Brooklyn is still Brooklyn

Scene: Interior Washington Gourmet Deli bodega.

Customer: Yo, lemme get a stamp!

Bodega guy: No stamp, no stamp.

Customer: No stamp?! … Okay, lemme get a Tylenol.

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The Pendulum Swings

Trump-color-nobg

I drew this back in 2015 for a French comics magazine. The concept was to illustrate some of  the “weirdest” news stories of the year—you know, like the idea that Donald Trump was running for U.S. president..

One of the things I’ll never forget about the 2008 election was watching the returns on TV and also tracking it on my Facebook feed. Facebook was a relatively new phenomenon at that point, and the folks who were on it seemed to so epitomize the energy that the Obama team was bringing to the White House. I’ll also never forget that, late that night on November 4, a lone trumpeter paraded down Eastern Parkway (in front of my apartment building), tooting triumphantly on his horn for blocks and blocks and blocks.

On January 20, 2009, I wanted to experience the moment of the inauguration of our first African-American president with other folks in my community, so I headed over to Cafe Shane. I sat at their coffee bar, watching the ceremony on TV with a diverse crowd of celebrants. I remember toasting the moment, with my cup of tea, with the 40-ish black guy, and his cup of coffee, sitting next to me. (I also remember Chief Justice Roberts fumbling the words as he led Obama through the oath. Do you remember that?)

Back then, after eight years of George Bush, it all felt like a fresh start, like our country had taken a giant stride forward. Now, eight years later, our country seems to be making another “fresh start.” But it’s not something I can bear to witness with a crowd of folks. I’ll watch the inauguration here at home on my TV, but it’s hard for me to see this fresh start as anything but a giant stride backward.

Ploughshares covers FLASHed

Flashed-cover300pxPloughshares interviews Pressgang publisher Robert Stapleton about his press and FLASHed, which it calls ” a fantastic collection of stories both written and illustrated,” and “so unique in its approach to the interplay between author and artist.”

Giants Win War of Attrition 3-Games-to-1

So in their recently completed Division Series the Giants hit .222 as a team, with a sum total of six extra-base hits. They were thrown out stealing more times than they were successful. They scored nine runs in the entire four-game series. And yet they beat the powerful Washington Nationals three games to one. How they did it was that the Nats were even more pathetic offensively than the Giants, hitting .164 as a team. I’m not even sure if the Giants’ pitching was so great (a 1.60 team ERA ain’t bad) or that offense just disappeared for both teams—other than Bryce Harper and his three moonshot home runs.

The Giants won every game by a single run, and other than Brandon Belt’s 18th-inning blast in game 2, many of the runs they did score were gifts: bases-loaded walks, wild pitches, fielder’s choices… They won passive-aggressively! What a strange series. Which matches the Giants’ strange season: dominance in April & May, June & July swoon, and enough resurgence in August & September to squeeze into the 2nd wildcard slot.

But, hey, I’ll take it! On to the N.L. Championship Series and the St. Louis Cardinals (who dispatched the favored Dodgers in four games as well). My big trepidation, moving forward, though, is the absence of leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. You wouldn’t know it from his stats, but he is the Giants’ catalyst. Their record the last two years is directly related to his presence in the lineup: a winning team when’s he in there, and a losing one when he isn’t. And he’s out for the rest of the year after back surgery. But… enough pessimism. Bring on the Redbirds!

And this IS an even-numbered year: 2010, 2012

Society of the Spectacle: The Desolation of Smaug

Last night Sari & I went to see the IMAX 3D version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square on 66th Street and Broadway. We were witness to an incident there that will prevent us from ever patronizing that theatre again.

The film, whatever its merits, was an assault on the senses from the get-go, with the pitch-dark theatre periodically lit up by strobes of light and the volume turned up to “eleven.” It continued unabated for close to three hours. Well into the second hour, we noticed a commotion in the row in front of us: some poor guy was having a seizure. He was convulsing violently and obviously in great distress. The people in the seats around him were understandably agitated, some cringing from him and others seeing what they could do to help. One man in the row in front of him stuck something in the guy’s mouth, presumably to prevent him from biting his tongue. Someone called security. A woman in the audience—apparently a nurse or doctor—came down and began attending to him. Meanwhile the movie continued to play in all its raucous fury.

Finally a couple of theatre employees arrived, checking the guy out and talking on their headsets. By this time, the seizures had stopped, but the victim was slumped all the way over in his seat, barely conscious if at all. We were horrified to see that the movie was continuing; in fact, many people had turned back to the screen to watch the further adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves.

