Mark Allen's Top Ten for August 30th, 2004:
Copyright 2004 Mark Allen

1. If we as New Yorkers change our day-to-day lives this week ...then THE REPUBLICANS WIN!!!
    I was caught by surprise this Sunday, sitting in my air conditioned apartment, watching and listening on the radio and television to reports about the marches, actions, street theater, flash mobs, pranks and weird happenings in protest against the Bush administration and the RNC here in NYC this week... feeling pangs of guilt, especially considering my activist past. I'm a little torn... watching on TV the undulating waves of signs and heads amongst the massive crowds herding up and down the avenues in midtown, getting thrilling phone calls and emails from friends involved in the protests and actions, hearing their hysterical rumors about planned actions during the week... listening to their ecstatic stories.
    The truth is, I've vowed to kind of lay low this week, and not because of any bullshit terrorist warnings, but because ...I'm just getting old I guess. I know people ten years older than me that are enthusiastically participating all week. Maybe I'm turning into a hermit. What if I'm turing into one of those agoraphobic people? I do find myself wanting to stay home more and more these days. What if this is just the beginning of me finding refuge in my own little world, inside my apartment... and never leaving that refuge? What if a year turns into two years, five years, a decade... a whole lifetime?!?!  GASP!
    Maybe I'd better fight my growing comfort with my own inner malaise by going outside and joining in the chant. Well... hmmmm... no, I think I'll stay in. I can still protest, as a proud agoraphobic American! I still have a voice!
    So I made this homemade sign, to voice my opinion about the Bush administration, and put it in my window. I don't have to be ashamed by not getting involved! I don't! OK?! I have a handicap! But as you see I'm not handicapped, but handi-capable! I'M A FUCKING AMERICAN HERO GODDAMMIT!!!
    I think it's important for people to not let obstacles stand in their way.
    As I was proudly putting this sign up, in an act of American heroism, placing it against the cool, air conditioned glass while activists sweated it out right outside... I felt a tear of patriotic pride in my eye. I was shaky as I was venturing three feet outside of my apartment (gasp!) on my fire escape to take this photo of my creation... my outreach voice. One of the perpetually inebriated homeless guys that lives outside the liquor store down on my street yelled up "Haw! Haw! Fuck Bush! Yaw! Fuck me some Bush Ha! Ha! Haaw!"  and I saluted him. God bless each and every man in this country, man, woman, black, white, gay, straight and those who fear the outside world and those who don't.
    I paid that same homeless guy a dollar to take this photo from the ground, and this one at night. For a better view. Hmmm... ok... now if I can just find a way to get him to vote for me in November...

"Wondertwin powers motherfucking activate all goddamn ready!"

