Friday, May 22, 2009

Turning onto Rodney

Rodney Street looks brightly lurid
as I turn north onto it from Broadway
at 1am. Not that Broadway,
which I was on earlier, slowing through
the crush of crowds after seeing Waiting
for Godot, the Shrek crowds, Times
Square tourists; but rather the busted Broadway
under the JMZ trains, screeching overhead.
Trash flattened, pancaked into pavement,
an overgrown lot above the B.Q.E.,
which, passing, I thought I could set up a tent in.
The traffic lights staggered down Rodney
bathe the asphalt in reds and greens,
the streetlights' sodium-lamp yellow
and all of the things I will never do.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Let's kick off this week with this amazing picture, to which I was alerted by my friend Katie:

The kid wanted to see if his own haircut felt like the president's haircut. (For more great daily pictures of Obama and others in the White House, see the Official White House Photostream, which currently features a picture of the president talking to a pirate.)

At any rate, this picture of the kid resonated with me all the more because right now I'm reading Dreams from My Father, Obama's first book.

Here's a favorite passage of mine from the book, which I highly recommend:
For the rest of the day and into the next, I thought about Ruby’s eyes. [Obama had noticed that Ruby, a black woman, was wearing colored blue contacts, and he kind of called her out on it.] I had handled the moment badly, I told myself, made her feel ashamed for a small vanity in a life that could afford few vanities. I realized that a part of me expected her and the other leaders to possess some sort of immunity from the onslaught of images that feed every American’s insecurities-the slender models in the fashion magazines, the square-jawed men in fast cars-images to which I myself was vulnerable and from which I had sought protection.
I love that Obama gets it about "the onslaught of images." That's why I want to start a band called The True Iconoclasts. Smash images. It's like Sex and the City and Friends, like magazines and movie stars; even though you know that the images are glossed and styled and Not Real, they provide a nonstop background noise against which, reflexively, you measure your own life and look and, of course, find them lacking.

Then there are these lines, from a story in this Sunday's Times about good deals for first-time renters now being more available than before in the city:
Maggie Hawryluk, a freelance publicist, graduated from Hofstra University last year. She decided to look in Astoria because she knew some Hofstra alumni who had settled there. She shares a $1,600 two-bedroom with another Hofstra graduate, a dancer who works as a waitress when she’s not auditioning.

“I guess it’s the same idea as immigrants — they find ways to stay near one another,” Ms. Hawryluk said. “When I’m out on the weekends, I’m constantly running into people that I know from college, and it’s nice to see a familiar face.”

I like that take on things. It's much more forgiving and clear-eyed than most of the vitriol that gets spouted and hand-wringing that gets done over gentrification. People want to live near others who are like them, simple as that—Trinidadians with Trinidadians, Russians with Russians, liberal arts school graduates with liberal arts school graduates.* No one ever complains about the former two groups clumping together, so why the latter?

Also RE: gentrification—I'm pretty much 100 percent over feeling at all bad about it, because A) That's the way the market works and B) What's the alternative? That no one should ever be allowed to relocate from the town in which they were born? Or, if you are a college graduate and you do move to New York City, that you should be required by law to live in the West or East Villages and disallowed elsewhere?

It's just not workable. People have to be able to move wherever they feel like. That's kind of an essential American value, I think. Now, of course, the government does have a role in preventing or mitigating some of the inherent predations of the market, in real estate and in all other areas. But swinging the pendulum too far in the direction of regulation is a bad idea.

Finally, I'm now on Twitter. If you want to follow me, my name is hrslaton. Here's a link to my page.

* Whether or not this—people desiring to clump together with others like them—is a good or bad thing is another story entirely; but I do think it's a very human thing. And arguing against human nature is a losing battle.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Robots Are Disappointing Me

Last night, in a fit of misguided hope, I OnDemanded the movie Transformers for an hour or so before bed. I'd never seen it before. What I saw of it, though, was hilarious. Literally within the first 30 seconds Michael Bay deploys no fewer than six cliches about American military men: There's one guy who speaks Spanish (everyone reprimands him, "English!") and talks fondly about his mother's cooking; another who says all he wants to do "is hold my baby girl for the first time"; and another who waxes rhapsodic, in a you've-gotta-be-kidding-me Boston accent, about a ballgame at Fenway, "a cold hot dog and a flat beer." At any rate, it's kind of hilarious how rapidly the movie hurls its stereotypes and cliches; it's like a kid gorging on candy because he's afraid some adult is seconds away from taking it from him. So I turned it off and went to bed.

