Monday, August 31, 2015

AUGUST SUNDAY



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 is 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, to go to the halal stand I mean. 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 relieved. I left the air conditioning on when I left and the apartment is cool. 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:




What was it all for?

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
strolling 
through Calcutta 
with Kipling. 
Good taste and manners are in the fibers 
of the 
DNA. 
As is adventure and
the charming, 
careless 
arrogance of 
victory.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

THE LEAVE-BEHIND

Someone left her vagina at my place.
I woke up from a three day drunk,
saw it
hairy and fleshy,
wedged between my mattress and armchair
on the floor
First thought it was a cuttlefish mounting
an urchin
Or a cow tongue
that someone 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,
tugged at the lips
tapped 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
.
“Hello?”
“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
All ragged and open
like after a gangbang—I know how much you jerk off!
I hope you didn’t tear it,
for your sake!”

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, douched it,
trimmed the hair how she liked it
dried it with a soft cotton towel
placed it on a 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 you’ve been fucking it 5 times a day.”

“Look, Diamond, I am telling you the truth,
I just saw it this morning.
I washed it because it was dusty.”

“This morning?
Whatever. I know you! You found it
and you fucked it and fucked it
and fucked it.
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.”

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

Her eyes opened wide, her mouth parted
she’d been knifed in the gut
standing there, 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 this
and I’ll pick it up later?”
“No baby, I’m sorry.”

She called me an asshole and left.

I popped 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.
I’d dropped all my tackle
into this Albanian’s purse while she
wasn't looking, and
was waiting for her
to find it
and
call
me.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A RIDDLE

A RIDDLE

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

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 like a cape. She was high-stung, taut as a bow, holding a pointer to match, long neck, long nose, wavy blond hair that just reached her shoulders, big eyes shaped like teardrops giving her the appearance of constantly being 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 off an impression of someone in complete control who was utterly 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
Drinking.

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

WITH APOLOGIES TO REED BIRNEY




About six months ago I reviewed a production of Uncle Vanya
(http://www.stageandcinema.com/2012/06/18/uncle-vanya-soho-rep/), 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 (http://www.stageandcinema.com/2013/01/19/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

FUN WITH SLAVERY


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.    

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
Whaling!

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
Whaling.

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:  http://www.stageandcinema.com/2012/08/29/tender-napalm/)

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.   

Monday, July 16, 2012

THE DESTINY OF NAMES


The Destiny of Names

Name your daughter Margot and she will eventually go insane. (In Russian the same is true for the name Valeria.)

Name your boy Sergei, if you are Russian, and he will grow up to be a contemplative, artsy-type with a beard.

Sophie will wear hats and have a hidden, mysterious, sexuality.

Phyllis (god forbid!) will have low self-esteem, numerous sex partners, and will turn 45 immediately after her 19th year.

Jason will have a fighting spirit and treat his women like Jason treated Medea.

French names for Upper West Side children will create vegetarian pains-in-the-asses.

Last names given as first names (Connor, Taylor, Tyler, Bradley, etc.) ensure participation in college sports.

Naming children after fruits, vegetables, or meteorological events will lead to confusion and adoption of unearned convictions, idealistic beliefs and philosophies, and ultimately to profound hypocrisy (these people also never leave good tips and are generally very stingy).

Putting a number after a child’s name (in America), like blah blah the third or blah blah the forth, regardless of income bracket, will result in an adult completely lacking imagination.

And a Seth, even if he doesn’t grow up into a full-on pedophile, will be at least a little bit sleazy.    

Monday, July 2, 2012

WHEN GARBAGE SMELLED SWEET


Here’s my theory, and I haven’t bothered to look it up but I’m sure it’s true, or at least there’s truth to it: The reason children are generally happier than adults, or, let’s say, the reason they’re more excited about life, is because they have more of whatever chemical it is in the brain that makes people happy. And the reason for this, I believe, is evolutionary. If children, who are completely powerless, didn’t have that happy chemical, they’d either be sitting around all catatonic or killing themselves, depressed at how unfairly life is treating them. Instead, an abundance of that chemical makes kids believe that there’s something out there for them, something wonderful, magical, beautiful, and they get on to looking for it, taking their beatings in stride.

