Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another Michael Jackson Post

I know it's already been written about here, but I still can't stop thinking about Michael Jackson.

The other day, as I was getting off the train at Belmont (I'm the one Gentleman who lives in Chicago), I noticed someone had put up a RIP Michael Jackson poster with a picture of Michael on it. He couldn't have been more than twelve in the photo. And I just started at it, and looked at it, and though about how, by the end of his life, Michael couldn't have looked any different from that picture. And it occurred to me that Michael's life is this completely unique blend of blazing triumph, and horrific tragedy.

On the one hand, you have the music. Everything from the Jackson Five, to probably about Thriller, where you just have this young star coming into his own, becoming something and someone who is going to leave a mark on popular music and culture that will last for all time. And then, you have pretty much everything after that, where Michael starts to lose control, and you end up with Bubbles the chimp, the molestation cases, Neverland, and the like. And, it seems to me, that Michael Jackson is always going to be one of the world's most baffling human paradoxes, achieving greater success than most people ever dream of, and at the same time, one of the most tragic downfalls known to man. And that's just got me thinking alot. What happened to him? What would his life have been like if he'd held on, if he'd grown into a person with a grasp on reality, and could really enjoy all that fame, and just kept on making music? What if the story had a happier ending?

It's a damn shame, and it brings me down. And I sure as hell hope he's at peace now, because, whatever you thought of him, the guy deserves at least that.

Officials asking for public's help in critically missing job

The District of Columbia's 4th District Officers are asking for assistance from the public to locate a job reported missing this morning from the District.

The job was last seen talking on the phone as it attempted to find breaking news in the DC-metro area. Witnesses interviewed by district officers say that the job was last seen at around 12:30 p.m. on Monday June 29th, walking out the door of the newsroom.

The job is described as a news and information-gathering position that includes making calls to sources and taking calls from reporters and the general public. Job position also known to assist reporters in setting up and scheduling interviews as well as story assignments. Often seen assisting reporters and other assignment desk personnel in researching news stories, finding file video, as well as helping in the scheduling of photographers.

Police officials do not believe foul play was involved, but both police and family are concerned for job's safety and welfare. The job and the job position holder had been together for over 1 year.

Anyone who has information about the job's whereabouts or information about other potential jobs is asked to email the job position holder's non-emergency contact at adamzwiner@gmail.com.
From the Office of Public Information
District of Columbia

Monday, June 29, 2009

Darling Don't You Go and Cut Your Hair

I don't remember the circumstances, but one time in High School I got pretty upset. Really upset. I can't remember why or what caused it, but I was pissed. I know I stormed out of a class room, a pair of scissors in hand, making my way out of sight and down the halls. My friends Jacob and Carni chased after me, worried about what I might do with a set of scissors in my highly agitated state. I'm not sure what they expected when they ran breathlessly into the bathroom -

But I'm pretty sure it wasn't me in front of a mirror, very calmly attempting to cut my hair, looking relatively surprised at their befuddlement.

I got so angry I needed a change, then and there.

Fast forward to earlier tonight when, sitting at my computer attempting to write a post, I was struck with an extreme and sudden wave of Existential Depression. The kind of depression you get when looking at people in line at the grocery store, and suddenly realize how pointless we all are (this happens a LOT to me in grocery stores, I don't know why there specifically). A sudden, total, and complete understanding of the insignificance of the average individual and your definite place within that system. A brief burst of hopelessness. Never long lived, but overpowering.

Today it was the Facebook mini-feed that did it; an array of status updates without charm or wit that made me realize once again the arrogance it takes to assume that we have something worth putting out to the world and just how easily we all assume that to be true, without thought or effort. None of which made attempting to write easier - compounded by a computer running the speed of a dying tortoise and a broken chair, things were not going well. The Existential Depression swiftly turned into a wave of self loathing (funny how that happens - my theory is that self-directed anger is much easier to feel ownership over than insignificance) until I was standing in the bathroom, staring in the mirror shaving my chest.

That's right - obviously the natural evolution of my impromptu hair cut some 6 or 7 years ago.

I was a good pectoral and a half done before I realized I was making a pretty big mistake. But a half-shaved chest looks even worse than a very conspicously shaven chest so at that point I had pretty much made the commitment.

I now feel ridiculous.

I have this need to create immediate physical change when I feel personal disatisfaction; as if I can somehow assume total control over my appearance and therefore my life and attractiveness (which is what this always comes down to). Body hair is a major self-esteem issue of mine (I hate it, can you tell?) second only to weight. That obviously has no quick fix so suddenly I'm in the bathroom presiding over a shearing. What I seem to forget every time though is that the result of this impromptu power struggle never, ever, looks good and invariably leaves me feeling even worse; because now I have to worry about the ludicrousness of chest stubble if I hook up with anyone over the next month.

The lesson should probably be something related to body image and self acceptance or the beauty of individuality even on Twitter or in Giant.

But I'm pretty sure it's actually that I need to be kept away from styling devices anytime I feel down or I'm going to spend my life looking like a test subject for bad DIY fashion trends.

And that tomorrow is gonna be REALLY itchy.
Gotta say girls, I don't know how you do it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is Dos Equis Destroying the Most Interesting Man in the World?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: First, The World’s Most Interesting Man -- whom I’ll just refer to as the WMIM for brevity’s sake -- is one of the most enjoyable marketing campaigns I’ve seen. Dos Equis can claim that. It’s not just they created a character worthy of our attention, but also in their novel approach to marketing language. The WMIM could have said:

“I don’t often always drink beer but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.”

But he doesn’t. The phrase is:

“I don’t often always drink beer; but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

The subtle difference means everything in portraying the WMIM as a person of sophisticated discernment. Dos Equis is a matter of preference -- superior preference in this message’s case -- rather than the narrower connotation that drink brings to bear. Slate did a pretty good analysis of it here: http://www.slate.com/id/2218849/

And yet, with Dos Equis’s latest slew of advertising featuring the WMIM, it’s clear every last droplet of charm will be wrung out of this great character -- a gem in a vast commercial wasteland.

