Thursday, November 04, 2010

This Is How Greatness Happens

November 4, 2010

12:09 p.m.

Luke-at-work and I are at the store, receiving thirty-eight boxes of merchandise from the day's FedEx drop. We pass the moments, talking...

So, last night I saw the coolest little horror movie I've seen in years.

Luke: What was that?

Me: The Mist.

Luke: Ahhh, that was awesome. Can you imagine setting all those people on a ship on fire?

(pause) People... on a ship...?

Am I thinking of the wrong movie?

Maybe The Fog?

Yeah, that's probably it.

Naaaaah, I'm talkin' 'bout The Mist.

You mean that one with the crazy Curse Lady telling everyone that the monsters are all, like, God's will and everybody splitting up into two factions before going totally sacrifice crazy?

Yeah, have you seen it?

No. I just know everything that happens in detail through osmosis and psychic powers.

Did you like it?

Yeah. (pause) Man, it would suck to be cursed.

I used to think I was cursed. I had this seven year stretch of shitty luck. Then I realized that's just the ebb and flow of my particular life. Seven years good, seven years bad...

Where are you in that cycle, now?

(thinking) Second year into cycle of good.


But yeah. Curses suck, probably.

Imagine being an eight year old... and cursing someone... for... stealing a cookie.

My cookie that I baked? Or my cookie that I plan to eat? Or give to someone?

Either. You're a little girl who curses someone.

Am I a witch?

Sure, maybe.

Am I a "good little witch?" Or an "I'm gonna eat your soul witch?"

Dude. You're eight!

It could happen. If her parents were also, like, soul eaters and stuff... and cared how they raised their child.

You're at a picnic and your little brother steals your cookie. So you curse him.

Right. I'm an evil little witch at a picnic at night in the rain. We're eating mice sandwiches... Is this a children's story? I think it has potential. We call it "My First Curse."


Maybe the witch is in her forties and has kids... and one of the kids misbehaves and starts cursing her little brother and the Witch Mom's like "Wait now, honey. Let mommy tell you about her first curse." The brother, like, steals her sandwich.

I thought it was a cookie.

Maybe. Maybe it's a cookie sandwich. Or, maybe it's an ice cream sandwich with cookies on the outside. And the ice cream is cookie ice cream! And the witch's name is Cookie! And she's wearing a Cookie Monster costume!!

That is so deep on so many levels.

Hey. I'm creative.

Coming soon to a theater or children's book shop near you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pseudo Review: "The Little Sleep" by Paul Tremblay

A couple of months back, I had the estimable pleasure of bouncing my wonderous self off the pavement of South Huntington Avenue. I'd been riding my bike for two hours per night after working a full day's shift and thought this might be a great, inexpensive way to both get to know the areas that I wasn't so familiar with and to lose a few pounds. Night One was along the Charles from Allston up to MGH and into Cambridge a little. Night Two took me down toward Boston College and around the Reservoir a few times. Night Three consisted the back streets of Cambridge along the Harvard area; lot of ins and outs and what-have-yous. And then, Night Four: along Jamaica Pond, through JP and down toward Huntington. That's when it happened.

Trying to move to the right side of South Huntington in order to let cars pass more safely, my front tire got stuck in a Green Line trolley track and I flipped over, head first, to the waiting rubberized street below. I remember velocity, the sudden and winded "HUNNPH!" as I hit the ground, and I recall coming to rest on my left side... almost as if I'd planned to go to sleep there. Three or four seconds later I was getting up onto my feet. I'm a fast recoverer, partially because I'm so damn tough (yeah, right) but moreso because I'm typically embarrassed of such a fall and somewhere, deep down, I want any possible witnesses to know that "I'm just fine, thank you, there's nothing to see here, so move along."

Though there wasn't any pain to speak of, I certainly looked the part of the banged-up bicyclist. Road-rashed knees, arms and face, bloody cuts, newly slightly-chipped tooth... This was nothing I couldn't handle. I've never thought much of my particular look anyway, so I was able to deal with what happened, mostly. I'd broken a wrist in three places but not known it; it was stiff, I felt, but not painful. In short (if it's not already too late to make such an attempt) I felt like a big, mangled dope who was supremely lucky not to have been killed. I limped my way home, having neither my cell phone on me nor enough money to call a cab. After being bandaged up and told to stay off my feet for a few days, I opened "The Little Sleep," a great detective novel with a rich and often tough local flavor by Paul Tremblay.

As a guy who's seen and loved probably a few too many Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade stories, myself, I fell right in with Tremblay's protagonist, Mark Genevich. A South Boston private investigator with a form of narcolepsy that flows from fatigue to hallucinations to full-on cataplexy, he eeks out his existence with a sizable helping of contempt for both others and himself. The novel's opening scene is a grabber: a local female television celebrity reveals her hand, which is missing a few fingers, and asks the dark Detective Genevich to find the people responsible. But soon Genevich "wakes up" and is wondering... Did this meeting just happen? Was anyone just here? And where did this mysterious note in my handwriting come from?

Genevich is referred to as being somewhat facially disfigured following the accident that brought on his narcolepsy in the first place. Though he covers his scars with a growth of beard and the requisite detective raincoat and hat combo, his spirit is just as shattered as his rumpled appearance, if not more so. Hiding in plain sight, he's an imposing figure masking a deeper soul. He's all-there in his interior world with a razor sharp humor that he wields like a weapon, yet often has great difficulty saying the right thing to the right person at the right time. He's the classic underdog hero; one that might seem like - and even consider himself - the perfect loser, but has an inner strength that can, and often does, serve as a sort of salvation.