I was in Queens this morning, next to a Baluchi’s restaurant, and it smelled like a garbage dump, sour milk, discarded foodstuffs, basically two or three-day-old kitchen refuse fermenting in summer heat. It was disgusting. Yet I had a flashback, and not an unpleasant one. It wasn’t a solid memory, my brain kind-of filled in the images, but it was a recollection of being behind a building where the garbage was, of playing there as a child. The building was old red brick and might have been my kindergarten or my school; this was in Russia and I was between 4 and 8. I remember being in that place, with that sour garbage smell, those dented, rusted green metal containers. And I recall having a sense of wonder, not about the garbage specifically, more about the big green metal containers and the dark spaces between them, about the place itself, which was sort-of hidden behind the building; nobody went there. Not to say that I was fascinated with this place in particular. But I do recall feeling a fullness within myself when I was there, like I was on to something, like there was something here, behind that building, a secret, a mystery, a treasure, something wonderful, maybe even sinister, but important, essential. I wasn’t bothered at all by the smell, in fact it added to the significance of the place and to my elation (perhaps the smell was like an obstacle I felt I had to overcome to be there – the stench of death as I crawled over the bodies of fallen comrades to get to that machinegun nest – that type of thing).

It’s that chemical, or whatever it is, in the brain that sets us up as children to believe that a garbage dump may hold some hidden treasure. And we go through life looking for it, picking through trash, trying to bring back a time when it wasn’t disgusting.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

David Denby is Full of Shit

Additional proof, if additional proof were needed, that David Denby (one of the two main film critics for the New Yorker), is a fucking idiot:

"I have fervently loved only one film from Ridley Scott's irrepressible output - 'Thelma & Louise' (1991)..."

That is a quote from the June 18, 2012 issue. He then goes on to lump "Alien" and "Blade Runner" together with "Gladiator," "American Gangster" and "Black Hawk Down."

We're not talking about high art here but anyone with any sense will tell you that "Alien" and "Blade Runner" are on a different cinematic plane than any of his other films (my friend would argue that "The Duelist" belongs on this list as well and while I don't quite agree I won't argue, "The Duelist" is a real film).

Whatever one's personal tastes regarding "Alien" and "Blade Runner," these are good, solid films, in which everything works, full, textured worlds are created, everything is thoughtfully worked out, and there's no cheating. "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down," on the other hand, are stupid, unwatchable disasters, and to lump them in with anything even competently put together is an indication of a profound lack sense, understanding and taste.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Death and the Billionaire, notes from a day at the office

I hate being poor and working for assholes (when you’re poor, you’re always working for assholes). I’m sitting here with $27 in the bank, listening to $300 an hour lawyers arguing about paint jobs on 400 foot yachts. Who owns a 400 foot yacht? Larry Ellison, that’s who. Started with nothing, now he has his own navy. He doesn’t care about parking tickets, cable bills, ATM fees, and he doesn’t have some fucker telling him what to do. He doesn’t even have to wipe his own ass if he doesn’t want to, he can have someone do it for him. Or he can walk around shit-stained, who’s going to complain?! He can have slaves, he can have people killed or elected, he can do whatever he wants. In fact, the only thing that equalizes him with ordinary people is death. In this sense death is almost a relief – the race is over and guess what? Nobody won! But time is such a relative concept. It’s moving faster for me now that I’ve passed 40. But for Ellison it must be flying: Not only is he older and busy with his yachts and his business, but there’s just no way he can enjoy all of his money before he dies. So he’s got to be in a hurry.

A few months ago the lottery was up to like $600 million and I bought a ticket. And I imagined winning. And I imagined how much it would upset me if I had to die with so much money. As things stand now, death seems a part of life, something inevitable that nothing can help. But if I had $300 million I think death would really piss me off. How can I be so lucky, so rich, and still die!? It would be unfair. But I did not win and I still work for assholes, and the idea of death seems quite fair.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

THE HONEST AND THE FAITHFUL


I used to go to old-man bars. And often in these bars there would be some asshole who at some point would say something like this:

“I’ve been married for 20 years and I’m proud to say that I have never been unfaithful.”

Then some other assholes would congratulate him on this accomplishment.

Now (assuming of course that he’s telling the truth), what is there really to be proud of? If this guy never wanted to cheat on his wife and didn’t, where’s the accomplishment? How is it an accomplishment to not do something you don’t want to do? Or is not wanting the accomplishment in itself? Then every one of us who doesn't want to eat vomit, for example, should congratulate ourselves for not eating it, as in: “Thank god I’m not one of those people who’s compelled to eat vomit, I’m really proud of myself for this.” On the other hand, if he wanted to cheat on his wife but managed to stop himself, that’s not something to be too proud of either. I imagine this man, after his encounter with the woman he wanted to but did not fuck, coming home to his wife and being honest with her:

