Friday, October 28, 2016

Russia: Culture and Customs

Part I. Culture

A woman, 40, wants to visit Russia with her 13-year-old son. The son was born and raised in the US. The woman, a US citizen, was born in the USSR but her Soviet citizenship was revoked shortly before she immigrated to America with her parents at age 4. She applies for a Russian visa at the Russian consulate. The consulate informs her that she cannot get a visa but must enter Russia on her Russian passport. She explains that she doesn't have and never had a Russian passport, and that her Russian citizenship was revoked when she was 4 years old. The Russians then demand she show proof that she is not a Russian citizen. How does one prove a negative? she asks...herself, as there is no one at the consulate to speak to about this. In fact, the consulate doesn't even issue visas anymore. They outsource the work to a private company called Invisa Logistic Services, ILS for short. Although ILS's mission statement is "to enhance the quality of service," they answers no questions, provides no guidance, and mostly just turns down such applications. So the woman turns to a little, private American visa agency owned by Russian immigrants. The little agency is happy to help. For $900 they will submit her documents to ILS with the guarantee that her visa (the cost of which is $160) will be approved...provided that she can supply them, along with all the standard documents, the so-called "exit visa" her family used to leave the USSR 37 years earlier. Fortunately, her mother still has a copy of this document. The woman submits it, not through the little agency but through a friend who is an expert in the Russian visa field; he doubts she will be successful. But to the expert's surprise her visa is granted (he guesses that this is a fluke, the result of ILS being too overwhelmed with visa requests to fuck with her more). Now the woman applies for a Russian visa for her 13-year-old son, submitting his US passport and US birth certificate, along with all the rest of the relevant documents. ILS rejects his application, informing her that she must provide proof that her son, who was born and raised in the US, is not a Russian citizen. That's when the woman's eyeballs started doing somersaults and loud steam shoots out the top of her head. (The expert's opinion is validated.) The woman resubmits her son's documents, the same documents, this time with a stern letter explaining what they all mean. Remarkably, the boy is granted a special visa, not the standard 3-year multiple-entry, but one that is only good for 2 weeks.

The mystery revealed: The woman and her son had travelling companions: another woman and her son. The second woman and son's circumstances mirrored their friends'. The only difference was that the second woman no longer had any of the documents her parents used to leave Russia nearly three decades earlier. This meant she had no proof she was not a Russian citizen, which meant she could not get a Russian visa. It also meant she could not prove that she was a Russian citizen, which meant she could not get a Russian passport. She submitted her and her son's documents to ILS and did not hear back from them for a couple of months. Finally, she got her documents back with both visa requests denied. So she went to the little American agency run by Russian immigrants, paid them $1800, gave them the same documents she had earlier submitted to ILS, and within a week she was informed that both her and her son's applications had been approved. She went to the little agency to pick up the two passports. And while she was there she overheard two agency employees, speaking in not particularly hushed tones, about her and her son's passports, referring to them as "the ones that were lying around here for a couple of months." What were they doing lying around in the little agency for "a couple of months" when they should have been lying around at this ILS place? thought the woman. And then suddenly everything made sense. What seemed like an absurd, nonsensical, Kafkaesque world became clear and logical and straightforward. The bureaucracy was in fact serving its purpose and there wasn't a thing to do about it. So the woman took her and her son's passport and left.

Part 2. Customs

On her way to Russia the woman buys two cartons of cigarettes at the duty free shop. Upon arriving in Russia she and her 13-year-old son are detained by customs for three hours. At the end of the ordeal the two cartons of cigarettes are confiscated and the woman is issued a summons.
"You'll have to pay a fine," says the customs official.
"How much?"
"I don't know."
"Who does know?"
"They'll determine that at the hearing."
"When is the hearing?"
"The date is on the summons."
"That's six weeks from now. I'm going back to New York in two weeks."
The customs agents shrugs. "They'll determine the fine without you. You'll be informed how much it is. You can pay it when you get back to America."
The woman stays in Russia two weeks, then returns to New York.
A few months later she receives an official letter from Russian customs. It is a long letter, six pages of fine print signed and stamped by a customs official. And it says, in sum and substance, that the woman is required to pay a fine of approximately $40. Once the fine is paid, the letter continues, the woman (or a representative to whom she has granted power of attorney, as indicated by a translated and notarized letter) will be able to show the receipt of payment to the customs officials at the airport and will then be able to retrieve the two cartons of cigarettes BUT ONLY ON HER WAY OUT OF THE RUSSIAN CUSTOMS ZONE, meaning on her way out of the country. The woman decides not to fly back to Russia to retrieve her two cartons of cigarettes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


I find a bit shallow all these professions of dismay on social media concerning how terrible it is that everyone is paying attention to the terrorist attacks in Paris and not to the ones in Nigeria, Syria, etc. There is no mystery. Horrors in those places happen much more frequently than they do in Western countries, which subtracts from the sensational aspect. Their cultures are radically different from ours, which makes it harder for us to relate to them and their pain. (There are more reasons, psychological and social, but that’s a different essay.) My point here is to talk about one specific reason (or excuse) for our lack of interest, that being that those places, even without terrorist attacks, are terrible—in terms of human rights, standard of living, healthcare, etc.—and offer little hope of getting better anytime soon. We expect bad things to happen there. For all its relative civilization, Nigeria is a corrupt, barbaric shithole even without Boko Haram. Is it news that an atrocity was committed in Somalia? This outrage we express about our lack of news coverage, about our lack of sympathy in effect, has, at its foundation, the modern liberals' interpretation (or perhaps misinterpretation) of cultural relativism. "We should not feel worse for Parisian victims of terror than we do for Syrian victims of terror," say the liberals. And maybe we shouldn' some magical world where we see every individual the way we imagine god sees us, without prejudice and with perfect love. But what bugs me about the well-wishers and their fantasy world, besides the self-deception it necessitates, is that these people, with their knee-jerk outrage at how terrible we are for not caring about the poor victims of wherever and whatever, this is the same contingent that celebrated, in part or in whole, the so-called Arab Spring, when the people, THE PEOPLE! stood up for themselves and their rights. They are the same liberals who talked of the Soviet-backed Afghan government depriving Afghans of religious freedom. Liberals never like the way things are because things are never as perfect as liberals can imagine them being (I am as guilty of this as anyone). But at some point we must look at what is realistic. Unlike in the West, in many of these places the choice isn’t between, let’s say, good and bad, it’s between very bad and horrific. And for us to continually complain about the very bad is intellectually disingenuous and spiritually suspect. Sometimes bad is the best that a situation can be. And when we let our sentimentality take over, when we judge X in comparison to perfection, all we are doing is indulging our vanity. (Were we ever in a position to act on these "convictions" in a real-life scenario we likely would find ourselves in a very bad place very quickly.) For all its faults, Western culture is the best we have, and a massacre in Paris is more newsworthy than a massacre in Rwanda—and let’s hope it stays that way. This isn’t to say that as individuals we westerners are smarter or more virtuous, kinder, more talented, stronger, tougher, or more deserving of god’s grace than other peoples. And it certainly doesn’t mean that individuals from other cultures shouldn’t be respected, or that they should be forced to love the West. But the West is where it’s at, at least for now, and those who forget that risk (intellectually I mean, not actually) trading very bad for horrific....Especially when one takes into account the fact that even the worst tragedies have a social media shelf life of 17 days. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015


