Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kris Allen's cover of "Heartless"

We didn't watched "American Idol" this year, but I heard about this clip and I think it's great. Unlike most acoustic versions of R&B or hip hop songs, this one isn't smirking about white appropriation of black vernacular; this is just a really solid version that actually brings out the musicality of the song and gives it an emotional heft, that Kanye, as a not-great singer, simply can't. Kris Allen's version of "Heartless" makes me love the original in a new way. Congrats to him on his big win, I guess. This is the beauty of pop music, right here.

Terminator Salvation: Not a good movie

Last night L and I watched "Terminator Salvation." It was really stupid. I wasn't expecting a work of art, but I was hoping for an effective, zippy action movie to while away the night. Unfortunately the movie was pretty tedious and cumbersome. Christian Bale was working his best Batman growl, and Common was unintentionally hilarious as The Black Sidekick, but the movie was incomprehensible. I don't know enough of the Terminator mythology to really get into it, but every time someone asked somebody else what their name was, the person would say, "Kyle REESE," or "Marcus WRIGHT," in this fantastically overwrought way, and then wait eight seconds for the audience to stop gasping before they resumed their conversation. When people say, "What's your name?" no one answers like that; they say "Kyle," or "Marcus," and then try to give you their business card.

Some of the action pieces were entertaining, and the movie had a bleached-out color palette and dystopian vibe that I enjoyed. The time travel elements were silly, and the ending made no sense. So they destroy Skynet's central headquarters (oops, spoiler alert) but the war isn't over? Then why did we just bother with this whole thing? Also, the Marcus Wright character, who was sort of a terminator but didn't know it, was way cooler than boring, sanctimonious John Connor, who couldn't go five minutes in this movie without wrecking a helicopter.

Finally, if you were a brilliant self-aware network of machines, and you wanted to design a terminating robot to destroy humans, why would you design your own human-like robot? Why not just put a gun on top of a wheel, or something? To see these slow terminators lumbering towards their targets -- and then when they reach them, instead of doing something smart, like crushing their heads or shooting them, they pick up the human and throw them into a cabinet or something -- and then continue lumbering towards where they threw the human, so they can throw them at a car and hope maybe that that throw turns out to be the death stroke -- really? Really, Skynet?

It's a dumb movie. Unlike Skynet, it's not self-aware and is crushed by the weight of its own stupid backstory. On the plus side, we got to sit near the handicapped section of the theatre, so we had plenty of legroom, and our popcorn was delicious.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Flag day

The other day we had an interesting talk with John and Anna -- who seem to have acquired a lot of wisdom lately, like some collateral grace of new parenthood -- and they remarked that in order to live happily in this city, you have to really love other people. Not just the people who are easy to love, like your friends and relatives, but other, crazier people: unruly youths, drunken professionals, midnight dogwalkers who blather on about Mets tickets while their dog barks wildly, just outside your window.

I thought about this observation yesterday, when I spent the whole day battling crowds to find my own little piece of quiet. I got up early to do a 10K in Central Park. As soon as the race began, the rain did too. Small, occasional droplets gave way to a pelting, determined rain, drenching everyone and making my shirt slap against my skin. All the water in my shoes bogged down in my toes, adding a degree of suction to each step. I thought about just pulling off or seeking refuge at a friend's near the Park -- I mean, why bother. Ultimately the rain stopped after three miles, but the misery endured. I finished the race somewhat respectably, although I felt like I was passed by successive waves of people as I kept on my dogged old pace. It felt like a new cloud of people would overcome me every few minutes, and I would be dodging people coming up on either side -- was I really going that slowly? After the race people milled around, wet and relieved. As I walked back to the train I watched other people approach the finish line -- older people, heavier people who were trying so hard and doing so well. I felt proud of them. Three spectactors eruped in joyous screams as their friend ran past and I couldn't help but smile. So encouraging.