We’ve seen it countless times before, displayed grimly in the over-exposure of the Geico Cavemen and the “I’ve just saved 10 percent” spot. The “Priceless” commercials of Mastercard -- inspired at their beginning -- are now so dull and monochromatic they merely add to the static between shows. The lesson? Stretch a thing too far, and it becomes difficult to even discern what you’re looking at after a point.

In the case of the WMIM, I’m afraid Dos Equis is going to take sophisticated and turn it into tacky.

If you haven’t seen the spot it goes like this: Dos Equis presents a bearded man to you through vintage film stock and reads off a series of one-liners about him in order to build his mystery.

“The police often question him, just because they find him interesting.”

“His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.”

The aim is celebration, but at what point does celebration become disingenuous? Like a person who compliments you too much, the praise sounds hollow and forced if too much is hurled your way.

Consider the one-liners of the 2009 spots.

“His reputation is expanding faster than the universe.”

“He once had an awkward moment, just to see what it feels like.”

“He lives vicariously through himself.”

On the surface these are as quirky and charming as 2007’s. But they lack a touch of humility that makes the WMIM knowable and defines part of his charm. While the language of 2007’s spots stayed away from absolutes (even the beard line said “a lesser man’s entire body” leaving room for another person on the WMIM’s level), the rhetoric of 2009’s does more to make him seem like the Ubermensch.

I harbor little doubt Dos Equis will rely on the WMIM to sell beer for a long time to come. If they come out with new commercials, they will be obliged to pick up the absurdity if only to keep their character fresh. Soon we may be hearing lines like:

“He’s so attractive, he’s only attracted to himself.”

“When he is angry, volcanos erupt.”

“When he speaks, mere mortals’ heads explode at the splendor of his voice.’

“He’s so strong, he and his blue cow Babe plowed the Grand Canyon.”

Greek Gods and tall tales are made this way. Honestly, I don’t want to get to know the unknowable over a beer.

*Thanks to Daniel for the clarification

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Biology is Neat

There have recently been a slew of progeny-related posts on the blog (here, here, and here) and I've been thinking on the subject a lot lately. Because here's the situation: I am a twenty-three year old female, fresh in the real (read: non-scholastic) world. I'm in a committed relationship (sorry boys) but I'm not married. It's 2009 and society and technology are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were even ten or twenty years ago, let alone hundreds or thousands. But my body doesn't know all that. My body doesn't know (or really care about) any of that.

My body knows I am a twenty-three year old female, and that I hit puberty about eleven years ago. It doesn't know about trans fats but it knows when I'm hungry, you know what I mean?

It doesn't know about the sexual revolution and medical advancements, but it knows my biological clock. It doesn't know about personal politics and overpopulation, but it knows when I see, hear, smell, touch a baby. It knows and it reacts extremely viscerally, because it wants one. It wants one bad.

To my body, it is lucky to have survived and prospered twenty-three years and there is no time to wait. Who knows if a sabre-toothed tiger or a famine lurks around the next corner?

And I think that's amazing. Because for all the pomp and circumstance we give our brains and our ideas, our bodies are ancient and steadfast. They're also wise in ways we often (especially the "we" in our Puritan-based society) refuse to accept, but that post is for another day. This post is just to marvel at all of modern society and medicine in the face of one ancient instinct: to continue the species.

I heard somewhere that babies are cute for their own survival; so that their mothers will want more to take care of them. And that ever-enticing baby smell? It's a special pheromone that wears off about two years into the baby's life, one that the mother will notice its lack and literally crave it again, thus assuring babies spaced out in a manner so that the parents will continue having children without being unreasonably overburdened or undernourished themselves.

And most everyone knows that women have 10% more body fat, and in general it is much more difficult for a woman to lose weight than a man, but I recently learned why: back in the hunter/gatherer days, a famine could wipe out an entire generation of unborn babies, so the women who passed on their genes were the ones who could keep and store fat for ten months, even when there were little to no new nutrients coming in. So here we are with our accelerated fast food and fertilization technology and our ancient, ever so meticulously evolved bodies, and it's no wonder we're a mess. But maybe we wouldn't be if we listened a little closer to what our bodies are telling us and why, and thought about how we can fit better, healthier, in our accelerated world.

Bodies are amazing. Nature is amazing. And me? I'm going to try to let my intensely burning nurturing instinct run wild on my pets, who were almost all saved from terrible fates in some way or another, in my relationships, and in my art. For now, anyway.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pulling the Trigorin

For the last month and a half I've been immersed in the world of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, having served as Assistant Director for Theater J's brand new adapatation of the play, The Seagull on 16th Street, which just opened. (Click here to read a very nice review of the production care of The City Paper, and here for info on how to order tickets at the Theater J website). For those of you who haven't read or seen the play, a brief synopsis - Konstantin Gavrilovich is a young writer and the son of famous actress Irina Arkadina. He is also most in love with his youthful muse, the beautiful Nina from across the lake, and the actress in his debut performance. Along for the ride is Irina's consort, the famous and established writer Trigorin. Nina falls for Trigorin and we're off to the races. This particular adaptation includes an added layer of Judaism to the show, entirely absent from the original, portraying Treplev as not only an emerging artist but also a young man trying to find his faith while his mother has abandoned hers.

But what struck me is a very specific moment in the play on a topic that Chekhov knows more than a little about, and is present in any version of the play you may read or see. And while watching the play on opening night, my friend Elan heard the exact same lines that I respond to, and looked over knowingly at me without prompting.