2. "Excuse me while I kiss the sky"
    Of course, I'm not as agoraphobic as this particular woman was (follow-up story here), but I have been morbidly obsessed with this woman's case ever since I heard about it. I mean... I've heard of people being agoraphobic in homes, rooms even... but on a couch? I think that many agoraphobics actually have cheated here and there... sneaking out when no one is looking, for a quick thrill to go get the morning paper out on the curb or something. But not this woman. She was so determined to never get up from the couch that her skin actually grafted as it grew onto it's fabric. Wow! I mean... someone needs to make a movie about this woman's life... seriously. I would love to see an analysis of her mental state during the six years she was there. I mean... she could have possibly had one of the richest inner lives ever, in the history of mankind.
    Did she have an encyclopedic memory of her day-to-day activities? "I turned the remote towards the TV, I hit the power button..." Did really mundane things become adventures for her? "I turned the remote towards the TV, I hit the power button... the power actually popped off. I realized then that the TV had been on all night and was just a blank screen because it was on channel 3 and the VCR had been turned off. I was blown away!"  Instead, I think a wild, rich imagination that is inconceivable to us was what was actually going on in her head. The real world was just too boring... eventually.
    I guess those of us who cannot afford vacations four times a year are reduced to perhaps not-so-healthy vacations inside our own minds... who knows what it leads to on down the line.
    It sounds to me like people that are agoraphobic are just overloading on a primal based emotion. Overeaters eat to much... way beyond the survival needs for hunger, to fill some weird emotional void or response loop. Agoraphobics over-fulfill a need to protect themselves, self-survival taken to an absurd extreme... probably in response to the same kind of inner machinations. The sound of children playing sounds like a warning, sunshine reflecting off car windshields looks foreboding, fear strikes out the moment fresh air hits their face.
    It's like this woman eventually found her piece of the pie in the world, one thin sliver, one hue out of a full spectrum of life's opportunities, which as a whole has an infinite number of stripes of color. It may have been a thin slice... but to her it was an endless mental feast. She walked right into that thin spectrum like a door, shut it, and made herself a home. To everyone else it seemed like she was trapped in the hamper... but from where she sat it was a penthouse view in a paradise of rationalizations and a wonderland of mental checks and balances.
    And if you were to chart and graph the complex amount of dysfunction and denial going on in her family, it would  probably look like an M.C. Echer drawing (even though her surroundings in the apartment were very dirty and somewhat in squalor... someone had to be taking care of her on same level, bringing her food, cleaning her as much as possible, aware of her situation). I mean, at least she didn't end up like this guy. Yow!
    Jim and I have actually speculated that she may have had a life-long ambition to become one of The Wondertwins... you know the two alien twins (and their monkey Gleek), from the Super Friends, that could touch fists and say "Wondertwin powers ...activate!" and then one could change into the form of an animal, and the other could change into the form of an element? She may have seen that Saturday morning TV show as a child and decided she wanted to become the form of a couch. So she maybe did some research and was really disappointed to find out that you couldn't turn into an inanimate object. Maybe her being homebound was just some wild excuse to cover up her weird fantasy of wanting to become a couch... at any cost. Maybe she decided that the only way to shape shift into an inanimate object was to just press yourself up against it really, really hard and then maybe your skin would grow over it in the same way a tree trunk will grow over a chain link fence over time. Then after her flesh merged with the couch maybe her DNA would mix with it somehow and she could go around town at night wearing a Ninja mask and a cape as "Couch Woman," fighting crime and stuff. I don't know, maybe hitting a lever and a foot rest would eject out of her butt like a Lay-Z-Boy recliner or something, and knock a bank robber's gun out of his hand unexpectedly.
    So she was in that room for years... pressing up against that couch as hard as she could, repeating "Form of a couch... form of a couch..." over and over and over and over, until her family could deal with her no more and just let her continue to do it. Maybe in moments of fighting she would offer up the argument to a quarrelsome family member; "No, you see... the Wondertwins did it really fast, but that's not true... it actually takes years and years! That's the secret!" and the family member would just throw their arms up in the air and walk away. She probably had dreams and elaborate fantasies of saving the world as Couch Woman... just repeating "Form of a couch... form of a couch..." again and again day after day... even late at night when her family was sleeping in the next room. They'd be all "Shut up in there we're trying to sleep!" and so she would just whisper then "Form of a couch... form of a couch... form of a motherfuckin' couch..."  Yep, I bet that a lot of people thought this woman's surroundings were squalor... but from her view it was a fantastic wonderworld of hope...

Teresa Wright eventually yelled "Uncle!" while facing her most unspoken fears.

3. "Fear Itself" (by Gene Weingarten, for The Washington Post)
    One of the most interesting articles I've read in a very long time... on the subject of internalized vs. public fear itself in our newly traumatized western world, and fear as business-as-usual in farther reaches of the planet. Author Weingarten went to Jerusalem and soaked up what he could of day to day life... weeding through locals' routines (mental and otherwise), and reported on it in intimate detail. Perhaps too short, but nevertheless interesting reporting... I learned more about America's "War On Terror" through Weingarten's article than I have in a bazillion lobotomized CNN and FOX news broadcasts.
    Highly recommended. Here is the link.

Got the FOX news blues? NPR malaise? Tune into WFMU's week-long, 24 -hour "RNC Re-mix"

