StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Sinbad, The Glittery Silver Jumpsuit and The Glittery Silver Service Car (Last Night’s Dream)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 31, 2008

Last night’s dream was even stranger than the one about the serial killer in the hanging-file folder.

In it, the comedian Sinbad’s wife had kicked him out of their house, so he took a room at the Y. At a press conference on this scandal, the melanin in Sinbad’s face faded out, making him look as white as Michael Jackson but with more meat on the bones. (Actually, at the press conference, Sinbad looked more like Bernie Mac, but I still knew him to be Sinbad.) I went to go visit him at the YMCA.

When I went to the check-in desk at his floor, I saw that the people working behind it were part of that breed of post-grads, who defer the “real” world by working in video stores and other low-impact jobs. They were playing Gameboys and had their feet up on the desk as they listened to Modest Mouse or whatever. They asked me to have a seat in the waiting room while they called Sinbad’s room.

The waiting-room area was a self-service Barnes & Noble. On the teak-wood coffee table, there was a stack of comic books. As I picked each one up, I scanned them in on a hand-held bar-code scanner. I had no intention of buying them, though. When the Asian-American chick behind the counter told me that Sinbad had asked her to send me in, she also presented me with a bill for the comic books. I told her that I’d left them on the table and didn’t want to buy them. With a let-down look, she said, “Oh, and I’ve been wanting to see those comic books too.” (Why she couldn’t just walk over to the table herself and see them, I don’t know. Then again, my dreams tend to not make any sense.) With that, I walked through the YMCA doors to go see Sinbad.

In the next segment of the dream, Julius and I were arguing over whether or not Bob Dylan is a genius. In waking life, I would find that contention indisputable, but, in the dream, I was on the other side of the debate. Julius said, “How could you not call it genius when someone writes…?” And he went on to recite two lines from a song that I’ve never heard and whose words I don’t remember.

As he recited those words, though, he held up a leaf from a morning-glory vine that was split down the middle and he let the leaf fly in the breeze to a field that looked like the ones near the Brideshead estate in Brideshead Revisited.

I then switched sides and started giving this oration on how Dylan’s John Wesley Harding was a masterpiece, how it changed the face of music. Then, I picked that CD out of my collection and walked out the door to bring it to my friend Mike’s house, so that he could tape it.

In the next segment, I was walking through the wintertime set in the penultimate scene of La Boheme, where Rodolfo finds Mimi just before she dies of consumption. As I trudged through the snow, I was wearing an overcoat and a saturnine face like a character in a Chekhov story or a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky novel.

All of a sudden, who is the only person coming my way on the road but Justin Timberlake. (I seem to be alone in loathing Justin Timberlake. I think he’s a spoiled, overpraised brat whose music sucks. But if I state my opinion of him to anyone, even people twice his age who otherwise have good music taste, they act like they want to send me to my room without supper.) He had a Richard Simmons’ afro and was wearing a pink tie-died sweatsuit. He was singing some pop song, but then busted into a rap that was an all-out jam. As Justin Timberlake passed me, for the first time ever, I looked at him with admiration. (Again, let me qualify, this was a dream, not real life.)

Then I found myself in a silver glittery jumpsuit, complete with a glittery silver headband. I looked like a Solid Gold Dancer (embarrassing factoid: when I was seven-years-old, I wanted to be a Solid Gold Dancer with all my heart; that phase only lasted a year, the statute of limitations has run out, so don’t mock me!). I saw myself in the mirror. I said, “I gotta get a new look,” so I changed back into my usual clothes.

Then I saw sunlight pouring in through some prison bars. The lyrics to that song by The Flaming Lips started up: “Do you realize – that everyone you know someday will die?”

7th Avenue and 9th Street, Brooklyn

7th Avenue and 9th Street, Brooklyn (site of Uncle Moe's)

Then I wound up at my parents’ house. Their garage was the same, but the kitchen table was on an upper landing like the tables at Uncle Moe’s (the gay symbolism is killing me) at 7th Avenue and 9th Street. Father Mahon was over for dinner. Now, Father Mahon is not long for this world, but, in the dream, he was looking a lot better than when I saw him at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.

(In real life, the moment I introduced Father Mahon to Julius at the Anniversary party, he asked us point-blank, “Are you living together?” I smiled and said, “Why, yes, we are, Father.” He nodded and said, “Well, I wish you both all the best.” I was going to ask if I could take that as an endorsement but stopped short.)

In the dream, Father Mahon asked me if I enjoy being a sodomite. I lit up, “Yeah, it’s great!”

As if to draw me back into the Catholic fold, he proclaimed that the Buddhist Sutras were inspired by the Bible. I responded, “That’s bullshit! Buddha delivered the Sutras about 500 years before Jesus was born. As for the Old Testament, well, that was still in the hands of a small tribe of Israelites and there’s no way it could have made its way over to India. Besides, the Buddhist and Christian holy books are completely different in philosophy and precepts. Sorry, Father, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on Buddhism.” Oddly, Mom nodded her approval at my denunciation (again, this was a dream) and Father Mahon went back to eating his sweet potato.

In the final segment of last night’s dream, I was waiting on the Northbound platform of the Red Line L at Fullerton in Chicago. I was thinking about how Chicago isn’t as cosmopolitan as New York. Right behind me, though, these Arab guys were speaking French. They were all discussing which parts of the city they live in. I thought, “Well, they’re Arab and they’re speaking French. Isn’t that pretty cosmopolitan too?”

Then, an Arab girl wedged her way into the conversation. She was wearing white face-paint and black makeup like I had to wear when I played Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland in my sophomore year of high school. She had pockmarks all up and down her face like this one goth guy whom I used to see at this one cafe on Belmont in Chicago. (Come to think of it, he also wore white face-paint and black makeup.) The Arab girl was talking about how her rabbi (?) told her that she should move to another part of the city.

Then, a glittery silver service car, which looked like the old edition Rolls Royce that was in Brideshead Revisited (except glittery and silver like the jumpsuit I broke out of in an earlier segment), pulled up on the tracks to take me for a ride. I didn’t know where we were headed but I got in.