This summer, like every summer, is a big one for big, dumb movies. Some are dumb and fun, but most are dumb and insulting, and make you feel sad and disappointed for even hoping against hope that maybe a summer movie could live up to its firecracker hype, maybe make you feel how seeing Independence Day at the dome theater that one summer in Little Rock made you feel: frisson, sexy, excited; cordite on the air, rolled-down windows, wind whipping, girls.

Mostly they are not like that. There are reasons why. Guess who knows them: David Foster Wallace (I know, I know). Here's the first two paragraphs from his excellent dissection of James Cameron's T2, which is apropos given the imminent arrival of the fourth Terminator movie:
1990s moviegoers who have sat clutching their heads in both awe and disappointment at movies like "Twister" and "Volcano" and "The Lost World" can thank James Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" for inaugurating what's become this decade's special new genre of big-budget film: Special Effects Porn. "Porn" because, if you substitute F/X for intercourse, the parallels between the two genres become so obvious they're eerie. Just like hard-core cheapies, movies like "Terminator 2" and "Jurassic Park" aren't really "movies" in the standard sense at all. What they really are is half a dozen or so isolated, spectacular scenes -- scenes comprising maybe twenty or thirty minutes of riveting, sensuous payoff -- strung together via another sixty to ninety minutes of flat, dead, and often hilariously insipid narrative.

"T2," one of the highest-grossing movies in history, opened six years ago. Think of the scenes we all still remember. That incredible chase and explosion in the L.A. sluiceway and then the liquid metal T-1000 Terminator walking out of the explosion's flames and morphing seamlessly into his Martin-Milner-as-Possessed-by-Hannibal-Lecter corporeal form. The T-1000 rising hideously up out of that checkerboard floor, the T-1000 melting headfirst through the windshield of that helicopter, the T-1000 freezing in liquid nitrogen and then collapsing fractally apart. These were truly spectacular images, and they represented exponential advances in digital F/X technology. But there were at most maybe eight of these incredible sequences, and they were the movie's heart and point; the rest of "T2" is empty and derivative, pure mimetic polycelluloid.
Here's the link to the full thing. You'll need to be prepared if you plan to plunk down $12 (that's New York City prices) to see the new Transformers or Terminator FXtravaganzas this summer.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

On the Poles

When people learn that I worked on Antarctica for a while, the first thing they usually ask, with a hint of incredulity, is "Why?" I usually tell them that I've always been obsessed with the place, and that it's probably the closest thing to being on another planet I'll ever get to experience ... but beyond that I don't really get into the metaphysics of Antarctica, and its psychic pull on me.

But Tim Wu, in a great piece published today on Slate, does. Here's a couple of key (and beautiful) paragraphs that come after he compares the North and South Poles to Eden:
The signs of Eden are everywhere in Antarctica. The penguins and seals don't seem to have learned, as most animals have, that humans are fallen creatures, best avoided. In the far south, the penguins spring out of the sea and waddle over to meet you, acting more like kindergarten children than wild birds. You feel you're at a reunion with lost friends and wonder why we have such bad relations with most animals.
That's very true. The penguins will just walk right up to you, and the skua birds (scavengers) are totally fearless ... they will divebomb you if you are carrying a blue tray from the galley, which they have learned means food.
Every so often, an iceberg floats by that is grander and more beautiful than any cathedral, though it lacks any history or even a name. What's almost as shocking as its appearance is its anonymity: beauty untainted by fame. Most of these perfect objects will never be seen by human eyes. They float around and slowly melt by themselves, unappreciated and utterly indifferent to that fact.
Again, very true, though I didn't see any icebergs (I was on land). But I did sit atop Observation Hill in the lee of a rock and look out onto the frozen sea with the sun hanging in a sentient, old way over it; and the quiet of the sea ice and the quiet of the mountains, the boundless white, hypnotized me.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Kitchen Conspirators

Back last September, my friend Michael Cirino, along with a newer friend, Danielle Florio, and two of her "co-conspirators" (keep reading) hosted a Panamanian-themed dinner at their loft apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The dinner was filmed for a new Food Network show called Kitchen Conspirators (in which Danielle and her two co-chefs star; Michael, who some of you may know from the pig roasts I've talked about on this blog, was the guest chef for the evening). Below is the dinner portion of the episode, in which I and my friend Jessica Wurst, who I brought with me, can be seen several times. Check it out—It's a great video, and was a lovely dinner: peach gazpacho, shrimp and risotto served in half a coconut, and for dessert, iced coffee served with tobacco-infused whipped cream. Here's the home page for the Kitchen Conspirators series, where you can find the recipes for these dishes, and here's a link to a video of the dinner (I had to take down the embedded video I had up earlier because it was automatically playing whenever you loaded this page).