The Unbearable Banishment: April 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Abu Ghraib, New Jersey

5-Year Old Daughter has a wild and vivid movie playing inside her head at all times. Often, I'll hear her on her own in some corner of the house providing dialog for two inanimate objects. Not just dolls. She'll pick up two pencils or a fork and a toy car and have them "talk" to one another. Whole conversations! It's entertaining to watch from the shadows.

I heard her yammering upstairs in our bedroom so I crept up to see what kind of charming world she was creating this time. Was it princesses or a menagerie of friendly stuffed animals? I turned the corner and was stunned to see this scene unfolding on our bed. She had placed the cloth pouch used for game pieces over the head her doll!

Then, much to my horror, she cinched the bag closed around the doll's neck! Oh, my God! What ghastly game is this she's playing!? Next stop, the child psychologist.

* * *

I was walking down my driveway with 9-Year Old Daughter to get in the car. At the apron, we saw an empty, crushed pack of Marlboro's. The wind blows all kinds of crap in from the roadway. She looked down and said the most wonderful, satisfying thing:

"Dad, what is that?"

Can you imagine! 9-years old and doesn't recognize a pack of cigarettes! Perhaps next I'll show her a typewriter, an 8-track cartridge and a black and white television.

* * *

Have you ever impulse purchased a CD from because it was really cheap and then, once it arrived and you go to tuck it into your CD rack, found that you ALREADY OWN A COPY?

No, of course you haven't. Only someone with the attention span of a gnat would do that.

Would anybody like a free copy of Genius: Warren Zevon's Greatest Hits? His songs are like really great short stories, mostly about broken, fucked up lives, all weaved with sometimes gentle, sometimes chugging, piano.

Well, I'm sittin' here playing solitaire

With my pearl-handled deck

The county won't give me no more methadone

And they cut off your welfare check

Carmelita hold me tighter

I think I'm sinking down

And I'm all strung out on heroin

On the outskirts of town


Edit: The CD is gone. It's going to Ireland! Thank you for playing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My superhero origin

Superman had his rocket from Krypton

Batman saw his parents murdered.

Spider-man was bitten by a radioactive spider.

In this month's column at the Undie Press, I tell the story of how I became The Unbearable Banishment and then segue to my recent trip to the annual Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America rare bookfair, where I swooned and salivated over some of the most beautiful and unobtainable books on the planet.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Rebbe is coming! The Rebbe is coming! And he's driving an RV.

Every religion has its fringe elements who have *ahem* interesting viewpoints. Here in New York, the Hasidic community has a group of followers who insist that their charismatic leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, is actually the Moshiach (Messiah), and are eagerly await his resurrection. Now, I ask you, is that any crazier than when the Apostles were selling the same special sauce 2,000 years ago?

If you're in the right place at the right time, you'll catch their fabulous parade of rented RVs that promote their beliefs. The RVs blast music and people hang out the windows and wave at New Yorkers, some who watch gape-mouthed. In this clip, I caught them on 6th Avenue just south of 42nd Street working their way uptown towards Rockefeller Center.

These seem to be benevolent folks whose core message, as far as I can tell, is one of promoting goodness and kindness. To me, they're harmless nuts, unlike some other religious fringe groups who like to judge people and tell everyone how to live—or else.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

:15 second reviews

I'm never going to get around to writing individual posts for these and since it's my least-popular feature, I thought I'd lump a bunch of quick-hit reviews together. Enjoy! Or not.

* * *

In High, Kathleen Turner plays a foul-mouthed alcoholic nun in a rehab center. Big stretch! She was great but I thought the plot was very movie-of-the-week and the script was weak. An actual line of dialog:

“Cody is hiding something!”

Oh, you don't say? Well, beat me over the head with a big obvious stick. The guy playing the young drug addict was AC-TING and E-MO-TING too much. But my two friends loved it, so who knows? The reviews come out Tuesday. Then I'll know what to think.

* * *

Marisa Tomei is my pretend girlfriend, along with Mary Louise Parker. They, on the other hand, are unaware of my existence. The New Group's Marie and Bruce is :90 minutes of a wife's raging, venomous hatred of her husband. If you think that's uncomfortable to sit through, you're right. Both Tomei and Frank Whaley, her punching bag husband, are terrific. They leave it all on the stage, including for real tears. But if you're feeling kind of blue and insecure about your relationship, then I'd steer clear of this one. A few years back they made this into a movie with Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick. I can't IMAGINE what that looks like.

* * *

I was looking forward to Driving Miss Daisy with slight trepidation. I thought it might be a lot of Old Lions of the Theater-type histrionics. Well, it wasn't. Darth Vader's Hoke was quiet and seemed truer to the spirit of the character than Morgan Freeman's (although Freeman originated it). And, boy, can Vanessa Redgrave act! (That's like pointing out that water is wet.) A highlight of the season.

* * *

The funniest/saddest/truest thing you can see right now is David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People. Francis McDormand, a down and out "Southie" from the wrong side of Boston, looks up Tate Donovan, a former fling who made it out of the neighborhood and is now a doctor. She gives an utterly selfless performance, looking drab and beaten by life throughout. The entire cast of six is spectacular. I recognize some of the characters in this show from my past and it stayed with me for a long while.