Weird, huh? What do you think that dream means? (Besides that I’m a big Uncle Moe who sins bad?)

The Serial Killer in the Green Hanging-File Folder (Last Night’s Dream)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 29, 2008

Last night (or, early this morning, if you want to split hairs), I had a nightmare. There was an office off to the side of a hospital hallway, which looked like the one in the hospital where Briony worked in the movie Atonement. The bottom drawer in the gray metal office desk was open. It had green hanging-file folders in it.

I somehow knew that a serial killer was hiding in one of those hanging-file folders. I further knew that he waited for people to enter the office and then, once they’d close the door behind themselves, he’d jump out of the hanging-file folder, wielding a letter opener. Out of the drawer, he’d instantly grow to full height, maybe six feet tall. Then, he’d use that letter opener to slash his victims to death.

In the dream, I alone could see him poking the letter opener’s blade out of the green hanging-file folder. Nobody seemed to listen when I warned them that a serial killer was in there, so they got killed.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

In the next part of the dream, I was at a reception at The Art Institute of Chicago. My sister Colleen was there with my niece Elizabeth (her daughter) and my nephew Patrick (my brother Kerry’s son). Elizabeth is a recalcitrant 13-year-old, but, in the dream, she was just about to graduate from high school.

I already knew that my nephew Patrick – an 11-year-old squash player who lives in the Bay Area – has been dead set on going to Yale from the time he was eight years old. (No one knows why. No one in my family or in my sister-in-law’s family has ever gone to Yale or any other Ivy League school.)

I asked Elizabeth where she planned on going to college. I hoped she’d say something refreshing like, “I want to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.” Instead, she replied, “I’m joining the Marines.” I did a double-take. Sure enough, she still had a straight face. Elizabeth looked away. Normally, my sister would be loath to support such a decision on the part of one of her children, especially during wartime. But, in the dream, Colleen put her arm around Elizabeth and proudly assented, “Yes, she’s going to join the Marines before she goes to college.”

I woke up from the dream wondering if I should join the Marines. There are a few hitches, of course. Number one, I’m gay. I’ve published article after article citing my sexual orientation. I couldn’t be more open about it if I threw a circuit party in the middle of a Teamster’s meeting. Secondly, I’m morally and mortally opposed to this war. Third, I’m 34 years old. Fourth, if it was a choice between the military and hara kari – well, guess which one I’d pick (hint: the latter). Still, I wondered if the Marines might help me to later become more capable of plugging myself into the round hole of a mainstream profession. Then again, my Dad was a marine sergeant and he wasn’t able to straighten me out and, boy, did he work at it. (High five to my younger self.)

But, then, what is/was there to straighten out? I was a dreamy artist, a Romantic, that’s all. Even when I tried fitting in, my attempts were about as successful as those of someone trying to play an 8-Track tape in a CD player. I wasn’t on drugs (which means that I can’t put out daredevil memoirs like David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs and James Frey), I just wanted a more creative, a less regimented, by-rote existence. In the movie Deconstructing Harry, a therapist asks Harry Block (Woody Allen) why his alma mater threw him out. He says:

“Because I was not interested in [school]. I wanted to be a writer. All I cared about was writing. I did not care about the real world. I cared only about the world of fiction. And, plus, I tried to give the dean’s wife an enema so they didn’t take kindly to that.”

My life has run somewhat along the same lines.

But I have another nephew named David, who is my sister Colleen’s other teenager. He has just graduated from high school and will be going to college at, I believe, DePaul University. Since the tenth grade, David has wanted to be a history teacher at his high school in Palatine, Illinois. David hasn’t striven to be the next Thom Yorke or Kanye West or, let’s throw in a “now” writer, Junot Diaz. He doesn’t want to throw a sack over his shoulder and head out to New York or Europe to lead an artist’s life. No, he wants to grow up to be a high-school history teacher in the suburb where he grew up. David has set himself an attainable goal that has all the trappings of stability. Some might yawn, but I cannot help but admire the wisdom in his choice. If only my heart had such simple yearnings! Alas, it doesn’t. I’m too much like Harry Block.

Julius tells me I’m bourgeois when I say things like that. He’s right. I am. I was raised in an environment where you go straight from a Big Ten school to a job in a bank or an accounting firm. If you want to dream big, then work your way through law school or maybe get your MBA at night. It might seem drab and colorless, but at least it’s stable. But, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that quiet desperation is the way to go, I keep having dreams like the one about the serial killer in the green hanging-file folder.

Here I must remind myself of some wise words by former tearaway and venerated Buddhist teacher, Susan Piver:

“One’s own mind is the only reliable guide. The place to start is with who you already are and what you are experiencing right now. No doctrine. No ideal to emulate. I had never heard anyone say that before. On the Buddhist path particular qualifications, beliefs, or vows are not necessary. Strength and independence of mind are the qualities that are required. Maybe my inabilities to toe the line, fit in, succeed in conventional life were not such bad things after all. They were just me, and on this path, ‘just me’ is the path. You start with who you are, and the goal is self-discovery.”

85A Log: Shell Fischer, HOW TO BE IDLE, and J.D. Salinger

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 28, 2008

Phew! The first draft of 85A is finally off to my editor friend, Shell Fischer (www.shellfischer.com, shell.fischer@earthlink.net). I’m so relieved. Not only am I blessed to have Shell’s expert counsel, but I can also have some time away from the book. I know that I want to keep busy on it, but there are more important things in life than keeping busy.

How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson

How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson

By the way, Have you read Tom Hodgkinson’s How to Be Idle? It is a marvelous treatise on the creative efficacy of laziness. For Hodkinson, this does not mean occasional laziness, but laziness as a lifestyle. He makes a convincing argument in support of sustained idleness and roundly professes to practicing what he preaches. I doubt that Hodgkinson is as lazy as he claims, though. This book is so full of erudition and skillful writing that I can’t help but think that he must have been doing something with all that time on his hands. Check out his online magazine, The Idler: http://www.idler.co.uk. It’s brilliant!