There was a warrant out for my arrest this weekend. I showed up late to my court date on Friday—the judge had closed up shop before 2pm, I arrived at 2:30—hence the warrant. The reason I was summoned in the first place was because two months earlier I had ridden my bicycle into the little square in the middle of Columbus Circle, where the explorer stands grandly atop his column. Three cops were waiting for me there, two in blue, one in white—a supervisor, his white torso protruding like the underside of an enamel bathtub. Of the blue boys one was athletic the other one dumpy—he looked like his previous uniform had been a soiled t-shirt. The athletic one had a crew cut, dead eyes, and a pissed-off look on his face. He was chronically pissed-off: all around him was chaos and no matter what actions he took or how much he willed it the world refused to order itself to his design. Also, despite always following his convictions, every decision he’d ever made, big and small, seemed wrong to him in retrospect and made him miserable. As he wrote out the summons—he had the lowest rank of the three—he was regretting having left the Marines.
            “It’s a summons?” I said, “Not a ticket? You mean I can’t just pay this, I have to go to court?”
            “This is better,” suggested the dumpy PO sympathetically—he looked like he wanted to get a beer with me, with anybody. “This way you can get it dismissed,” he said. “You can probably get it dismissed,” he said. “I read…” he said, “I didn’t read but they told us, a woman was killed here, an old woman, right here in this park, by one of those…you know, by one of those guys…Whatchyamacallit? You know who I mean. Those guys, they ride around…Those guys, you know…”
“No. They bring stuff…You know…”
            “Delivery guys?”
            “Yeah! But no, not delivery guys. No. You know, those guys…! What are those guys called…? UPS? No, not UPS…But it’s like UPS. Sort of. Not really. Oh, you know, it’s THOSE GUYS.”
“You mean bike messengers?”
“Yeah! Bike messengers! A bike messenger ran into a woman. Killed her. Here. So they’re making us write these. We got the supervisor here and everything…”
At this point the pissed-off crew cut handed me the summons and he and the bathtub took off after a pedicab that had lumbered into their honeypot and was now trying to peddle away.
“You can go to court earlier, when it’s convenient for you” suggested the dumpster, hiking up his sagging pants, “just wait a couple of weeks, give’em a chance to put the summons in the system.”
I waited four weeks, showed up 9am. The summons was not in the system.
Anyway, Monday, 9:45, eight weeks after the summons was issued, I chain my bicycle outside the courthouse, my defense in my mind:
“Your honor, the signs prohibiting bike riding in this square are not in plain view and not easily visible. Not only are they small, they are located 20 feet from the entrance, angled away from the entrance. So unless one knows to look for them one is unlikely to see them, especially while riding a bicycle, especially at night.”
“Mr. Zvonkov,” sighs the judge, “you’ve been riding a bicycle in New York City for many years, have you not? You shouldn’t need to read a sign to know that riding on pedestrian paths is illegal.”
“If I may, your highness, firstly, there is a question as to whether or not the area inside the square would automatically qualify as a pedestrian path. Secondly, were this a blanket prohibition that applied to all pedestrian paths, that would be one thing. But it isn’t. Riverside Park, for example, has no prohibitions on bicycle riding anywhere. In addition, I’d like to point out that in Central Park, where bicycle riding on paths is prohibited, there are big orange cones placed in the middle of said paths with signs on them that are impossible to miss. If the City had truly wanted to stop bicyclists from riding through the square on Columbus Circle the first thing they would have done was put up clearly visible signs. The fact that instead they put policemen there for a day or two to write summonses suggests that the City is more interested in handing out summonses than it is in preventing old women from being run over by bike messengers!”
Judge: “Hum…Humm…What can I say Mr. Zvonkov, I take your point. Case dismissed!” bangs the gavel. “Mr. Zvonkov, have you ever thought about becoming a lawyer? The legal profession could use a mind like yours…”  
 Monday, 9:45. I chain up my bike, enter the courthouse. A court cop tells me the courtroom is full, tells me to wait outside on the street until called. There is vague disdain in his face and his tone. On the street are a dozen black men--African, Caribbean; there are a couple of Arabs; four Hispanic women. I am the only white person. I lean against the scaffolding and read my New Yorker.
After 45 minutes a court cop comes out and starts reading names off a list. He reads quietly, so that one must be within a couple of feet of him to hear. We, the summoned, the innocent, surround him like children and lean in to listen. A dozen are granted admittance. My name is not on this list. I wait with the remnants. A half hour later he comes out again, reads my name.
X-ray machine. Metal detector. I am inside the courtroom. Wooden benches. Good hard antique wood. A sign above the judge reads “Community Court.”
The judge in his robe speed-mumbles from a memorized script like a priest.
“And do you understand that this is not a crime but a violation...” “And are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty…?” “You realize that by pleading guilty you forfeit the right to a trial…”
A tired middle-aged black man, the judge has an air not uncommon to members of his profession of someone subtly medicated rolling on autopilot.
The defendant, a little Hispanic man, has an interpreter, and stands at the lectern with her and his lawyer, his hands folded behind his back.
The only white defendants inside the courtroom are a girl, a big Eastern European dufus with a hangover, and a smaller Eastern European dufus with a hangover. The big dufus looks to be from the Balkans. The girl turns out to be Russian. That’s nice. I am glad to see my people making inroads into every strata of American society. By the looks of it there’s only one American-born defendant in the place—a little skinny black kid with a wooden pimp-cane, criminal pretensions, and a giant black watch studded with purple diamonds. He gets yelled at by a court cop—two of them trudge around like assistant deans at a junior high school assembly threatening to confiscate people’s cellphones.
“One day community service.” Bang. Next defendant.
“…not a crime…” “…are you pleading guilty because…” “…forfeit the right to a trial…” “”Is that a yes? You have to say yes…” “One day community service.”
“One day of community service.”
“One day community service.”
“Case dismissed.”
“Mandatory $120 processing fee and one day of community service.”
The big dufus: “One day community service.”
The Russian girl: “One day…”
The prosecutor is a serious-looking 28-year-old of Indian heritage—tall, ambitious, with unblemished light skin. He requests a $2000 bond for a small-time street hustler who obviously doesn’t have it. Two grand. And why not? What’s a few months at Rikers to a prosecutor?
But the public defender is having none of it. A girl in her 20’s, she actually believes she’s in court. She makes her arguments—improper search, her client hasn’t had an arrest in 5 years, showed up to court on his own, etc. She’s one of three public defenders—two girls and a man. Both girls are enthusiastic and earnest. The man, in his 50s, is trim, tan, with an exceptional head of wavy salt-and-pepper hair and a manicured beard. He wears a burgundy shirt under his jacket, owns a coffee table book about cognac, and is considering buying a red Mazda Miata. When scanning the gallery his expression radiates a subtle cynical smugness; facing the court he’s an obliging bureaucrat. I pity the defendants who draw him.
With the hustler the judge is suddenly alert and judicial. He rules in favor of the defense and the young man is released on his own recognizance. Then it’s back to the script:  
“One day community service.”
“Case dismissed.”
“One day community service.”
“Mandatory $120 processing fee and one day of community service.”
“One day of community service.”
The violations: riding a pedicab on a pedestrian path; selling stuff on the street without a permit; trespassing in a park after hours; creating a public disturbance; using the Port Authority Bus Terminal toilet without buying a bus ticket. All the defendants clasp their hands behind their backs when they come up to the lectern. Do they know something I don’t? Was this in the instructions?
“One day of community service.”
For a moment my stomach feels empty and cold. Will this be my fate? A day of community service? Like that tall, skinny tranny I'd noticed taking trash out of the courthouse? That seemed an odd job for a tranny, taking out garbage. Now it occurs  to me--that was her community service! Am I now to share tranny’s fate? And am I going to have to wear that ridiculous green fluorescent vest with the word “courthouse” on it that she was wearing—a mandatory accessory I’m sure, for safety reasons, so the violators don’t get run over—why else would a tranny wear such a hideous thing? In a society fashioned by lawyers considerations of dignity aren’t high on the list. Am I to be humiliated in this way? Get a hold of yourself! That’s ridiculous. For riding my bike through that square? That’s insane! Just calm down.
Burgundy shirt calls out my name, approaches me. He is to be my defender. My vigorous representation.
“Well, I’ll try and get it dismissed but most likely you’ll have to watch a video.”
“A video?”
“Yeah. It’s about an hour long.” Checks his watch. “It’s too late today. You’ll have to come back here…”
“Look, the signs that prohibit bikes, they’re very small, they’re very far away from the entrance…”
“You can go to trial with that if you want, but who knows what will happen.”
“This isn’t the trial?”
“No. If you go to trial they have to call the officer who issued the summons…”
“I’m not disputing that I rode…”
“You can go to trial if you want. You can go to trial if you want, and who knows. Or you can watch the video…”
“This is absurd.”
“It’s a quality of life offence, so, you know…” he says with a patronizing grin.
“Quality of life?”
“Think about what you want to do.”
Burgundy shirt goes to advise other clients. One of them was apparently summoned for trespassing at Grand Central Station. The summons claims he was in a restricted area. He tries to explain to burgundy shirt that the area wasn’t clearly marked off, and in fact that it was not restricted, and that the officer had made a mistake. Burgundy doesn’t want to hear this. He snaps at his client: “Fine, go to trial!”
Now I see why they’re all pleading guilty. There’s no choice. You either waste a day taking out the court’s garbage, or you waste that day going to trial, and possibly more days depending on the verdict, all because some crew cut, rightly or wrongly, decided to write you a summons. It’s a scam. But being that it is a scam perpetrated not by one scheming mind but by a bureaucracy, bureaucracy is the only entity that sees any profit, which comes in the form of more bureaucracy.
One of the court cops gives a nod to the other, and the two of them get behind a black man in a yellow leather jacket who stands with his hands clasped behind his back at the lectern.
“Five days…” orders the judge. The cops handcuff the man and take him through a door at the rear of the courtroom that leads deeper into the building.
“Dmitry Zvon…kov.”
I walk up to the lectern with my bag in one hand. I resist the impulse to clasp my hands behind my back and keep them at my sides.
The judge vacates my warrant. Then he looks at a photocopy of the summons, trying to read it. He turns it one way, then another, squints his eyes, screws up his face, moves it close to his face, then away, turns it this way and that, then looks up.
“Case dismissed.” Bang.
I say nothing to burgundy shirt; I walk out of the courtroom. I walk past the court cops. I am outside. My bike is still there. I get on my bike, ride up 8th. It’s not even one yet. The whole day is mine. It’s summer. I’m happy. No quality of life videos. No picking up garbage with trannies. I’m free. I have…I have…Wait a minute. I get off my bike. I look down. A flat tire.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

