The Unbearable Banishment: March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

it isn't black theater. it's theater.

August Wilson was one of America’s most successful playwrights. His 10-play series, The Pittsburgh Cycle, chronicles the experience of black America through the 20th Century. Each play is set in a different decade. Some characters appear in more than one play. The children of characters in the early plays appear in the latter plays. It’s a bit Shakespearean in scope.

I saw the Broadway revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone. It takes place in 1911 during the Great Migration. Recently freed slaves were migrating north to find a new life, causing tension between the white working class and blacks who had already settled in the area.

I saw the original Broadway production way back in 1988 when I first moved to New York. Fortunately, my brain is so porous that I didn’t remember a thing about it, so it was as if I was watching it anew.

I’m afraid that white tourists are going to say to themselves, “Oh, that’s a black play. It’s not for me.” I hope that’s not the case because there are themes of alienation and finding yourself that can reverberate with anyone who has a beating heart. The actors work their asses off to great effect so I hope it finds traction.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

the worst job on earth?

I found this beauty while perusing the want ads:

Label Room Coordinator: New Jersey. Manage inventory of labels. Recv. labels from PO's Issue/return labels to/from packaging work centers. Create/print labels & UPC codes for colognes/cosmetics/lotions.

Oh, my God! It's as if Dickens was having a nightmare about Kafka reading Bukowski's Factotum.

Tell the little ones to stay in school.

Friday, March 27, 2009

the terrible thing that happened to my family

In the middle of this road we call our life
I found myself in a dark wood
With no clear path through.

Dante Alighieri
The Divine Comedy, “Inferno”

* * *

I hadn't mentioned this before but back on December 6th, I lost my job.

I worked for investment bank behemoth Morgan Stanley and for 18 months I watched as the company dissolved around me. I survived several rounds of layoffs but was finally shown the door.

I began my job search on December 7th. It has been a relentless, exhausting grind without pause or success.

My best job lead just blew up. It was my greatest hope for employment and it’s gone. I’ve had dozens of interviews over the past three months that have resulted in little more than a smack in the face with a brick.

We got a call from 7-Year Old Daughter’s first grade teacher. She was concerned because Daughter walked up to her and said, “My Daddy got fired and nobody wants him.” I tried to explain the difference between being laid off and being fired, but children do not deal in subtly. She only understands that Dad doesn’t leave the house in the morning anymore.

I sit at the dinner table and look at my two beautiful little girls and wonder how I’m going to provide for them. It feels like someone ripped my heart out of my chest, put it in an empty paint can, filled it with thick, black tar, soldered the lid shut and stenciled “DESPAIR” on the front.

The economy in New York is a shambles but I bear some responsibility for my predicament. I was complacent and allowed my skills to atrophy. Mrs. Wife has been a rock but I can barely look her in the eye. I read the papers and realize that hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, but this is my story.

The healthcare premium for my family is $956/month. We're just a simple, middle class family.

What am I going to do?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

random nyc pic

Yo! Yo! Yo!

Isn't "Downtown" one word? Don't they proof their tile mosaics?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

i, cracker

I saw Cadillac Records. It's the story of Chess Records. A worthy subject! I was angry that I didn't get to see it in a theater because I thought it would've played better with a superior sound system. But it actually turned out to be a good thing that I saw it at home.

I liked it, but in a bid for authenticity the actors who played Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter—all key roles—affected thick southern sharecropper accents. I am so lilly white, so Ohio, so bloody Caucasian that I couldn't understand a word they were saying! What a bunch of mumbly sons-of-guns! Mrs. Wife turned on the subtitles for me and it was smooth sailing after that. This is all very embarrassing.

I noticed that Beyoncé, who played blues singing-junkie Etta James, was the only one who performed her songs from start to finish. All the other performers had song snippits. In clubs and studio scenes, they never seemed to sing to completion.