Finally alone together, Nina has begun to ask Trigorin how it 'feels' to be so famous, to have such a wonderful, brilliant life - which catches Trigorin entirely off guard. As she pushes and prods on how incredible his life must be Trigorin finally unleashes one of the most brilliant monologues I have ever read on the subject of writing and the incredible weight it puts on writers - from the obessesion to endlessly continue; the overwhelming need for approval from a hostile, faceless audience; to the constant pressure from both oneself and one's loved ones, real or imagined, to create the next literary gift from god. The entire thing is incredible, especially as performed by Jerry Whiddon, but this excerpt speaks to me and my experience especially - courtesy of The Seagull on 16th Street by Anton Ckekhov, translated by Carol Rocamora, and adapted by Ari Roth (the most important part highlighted in Bold):

TRIGORIN: For example, here I am with you, perfectly intriguing, and yet the
whole time, I'm also thinking about the unfinished work that awaits me at my
desk. I'll see a cloud, up there, the one that looks like a piano? And I'll
think: "Hmmm. I've got to put that in a story somewhere; how a cloud was sailing
by, a cloud that looked just like a grand piano!" Every phrase; every
word you and I are uttering right now, I'll snatch them up as fast as I can and store them in a closet: Perhaps I'll use them one day - I'll use this entire conversation!
And when I'm done working, I'll run off to the theatre,
or go fishing, to rest, to lose myself - but no, there it is, already casting
about in my head like an iron cannonball; a new plot, and already it's pulling
me back, and I'm racing to write it down; write it down. And that's the way it
always is; I have no peace from myself and feel like I'm devouring my own
experience, cannibalizing it; and what's left? Who knows? Who can tell?

Every word of that is true. Absolutely true. And especially - "Every phrase; every word you and I are uttering right now, I'll snatch them up as fast as I can and store them in a closet: Perhaps I'll use them one day - I'll use this entire conversation!"

I'm letting all of you know that right now.
It will happen.
If I know you, if you read this blog, chances are one day you'll be reading and you'll find yourself in here. And if not in here, certainly in a script, or onstage. Just the tiniest piece, or an entire story - traslated, adapted, transmuted into someone/something entirely new and yet exposingly familiar.
It will happen. If you didn't already know, I'm telling you now.

I was hanging out with a girl once, a girl I don't even know all that well, and there was a pause. She looked at me and said "You're just writing a play in your head all the time, aren't you?"

I am.

And I'm sorry. But everything you say, everything you do, every worthwhile line or thought or conversation, everything my friends are, their ticks and habits, quirks, catchphrases, and mannerisms - every single bit is stored away for use one day. Some of it is written down in endless half filled journals, most of it is kept conciously or unconcsiously in my head until I have to write it down. I lay at night mezmerized by a simple sentence - haunted for days, weeks, or months by a simple toss off until I have to write, simply to process, simply to deal.

I wrote a play a year ago, a one act, inspired very much by the relationship between me and my ex. The characters were not us, the dreams and images were inspired by songs, the plot of my own invention.
But I took the words. I took a lot of words.
And I regret it. I wish I had never, ever written it. And if I had to write it, I wish I had locked it away. I put too much on the page that time, too much too soon. I feel like I betrayed a trust, the most important trust I've ever had, a trust I know I've kept in every other way. That was a valuable lesson. It is, quite possibly, the greatest regret of my life.

But make no mistake, I will take words again.
Deep, personal words. Experiences. Lives.
And none more than my own.
Every time I sit down to write I feel fear because I'm not quite sure what part of me I'll be exposing once I actually start to type.

That's what writers do. We do cannibalize ourselves, our experiences - we tear into every aspect of the world we know and rip it apart looking for a shred of truth or beauty to share.

It's a terrifying, painful process.

I've been having trouble actually calling myself a 'writer'. Identifying myself with that craft, that title. It has felt arrogant to do so, above me, something I still have to prove; to work to become. A mantle to claim.
But in Trogorin's lines, in Chekhov's words, I saw myself.
I'm a writer. Maybe more of a director, certainly a storyteller in all it's forms first and foremost.
But I am a writer. Blessed and cursed. And so -

I will give, and I will give, and I will give.
I will be respectful. I will honor trusts. I won't betray, I won't mislead, I will use judgement.
But I will take, and I will take, and I will take.

A promise and warning.

Another Astonishing Video from a Gentleman

In my continuing effort to bring more video to this blog, I'm pleased to bring to you the latest video from my improv team, Computer (feat. Ian Brown). It's called "Office Sleepover."

I couldn't get the code to embed this one, so here's a link.

Enjoy, Gentlemen.

Turk Theater Presents - My Bloody Valentine (2009)

When I started this series I had every intention of watching interesting, intelligent films and conveying my thoughts to you, Gentle Readers. Unfortunately for us both, my insatiable thirst and morbid curiosity for horror movie crapshoots is as persistent as ever. Today's foray into the typically unwatched lead me to slasher-movie remake My Bloody Valentine 3-D starring Jensen Ackles (Supernatural). Except, not in 3-D. Because who the hell owns 3-D movie glasses anymore?

So, in this episode Dean Winchest-I MEAN-Tom. Sorry. Tom Hannigar works for his father's outdated coal mine in a quaint, mountain town that is only named once and isn't worth remembering. One day down in the mine, there's a BIG EXPLOSION... killing next to no one and putting employee Harry Warden into a coma for awhile. Of course, Harry wakes up on Valentine's Day and goes on murderous killing spree, killing everyone in the hospital, removing their hearts while drawing V-day hearts and valentine clichés in blood on the walls. Meanwhile, a Valentine's Day party just happens to be going on back at the mine. Tom just happens to show up with his girlfriend Sarah (they hold hands as soon as they get out of the car AND they're TOTALLY the loves of each other's lives, like, for real) to meet with their two friends, an asshole with a thing for Sarah named Axel (played by Kerr Smith) and his girlfriend Irene, who speaks like she's constantly on the verge of sleeping with someone. In short time, Harry Warden shows up in a mining suit and mask to murder some one-liner characters for reasons unexplained, nearly killing the main characters in the process, possibly intending to kill Tom. And then it doesn't matter because the cops show up and shoot Harry Warden several times, the cave collapses, and Tom is traumatized. It's a sad night in whatever-white-bred-town-this-is.

Ten whole years later, on Valentine's Day, so much has changed for this group of friends. Tom returns from places unknown wearing a sweet coat to sell his father's mine. Axel (now Sheriff Axel) and Sarah have gotten married and formed a family in Tom's absence while Axel grows a puberty beard and cheats on her in a crappy cabin in the woods ("Why can't we ever go someplace nice, like, a motel"). And, Irene... well... the only thing we see of Irene (ok, we see all of Irene for 10 straight minutes) is her riding a large, unfaithful trucker like a bucking bronco, screaming "I look SO HOT RIGHT NOW," while staring at herself in a ceiling mirror inside what I can only assume is the motel mentioned above. Infidelity seems to be a theme. And then someone wearing a miner's suit shows up and the movie proceeds down various twists and bends and, actually, fairly decent performances from our main characters. Axel, Sarah, and Dean-I MEAN-Tom try to figure out whether or not Harry Warden is still alive and who his potential copy-cat may be.

