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Han Solo and Greedo Shot The Same Time

After a long, unbearably cruel embargo, Christmas came a week early for my four-year-old son, as we finally watched “Star Wars” together. It was kind of a big deal, because he has been obsessed with all things “Star Wars” for a couple of years now, and because it was the first movie we’ve watched with him on the wall — by which I mean the high-def projector in our basement, on which his mother and I have been secretly enjoying nine feet of Blu-ray movies and HD cable when he’s asleep and only when he’s asleep, while denying him the narcotic effects of any TV or movies until he’s older.

To mark the occasion, and to get as close as possible to the experience I had when I first saw the movie in the theater (I was almost exactly his age in the summer of 1977), I bought the Blu-ray of the latest version of the original trilogy. If there were a Blu-ray of the original versions of the movies — the versions I saw as a kid — I would have bought those, but that isn’t an option, so I had to settle for the “Special Editions,” which of course is the versions George Lucas re-released in the 90s with various digital “improvements” to the special effects.

These improvements caused quite an outcry at the time, and people are still bitching about it now — when these Blu-rays were released a few months ago there was a big kerfuffle because they voiceovered a comically bad “NOOOOOOO!!” into Darth Vader’s mouth in the climactic scene in “Return Of The Jedi” where he saves Luke from the Emperor, to match the comically bad moment in “Star Wars — Episode III” where Anakin/Darth Vader is told that his wife has died.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen any of the original “Star Wars” movies since the Special Edition of the first one came out in 1996. I never saw the other two Special Editions — I know they’re on Spike all the time but I can’t take that many Bud Light and Axe commercials at once. At some point, while flipping channels, I did happen across the “improved” band sequence at Jabba the Hutt’s palace, with an alien Tina Turner singing a terrible song with a terrible alien backing band, and a little part of me died inside. In any case, even though I lived and breathed “Star Wars” as a kid and into my 20s, I haven’t seen any of the first three movies in 15 years.

So it was a big occasion to show it to my kid, and he couldn’t have been more excited about it, but I was pretty excited to watch it myself. I know a lot of people didn’t buy the Blu-rays because we’re all fed up with George’s lame changes to the movies, but I do not have the luxury of such a principled stand, because I have a 4-year-old boy in my house. (My principled stand is that I will never acknowledge the existence of the prequels. If he wants to learn about that trash, he can pick it up on the streets, but not in my house.) Read More

Tales From The Meet Market

I was standing at the end of the bar looking at my phone. It was my first slow moment in about four hours. The bar had been busy, but it was getting late and things were tapering off — enough that when the house phone rang, I answered it. (Answering the phone is what the fancy voicemail system and the manager are for. The bartender is for stuffing twenties in the drawer, and that always gets first priority.)

“Hi, are you still open?” asked an adult female voice.
“Yeah, til 4,” I said.
“How’s your night going?” she asked.
“Great! How’s yours?” I probably sounded a little too chipper, like to the point of sarcasm, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“What are you doing after work?” That was a weird question. It’s not the first time I’ve ever been asked that by a stranger, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked by a stranger over the phone.
“Going home!” This was true. I had to get up in the morning and go to my day job.
“Are you horny?”

Here I paused for just a second. I’m not really eligible to have this conversation. But how often do you get to talk dirty on the phone with an adult female voice? So I say, “Yeah, aren’t you?” I do not say it sexy. I say it the way I would say it if the question was “Are you going to try the ice-cream cake?”

“Yeah, I am,” she said. She said it sexy. She did not sound ugly, and despite the fact that it could obviously go nowhere, some part of me wanted to go forward with some sexy talk.  
“What do you look like?”
Fun is fun, but I now realized it was time to pull the e-brake. “Six foot nine, Samoan, four hundred pounds,” and I hung up the phone. Read More

Healing Back Pain With Magical Thinking

I was putting a shirt on, reaching behind my back trying to catch the sleeve, when I felt that old familiar sting. Right in the sweet spot, in the meat behind my left collarbone. It hadn’t yet spread through the whole muscle — it was like the first pinprick before the poison goes in.