Genevich's investigation takes him from the streets of Boston to the power offices of Local Government, through a hallucination or two and eventually into his own past. The narrative works brilliantly on its own, but it's the character himself that's the novel's ace in the hole. He's gruff, he's dark, he's often unpleasant. A moralist who's ready to believe the worst. He's the blue collar joe in the white collar corridors. The damaged hero that we love and want to succeed; to solve his crime and to find personal peace. As I mentioned above, I sympathized with this character to a dramatic extent. Not that Genevich would ever accept anyone's sympathy. And as I'd been feeling a little "off" that particular month due to my bicycle wreck, moving through the chapters of "The Little Sleep" I'd thought to myself, "I know this guy." And though I knew I'd be fine in a few days once the wrist healed up, I found myself hoping that Genevich's situation would turn itself around, too. Sometimes a character just clicks with you, you know?

A second novel featuring Genevich, "No Sleep Till Wonderland" is also available and it's quite a ride in its own right. I look forward to what I hope will be many more installments in this local gumshoe's life and times. He, and creator Paul Tremblay, have great things ahead of them.

More info:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Little Big Man: A True Story

Howdy, people. Not much news to report these days. Broke my wrist biking on South Huntington Avenue in Boston. (Healed now, but ligament surgery awaits.) Regressing to my younger days by recalling and playing a lot of classic 80's music and video games, as well as watching lots of 80's movies; wondering if they'd hold up as well as I hoped they might. Some did, some didn't. Got me one o' thems "iPod Touch" deals. Like it a lot, especially for listening to 80's music and playing 80's video games. Still perfecting my homemade chicken soup. Hopefully evolving as a person. And recently, I introduced someone new to this blog. She went all the way back to the first post and reminded me that I'd mentioned early-on that this report would include discussions of film criticism, love, honor and the occasional dirty joke. "But," this new reader commented, "I don't really see any dirty jokes yet."

Well, I hate to disappoint people. So it's time for a kinda-sorta dirty joke, one which some of you might have heard before... but what the hell? The following is a true story.

Back in my post college days, I had a lot of terrible and meaningless temp jobs. Manual labor, mostly. Organizing and moving warehouse merch around, conveyor belt and truck loading gigs. That sort of thing. One such job was at the local Georgia Pacific housewares storage facility, unloading 18-wheeler shipments of window-sashes and door accents and various adornments for McMansions all over the state. Ten hour days, five days a week, starting at 7 o'clock every morning. It wasn't the worst job I'd had in those days, but I have to admit that I would often fantasize about jumping a fork lift off the second story landing and knocking down the first wave of bay window storage shelving to see if I could wipe out row after row of the warehouse's entire capacity like a giant million-dollar set of dominoes... A man can dream.

Some of my coworkers were cool, but one just plain sucked. "Freddie" was about my age. About 24 or so; fairly young for this particular shop. But despite being about a foot shorter than I was and without any sort of education or apparent need or desire for one, you could still refer to him as a blowhard. Talking loudly at every moment, full of sound and fury while signifying nothing, this guy thought of himself as the big man on campus, while some of us enjoyed referring to him as suffering from what we called LGS: Little Guy Syndrome. That is, the affliction under which someone behaves like a loudmouthed braggard of total idiocy in order to make up for being so small in physical stature. Sometimes I find it a pleasure to take people like this down a peg. And just a couple of days after starting this job, I'd decided to test this lame's personal waters.

"Hey assholes," he'd called out. He'd considered "asshole" the group nickname for those of us that were just temps. "I don't care what anybody else says in this place, okay? I gotta lotta shit that's gotta get done around here. When it's quittin' time, I go. Fuck overtime. My nights are mine. So no matter what they give ya' to do in the office... If I need ya' to help me out, ya' help me out. Remember that, fellas. No matter what, I always come first."

I just laughed and joked, "No wonder your girlfriend always looks so disappointed."

Hiyooooooooooo! :)

Theatrical Reviews
Brazil: The Director's Cut (1985) ****
Predators **1/2
Red **1/2

The Films of Akira Kurosawa
Sanshiro Sugata II (1945) ****
Rhapsody in August (1991) ***1/2
Madadayo (1993) ****

Films of the "1980's"
Miracle Mile (1988) ****
Brainstorm (1983) ***1/2
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) ***1/2
Big Shots (1987) ***
Outland (1981) ***
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) **1/2
The Manhattan Project (1985) **1/2
Cloak & Dagger (1985) **1/2
Weird Science (1986) **1/2
Capricorn One (*1979) **1/2
Runaway (1984) **1/2
Cobra (1986) **1/2
The Philadelphia Experiment (1986) **
Silent Running (*1972) **
Dreamscape (1983) **
Spacecamp (1986) **
Firewalker (1986) *

DVD/Home Video
Twin Peaks: Definitive Gold Box Edition ****
Midnight Run (1988) ****
The Long Goodbye (1973) ***1/2
Michael Clayton (2008) ***1/2
New York, I Love You ***1/2
K-20 (Japan, 2008) ***1/2
Oleanna (1993) ***1/2
The Girlfriend Experience (2009) ***
Goemon (Japan, 2009) ***
Timeline (2003) ***
Next (2007) ***
The Bogey Man (UK, 1992) **1/2
My Name Is Bruce (2007) **1/2
Deja Vu (2006) **1/2
Bangkok Dangerous (2008, USA) **
Babylon A. D. *1/2
Angel of Death (2009) *