“Honey, let me tell you, this girl was something. She was gorgeous. Gorgeous isn’t even the word; she was mesmerizing. And hot! I mean really hot, you could feel the heat coming off her from yards away. And her body… her body… Jesus…! wow… Wow! Tight, young… you wanna know how young? Ok, now this girl had some nice sized tits, I’m talkin’ at least D-cups, right? You understand what I’m sayin’? She was at least a D-cup. But she was so young that her tits, even though she was at least a D-cup, her tits, they were perky, all by themselves. I know what you’re gonna say – implants! Right? Lemme tell you babe, these were no fucking implants. These tits were as natural as… as natural as… I donno what, but believe me, they were all-fucking-natural. I am telling you, this girl was perfect. Full, pouty lips, baby-doll eyes, legs… my god, I have never seen legs like that… They were like right out of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Ass like an apricot, I could see the dimples through her dress, she had on this silk dress. I gotta be honest with you honey… and I’m only telling you this because I believe honesty is the most important part of a relationship… I mean, we both believe that, right...? Anyways, I gotta tell ya, if I wasn’t married to you, with the kids and the house and your fucking mother in that fucking nursing home that I… that we pay for, I’d fucking jump in her car and let her take me wherever she wanted. I wouldn’t think twice. I’m telling you, if I could have a week with her, just one week, I wouldn’t care what happened to me after that. I could die, I could go to prison for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t matter. I could become deaf, dumb and blind, rolling around in the fucking gutter, it would still be worth it. But I didn’t do anything. And honey, let me tell you, she was clocking me boy… oh yeah, she was clockin’ me. Let me tell you…” whispering, “…my cock got so hard I had to cover my crotch with my lunch pail. I mean, the thing was leaping out of my shorts like it had a will of its own. It was like I had a rocket in my pants aimed at that ass and the countdown was on, 3-2-1 and blast off! But I didn’t do a thing. And I wanted to… God how I wanted to…! But I didn’t. Because I have all this… and I didn’t want to jeopardize it.”

“Thank you sweetheart,” his wife tells him, “That makes me feel really special.”

“Don’t mention it,” he says, cracking open a beer.

Honesty in a relationship is another bit of mythology. If your partner tells you they want you to be honest, what they’re really saying is, they want you to lie better. Most men are more inclined to confess an infidelity than tell their woman that she looks fat in a dress. In my opinion such confessions are usually selfish. You cheated, you feel guilty – too fucking bad, live with it. Don’t go ruining other people’s lives just because you feel like unburdening yourself. I’m not encouraging people to cheat or to lie to the people they love. And if you can live a happy life without doing this then more power to you, you are truly blessed. As for the rest – just grow up! Even though it may not seem like it, people are individuals. And as close as two individuals might feel to one another they are nevertheless very different, with different needs and different rhythms.

Say you meet your ideal man. He’s a perfect match for you in every way… except one. This man has a fetish: he likes to shit on women's faces. He doesn’t need to do this all the time. He can enjoy “normal” sex fine; he enjoys it with you. But his fetish turns him on more than anything else in the world and once in a while he needs to indulge. Now, let's say, for the sake of this hypothetical, that you don't like your face being shat on. Let's say in fact that you can’t imagine anything more disgusting. So, what to do? Should you leave him, this soul mate of yours, this love of your life? Should you forbid him from enjoying the thing that gives him the greatest pleasure? Should you convince him to get a lobotomy? Or should you just let him shit on your face? Or, do you give him the freedom to find someone with whom he can have this experience on occasion, and just make sure he conceals it well enough from you so that you never even suspect?

In all fairness that example might be overreaching. A person with such an extreme fetish, an argument can be made persuasively, would be a very particular kind of person. This type of fetish would be an inseparable part of who that person is, and to be in love with a person like that one would have to be interested in scat, at least to some extent. Fine. Say he has a fetish for enemas, and you find them repulsive. Or let's forget about the ass altogether. Let's say he likes for you to dress up like a Nazi, stick his head in the oven and beat him with a salami. You acquiesce because you love him and want to please him. But when you do it you don't have the conviction he needs to get off. You seem reluctant, unfocused, like you're humoring him, which ruins it. You try to do it more like he wants but find that you simply cannot. Or say it's not even a fetish. Say you are white and he's always wanted to fuck a black girl, or a black guy for that matter, or a midget, whatever. He fantasizes about this, he can't help himself. Or maybe he falls in lust with someone at a party or on vacation and a moment happens. The point is, there will always be something he wants or she wants that you can not provide. If that desire is weak and passing, that's one thing. But what if it's not?       