Then the credits rolled and I couldn't help noticing that Beyoncé was the Executive Producer.

It's her coin. She can do whatever she wants, I guess.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

anniversary + more cell phone jammer shenanigans

Today is the 1st Anniversary of this idiot blog. I envy people who are so emotionally evolved that they never look back and have no regrets. Well, that ain't me, pallies. I can think of, quite literally, DOZENS of things over the past 12 months that I wish I had done differently. But I am glad I began this blog. So there's that.

A tip o' the hat to Bobzyeruncle, me blogfather.

* * *

Best rationale ever from a cell phone jamming victim:

I think those Verizon employees who follow me around must have all died because my phone keeps... hello... HELLO?


Sunday, March 22, 2009

i had blood on my hands

I took 2.5-Year Old Daughter to a local working farm. It's owned by the county and is run as a "period piece" from the 1890s. The volunteers all wear clothing from that era and use vintage farm tools to work the land. No electricity! Or iPods! It's meant to be educational but all I could think of was how horrible life must have been in the 1890s. What a cynic. God bless the 21st Century.

We (ho-hum) saw some sheep...

...and hens.

We walked up to the horse barn and saw a cute little kitty cat sitting outside. I reached down and gave him a little scratch under his chin. He got that eyes-half-closed look of ecstasy that cats get when they're being scratched and leaned into my hand for more.

Then he sneezed and sprayed blood all over the back of my hand. Here's a pic of the hay with some blood splashed on it.

I almost wretched. Proof positive that the city is the place for me.

* * *

Father and daughter share a tender moment:

2.5 Year-Old Daughter: What's that sound?

Me: Daddy had gas.

2.5 Year-Old Daughter: Daddy, you gas is beautiful.

Me: Yes, I know that.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

lowlights from the friday new york times fine arts/leisure section

A Chinese director is preparing an operatic adaptatoin of "Das Kapital" by Karl Marx...1

No, thank you.

Nicholas Cage as an astrophysicist...2


...a sequence in which he cuts back and forth between a woman giving birth and a soldier having a limb hacked off...3

Ugh! Hell no!

On a Swedish commuter train she broke into a fearsome improvised dance for an audicence of startled fellow passengers.4

Snigger. Pass.

Inerest blooms into camaraderie when the men discover a mutual love of the band Rush...5

Voilà! Finally! Jackpot!

1 From the Arts, Briefly column
2 Film review: Knowing
3 Film review: The Edge of Love
4 Art review: Projects 89: Klara Linden at MoMA
5 Film review: I Love You, Man

Friday, March 20, 2009

got art?

The always charming Annie posted a piece of original art that's hanging on her wall and wondered who else hung original art. (Children's art doesn't count. Hanging that is obligatory.) Here are a few pieces in my home. None of them have a stylistic relationship. It's a hodgepodge.

I received this oil on canvas from Artisté Florenza as a birthday present. This was an Asian food store near my apartment where I lived in Brooklyn. It was called, I kid you not, the FU KING FOOD SHOP on Atlantic Avenue. You can't make this stuff up. The store next to it is the fictitious Mr. Mark's Cleaners (that's me) and the signs in the window read Happy Birthday Mark. The address is 28. It was my 28th birthday and that was a long, long time ago. That's my shadow darkening the lower left corner, not the painting.

I bought this for myself in Union Square, NYC. It's Japanese gouache and ink mounted on silk. Mrs. wife isn't that crazy about it but she lets me hang it because, as you well know, marriage is a give-and-take.

My artist friend Jeff Suntala gave this to us as a wedding gift. It's a charcoal sketch from one of his classes. The colors are more vibrant than what appears here but I was too lazy to take it off the wall to photograph in better lighting. Sorry, Jeff.

This is a triptych that I took of 7-Year Old Daughter when she was a baby pulling herself up on our coffee table.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

i love the NEW YORK POST

How do you like them apples?