The Rum Diary (Hunter S. Thompson) ***1/2
No Sleep Till Wonderland (Paul Tremblay) ***
On The Road (Jack Kerouac) ***

Music/Spoken Word
The Social Network (score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross) ***1/2
The Runaways: Music from the Motion Picture ***1/2
Hal Hartley: Soon (Music from the Play) ***1/2
The Blue Note 7: Mosaic ***1/2
Juliana Hatfield: How To Walk Away ***
Edy (score by Nils Petter Molvaer) ***
Bob Dylan: Modern Times ***
Lisa Gerrard: Departum ***
Chris Isaak: Mr. Lucky ***
Eric Clapton: Clapton ***
Assault Girls (score by Kenji Kawai) **1/2
Chris Isaak: Live at the Filmore **1/2

Video Games
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (PS2) ***1/2

Board Games
Back To The Future: The Card Game (Looney Labs) ***
Rory's Story Cubes (Gamewright) ***
Pass The Popcorn ***

Star Trek (2009) Review (Red Letter Media) ***

Saturday, September 11, 2010


On September 11th, I was living outside Boston with my cousin for a brief time and working on Mass Ave & Newbury in the city. Somewhere on the 30 minute walk from my cousin's place to the Commuter Rail Station for work, Flight 11 collided with the North Tower. Everyone at the Station was silently huddled around the coffee & muffin window, where the clerk’s little black & white portable TV was playing the live video feed of the thick bellows of smoke pouring from the wreckage. Whispers of “What happened?” and “Oh my God” began echoing through the station every few moments as more people came in and were hit with the news…

The MBTA commuter rail train finally arrived and the stunned commuters boarded, saddened, but not yet in possession of the rest of the story. At this point only the first flight had hit. Listening to the live radio reports while on the train, I waited for more news. And then Flight 175 hit the South Tower.

I must have shouted something aloud. The others in my train car, without radios of their own to hear what was happening, turned and looked at me... I was the one to inform them that the country was now under attack.

Arriving in the city a few minutes later, everyone was looking up into the sky. Granted, we were hundreds of miles away from Ground Zero, but the news had by then been released that two of the planes had come from Boston and at this time nobody knew what to expect. It had also been released that the F.A.A. had issued a no-fly order across Boston… and it was with shock that as I passed through Copley that I heard a Jet in the sky moving over the city. Thankfully, it was nothing: maybe the last commuter plane to land at Logan or maybe a passing Military plane scrambling to action… But there was a brief moment of fear that the Prudential or John Hancock buildings, between which I happened to have been walking at that moment, could have been next. The next two planes fell, ending scores of lives and compounding fright everywhere... The fear of that morning hit nationwide. And nobody felt safe.

Nine years later, here we are. Last night, I actually had a dream regarding the work now beginning anew at Ground Zero. As often happens with dreams, I recall almost nothing. But I do remember standing on Trinity Place near Liberty Street, looking down to a sub-street level of ground, where a combination of grass and construction were visible. In the dream, there were no skyrise towers but a sort of combination of retail/office space and public parks with trees and fountains. The curious part, to me, was that it was sub-street leveled, the way it would seem now if you were there looking down into the foundation -- as if, in this dream, these new structures were purposefully built this way as a reminder that, although some tall glass-and-steel monolith could have been erected there, it was more important to remember that and those who once lied beneath.

I'll actually be visiting New York City tonight and most of tomorrow on one of the typical walking trips. I'm planning on crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise, walking the streets of Washington Square, the High Line, Central Park, the Strand, maybe Columbia University or Roosevelt Island. I'm not sure if I'll make it to Ground Zero. If I do, though, much of the aforementioned commuter rail trip will probably come back to me again. More so than last night's dream. Sometimes it goes that way, though. Sometimes we more clearly remember the nightmares.

May God, or who-and-whatever you happen to believe in, bless New York City, this whole world of ours… and all of you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Time to lighten up the blog a little, here. Instead of dwelling upon pasts, let's dive into our presents. It occurs to me that in these confusing times there are a few key sensations, objects, moments, concepts... Things that make the world a better place. Things that inhabit us, that drive us, that make us happy. What am I into, these days? Let's have a look...

Music: In All Its Various Styles and Forms

I mentioned some time ago how I've been trying to pay more attention to music lately. Not just passively hearing but actively listening to every subtle lyric written, nuance played and note sung. A good set of headphones can be key, but nothing beats just lying back in a comfortable, outstretched position and hearing a low moaning saxophone, rumbling team of drums or angelic vocal tone. Be it Chicago blues, an orchestral film score, synth with spoken word or totally-awesome 80's, it's all food for the ears. Especially on vinyl. More on that, soon...

Good Readin'
Haruki Murakami (whom I've mentioned plenty, already), Jonathan Lethem, David Mamet, Paul Auster, Takeshi Kitano, Elmore Leonard, John Updike. These are a few of the authors whose work I've accumulated over the last year or so. Though the time of accumulating the above that was required is nothing compared to the time needed to actually complete the task of actually reading them, the work is always worth the wait and effort. No Sleep Till Wonderland by Boston author Paul Tremblay is currently inhabiting my consciousness. The story of Mark Genevich, a narcoleptic PI in South Boston is alternately sad, amusing, dark and experimental. This volume is the second in a series, following the wonderful The Little Sleep. I hope for many more.