There are needs that we have which will never bend to our wills. We can try to deny ourselves these, and that’s certainly one way to be; relationships are about compromise, they require effort, sacrifices, etc. But sometimes that just doesn’t work. In this movie “Knocked Up” the wife of Paul Rudd’s character thinks he’s cheating on her. So she tracks him to a strange house, where she discovers him in the basement playing fantasy baseball with a bunch of his nerdy guy friends. She kicks him out of their home over this, angry that he is doing something he likes without her. Of course later she takes him back.  But what if she had walked in on him fucking a sheep? Or the fat Jonah Hill? Would she still have taken him back? It's hard to imagine Paul Rudd playing a leading character with those kinds of secrets. But people do have such secrets and more often than we’d like to think. Chances are that whatever man a woman is with at the moment, she has in her memory a cock or a tongue or a caress or a glance from another man that drove and/or still drives her crazy. And as much as she loves and adores the one she is with, and as faithful as she might be to him, that other guy is still in her mind. Or maybe he’s across the street, across the hall, across the table? And so what if he is?! 

Forget yourself for a moment and let those you love be happy however they wish, however they need to be. Forget what the fortunate say; the lucky are not your friends and in relationships they don't have much wisdom. And forget what the prudes and the impotent say, they are like a gang of blind people trying to make a sighted person feel guilty for enjoying visual beauty. To these people I say, Fuck you; fuck you and the horse you rode in on! You don’t need sex? You don’t need porn or hookers or ugly drunk chicks in bars at last call? Then go back to your happy homes, go back to your basements and train sets. But do not make judgments about things you can’t feel and cannot understand.  

             

Monday, May 14, 2012

MY POLEMIC ON THE PRINCIPALS OF POPULAR PSYCHOTHERAPY, or: A Dilettante’s Response to a Drunken Argument He had in a Bar at 2:00AM


A friend and I were arguing over some drinks about people’s destructive behaviors and how best to go about fixing them. Two things irritated me about this argument. One, that my friend was disagreeing with me. And two, that I was in bad form, inarticulate, my examples were sloppy, and I let my frustration compromise my reasoning. Usually these kinds of things don’t bother me two days after the fact but this one did. So here, for what it’s worth, is my final word on the subject.

Background: As I said, my friend and I were arguing about the methodology of fixing self-destructive behaviors. Specifically, we used the example of a woman named Greta (a fictitious character). Our Greta had problems. She showed up late for job interviews, blew off important exams, would consistently not follow through on the projects she started, was inappropriately aloof in social situations, including romantic relationships, had low self-esteem, drank too much, was promiscuous, and was periodically listless and depressed. In other words, for our purposes, Greta had the whole bouquet of what pop psychology considers self-destructive behaviors. And in fact for Greta these behaviors were destructive. They caused her suffering and seriously hindered her enjoyment of life. My friend’s argument was that in order to cure her of these behaviors it was essential to trace them back to their historical “causes.” Was she molested as a child? Was she beaten? Was she verbally and/or emotionally abused, ignored, put down, unloved? Or was she loved too much? coddled? spoiled? Was she traumatized by walking in on her parents having sex or by being walked in on when she was on the toilet? Was she breastfed and was she weaned off too early or too late? Did she see her dog get run over or catch her brother masturbating? And did she or did she not get the Barbie or the G.I. Joe she’d wanted for Christmas when she was ten? Etc. etc. My friend insisted that knowing the answers to these questions and how these affected Greta in later life was the only way for her to fix her self-destructive behaviors. I said that that was bullshit. I’d like to amend my answer.

Knowing oneself is important and to do this it’s useful to know one’s history. Why am I consistently attracted to older men? Oh, it’s because my father didn’t spend enough quality time with me when I was a kid. Now I understand. Or, Why am I always hyper self-conscious? Oh, that’s because my mother instilled in me the sense that everything she, as well as her children, did was always in some way wrong or inadequate. Great! Now I know. And I can’t wait to learn more. Let’s dig a bit deeper and see what other disgusting little truths we can unearth about how the people that gave us life and loved us more than themselves, who sacrificed everything for us and did the best that they knew how to do, fucked us up.