Trust and love are also themes. And, for all the film's flaws, I was impressed by its ability to carry Valentine's Day as a motif outside of a "jilted-lover-revenge-story." The love-triangle between Axel-Sarah-Tom actually influences the story line and even helps skew the perspective from which we view the film. For instance, you're generally supposed to root for Tom's character, however as the movie progresses your opinion of Axel may very well prevent you from seeing things that make Tom more suspect. Sarah is forced to make an important decision in the end concerning trust. I won't tell you what happens, however. You'll have to trust me and take that plunge for yourself.

The film follows like your typical slasher-flick a la Halloween. Harry Warden/The Miner is an unstoppable killing machine fueled seemingly by sheer force of will and whose motivations aren't exactly spelled out. The thrill Harry Warden presents as the "monster" is heightened by the fact that he probably could be stopped. He falls down, winces, and has his weapon taken away frequently, affording his victims some opportunity to best him. This contrasts a film like Halloween distinctly, where Michael Myers (not the comedian/actor) simply will NOT stop his slow gait no matter how much damage he takes and whose motivations can only be assumed because he doesn't speak. Michael Myers's approach is ultimately more frightening, but Harry Warden's is probably more appropriate and effective for a movie with a 3-D gimmick.

Final Verdict - Not a complete waste of time. The plot is fun and fast-paced enough to stay entertaining and the performances are decent for a slasher flick, but it's not going to make horror movie history. Well, outside of being the first wide-released 3-D horror movie in years. Just go in with some friends and a clear sense of humor.

PS - I didn't even mention the facts that 80% of the victims in this movie were white women and the only minority characters present were a Latina maid named Rosa (Sherriffs must get paid well in bumfuck) and Axel's black partner whose sole job is to look at people disapprovingly. I tend to harp on that enough, though. Maybe just being direct about it is better.

The King of Pop, in Memoriam

Michael Jackson died today, yesterday really but it's still today for me, at age 50.

There's not a lot I can say about him that hasn't already been said and re-hashed and joked about, but love him or hate him, he was probably the most famous, and most consistently famous, single person record breaking controversial superstar that there ever was. And that has got to take a toll on a person like I can't even imagine. He was far too young to go, but old and gone in ways that were terrible and sad to see, even years ago.

He was only alive for 50 years, but we were watching intently for 39 of them. We saw the rise, the fall, the rebirth, the mess and the glory. But whatever it was to us, tabloid news, fodder for jokes, shock and interest, it was his life. Tumultuous to say the least, but it was his, and now it's over.

So wherever you are, MJ, I hope you're at peace. And thanks for all the hits.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dear Future Republicans Presidential Candidates . . .

Please, please just stop having sex between now and 2012. You guys really suck at it. Unlike in Italy, where you can almost get away with damn near anything, if you do it in the states you're gonna get caught. It's like you're trying to force Mitt Romney to run again. The guy tied the family dog to the roof of the car. That's more messed up thank at least 80% of what Berlusconi has done (that we know if).

So please, keep it in your pants.

Especially you Ensign. Keep your sexiness in check.

RoundTable Redux

As I joined this blog a few months after its inception, I was not around to take part in the first few RoundTable discussions. It's a shame, because they were some pretty cool questions, so I figured I'd give them a go on my own.

"If you were to name one person you know who is a true gentleman, who would it be?"

See In Memoriam

"If you could take revenge on any person, who would it be, what would you do, and why?"

I'm not so much big into personal grievances, at least not after spending an hour in a snit, so I'd go corporate with my revenge seeking. I know it's more than one person, but this is my post, so I can break the rules.

I'd force every Fox Network executive who had a hand in canceling Firefly to sit in a room and watch endless hours of reality TV. Bad reality TV. And Geraldo. And the 700 Club. And any other crappy mindless drivel that's made it onto the airwaves that will remind them that they pulled the plug on one of the most clever, well-acted shows in years.

Damn you, Fox....

"What is your ultimate winter mix?"

You'll find that my answer to this question differs fairly drastically from the other Gentlemen's lists, but I doubt anyone is going to be very surprised.

1) O Holy Night - Mariah Carey

2) Baby It's Cold Outside - Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel (the Elf soundtrack)

3) Let It Snow! - Dean Martin

4) Blue Christmas - Sheryl Crow

5) Walking in a Winter Wonderland - Faith Hill

6) Opera of the Bells - Destiny's Child

7) What's This? - Nightmare Before Christmas

8) The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting) - Nat King Cole

9) The Dreidel Song - Sister Hazel

10) Home for the Holidays - Perry Como

11) You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Dr. Seuss

12) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Barenaked Ladies

13) I'll Be Home for Christmas - Martina McBride

14) I Won't Be Home for Christmas - Blink-182

15) White Christmas - Bing Crosby

16) Silver Bells - Bing Crosby and Carole Richards

17) Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt

18) Anything from the Muppet's Christmas Carol

19) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Martina McBride

20) Schubert's Ave Maria - The Cranberries and Pavarotti

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

So Gene Weingarten, esteemed Washington Post humor columnist and Pulitzer prize winner has taken a buyout from the Washington Post. I know it's the nature of life for my favorite players and bands and columnists to call it a day, but as a hometown boy, it was tough to see Kornheiser finally give up the newspaper ghost, and it's sad to see Weingarten go.

I will say that there are still a number of great writers at the post, Steven Pearlstein is one of the few and proud liberal business columnists (Not an oxymoron!!!), Lisa de Moraes's American Idol recaps are fucking hilarious, and Robin Givhan is a fantastic fashion writer. And alas they still have the undead corpse of Tom Shales to criticize all television things from his zombie lair, but I don't hold that against them.