Sari and I approached the people in charge and asked why they couldn’t suspend the movie and put the lights up to properly attend to the victim. They replied that the EMTs were on their way, that “his airway was clear and he was stable.” (I didn’t know one of the criteria of managing a movie theatre was to be a qualified medical professional!) We reiterated our question as to why they couldn’t stop the film to take care of him, and the manager said that once you stop a 3D IMAX film you can’t start it again. (Does anyone know if this is true?) Needless to say, I was stunned by this response—she was implicitly acknowledging that the fear of having to refund 500 tickets was more pressing than the health of a human being in need.

By this time, we had learned that the victim was 24 years old and had a recent history of seizures, but had not yet been diagnosed with epilepsy or any other condition. You could argue that, knowing his history, he probably shouldn’t have gone to the film—particularly an immersive 3D IMAX presentation. But the fact of the matter is that he was there, and this was happening. And I couldn’t help but put myself in his place—confused, depleted, in pain, and being treated so worthlessly that they couldn’t bother to stop a frickin’ movie to attend to him.

A few minutes later the EMTs arrived, along with some cops. We followed them into the screening room as they attended to the victim. Again, the film continued, uninterrupted! The people in the row alongside the patient cleared out to allow the EMTs to examine him. The EMTs were forced to do this with flashlights, screaming into his ear to asses his condition. One EMT clenched a small flashlight in his teeth so he could use his hands to do an examination. Finally, four of them picked up the guy and awkwardly carried him out of the theatre—with the same EMT clenching the flashlight in his teeth as he helped carry the semi-conscious patient. It was a ridiculous and infuriating scene.

Fortunately, the guy essentially seemed to be okay. On their way out, I asked one of the cops what he thought of having to work like that, in the dark, with the film blaring away the whole time. He gave me a disgusted look, and said, “Not my call—ask management. The show must go on.”

There was no way Sari and I could return to watching the film. It’s one thing to suspend disbelief for a few hours. But when harsh reality bursts that bubble, there’s no retrieving it. At least not that night.

society-of-the-spectacle

On our way out of the theatre, we found the manager again, to lodge a complaint about the company’s apparent lack of humanity. The manager said incidents like that “happen all the time,” and they had a protocol for dealing with it. We asked her if it was company policy to never suspend the film. She said it was her call. Again, she mentioned that once you stop an IMAX film, you can’t start it again—which I still find difficult to believe. In any case, her answer essentially confirmed that AMC is more afraid of having to refund a lot of tickets than the thought of one ticket-buyer dying in his seat. So what are the limits of this policy? Would an active heart-attack make them stop the show? How about a stabbing? Mind-boggling. (By the way, she offered us passes, which we turned down.)

I’ll never forget my last look back at the screening room we had been in: all eyes (wearing their 3D glasses) had turned back to the carnage on-screen, real life dispelled once again. It was exactly the same image as the cover of Guy DeBord‘s famous book Society of the Spectacle.

Knee operation 1-year anniversary

knee

In the hospital room the day after the surgery, Feb. 18, 2012

Just about this time a year ago I “blew out” my knee playing basketball. More precisely, I ruptured my patella tendon—on both ends. I had surgery the next day—the doctor sutured the tendon back onto the kneecap and my lower leg—and wore an immobilizer cast for six weeks. (The “best” part of those six weeks was navigating up and down the five flights of stairs to my apartment every day because our elevator was being repaired the entire time…) A few months of physical therapy followed, for the purpose of regaining strength and full range of motion.

I’m happy to report that now, one year later, my knee works completely normally. Other than the huge scar running up and down over my kneecap, I don’t even notice a difference. And I’ve even played basketball a handful of times since the injury. But now I wear a protective knee sleeve—I don’t want to go through that ever again.

CrowdSourcing Experiment: Please Help me Identify a 1970s Western

Hey, so I got this idea from a Tumblr post by actor James Urbaniak from some months back. Basically, someone sent an email around asking for help identifying an obscure movie they had seen when they were a kid. The poor person had tried Amazon, cult film fan sites, and even the guy who ran the famous L.A. video store, Jerry’s Video, with no luck. Well, Urbaniak posted it and within minutes someone identified the film: Psychomania.

I have a similar dilemma. Some time in the mid-1970s (I would say 1976 or 1977), I saw a Western movie that left an impression on me. One character I distinctly remember is a young gunslinger everyone called "the Punk." He had a bad attitude and even shot a few guys during the film. I remember a scene where the streets of a town were inundated with mud, the only reprieve being a series of shoddy wooden "sidewalks."