Bed, Bath and Beyond
Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and giggle. I'm as surprised as you are. For a guy who has never actually owned a home and is starting to wonder if he ever will, I've become curiously interested in... well, for lack of a better term, "growing up." Tired of living like a college kid, the way I have for so long, I've become more interested in flow and design. From properly purchased clothes hangers (instead of stealing them from laundromats), new pillowcases and pillow covers (the idea of a "cover" under a "case" was new to me), to a magnetic reminder board, cedar blocks and what might be one of the greatest inventions of all-time: a self-frosting drink mug... every journey is a new step into a larger world. No longer embarrassed of my immediate environment (my room, that is), I am currently proud of its seamless organization and emotional comfort. And, as Henry Rollins has said about this very topic, I'm shocked to find that I might actually "have taste." Though I did have to ask my buddy Awesome Jen what the deal was with the skirts and sashes in the new bed set. I mean; pillows I don't necessarily use? Insanity.
A terrific website, updated often, that offers great work by graphic artists around the world regarding an infinity of subjects. Many of them are short runs of a dozen or two and typically they all feature links to the personal sites of the individual artists. While I have yet to actually buy anything from the site, I consider it a daily necessity to visit this wondrous virtual gallery.

Trader Joe's
Chicken fried rice. Sushi party platters. Yellow corn chips and chunky salsa. Opera Cake. Even the effing ketchup is noticeably great. And it's a nine minute walk away. Awwww yeah.

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper
Though I'd unknowingly seen the image and its many parodies over the years, it wasn't until seeing the Todd Haynes film Far From Heaven some time ago that I'd heard the artist's name. Spectacularly designed and shot with his late-period aesthetic cited as a primary influence, the film led me to a marked-down coffee-table book of Hopper's life work. I'd always been in love with night scenes on city streets, both in my own photography and in my travels. Only recently did I reconnect with Nighthawks as I realized that the painting's greatness had permeated so many other facets of art, including the short story The Killers by Ernest Hemingway and the Tom Waits album Nighthawks at the Diner. Finally securing a decent print of the 1942 classic not one week ago, I've also picked up a little tome called Staying Up Much Too Late by Gordon Thiessen, which is said to be "a personal meditation on Hopper's most famous painting." Very much looking forward to losing some sleep with that one. On a related note: I'm also liking Georgia O'Keefe's paintings of New York City. Speaking of which...

Autumn in NYC
I'm counting the days. :)

What about you
? What are you into, right now?

Theatrical Reviews
The Big Lebowski (1998) ****
Beverly Hills Cop (1984) ****
Die Hard (1988) ****
The Girl Who Played With Fire ***1/2
Inception ***1/2

DVD/Home Video
Twin Peaks: The Complete Series ****
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (Japan) ****
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence ****
The Fantastic Mr. Fox ****
Possible Films 2 (Hal Hartley) ***1/2
Wall-E ***1/2
Bitch Slap ***
Bad Guys **1/2
Assault Girls (Japan) **

The Little Sleep (Paul Tremblay) ***1/2

Music/Spoken Word
Stax: 50th Anniversary Celebration ****
Yoko Kanno: Space Bio Charge ****
Tom Waits: Nighthawks in the Studio (1976, Radio Broadcast) ***1/2
Darker Than Black (score by Yoko Kanno) ***1/2
Inception (score by Hans Zimmer) ***1/2
Henry Rollins: Everything ***1/2
Morphine: At Your Service ***1/2
The Last Airbender (score by James Newton Howard) ***
Bobby Byrd: On The Move ***

Monday, May 17, 2010

New York Noir

I had no idea what to expect.

Late October in New York can be a beautiful thing. The leaves turning in Central Park. The chill in the air making hot coffee a survival necessity. Sights and sensations like this were taking a backseat on this particular day, as I had more pressing things on my mind as I moved north past Columbus Circle toward one of the more famous museums in the city. I'd arrived in Manhattan an hour or so earlier on one of my typical NYC excursions. Usually on such trips I give myself something specific to accomplish; seeing a film in a certain theater or maybe stopping off at a specific book store or movie location. Something concrete. Tangible. And that would happen later, if time permitted. That day was different. That day I wasn't in the city to see something. It was to see some one.

Flashback a couple of months. It's late summer, and life ain't so good. I'm working a dead-end retail gig for what may have been one of the worst companies to ever corporately pimp a college graduate that was too good for the place to begin with. You've probably heard of them. Chances are you've shopped there at least once. Anyway, twelve-hour shifts that lasted past midnight for wages designed to keep a worker desperate and demoralized were the company norm. Situations like this also tend to lead to loneliness. Ever try to date when your work schedule can change on an hourly basis, with no pocket money to cover neither dinner nor a movie? No? Don't bother. It's not a recommended lifestyle to seek out.

These situations require escape, whenever and however one can find it. New York became my escape. My place to run. To breathe and feel and be in-the-moment. Someone at the store told me about the inexpensive Chinatown bus system from Boston to New York. This was before BoltBus and Megabus started, back when there was only one, single, Chinese owned-and-operated company making such an offer: ten bucks each way. I looked (and continue to look) to most every NYC getaway as an adventure. A good friend had gone so far as to relocate to Brooklyn and found what seemed by most anyone's standards to be a great life with a great lady in a great part of the city. And he very kindly presented to me what sounded like a great opportunity -- a job in a field rather like my preferred own (film & video making) at his well-financed and appointed place of business.

The job sounded great and I started making the right calls, preparing my resume and such. I'd decided when I'd applied for the job that sometime soon I'd have to take a quick day trip into Manhattan and have a look at the place that was hiring; see if I could find it, see how it looked, give myself a little sneak preview of the life I'd hopefully be leading in the not too distant future. The job was far from destined to be mine at this point. I still had to jump through all the hoops of a phone interview, written materials and such. But it felt so good to even be considered for the gig... I was feeling pretty strong. Stronger than I had in months.