Personally my favorite Weingarten article was a really beautiful profile of the most isolated of Alaskan towns (sorry you gotta pay for the full article). As a humor writer he was a fearless experimenter -- calling up company call in numbers, having endless post-feminist dialogues, and writing a column almost completely of footnotes. The Alaska piece was essential a jokey idea that became a much more serious feature.

Basically now there's gonna really be no reason to now read the Post Sunday Magazine.

Does Pizza Hut Read this Blog?!

As many of you may remember, I recently made a post blasting Pizza Hut for their awful new ads and overly smug presentation. Well, it seems they were listening, because Pizza Hut has given their marketing campaign a complete makeover! They're going so far as to drop the word "Pizza" from the title of their restaurant, changing their name to just "The Hut."

Blogging works, you guys!

You Are My Daughter (Part 2)

Part 1

In High School 'Livejournal,' the awkward socially inept pre-pubescent cousin of blogging, was a huge part of my social circle. Not in the sense that we all became friends through the internet, we were a very close knit group of friends in real life, thank you - everyone just seemed to have one, and the concept became a part of our vocabulary. This was back when the internet felt just a little less public (which is an absolutely ludicrous premise in restrospect) and there was some degree of comfort that you had a pretty good idea of exactly who your audience was based on your 'friend's list.' Obviously, that turned out never to be the case. I often feel the need to write, but can't write without an audience, which has in the past led me to putting a few things out into cyberspace that maybe I ought to have thought better of first, or at least changed a few names. Livejournal certainly began that trend.

In my senior year of High School I transferred from JDS to Wootton and became friends with an entirely new group of people, including a girl named Marian. I met her for the first time outside on the front steps in the midst of a crowd just before a pep rally. She stood out, despite standing a foot or so below everyone else. She was tiny, vibrant, and exuding energy like a pixie, wood nymph, or sprite. I may well be romanticizing a memory, but she had a certain light in her eyes, a hopeful gleam that stood out in spite of a number of personal issues she dealt with. We became really close, and she was a good friend, and her boyfriend at the time went on to become and stay one of my best friends to this day.

At a certain point we started to lose touch, and I've been thinking about her quite a bit lately since I decided to write this story, but I haven't spoken with her in several years now and I'm not even sure how I'd get in touch with her if I wanted. She got more heavily into drugs, issues started to weigh on her more and more and that very pure youthful exuberance she had first got lost behind a cloudy haze and then seemed to slowly drain out of her until her face was a hollow looking husk of what it had once been. The last time I saw her she looked so old. I think she's out on a farm somewhere in the Mid West, if I remember correctly, and I hope she's happy. I very suddenly miss her and a lot of other people from that brief period of my life.

But sometime after she and my friend broke up and before she and I fully lost touch we made out a few times. And online, she had been flirting with my friend Denny a bit. So one night me, Denny, and our friend Drew were hanging out at Tower (oh how we miss you Tower, go to spot of Rockville Pike for twenty-something layabouts) - I think Den had just come home from school on break and none of us had seen each other in awhile. Neither Den or I had seen Marian for a bit so we decided to go visit her. Drew wasn't particularly thrilled with the decision because he just wanted to have a night with three of us, but he went along. On the long drive into the depths of deep potomac, where fellow Gent Scotty Maxwell makes his home, I think he wondered exactly what he had gotten himself into.

Drew wasn't known for his comfort and dexterity in new social situations, so Denny and I looked at each other in unspoken agreement. We pretty much knew one of us was hooking up with Marian that night, and so the other one would look after Drew.

We got to her parents' house (we had just started college and she was still in High School) and walked down to the basement to see a group of kids sitting around a hookah and drinking beer. This may not seem particularly strange, but in high school my group of friends once played a basement show at a house when someone shouted that they had found a whole fridge full of beer. There was a pause and then we asked if they had any lemonade. We never hung around drinking or smoking and seeing a group of kids bumming around drinking beer while her parents were totally home and apparently cool with was just weird. I remember Drew sitting down, taking a puff full of Hookah, and exhaling the smoke while saying 'Dude, I'm so Straight Edge' and at the same time giving me a look plaintively begging for us to leave.

There was me, Denny, Drew, Marian, a few others, and the brother/sister due of Ahmed and Yas. Ahmed was two years younger than me, and his sister was two years younger than him which made her a High School freshman who looked 12 years old. For a bunch of newly minted college kids this was getting a little weird. Ahmed was a total pothead who also hooked up with a LOT of girls in very impersonal ways - most of whom he met through Yas. The most famous anecdote is that a friend of hers was sleeping over, snuck into Ahmed's room to hook up with him, and he ended up having anal sex without even kissing her. How that happens, I really have no idea.

The basement layout was a set of stairs that led down into an open room where all the beer and Hookah was in plain view. To the side was an alcove that couldn't be seen from the steps where Mario Kart 64 was on. Denny and Marion start playing when suddenly Marian very loudly announces - "Denny, we're gonna race now. And if you win, I'm going to give you head. And if I win, I'm going to give you head."

Den and I look at each other. It's now officially my night to watch Drew.

I can't remember who won the game (Den is telling me now via AIM that he did) but I do remember her dragging him across the room to a closet or somesuch while everyone around the Hookah table cat-called at how good she was at giving head. The door closed and Drew and I settled in for a long night of Mario Kart.

Soon after, Ahmed started to stumble around drunk and almost hit the door where Marion and Den were getting to it. Yas called out "Don't interupt them!"
And in a violent rage I had NEVER seem him have until this moment Ahmed screamed back "Why is it anytime she's getting some you try not to bother her, but you go out of your way to interupt me!"

and which point the seeming twelve year old screamed back in a sad, lost little whine "because they're always my FRIENDS!"

Drew involuntarilly responded by making a high pitched gurgle of disbelief that dogs in PG County could have heard.

It was then that Marian's mom came downstairs looking for her. She was seemingly nonplussed by the the beer and the smoke. But she kept asking for Marian. At first - silence. Awkward, awkward silence. Then Ahmed, in full view of her, put his head to the ground and said in a fake high pitch girl's voice "What is it mom?"
More silence.

Then she said "Where's Schlafstein?"

Now remember, Drew and I are playing Mario Kart in the alcove and can't be seen. I have NO idea what she wants from me, and her daughter is currently giving my good friend a blow job in a closet. Nothing good can come of this.
I slowly peek my head around the wall.