What makes this dilemma tougher is that I saw the film in San Diego in a revival house that sometimes showed first-run films but mostly older movies. So the film could’ve been from anytime in the previous five or ten years. (It was in color and had a very distinct, post-Watergate, Vietnam-era vibe to it, though…)

Like the other memory-impaired film buff, I’ve had no luck tracking down what movie this was. For a while I thought it was Robert Altman’s 1971 anti-Western, McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Some of the scenes seemed familiar, and there’s a young outlaw called the Kid in it. But I saw the film again recently, and it doesn’t feel to me like it was the movie I’m thinking of. On the other hand, I’m quite to prepared to be told I imagined the whole thing. After all, I was only about ten years old at the time.

Anyway, I thought if I put it out there, maybe someone on the interwebs will know the film and identify it for me.

Anyone?

Jennifer Shaw’s HURRICANE STORY

I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Hurricane Story, the beautiful cloth-bound art book by New Orleans-based photographer Jennifer Shaw. Just out this month from Broken Levee Books (an imprint of Chin Music Press), the slim 7" x 7" volume boasts an eloquent foreword by my old buddy/collaborator Rob Walker.

Here’s the book jacket description, which of course doesn’t do justice to the photos themselves:

Jennifer Shaw was nine months pregnant when Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf. In the early hours of August 28, 2005, she and her husband loaded up their truck with their two dogs, two cats, photo negatives, important papers, and a few changes of clothes. They evacuated to a motel in southern Alabama and tried to avoid watching the news. Monday, August 29, brought two life-changing events: the destruction of New Orleans and the birth of a son.

Using a simple Holga camera, Shaw narrates her six thousand-mile journey with dreamy and haunting photographs of toys that illustrate her emotional state during a time of exile, waiting, and eventual homecoming.
 

Hurricane Story is a fairytale of birth and death, joy and sadness, innocence and infinite despair. Through the unexpected device of the Holga camera and the toy dioramas, all the familiar images of the Katrina story are brought back to vivid life, reminding even the most jaded reader of what it felt like to live through those dark days.

The book’s beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The book is highly personal yet somehow universal, mournful yet playful, striking a balance which to me seems perfectly New Orleanian.

The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children’s book — or, if you will, a "graphic novel" — for grown-ups.

For links to purchasing a copy, click here.

Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY

Dressed to Impress

I was invited to an “exclusive breakfast” the other day — so exclusive I was almost excluded!

The breakfast was to meet the author of a book about Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and discuss his work. It was sponsored by the French-American Foundation and was being held at New York’s famed Knickerbocker Club. (The event was part of a series of “meet-ups” organized by Villa Gillet, the same folks who invited me to be part of the “Catastrophe Practice” panel back in January.)

I was very happy to be invited, though not so psyched to have to wake up at 6:00 am to schlep all the way into Manhattan. (I also found it more than ironic that a discussion of the aftermath of Katrina — which so notoriously involved survivors being deprived of food and water for days — was the occasion of a fancy breakfast at a New York club.) All the same, I put on my gear and made the trip, arriving at the location at the appointed time.

And it was just about then that it hit me that the Knickerbocker was a private club. An exclusive private club. On Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And what was I wearing? A sweater over a black T-shirt. Brand new black jeans. A stylish pair of sneakers. (Not to mention a bright orange jacket.) As a general rule — other than weddings and funerals — I never wear a tie.

Sure enough, soon as I walked in the door, the coat check guy/bouncer gave me the once-over and started shaking his head. “There’s no way you’re getting inside, sir. The Knickerbocker has a strict dress code.” My heart sank. You mean I had made this whole trip for nothing, simply because I wasn’t in “business attire”? And to be honest, I hadn’t even considered the idea of a dress code — I wasn’t brought up in the world of private social clubs!

Knowing that places like that sometimes do such things, I asked if I could borrow a coat & tie. No dice. With my jeans and sneakers — nice as they were — I was a hopeless case. I was really at a loss.

Meanwhile, all during this time, distinguished gentlemen and ladies were coming in and being ushered upstairs to the breakfast. Finally, it occurred to me to appeal to my contacts at the French-American Foundation, the folks who had invited me in the first place. Some quick calls were made, and the “host” came down to assist me.