That's probably what brought me to the Internet. Working in retail had led to that aforementioned loneliness, and I realized after a string of failed dating scenarios that finding Ms. Right while asking if she'd "please take care of her late fees today" was not going to happen in this all-too-brief lifetime. After hearing about something altogether new to me at the time called Craigslist, I considered my "soon-to-be-in NYC" status and decided to place an ad. A personal ad. In the New York listings.

I'd done this a few other times on a few other sites, more as an experiment than anything that could be likened to a search hoping for results. More to the point, I'd often place ads as a form of amusement. Like fishing. Just to see what kind of responses I'd get. Sometimes I'd place ads "in character" of a maniac, using a bizarre sense of language or in the forms of essays with titles like "Ten Great Reasons to Do It in Public Parks." Totally goofball and totally juvenile. Like performance art. Put the shit out there, see what happens. This time, though, was going to be different. Time to speak from the heart, put myself out there, truthfully and honestly. If nobody responds (and I suspected they wouldn't) it wouldn't be for my lack of trying. I dug deep, described myself in detail, listed my wants, my desires, my perceived weaknesses, my known strengths, what I sought in life and what I thought I could provide. Then I hit "post message" and awaited what I thought would be a whole lot of nothing.

...And then she responded. Let's call her "Layla," not her real name.

Layla was single, a couple of years younger. Not originally from New York, having moved there a few years before with her family and now living with her brother in the Bronx, if I remember it correctly. Her brother was a soldier in the Middle East which left the apartment pretty much hers for months at a time. Layla was Hispanic on her father's side and Japanese on her mother's and had responded as such in her first e-mail to me when I mentioned that I was a big fan of Asian film and interested in Japanese culture. Our first e-mails were about our lives in our respective cities. Shared interests, ideals... Getting to know you simple talk. She worked in retail too but in a higher position than mine. A buyer for a well-known Manhattan museum's gift shop. "You know the one with the giant skeleton in the lobby? That one." she'd told me. I'd never been there but told her it sounded like a sweet world she lived in: a good job, nice place, happy life. A bodega was just downstairs and sometimes she'd run down there barefoot for the occasional treat or instant noodle soup and she was popular with her neighbors who'd watch out for her from time to time -- sweet, single girl alone in the urban jungle that she was.

Layla also introduced to me to the work of Haruki Murakami, famed Japanese novelist and jazz aficionado." His work really speaks to me. He writes a lot about loneliness, about being young in the city, seeking human connections. He's got a supernatural sort of feel, sometimes. Writes a lot about music... But it's the yearning in his work that gets to me." This sounded like the author for me. "I know from yearning," I thought to myself. She gave me his website URL and I checked it out, immediately intrigued by the art design, the text, the colors and sounds. Easily navigated, it even features some creative art by the author himself and has neat little virtual cats strolling about the bottom of the frame, adding a comfy vibe to the electronic communique. It's a simple and elegant site and is still online, today. You should have a look, if you're intrigued.

Layla had a dark streak, though, too. She said that she loved her Mother but that the woman was old=fashioned and as such had very old-fashioned ideas about her daughter's life. She hemmed to the old ways, was very controlling and even considered an arranged marriage to be the proper way to a relationship of longevity. "I don't wish my Mother were dead, but I wouldn't mind if she'd just vanish like my Dad did." I can't recall where his story had lead but I do recall him no longer being in the picture as a patriarchal influence.

Something about the Internet has always given me pause. The fact that when people meet and communicate, you don't really know what you're getting. Someone who seems like a calm, collected, genial sort can often turn out to be as unpredictable and dangerous as the unctuous drunk at the end of the bar. This is true of both sexes. And as I became fond of saying after a couple of meetings with women online, "Nothing counts until the face-to face." That's when a lot of things become clear. The smile, the warmth, the body language, the courtesy, the truth. These things are much harder to fake in-person than online. The Internet, we all know, can be an illusion used to make you who you purport to be rather than who you are. And really, the Internet being what it is, a person can just use their anonymity to vanish into thin air once they tire of the game. Honesty can be hard to come by. So, that in mind, I must admit to keeping a certain amount of emotional distance with Layla. I was always truthful and honest, but I'm often the kind of guy who keeps some more personal things close to the vest until I'm comfortable enough to let it all out. At some point we exchanged photos. She referred to me as "cute" (I can't hear that one often enough, though I don't often feel it's true) and she was quite a knockout, herself. Long black hair, bright eyes, great smile, a street smart combination of cultures and attitudes.

After a few e-mails we began talking on the phone, often late into the night and about anything and everything no matter the context or topic. On one of our first calls, she'd hit a nerve of mine that dug deep...

"This is a tough town. You'd better be ready for it, if the job comes through for you."
"I am," I replied. "I've been training for New York life for a couple of years, now."
"And we women can be harsh. You'd better have a lot to give a woman."

I wasn't sure how to respond to that. Granted, I had almost nothing tangible to offer. Nothing of value, no job just yet, no money, nowhere to live... though I'd looked at Roosevelt Island a little.

"We have our pick of the best here, Matty. The best looking, the best educated, the best finances, the best in bed... Anyone less than perfect, why should we bother?" "Well, at least I'm a good fella," I offered. "Truthful, warm and genuinely decent."
"Hah! So what? Lots of men are. You'd better get real if you expect to get someone in this city. If you're not perfect you're out the door, honey. What do you have to offer?"