4. Why listen to what the other side says when you can listen to what we say the other side says?
    Got the RNC blues? Don't drop out, tune in... to us, as we keep you, the public, informed! Following the mass media's lead, we'll delve deeply into nothing more than the surface of things... concentrating on Republican fashion and style! Join expertly stylish host Pseu Braun, renowned style expert "Patti LuPeun" and stylpertly ex-ish Mark Allen (yes, me) on Tuesday, August 31st, 8-11pm EST.
    Part of WFMU's highly recommended, 24-hour, week-long, Manhattan-spanning call-in report and mayham-tastic "Republican National Convention Re-mix,"  we will simulcast a relentless running audio commentary of that evening's televised, fashion-laden festivities. Turn on your TV, turn down the sound, and turn us up... instead, as we critique, review, nitpick, bean-count, imitate, opinionize and spin, spin, spin on helmet-haired speakers, shoulder-padded speeches, combed-over ceremonies and Phenobarbital-glazed First Ladies! Remember: this isn't the administration of fear... it's the administration of style! We'll be watching the live broadcast beamed from heavily-guarded Madison "Squares" Garden and yapping all over it from the liberal paradise of WFMU's posh, entitled, leftist, NJ studios (as long as the PATH trains don't get blowed-up).
    Why listen to what the other side has to say when you can hear what we say the other side has to say? Can you judge a book by it's cover? Why sure you can! We'll yap and yap about Republican style until our larynxes snap... then we'll yap some more through raspy bloody, larynxes! Our country needs us! Full schedule, info, and how to tune-in: click here.
    Missed it? NOTE:  This show has now been archived here (scroll down to Tues. 31st, 7pm - in RealAudio).

"Hi, hiya, hello... Paul Snider. Yea, I'm Paul Snider, how ya doin'? Snider, Paul... hello. Heh, heh... yea! Paul Snider! Ahh... fuck you. Fuck you all... bastards."