NETFLIX, What the Fuck, Assholes?

Bored to tears at work, I decided to write an open letter to Netflix, those bastards!

Dear Fuckheads,

You used to have a legitimate 5 star rating system that made reasonably accurate predictions regarding how much I would like a movie based on how I rated other films. Then one day you went and added 1.5 to 2 stars to every fucking selection you have. Do you think now that you've given LORD OF WAR 4 stars and ROAD HOUSE 5 that I'm suddenly going to be more impressed with your streaming collection? ASSHOLES?

I used to be able to select a movie and read the info about it before playing it. Now just the act of selecting it plays the movie. I don't need you shitheads nudging me to watch this or that. I KNOW BETTER THAN YOU WHAT I WANT TO SEE!

As soon as the end credits roll you minimize them so you can offer me more of your stinking selections. FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING SCUMSUCKING SHITEATERS! A movie starts when it starts and ends when it ends, not when you shithead scumbags decide that it does. STOP INTERRUPTING MY FUCKING MOVIE THAT I AM PAYING YOU TO WATCH! I ALREADY SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR FUCKING SERVICE! I DON'T NEED YOU ADVERTISING YOUR SHIT TO ME AND CONTROLLING HOW I WATCH MY FUCKING MOVIES!!!

I realize, you frightened little maggots, that your reasons for doing all this (including removing the stars from the passive movie displays, so that one needs to hover over or select a movie to see how many stars it has...which doesn't really matter now anyway since you screwed up your whole ratings system) is to create the impression that you have an awesome streaming collection. If these pathetic ploys work at all it is only on morons. Complete morons! For everyone else they diminish the viewing experience and, consequently, the Netflix experience. Broadly speaking, Netflix, you went from a movie service with integrity to one that makes the user feel like he's at a time-share seminar. Please, STOP THE BULLSHIT! For now, despite your vulgar practices and limited streaming and DVD collections, you're the best service around. But you won't be forever. And I for one can't wait to give my $7.95 a month to someone else.

Dmitry Zvonkov,
soon-to-be former customer  

Monday, August 31, 2015


High, I leave the house. When locking the front door I check to make sure I am wearing pants. I am. I dream of a halal plate: lamb, warm bread, over salad, covered with white sauce. A lot of white sauce. More white sauce. I walk up Columbus. I am in a different plane than the people. They are standing still even as they’re walking. It is I who am moving past them. More white sauce.

I do not see the halal stand on 97th street. It’s Sunday. I did not see it there last Sunday either. I go down 96th towards Broadway. There is another guy there, on Broadway and 96th. He is always there. 96th street between Columbus and Amsterdam is empty and endless. All there are on that street are bus stops. Bus stops and parked cars. I consider turning back. I keep walking. I walk into a scaffolding tunnel. Three Italian tourists are walking towards me through the tunnel. I turn sideways to let them pass. After they pass I reflect on how awkward that movement was, my turning sideways, and decide not to do it again. I decide to stay away from people altogether.

Amsterdam. Green light. I cross. This was the right decision. I brush past a fichus on the sidewalk. The fichus does not apologize. Neither do I. As I near the corner of Broadway and 96th I see that I do not see the stand. As I get closer I still do not see it. He’s not here, I think to myself. It’s Sunday, of course he’s not here, I think to myself. I get to the corner and look. He is not here. There is a McDonald’s across the street. There is also another halal place just past the McDonald’s, and that one I know is there. But I do not want halal. I want a Filet-o-Fish sandwich.

I walk into the McDonald’s. I approach the counter. I ask, Do you still have that special with the Filet-o-Fish and a small fries for $3? Yes, he says. One? He says. Four, I say. $13. I wait. There is a young Russian couple with a young boy there. They are tourists, from Russia. The young father’s English is proper, learned in school and learned well, exercised in professional settings. The boy can’t decide if he wants the green toy or the yellow toy in his Happy Meal. But his parents feel no discomfort at his indecision. They are not intimidated by the dark-skinned McDonald’s staff or by the dark-skinned Americans all around them, yet they are not disdainful of them either. They are not afraid to ask for what they want. Yet they are polite and not at all rude or vulgar. They do not have the scent of chronic shame. They talk to their child. They take his wishes seriously, yet they do not spoil him. They are not impatient as the boy decides, they are not self-conscious. They are hip, modern, savvy Russians. Liberals. Intellectuals. They have money but are not ostentatious, dressed very casually, almost like European backpackers. I have never seen Russians like this. Maybe Russia is… My Filet-o-Fish slide down to the counter. Two blue boxes. Then two more. The fry cook breaks up the french-fries to stuff them into the small paper purses. Two. Four. Can I get four packets of tartar sauce please? I wait. A young black man brings me a small water cup half-filled with tartar sauce. I look him in the eyes and thank him. He seems surprised by this. I walk home.

I carry both bags in my left hand. This walk is quicker. I cross the street and see on the sidewalk a big squashed cockroach. I had seen it earlier, on a previous excursion. I should have crossed the street later so as not to see it a second time, I think to myself. Basement. Elevator. 4. My keys are in the door and I have run into no one. I am safe. My apartment is cool--I'd left the air conditioning on. I notice my left wrist is cramped from holding the McDonald’s bags. I reflect on the fact that I always hold things too tightly.

Mayonnaise. Ketchup. Tartar sauce. Fries. 4 Filet-o-Fish sandwiches. The Godfather. I notice that I do not notice that my hand is cramped anymore. My hand is not cramped anymore. I watch the movie. I eat the 4 sandwiches. This is what the experience of eating 4 Filet-o-Fish sandwiches looks like plotted on a graph:

And at 10,000 miles per hour Voyager 1 speeds out in search of the heliopause.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Good English Name
by Dmitry Zvonkov
Faye Fleming, 
what a good 
English name, 
sturdy yet elegant,
it makes the centuries 
transparent--there's a
bold and well-dressed ancestor
in the bloom of his years, 
shaking hands with Vermeer; 
there's another one
in a white uniform
through Calcutta 
with Kipling. 
Good taste and manners are in the fibers 
of the 
As is adventure and
the charming, 
arrogance of 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Someone left her vagina at my place.
I woke up from a three day drunk,
saw it,
on the floor,
hairy and fleshy,
wedged between my mattress and armchair.
First thought it was a cuttlefish mounting
an urchin
Or a cow tongue
that some Russian forgot months ago 
(I hadn’t entertained in a while)
But it was just a vagina.

