Saturday, April 30, 2005

"It is no excuse to be young"

Tonight I saw "Downfall," a movie about the final days of the Third Reich - Hitler and his associates huddled in his bunker awaiting the last minutes when they commit suicide to avoid the unflinching judgment of the rest of the world. This movie was really not funny at all.

But it was just about as wrenching and exhausting as any war movie I've seen. I didn't realize it would go into the lives of those in the midst of the hell in Berlin - civilians, children, doctors, secretaries - in addition to being a kind of Third Rech "West Wing." ("Der Westen Wing, fraulein?") It had a lot to do with the banality of evil - the young men and women doing administrative tasks for the Nazis and enabling them to carry out their work. It made me think of our new Pope, who I am rooting for, and his own brief involvement in Hitler Youth, and it was troubling.

There were also the clearly evil people, who showed glimpses of normality and compassion and even charisma at times: Hitler, whose first appearance on the screen was more jarring than I thought it would be (an icon of evil, he is, truly); Eva Braun, his fucking wackjob of a mistress; and the calm and hideous Frau Goebbels, who killed 6 of her own kids rather than allow them to live in a world sans Nazism. And many others, people who were just doing their jobs.

(Adolf and Eva - naked and unashamed, passing the forbidden fruit between them, not yet thrown from the garden to create their own flawed line - the snake lying curled below them.)

War movies always make me think of how I would do in a combat situation. I assume I would die early in the skirmish, and probably in a stupid way. Like I would mistakenly eat a grenade or something. But maybe that would boost morale for the other guys, I don't know. "This is for Kip!" my fellow soldiers would scream as they stormed the foxhole/rice paddy/mountainous cave region du jour. 'Kip' would be my combat nickname.

I did think, though, about what I would be willing to die for in a war. I came up with two lists:

Beliefs/Ideologies I would die for:

Beliefs/Ideologies I would not die for:
-Constitutional Monarchy
-The Metric System
-Parliamentary Procedure
-Daylight Savings Time

I'm sure these lists will grow with time. But this movie was amazing, and a reminder of the troubled times we have endured and the questions we face now. I think - I hope - there will always be things worth dying for, but how can anyone be asked to do the dying? Or for that matter, the killing.

That's enough for now. This movie is hard to process.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


"Look at your hair, how it's going up on the sides! Did you sleep like that?"

"I don't know, I guess so. I showered this morning, so that should have taken care of any bed head."

"Oh, so you must have slept on your head then! It looks like horns!"

"Yeah, really. No, it just gets like this when I don't comb it."

"Man, looks like you slept on the same side of the bed as your hair!"


"Look at those horns!"


"Uh oh, someone's in a bad mood..."

"No, I'm not."

"Aww, don't be in a bad mood now, I'm just teasing--"

"I'm not in a bad mood. I wasn't in a bad mood."

"Michael's in a BAD MOOOOOOOOD!"

"No, I'm NOT." But now I am.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The people that you meet each day

I have made a new friend at my neighborhood Chipotle. He works there. I go there frequently to eat. But I am there with such frequency that I now feel a twinge of shame every time I pass through those doors - shame at my lack of originality, my utter dependence on this national conglomerate for sustenance, my questionable nutritional intake and my wanton disregard for eating frugally. But I love it, and they have fountain sodas I can refill.

My friend's name is "E," and he initiated our relationship by noting how often I am there. He's probably the kindest, most decent person working in food services in Manhattan, but I always have trouble with this kind of relationship. We always meet on his turf and I never have anything to say. Honestly, I just want to get my burrito and sit down and read a magazine. But as I progress down the line E always makes conversation and smiles and is very easy-going. Things really got started when I questioned his burrito-making skills one night (E: "Sorry man, is this all right?" Me: "Yeah, I just gotta eat it, not look at it." Zing!) But E always asks the kind of large, ambiguous questions I can never answer comfortably, especially in front of the other patrons - people who eat here rarely, only when they run out of baked chicken and mixed vegetables at home; people who certainly don't have relationships with their Chipotle cashier/burrito assembler.

