Monday, April 24, 2006

Worst haircut ever

Yesterday I went to get a haircut at one of the barber shops staffed by Russian emigres. As I sat down in the chair, the hair cutter, Gregory, asked me how I was doing, and I said I was doing fine. Then he asked me what I wanted, so I told him to keep it short around the sides and back with the clippers, and then let it go a little longer on top and use the scissors. He said that sounded good, and started fussing around with the clippers or something. Then he said to me:

"You're hair's thinning on top, huh?"

What. Oh, hell no. Inside it felt like someone had stuffed an ice sculpture into my chest cavity. "Huh," I said. "Hmm mmmm. Huh." Gregory pressed on and started doing his work. In my head, people were screaming. I was determined to produce no bodily reaction to what he had said, even though I desperately wanted to grab the mirror out of his hands and check out what the hell was happening on the top of my head, holding him at bay, if necessary, with his own scissors.

As the haircut progressed I thought I was doing really well at staying calm until I noticed the beads of sweat on my forehead. "Excuse me," I said and I brought my arm up from under my smock and wiped off my brow. "It's pretty warm out," I said, although it clearly wasn't. After he finished, I got the hell out of there as quickly as I could, gingerly patting different areas of my skull to gauge any possible differences in hair density and/or volume.

So basically, this was the most emotionally taxing haircut of my life. It was like a kick in the shins all day, and it ushered in a really lame pity party where I felt bad for myself and mourned the loss my youth and whatever good looks I think I'm hanging on to. I was mad at the guy for saying such a dumb and callous thing (what was I supposed to reply? "Oh, you're right, Gregory, guess I don't need a haircut after all, sorry to waste your time, and by the way, nice English skills"?) and I was mad at myself for nursing such a gaping Achilles' heel of vanity.

I called L, I called my sister, I called my parents. They reassured me I was fine and that they had never noticed a problem. Doing some contortions in the bathroom making use of the double mirror, I checked out the scene on my scalp and I guess things are acceptable, I don't know. I've had 26 years of decent hair and I already have picked my spouse. I can't let myself dwell on something I have no control over. But I told L that it is up to her to make sure my haircut/style is appropriate to whatever amount of hair I actually have. I don't want to wake up in ten years and realize I've been combing over the dry, pristine, milky white hairlessness of my scalp for all that time. I also told James to keep an eye on this as well, because frankly I would not sleep well if I did not have an emergency backup vanity patrol.

So that was my Sunday. An offhanded remark and some serious emotional scarring. And you know what the damnedest part is? I still gave the guy a totally decent tip.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Movie review: "Sir! No Sir!"

Last night we saw a documentary called "Sir! No Sir!" about the anti-war protest movement among active duty soldiers and military personnel during the Vietnam era. It was a good documentary, very intense, the kind of movie that makes you feel like the world is a cold and dangerous place. The director actually introduced the film at the theater, which was pretty cool. He, like most of the people in it, were overgrown hippies who still wore their leftiness in ironic fedoras, buttons, vests, t-shirts, or facial hair manifestations.

This movie got me thinking a lot. I really admired the soldiers featured in the movie -- they really grappled with the morality of what they were doing and why they were there, and when they reached the unpleasant conclusion that they wrong, they tried to correct their mistakes. I think now we look back on that movement and it's seen as something to apologize for or make fun of -- these dirty, lazy hippies high on pot and carelessly fighting against some kind of vague, suit-wearing Man. But there was a lot of thought and compassion there, and I had never really thought about that before. They even interviewed Jane Fonda and I found myself appreciating what she tried to do.

At the end of the film they talked about the old myth of the Vietnam soldier coming home from the front in San Francisco, and being spit on in the airport by some bedraggled hippie chick. But this never happened, according to one sociologist featured in the film. The soldiers themselves made their opposition well known, through demonstrations, petitions, the underground press, and sometimes acts of civil disobedience or criminality. They even had some touching footage of a USO-type tour through Asia, of which Jane Fonda was a part, bless her heart, where anti-war entertainers would rally the troops, protest the actions of the government, and reassure the soldiers that they were loved and would be welcomed home with compassion. There were ideas and information there that I had never really considered before.

To understand the moral uneasiness these soldiers felt as they did their job and killed their enemies was powerful. It was extremely disheartening to think of the civilian and military leaders who sent them to fight for cynical reasons and with little plan and hope for success. The parallels to our current situation were all too vivid.