It was cocooned in a web of dust,
dust was in the hair, on the lips.
I inspected it, tapped on the clit.
It wetted and opened

They say all vaginas are different
but I could not tell whose this was.
And you start calling girls
asking if they’ve left their vaginas at your place
you might hurt someone’s feelings.

At least narrow it down...
Who did I know who would
Not have missed her vagina in months?
I tried Cheryl
“Cheryl? Dmitry. Do you still have your cunt?”
“Same old Dmitry.  Please don’t call me again.”
“You saw it was me, you didn’t have to pick up...”
She hung up.

I tried another girl.
A drycleaner answered.

Then I telephoned Diamond.

“It’s about fucking time! I just wanted to see
how long it would take you
to realize that I wasn’t there.
That my mind wasn’t there
that my soul wasn’t there!
Did you even miss me?
You are one selfish asshole.
You just care about my pussy. You don’t care about me.
I know you’ve been fucking it all this time.
Or should I say jerking off into it!
Did you even notice that I wasn’t there?
No, you noticed, you just didn’t give a shit!
I’m calling your mother.
I’m calling the cops!”
“Why the cops?”
“You’ve been fucking my pussy
without my consent...”

“I just found it this morning, I swear.”

“...Did you even bother to clean it?
It’s probably all full of semen
all dripping with semen
sour semen
cigarette stinking meat semen
three months’ worth of old yellow semen!”

She said she’d be over
in half an hour to pick it up.
Then hung up.

I cupped her cunt in both hands,
brought it into the bathroom.
I washed it, trimmed the hairs how she liked it
dried it with a soft cotton towel
placed a pillow on my armchair,
placed her cunt on the pillow.

She banged on the door.

“Well, where is it?”
I pointed.
She picked it up. Turned it over
and sideways. Stuck her fingers inside.
“Big deal, so you washed it. I know
what you've been doing.”

“Look, Diamond, I just saw it this morning.
I washed it because it was dusty.”

“This morning? Whatever.
Do you have any wine? Some white wine?
Oh, that’s right, I forgot, yeah, you only drink beer.
Fine, just give me a beer,” she said,
making room for herself on the couch.

“Darling, I’m actually busy at the moment.”

Her eyes opened wide, her mouth parted
she’d been punched in the gut
half standing, half sitting
holding her vagina in one hand,
her bag in the other.
“I have to meet my dad for coffee," she said.
"Do you mind holding on to it
and I’ll pick it up later?”
“No baby, I’m sorry.”

She called me an asshole and left.

I twisted open a beer, lit a cigarette
sank into my armchair.

I wished Diamond well,
the way only an indifferent lover can do. 
She was not a bad girl.
And she loved me.
Who could blame her for that?  

But I couldn’t have fucked her cunt even
if I’d wanted to.
A while back I’d dropped all my tackle
into this Albanian’s purse while she
wasn't looking, and now I was
waiting for her
to find it

Friday, May 2, 2014



Two Russians are sitting at table. One is reading aloud an interview that Tom Waits gave, which has been translated recently by a bilingual hack into Russian and printed as part of some collection. The Russian reading loves everything Tom Waits is saying. The Russian listening doesn’t like it. Who is right?

THE ANSWER: They are both wrong.

THE EXPLANATION: Although Tom Waits is a great artist, his answers to the interview questions are more clever than truthful, and a little too pat; the interview sounds like something one would see in a 1970’s film about an auteur. So what the first Russian is so impressed by, Waits’s sharp replies, amounts to little more than a parlor trick. Also, the questionable translation often emphasizes the wrong things. So what’s being read is not the actual interview but its reflection in a funhouse mirror, a reflection which also creates the illusion that something more is behind the words than there is.

The reason the second Russian is wrong is that he doesn’t like anything Tom Waits does, period. So even if he was listening to a Waits masterpiece he still would not like it.

WHERE AM I IN ALL THIS? I’m sitting in the middle trying to explain to these two their folly. But it’s difficult to get across the fine nuances of my argument after too much vodka has been drunk for anyone to stay quiet for the length of time I need to get my point across. All they want to know is the bottom line – whose side am I on? That's not true. They don't care. In fact, they’re not even listening.

THE SOLUTION: The liquor store closes in less than an hour and we’d better go there now if we want to continue enjoying each other’s company. And don’t forget to buy cigarettes. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


An Odd Tale

She took the stage like a great solo violinist, striding on long, well-toned legs, her open white smock flowing behind her. She was high-stung, taut as a bow, long neck, long nose, wavy blond hair that just reached her shoulders, big eyes shaped like teardrops, which gave her the appearance of someone preoccupied with weighty matters for which there were no moral solutions. She had the bearing of one descended from royalty. Her beauty was deep and arresting, but it was not warm. She gave the impression of someone in complete control who was profoundly lost.
She commanded the stage, indicating to the projection on the screen with her pointer.
“We can see in this early footage....I should say we can hear in this footage....he started out as a football announcer, even though he knew nothing about football. Notice the familiar nasal quality to his voice, which was recognizable even then, combined with what sounds like an affectation, can you hear it? It’s as though he’s trying to imitate his idea of what an announcer should sound like....and as if he’s mocking it just a little. No doubt we all recognize that voice. And that’s him, obviously, sitting at a folding table on the sidelines. You can see the women selling sweaters it looks like at other tables. The game going on in the background. This was obviously very early in his career. From football he went on to host a morning show. Then he began inviting women to his studio and forcing them to strip on his radio show, making them perform lewd and lascivious acts on one another, on random individuals, humiliating these women in front of a vast radio audience, women who lacked not only self-respect but intelligence, and consequently were unable to grasp the full ramifications of what they were doing.
“When I opened his head and removed his brain – which turned out to be quite small, I could hold it in the palm of my hand – I discovered that it was made of that sticky translucent pinkish-purple rubber often associated with various children’s toys, such as those octopi that you fling at a wall and watch it tumble down grasping the wall. My son used to have one. But the real discovery was the little frogs made of play dough that I found wedged in the sulci of his brains. They were in an array of bright play dough colors – yellow, red, green, blue, purple, etc. – wedged in the sulci or fissures throughout his brain. The frogs were about the size of one phalange of a pinky finger. But despite being wedged in there, fortunately for us, and for him, the play dough frogs were all perfectly intact; they were not squished or otherwise deformed by the pressure of the rubber as one might expect. For this reason I was able to carefully pluck them out with chopsticks. There was a surprising number of them, as even when I thought I’d removed all of them from the bottom of his brain, after which I turned the brain over and removed all the ones from the top, when I then checked the bottom once more I found still more of them there. I don’t know if I’d missed them the first time around or if new ones had appeared, which I thought would have been strange in that short a time span. We did not know why this was happening but eventually I did manage to pluck out all the frogs and reinsert his brain into his head. Now he’s back to being a very successful radio personality, and he has not exhibited any disturbing symptoms. In laymen’s terms he’s cured, he’s normal.”