I’m being facetious. In fact I do believe that seeing how our personal histories relate to our present selves is important, just as seeing how world history relates to current events is important. It broadens one’s understanding of oneself and of others. In this way, even outside the issue of practical applications, it makes us better, broader individuals. It enriches our world and, at least in some cases, makes us just a bit kinder and softer. And perhaps this knowledge does give us some limited guidance in practical matters: Don’t go to war in Afghanistan, you will not win. Don’t try to spread democracy in a society that has not yet evolved to have the rule of law and freedoms of speech, press and religion - your efforts will end in a bloodbath and probably another dictator. Do not support revolutions, they always cause more harm than good. And try not to fuck your children, lest they become first whores and then Born Again Christians.

History can help us gain abstract knowledge about the world and ourselves, it can help guide us in what mistakes not to repeat – in what not to do. As for what to do, that is a different matter. Take Greta. Greta is always late for work. We know from her history that her father was obsessively punctual and when she was a child he would get very angry at her if she wasn’t on time. At some point, when she was 13 say, she began using her lateness to rebel against him. But now she is 33 and her father is dead. Yet still she is late every day; it’s a habit. To break this habit by going back into her childhood and asking question like, Where and how did it start? How did it make her feel when her father was angry at her? What kind of man was her father? Did he never take her seriously? Was he bitter that he didn’t have a son? Etc. will do little to stop that behavior. For the 33 year-old Greta to discover that her chronic tardiness is actually a form of latent self-realization, though it might be a revelation for her, will do little to make her punctual. The best, most direct way to do this, is to look at her case in the present. If her constant tardiness is a way of asserting herself maybe a positive activity can be found to fulfill this need, like boxing or drawing or volunteering at a political campaign. Is she always late to everything or just to her job? If it’s only her job, maybe she needs to change jobs. If it’s to everything then maybe it’s as simple as reexamining her routine before she leaves her apartment. Does her alarm clock work? Does she forget to set it? Does she spend way too long on Facebook every morning?

Everything we do or say is in furtherance of some specific, real goal. Our motivation for every action is reward (or the avoidance of punishment). This reward is direct and immediate. Whatever may have happened 20 years ago has little meaning (get a person addicted badly enough to heroin and he will overcome his worst childhood phobias for a hit). Remove that reward or find a different activity that creates it, and you have a chance to solve her tardiness problem. The point being that the reward or punishment is immediate and not something abstract and far away. Take the example of smoking. For many years every reasonably aware person knew that smoking was very bad for you, causing cancer and other diseases. Everyone knew this abstractly. But it was only when the rewards for not smoking or, if you like, the punishments for doing it, became immediate and real – fines for smoking in public buildings and parks, bans on cigarette advertising, outrageous taxes on cigarettes, a massive anti-smoking ad campaign - that people finally not only stopped smoking but developed an active hatred of it.

My friend’s argument was that the approach I advocated for fixing her tardiness would simply be treating the symptoms. But if a disease is left to fester long enough (in Greta’s case 20 years), the symptoms (as defined by my friend) become the disease. Once that happens, to imagine that Greta can solve all her problems, from her chronic tardiness to her fear of intimacy, by cutting out, like a tumor, their original “cause,” whether it be some traumatic childhood experience or her father’s continual disappointment with her, is naive. Her father is dead and there is no way she can change him. She can make peace with herself, within herself. But that won’t make her any less tardy, less promiscuous, less phobic, as now these behaviors, these habits, serve their own purpose and result in their own rewards.

We are all, as adults, a collection of symptoms. With their root cause (or causes) removed, if a root cause can be discerned, if it even exists, we will still be left with all of those symptoms, bad habits, neuroses, phobias, anxieties, all those things that disturb us from moment to moment. To eliminate or, more realistically, to curb self-destructive behaviors, we need to identify the immediate rewards associated with those behaviors. Only then can they really be dealt with. Sitting around chatting with a therapist for five, ten, twenty years, delving into the problems of childhood, is a nice luxury, especially if you don’t have a good friend you can speak to – and often that’s all that one needs, to talk out one’s problems – but as for changing ingrained behaviors, behavior being a major (if not the major) variable in how we feel about ourselves and/in the world, the results are highly questionable. Sure, sometimes a little therapy helps. Sometimes it helps over time (therapists love to say he or she’s “making progress”). Then again, people change over time with or without therapy. What individuals find rewarding changes and certain habits fall off like old skin. But when serious problems are pressing this method seems at best inefficient. All the more inefficient in practice because psychotherapy is an art that we treat like a science.

So know yourself, know the world that’s around you, be at peace with yourself, be brave and be strong. But if something you’re doing is making you unhappy and you can’t simply stop, figure out what is rewarding to you about that behavior and then find something positive that satisfies that same need. Or better yet, consult with a good behavior analyst, because I don’t really know what the hell I am talking about.