* * *

Richard Thomas plays the bumbling idiot Timon in Shakespeare's rarely-produced Timon of Athens. Timon gives all of his money away to his friends and then turns into a hermit and violent misanthrope when he goes broke and none of his "friends" will lend him a nickle. It didn't get strong reviews when it opened but I really liked it a lot. And tickets were a measly $15 bucks! C'mon! A top-notch Shakespeare production at The Public Theater (one of the best venues in town) for mere pennies. You can't go wrong, folks.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How the Chinese in New York scam Apple

This is the Apple store in Soho.

This is a queue of Chinatown residents waiting to get inside.

You'll stumble across this curious scene in front of Apple retail outlets each time Apple releases a popular product. Are the Chinatown residents obsessed with having the latest cutting edge technology? No, they are not. They are part of an elaborate scheme perpetuated from China, a country flush with disposable income and obsessed with owning prestigious items like Apple products.

It works like this: local Chinese wait in line and pay retail for Apple products, forgoing any contracts with AT&T or Verizon. (In this case, they are after the new, hard-to-get, iPad2.) They will each buy two (the limit per customer) and sell them to a middleman in Chinatown, usually an electronics store. They are then shipped back to China (from where they're made!) and sold at inflated prices. Last summer, they'd paid $600 for an iPhone 4, sell it to their middleman for $750 and it was resold in China for up to $1,000. Workers can earn up to $300 in a single morning.

Apple tried to clamp down on this trading network but advocates for the Chinese went to the New York State Attorney General and cried that they were being discriminated against, so Apple backed off.

It's not actually stealing per se, but there's a wrongness about it. They deprive domestic, legitimate customers of product. They're a crafty bunch, aren't they? How do you like them Apples?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jesus saves. Except when he doesn't.

I'll probably catch a lot of hell for this one but this is *my* sandbox.

* * *

I recently read a piece in The New York Times about Bethany Hamilton. She's a professional surfer who, at 13 years old, had her arm bitten off by a shark while surfing in Hawaii. They made a movie about her.

During the course of the very brief interview, she said the following:

"[The movie] tells of the struggles that me and my family went through after the attack and the passion we have for both surfing and God."

"I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe he gave me the passion and determination to continue surfing."

"I...enjoy Bible study and making dinners."

"[My parents] have encouraged me in my relationship with Jesus Christ and in my passion for surfing."

10 questions. Four of her answers mentioned Jeebus. When people shoehorn their religious beliefs into every facet of the conversation, they always come off as sounding kind of brainwashed to me. Like they're stumbling around in a narcotic stupor.

My mother did it the right way. She had a strong bond with the Catholic church but never militantly so. She never berated me for falling away from the church. Never proselytized. And certainly never spewed any of that "Jesus is the only way to heaven" rhetoric. (Somehow, I can't picture Gandhi in hell.)

If I were Bethany and I had a special relationship with Jesus, I'd ask Him why the hell a shark ate my arm. And, as long as I had his attention, why entire villages were swept out to sea in Japan.

Oh...excuse me...I forgot my place. My catechism classes are long behind me. We are never supposed to ask questions. Keep your head down. Give thanks. I'm a sinner. I believe in the Holy Catholic Church. But don't ask why.

God gets all the credit, but none of the blame. That's a pretty sweet deal. How can I swing that at work?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wherefore art thou, sanity?

My Bride went to a Ladies Party on Sunday afternoon. A Ladies Party is where someone invites all of her lady friends over and then proceeds to sell them stuff. I think this all started in the 1950s with Tupperware. This time, it was jewelry. Sometimes, it's clothing or make-up or cleaning products. I take a suspicious view of all this. If I had a bunch of guy friends over for beers and poker and tried to sell them gym memberships, I'd probably get a good swift kick in the nobby-halls.

I gathered The Daughters and escaped into the city. It's finally starting to become spring-like. I took them to a play in Greenwich Village but before the show we hung out in Washington Square Park for a bit.

I wonder what she was pointing out? I'll never know.

There's always a busker or two around. Someone rolled a piano into the park and was played Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (see pic above). After that we watched a contortionist fold himself into a tiny Plexiglas cube. What a way to make a living! I'll bet it beats the hell out of sitting at a desk all day. That's no fun. Take it from me.

I took them to see the sickeningly talented Flying Karamazov Brothers at the Minetta Lane Theater. The Brothers (who aren't) are world class jugglers and also pretty damn good musicians, dancers and comedians.

I saw their show last fall and had been meaning to take the girls. I read that they're packing up their flaming torches, pins and tutus and heading off to London, so I got tickets to their last day in New York. As satisfying as ever. UK readers; they're starting a summer run at the Vaudeville in June. They'll make you forget all your troubles for :90 minutes, and who couldn't use that?

Before the show, we were sitting in a booth at a diner on 6th Avenue, me across from the two of them. I sipped my coffee and watched them eat. Two healthy, happy, well behaved, pretty little girls. I looked out the window at a sun-soaked Manhattan. Show tickets in my pocket. A hot meal waiting for us when we got home. Tickets to a top-shelf production of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors for next week. Can someone tell me where my sanity is?

Why, while possessing all the ingredients for a satisfying life, do I still occasionally want to run someone off the freeway into a bridge abutment if I see them using the cell phone while driving? Why do I allow some people at work to burrow so deep under my skin that I'd like to stick a pencil in their eye? Why do I fret about bull whipping the first person who breaks my daughter's heart (which, let's face it, is inevitable)? Is this part of the human condition or is it my singular madness?