She was pretty but plain, and poor; good people but poor, as they say. She had only one dress – gray and formless and made of rough cotton – and she kept to herself, the way gentle, poor girls sometimes do. She was smart but her intelligence wasn’t useful; she was not at all cunning. She had games that she played with herself and she shared them with make-believe friends. She had straight black hair to her neck and an old pair of sandals. And she had a kind heart, a big heart, but she was quiet and did not imagine she was entitled to joy.
            She was afraid of him when he called to her from the mound by the railroad tracks, but now she was in love. The young man was unlike anyone she knew. Although she was not acquainted with too many people, she knew that he was unique. Had she had access to society she would have found him all the more so. He was odd but not on purpose. Everything he did, every glance, every gesture, was electric, explosive, like a small work of art. When he sat he would sit in a ball. He would leap, hop and climb instead of walking; but when he walked he moved like a dancer. Not that he was completely at the mercy of his eccentricities, he could behave conventionally if need be; his bearing suggested he could make small talk with beggars and kings with equal ease. He seemed to have mastered this skill long ago, as a child, perhaps even before – there was nobility to him. But all that stuff bored him now and he had as much interest in being charming as a virtuoso violinist has in teaching the instrument to tone-deaf six-year-olds.
His straight black hair he wore like a helmet. He was dashing and sexy, like a magnificent, mythical bird. And she felt like an ant on the earth. Yet he chose her. He would see her all day, every day, and would paint her in the abandoned old hangar (in fact she did not know what he was painting, he never showed her, but she stood where he told her to stand, stood there many hours at a time in her sandals and coarse cotton dress). The dark, dirty hangar filled with color as soon as he’d enter. But he also brought darkness, from his black eyes and his black leather jacket. She wasn’t afraid of being physically harmed; if he’d wanted to hurt her she’d let him. She was afraid of the door to him closing, of him walking away, of him not coming back. His painting notwithstanding, he was an artist in everything he did; whatever he touched he made beautiful, and this was so far from her world. She knew that what she saw of him was a tiny fragment, that beyond it was a vast, swirling universe she could not understand, a labyrinth, beautiful and frightening, before which she was a speck in the wind. Perhaps he was playing with her. She didn’t know what he wanted from her. But these meetings were all that she had. They became her whole life. She expected that for him they were trifles. But she did not care. As for being with him, being his, she did not dare even to fantasize about such a thing. And when such reveries would scrape at the door of her mind she would chase them away.
The painting was done and he showed it to her. It was a portrait of a girl rendered with rich, brilliant colors, her face luminescent with transportive joy, her glorious smile lighting up the whole hangar. It was clearly supposed to be her, thought the girl, though it looked nothing like her. But the painting’s astonishing beauty and her love for the boy made her smile, made her glow. And at that moment she caught her reflection in a mirror shard on the ground and she suddenly saw that the girl in the painting was her!
She looked at him and saw he was pleased, more than that, he was happy, not smirking like always. He looked open, like a little boy. Her lungs swelled with joy. No, he was truly happy as he looked at her, and for the first time she felt free to be with him. And she knew, she still knew he would probably leave, maybe even quite soon, maybe after one night. She knew he did not love her the way she loved him, she knew they were not nearly equal. But she felt at that moment, unlike ever before, that she now had the right to be with him, the right to accept what he offered – not demand, she did not have the right to do that – but accept. Nobody had the right to demand anything from him. He was not of this world. He was an event, a miracle, he was an ecstatic moment. And now, seeing her portrait, she turned into that girl in the painting, that girl in a colorful dress, filled with infinite joy. He gave her his hand and she took it and they skated like light beams through caverns and forests and white marble ballrooms and clear emerald seas.
            “This is not going to work,” his mother told him. “It’s unacceptable. Her essence is different from ours. She is plain. You are unwell. I need to look at your brain. She is downstairs or somewhere, who knows, she is waiting. I’ll have someone escort her out. She’s from a dull, unremarkable world.”
            He must have come out to see her, to tell her to go, to tell her he’d see her at home, to tell her he needed to speak with his mother. For how long did he say? For an hour? Or maybe a day? It’s not clear if he knew what would happen. He knew and he did not know, she thought later on when she remembered his face in those moments. She saw him through the half-open doorway, he was deep in the grand oaken hall, listening to his mother – she could hear the words echo but couldn’t make out what they were. She could not see his mother, her view blocked by the door. He turned in her direction and he had a vague smile. Was his smile resignation? Or longing? Was it sadness? Or pity? What was clear was that regardless of what, if anything, he truly wanted, or, let’s say, regardless of what he wanted more, he could not resist what was happening to him. She saw he was only a boy and in his smile was inevitability.
            She was taken to the street, passing a man whose pompous, nasally voice seemed familiar. “My time isn’t free,” he was saying. She was taken to the street but she found her way back. She entered the operating theater just as the boy’s mother removed the top of his head and took out his brain.
            “You see,” she showed the girl, undisturbed by her presence, “you see that?”
            The colorful frogs were all smooshed in the crevices of his brain. One could barely tell they had ever been frogs at all. They just looked like squashed colorful patches of play dough.
            “You see,” his mother said, showing the girl his brain, “I can’t save it. It’s all stuck together, I can’t pick out the frogs. I can’t cut them out, I’d be cutting good parts of his brain with the frogs. They’ve meshed into his brain.”
            The girl’s dress was gray once again and she sat on a bench by the wall and she quietly watched knowing she no longer had a right to his world. And she watched, or not so much watched as just sat there, as his mother cut out what little uncontaminated pieces she could of his brain and integrated them into the brain of the radio announcer. Then she took the announcer’s brain, now with parts of her son’s brains attached, and put it into her son’s head.
            The girl stood on the street as the cars pulled away.
The young man, he went on to be very successful. He still had the power of effortless charm and charisma, and rooms of beautiful people gravitated towards him at cocktail parties and at work he elicited great admiration and a good deal of envy from even his most serious colleagues. His mother was pleased, or as pleased as she could be. The announcer, well, nobody missed him.
            The girl made her way through the trees, and down roads in the dusk light. She felt terrible anguish, for a long time it tore her to pieces. But it passed. And she was still poor, with only one dress and one old pair of sandals, but she was no longer embarrassed to smile.

November 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Internet Dating Profile REDUX

It is not without some vexation that I announce my retirement from the world of internet dating, at least until I can radiate something other than midlife-crisis desperation, or whatever it is I seem to be radiating at these meetings, which appears to be making women react to me as they would to, say, a DMV clerk, who, after a pleasant enough exchange about the nuances of inspection stickers, then asks them if they wouldn't like to teabag him in his cubicle. Whatever the reason for my recent lack of success, I’m off to Siberia (figuratively speaking of course) to chop wood and pull oxcarts and run around with railroad ties and shit. But for posterity and with a tear shed for one or two....closer to one....fond recollections, I publish here my second, latest, and last (at least for a while) internet dating profile:

My self-summary

Do you feel compelled to write in your profile how much you love New York City, how much you love bourbon, how much you love to travel and/or wander around the city discovering great new places, how you want a guy who's really passionate about something, maybe a little geeky but confident, how your favorite movies include two or three of the following: "The Princess Bride," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "This is Spinal Tap," how your job is saving the poor, the children, the planet? You sound lovely but I'm probably not for you. If you think Michael Moore (does anyone even remember who he is?) is anything but a big, fat turd, you should pass. If you find "Schindler's List" to be a valuable film, ditto. If you put down that your favorite book is the last one you've read, I can't help you. If you have lots of tattoos or if you use the phrase "I create" a lot in your profile, you needn't even consider me. Read comic books? Play video games? Love "Doctor Who?" Obsessed with sci-fi and/or whodunit novels? Wear funny/quirky/kitschy hats? God bless you, but you'll hate me. Want drama-free? Not if I really like you. Have a problem with Woody Allen movies because he fucked his daughter? Go tell Oprah. Need to drink cocktails with cucumbers in them? I'm sure they're delicious. Enjoy. I don't mean to sound negative or all anti-something-or-other, but there it is. If you find something attractive behind any of this I'd like to hear from you.

What I’m doing with my life
Catching up.

I’m really good at
Criticizing. Telling stories. Drinking. Kissing. Cooking. Making your mom/dad/grandparents/dogs/kids like me.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food
dostoyevsky, lolita and other nabokov, bukowski, borges, naked lunch, fitzgerald, celine, liked hemingway until i read what he said about dostoyevsky and now i can't take him seriously, kafka, the new yorker, rome, breaking bad, louie, robot chicken, tarkovsky, fellini, pasolini, bergman, bunuel, greenaway, kusturica, jodorovski, woody allen, coen brothers, anderson, solondz, old scorsese (though i really enjoy the departed), almadovar, casavetes, verhoven, lynch (too many to list), gogol bordello, tom waits, nyman, glass, nina simone, vysotsky, bach, miles davis

I spend a lot of time thinking about
Sex. How I appear to others.

On a typical Friday night I am

The most private thing I’m willing to admit
I had sex with your dad.

You should message me if

You'd like to get drunk and go to a museum; for you art goes down better with booze. You laugh easily and sincerely. You find the overabundance of kitsch and "irony" in self-expression irritating. You'd like to go see a play (don't get excited, I write theatrical criticism so I get my tickets for free). You'd like to watch both seasons of Rome with me in one sitting. You think we might like one another sober. Also, you probably should be a little desperate. I don't mean romantically, I mean in general - in life, in this city. Because if you're all happy and well-adjusted and just can't wait to get up every morning and smile and talk to strangers, I'm kind of a hard pill to swallow.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

New Jersey Man Finds NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Soul in a Matchbox at Garage Sale in Passaic.