All I really wanted was to go home and take a nap and read my awesome new book, Nixonland, a big fat history of the 1960s. I felt so exhausted and wet and beaten. But Saturday was the day of our annual neighborhood fair: streets lined with tents and kiosks selling all kinds of jewelry, art, artisanal soaps, and ironic t-shirts, all of it seemingly designed for cynical college girls; hundreds of people milling about directly in front of our building, sitting at folding tables and dancing to the succession of bands on the main stage, blasting music towards our home; a magnificent 30-foot American flag fluttering between the buildings; a fat trailer of Bud parked by our front door. They had some jazz sets, a few warbly olden-time lady singers, and some funk bands, all of them relentlessly hammering their music through our windows. I tried to read and couldn't concentrate. I tried to nap but couldn't fall asleep through their public announcements about throwing away garbage and locating temporarily missing children. We watched TV at top volume but it was useless. The constant hum of the crowd was not a problem, but the music was just so damn aggravating. At L's suggestion, we took a walk and made our way to Abingdon Square. "I just wanted to take a nap and read my book," I kept repeating. I was so tired from the run and general sleep deprivation. "I am being literally tortured," I said, even though this was not true.

That night we escaped the bands and the crowds and the beer smell around our house to go celebrate Ashesh's birthday. On our way back we encountered one of our wacky neighbors as the festival wound down; the stage was already gone, the people had dispersed and only a few empty cups lined our front steps. "Were you here for the dancing in the streets?" she asked us. She seemed happy and drunk. We explained that we had been at a birthday dinner and had unfortunately missed it. "Well, where else can you dance in the streets?" she said lightly. "Nowhere but here, not with all these bloody-hell regulations...We can only do it because we were grandfathered it. Now did you see the firemen putting up the flag today? It took them two hours! I don't know how they did it. We used to leave the flag up 'til Flag Day, or at least the Fourth of July, but this one is so big it has to go down tomorrow. It's a real shame."

We commiserated over the flag, which waved lightly over the street from a rope strung between buildings. It was so bold and brash; even in the dark the bright swathes of color were beautiful. Over the emptying street it felt like community, like country. After a few minutes we headed inside and finally fell into a long-awaited deep and grateful sleep.

And sure enough, by mid-day today the flag was gone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I haven't written in a while, and that's because things have been generally awful. But after two weeks of misery, work has been a lot better in the last couple of days. Before I would feel a pit in my stomach as I approached the building, and would spend the entire day braced for something bad to happen. I lost a lot of confidence in my own ability and intelligence, and I still don't feel like I trust myself to be sharp. As it happened I got yelled at/reprimanded/embarrassed every Thursday, and I'm hoping tomorrow can break the pattern.

Lately I've put a lot of time in at work, in an effort to prove my stamina and dedication. Some of it was misguided, some of it was wrong. But nobody questioned my commitment. Now I have a new feeling about work, and the new buzzword is: tenacious. I feel like I'm holding on to some bucking bronco, I am getting jerked around and beat up and bruised, I am landing in the dirt and getting mud splashed in my eyes, there might be people laughing and jeering at me, but I don't know if I can hear them -- all I know is that I'm not letting go of that damn bull.

Last night in bed I felt it again, the same sense of nervousness and anxiety seize my body as I lay in a dark room, waiting for sleep. I thought about tasks that had to be done and mistakes I feared I had made. I felt imprisoned.

There are some really good things going on, too, but I haven't had the stomach to write about them: our friends' beautiful new baby, the Tobias Wolff stories I'm still reading, the great sandwich place on 12th we just tried. All of these things waiting if and when I can break the surface and come up for air.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My role model

This was a singularly, spectacularly, bogglingly shitty week at work. I didn't think I would make it, and yet somehow here we are again on Sunday night, standing at the precipice, at the brink of another week.

I had an epiphany a couple days ago about how I need to approach everything, and I feel dumb that it took me this long. When I first started, one of my colleagues told me that I remind her of Kenneth the page from "30 Rock." She said it was about my willful good cheer in times of strife. Kenneth the page needs to be my role model at work. He is competent, relentlessly cheerful, and blithely unaware of the slights and insults and stresses that thunder down on him on a weekly basis. He just keeps chugging forward with his permanent grin, homespun wisdom, and maddening courtesy. I need to be more like this. Do your job, keep smiling, don't break a sweat, and let everything else just slide on past you.

The other little thing that's helped me figure some things out is a Coldplay song. Just because I'm losing, doesn't mean I'm lost.