"Where's Marian? What's going on here?" She asked.

"I don't know." I lied.

"Come on, I know you're the responsible one. I read your Livejournal."

Before I had time to process that particularly horrifying revelation, Denny walked out of the door DIRECTLY behind her, followed by Marian who either had her shirt on backwards or was still putting it on.

Her mom took one look at her and said -
"You are my daughter."
She laughed, and went upstairs.

Denny looked at me, looked at Drew, and said "So, we're leaving."

Marian said "You can stay,"

"No, we're gonna go."

And so we left. Drew made us promise never to make him go anywhere like that again.

That was when I first realized that you never know just who might be reading these - from potential employers, to your ex-girlfriend, or your friend's mom.

But it's okay, because I'm the responsible one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Am Amazed. This is Amazing.


The video seen here is not for the faint of heart.


I love video games. Love them. If you were to tell me tomorrow that due to an electronic field encompassing my body, I could never play another video game again, I think my reaction would be pretty clear.

I would move on with my life.

Despite my admitted love of this time-consuming and ultimately worthless hobby, there have been several periods in my life where the desire to play them has left me altogether. No frustration, no getting wrapped up in other things, no other outside element to blame it on; I just simply did not want to play anymore. Life kept right on going, and I got outside and saw real people more often. Sometimes it'd be a few days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months would pass before I got the urge to pick up a controller again. There was more than enough to do in the real world to satisfy me.

And naturally, like most children, there were times when video games were taken away from me by circumstances not necessarily beyond my control. My general reaction was to mope for a bit, then (if not grounded somewhat more severely) go find some real friends to play with.

I'll quote my friend Paul on this; "I have never been angry enough to stick a remote in my ass."

This kid flips out at the idea of not being able to play World of Warcraft any longer. This tantrum is unlike anything I've ever seen from a house where I grew up with two much younger siblings. He's beating himself with a shoe! Why would anyone do that under any circumstances? He didn't just find out his parents spent the money he had saved for college on hooker and coke. His mom cancelled his Warcraft account - meaning she was probably paying for it - and, I don't like to speculate, but likely because he was spending way too much time on it. Based on the visual evidence provided by his enterprising younger brother, I can safely say he needs the break.

Video games are more prevalent now in our culture than at any time before. They're making more of them with increasingly complex worlds to explore, and the graphics are improving all the time. They can be addictive. They're a lot of fun.

But have we really come to this?

Maybe I don't know the whole story here. A lot could be happening off-camera. What I do know is that no video game, not even the addict-spawning World of Warcraft, should so dominate a child's life that he literally strips his clothes off and physically beats himself when informed he cannot play it. You can't blame Blizzard - it's their job as a game developer to make a really good game. You can't blame the parents entirely. Maybe they should have stepped in sooner, but clearly they've recognized the problem and took steps to remedy it. Really, it all comes down to the people playing. Exercise some moderation. Video games will come and go. It's not the end of the world.

Except for this kid. Unless he moves somewhere where there is no internet.

Game Over.

SilverDocs Wrap-Up

So 17 screenings later and there is much to say about this years SilverDocs. I could compare this with last years or the year before, but really I the consistent quality from year to year speaks volumes about how good a festival it is. Multiple film makers literally gushed about how great SilverDocs is, and you couldn't pick a much nicer venue than the AFI Silver.

Here are some things I noted:

* A little text goes a long way. Act of God was a good documentary about lightning strike and featuring delightful stories with Paul Auster and Fred Frith. But the main section of the film focused on a town in Mexico where a number of children killed in lightning strikes is a bit fuzzy. One screen of text to explain the incident would have gone a long way to clearing it up. My Neighbor My Killer, about public trials held in Rwanda also would have benefited from a bit more text, especially since one of the characters basically enters mid-film.

* There are many ways to approach Africa. I wound up seeing three Africa related docs, My Neighbor My Killer, Good Fortune and Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty. The maker of Volume 3 Renzo Martens was the only one to acknowledge and embrace the false artifice of a documentary targeted for Western audiences. His movie served as a critique of basically everyone, not just Western companies or genocidal killers. And without some context, Episode 3 film is borderline offensive. But beyond it's shock value (Martens tells a family they will always be poor, and travels around Congo with a sign saying "Enjoy Poverty") it spoke most honestly to the fact that no one is above reproach and that as much as people will try, most documentaries won't change the world.

* Celebrities aren't what they used to be. The featured director this year was Albert Maysles, and on of the collections of his shorts that was shown featured some really wonderful and intimate portraits of Brando, Orson Welles, Capote and Cristo with Jean Claude. The Brando short is especially wonderful. Doing a series of unenjoyable interviews to promote a film, he avoids any easy answers and turns many of the questions back on the interviewers. Yet he remains ever so charming through it. The other Maysles screening I saw was Salesmen a funny and sad look at bible salesmen during the '60s first in their native Boston, then in sunny Florida.

* It's tough to get into the mind of a genius but you can get very close. The composer/inventor/visual artist Trimpin is the subject of one of the best documentaries I saw. Originally from the Germany area where they make cuckoo clocks, he now earns his living creating completely original musical things ranging from sound installations in museums to composed works with groups like the Kronos Quartet. There are a few moments in the film where you can see that little bit of a spark emerging. At one point he goes into the kitchen during a meeting with Kronos Quartet and rather then getting a drink of water, he pulls out a number of pots and pans and starts testing their resonance. At another point, he as created a series of complex devices to send sounds through the glass tubes used to make TVs. As he polishes the tubes he gets an amazing tone. He tries move the cloth against the glass again and gets another tone. Then he grabs a violin bow and starts bowing the tube to get a similar effect.

* Competition is everywhere. I saw three "sports" movies, Ella Es El Matdor about two female matadors in Spain, Facing Ali featuring ten fighters telling their stories through their fights with Muhammad Ali, and Splitting Hairs about competitive beard growing. All three were great and afterwards I wanted to go on youtube and watch more of the sports. One thing I do wish was that the film makers had taken a bit more time in the movies just to provide a good long 10 minute sequence of their competition -- two or three rounds with Ali or an extended sequence of the bullfighting. These are sports that just aren't seen that much in popular culture and I think the inherent art would come out even more with one or two longer sequences rather than quick cuts.