Anyways, it was worth seeing. More information can be found here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Geriatric Easter

I was the youngest person at our family Easter celebration this year. One person in her eighties, five in their seventies, two in their fifties, one forties, one thirties, and me. I had a few odd conversations that reminded me that there is so much I don’t know about life, and that being a precocious 26-year old doesn’t count for much in comparison to the slow accumulation of waking up and getting out of bed every day for the better part of a century. You see some things, during all that time.

On the car ride down my great-aunt was saying how she feels so tired all the time. She actually said she felt ready to move on. My parents, joshingly, were chiding her about not meaning what she said. But she replied, “You don’t know how it feels to get up every day.” She talked about how her husband died too soon, and how yesterday she was at his gravesite and said, “Where in the world are you, Dan?” And believe me, that shut up everybody in the car.

Later on in the day I was talking to my grandfather, who is one of the best men I’ve ever known, who is like a second father to me. I carry his name and I am so proud of that. He was giving me his standard talk (or lecture, let’s keep it real) about work and preparation and life and love and family and generosity. I actually got to tell him some things I’ve never said before to him – about how well he has done for this family, about what he has made possible – and he told me that even though he doesn’t need to work any more, he still does it out of love. How much he loves us and wants us to be happy. He talked a lot about working hard in school and making sure you have a fallback plan, general lessons for life he’s been telling me so many years now.

At one point he took a weird turn for the macho: “You don’t want to be fuckin’ cutting down trees for your life, you know?” I had no idea what to say. What was he talking about? What’s the proper reply to that? “No, I sure fuckin’ don’t”? We don’t cuss in this family. But like a Cadbury crème egg, I know that behind that crusty chocolate exterior of bumbled curse words is the warm gooey caramel center of familial duty and the love of a strong and gentle patriarch, in the best sense of the word. Then he was like, "You want to be successful in your life, and happy, and then you can decide if you want to go cut some wood, you know what I'm saying?" Actually, um, no. I don't.

On the way home my mom asked me what we had been talking about, and we laughed about it in the car. He also told me he was proud of me, very proud, and my mom said he had never said that to her. I guess that is true, and even if it is, perhaps it just shows you how much people can grow and change and learn through every one of their days on earth. It was quite a day.

Book review: "The Namesake"

This from Saturday, April 15:

Since I’ve been home for the Easter weekend, I reread Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel “The Namesake.” I started on the train yesterday and finished it this afternoon, reading on the patio watching the sun go down. Sometimes I would look up from the reading and see a robin on the roof or a squirrel by the trees – it was great.

I first read this book in August 2004 in Rehoboth Beach. L and I were trapped inside because of a storm, and it took all the willpower I had to not devour the novel in one or two sittings. This time, though, I abandoned all restraint and consumed the novel the way I had hoped to. Even on a second reading, I was amazed at the scope of what Lahiri has done – in a mere 300 pages she covers two generations of a family, leapfrogging through time but still giving the reader enough to feel invested.

I think of all the novels I have ever read (ok, since becoming an adult), I have never been more affected emotionally by a book. Sure, I’ll give a good cry at “Stepmom” (damn you, TBS, for your constant airings) but books have never really hit me at the core. This one, though, put a lump in my throat several times over. The relationship between father and son reaches into a huge weak spot of mine, and the discussion of names and what people call us and how we call ourselves is also very familiar to me. It’s funny that when I’m home I respond to nicknames so instinctually, and how weird it is to hear my parents call me by my given name when we’re out with people.

Anyways, “The Namesake” remains an amazing book. Thematic elements of family, migration, trains, naming, love, maturity, books, reading, gifts. I love it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bad dog

I was walking to school today along Broadway when I saw several blind people getting off a bus. One had a white cane, but three or four had seeing eye dogs. They all got off the bus and were walking along, and I was admiring the concentration and aplomb of their seeing eye dogs, who were plodding steadily forward, when one of them (the dogs) suddenly turned to sniff the legs of a mailbox. The dog stopped dead in its tracks and the blind person behind it said, "Whoa!" and kind of stumbled into the dog, who clearly had no intention of moving.