I was (and still am) far from perfect by my own standards and most other people's, I'd assume. And though I'm a lot further along nowadays, I was at rock bottom in the part of my life in which I'd heard these words from Layla. A shell of a man is what I was and those words cut straight through me like knives. I felt my world start closing in on me. What did I have to offer? Not a whole lot, realistically. Everything she said had the terrible ring of unavoidable truth. My depression threw its weight on me right then and there... I remember the sensation of a sudden heat as my temperature rose, my pulse quickening with the deepest sorrow... "I really don't have anything to offer," I thought to myself. "Who am I kidding? This is pointless..." It's amazing how fast the darkness of negativity can leap upon you when it's let out of the cage. "I, uh... Yeah, I'm tired... I'm gonna let you go and head off to bed," I told her.

Suddenly on the turn of a dime, Layla sounded as if she suddenly realized what her words had done to me. Something in my tone, my newly-wavering voice. I think she'd heard how crestfallen I'd become in that moment. "No, no, wait baby... Don't leave me," she cried out. And she sounded different, too. Like a similarly saddened woman who truly didn't want me to disappear after such an exchange. "I didn't mean that sweetness has no value. I'm sorry." We got past it and talked for a while more before whispering to one another more sweetly and suggestively, off to sleep. "Night night, Laylas..." "Nighty night, Matty..."

This went on for a few weeks. We'd discuss the possibility of my coming to stay with her in the city for a long weekend coming up and her coming to Boston for the first time. We'd get under our covers in unison in our beds so many miles apart and... sometimes, yes, we'd get into a little naughty talk. (We were adults and entitled to whatever pleasures we could find on such long nights. Life is short, you know?)

It turned out the job I'd wanted was soon no longer available, the manager having decided to promote from-within rather than hire someone from the outside. My friend in Brooklyn was very apologetic that things didn't end up coming together, explaining that I was probably better off considering the particular person I'd be working for and all. "No hard feelings," I assured him. "Something else will come up. I'll get to NYC someday, don't you worry." Not long after that, the scenario that I foresaw came to be... Layla disappeared.

No more e-mails, no more calls. I'd tried calling her a few times, left a few messages that went unreturned. But I'd sort of thought this might happen... again, the nature of the Internet being what it was. In the coming days I found myself in a bookstore and decided to check something out by this author Layla had recommended to me, this Haruki Murakami. Looking over the write-ups on the book jackets, I'd decided that the novel Dance Dance Dance sounded the most promising...

"In this propulsive novel by the author of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and The Elephant Vanishes, one of the most idiosyncratically brilliant writers at work in any language fuses science fiction, the hard-boiled thriller, and white-hot satire into a new element of the literary periodic table. As he searches for a mysteriously vanished girlfriend, Haruki Murakami's protagonist plunges into a wind tunnel of sexual violence and metaphysical dread in which he collides with call girls; plays chaperone to a lovely teenaged psychic; and receives cryptic instructions from a shabby but oracular Sheep Man. Dance Dance Dance is a tense, poignant, and often hilarious ride through the cultural Cuisinart that is contemporary Japan, a place where everything that is not up for sale is up for grabs."

This all sounded intriguing. I bought a copy and ended up loving it, eventually going on to read every English-translated Murakami book and essay I could get my hands on. The surreality, the pop art, lit and music references, the window into another culture that I so respected, the humanity... I was hooked from Dance Dance Dance, on. Much of Murakami's work involves people appearing and vanishing from other people's lives, and the searches for closure of the protagonists. And that got me thinking. I had no sense of closure from my time knowing Layla. She, too, just disappeared. That was her right, certainly. Life holds no promises and one must learn to let go when things don't go their particular way. And yet, I did think about trying to find her on one of my trips to New York. Not to bother her in any way, but to thank her. To thank her for her time, to thank her for introducing me to the author who's work had such a profound effect upon me, and to let her know that all was well. Maybe I'd get to see her smile that great smile, in-person. That would be fine. That would be a silver lining on a cloudy day.

Flashforward back to Late October. She'd told me she was a buyer at that museum gift shop. I figured if I got into NYC at about 11:00 am, it'd take me an hour or so to get uptown and maybe I'd see her when she wasn't too busy at work. I got off the subway and moved north past Columbus Circle toward the aforementioned famous museum. There were helicopters all through the sky over Central Park and a slight terror of confusion as people on the street whispered things like "airplane" and "crashed on the East Side." It turned out this was the day a few years back where a professional baseball player had lost control of his private plane and collided with an apartment building in the East 80's. Overcast clouds gave the moment a surreal quality as the dozen or so news choppers hovered all over the area. A little dark, a little ominous.

I found my way to the museum and entered the gift shop where people were talking about what had happened outside. I checked myself out in a window reflection, making sure I wasn't too unpresentable.

"Can I help you?" asked the nearby gift shop employee. She approached me with a helpful smile. Bright haired, probably in her late 40's or early 50's, stylish and sincere.
"Hi, just looking around... I was wondering, Is Layla working today?"


"Layla. One of your buyers?"

"We don't have a Layla working here."

She went on the say that she'd been working at the gift shop for the last four years and knew the buyers well, who were men. As far as she knew, there had never been any Laylas working there, ever.