And these are the best movies I saw:

#1 - Ella Es El Matador
#2 - The September Issue - A look at the making of the biggest (literally) issue of Vogue
#3 - Facing Ali
#4 - Trimpin: The Sound of Invention
#5 - Time of Their Lives - Three women, two of whom were over 100 years old, still leading full lives in an assisted living facility

[Addendum: I forgot to mention one other really good movie -- A Good Man -- which tells the story of a Australian farmer, his paraplegic wife, and his dreams of opening a brothel to make ends meet. It's a comedy. Really.]

Honorable Mention: Best Worst Movie - A funny little chronicle about the cult of Troll 2

The World is Watching, but Should not be Caring


More than just a sneaker made by Steve Jobs.

This political hotbed has turned into a media darling for coverage following thier most recent elections. The followers of former Prime Minister Mousavi insist that the election was rigged, and that there's no way current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could have won re-election, especially by so convincing a margin. There are protests in the streets. People are wearing green to demonstrate their spirit for Mousavi. Rallies are formed by both pro-government and pro-reform factions.

And it doesn't really mean anything.

Imagine this scenario: We go through a hotly contested election here in the United States. At the end of it, a new President is put in office. He has promised to be a complete about face from the previous administration. He's swept into office on a sea of good feeling and the promise of change.

Oh wait, we did that.

Okay, imagine this scenario: Barack Obama cannot actually enforce any policy without first consulting the Pope.

Iran may be a democracy, but only in the sense that your High School was a democracy. Elections were held, supporters came out to hotly defend their candidate for President of the Student Council. But at the end of the day, when all the votes are tallied, you're still not allowed to do anything the principal says you can't.

The country of Iran has popular elections, true. However, it is Ayatollah Khomeini who holds the title of Supreme Leader. He and the Guardian Council form Iran's ruling elite. The position of President and his cabinet are merely there to enforce Khomeini's policies and put up a figurehead front to the public. Mousavi would be no different. Even if he were in office, there is nothing he could actually influence or change if Ruhollah Khomeini does not wish it so.

So it's all well and good to want to investigate Iran's political process to make sure everybody's vote was tallied correctly. We should always strive to make sure democracy means representation for the people and by the people. However, in the case of Iran, never forget that their democracy is the lesser form of government. It is the religious leader and his unelected council which hold the true power.

Meanwhile, as we focus on that, North Korea is selling weapons. Can we please focus on North Korea now?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Let Me Give You a Tip

There's a saying that posits that, "A man's character is measured not by how he treats his peers, but by how he treats those who serve him." Or something like that. Regardless, the spirit of this axiom never rings more true to me than when I'm working at the restaurant (Feast @ 4East - seriously, come visit me, awesome food at reasonable prices).

I'm sure you know that the best way to show your appreciation to your server in a restaurant is to leave him/her a good tip. So many people, though, prove time and again that they don't know what constitutes a good tip. It never ceases to amaze me when someone tells me what a great job I've done and how much they enjoyed my service, and then proceed to leave me a lousy 13%. And so, in the spirit of Gentlemanly Behavior (the cornerstone of character here at These Gentlemen), I bring you:

The ali d Guide to Tipping Etiquette

The Basics:

How Much Should I Tip My Server? (or The 15% Myth)

Ever heard this one? "I used to work in a restaurant, so I always leave at least 20%."

There's a reason for that. Whether or not you see it, your server is probably busting his ass to take care of his customers. Four to eight hours of running around (often literally) carrying things for people is exhausting. Not only that, but he's working for less than minimum wage. A lot less. Think $3/hour (before taxes). Without your tip, your server has essentially done his job for free.

That being said:

20% = You were my server. You did a GOOD job. If your server was polite, timely, and got you through to the end of the meal without any disasters, he did well, and deserves a good tip. A good tip is 20%. Anything less probably makes your server wonder where he went wrong.

15% = You were my server. You were OK. You did your job. So maybe you had to wait 20 minutes before he could take your order, he forgot that you asked for no pickles on your burger, and he brought the check before you could order dessert. Did you get your food? Then your server did his job, and he deserves an average tip.

10% = I have never encountered a reason to leave a 10% tip. Ever.

Was your server entertaining you with funny jokes? Did he refill your water glass 6 times before you even had to ask? Did he offer to change the preparation of a meal to suit your tastes? If your server did a GREAT job, consider kicking him 25-30%. I guarantee it'll make his night.

Crap! I forgot my phone and thus have no calculator! How do I know how much to leave?

It's very simple, actually. All you need is some grade school arithmetic. Remember this little trick, and you'll never have trouble figuring out the tip again. Look at the total on your bill. Round it up to the nearest dollar. If you then move the decimal one space to the left, you have just taken 10% of the check. Multiply that 10% by 2, and you have the minimum you should be tipping a good server. For example:

Your total for the evening comes to $116.30
$116.30 --> $117 --> 11.7 --> $11.70
$11.70 x 2 --> roughly $23

With smaller checks it's even easier. Total comes to $22.40? $2.30 + $2.30 = $4.60. After a while the math becomes automatic. Should you find yourself being waited on by a lackluster server and feel the need to tip less than 20%, simply move your decimal point and then add half of that total and you've calculated 15%.

Your bill for the night is $36.50
$36.50 --> $37 --> 3.7 --> $3.70
$3.70/2 --> $1.85
$3.70 + $1.85 --> $5.55

The Big Leagues:

1. If you stay late, leave a bigger tip. As mentioned earlier, tips = salary when you work in a restaurant. The more tips you make, the more money you can take home with you, so you typically want to wait on as many tables as possible.

If your party is chilling out for an hour after you've finished eating, you've prevented your server from getting another table, which would result in another tip. I'm not saying you shouldn't hang around - I love relaxing at a restaurant with a group of friends. I'm just asking you to bump the tip by five or ten dollars in recognition of the fact that your server has lost potential additional business or has to stay later in order to clean up after you.