While Shell turns up her sleeves to slug through 85A, a task I do not envy, I will be taking another turn through The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read it one summer in high school and, for one reason or another, it didn’t grip me. But I read it cover to cover on an eight-hour flight from Paris to New York this past May. It was outstanding, kept my attention riveted the whole time. I was already writing 85A and couldn’t help but recognize the parallels between Seamus and Holden’s haplessness. I’ll read it again. It might give me ideas for a second draft of my own book.

Okay, that’s all for now. Check back with me later.

Laurie Anderson at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 27, 2008

The Bacchae with Alan Cumming and The National Theatre of Scotland proved a tough act for Laurie Anderson to follow in Lincoln Center Festival ’08, but Anderson proved much more a match than a follow-up to that excellent production. In her first Lincoln Center appearance since 2002, Laurie Anderson played the entire set of her 2008 album Homeland.

Anderson deliberately avoided fanfare by stepping on to the candlelit stage unannounced and immediately picking up her violin. The title Homeland derives from the government’s exploitation of the term “Homeland Security,” which juxtaposes coziness with bureaucracy and doom.

Anderson began her set by formulating a myth for the audience about a flock of birds who flew above the earth before there was such thing as land. With nowhere to land, all these birds ever did was fly around, fly around, fly around. There was nothing else to do, nothing to remember in the repetitive activity of simply flying. Then, one day, the father of one of the birds died. The flock had to bury him, but there was no land in which to inter the body. After careful consideration, the dead bird’s daughter decided to bury her father in the back of her head. And that, according to Anderson’s newly spun lore, is where Memory was born. Anderson, 61, has remarked that she weaves myths in this day and age to counter the trend of new mythology that the American government infuses into the post-9/11 media.

Shortly after introducing the Memory myth, Anderson began citing a roll call of American war crimes in the song, “Bad Guy.” The song ends with the words, “I would fly away/But the war is here to stay.” She continues stating, “the war is here to stay.”

There are whimsical bits to the show, however, such as one where she asks us to contemplate the role of underwear studs on Calvin Klein billboards. What would happen if those giant pictures on those billboards were to come to life? Would they march up LaFayette Street in their underwear and start crashing bars and stepping on cars? Even us angry liberals have to have a laugh sometimes. The media isn’t all American Pravda. Anderson doesn’t lose sight of how funny it is. If the earth is still around centuries from now, anthropologists will be busting a gut over what our beloved fashionistas’ sense of sexy was.

Anderson also made an unexpectedly positive statement about John McCain – although, knowing her music as well as I do, I would not be so quick to regard it as an endorsement. She mentions that John McCain once called Rush Limbaugh a clown. When a reporter asked McCain if he felt he should apologize for that remark, McCain said: “Yes. I’d like to apologize to all the clowns – Crusty, Bozo, and all other clowns – for lumping you all in with Rush Limbaugh.” Anderson neither elaborated on this anecdote nor did she make additional commentary on Obama. It remains somewhat of an enigma why she brought this McCain tidbit up in the first place.

Later, Anderson discussed former Texas Governor Ann Richards. She related how the NRA had advised all the women of Texas to carry handguns in their purses. Richards responded, “I’m not sexist, but I will declare that no woman in Texas will ever be able to find a handgun in her handbag.” Once again, the story went nowhere; it’s hard to piece together why Anderson inserted it at all.

Still and all, the music was brilliant with violin virtuoso Anderson playing alongside gifted musicians such as Joey Baron (percussion), Rob Burder (keyboard), Greg Cohen (bass), Eyvind Knag (viola).

Toward the end of the set, Anderson’s husband Lou Reed made a surprise appearance to accompany her on the 2008 songs “Lost Art of Conversation” and “No Man’s Land.” Time may have taken its toll on Reed’s looks but his guitar sounds just as good as it did in his Transformer days.

The entire Homeland experience reached the apex of sublimity for a rapt audience. Some of the drum-machine tempos brought back some of the best that the Eighties had to offer in its Talking Heads heyday, where Anderson played a vital, if underground, role. Anderson is a true artist who showcases her music for the purposes of communication and social and political inquiry, rather than as a fishing for applause (The Rolling Stones would do well to learn from her example – see my earlier blog on Shine A Light). The simplicity of the set, where there was candlelight but no video installations, threw the profundity of Anderson’s music and political message into full relief.

An arts reporter, who was interviewing Laurie Anderson about her new album and concert series, asked her, “Do you think people are afraid to speak out because they’ll be called un-American?” Anderson answered:

Yes, absolutely! And I find that extremely distressing especially now that the elections are going on and every candidate has his story about how the world works and what’s going on. And people are scrutinizing their stories. A war that will last a hundred years? Why is he telling that particular story? What’s behind it? But we live in a country that is very story savvy and it is the person who tells the best story who gets heard. And that’s what I’m interested in…I want to tell a better story, a truer story.

HAIR at The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park and “Pseudo-Lysergic”

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 26, 2008

So, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times had his misgivings about The Public Theatre’s 40th-Anniversary Production of Hair at Shakespeare in the Park, but, methinks he was just being his usual contrarian self. Especially in the wake of The Public’s watered-down Hamlet this summer, Hair was a tour-de-force of high dimension.

A high dimension albeit not the highest, let’s just get the downside out of the way first. I’ve always found the first few scenes of Act I to be Godspell-silly with their Romper Room antics and Muppet Babies, hippy-skippy sing-a-longs. The social taboos of long hair, drugs, and free love pale beside the follow-ups of punk, Studio 54, crack babies and the AIDS crisis. The Nude scene could probably even make prime-time TV in the 2000s. But, then as now, we are a nation stumbling under the weight of a criminal war and the environmental ruin presaged in the song “Air,” so there is a certain currency to Hair’s staging today.