For sheer venom and shock, you can't beat the UK tabloid headlines. The U.S. rags can't hold a candle to the them. But once in a while, our New York Post can deliver a real haymaker.

The above delicious example from yesterday's paper was in response to the bonuses paid to AIG executives with taxpayer money. The entire populous is up in arms. Bless the New York Post for putting our feelings into one pithy sentence.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

more search phrase hijinx

I had to delete one of my entries from January. I posted a rant about the Clique Girls—a 3-girl singing group marketed to the pre-teen set. I felt there was an inappropriate amount of sexuality used to pimp the group. The lead singer is only 12 years old and in the print promos she is always posed provocatively with a come-hither look.

The title of my post was:

“child p*rn courtesy of interscope records”

Since then, I’ve been getting hits from all over the plant by people using “child p*rn” as a search phrase. It made me feel dirty so I took the post down. What the hell is wrong with humanity? How did something like this work its way into the gene pool?

Monday, March 16, 2009

spirited evening

I’ve seen many good plays but occasionally you get that rare night when every actor is firing on all cylinders and the material is strong and it’s being performed in a proper old theater.

CB I saw Nöel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Shubert Theater. The dialog was fast and clever and it was flying out of the mouths of some of the most accomplished actors in town. The show is in its infancy, just having opened a few days ago, and some lines of dialog were stepped on and dropped but it was a fun evening, regardless.

As good as the play is, that's how bad the ad campaign is. Take a look at this ugly illustration. It makes me not want to see the play.

British theatrical treasure Angela Lansbury played a crazy old medium and Rupert Everett was the spirit-tormented husband. Everett was the big surprise. We thought he was going to be the weak link in the chain but he was terrific.

I like Nöel Coward’s England. His is the England where the sun never set on the Empire and every problem was solved with another round of dry martins. Money was never an issue. P.G. Woodhouse is like that. So is Woody Allen. Money isn’t part of the plot. It’s just there in abundance.

The Shubert is one of New York’s classic original theaters. It was was built in 1913. In the 1930s you could have seen Fred Astaire in Gay Divorce or Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. In the 40s you could have seen Paul Robeson, Jose Ferrer and Uta Hagen in a legendary production of Othello. There’s lot of history on them boards.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

cell phone jammer: the backlash begins

Someone from San Diego landed on my blog using the following search phrase:

How to get past a cell phone scrambler

Oh, is that so? Is it a war you’re looking for? You want a piece of my jammer? Who are you? Some smarty-pants pencil-pushing desk jockey from Verizon?

I’ll lay odds that if your tech guys invent a way to override my cell phone jammer, my tech guys (whom I’ve never met. They’re someplace in Hong Kong.) will invent a device to override your cell phone jammer override device. Pretty soon my bag will be weighed down with electronic espionage and counter-espionage gadgets.

I don’t mean to get all George W. Bush on you but bring it on, junior. I found out firsthand that when I respectfully ask someone to lower their voice, all I get is a dirty look and a suggestion that I go fuck myself. I didn’t want to get all illegal-Chinese-electronics on your ass but my hand was forced. I will fight for my right to nap on a quiet train.

* * *

Over the weekend I was listening to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. I hadn’t heard it in quite a while and I forgot how great it is. It’s a shame she’s such a train wreck because, ladies and gentlemen, that album is the real deal. It’s compelling and listenable from beginning to end. Nowadays, I only ever hear of her when she’s being picked on by the British tabloids. I hope like hell she can pull her shit together one of these days because I’d love to hear more from her. Poor girl.

* * *

I have a vicious bout of the old ennui this afternoon. Maybe it's the relentless gray skies. Perhaps it’s too much Amy Winehouse. Hope it passes real soon.


Friday, March 13, 2009

is there a diner in your life?

Does this photo conjure up any memories for you?