According to a redacted article in the now defunct Birdseed Gazette of Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ, a number of years ago the future mayor of New York met with a surgeon in order to have an infected cyst removed from an undisclosed location. After an examination the doctor informed Mr. Bloomberg that the cyst was in fact that precious, indefinable, ethereal thing, a mixture of tangible and intangible human qualities that differentiate people from sophisticated calculators and some insects. The doctor conceded however that he did not know why the billionaire’s soul was oozing pus, but suggested that his patient make an effort to keep it clean and use an ointment. The doctor also confessed, after the billionaire pressed him further, that this indefinable thing had actually no practical uses whatsoever, and if anything was only a hindrance to the forward-thinking, pragmatic mind. The financial wizard promptly ordered it removed, which his doctor did, filling in the crater with fat from Mr. Bloomberg’s ass to avoid a scar. What happened to the soul afterwards or how the petrified little black thing wound up in a box of chipped nick-nacks in a Passaic garage nobody knows. But the find has ignited a fever of excitement among Bloomberg fans, who are out in force searching through every dusty attic and musty basement, through every trash bin and every sewer and gutter for the two warts that were the Mayor’s senses of irony and humor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


About six months ago I reviewed a production of Uncle Vanya
(, which featured Reed Birney in the title role. The show had its problems but I gave Mr. Birney a mostly positive review:

“Also excellent (for the most part), was Reed Birney as Vanya....Mr. Birney captures beautifully Vanya’s sarcasm, cynicism, desperation, and self-loathing. He seemed less believable as someone who’s worked with his hands on a country estate all his life. And his feelings of love and resentment towards Yelena (Maria Dizzia), the professor’s young wife, seem a bit unconvincing (though this last issue could well have been due, at least in part, to Ms. Dizzia’s uninspired performance).”

I remember one problem I had with Mr. Birney was his hands, his fingers specifically. They seemed thin and always pointing outward like delicate fins. They looked brittle, weak, sharp and awkward, the kind of fingers that have never done manual labor and would only be good for handling paper, fine fabrics, or poking you in the eye accidentally. The way he moved his hands and his arms – his gestures abrupt and clumsy – how he moved his neck and his head, all looked like the movements of a frustrated, middle-aged boy (which was appropriate for his character). But they also made him look somewhat effeminate. Not exactly in the way certain gay men look effeminate, he looked more like one of those guys who are "sexually ambiguous," the ones you can’t imagine having sex with anybody, who look like they'd be frightened of any exposed sex organ, male or female. For a while, as I watched the play, I thought that he might indeed be trying to play Vanya as gay. But that didn't quite fit his performance or the other actors' reactions to his character, or frankly how I remember his character as written. Perhaps in part my consternation was due to an uncontious prejudice I had, having grown up not thinking there were gays in Russia, certainly not in the 19th century. Still, if one were to play Vanya as a homosexual it seems to me Uncle Vanya would require some serious reinterpretation, of which I saw no evidence in the production in question. So why was he playing this older Russian man who lives in the country in this unusual way? I asked myself. There seemed to be no rationale behind it. The brilliant conclusion I came up with was that Mr. Birney was in fact one of those men - asexual, maybe leaning towards gay, but trying to play Vanya straight. And I felt that his performance was unduly affected by this, by how he was in real life.

When I saw him in Picnic ( last week I realized I'd been an idiot. There he plays a small-town Kansas heterosexual, a drinker and store owner whose strong hands carry suitcases and probably crates of inventory, and who lusts after young and old females alike. And when I saw him I realized that all that stuff he was doing in Uncle Vanya with his fingers, his elbows, his head, how he spoke, that wasn’t really him, he was acting. And I realized that I'd failed to appreciate just how full of nuance and insight his performance had really been. Mr. Birney was playing exactly what I saw but refused to see - a sexless, effeminate man-boy. His subtle infusion of Vanya with an undertone of ambiguous sexuality beautifully complemented that character’s confusion about who he is, his place in the world and his feelings for Yelena. Mr. Birney’s choices and their execution were in fact sublime. So I apologize for misinterpreting them and take back any reservations I had about his performance.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Except for one blatant mistake and maybe one moment of silliness, Django Unchained is a very entertaining film. Christoph Waltz is sublime, every word he says sounds like it just came to him. And Sam Jackson is mesmerizing. The two of them make the movie. Jamie Fox is very good. And DiCaprio is good too; at moments one almost forgets he’s DiCaprio. The film is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, an American hero movie, a western modeled on westerns that were modeled on westerns; there is no attempt at “realism.” And it works very well. Same is true for the characters, they are archetypes reinvented but they are delightful. On the one hand that’s pretty much all that needs to be said. Tarantino wasn’t trying to create a truthful work of art, he was trying to make entertainment, and he succeeded; Django Unchained is a fun, clever ride.
            On the other hand I do have a few questions: Why can’t Django be a real former field slave, with the bad habits, the nastiness, the brutality? We get symbolic, Hollywood versions of these qualities, but why can’t we see them for real? And I don’t mean make it completely realistic, that would disgust and offend a modern audience beyond dramatic necessity. But isn't there a middle ground, where there is a sense of human reality but where it’s not so real that modern sensibilities would make his character unrelatable? Couldn't he be in love with his wife and fuck a whore, for example? Or be gentle at times and at times a brute without reservations? Couldn't he be human in other words, or is it necessary to make him out of titanium? The studios believe that the general viewing public is too stupid to accept a hero with real flaws and the real characteristics of a former field nigger. And for the most part they're right. But couldn’t someone like Tarantino, who has both the popular and the artsy crowd following him, do something like that? I was hoping he would. He does not.
Also, typical of Tarantino, the movie is sexless. With his previous films this wasn’t an issue (I'm referring to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, the other ones I don’t care about; their problems are much bigger than a lack of sexuality). But with a movie about slavery and cowboys it seems sex would be an essential element. And if you’re really making a blacksploitation film you should probably throw at least one scene of rape or lust in there, as an homage if nothing else.    
But the biggest question seems to me this: Is American slavery morally appropriate fodder for light entertainment? The tempting answer is: “Stop nitpicking and don’t be so goddamn uptight!” We know going in more or less what this movie will be like. By agreeing to watch it we enter into an unspoken contract of sorts, which states that we will suspend not only our temporal but also our moral and spiritual disbelief and accept the world on the screen and its laws in order that we may be entertained. Still, I wonder if I would have liked this movie as much if, say, Django was a Jew who escaped a Nazi concentration camp and was now, with his superhuman gunplay, singlehandedly defeating if not the Reich then, let’s say, all the German soldiers stationed at Auschwitz? I’m not sure I would have been able to go along with a premise like that. Having this Jew-Django destroy the Nazis all by himself would rob of their dignity not only the victims of concentration camps, many of whom were strong and capable individuals, but all the people who fought, sacrificed, suffered and died fighting the Germans in WWII. Tarantino made a movie that was something like this, Inglorious Bastards, which, dramatic flaws aside, I found morally reprehensible. In that movie, if I remember correctly, a few American Special Forces troops, with the help of a beautiful blond Jewess theater owner (spoiler!), blow up Hitler and his minions. I suspect Tarantino thought a Jew watching such a thing would enjoy it, this fantasy of Hitler being blown up, as well as of Germans being scalped and beaten to death with baseball bats. But I’m not certain he was correct. For instance, I’m not certain that the girl in the concentration camp (a real person) – who had to keep shitting out and swallowing the diamond earrings her mother gave her, before her mother was stripped and gassed along with millions of others – I’m not certain this girl would find much satisfaction in Tarantino’s ridiculous fantasy. Nor do I think that American soldiers who fought in WWII, or British or Russian soldiers or the French resistance, or anyone who participated on the side of the Allies, would find very amusing the idea that all that was needed to kill Hitler was a handful of well-trained soldiers and a good plan. Frankly the idea is idiotic and shameless.
And so it is with Django. By making him a successful superhero it trivializes the realities of slavery. It trivializes the suffering of enslaved human beings, the tragedy of the strong and proud who were broken, the helplessness of blacks in the south and the hopelessness of their situation, the insurmountable obstacles between them and anything resembling freedom. It also trivializes whatever sacrifices or acts of bravery individual slaves might have committed. Watching this film I couldn’t help but try and imagine the reality of a black man, strong of body and spirit, intelligent, brave, who is a slave on a Mississippi plantation. What is he supposed to do? If he runs he’ll get caught. If he fights, he’ll get tortured or killed. What can he do against two overseers? Or three? Or one with a gun or a dog? What can he do when all the public and private forces of that state and of all the states surrounding it are against him? Just the question of “Why doesn’t he do something?” presupposes that slavery is some sort of choice. That being born a slave and raised like a slave surrounded by slaves one can somehow, with a little guidance, transcend that mentality and emerge unscathed. This is similar to saying that one can come through torture undamaged, which this movie does say by the way, and which is equally flippant. True, Tarantino goes out of his way to put in verbal explanations for why we should believe what we are seeing, trying to convince us through bits of dialogue here and there why certain incredible things about Django and the world of the film are in fact dramatically sound. But the spectacle we are watching is undeniable and all the little speeches feel like expedient excuses made so that we don’t lose our suspension of disbelief and continue enjoying the show.
So where do we draw the line as to what is or is not appropriate to fictionalize? Is it a question of how much time has passed since the events at issue? Will there ever be a time when it is no longer laughably stupid and disgusting to portray Lincoln as a vampire hunter? Kathryn Bigelow evidently thinks there’s nothing wrong with telling us that torture was instrumental in extracting information that led to Bin Laden, even though it’s pretty much an established fact that it was not. (Really, she should be ashamed of herself.) Spielberg makes a movie prostituting the Holocaust, in which the tragedy of the event is obscured by style, sentimentality, and clever but superficial direction. To me it seems the question is for the filmmaker’s conscience to answer. I see nothing wrong with reinventing history – nobody knows what really happened anyway – as long as your creation is truthful (or at least if your intention is to create something truthful). And I’m not talking about getting some facts right or having accurate costumes or being faithful to the book you’re adapting. I’m talking about artistic truth. Are you creating something more profound than the historical facts around which you are weaving your creation? (This is why it’s almost impossible to make a good fictional movie about the Holocaust – there’s very little one can say artistically that will carry more weight than the subject matter.) The question is this: Is the raw material, whether it be historical or another piece of fiction, essential for you to express some vital and deeply personal truth?
With Django the answer is no. However, whereas Zero Dark Thirty and Schindler’s List are entertainments disguised as serious films, Django does not pretend. It comes out and says: This is blacksploitation reinvented, enjoy! But then what is a socially and artistically responsible individual supposed to do? My personal attitude about this sort of thing is similar to the attitude I have about giving money to bums. If I feel like giving money to a bum, I do, and if I don’t, I don’t. And if I don’t give and happen to feel guilty about it a few steps down the street, maybe I’ll walk back and pay him. Or maybe not. It seems disingenuous to deny yourself a good rape scene or a revenge-murder-torture scene if that’s what you feel like watching; it is just a movie after all, isn’t it? With Django, while its artistic and moral shortcomings do bother me on an intellectual level, I was not turned off by the film as I watched it. And when it comes out on Netflix I will probably watch it again. Still, it would be nice if not so many filmmakers were so completely proud of making such frivolous films.    