At this point I kind of laughed a little bit, which I hope those blind people with their heightened sense of hearing didn't detect. I have never seen a bad seeing eye dog before. I mean, this one obviously missed a day of training, and he probably won't last long "out in the field," as they say. Maybe he was new, I don't know. I'm sure they straightened it all out in the end.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Waiting/David Gray/registration

Right now I'm sitting in the library at school, done with all the work I am going to do for the day. It's 5:37. At 6:15 I'm meeting a bunch of my classmates at a bar where our TA is buying us drinks. It should be fun. I am disappointed to miss going to the gym, though.

I'm listening to the newest David Gray album, "Life in Slow Motion," on the Ipod. It is so nice to have new David Gray music to listen to -- I find his voice so unique and comforting, and I like the mix of live and electronic instrumentation. He puts you in a good, mellow place. His album "White Ladder" is definitely one of my top recordings ever -- there was nothing I listened to more my third and fourth years of college -- and even the melancholy and sadness has a warm tinge to it now. So I'm glad DG is back.

Well, honestly, that's about all I have to say. Oh, I registered for classes this morning. A frustrating process but now I've got Corporations, Copyright Law, International Law, and Race and the Law for the fall. I am currently tired from waking up earlier than usual, and being stressed out and angry way earlier in the usual. Who cusses at 7:15 in the morning? I do, buddy, when it's a morning like this one. But then at school today everyone was commiserating and bemoaning the fact that none of us got what we wanted, and that we were all cussing at the computer and feeling our blood pressure skyrocket as out internet connections failed and the law school site froze or expired. As a result, people were walking around with glassy eyes today whispering things like, "I have 8 classes on Tuesdays," "I signed up for medical school classes by mistake," or, "I think I accidentally withdrew myself from school."

I wish I could go home now but I'm sticking around. I can't think of any more websites to visit, and after a couple of very long blog entries I wanted to dash something off quick. So here you go. Hooray for David Gray.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A weird evening with Toni Braxton

The setting: The Nokia Theatre in Times Square, probably the coolest underground lair in all of midtown. It was like the underground hotspot at Epcot Center - undulating ceiling, subtle lighting that shifted to cover the whole color spectrum, cheerful, good-looking employees in black. Eight dollar cans of beer. The main theatre area was suprisingly small, to the point where I looked around and thought: "Oh, poor Toni." The crowd size was about equivalent to, I don't know, say, Back to School Night. There were really cool chandeliers on the ceiling, comfortable seats, and intricate shadows thrown on the walls by the lighting systems. Nokia is doing well.

The crowd: I expected it to be another buppie crowd: young black men and women, well-dressed, stylish, fit, like a Terry McMillan novel come to life, sauntering and strutting in complicated hair and suits white men would never dare to don. And there was a significant buppie contingent, as well as ... middle-aged white couples. Who I guess really enjoyed "Unbreak My Heart" for three weeks in 1996, because otherwise why are they there. It was a bizarrely diverse crowd. More immediately, we were sitting in the back near a strong group of Proud Black Women who were very fun and sang every word, and the gay dude to our left (who, tragically, came and left alone) was actually quivering with pleasure during the concert.

The opener: was a comedian, Kyle Grooms. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and was generous with my laughter, and had a good time. He had this great joke about being "fuck-it drunk": when you're so drunk, you just say "fuck it" and don't even care; that's the point when you're dancing when there isn't even any music, you're just fuck-it drunk. I need to work this into my lexicon. Anyways, the comedian was way better than the standard hack opening R&B singer, who drags you through ten songs you don't know, including six ballads you never want to hear again and vocal gymnastics you didn't ask to hear in the first place. Put the melisma back in the bag, homie.

The Toni: OK, this was kind of a weird concert. She started out with "You're Makin Me High" and "Take This Ring," the two songs I was most excited to hear, and she was prancing all around, sort of dancing. She had two white chicks as her dancers, and she made the backup singers, two tall black girls (who happened to be her sisters, she said), dance as well, although they clearly weren't exactly Madonna, or even Paula Abdul, dance-wise. (Poor Toni can't even afford backup dancers and backup singers, y'all. It's that serious.) But the performances were awesome, the choreography was hot, instrumentation solid, but then ...umm... you realized.... Toni... wasn't really..... singing. Oh, no. Oh, snap. We are not listening to pre-recorded vocal tracks for this whole thing. This is not an Ashlee Simpson concert! No!