5. Eric Roberts' portrayal of Paul Snider in the film "Star 80"
    "We had everything going for us... but you fucks wouldn't let me in. Big fucking deal! Well... you can take your magazine and your mansion and your movies and shove 'em all up your ass now... LIAR!!!"
    So I finally saw the film "Star 80" (1983, dir: Bob Fosse) and I was, yes, blown away by the unbelievably sexy appeal of Eric Roberts through his thug-ishly dazzling portrayal of Paul Snider. In case you don't know, the film is based on the true story of noted Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, who rose to half-fame in 1980 partly because of her "rage-aholic" husband and manager (Snider), who viciously murdered her in 1980 as she was cutting him out of her life (to marry director Peter Bogdonovich) and rising to even higher fame.
    For years everyone was always saying to me "Oh God... Eric Roberts is so sexy in that film..." and indeed they were right. What gives a serial killer or ruthless dictator extra power? That's right... good looks! Roberts' crass, bumbling, manipulative, persnickety, lizard-like performance is hypnotic due to his cocky, sweet-from-every-angle good looks. His persona in the movie is like an unholy morph between mid-90's Marky Mark, 70's gay porn icon Al Parker, and the grisly prosthetic teeth of  William Defoe in David Lynch's "Wild At Heart."
    The real Paul Snider, hardly the looker that Eric Roberts was in the role, was nevertheless an urban peacock, drowning in 1970's trends. Roberts' entire wardrobe for this film is like my dream wardrobe (nightmare?): giant turtlenecks, gargantuanly gay belt buckles, baby blue Michael Jackson-esque leather jackets, tight black jeans, colored tanks, gold chains, snakeskin cowboy boots and a "70's super-fag" mustache ...the combo has never looked so sickly suave.
    I was surprised how good the film itself was ...sort of. Carefully and economically crafted by Broadway-mad director Bob Fosse, ('Sweet Charity,' 'All That Jazz,' 'Cabaret') this obviously non-musical (could you imagine? yes... unfortunately I can)  film was his last, as he died of a heart attack in 1987 (his next projects-to-be were reportedly a much talked about film version of 'Chicago' starring Madonna, and a picture based on the life of Walter Winchell). "Star 80" plays somewhere between an average feature film, and a surprisingly good made-for-TV movie. It's dated peculiarities give it an odd, broadcast TV glare that surrounds a perverse subject matter... mixing by-the-book TV movie cinematography and editing with portrayals of America in the 1980's, when it was really still the 70's. The film actually plays like a watered down version of "Boogie Nights," with all of that film's dazzle and only about 10% of it's surprising depth.
    Little known fact: the final murder scene (which frames the rest of the film, done in flashback) was shot in, get this, Paul Snider's actual apartment... in the room where the grisly murder really took place. Eww?
    Ironically perhaps, Roberts' portrayal of Paul Snider ends up becoming the "star" attraction in the film... as all the character development is lauded into and through him, with Hemingway's character taking a close second. Director Fosse did this intentionally, and is quoted as saying that the Snider character is "...what I would have become if I hadn't become successful [in the film industry]."  Yikes!
    The kind-of reverse is true of Mariel Hemingway's performance. While her portrayal is great, and Hemingway is certainly no eyesore... her slightly quirky, child-like face is no match for the real Stratten, who was indeed a full-blown, 1970's sex bomb knockout (just check out these photos!). This was probably a smart choice on the part of Fosse and Hemingway, her realness in appearance and shy performance only makes the character seem more real, and more sympathy-worthy. Hemingway reportedly got breast implants just for the film... and the picture contains many full-on nude shots... pretty gutsy considering her career at the time.
    I actually had a chance to "work with" (haha!) Hemingway way back in 1995, in an episode of the short-lived CBS show "Central Park West" (I was an extra). They were filming a nightclub scene in the old Mars club space (in the mid-90's meat packing district), and I was playing (surprise!) a go-go boy inside a cage. The whole shoot was filled with all my weird club friends, and it took forever to finish... like till 3am or so. It was really exhausting, considering I was only getting paid like $100 or something. But I remember Hemingway well. Unlike the rest of the show's cast, who would run screaming to their trailers after each take, she would sometimes wander around between takes and talk to all the extras and ask them about their weird clothes. Not in a forced way... just kind of relaxed and friendly, she seemed really wise and bullshit-less. There was one shot where they had to zoom right in on her face with her looking pensively over her shoulder, right as she was walking out the exit (which was right by my cage). At one point the camera guy thought it would be "totally brilliant" to shoot this take with her face zoomed-in on through the bars of my cage, with my ass kind of bouncing out-of-focus, around the edges of the foreground. They actually set this shot up, and then did one take, and the director guy was like "Cut!" and then the camera man said "No... we can't do that... the guy's balls are bouncing right in Mariel's face!" and everybody laughed and then some tech woman walked up and said, with a totally straight face "We could tape him down!" and this made Mariel look at me and laugh really hard, as if to say "Can you believe this shit?" After that she was always bringing me and the other dancers in cages bottles of water and asking if we "...were doing all right under these hot lights." She talked to me a little bit, she was very funny and cool. I knew almost nothing about her career at the time, I wish I had seen "Star 80" at that point, I would have definitely asked her about it.
    So back to now...
    I have a weird habit (problem?) of latching onto strange, violent, emotionally unstable male film characters portrayed by sexy actors (Deniro in 'Taxi Driver,' Ed Norton/Brad Pitt in 'Fight Club'). I seem to project myself onto them, and sieve my life through the fictional reality they exist in. To be honest, a lot of "Star 80" reminds me of periods, and people, in my past. The scene where Snider confronts Stratten at the end while surrounded by pictures of her on his walls, all the stripper club scenes, Snider's social ineptness at high-brow social events, his violent mood swings and Stratten's not knowing what to do, his implosion after not being able to deal with his feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Snider's despair and rage at his own embarrassment, I'll admit it, reminds me of ME, and also past boyfriends I've had. Especially the scene where a pathetically broke Snider calls busy-at-work-earning-all-their-dough Stratten, interrupting her while she's on the set of one of her movies, haranguing her for access to her bank account for an "...extra $2,500 baby..." so he can buy them a new Mercedes 450 SL they just have to have (which he gets a personalized plate for that reads 'STAR 80') Ho boy... memories... me-mo-riiieeesss....
    So I recommend this film... if for nothing else than the rather remarkable and very sexy performance by Eric Roberts. I guarantee, if you're like me, you'll wanna go out clothes shopping afterwards. For a nice summary of all the facts surrounding the film, click here. For a lurid summary of all the facts surrounding the actual murder case, click here.

"He hit me so hard... I saw stars.
He hit so hard... I saw God.
Just one big blinding flash...
you'll sleep safe tonight.
You're secret's safe with me...
look at the pretty lights."
    - Hole, "Hit So Hard"

Bring a flashlight...

