in the end and I decided I'd rather end up with a coracle in the long run than snagged and sunk in the East River in the short run. And so the hunt goes on. Do I raid the stacks of cowhide they are inexplicably selling this week at the thrift store? Do I find a springy young tree and chop it down? Do I hold out for an ottoman that looks like it can be turned upside-down, covered in pitch, and made seaworthy? Is it too early to buy an oar?

I didn't make any connection between this new hunger for one-person watercraft and the fact that Tex had let me know he'd be moving out. It did occur to me that I would be able to work on my craft without static of skepticism droning in the background, but I have come to rely on that skepticism as a valuable troubleshooting mechanism that has saved my skin many times over the last four years. When my ideas are let loose to manifest without any critical fire to temper them in, do even I dare climb aboard?

He left on Saturday. Somewhere, right now, right this instant, there is a room in West Harlem containing a sad man and a very angry cat, both of them anticipating, relishing, and horrified by their sudden freedom, testing it as one prods at a loose tooth. Over the weeks leading up to that departure I was in a fog, functioning at minimum capacity, all dreams and ideas and adventures put on hold until I knew what kind of person I would be when that door shut and I was on the other side of it, alone. Emails sat unread, phone messages piled up, I moved my books from shelf to shelf but didn't open any of them. Any idea that could not be immediately written down or achieved in the space of an afternoon was too much work and was released back into the stream. You catch a lot of ideas when there's no hope of ever eating them. I moved the furniture around here and there, pensively waiting.

First thing Saturday I went and had paint mixed. By the afternoon, when I knew I could return to the house without interrupting the move, I was all but in fits to get it started. Twenty-four hours later, there was almost as much paint on me as there was on the walls, but it was finished. When I woke up this morning, I was in a room that I didn't recognize, which oddly enough seemed to contain everything I own. So this is where it will all wind up having happened, whatever it is. I walk in and out of it, trying to convince myself I live here. It is greater than the sum of my parts, I'm determined not to diminish it by going over the math with a fine-toothed comb.

Last night the full moon rose over Brooklyn on its way to the mainland. It would not be shut out, it tore my curtains to shreds impatiently. Fine, I said. I shut off all of the lights, I blew out all of the candles, and laid down where it could stare at me unobstructed. I have no bed, just my small couch that folds down. Instead of armrests, it just curves up lightly at the edges and corners, so though my arms and legs hang out all over the place, I feel strangely supported by it, this near-perfect square of space too small to share with anyone, bearing me through darkness toward the hollow comfort of the moon. I laid there, beginning to sleep even though my eyelids may as well have been transparent beneath such a barrage of light. My curtains curled and swayed like entrails in the breeze as I floated in my vessel. My last thought before I dissipated completely was discovering with surprise that I had found my way into a coracle after all, without even trying.

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