After the opening aerobics she settled down, flipped a switch, and actually sang. The difference was clear, and then it got pretty awesome. Here's the rundown: despite her cold, her voice sounded good and she hit all the notes; she had many costume changes, but she's looking a little thick in the middle; L thinks she demanded backup dancers who were kind of hefty so she would look better, although I disagreed; she played a lot of her early stuff, and the crowd loved it. She invited people onstage to sing and dance, and she wandered through the audience, which was at first endearing and then weird. She sat on a lot of laps, received a lot of bouquets. There was a crazy skinny white bitch who security was pulling back. There was a lesbian who looked like Jabba the Hutt who brought Toni flowers before she tried to, you know, eat her. There were cool dudes and sad dudes, and a dude who brought his son onstage. It was like Toni had decided, "Hey, my career's not quite where it used to be, maybe tonight let's just get to know each other a little bit.

Besides the audience antics and the strong set list, Toni was right there with all her singing tics that I love ("ooh," "yeah," "Woo!"). The audience would even jump in and supply some of them, which was awesome. We were so on point. But she had some diva tendencies, though, like the two fans (machines, not concert-goers) blowing air towards her during a few of the more torchy, ridiculous ballads. She talked to the audience in a weird way, kind of like a children's tv host, or a weatherman, I don't know. When she sang "You Mean the World to Me," she had this intense "You mean the world to me! You mean the world to me! You do!" thing that was a bit much. (Kind of like Oprah's "You get a car! You get a car!" tourettic episode.) And she had one song where she made a saluting hand gesture every time she talked about soldiers, which, as a Boy Scout, I found off-putting. Speaking of gestures, though, she definitely had the Mariah Carey disease where you can't really move your limbs in a normal standard way, and instead look like your puppetmaster thought it would be funny if he made you do the Macarena. It was comical, to say the least.

But am I mad that she had no encore? Or that she didn't sing as much from the new album as I would have liked? Or that I didn't get to go up there and sing and dance for Toni? No, I am not. For all of its faults and oddities, I would never have missed it. You can't miss Toni Braxton.

Spring fling

This was the first great weekend of spring. Here's how it went down:

Law school happened, as it usually does on weekdays. I went to go volunteer with my housing group and ended up downtown at the courthouse for four hours. I needed to drop off a form for a judge, get his signature and notes, copy his notes, and return to the office. Of course, when we got there we went to the wrong office; then we learned that the form would not travel the eleven floors up to the judge for another 90 minutes; then, when we came back 90 minutes later, we learned that the judge had gone home early to start the weekend (not a bad idea, actually); then we went back down to the original floor to meet with a substitute judge. Sometimes I feel frustrated by things like this, but I figure that some things you just have to learn the hard way, and this is part of the dues-paying process for this new legal career. I mean, I did learn about "orders to show cause," and a process called "conforming," and I won't forget them any time soon.

However, when I got home at 6, needless to say I was pissed. I went for an emergency stress-relieving, soul-cleansing run and it was fantastic. I was literally bounding with happiness along the Hudson River, feeling great, strong, listening to happy music, watching the sun set over the water and the lights come on in Battery Park. It felt so, so good. The rest of the night went like this: Benny's , for dinner and a margarita; a sighting of Project Runway's Jay McCarroll walking down 7th Ave; "Inside Man," which was all right by me; and Wogie's for two buckets of Rheingolds. Came home at 4 am drunk as a skunk and loving life.

Woke up at 10, did not leave the house until 6 pm to go watch basketball and eat good burgers. I opened the window, read the paper, watched shitty tv. Yet I don't feel guilty about this.

Did the Scotland Run in Central Park - 6 miles at 7:48 per mile. I was pleased with my time, given the ridiculous crowd-jockeying for the first half of the run. L returned from DC, unexpectedly early, so we met James for a congratulatory burrito at Chipotle. There is something nice and refreshing about the mid-day Chipotle visit. Then we moseyed home, stopped at a bookstore and did some browsing. Then I did work, watched some tv, and went to the gym again for the awesomely fun step class. And then, dear reader, L and I scooted up the 1 subway line to go to the Nokia Theatre to see, live in concert, in the flesh, TONI BRAXTON. It was ridiculous. More to come soon.