2. If you have a coupon/get comped something, tip as though that item were included on the bill. Even if you have a coupon for a free appetizer, your server still has to take the order, send it to the kitchen, bring it out to you, and pick up the dishes. He is doing the exact same amount of work that he would be doing if you were paying for the food. Please tip him accordingly by adding the price of the free item into the bill total before you calculate the tip.

3. If you can't afford to tip, don't go out to eat. It's that simple.

And please remember, above all, that everyone has a bad day every once and awhile. A spilled drink or a mixed-up order does not a terrible server make. One of my co-workers at Applebee's once worked through a stab wound because she needed the tip money to go to the hospital to get checked out. Your good tip might be the best part of an otherwise terrible day. You never know.

Go to Artomatic

If you haven't heard, this month until July 5th, Artomatic is taking place at the office building directly above the Navy Yard Metro stop. If you're not familiar, Artomatic is a free-for-all unjuried art festival. Any artist can pay the admission price and sign up for 15 volunteer hours and they get a partition of space to exhibit their stuff in a temporarily unoccupied office building. But beyond the art there's music, performances, demonstrations, happenings etc. If I sound like a cheerleader, it's because I participated the past couple of years (although I'm taking a year off) and it appeals to my utopian side.

The thing to keep in mind about an unjuried show like this that stretches across an entire office building is that quality varies, markedly. You will see more bad art then you've probably ever seen in your life. But you'll see a lot of good art, and in my opinion a lot of great ideas. Every time I go I see various creative ways of making, framing, presenting and grouping art. Some people have created out-and-out wonderful piece, and other have used mediums in ways I would have never expected. There are folks who aren't artists but they had a great idea and executed it in their space. All in all, it's a fantastic way to spend an afternoon or evening.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Response to Iranian Protest: U.S. Support or U.S. Meddling?

No doubt you've read it; you've watched it: Iran is at the threshold of a proverbial tide change. Protesters continue to gather by the thousands to challenge the highly dubious election result; and Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, has unequivocally come out on the side of the Ahmadinejad, dropping language in the process that seriously smacks of: "Cut it out, or bloodshed shall come to you." The question of the moment is: What does the U S. do?

Media outlets have drawn comparison's between Iran's protests and Burma's "Saffron Revolution," when thousands of monks took to the streets in protest, which led to a violent crack down by the country's ruling junta. Burma is already a bete noire country with little or no diplomatic communication with the U.S., so the choice of response in that case was pretty clear cut: "Let your people go."

Iran is a different animal. If Obama's reaction to the protests is too strong, the regime could easily utilize it for propoganda purposes, rallying a fiercely independent people against an outside aggressor and snuffing out the protests all together. On the other hand, if the president's reaction proves too tepid, protesters who are looking for support and recognition from the international community could be let down, and a moment in history lost to us.

At the moment President Obama has not chosen a side, only saying that he is deeply concerned. Is he right in his reaction? Or does he need to go further? What happens if Iran's regime does use violence against the protesters?

Personally, I think that Obama's reaction so far has been prudent. The rhetoric of democracy and human rights has been so tainted in the past eight years that pell mell use of them is more likely to poison grassroot protests in Iran, rather than inspire them further. However, I acknowledge that if violence breaks out Obama will need to take a more aggressive stance.

A Slate writer said it well: Iran's protest needs to be about Iran and not about America.

Number Two Republican in the House, Eric Canter says: "America has a moral responsibility to stand up for human rights around the world and to condemn the abuses that are occurring in Tehran today."

Democratic Senator, John Kerry says, "With Iran, Think Before You Speak."

What's the right answer?

Blue Moon

Nighttime's a good time for me. Somedays, I don't feel quite awake until dusk hits. Not that I'm a particularly tired or inattentive person during the day - in fact, I enjoy daytime very much - night's just a preferable environment for me to be active. The air's cooler and crisper. Often, there's a breeze that cuts whatever humidity is left. This helps the air ultimately smell cleaner, which I particularly enjoy. Moonlight and street lamps are easier on the eyes. There's less traffic, so it's usually quieter. And, if I want noise, the kinds I want are easier to find. Nighttime is a soothing time for me. As such, most of my personal stories will feature friends and myself at some point in the given night enjoying all that I have explained above.

This is not one of those times.

No sir, this took place last Saturday around noon - a hot, sticky, windless day following a night of debauchery and localized mayhem. I joined a rag-tag gathering of haggard 20-somethings in the process of recovery, caught in the heat, looking for a cure. The cure, believe it or not, would be inside a restaurant called Blue Moon Café - a night-themed, all-day breakfast bistro built out the first floor of an old townhouse in Fells Point. Gentle Readers, I advise that if you visit Blue Moon to do so as we did - when the hunger starts to settle in full force. Allow the beast inside to begin its distinguished wail for beverages and nourishment before you step within. I say this because the portions are going to be huge and delicious. This will include the cinnamon buns offered at the start of the meal. They were as big as my head, covered in icing, and they looked fantastic.

Everything on Blue Moon's affordable menu is 100% homemade from scratch - including jam, biscuits, aforementioned buns, and hash-browns. They had three specials the day we went, including The Captain Crunch French Toast (their world-renowned dish served daily), a crab-meat omelette with brie cheese and pine-nuts, and a southwestern breakfast burrito (filled with eggs, cheese, sausage, ham, and hash-browns, then smothered with more cheese and jalapeño salsa). I ordered the burrito which is, at this point, the best $11 I've spent on breakfast to date. If it helps, it was probably capable of feeding two, which this Gentleman packed away to his utmost enjoyment with only mild-discomfort. Not eating breakfast was probably a good idea.

Blue Moon Café gave us the cure and we were gracious. The service was expedient and friendly. It was a little warm inside, but much of that was due to my burrito - it functioned like a camp-fire for the table only able to be extinguished by consumption. Be prepared for an extended wait time before hand, as the dining area is tiny, so it fills up fast. However, that leaves plenty of time to explore Fells Point, shop at local stores, or, if you are anything like this group, discover pirate ships fleeing the Baltimore Harbor after what can only be assumed was a night of debauchery and localized mayhem. What else do pirates do on Friday nights? I assume hiding/finding buried treasure to be a 9 - 5 thing.