6. Essex Mountain website
    Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!
    Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!
    Wow! Wo... ok we get the point.
    Someone has made an entire resource website for an old sanatorium that existed from 1900 - 2002 in Newark, New Jersey. The sanatorium was actually on the top of a mountain, and surrounded by miles of uninhabited forest. It was a huge estate with a series of giant, highly complex buildings, courtyards and underground tunnels. It was used as everything from a delinquent girls home, a renowned Tuberculosis hospital, and eventually a psychiatric hospital (where some reportedly devious medical research occurred). It started to fall out of use some time in the 1950's, and much of it started deteriorating and becoming abandoned by the 1960's. Some time in the early 1970's, due to several complicated reasons involving the county and other problems, the enormous site and all it's structures became completely abandoned.
   Yep... that's right... you know what it turned into: late night, teenage, drunken, party, graffiti museum, first-drug-taking, cherry-popping, fake heavy metal satanic ritual, murder scare-story mecca. In other words: paradise. It existed for more than three whole decades as a playground for young urban adventurers eager to create a sick, hilarious teenage memory... or just a neardy adult thrill. The law really got involved by the 1990's, trying to keep people off the gargantuan property, but they didn't always succeed.
    This person (persons?) has created this site as a repository for any and all information on the property and it's history and phenomenon as an illegal playground for thrill-seekers. Anyone can send in stories and photos of their experiences there. And trust me, three+ decades is a lot of time. The site, which is already almost too much to look at, continues to grow, and is fascinating to peruse. I spent the better part of an afternoon browsing around, feeling nostalgic for a place I had never been.
    And the answer is: NO, IT'S GONE. One of the first things I did when I discovered this site was to quickly look around and find out it if the property was still standing. It was totally demolished in 2002 and development plans seem to be in the works. D'oh! If only I had known about it a few years earlier.
    So here is the amazing Essex Mountain Sanatorium site. Bring your denim jacket, a bottle of Colt 45, some whippets and a copy of Penthouse. I heard if you go at midnight on the 13th of the month, there is a real Satanic cult that conducts human sacrifices in one of the underground tunnels... no dude, really! A friend of my friend's older brother totally saw it! My friend's other girlfriend once saw them on the roof, and they all had black hoods on. I swear! Yea... okay... let's bring knives...

"Hello I'm Philippe Starck ...rraaawwwrrr!"

7. Giant Inflatable Union Protest Rats
    I was reminded about them on this guy's photo blog entry (a giant, inflatable, union-protest rat protesting Philippe Starck - brilliant!). If you live in New York, you've seen these. They're great. Ever wonder what the story is about them? Turns out the idea sprang up almost by accident... a kind of a "You got your union protest in my inflatable party novelty business!" and "You got your inflatable party novelty business in my union protest!"  story... just like those old Reeses Peanut Butter Cups commercials; "Hey! They're two great tastes that taste great together!" Just another New York City legend birthed by nothing more than friction... which happens a lot in this area because everything is always bumping into everything else. Areas of close, complex proximity, and high frisson, give birth to lots of mutant-like legends ('mutant-like legends' = freaks).
    Here's the full story about them. Here's a story about a parade of them that happened in 2000. Here's a nice photo.

Whether stampeding through the jungle, or sitting around a table playing poker and smoking cigars,
animals frozen forever through taxidermy is an art form that has dazzled mankind through the ages...

8. Cabela's High Temple of Taxidermy (Hamburg, PA)
    I found this place on Jim and I are so there. I love taxidermy, and I have only one old mounted deer head (with rotting ears) to show for it. On a trip to the Adirondack mountains a few years ago, I was amazed at the amount of enormous taxidermy stores in that area, and their endless variety of merchandise in that particular medium. Turns out the taxidermy industry is an entire culture in that region.
    Cabela's is a big company, with stores opening up all over the country (in places where their particular brand of stuffed animal carcasses and firearms are welcome). Once Jim and I have returned, I will give a full report.
    Here is the link. Here is the company's website. Here's how their stock is doing.

Radiation trace: 0.0007651 spectrons

9. Entrances to Hell in the UK
    Here is the link. No... I mean, really... what in the Hell is this?
    Imagining entrances to Hell being all around you I think actually can be very therapeutic, but that's hardly news. I must say though, I've never seen such a tactile, blunt expression of the need to classify good by identifying evil (and keep it close by but still locked away, savory speculation overriding actual exploration). Many of the documented entrances even include mp3 sound recordings from the location, a click-able map to the speculated entrance, a bit of history or a story about the portal, and most document the all-important radiation trace readings in the area. Speculation as to whether or not some of the portals actually may be exits hasn't been touched on.
    But why the UK only? I wanted to walk around New York City this week and photograph some of the entrances to Hell I imagine all around me, but the heightened security from the RNC doesn't want me documenting them.