The pluses far outweigh the minuses. The performances resurrected an era, which, while it preceded my birth, also – through its music and images – helped form so much of my consciousness and so many of my political, social and spiritual ideals. To depict Washington Square and Central Park, the Public set out astroturf before the bandstand, where the prodigious musicians were swaddled in Age of Aquarius, Stevie Nicks drag. The gorgeous Will Swenson embodied Berger, the New Jersey drop-out, in all his grungy idealism, just as Bryce Ryness did with the swishier character of Woof whose questionable sexual orientation The Public did not disguise. As a matter of fact, The Public did a delectable job of simulating center-stage daisy chains and sideshow gay make-outs for an age that’s jaded enough to take it. The dry cunilingus was a salient ornament to the polemic “Sodomy,” which Swenson deftly reinterpreted before the crowd. These upgrades kept the show from disintegrating into pure nostalgia.

Mick and Keith 1975

Mick and Keith 1975

(By the way, the poster that Claude hands Woof (not the one above but something like it) of Mick Jagger was from 1975, eight years after Hair was first produced. Mick had already gone from a hippy to a glam god. That was one little directorial anachronism, but I guess you had to be Stones-aholic like me to catch it, so no harm done.)

Jonathan Groff played Claude Bukowski, the protagonist who experiences the greatest identity crisis and risk of any member of his Tribe. He’s the Polish Catholic boy from Flushing, who walks around with an English accent in front of his assimilationist parents, who are all too proud to hand him his draft card when it comes in the mail. Tony Award-winning Groff (Spring Awakening) may not be able to boast Swenson or Ryness’ magnificent bodies (he performed with his shirt on the whole time), but his voice filled Central Park with every bit as much bravura soulfulness as it did the amphitheater where, as far as I could tell, everyone sat enraptured.

Speaking of voices, good God! Dig that Patina Renea Miller on “Aquarius” and Saycon Sengbloh on “Four Score and Seven Years Ago”/”Abie Baby”! These were divas to the nth-degree. I’m hoping to God that I see them in more productions around town.

Naturally, Act I sparked all sorts of audible compare-and-contrast-then-and-now conversations by the concession stand at intermission. Some greenies asked why we don’t have the same wave of protest against Iraq today. Well, the most obvious answer is that we don’t have the Draft today, so young Americans’ lives aren’t as directly endangered. Secondly, we’ve seen how the hippies were too stoned to stop the war and how, on balance, those trippy zombies didn’t end up wearing so well ten years down the line. One only has to watch a few Bally’s commercials to understand that, for better or for worse, self-preservation appeals to today’s culture in ways that it didn’t to the Flower Children.

Last year, though, I did a review for Edge Magazine of Peter O. Whitmer’s Aquarius Revisited: Seven Who Created the Sixties Counter-Culture That Changed America, where William S. Burroughs rails against people who claim that the Sixties didn’t accomplish anything: “They don’t seem to realize that [in the 1940s], four-letter words did not appear on printed pages…the idea that a Mexican or a black or a queer was anything but a second-class citizen was simply absurd.” But Burroughs also said, “The 1960s stuff about solving the world’s problems through peace and love and nonviolence – I said then that the only way to give flowers to the police was in a pot from a high window.”

One of the things that amuses me most about the hippies are their concepts of meditation and all their woo-woo talk around it. I have been a meditator for over ten years and I’ve never found it to be about “mystic crystal revelations,” levitation, and astral projection. In fact, most of the time, it’s searing, boring, frustrating. A regular practice of meditation requires tremendous exertion (and it’s worth every pang). Clearly, most of these people didn’t have a daily practice.

I even wrote a short-memoir piece about my old, Sixties-inspired take on meditation called “Pseudo-Lysergic.” I’ll even post it below.

But, before I do, let me exhort you to see Hair! It is intoxicating and sensual. You’ll be so electrified, you’ll stand up screaming out of your seat, if not jumping on stage to sing and dance (a permissable act) by play’s end.

And now, “Pseudo-Lysergic” by Kyle Thomas Smith:

Pseudo-Lysergic

(read at The Interdependence Project, September 2006)

By Kyle Thomas Smith

This morning, after I meditated, I took the subway and reflected on how the experience of meditation is often similar to the one you hear on the “Revolution #9” track of The White Album. Riots, parades, protests, peccadilloes, fires, bombings, orchestras, orgasms, sci-fi scenes – all rising and falling, ebbing and flowing with each inhalation and exhalation, each coming and going of breath – rising and falling – like the emcee’s mantra: “Number 9…Number 9…Number 9.” Incidentally, Charles Manson envisioned the apocalypse happening to the same tune. I shudder to think that my mind is joined with his, but, if we’re all interconnected, interpenetrated, and interdependent, then I guess mine would have to be. But, by the same logic, my mind would also have to be linked with those of the Beatles, both dead (like John and George) and alive (like Paul and Ringo).

The Beatles were the ones who first turned me on to the idea of meditation. I was 12 years old and watching A Current Affair. They had a special on the spiritual practices of celebrities. They flashed to a picture of the Fab Four, where they were all propped up, cross-legged, on cushions and surrounded by a harem of British blondes in a genie-bottle room. The narrator said: “At their creative peak, The Beatles explored eastern religions, studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi.” This scandalized my parochial schoolboy mind.

My family was Catholic of Irish descent. You didn’t leave your religion. That would land you in hell as sure as pre-marital sex or masturbation would, neither one of which I’d attempted yet, apart from a few feels. The Beatles started out as Liverpool Protestants. That afforded them so much more freedom than I knew, growing up in the archdiocese of Chicago. Protestants had flouted Rome’s authority long ago. They were not bound by the same rules as I. They were free to explore. Oh, how I coveted their freedom! On the sly, I asked around the neighborhood and heard that meditation could be used as a substitute for LSD. I didn’t want to do drugs and end up like the burn-outs in the park, but I did want to trip, so this was good news.

That was 1987, the summer Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was first released on CD with the sales slogan, “It Was 20 Years Ago Today,” commemorating the album’s 20th Anniversary. My brother Kent bought it the same afternoon it hit the racks. At the time, I didn’t know what meditation was, but I sensed it had something to do with what I was about to start a habit of doing: cueing up my brother’s Sergeant Pepper’s CD and closing my eyes as I leaned up against my bedroom wall, never stopping my mind from wandering into a pseudo-lysergic trance.