I knew immediately that I was in for another dance with my old friend Shoulder Pain. Shoulder Pain has been with me on and off since I was about 22. Sometimes it lasts a couple of weeks, sometimes for months, and it is always just delightful. The area between my neck and my shoulder fossilizes, making turning my head, tilting it, or looking up or down bitterly painful. No matter what your lifestyle, this is going to put a crimp in it.

I have probably gone through a dozen or so bouts with Shoulder Pain. The first was undoubtedly the worst. I returned from a snowboarding trip unable to turn my head in either direction. As time wore on, a sharp stiffness spread from a spot by my neck I could massage with one finger to eventually afflict my entire left shoulder and neck, under my arm, and eventually over to the other shoulder. Six weeks in, I could find no comfortable way to hold my head, other than laying on a soft pillow, and 12 weeks in I felt like if I wanted to start crying, I could do it on command, anytime.

Desperate for relief, I ignored my accountant’s advice and went to a chiropractor.  She did not help me.  If anything, she made it worse: moving my head into exactly the positions that sent electrifying, sharp pain right down the center channel, the positions I had been training myself for the last three months to avoid. I tried to relax and let her do her thing but my body tried to protect itself on instinct, and resisted everything she tried to do. I left $300 poorer and in more pain than before.

Around this time, some of my best friends were living in a big house/small commune situation — a 5-bedroom house in Northern California that was home to my friends (a married couple with a baby), plus another couple with a baby, a really weird guy with a shaved head that preferred nudity, and a prickly lesbian couple clearly not thrilled to encounter men in any context. Other than my friend, all the women in the house were new-agey massage therapists, and I longed to ask one of them, any of them, for help with my shoulder. Read More

Eschew Obfuscation

Messaging is very important in politics. If commitment can be judged by execution, then messaging is not only the most important thing to the Republican Party and its public representatives, it’s the most important thing to anyone ever.

In any given news cycle you can depend on the right side of the aisle to be basically unified in their language, right down to the words they use. They didn’t “cut welfare,” they “enacted welfare reform.”

They didn’t talk about a “tax cut,” they talked about “tax relief.” Whether it’s by massive conspiracy or total coincidence, they all somehow seem to get on the same page with regard to any subject of debate; not only do they all uniformly agree on everything always, they all use the exact same phrases and formulations to discuss it. In this, they can rightly be praised for being exceptionally good at staying On Message.

They are not wrong to do this: anyone would if they could, including the perennially disorganized Democrats. After 30 years of electoral pummeling at the hands of the invincible GOP message machine, Democrats are finally starting catch on and are now trying to do it too. (They don’t want to “raise taxes,” they want to “raise revenue.”) But they are so late to the party and so bad at it, they are like the shambling, unrehearsed, out-of-tune Grateful Dead on their worst night compared to the GOP’s tight military precision, a la the original JB’s.

If that tight band has a bandleader — the guy who writes the tunes, makes sure everybody knows his parts, and tells everybody when to hit it and when to quit it, the Republicans’ James Brown has been Frank Luntz.

Luntz is one of the leading architects of Republican syntax over the last few election cycles. He is the man who suggested that everyone with an (R) by their name said “climate change” instead of “global warming” and “government takeover” instead of “healthcare reform.” We can thank him for guiding George W. Bush to victory in 2004 in part by renaming “inheritance tax” “the death tax.” (Because while few of us have an inheritance to defend from taxation, everybody dies and the idea of being taxed even in the grave is easy for anybody to hate.) He analyzes the issues of the day and recommends language to his clients (invariably Republican officeholders) to best turn public opinion to the clients’ position. Read More