10. Two interesting ongoing blogs surrounding the RNC:
    1. The Village Voice has a clever online blog by a cocktail waitress in a stripper joint near the RNC hotels, of which the header reads "I work as a clothed cocktail waitress at a strip club on Manhattan's far West Side. I can't reveal the name of the club, or its exact location, because I don't want to get fired, so let's just say it's one of several upscale topless venues that have sprung up in recent years along Eleventh and Twelfth avenues. It's not far from Madison Square Garden and, this week, the GOP convention." This is so brilliant I'm speechless. This could possibly be the most comprehensive coverage of the RNC to date. Here is the link.
    2. Michael Moore's RNC column for USA Today. I've always had mixed feelings towards Moore's work (I mostly like it), and there are, of course, many other columns and blogs about this event (see here for a small handful, which lead to others), Moore's column surpasses theirs in one way: like his work or not, he's right in the thick of it. Not just in attendance, but his shed cloak of anonymity and reputation acts as a lighting rod. I wouldn't have cared if I hadn't tuned into the RNC on Monday night and watched him simply showing up and sitting there being the single most riveting moment of the night (what a ruckus he caused!). I thought Giuliani's speech was a close second... but of course, it was intended to impress people like me. Here's the online version of Moore's column.
    BTW: have you seen this guy?

Mark Allen's Top Ten for August 16th, 2004:

"The Achievement" by Ray Leboeuf, 1997, mirror finished cast stainless steel, 13.5" x 13.5" x 13.5"

1. Gracefully pouring black ink into a glass of grape juice... blowing smoke in front of a brightly-lit white wall...
    Sometimes I wonder what the point of life is. Isn't the earth just this complex glob of molecules floating around out in this vast abyss of space? I mean... isn't the point of living to just enjoy oneself, work out a living, and perhaps help your fellow man from time to time? Why achieve anything?
    Sometimes I think it's not a bad idea when I'm feeling triste to just focus on menial tasks, day-to-day work. I like to treat creative accomplishments or goals the same way... slowly building a mountain. The quick fix can be cathartic, but is also wrought with bad psychic effects. Any attempts to make creative projects in my life trenchant or economical are often met with psychic trauma. You don't wanna force it too hard... or else your motivation towards accomplishment will become so mentally scarred, that you might end up in a perpetual state of running scared from any and all accomplishment, creative or otherwise... and halt all forward motion, or motion at all, like this person.
    Sometimes I think that people that don't have a creative drive can become creative in other areas... like criticism. For some, the only inspirational fuel in their day-to-day life is the petty criticism of strangers (of which this is a case in point). Gossip is like their attempt at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or their stab at another "Mona Lisa."
    By the way, what is the deal with people eating on the subway? BLEEEAAAGGGHHH!!! How impatient is that? Not to mention gross? I saw this guy on the downtown 9 train the other day, rush-hour, with a full Burger King meal all laid out on his lap... unwrapped Whopper w/cheese, fries with ketchup... the condensation from a wet giant cup of cold soda making a stain between his legs. Dude, that is one step away from eating out of a trash can in an alley. I mean... that's like setting up a buffet table on an escalator. Can't you wait ten minutes to stuff your face with hot beef and lettuce? Once you get home? Couldn't you at least eat out on the sidewalk? Don't you realize crowded people are standing mere inches from you as you loudly, smelly-ly eat?!
    The thing was, I think he did.