Walking outside again a few minutes later, a few of the helicopters were still doing their laps high above the park. A heavy rain began pouring almost immediately and I didn't have an umbrella on me. A passing street vendor was selling them for five dollars apiece. I paid him a fiver and opened one up, crossing into Central Park as others hid under eaves and doorways trying not to get soaked in the falling showers. A few dozen yards into my walk through the park, I realized that I was fine with how things had just gone. I'd always considered the possibility that it would all go down that way. My mind works in a way that tries to see various conceivable outcomes to various situations, so I knew that the possibility that Layla wasn't being truthful about something was in fact a distinct possibility. And in the end, it didn't matter so much...

I didn't hold a grudge, I didn't much feel used or abandoned. After all, I had my guard up to a certain extent as well. In fact, if there was any sorrow in my heart, it was more for her. For not being able to let someone in as I had prepared to be. I was sorry that I couldn't thank her. For whatever moments we'd shared, for introducing me to a great author whom I'm still a fan of to this day... I have no idea what she was truthful about and what she wasn't. Did she really live in the Bronx? Were the photos she sent me really of her? Did she have a brother? Or was she maybe married? With kids? Was she a little nutty? Or just lonely? How much was reality and how much was fantasy? What was the truth? Well... the truth was, I'd never know.

And truthfully, I was pretty much fine with it. There might have been a darkening sky above me that day and heavy rain falling from above. And maybe the hero of this New York Noir didn't get the girl in the end. But then again Noir heroes rarely do get the girl in the end, do they? Lies were told. But some truths were told, too. And a connection was made, be it however brief, and a life was changed through a connected experience through literature. Possibly for the better. Hopefully two lives were changed, possibly for the better... if only for a little while.

That's a sort of a silver lining on a cloudy day, right there.

Theatrical Reviews
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ****
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) ****
Metropolis (1927, Germany) ****
Back to the Future (1985) ****
Rashomon (1950, Japan) ****
Hubble 3D (IMAX) ***1/2
The Lost Skeleton Returns Again ***
Breathless (1950, France) ***
Knight and Day ***
The Runaways ***
Iron Man 2 ***
Splice ***
Salt ***
Kick Ass **1/2
The Last Airbender **

The Films of Akira Kurosawa
High and Low (1963) ****
Red Beard (1964) ***
Dodes'Ka-Den (1970) ***
Dersu Uzala (1975) ****
Kagemusha (1980) ****
Ran (1985) ****
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990) ****

DVD/Home Video
Mystery Train: The Criterion Collection ****
North By Northwest (1959) ****
On The Waterfront (1954) ****
Carlito's Way (1993) ****
Key Largo (1948) ****
Smoke (1995) ****
Blue In The Face (1995) ****
Bodyguards and Assassins (Hong Kong) ***1/2
Miami Vice: The Prodigal Son (1985) ***1/2
Synecdoche, New York (2008) ***1/2
The Road Warrior (1981) ***1/2
The Big Sleep (1946) ***1/2
The Verdict (1982) ***1/2
Manhunter (1985) ***1/2
Kikujiro (Japan) ***1/2
Bird (1988) ***1/2
Iron Man ***1/2
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) ***
Big Bang Love: Juvenile A (Japan, 2005) ***
Futurama: Into The Wild Green Yonder ***
Henry Rollins: You Saw Me Up There! ***
Henry Rollins: San Francisco 1990 ***
Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) ***
The Night of the Hunter (1955) ***
Shanghai Triad (1994, China) ***
Kaiju Big Battel: All Out War ***
Lust, Caution (2008, China) ***
Cassandra's Dream (2007) ***
The Last Starfighter (1984) ***
Time (2006, South Korea) ***
X-Men Origins: Wolverine ***
Prince of the City (1981) ***
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) ***
44 Minutes (TV, 2002) ***
Little Big Soldier (HK) ***
Kids Return (Japan) ***
The Big Heat (1953) ***
Sea of Love (1989) ***
Shakedown (1988) ***
Public Enemies ***
Dark City (1998) ***
14 Blades (HK) ***
Trucker (2008) ***
Ip Man 2 (HK) ***
Killshot (2008) ***
24: Season 7 ***
Kaiju Big Battel: More Better Fighto! **1/2
A Scene at the Sea (Japan) **1/2
The Storm Warriors (HK) **1/2
Miami Vice: Season 5 **1/2
Night Moves (1976) **1/2
Nighthawks (1981) **1/2
Predator 2 (1990) **1/2
Sunshine (2007) **1/2
Dune (1984) **1/2
Julia (2008) **1/2
Deception **
Hell Ride **
Killing Me Softly *1/2
Bodyguard Kiba 2 (2005, Japan) *1/2

Hail Columbia (1981) ***1/2
The Dream Is Alive (1985) ****
Blue Planet (1990) ***
Destiny In Space (1994) ***1/2
Mission To Mir (1997) ***
Space Station 3D (2002) ***1/2
Magnificent Desolation (2007) ***

The Dark Knight **1/2

How To Go To Hell (Matt Groening) ****
Boston Noir (Dennis Lehane, Editor) ***1/2
Will & Abe's Guide to the Universe (Matt Groening) ***
Perchance To Dream (Robert B. Parker) ***
Hear The Wind Sing (Haruki Murakami) ***
Pinball, 1973 (Haruki Murakami) ***
Tales From The Scriptorium (Paul Auster) **