Well, that was just shy of twenty years ago to the day. On the F train out of Brooklyn this morning, I put my hands in a Cosmic Mudra, breathed deeply and contemplated how much has changed for me since then. Today, I’m a member of a Buddhist sangha. Formal meditation has become the mainstay of my everyday life. I’m a writer. I live in New York. I’m openly gay. I never even had to drop acid or become a burn-out or a Mansonite to acquire this freedom, just as I’d suspected.

But, then, meditation is not what I’d suspected. It’s not a means of escape. It’s a means of presence. You train in keeping your mind from wandering by bringing it back to the vacuous narration of the breath – over and over and over again. Once, I would have considered anything that curbs imaginative transports to be nothing less than fascist. But now I see that, in the present moment, to which our breath binds us back again and again, there exists a kaleidoscopic experience – more luscious than Strawberry Fields – that you never would have had if you’d allowed your mind to go too far afield. So, my thanks to the Beatles for loosening my shackles, giving me vision and starting me on this path. And my love to the Interdependence Project for helping to fine-tune my vehicle and for accompanying me on this most meaningful of journeys.

Obama: “People of Berlin. People of the World. This is Our Moment. This is our Time.”

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 24, 2008

That’s my man in Tiergarten Park, Berlin! More than 200,000 turned up to hear him there.

Here’s part of the speech he gave today:

The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christians and Muslims and Jews cannot stand.

Alright!

And so then, this is what Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich) has to say in response:

“No one knows which Obama will show. Will it be the ideological, left-wing Democratic primary candidate who vowed to ‘end’ the war rather than win it, or the Democratic nominee who dismisses the progressing coalition victory as a ‘distraction’? Will it be the American populist who has told supporters in the United States that he will demand more from our allies in Europe and get it, or the liberal internationalist hell-bent on being liked in Europe’s salons?”

Okay, so, first, we see that Republicans are still stuck in early 20th-Century isolationism (except when they can buy up international corporations and pilfer oil from the countries they invade) and are therefore speeding this nation to rack and ruin.

And, second: Victory? Winning the war is completely inconsequential. This war should have never happened in the first place. Withdrawing is what matters, as is repairing our international relations, which the Republicans have decimated.

One of the greatest moments of the Democratic debates was when Hillary said something like (sorry, I’ve looked for the exact quote but can’t find it): ‘I was hoping the Republicans would be so embarrassed by the terrible job the Bush administration has done that they wouldn’t run a candidate in this election. But, alas, that didn’t happen.’

Republicans criticized Obama for not having been on the ground in Iraq and then, when he went to Iraq, they derided him for pulling a political stunt. Guess it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Well, for what it’s worth, you done me proud, Barack.

Rafael Rosario Laguna’s Painting

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 24, 2008
"La Que Todos Quieren" by Rafael Rosario Laguna

"La Que Todos Quieren" by Rafael Rosario Laguna

So, Julius and I have a new painting coming to our house, this Saturday!

Last Sunday, we went to the closing party of our friend Rafael Rosario Laguna’s studio in DUMBO. He’s moving to a studio at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side (107 Suffolk Street @ corner of Rivington).

That night, Julius bought Rafael’s La Que Todos Quieren (“The One Everyone Wants”). Here we see a Heronymous Bosch-like depiction of a milk-giving cow being tugged in all directions. Cows are a principal subject in Rafael’s work. I don’t know why exactly, but it’s dead-sexy – and I’m not even all that into cows…

He’s got a whole portfolio of work at http://www.rosariolaguna.com. I urge you to log on!

85A Log: High School Bullies and Skinheads

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 24, 2008

Alright, so, I’m at Tea Lounge on Union Street in Brooklyn, gearing up to do some final edits on 85A before handing it off to Shell. It’s so bizarre to be at an age where a hipster barista calls you “sir.” Maybe next time I’ll bring my walker and ask him to help me to my chair. It was only ten years ago that I was his age and now I’m Sir! Still, he played his cards right: I upped his tip to a whole dollar.

Jefferson Park, Chicago L Station - Destination of the 85A North Central Bus

Jefferson Park, Chicago L Station - Destination of the 85A North Central Bus

Anyhow, for all intents and purposes, the first draft of 85A is done. That is, I finished Parts I and II and then, for Part III, I basically threw mud at the wall, hoping at least a speck of it would stick. No such luck. The whole of Part III ended up looking something like: “And then, a lot of stuff happened and then…well…The End.” Thank God for Second Drafts. My editor friend Shell’s got her work cut out for her, at least with Part III.

Don’t worry, people, it will be all shaped up, scrubbed up and ready for inspection by the final draft. Above is a picture of the Jefferson Park L station in Chicago. Seamus takes the 85A bus there everyday before taking the L to his south-side school. This is an unorthodox stream-of-consciousness novel, most of which takes place on Seamus’ way to St. Saviour, the school that wants to kick him out. What happens next will affect the rest of his born days.

To help me flesh out the actual in-school parts of 85A, I started rereading Jodee Blanco’s Please Stop Laughing at Me…, her autobiography about being the victim of bullies from middle school right up to the last day of high school.

I remember when it was first released about six years ago. My Mom heard about it on the radio and then called and told me to buy it. Well, I didn’t rush right out to the store. In fact, I forgot she’d even mentioned it until a couple days later when I was poking around the stalls at Borders. Something told me to pick it up, though, so I did. A couple days later, some guy I was dating – can’t even remember his name now – unceremoniously dumped me. I had the day off work the next day, so I got into my shlub clothes, crumpled up on my couch, picked up Blanco’s book and proceeded to have a wailing cry.

Jodee Blanco, 2007

Jodee Blanco, 2007

Look at Jodee Blanco now. She’s hot! But, according to her book, it wasn’t always like that. The peer abuse and torture that she suffered was way off the charts – constant assaults and degradations. I’ve been there. That’s how it was for me, the class faggot, in my elementary and middle school years. (Actually, the Catholic school I went to wasn’t a middle school. It had grades 1 to 8. It would be a baleful simplification to call those years and that neighborhood a living hell, but I’m all out of worthy superlatives just now.)