Conversations were had, arrangements were made, and I was finally allowed upstairs. Two flights of marble staircases later, I was in the posh room where the event was being held. It was just like in the movies: elegant furniture, carved wooden bookcases filled with leather-bound books, oil paintings of club members — the whole nine yards.

I met the speaker, Romain Huret, and we laughed over the hullabaloo. It turned out he hadn’t been “properly dressed” either, and the club had loaned him a coat and tie. What was interesting to me was how out of place I actually felt. As I said, I was wearing a nice sweater, expensive black jeans, and stylish sneakers, but I stood out from the rest of the crowd like a sore thumb. I don’t remember being so self-conscious since that time back in San Francisco when Sari & I went to a “clothing optional” hot springs!

Apparently I had reason for being so insecure, because a moment later I was tapped on the shoulder. The apologetic host explained that the club really couldn’t allow me upstairs without at least a coat and tie. After all, if I break that rule, who knows what chaos could further ensue?

So down the stairs I went again, back to the entrance, where the “bouncer” presented me with a coat & tie. I explained that I wasn’t even wearing a collared shirt, but he assured me that “it’ll look good.” What it looked like was a Chippendales dancer, but once I took my sweater off, the ensemble almost blended together (if you ignored my neck poking out underneath the tie).

Thus attired, I made my back upstairs to the meeting room. The talk and breakfast ensued with no further disruptions. And at the end, the host and my pals from Villa Gillet enjoyed some laughs about the whole thing. It also turned out that I wasn’t the only interloper: every woman there was as well — the Knick is a men’s only club, and women are only allowed on the premises for "special occasions."

We even took some photos to commemorate the new style I had inaugurated.

Coat & tie

Torture Never Felt So Good!

I never in a million years expected the Giants to win the World Series last year.

The fact is, in my 32 years of avidly following the team, I never expected them to win the World Series any year. They’ve been such a mediocre team for most of those years that I am usually thrilled if they simply have a winning record. The years that the Giants actually made the playoffs always seemed like they were too good to be true — like the cliché, I was just happy to be there.

So last year’s Giants’ World Championship run was even more surreal for me because, for the majority of the playoffs, I was traveling through the Middle East, literally on the other side of the world from where their exploits were taking place. I tried my best to follow the action with iPhone and laptop updates, but that region isn’t exactly known for its interest in baseball, and the time difference kept me from monitoring the games as they happened. Sitting in my Jerusalem hotel and reading of the Giants dispatching the Phillies in the International Herald Tribune made me feel like I was in a time machine — it was exactly as it had been almost 25 years earlier when I spent a fall semester in London following a rare Giants playoff appearance (they lost that year in the National League Championship to the Cardinals).

Fortunately, I made it back to the States in time to catch the last four games of the World Series, as the Giants almost anticlimactically made short work of the fearsome Texas Rangers.

My most treasured holiday gift from this past December is a deluxe DVD set of the Giants’ path to victory (thank you, Sari!), and I’ve been gearing up for MLB 2011 by watching it. So, seeing as how today is opening day, and the beginning of the Giants defense of their title, here are some key happy memories of 2011:

It’s become a cliché but it’s still true: the 2011 Giants were a team of misfits. Brian Wilson’s dyed beard. Aubrey Huff’s lucky thong. Pat “The Bat” Burrell’s resurgence. Castoff Cody Ross and his playoff slugging heroics. Tim Lincecum’s awful August followed by his awesome September. The fact that the Giants almost blew a three-game lead with three games to go. (Remember, torture is the theme here.) Fear the Beard!

And then the World Series itself:

  • Game 1: Crazy opening to the Series, with aces Lincecum and Cliff Lee both off their games. Giants win 11-7 in a slugfest, including Freddy Sanchez’s three doubles.
  • Game 2: Matt Cain’s dominant performance — seven shutout innings, and the team’s breakout of five runs in the ninth inning. This was the Giants team that was supposed to win games 2-1 or 3-2, not 11-7 and 9-0!
  • Game 4: Rookie Madison Bumgarner’s poise and calm, as he mowed down the Rangers with eight shutout innings
  • Game 5: Lincecum’s amazing pitching performance, one run in eight innings, including ten strikeouts. Aubrey Huff, who had never had a sacrifice bunt in his entire career, laying down a perfect one to set up the key runs of the game! And let us not forget (the dear departed) Edgar Renteria’s “called shot”!

Because of the Giants, I’ve always felt like an underdog — in just about anything I’ve done. So for this whole last off-season it’s been really strange — and, I have to admit, very pleasant — to be a “winner.” (Apologies to Charlie Sheen.)