    I mean... the look in this guy's eyes as he tried to scarf down painful bite after painful bite of burger as the quiet, quiet train let each and every passenger hear and feel every glistening swap of saliva and mayonnaise churning in his mouth... and the rustle... rustle... of the paper bag and the way he kept having to reach into the bottom of the white napkin and dip each limp french fry into the blob of ketchup he had squirted there (which was now making a bloody wet stain) before he awkwardly popped it into his mouth. I mean... his facial expression as he tried to pretend that he didn't care that every single person in the car was overpowered with the sick, over-salty aroma of fast food, and was having to hear every squish and witness every drip of grease mere feet from their faces... it looked like he was in psychic Hell! It was way beyond uncomfortable! He looked like he was having the most unpleasant gastronomical experience of a lifetime... but, after realizing how mortifying and awkward it was and how his realization was ruining a meal that he had shelled out $7.49 for, and that acknowledging this fact to everyone in the car by putting it away before finishing would be far more embarrassing ...he just has to finish the whole thing while everyone, including him, suffered in horror. Being caught masturbating by your grandmother must be more pleasant. What is this like a version of Hell for eaters and fellow passengers alike? No wonder they have "No Exit" signs on the car-to-car doors. Sartre was right on two counts.
    I once saw this girl eating a falafel on the uptown 6 train, in the middle of the winter, when there is no air conditioning on the train so it was really, really quiet... you could hear every crunch and slurp. Everyone was having to hear her... and see the white falafel sauce smeared on her mouth as she attempted to wipe it off with two hands full. She had this look in her eyes that was like 1,000,000 years of human oppression wrapped up in one single gaze. It's like everyone who decides "I can't wait" and whips out their big, hot, stinky meal on a moving, crowded subway train and starts eating... they all eventually realize what a mistake it was... how their uncomfortableness is going to give them major indigestion (or an ulcer) and ruin whatever it is they are eating ...but seeing people glare at them and putting it away and drawing attention to their realization of this realization, would be even worse. So they keep on eating... with the facial expression of one of those starving children on those Sally Struthers ads. "Won't you please give a child a second chance?  ...happy birthday..."
    But perhaps I'm overreacting.
    Like J. J. Hunsucker says; "Sometimes I wish I was deaf and wore a hearing aid. With the simple flick of a switch I could turn it off and drown out the greedy murmur of little men." Maybe I could do the same for loud subway eaters. Maybe I'll do that and also wear a giant clothespin on my nose. That will show them.
    But I find that if it's not one freak on the subway... it's another.
    All I usually get on the downtown F is a homeless guy dressed in an armor suit made of Gristedes shopping bags and silver duct tape... and maybe the occasional Jehovah's Witness handing me a copy of Watchtower and saying "Sir... would you like to read a wonderful magazine about sickness?" And what's with those monster walkie-talkie subway announcements over the loudspeaker? Oh ...and then there the passageway from 14th street to West 4th... which I call the "pee pee kaleidoscope." Sometimes when I get off I think I've lost my luggage, but mostly I've just lost my mind.
    Sometimes I picture myself taking out a machine gun and shooting everyone on the subway (in extreme slow motion... like an action movie) with Nico's "These Days" playing loudly as the accompanying soundtrack. Wouldn't that be beautiful? Oops... that's the kind of thing you write and then after you actually do it they go back and look at it and say "Hmmmm... there it is. The signs were all there!" Oh well, it's important to leave a body of work I think.
    Maybe I'm just trying to render my outlook into something tangible, words on a cathode ray page, give it a permanence beyond the terrifying fleeting-ness of actual life. Give ineffable and impermanent human emotion the reassuring permanence of a lifeless inanimate personification. Cast my thoughts into stainless steel as it were.