Bootsy Collins Deserves Better

The other night I saw something that initially thrilled, and then horrified me: I saw Bootsy Collins (Thrilled: Bootsy Collins is on TV!) in an Old Navy commercial (Horrified: Bootsy Collins is in an Old Navy commercial?!?)
The first reaction was genuine and from the heart, because I love Bootsy Collins. I love him so much I named my dog after him. I love him so much I named the second dog after Bootsy’s brother Catfish in case people didn’t get it the first time. (Also, she looks like a cat and smells like a fish.) Bootsy (the man, not the dog) is a crucial player in my favorite band ever: the original JB’s, James Brown’s backing band circa 1969-71. Bootsy played bass, Catfish played guitar. Bootsy’s bass lines were amazing, lethally danceable. “Sex Machine” is Bootsy. So are “Super Bad,” “Soul Power,” “Give It Up Or Turn It Loose,” “Hot Pants,” and “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing.” Irresistable stuff. In my many years of bartending I have never seen it fail to make people dance.

My second reaction was reflexive: it’s always sad to see people you respect as artists being shoehorned into lame product — commercials, however you feel about commerce, are nearly always unfunny second-rate product, particularly celebrity endorsements — because they need the money. (It’s a lot worse when they don’t need the money. Is Jimmy Fallon really doing commercials for a credit card at the exact moment everyone is figuring out that he has the best late-night show around? Really? The moment it becomes clear that you can hold your very lucrative job for as long as you want it, you take the sketchiest kind of endorsement ever? The credit card company in question once sent me a card I didn’t ask for, which I promptly cut up and tossed in the trash; soon after, I got a bill for the activation fee on the card, which I didn’t ask for, never used, and hadn’t activated. But we’re getting off topic.)

As product, the Old Navy commercial is not great. The premise is that Old Navy’s new “Incrediboots” are in fact made by Bootsy! Great job, ad execs! Take the afternoon off! Read More

Foreskin Is The New Black

One of the big decisions my wife and I faced when our son was born, coming up on five years ago (the days are like years, the years are like days!), was whether to have him circumcised. Circumcision seems to be falling out of favor these days, and though I never gave it a lot of thought before my wife was pregnant, I certainly made up for lost time in the second and third trimesters.

Fortunately, this decision was free of any outside pressure. Neither my wife nor I grew up with a religion that prescribes it (or, indeed, any religion at all — thanks, Mom, Dad, Keith and Linda!), so no pressure there. Nor did either of our parents seem to have any strong feelings about it (or at least if they did, they kept it to themselves).

So it was our choice to make, and as with any big decision, I tried to look at both sides and weigh the pros and cons, which I will do my best discuss as un-graphically as I can.

Firstly, the idea of taking a small, defenseless baby and cutting off part of his body that does not, in any medical sense, need to be cut off was a hard idea for me to process. On a gut level, it doesn’t feel a lot different to me from foot-binding or female circumcision (which needs a better name). The last thing I wanted to do to my newborn son was take a knife to any part of him. It feels like an unnecessary relic from religious rites that I never took part in. And, the Wikipedia page on the topic drives home in semi-graphic detail exactly what each technique entails, and it is more than a little disturbing. Read More

When Zombies Attack (By Urinating)!

Not long ago I heard through the grapevine that someone of my acquaintance had had an unfortunate accident: After a long night of drinking ales and spirits, he apparently rose suddenly from bed in the wee, wee hours, waking his lady friend, who just managed to stop him from urinating on the windowsill.

The gentleman in question was suitably embarrassed, but not exactly mortified, as accidents of this sort are something that just kind of comes with the territory when one enjoys adult beverages in less than perfect moderation (and by that I mean “poisonous excess”).

Considering my own history of drinking myself incontinent, I am certainly no one to judge. I woke up half drunk and all wet more times than I care to remember (and probably a couple that I don’t) by the time I was 30, starting with two incidents in high school, both on couches at other people’s houses. In one case, I slunk out and hoped nobody would notice (it was a house party and the house was trashed so I thought it would be a while before anyone sat on the couch); in the other case, my host, a classmate we’ll call “Klaus,” said not to worry about it because he had done it a few times himself.