Blanco went on to become a writer and an A-List p.r. consultant in New York. But, after the success of her New York Times Bestseller and all the many emails and calls she received from concerned parents and teens who were on the verge of recreating the Columbine tragedy at their own schools, she decided to relinquish her high-profile executive career in order to head up The Blanco Group, a nonprofit in Chicago that works nationally to prevent school bullying. I applaud Jodee Blanco’s efforts. A friend, who was complaining about office politics at her job, recently made the highly generalized statement: “Adults are just overgrown teenagers who play the same kinds of games they did in high school.” There might some truth to that, but adults are rarely as overt with their pettiness as pre-teens and teens and my heart goes out to any kid who has to stand defenseless against that kind of barefaced harassment and violence.

It seems to me that, for middle-class kids at least, bullying is probably worse at suburban high schools than at inner-city magnet high schools like my alma mater. One reason might be that, at an inner-city magnet school, kids commute to school from everywhere and, if you live in another neighborhood, there isn’t a sense that your life is confined to the same locale as your school. Even if the kids at your school are assholes, they at least have lives outside of school and they have the whole city to keep them occupied, which is an advantage bored suburban youth like the ones at Columbine don’t have.

from the film based on Marguerite Duras' novel THE LOVER

from the film based on Marguerite Duras' novel THE LOVER

In high school, I wasn’t bullied so much as outcast, which hurt terribly but not as bad as daily beatings would’ve. That’s how it is for Seamus in 85A too. He’s more outcast than bullied at St. Saviour.

In fact, he’s adamant about not making a world out of Saint Saviour. After many early experiences of failure and rejection, he holds himself aloof from St. Saviour and always has his bags packed to leave at any moment. His orientation is much the same as that of the girl in The Lover, Marguerite Duras’ roman a clef about her adolescent affair with a Chinese aristocrat, who was more than twice her age, in Saigon, 1929. Here’s how she describes the situation at her Vietnamese boarding school, where she’s one of two white girls:

{The teacher] says, You didn’t go to class and you didn’t sleep here last night, we’re going to have to inform your mother. I say I couldn’t help it, but from now on I’ll try to come back and sleep here every night, there’s no need to tell my mother. The young [teacher] looks at me and smiles…I’ll do it again. My mother will be informed. She’ll come and see the head of the boarding school and ask her to let me do as I like in the evenings, not to check the time I come in, not to force me to go out with the other girls on Sunday excursions. She says, She’s a child who’s always been free, otherwise she’d run away, even I, her own mother, can’t do anything about it, if I want to keep her I have to let her be free…My mother also said I was working hard in high school even though I had my freedom, and that what had happened with her sons was so awful, such a disaster, that her daughter’s education was the only hope left to her.

I say that Duras’ protagonist and Seamus share the same orientation toward school, but her life and Seamus’ are poles apart. True, Seamus also has a lover who is twice his age, but his mom and dad aren’t anywhere near as cool as Duras’ mother and they hang no hopes on Seamus doing well in school. Unlike Duras’ character, Seamus does not work hard at St. Saviour – he can’t pay attention in class and has a 1.4 GPA – but he does have the same proclivity for freedom as Duras’ girl and he does have a budding worldliness and sophistication that his GPA does not betray.

Belmont Avenue in Chicago

Belmont Avenue in Chicago

Until Seamus can make it to England, he’ll make do hanging out in the 1980s punk scene on Belmont in Chicago or in pre-gentrification Wicker Park. He doesn’t find a lot of acceptance on Belmont either, but it beats the hell out of the rejection he experiences at St. Saviour.

American Skin by Don De Grazia

American Skin by Don De Grazia

American Skin, Don De Grazia’s estimable novel about this same period in Chicago punk history, gives a much more flattering and sympathetic depiction of skinheads than 85A. Just like American Skin, some pivotal parts of 85A take place at a juice bar called Medusa’s. De Grazia changed Medusa’s name to Gorgon and I wonder if I’ll have to do the same before 85A is published.

And now…I’ll share excerpts of Seamus’ Belmont experience in 85A before he meets his best friend, Tressa. (I reserve all rights to the contents of the following text. Steal it and I’ll sue your pants off!) Now, please bear in mind that Seamus is a foul-mouthed 15-year-old who abhors racism but is still at a point in his development where he sees blacks, Latinos, Asians and immigrants as “other.” And even though he moons over boys in his own narration and discusses his sexual experience with a much older man, he is still terrified of being pigeonholed as gay:

Man, I don’t care what people fucking say. They cut skinheads all this fuckin’ slack. Say most of them on Belmont ain’t Nazis, they’re anti-Nazi. Some are even black, some are Jews and some of the whites even walk around with t-shirts on under their bomber jackets that have ban signs over swastikas. That don’t mean dick. Nazi, anti-Nazi: one’s just as bad as the other. Like, for instance, some of the Anti-Nazi skins wear pink laces in their ox-blood Docs, meaning they killed a queer—maybe one of the queens walking around Halsted Street, just a block over from Punkin’ Donuts. They kick the shit out of people who don’t fucking deserve it just to show off to their friends. Skinheads are fuckin’ scumbags—Nazi or not—and, if I didn’t believe in anarchy, I’d petition for a law to lock them all up for life…

I lit my second to last Marlboro and walked over to Punkin’ Donuts at Belmont and Clark...That’s all I did on Saturday nights before Tressa. I’d end a lonely night at Medusa’s with a cigarette, a raspberry jelly donut, and a medium coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. They always got punks in there or in the parking lot. They don’t call it Punkin’ Donuts for nothing. I’d sit at the counter and watch crowds swarming out of restaurants and clubs. I’d sit and watch punks coming together in their own motley swarms inside and outside the store, never minding the Pakistani donut pushers, chewing them out every five seconds for acting up and being assholes. I’d sit at the counter and think, maybe I’ll have friends here someday. Or maybe I’ll know punks in England. They don’t even have to be punks. Just people. Just people. In England. And I’d smoke and stare out the window or at the smoke curling off my cigarette and I’d think about things I might be able to do for a living over there in England—maybe I could be a shrink like Dr. Strykeroth (I thought that a lot) or an actor on the BBC like I always fuckin’ wanted to be or maybe I’d write books—and I’d try cooking up ways I might be able to immigrate legally.