"You always get steak or veggie, eh, Mike!" "How you doing today, Mike!" "Dap it out, Mike - whoa, I got sanitary latex gloves on." I'm never quite sure how to respond to these overtures - this kind of jocularity is sort of tough to fake when you're tired and just want to ease your troubles with a little sour cream and cheese. So I find myself maybe giving him more information that he would otherwise need to know about me. The other day I looked up from burrito to see him saying my name across the room. He started gesturing towards a girl alone a few tables away. I nonverbally communicated the idea that I found her cute. E gestured that I should go say hi. This introduced an elaborate pantomime on my part, expressing the idea: "Yes, she is cute, but I have a girl already - you know, the short one who comes in here with me sometimes..." And then I realized, why am I trying to explain all this?

He's a cool guy. The awkwardness comes from me. I'm just glad my neighborhood burrito maven knows who I am and even bothers to ask how things are going. That can be a rare find here, and it makes the city that much smaller, you know?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Women we love: Mariah Carey

I, uh, bought the new Mariah Carey album on iTunes a few days ago, and, um, I love it. No more skanky Mariah with a voice like an asthmatic in a coal mine; she seems to have gotten her mojo back, after a series of shitty albums with names like "Rainbow," "Glitter," "Charmbracelet," "Lollipop," and "Femininehygieneproduct." I have a long history with this woman. I remember receiving her eponymous debut cassette tape way back in the early nineties, and I religiously purchased her albums for the next seven years. Then she felt the need to compete with Britney Spears and her ilk, leading to the sad spectacle of a thirty-five year-old woman in pigtails and baby tees. What happened to the Puerto-rican looking Long Islander the nation fell in love with?

Well, one shitty movie later, looks like we're all back on board. Honestly, her voice sounds pretty awesome and her songwriting is on point. For some reason I've always found her to be a sympathetic figure - through the failed marriage, adult contemporary sugar ballads, ludicrous dye jobs, and hip-hop ho showdowns. I don't know, she seems kind of smart and funny at times. And she has a musky speaking voice that I like. Anyways, the new album is good - solid r&b, awesome production, ridiculous rhythms and syncopation, nice range. As I've been listening to it and singing along at points, I realize that I sort of learned to sing from her, in that when I try to add my own little M-Killa-D ad-libs to the songs, it sounds like what she's doing anyway. I guess she was a bigger influence than I realized.

Anyhow, Mariah: welcome back. As you wrote so profoundly, "them chickens is ash and [you're] lotion."

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Time Out New Yorker

Dear David Remnick,

I recently received my copy of The New Yorker, the issue dated April 25, 2005, with a somewhat bizarre Istvan Banyai mixed-media image on the cover. As Mr. Banyai happens to be one of my favorite artists in your employ, I had high hopes for what has become my favorite magazine (following in the hallowed footsteps of Highlights for Children, Ranger Rick, Boys' Life, Newsweek, Vibe, and, for one excruciatingly boring afternoon in 1987, Women's Wear Daily).

But little did I know, as I perused the new issue, that there were shocking changes in store. Frankly, my good sir, the 'Goings on About Town' section was in shambles. A haphazard, poorly organized 'This Week' sublisting. Boring three-column organization leaning too heavily on 'Critic's Notebooks' and varying font sizes. Blocky paragraph text where nice, orderly listings used to be. The removal of 'Auctions and Antiques' as its own subheading - sure, no one reads it, but I used to skim this section, to see whose estate was on the block and which collection of Faberge eggs and porcelain scabbards would become available in the coming week. And finally, adding a wretched symmetry to 'This Week,' we can now welcome 'On the Horizon,' a completely unhelpful preview of one movie, one exhibit, one concert, one spectacle to see in the weeks ahead.

Thanks, David Remnick. Really, this was awesome. Like the bastard child of Sunday Arts & Leisure and Time Out New York, with an assisting hand lent by TV Guide and Personality Parade.

And of course, most egregiously, this issue does not include a short story. No fiction. Whither the poor ingenues of Bread Loaf and Sewanee! This is unacceptable.

New Yorker subscribers are known to be a little... twitchy about their magazine, and I acknowledge that this is true. Get right, David Remnick, or you'll send me into the welcoming arms of the Atlantic.

Since 2002,


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Command Function

At this point I would like to Ctrl-Alt-Delete everything in the world. Fuck this. Fuck all of this.