Klaus and I and most of our high-school graduating class spent the summer at the beach after graduation before heading off to college, and one night he managed to bring a young lady back to his room. As recent high-school graduates without adult supervision are wont to do, they had more than a few libations and he woke up in his bed soaked in his own pee, with the young lady still sleeping in blissful ignorance next to him. Clearly, a delicate situation. His solution, in my opinion, was the greatest tactical maneuver since Patton took Bastogne. Read More

What’s With The Hooker Shoes?

I was lucky enough to be invited to a really, really fancy party a couple of weeks ago. It was purely a case of nepotism: an old friend and coworker has found herself running an incredibly swank penthouse for a very old magazine that uses it for a lot of fabulous parties and photo shoots, and she invited my wife and me and a few of our other less fancy friends to see how the 1% lives.

My wife, sadly, was buried under her postgraduate curriculum, so I went stag. After I signed in, I was escorted to an elevator that took me up eight stories and opened directly into the penthouse, and then — on a tip from the elevator operator — climbed the stairs that wound around the all-glass elevator at the center of the penthouse up four stories, joining the three other glamour tourists in our party at the top floor balcony, with a 180-degree view of lower Manhattan. It was a fancy party indeed, the kind that gets mentioned in the society pages and photographed for the back of the glossy magazines, though I suspect that it was one of the less fancy parties to be held in this venue.

The view was amazing and the penthouse was breathtaking, and there were a lot of very attractive, well put-together, professional-looking people wearing obviously expensive clothes. Not to put too fine a point on it: It felt like a whole lot of Midtown people, which is a culture nearly alien to the East Village circles I tend to run in.  I felt like an anthropologist, observing the customs of a curious tribe of people who shop for clothes more often than presidential elections and use shampoo and hair product and moisturizer and makeup like Sephora stockholders. Metrosexuals, and the women who love them — I observed them one and all with fascination. As I am but a man, I admit without shame that I tended to observe more of the ladies than the gentlemen.

One person in particular I found especially striking. She was on the short end of tall, had long, dark hair, and was wearing the hell out of an elegant little black dress. She had a little more makeup on than I would prefer, but that was par for the course in this crowd.

I had just about decided that she was the one. The one I’d love for the whole rest of this party. You know: the kind of love where you furtively enjoy someone’s sex appeal from across the room when (and only when) they happen to be directly in your field of vision, without any effort or notion to approach, speak to, or otherwise engage them. These are the cheap thrills of the married and faithful.

As a formality before making it official, I took her all in one more time from the top down: Beautiful, long, dark hair. Very pretty face, probably the beneficiary of some racial mixing (never hurts, always helps). Cute little dress on a lean, well-toned but still-curvy figure. Then I got to the hooker shoes. Read More

How Do You Top Doctor Octopus?

I love Halloween. Whatever weird compulsion it is to want to dress up in a costume, I had it in a big way for a long time. It was a beast that awakened once a year and took over my consciousness for weeks leading up to the big night. Looking back on my twenties, I have to begrudgingly admit that if I had put the same energy into following a career that I put into assembling my Halloween costumes I would be at least a few points of latitude North of writing a blog with a weekly circulation of about 45. (Thank you, Google analytics?)