Of course, I don’t mean this sign specifically but, do you have a diner in your life? A place to eat eggs and sip coffee with friends or family? Sitting alone with a newspaper is best of all. You can really scour your soul when you’re alone in a diner. I like sitting at the counter. You get the best service at the counter because you’re right in their face.

Diners are my favorite places on the planet. They’re so unpretentious and comfortable. They feel like home.

When I was in high school, before we were old enough to drink and hang out in bars, we use to meet at the L+K on Pearl Road to flirt with the cute waitresses. (Hi, Z.) At a hotel coffee shop we frequented on Bagley Road, I use to sit at a table and write in my journal. When my friends came in and saw me sitting alone writing, they would leave me alone and I would finish up and join them. I think they use to make fun of me but that’s okay. I didn’t mind being the fool. Still don’t.

New Jersey has some fantastic diners. Here’s where I go with 7-Year Old Daughter on Saturday afternoons for lunch:

Isn’t it a classic? I’ve been taking her here since she was 4. The waitresses know her and make a fuss when we come in. We have a favorite waitress and always make sure we get a booth in her section, even if we have to wait. My hope is that when Daughter is older, she’ll sit in these same booths with the same jukebox selections (they haven't changed in decades) and say to herself, “This is where my dad used to take me when I was a kid. I love it here.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mary-Louise Gabler

I saw Mary-Louise Parker (my pretend girlfriend) in the Broadway production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.

When it opened a few months ago, the critics were almost unanimous in their disdain so I expected very little. Out loud, everyone says that they don't listen to the critics—especially New York theater critics. You won’t find a bigger bunch of malcontent failed writers and actors looking to tear down what they themselves could not build. But the truth is that EVERYONE listens to the critics.

I’ll admit that there were a few passages that were…ahhh…what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, yea. Boring. A few scenes plodded along at too leisurely a pace. But I am pleased to report that, overall, I enjoyed it. Pretend Girlfriend (gawd, she’s cute) was in very fine form in the title role as a bored, depressed newlywed who becomes so despondent over her inability to control the lives of the people around her that she shoots herself in the head at the end of the play. Talk about your desperate housewife!

That fucking Ibsen is a real barrel of laughs, isn't he? The last time I saw an Ibsen play, Master Builder, I ended up walking out at the intermission—something I had not done in over a decade. I think I’m through with Ibsen. I’ll stick with the Bard and leave the depressed Norwegians for the New York theater intelligencia.


Monday, March 9, 2009

cell phone jammer damage

Look what's become of my poor cell phone jammer.

These things are so fragile. It's not like I slam it around or anything like that. This is the second unit I've purchased. The three prongs at the top bend out of place very easily. There's an even more powerful unit available (it's a bit more expensive than the $38 I paid for this one), but the prongs on that model look even more frail than this one.

A battle-hardened soldier. I like it. It looks MEAN.

* * *

United States: illegal to operate, manufacture, import, or offer for sale, including advertising (Communications Act of 1934), with fines of up to $11,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.

In the UK, you can own a cell phone jammer, but it's illegal to use it. C'mon, England. Don't be so naive. What do you think these things are for? Decorative wall sculpture?

The good news is that they are completely legal to own and operate in Armenia.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

yuppie breeding ground

Overheard at the local playground by a yuppie mommy (with WAAAAYYY too much enthusiasm and wild applause):


Oh, for Pete’s sake. All that kid did was obey the laws of gravity. Must we compliment our children for their every little triumph? Wait until Jake finds out that the world isn’t all that impressed with his accomplishments.

Friday, March 6, 2009

when clowning becomes just another goddamn job

This is probably a back-handed compliment but I found Humor Abuse, the one-man show at the Manhattan Theater Club, far more enjoyable than I thought I would. If it weren’t for mimes, clowning would probably be the bottom rung of the entertainment ladder so I didn’t expect much.

The premise sounds pretty staid; a lone actor stands center stage and acts out the story of having a professional circus clown for a father. Father drags son into the business. Son learns the trade and tries desperately to please his father. Father ends up burning son. Ho-hum, right?