I understand that everything ends up flowing from me - I really do believe that I bring most of my stresses and worries unto myself, and that most of my problems, insecurities, fears would be solved if I was just more open and communicative with people. But I am so tired of apologizing for being mad or sad and stressed out. Most conversations in which you introduce your own problems become these elaborate dances around the issue, and I find myself reluctant to bring things up because I don't want to burden someone with my own situations. Since, after all, in the big picture of things, I have it pretty good.

I caught this bizarre episode of the Oprah Winfrey a few nights back - it was the 1 am showing, I still have a job - and it had the girl from Growing Pains explaining that she had developed an eating disorder and been arrested for DUI because she had always been raised to be a "people pleaser." This made me laugh, in a move that really demonstrated that I am a callous person, but in a bizarre way I kind of understand. I am the kind who sometimes daydreams about getting into major arguments with friends and significant others - yelling, door-slamming brawls. Why do I do this? I don't want to fight with people. I just want to be liked. Maybe part of this is the wrenching process of staggering into adulthood: self-sufficiency, realizing people's limitations and weaknesses, understanding that because of your own activities and peccadilloes you cannot rely on hardly anyone.

But I don't want to live that way, I don't want to believe that about people.

Tonight I came home from the bar and walked to my freezer and took a swig from the bottle of Petron. Is that a good thing? Using tequila as a snack food?

Nobody read this, please, and if you do, let's not talk about it, hmm?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Swing and a miss

The other day I went to my office with the full intention of donating blood at the Red Cross drive on campus. The moment of charity makes me feel good, and I always enjoy cookies and juice. Really, I just do it for the food (which is true in so many cases). The first time I gave blood at the office, I felt physically drunk for the rest of the day - I ran into doorways with my shoulder, I tripped over my chair, I couldn't type very well. It was one of the best workdays I've ever had, so you can understand my eagerness to give blood again.

So that day I strolled into the room with a sense of ease, ready to watch my lifeblood make its unexpected journey from my veins to a surprisingly warm plastic bag. My blood type is B+ and they usually want my platelets, too. They always call me up a few weeks after the appointment and try to get me to make a special trip to offer my platelets, but I don't know. They're mine, you know what I mean? I filled out the questionnaire - "Have you had sex with a drug user? Do you currently have avian flu? Have you ever made love to an animal?" - and waited my turn. The guy was friendly. He asked, have you traveled outside the US in the last year? "Yes," I said firmly. "I went to Costa Rrrica." "When was this?" he asked. "Two months ago," I said, filling the first stirrings of apprehension. "Where did you go? Rural areas?" I nodded dumbly. "We rented a car..." I began. "I have a t-shirt from the mountain we climbed..."

"I'm sorry, we can't take you," he said. He made a series of violent slashes and circles on my form. "You can give blood again in a year." He handed my back my copy of the form. You don't even want my platelets? My next donation, it noted helpfully, would be in March 2006. "Thanks for trying, though," the guy said. I looked forlornly at the table of cookies and juices. "Yeah, good luck with everything," I replied. I stood and tried to walk out of the room with my head held high, feeling like the most recently dismissed contestant on a mediocre reality show - The Donor ("Who will be eliminated this week: Michael (25, education administrator), who stupidly went to Latin America mere months before trying to donate blood, or Kelli (19, model/bartender), who is showing the early signs of hepatitis?").

The shame, the shame.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Sprung part 2

I was walking down the street this afternoon, feeling good about life. It was a beautiful day - I went for a run, got some sun in the park, I was wearing shorts with no hesitation. I was walking down the block - nay, strutting down the block - and I noticed this really pretty girl going in my direction. Black, light-skinned, long hair, looking very lovely. Heads were turning as she walked by.

Being the ambitious walker I am, I loped past her and thought our my interaction was over, thankful enough for the visual rendezvous. I was half a block away when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, removing the earphones from my head. It was the pretty girl! She said: "You have a really large bug on your back, and it's getting.."

She didn't finish the sentence but began brushing something from my back. There were three points of contact, and I remember this as distinctly as if it happened moments ago. The first point of contact was my upper back. The second point of contact was my lower back (at this point I was thankful I had exercised and felt moderately attractive. I don't THINK my back felt like a baggie full of pudding as she touched me.) And then, dear reader, the third point of contact: the pretty girl brushed her hand along my upper butt. Perhaps she was misled by the length of my shirt; perhaps she was trying to cop a feel. I'm not mad at her either way.