I had a lot of good costumes over the years. As an adult (if someone in their 20s can really be called that) I always tended toward funny costumes as opposed to scary costumes. (I suppose one might say that there are two kinds of people.)  The one that really made me feel like I accomplished something was the Krusty the Klown kostume I made in 1998. I really committed to that one: I got the voice down pat, and the laugh, which was a little harder; I got green pants (size 42, to accommodate the fake potbelly I made duct-taping a throw pillow to a t-shirt), a short-sleeved pink shirt, and a blue bowtie from some thrift stores; I created the blue wig with male pattern baldness with a swatch of blue fur from a crafts store and a bald cap; and I got a big red pair of clown shoes, a clown nose, and some white gloves, from a Halloween store. I even smoked a pack of cigarettes that night. At the time, I had just started dating my wife, who started out amused by this effort but ended up creeped out, and begging me to take it all off. (I didn’t want to do that until we got home, because I felt the only thing creepier than Krusty would have been Krusty with the wig off.)

It’s been a few years since I did a Halloween costume. I think I knew it was really over for me when I repeated my Magnum, P.I. costume from a few years before for a costume party at a bar a couple of years ago. Sure, I won the costume contest at that party — tight white short-shorts are always a hit —  but the shame of repeating a Halloween costume drowned out the triumph.

The beast lay dormant for a couple of years, which (coincidentally?) were my first few years as a parent. Halloween means nothing to a kid the first couple of years, so we sat out Henry’s first one entirely and almost sat out the second until our good friends lent us one of their kids’ old costumes, so we went with them on our neighborhood trick-or-treat route.

In our Brooklyn neighborhood, they do Halloween a little different than we used to do it in the suburbs: NYPD closes four streets for three blocks in the historic district, creating a 12-block snaking route of brownstone rowhouses, probably 30 per side per block.  With no cars on the street, the kids — and you can’t believe how many kids there are, they come from other neighborhoods to get in on this — can zigzag all over the place and make out like bandits on the candy. Probably 3 out of 5 houses on the route are participating, and they’re all right next to each other, so the kids theoretically should be able to score and score big, but there are so many kids out there that they’re all in each other’s way so they slow each other down, like a soccer game with 800 kids on the field. Except the kids are in Halloween costumes! It is even more fun than it sounds. Read More

The Sad Death Of Jane’s Addiction

Don’t buy this record

Jane’s Addiction has a new album out! Had you heard? I’m guessing you hadn’t.

It wasn’t all that long ago that a new Jane’s Addiction album would have been a big, big deal, like cover-of-every-magazine, appearances-on-every-talk-show big. But in 2011, 21 years after their last decent product (1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual) the world greeted this week’s release of The Great Escape Artist with a universal halfhearted shrug.

It didn’t have to be this way. Jane’s Addiction was a great band — more than that, an important band. All through the ’90s, the last emotion I’d ever expect them to inspire was indifference. Anybody who was hip to Jane’s Addiction when they were Jane’s Addiction was into them like a religious cult — and I held on as a devoted disciple for as long as I could.

To begin with, they had probably the best band name anyone’s ever thought of (with the possible exception of Kathleen Turner Overdrive). Their first two studio albums — 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking and 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual — synthesized rock, metal, and poetry and created a totally new, almost alien sound when they were released. They sounded like Art and Religion and Sex all rolled into one awesome thing that sounded best LOUD.

Frontman Perry Farrell has always been the face of Jane’s (while guitarist Dave Navarro, who has not worn a shirt in public in about 15 years, serves as the body), thanks to his piercing, nasal singing style, coupled with genuinely interesting lyrics. A few samples:

Buy this one instead

T.V.’s got those images, T.V.’s got them all, it’s not shocking;
Showed me everybody naked and disfigured, nothing’s shocking

or:

Wish I was ocean size
They cannot move you and no one tries
No one pulls you up from your hole
Like a tooth aching a jawbone

or:

One must eat the other who runs free before him,
Put them right into his mouth
While fantasizing the beauty of his movements.
A sensation not unlike slapping yourself in the face…

I’m not saying this stuff is all Beaudelaire, but in the context of the late ’80s, the era of “Cherry Pie” and “You Give Love A Bad Name,” it stood out for at least making you think. This band made you (or at least, made me) feel like I could rock out and be intelligent at the same time.

Read More