In my daze, I felt someone come up behind me and take the 1940s hat off my head. I swung around on my stool. It was a fuckin’ skinhead. He had these scary motherfucker red and steel-blue eyes and a face that some mad sculptor must have chiseled out on a bender—all those sharp-ass, severe-ass angles. He cocked an eyebrow to me, opened his bog slowly like a carp and then blew a mouthful of cigarette smoke he’d been holding, straight into my face. His band of nick-headed Neanderthals all hooted and howled and flipped me off. I didn’t say a fuckin’ word. (Shit, Would you, with eight motherfuckin’ skinheads staring you down?) Then they all turned around. Walked straight into a forest of other punks and skins, some of them grabbing on to some chicks who looked like they were itching for a grabbing. Then they decamped to make their rounds round the block. The fucker still had my hat on his head when he walked out with his arms hanging on his two buddies’ shoulders. Never fuckin’ knew how to walk alone, I guess.

But, see, there’s this shit I do every time someone dis’s me like that. I even used to do it with fuckin’ Payne. For about five minutes, I try convincing myself they didn’t mean what they just fuckin’ said or did. They meant something else. Maybe this guy thought I was someone else. And that’s what I dumb-ass did after the skinheads left. I said to myself, Oh, it’s crowded in here. He was talking to a lot of people after he took my hat. Maybe he just forgot to give it back before he left. If I see him again and ask him real nice, he’ll give it back. Maybe we’ll even hang out next time I see him. Maybe he’ll introduce me to his friends. Maybe I’ll end up shaving my fuckin’ head and hanging with them. But I can’t tonight. I got fuckin’ curfew. That’s what I fucking said to myself!

And then I went on thinking about England. And then I went on thinking about Dr. Strykeroth, how tight and tan his skin is, how lucky I am to be able to get together with him every week. And then about Colby. I wondered what he was doing these days, if I’d ever see him again. I remembered how Colby had steel-blue eyes too, but they weren’t fuckin’ schizoid and mixed with capillary-red like that fuckin’ skinhead’s (the one I said I wouldn’t mind hanging out with, even after he stole my hat and blew smoke in my fuckin’ face). And I recalled how Colby’s features weren’t craggy like that skinhead motherfucker’s either. They were soft, delicate. His cheek bones were high and they sloped down in such a gentle curve. His lips were like plump little cherries and just as red. I lost myself, thinking about England and Dr. Strykeroth and Colby.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone hovering over me. I was so caught up daydreaming, I didn’t even notice anyone sitting next to me. I turned my head. No, no one was sitting there. Dude wasn’t sitting at all. He was standing. Hovering. Some scruffed-up, fucked-up, scrawny-ass drunk, maybe 40 years old. I got a better look at him. He had a tight mellow-yellow undershirt on under a blue ski coat with a fur-lined hood. He was also wearing this crazy-ass belt, made up of a bunch of different colored bandanas (red, dark blue, black, yellow, baby blue) that he’d tied together. They hung down from a loose knot at the crotch of his faded Levis. He put his left hand on his left hip and jutted his right hip out toward me. He smiled, looking down at me, tapping the toe of his tan construction boot and taking a long drag off a Virginia Slim. (I saw the pack in front of him, under his pink Bic lighter. It was fuckin’ Virginia Slims.) He exhaled a long, lingering stream of smoke. His breath reeked of menthol cigarettes and bottles and bottles of hard liquor, I don’t know what kind, as he leaned up close and heaved a long, heavy, “Hah-iii,” into my face. Then he puckered up, looked deep into my eyes, and, losing and then finding his balance again, blew me a kiss. The punks around me were all falling all over themselves, laughing up a fuckin’ storm when they all fuckin’ saw all this.

How did that prick even get through the fuckin’ doors with all those skins and scary motherfuckers skulking around? How did he escape getting his gumpy ass beat? He’s lucky he didn’t get killed just for coming within a block of Punkin’ Donuts. I didn’t finish my coffee. Didn’t want that flit feeling me up or vomiting on me. I just hit the streets. As I left the parking lot, I kept looking back, hoping he wasn’t fuckin’ stumbling after me. For a second there, I could even see why the skins would be proud to wear pink laces.

I walked back toward Sheffield on Belmont. Passed a bunch of Jesus freaks. They were holding candles and singing “Amazing Grace.” One of them handed me a leaflet. I was still in shock from that drunken fairy, so I took it. I looked at the leaflet as I kept walking. The front page actually looked like some of those xeroxed booklets they got in Wax Trax’s boutique, except there were no sex-and-violence graphics and the punks on it were wearing Crosses on their leather jackets, along with slogans like “Jesus Rules” and ban signs over the numbers 666. I crumpled up the leaflet and threw it in the gutter. I lit my last Marlboro, crumpled the pack and tossed that in the gutter too. Not fifteen minutes earlier, Belmont was crawling with people. I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden it was almost empty. When I got to walking under the L tracks, I saw a group of burly guys walking toward me in the shadows. As I walked closer, I saw they were all skinheads. They were the ones in Punkin’ Donuts, the ones who fuckin’ laughed and flipped me off. I saw the one wearing my hat. I walked up to him. I said, “Can I have my hat back?”

He got up in my face, “What? What?”

I said, “Just, my hat. Just…wondering…can I—?”

He pushed me over into the alley off to the side of the tracks with his chest, “What? What?” He backed me up into the brick wall on the side of the pawn shop. His gang surrounded me. “What?” he bellowed, “You sayin’ I stole it? You sayin’ I stole your hat? Is that what you’re fuckin’ saying?” I looked at all their faces. There was nothing I could fuckin’ do but freeze. “Huh?,” he screamed, shoving me back into the bricks, “Answer me, you little faggot.”