And let the record show that throughout the whole encounter, from the moment she spoke until after I said thank you and she continued her journey down 6th Avenue, causing men to follow her progress with laser-like precision and the primal determination only a hot spring afternoon can summon, I did not see any bug fly away from my person or tumble onto the sidewalk.

Friday, April 08, 2005


There has been a change in New York City in the last few days, seismic in scale, profound in its implications. There is something in the air – a sense of possibility, a promise of warm evenings and river breezes, an invitation to lock eyes, a natural aphrodisiac. The women of New York have shed their peacoats and scarves and are walking the streets with their skirts a-blowin’ – look outside, you can see them now.

Welcome, shoulders! Hello, calves! Lithe bodies, supple curves, languid necks. Smooth skin the color of honey. Faces flushed with early spring heat.

After the winter, it’s good to see the flowers bloom, the buds emerge. Welcome back.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Jesus wouldn't do this

This weekend James and I were driving between Washington and New York, and I concluded that every rest stop in the nation, even the ones in Marin County or the Upper West Side, are red-state territory. You cannot wait in line at Cinnabon or use the keepsake penny-flattening machine without tripping over a stack of Left Behind books or a box of remainder WWJD lanyards.

This red state sensibility extends to the other major obstacle at our nation’s rest stops – and I know you know this, nimble blue-state travelers: Fat People! Wading through the travelmart, blocking numerous urinals with a single stance, plodding along the Sbarro’s line like Depression-era Okies in a bizarro alternative history in which struggling family farms produce complex sugars and corn syrups instead of actual vegetables. When did poverty starting making people fat and not skinny? I don’t know the answer, but I bet the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan would.

But anyways, my point is that we were sitting at a table enjoying a slice of pizza as I saw a porky little ten year-old girl (swaddled in layers and layers of sweat-clothes) drop her 32 oz soda all over the beverage station. Human traffic, which was already slow due to the wheezing and puffing of the supersized herd, ground to a halt. Feeling particulary spiteful, I said to James, “That fat girl spilled her Coke.”

He added in a bastardly tone: “And now she’s mourning the loss of it.” I’m going to hell, but at least I’ll have company.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Wrong time

This weekend I returned home to go to Denise’s memorial service. It was long – about three hours and change – and we sat on the floor for the Hindi proceedings. There was a lot of religious activity I couldn’t understand, as well as brief talks by her relatives and friends and colleagues, as well as a slideshow, a video clip from the local news, and a video of her in an African dance performance. During the slideshow they played U2’s Twin Horsemen of Sheer Sentimental Power, “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For But I’ll Keep Looking Until One of Us Ends Up Crying.” Which ended up being me, as well as the other 100 or so people there. I defy anyone to watch a slideshow of a beautiful dead woman’s life and family and not cry. Maybe if they were playing “Baby Got Back” or something, but not “ISHFWILFBIKLUOUEUC.”

The memorial service did not bring closure as I would have hoped, but it wasn’t like picking a scab, either – it was more like stirring a pot. I don’t know what has bubbled up to the surface in this salty emotional jambalaya, but I feel as sad and angry and disconcerted as ever. I had been looking forward to this day as a chance to say goodbye and lay this tempest to rest, but in hindsight I recognize that this was a foolish goal.

That night I came home and changed the clocks before I went to bed – 11 to 12, 2 to 3, a jump in time that is erratic and inexplicable and in some ways unnecessary (just ask the good people of Indiana). Making this shift reminded me of how I wanted this process to be: leaping forward in one moment, a discrete change to produce a new and expected result. But this process (grieving, to name it) does not work like that.

Ironically, though, as easily and as suddenly as the clock moves ahead from 4 to 5, Denise slipped from life to death. In a way that does not seem right or logical or fair. And so today, as I looked at a variety of clocks reading an hour behind (in the car, in the cafĂ©, in my apartment) I thought to myself, wrong time – as I was hungry or tired only to find it too early to eat, to sleep, to wake, to move, to confess, to explain, to forgive, it was the wrong time. As Denise has died and as the rest of us live in her wake it is still the wrong time.

Ten to eleven, eleven to twelve. Twelve to one.