Sunday, October 21, 2012

CouldaShouldaWoulda: The Last Six Years

Woke up this morning and realized I've been in New York six years. Six years! I could have finished medical school in that time, or law school, or business school, or any school, to where now I would have had some marketable skills and a real fucking job. I could have started as an intern somewhere, a publishing house, a production house, anywhere, and now been making money in a field I was interested in. I could have written 3 novels in six years, or 6 screenplays, or 24 short stories, or I could have read 30 books. I could have had a steady job, saved money, and done something with it, gone somewhere, bought something, a camera, some lights, and made films. I could have learned photography or editing. I could have had a child. I could have gotten a black belt in jiu jitsu, or at least a brown, and been teaching now. I could have ridden a hundred miles into the Catskill mountains on my bicycle. I could have learned French or Italian or Spanish, or fucking Japanese! I could have been studying acting all this time; I loved the acting classes I took in LA and have always wanted to take some more. Who knows, I might have even been good, maybe acting on stage. I could have learned to play the guitar. I could have been drawing, maybe even painting; I have a talent for drawing I just never developed it, but that's what I could have been doing. I could have done many things. Instead I drank, jerked off, watched movies and too much TV, ate too much, shat too often, slept too late, got fatter, more frightened, more lazy, more desperate and bitter and passive. I might as well have been in prison, probably would have gotten more done. Before, it was funny and charming, a ne'er-do-well drunk who didn't care, smart, funny, even talented, wasting his life - what a laugh! It ain't funny no more. Or let's say it's not funny as often or in the same way. But all of this, everything, could have been forgiven if only I had truly lived those six years. If I had given myself up to experiences and really felt and interacted with the world. If I'd lived in the present, appreciated the things I had, the people I knew, appreciated myself, my life, my abilities. In other words, if I'd lived a spiritual life this whole time, none of that other stuff would matter. But I didn't. I was seldom present and I appreciated very little, felt very little. I was mostly obsessed with myself, how I felt, what I wanted, what I did not have, all that bullshit; for all my talk about depth and spirituality at bottom I really am a very superficial person. I do want to create something beautiful but mostly to satisfy my own vanity; I am not a man obsessed. Six years and all I did was fantasize about the future, how in the future everything would be different, how in it I would be different, creative, productive, alive, and also rich and in love with a beautiful fancy young girl who was in love with me. That was how I spent the last six years and there is nothing to indicate that the future will be any different. I was given so much early on that it seemed vulgar to run the race at full speed when my opponents were midgets. And the fear, oh the fear, worse than death - What if I run in earnest and lose!?! But now I am way far behind. Is it too late? Is it too late? In Vegas the odds wouldn't be good. Win? He won't even finish the race! But there's hope, always hope, like a clown, makeup running from tears, missing teeth, rotting gums, making faces. His hands smell like shit. Making faces: There's always hope. Things will change. You will change. The angels will come and remake you into a full, healthy man. Heh-heh-heh. Fuck you clown! I say but I don't really mean it. I believe him, his foul-smelling breath, his sour pores and gray stubble, black fingernails peeking from holes in his gloves, what a musty cliche. Have a drink, you'll feel better, tomorrow's another day, says the clown. It's raining today anyway, good reason to drink. You're alone, have the day to yourself. Look how much you have written! That's some meaningful shit. Now reward yourself with a drink. It's 4 o'clock, the day's almost over, have a drink. You're hungover and you know what that means - you won't get nothing done, dick around, time will pass, you'll start drinking at 9 and regret that you started so late. Remember how you like to drink in the daytime? In two hours it will get dark. Have a... Alright, shut up clown! I say, you fucking miserable pathetic sad clown. I will go get some beer, start my new life on Sunday.

Friday, October 12, 2012

MY INTERNET DATING PROFILE (for want of fresh ideas)

My self-summary
I'm a whaler. I whale. I love whaling. A day without whaling is like a day without sunshine. I notice on this site everyone writes about how much they LOVE New York: "I've lived here all my life and I love it," "I moved here 5 years ago and I love it," blah blah blah. Personally, I'm kind of sick of this place. First off, there are almost no whales here. Second, the place has turned from a living breathing city into a mall for geriatric millionaires. I don't mean to sound negative but screw this place, I'm leaving... in like a year or so. So if you want to meet me don't dally.

What I’m doing with my life

I’m really good at
Whaling god damn it!!!

The first things people usually notice about me
My "kill the whales" tattoo, it's on my face! (profile photos taken prior to tattooing)

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food
Anything about whaling, killing whales, beached whales, dead whales. Anything that portrays dolphins in a negative light. Also, Dostoyevsky, Lolita and other Nabokov, Bukowski, Borges, Naked Lunch, Fitzgerald, Celine, Hemingway, Kafka, the New Yorker, Rome, Breaking Bad, Louie, Robot Chicken, Tarkovsky, Filini, Pasolini, Bergman, Bunuel, Greenaway, Kusturica, Jodorovski, Woody Allen, Coen brothers, Wes Anderson, Solondz, old Scorsese, though T really enjoy The Departed, Almadovar, Casavetes, Verhoven, Lynch, (too many to list), Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits, Nyman, Glass, Nina Simone, Vysotsky, Bach, Miles Davis

I have never read Moby Dick and I never will, so don't ask.