Music/Spoken Word
Dexter Gordon: Round Midnight Original Soundtrack (1986) ****
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - 2010 Remasters ****
Sam & Dave: The Best of Sam & Dave (1969) ****

mc chris: Part Six; Parts 1, 2 & 3 (2009) ****

Eric Clapton: Crossroads Box Set (1988) ****
Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique (1989) ****
Henry Rollins: Get in the Van (1999) ****
John Lee Hooker: The Healer (1989) ****
John Coltrane: Blue Train (1957) ****
Henry Rollins: Live At McCabe's ****
Jim Morrison and The Doors: An American Prayer (1978) ***1/2
Jimmy Vaughan: Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites ***1/2
Tony Schwartz: The New York Taxi Driver (1962) ***1/2
Henry Rollins: Live at the Westbeth Theater ***1/2
The Jeff Healey Band: See The Light (1988) ***1/2
Henry Rollins: Spoken Word Guy (2010) ***1/2
The Best of The Doors (1985) ***1/2
Eric Clapton: August (1987) ***1/2
Henry Rollins: Sweatbox ***1/2
Bobby "Blue" Bland: Blues You Can Use (1987) ***
Henry Rollins: Short Walk On A Long Pier ***
Rufus Thomas: Did You Heard Me? (1972) ***
Bobby Bland: Blues You Can USe (1979) ***
David Lynch Presents: Fox Bat Strategy ***
Mark Knopfler: Comfort and Joy (1985) ***
Eric Clapton: Behind the Sun (1985) ***
Bob Dylan: Street Legal (1978) ***
Henry Rollins: Big Ugly Mouth ***
mc chris: Is Dead (2008) ***
mc chris: Apple Tummy (2009) **1/2
mc chris: Goes To Hell (2010) **1/2
Liz Phair: Funstyle (2010) **1/2

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review ( ****
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Review ( ***
Avatar Review ( ***
Baby's Day Out Review ( ***1/2

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Times, It's Been A Changin'.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my favorite city on this big blue/green marble of ours... New York. The City of Manhattan. NYC. The Big Apple. 'Twas time for the New York Toy Fair -- pictures hopefully coming soon -- and some of my work buddies and I got to hang in the city for the shortest of time. A little running around had to be done, as all work and no play makes Matty a dull boy.

I stopped into Kinokuniya Books over at Bryant Park; an amazing Japanese bookshop that special-ordered me a pair of rare Haruki Murakami novels, making the transaction the single best customer service experience I've ever had. (Thanks, Mitzi!) Picked up some Paul Auster and David Mamet, nice n' cheap, at the Strand Bookstore; the biggest and best new and used bookstore I've ever visited. And I snuck in just enough time at my absolute favorite place to eat in NYC, the Tick-Tock Diner on 34th, where I devoured a cheeseburger so happily and audibly that the people in the next booth heard me groan in what was, by all accounts, practically a burgergasm.

One spot I didn't have time to visit, though, was Times Square. No biggie, I felt. I've been there on more than a few occasions and had some other targets in mind with what few hours I had left before the 11pm Boston bus. Getting back home the next day, I spoke to some of the coworkers who did have time to see the famous commercial tourism district for their first time... and we got to talking about what they felt was it's relative "smallness" or "pretty-okay-but-not-as-awesome-as-they-expected-ness." For whatever reason, they weren't blown away like I was my first time under the lights and in the midst of the traffic.

Never having gotten the chance to visit NYC until the early 1990's, it occurred to me that most of the Times Square images that I'd had in my mind from before that point came from watching TV and movies over the years. That got me thinking about all the changes Times Square has been through over time. And that got me started on looking around online for shots of the area over the last 40 years or so...

So, after an hour or so of searching around Flickr, Yahoo Images and the like, I submit to you this small collection of photos taken -- by others -- during my lifetime, 1970-present. Nothing too deep for you, this bloggy time around. Just a collection of images I like looking at that also might lend the viewer some historical significance regarding one of New York's most illuminating landmarks... as well as a little bonus music video that I just discovered this week with some really great shots of the city. And Alicia Keys playing piano under the lights of NYC is pretty much the definition of "great shot," innit? :)

Theatrical Film Reviews
The Fantastic Mr. Fox ****
Black Dynamite ***1/2
Shutter Island ***1/2
Up In The Air ***1/2
The Road ***
Avatar ***
Where The Wild Things Are **1/2
Cop Out *1/2

The Films of Akira Kurosawa
Seven Samurai (1954) ****
Throne of Blood (1957) ****
The Lower Depths (1957) ****
The Hidden Fortress (1958) ***1/2
The Bad Sleep Well (1960) ****
Yojimbo ***1/2
Sanjuro ****

DVD/Home Video
This Is Spinal Tap (1981) ****
Bad Lieutenant (1993) ****
Grindhouse (2009) ****
Get Shorty (1995) ****
Zodiac (2007) ****
Watchmen ****
Gran Torino ***1/2
Steven Seagal: Lawman (Season One) ***
The Monster Squad (1987) ***
Johnny Handsome (1989) ***
Terminator Salvation ***
Bitch Slap (2009) ***
Kaiju Big Battel: Brooklyn Double Danger **1/2
Kaiju Big Battel: Danger Strikes Back! **1/2
Glory To The Filmmaker! (Japan) **1/2
Confucius (Hong Kong) **1/2
Yatterman (Japan) **1/2
Vengeance (HK) **1/2
Righteous Kill **1/2
The Achievers **1/2
I Come With The Rain (France) **
A Dangerous Man **
Mulberry Street **
Be Cool (2005) **
The Keeper **
Captivity *
The Happening (2008) 1/2 star

The Happening ***

Video Games
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings (PS2) **1/2

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) ***
Kafka on the Shore (Karuki Murakami) ***
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing ***
Make-Believe Town (David Mamet) ***