I somehow uttered, “Well, in Dunkin’—” Next thing I know, he punched me hard in fuckin’ gut. Then, one of the black skins hollered, “Got any proof, you lil’ carrot-top faggot?,” then he clocked me in the face. Then, they whipped me to the ground. My forehead scraped against a pile of rocks, pebbles and some glass too when they turned me over. Felt a couple kicks in my back and a few in my stomach. I could feel every hit, but it was like part of me, the part of me that couldn’t feel any pain, had left my body and was watching all this shit happen from some kind of fuckin’ aerial view. I thought, shit, I heard of shit like this. This is fuckin’ it. This is it. They’re gonna award these animals some fuckin’ pink laces for what they’re about to do to me.

Alright, people, it’s been real, but I gotta get back to editing now. Shell’s waiting on my manuscript. She knows where I live and she knows where I hang out when I’m not at home.

Estelle Getty (1923-2008)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 22, 2008

Estelle Getty

Sad news: Estelle Getty died today at age 84 after a long bout with dementia.

Do you know that she struggled through office-grunt jobs until she finally landed the part of Sophia on The Golden Girls at age 62? Now that’s dedication!

I’ve spent countless hours running lines from that show with gay men and discussing what an all-around consciousness-raiser it was for America in the 80s.

Rest in Peace.  You’re fabulous.

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Shine A Light (A Review for Edge Magazine)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 22, 2008

I just submitted the following review of Scorcese’s Shine A Light to Edge Magazine. I gave it a grade of D+.

No Security

The Rolling Stones - No Security (1998)

In 1998, The Rolling Stones released No Security, a live album that was one-hundred percent better than the studio album its tour was based on (Bridges to Babylon, 1997). The album cover features a concert photo of a long-haired, tattooed road hog, smoking a cigarette and wearing a sleeveless Stones-Lips t-shirt. Next to him is his girlfriend, a tattooed, body-pierced, anorexic road warrior with jet-black hair. This was the Stones! This was the band that released Exile on Main Street, that presided over murder and mayhem at Altamont. No Security was their best album in 17 years and the band hadn’t sounded better in 25 years.

I was at one of those shows. On stage, Mick Jagger was Dionysus himself, stirring all us male, female and gender-bending bacchae into a warped frenzy. Keith Richards pounded out licks on his rhythm guitar that were more thrilling than any battery-operated stimulant known to man or woman. Like Dylan with his last three albums, the Stones proved in one fell swoop that age means nothing; that, at any age, true rock geniuses can kick out the jams if they want to.

The key phrase there is “if they want to.” For that same 1998 tour, PBS filmed a Stones concert at the St. Louis TWA Dome that had all the sinister menace of an ice-cream social. There were no Hell’s Angels working security. There were no savage groupies rushing the stage. Mick and Keith worked the crowd of grownups with about as much daring as a clown at a First Communion party. And it’s not that they’re too old for their old antics now. Like I said, I was at one of the 1998 shows where they at least came close to replicating their Seventies salaciousness. What happened was that the Stones had sold out, become house-broken and user-friendly.

And I’m afraid they gave Martin Scorcese’s Shine A Light the same PBS-treatment. You know you’ve blunted your own edge to a dull death when your emcee is Bill Clinton in his tailored suit; when Hillary is just dying to introduce her elderly mother to your band. This film was shot live at an August 2006 charity concert for the William J. Clinton Foundation (on Clinton’s birthday) at the 2,800-seat Beacon Theater in New York City. The cost per ticket for this intimate affair ran into the thousands. Thus, I doubt the good folks on the No Security cover and their ilk were in attendance. Watching this exquisitely filmed benefit, however, you do see a lot of Susie Sunshine blondes and Midtown investment-banker types. You also see from the close-ups of their faces that they know almost none of the words to the songs.

Now, Mick can still move and Keith can still play. Mick still shakes that 23-inch waist for all its worth and Keith hooks into his chords something fierce. But while Mick’s voice has kept up, he bungles lyrics left and right and censors out many of the politically incorrect verses that helped make The Stones the bad boys of rock n’ roll. And please, Keith, don’t sing! You can’t remember the words and you look like you’re going to nod out over the mic. Stick to guitar! The playlist is perfect – “Loving Cup” (duet with Jack White, The White Stripes), “All Down the Line,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Brown Sugar,” “Some Girls” – but it’s all delivered with the verve of Peter, Paul and Mary. And why did Mick pick a pop tart like Christina Aguilera to duet with on, “Live With Me”? She’s got a voice, I’ll give her that, but no grit. The Stones should stick to blues and soul powerhouses like Buddy Guy, who gave us the one true-grit moment of the film, where he and Mick croon out Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer.”

Scorcese meant well. He did a great job of directing and editing too. But he picked the wrong show to film. Scorcese intersperses into the film ample Sixties and Seventies interviews with Mick, Keith, and drummer Charlie Watts. In some, Mick is making nice with British authority figures who find the Stones’ music and influence too ribald. (If you ask me, Mick has carried this diplomacy way too far, especially over the past couple decades. Artists shouldn’t have to apologize for their work.) In several other clips, you see the Stones as twenty and thirty-something rockers, fielding questions from interviewers who want to know how long the band thinks it can keep its act up. Okay, Marty, we get the point! They’re old and they’ve lasted! Can we move on now? Scorcese also films the opening sequences of Shine A Light in black-and-white, as if to harken back to the Stones’ salad days in Swinging London, an era which birthed timeless black-and-white rock films like Hard Day’s Night and Don’t Look Back. But The Stones aren’t living their 1960s glory now that they’re in their sixties.

Nor should they. Lest I leave the wrong impression, let me make clear that I’m not asking the Stones to do more X-Rated shows or start barroom brawls. For the past 15 years, what I’ve been asking them to do is precisely what they did in the Buddy Guy sequence of Shine A Light: Go back to your blues roots, Stones. Do what Dylan’s doing. Slow it down. Don’t try keeping up with know-nothing young bucks (though I do like The White Stripes – good choice there). Dig deep for soulful songs again. Stop pandering to stadium effects; you got enough money already.