The six things I could never do without
What do you think...? Besides that: alcohol, movies, family and friends, talking, jiu jitsu, a creative outlet (writing, ok! it's writing. I write god damn it! Mostly about... well, you know).

I spend a lot of time thinking about

On a typical Friday night I am
Whaling. Drinking and whaling. Reminiscing about whaling with a friend while drinking. Watching a movie about whaling and drinking. Drinking and playing poker with whalers. Or drinking and... ok, so I like to drink, almost as much as I like whaling.

The most private thing I’m willing to admit
During sex I'm thinking about whaling.
(also, I'm really 41)

I’m looking for
Girls who like guys
Ages 24–46
Near me
For new friends, long-term dating, short-term dating, casual sex

You should message me if
You love whaling; you hate whales and despise Michael Moore (not because you're a Christian Conservative nut job but because he's a lying, selfish, manipulative turd without a shred of integrity). You are a broad individual who knows what breadth means, and you drink, and don't mind me smoking, and know how to laugh, and when. You appreciate my filtration process. You were amused.

Monday, September 3, 2012

SHUT THE FUCK UP AND SIT THERE: Audience Etiquette for Hipsters and Intellectuals.

One expects talking and howling and other inappropriate outbursts during certain movies, which are mostly attended by a particular contingent – young stupid punk kids who got no respect for nothin’. Fortunately these delinquents seldom attend plays or art films, lacking as they do the constitution and refinement to appreciate the higher arts. No, the audience for plays and art films is made up of mostly hipsters and intellectuals. They read the NY Times and the New Yorker, go to museums and art galleries, the ballet, vote Democrat, are often vegetarians, own bicycles... anyway, you know the ones. One would imagine that having been brought up in a genteel environment, having had the benefits of higher education and having an interest in the humanities, that these people would know how to behave as audience members, especially the older ones, having grown more wise and restrained over the years, etc. Unfortunately, they don’t.

I was watching a play. It was a matinee so the audience was mostly older. The house was tiny, the size of a living room, and there was no barrier between us and the action; we were right there. The play was excellent. Yet at least three people left in the middle of the performance. One was seated next to the door so her departure, though noticeable mostly because of the noise, was not outrageously disruptive. Then there was more noise at the door. This was either another cunt leaving or the first cunt coming back in. Irritating but not unbearable. But then this couple sitting basically on what was the stage, to where if they stood up they would actually be in the performance space, got up and left. These were people in their 60’s, obviously educated, middle class or better, attending plays in the City. Plus, the man had a press kit with him. He was a critic! Yet they felt it was ok to get up in the middle of a 90 minute show, walk through nearly the entire performance space while the actors were working, and exit. And it wasn’t like the actors were defecating on stage or raping children, they were in fact acting quite beautifully in a beautiful show. I would be mortified to do this, to walk out as these people had done. Nothing short of extreme diarrhea or some other life-threatening emergency could get me to do something like that. But these people seem to think that if they feel like doing it, it’s ok to do it. Well fuckers it’s not! It’s not ok, you bald fucking liver-spotted assholes! It’s not. Your fucking job as an audience member is to sit there and shut the fuck up. Period. So sit there and be quiet for 90 minutes. Don’t open your candies, don’t eat your crackers, don’t play with your fucking cell phone, don’t whisper to your goddamned date! Do you think you can do that?! (And now I’m speaking to you and your wife in particular you old shitbag critic who walks out in the middle of a performance, just in case by some miracle you happen to stumble across this article!) Because if you can’t do that, don’t come to the show! Nobody wants you there. Nobody cares if you show up. If you get squished by a bus on the way over nobody is going to miss you! Just don’t disrupt the fucking play you useless dipshits! (The play, by the way, was Tender Napalm. My review is right here:

In my 20’s I used to go to a lot of art films but finally I couldn’t take the audience anymore and stopped. At every single one of these things there was some cunt who felt he or she (mostly he) absolutely needed everyone else in the audience to know that he got the joke, that he got the irony of whatever happened. “Haha-hehe,” would be the noise he would make to let all of us know just how fucking clever he is. What a clever asshole you are, laughing in the middle of a serious, emotional scene, because you caught the director’s ironic nuance! Bully for you motherfucker! You fucking worthless idiot! Did that scene MAKE you laugh? Or did you laugh because you thought it was intended to be funny, you fucking turd!?! And one would think someone watching Bergman or Tarkovsky would know better, would, if not be too busy communing with the film to comment on it, at least have the good manners to show respect. After all, it takes a fine sensibility to appreciate Tarkovsky and Bergman. But no! These fuckers just need to be heard, “HAHAHA!” Shut your face you used-up douche, nobody cares - we all got the joke! We all know the fucking references the director is making! We’ve all read Dostoyevsky and Camus. Hey, professor, we don’t need to hear your explanation to your stupid-hat-wearing nineteen-year-old nitwit vegan basket case girlfriend of what the director was trying to say in that scene. You have nothing to teach us. Nothing! Except that you’re a jerkoff and a buffoon. And the thing is, half the time these people don’t actually understand what the fuck they’re laughing at. I remember watching Rocco and His Brothers, arguably Visconti’s best film. There was a shot of the mother screaming after learning of the death of one of her sons. It’s such a helpless old-woman scream, so pathetic, so raw and undignified that in a way I guess you could say it was funny to see someone so pathetic screaming so helplessly – that is if that someone wasn’t a mother who’d just lost her son. The scene was very uncomfortable and intentionally so. But these pinheads in the audience laughed. Maybe some laughed because the emotion of the moment was too much for them – hipsters and intellectuals are notorious for being terrified of emotion – and rather than invest themselves in it they chose to chuckle it away. But I know that a good deal of the laughers were thinking that this shot was supposed to be funny in some bizarre ironic way, that Visconti was being melodramatic. Because these clowns not only don’t know how to comport themselves in a movie theater but also have no souls and can’t see anything beyond “irony” and melodrama. Ironically, they don’t in fact notice real irony; to them irony is synonymous with kitsch, nothing more. These are the same people who value cleverness over thoughtfulness.

These people need to be stopped. I’ve been trying to do my part: During a screening of a documentary about Paradjanov, I frightened a bespectacled intellectual in his fifties picking chips from a crackling plastic bag by quietly suggesting that he  “...go and crunch-a-munch those fucking things somewhere else.” He didn’t look at me but stuffed the bag into the pocket of his tweed jacket, then left. I told a girl giggling and yakking it up with her boyfriend during Funny Games to shut her mouth (I hated that movie so much I was hoping her boyfriend would do something so I could give them both a beating and then have an excuse to leave the theater). During Moonrise Kingdom there were some kids giggling behind me, a few seats to my left. They mostly did it during legitimately funny moments, which I would never begrudge them (I am not a Nazi!). But then they would laugh at more and more things which were not funny and this was becoming irritating. But every time, just as it would get bad enough for me to say something, their giggling would subside. The other thing was, my admonishing them would cause a rise of adrenaline within me, creating feelings and thoughts which would hinder my enjoyment of the film. So my dilemma was, is their giggling bad enough to warrant me igniting those feelings? And would the aftermath of a confrontation be more detrimental to my enjoyment than their giggling? (You see what bullshit your giggling put me through you little idiots!) Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned around and tried to get their attention without disturbing other audience members. But the three of them were too busy having fun, they didn’t notice; they were teenagers, two guys and a girl or two girls and a guy, I couldn’t tell. So I crumpled up a napkin and threw it at them. It bounced off a girl’s forehead (this hadn’t been my intention but I’m not an accurate thrower). The girl looked over at me, startled and perhaps a little frightened. I put my index finger to my lips and went “Shshsh.” They never laughed inappropriately again after that.

These are not heroic deeds and there were opportunities I missed to correct people which I regret. My point is, if you hear one of these assholes, put them in their place. And if you see someone else admonishing them, support that person. These fuckers are not in their goddamned living rooms watching Netflix. They are members of an audience. And as audience members they have a responsibility to....well, I think I’ve made my point.