WRONG! It works beautifully. There were a few truly inspired moments that made me think about my own idiot father. And then I realized that the show isn’t really about clowning at all. Nice work.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

random nyc pic

If you stand on the balcony that overlooks the main entrance inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and look up, this is what you'll see:

Arches within arches within arches. Do you see the smallest one at the bottom center of the photo? Artistè Florenza pointed this out to me and I thought it was simply beautiful. I don’t know. Maybe you need to see it in person…


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

10,000 dead frenchmen

I treated myself to Shakespeare’s Henry V. It was three hours but they flew by. I loves me the King plays.

When it began, I had my usual wrestling match with the dialog. It takes at least :10 to :15 minutes until I settle down with the cadence of Shakespearian English and acclimate myself to the iambic pentameter. (Whatever the hell that is. If you know, please explain.) It’s like trying to grab a garden hose that’s turned on full blast and is whipping around.

Henry V was one of England’s more successful monarchs. By the end of his rein, he ruled over a united England and France. His son, King Henry VI was a zero who lost everything his father built and started the War of the Roses. What a dickhead.

This play is a home run for an old Anglophile like me. In order to distract King Henry from his plan to liberate the church from a portion of its property and cash, the slippery Bishops (Are there any other kind?) conjured up a distraction. They convinced Hank that he is the rightful heir to the French crown. A war ensued and with a country to invade, who has time to abscond with church property?

Shakespeare’s historical dramas are based in fact. When Henry fought at Agincourt, a hungry and weary English army was outnumbered 10-1 by a fortified French army but England routed France! That’s a fact!

Take that, Frogs.

My comprehension of Shakespeare is tenuous at best. Do you know what helps? Jamming Cliff Notes the day before the play. I do it every time I see a Shakespeare play. Otherwise I'd get lost. I didn’t attend a University after high school so I’m a bit behind on all that stuff.

Photo credit: Ari Mintz for The New York Times


Monday, March 2, 2009

a final insult

Winter gave the East Coast of the United States its great big final "F.U.!" of the season. Many inches of snow lead to school cancellations, a LOT of shoveling and a trip to a nearby hill to ride sleds.

Do you know how you can tell you're an adult? Snow isn't fun anymore. It's a pain in the ass. I simply cannot understand why anyone would want to go skiing. Supposedly, there's some really great skiing not too far from here, but the best skiing weather also happens to be the worst driving weather. If you have some disposable income allocated for a vacation, why wouldn't you go someplace that has turquoise water (instead of frozen)?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

dear England: thank you for the language. we’ve made a few improvements.

Damon Runyon was an American fiction writer who wrote short stories about New York City in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His style of writing employs the New York City Wise Guy vernacular of that era. His street smart characters were the inspiration for the musical Guys and Dolls starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.

Since we here in the U.S. are slipping into a new depression (Canada is laughing their asses off at us) the New York Times thought it might be interesting to revisit Runyon’s world, since the depression figured prominently in many of his stories.

I had not read any of Runyon’s stories in a long, long time and I forgot how beautiful and rich the language is. He’s Dashiell Hammett with a sense of humor. His prose drips with atmosphere. Do you know how if you hear a riff by Keith Richards or The Edge, you know instantly it’s them? After you read a few of Runyon’s tales, you’ll be able to identify him within three sentences. The Times printed several wonderful examples of Runyon's New York on the ropes. (A Runyonesque phrase if ever there was one!) Here’s my favorite:

There is very little scratch anywhere and along Broadway many citizens are wearing their last year’s clothes and have practically nothing to bet on the races or anything else, and it is a condition that will touch anybody’s heart.

He describes a winter day as being, …colder than a blonde’s heart. God, I wish I could write like that. He even looked the part:

Fun fact: Runyon was born in Manhattan. Manhattan, Kansas!