Paintings by © William K. Hartmann - L-R: view from Kirensk, two seconds before the explosion,
a view from Vanavara trading post, at the moment of the explosion, a few minutes after the explosion

2. The Tunguska explosion of 1908
    I'm still amazed at the things they never taught us in Texas public school history class (like all about the Weather Underground... how comes we never heard us about no Bernadette Dohrn? History could'a come alive I tell you what!)
    BUT TO THE POINT: Did you know that in 1908, in Siberia, one of the most catastrophic and "oh-my-fucking-God-holy-fucking-shit"-ly mind-blowing (and mysterious) cosmic impact catastrophes ever in the history of civilization occurred, and yet it wasn't widely known outside Russia (save for a few astrological and research scientist enclaves) until around the 1970's?
    Even interested research parties didn't learn about or even set foot on the scene until 1921. It wasn't made front page news when it happened because of the extreme remoteness of that part of Siberia, and also the secretive, unsettled nature of Russia at the time (which of course only heightened the now many conspiracy theories surrounding it).
    Even though there is much speculation and controversy amongst the fringes about what exactly it was, HERE ARE THE PRESUMED AND MOST WIDELY AGREED UPON DETAILS AMONGST THE MOST LEVEL-HEADED EXPERTS: On June 30th, 1908, at 7:15am, in Tunguska (an extremely remote and almost zero-populated area of the central Siberian plateau) a hugefuckingmngously-gigantic meteorite (or perhaps comet) of some type exploded (at 40 megatons) six to eight kilometers above the earth's surface (presumably after coming in contact with the atmosphere layer) and it's subsequent impact instantly devastated 1,000 square kilometers of forest... felling trees outward in a radial pattern. The immediate fires burned for weeks ...eventually destroying a total of 2,150 square kilometers of forest, all of which remained scorched and flattened for decades (the immense damage is still easily visible today).
    According to recordings at meteorological stations at the time, the seismic activity measured 5.0 on the Richter scale, and according to devices worldwide, the air compression wave went twice around the entire planet (bouncing both times). The blast itself, in whatever context it might have occurred, is estimated have been 40 megatons, which is 2,000 times the force of the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima in 1945. Even the asteroid impact that caused the great Berringer crater in Arizona (some 50,000 years ago) is only estimated to be 3.5 megatons. The mass of the object has been guessed at about 100,000 tons (and about 60 meters in diameter), but what exactly made up this mass is unclear (most agree it was probably a loose 'glob' of rocks and ice).
    Tungus tribesmen and Russian fur traders who happened to witness the event from a relatively close range (it was a cloudless and clear day) reported seeing a bright, flaming object coming in from the sky at and angle, and then a giant, bright blast. According to some eyewitness accounts, a giant column of flame and smoke arose in the air from the impact spot. The force of first the heat wave and then the wind blast was enough to flatten huts and knock people and livestock airborne and then back down to the ground again (not to mention burning and scorching them). Forty miles from the blast center at a town called Vanavara, people were thrown into the air by the shock wave. According to reports there, it shattered windows and collapsed ceilings. Near the town of Kansk (375 miles from the blast center), at a stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a train screamed to a halt when the engineer feared it would be thrown from its tracks by the violent shaking as passengers were jolted from their seats by the movement. The sound was deafening (there are reports of some people close by actually becoming deaf from the event). A series of thunderclaps could be heard even 500 miles away. And, although there were some serious injuries, to date there have been no records of human deaths from the event.
    A "black rain" showered the immediate area afterwards (the substance was probably condensation mixed with dirt and debris sucked into the swirling vortex of the explosion and then spat out again). The event caused all kinds of climate changes around the planet. Dust in the air at heights of from 40 to 70 kilometers caused high altitude noctiluscent, or "night-shining," clouds that illuminated much of the visible sky, mostly in Eastern Siberia and Middle Asia. Even in London at the time are records of a night sky so luminous that " could read a newspaper by it." Decreased visibility was reported worldwide, and in daytime of the most polluted atmosphere cased visible rings around the sun's glare. Also, obviously... brilliant sunsets were reported worldwide for weeks.
    The site of the impact has been escavated numerous times (Russian scientist Leonid Kulik was the first to brave the area in 1921), but no evidence of a huge meteorite has been found (although fragments of meteorite-like elements have been found in the area). More importantly... no impact crater of any type has been located. The trees in what is believed to be the impact site's direct center were stripped of their branches, but were oddly left standing amongst the miles of charred and flattened ones surrounding out from them (just exactly like the effect of the bomb dropped at Hiroshima - which was also an airborne explosion). In the 1960s, a research troupe identified four smaller epicenters within the larger one. Each of the smaller epicenters has its own radial tree-fall pattern, and each presumably was caused by individual explosions during the chain of bursts. Most agree that all this adds up to a meteorite that was made up of loosely conjoined materials (ice, rocks, etc.) that exploded upon reaching the earth's atmosphere and obliterated into a zillion untraceable pieces... the force of this impact causing the immense destruction.
    The size and magnitude of the blast's destruction, and it's location and timing, are frightening to ponder. It is the only event in the history of civilization when Earth has collided with a truly large celestial object (although many obviously occurred before civilization, and are likely to in the far future). If the object had waited a mere few hours, the rotation of the Earth would have placed it's impact somewhere in Europe. Boom... half a million people wiped out in seconds, who would not have been able to see it coming at all. The historical ramifications of such an epic catastrophe (not to mention the theological ones) are incalculable.
    Of course... this all is a UFO, and government weapon conspiracy theorist's wet dream (an entire string of episodes of 'The X-Files' was based in Tunguska). Although most "solid heads" boringly agree on the loose meteorite theory.
   The most notable theories throughout the ages have been the following:

1. The loose comet/asteroid theory. This is the most boring, but most obvious and logical cause (discussed above).

2. Anti-matter: "Anti-matter" is like stuff from Superman's "Bizarroworld," where everything is opposite. It classifies as material with a reversed charge at the sub-atomic level. It is theorized to exist in very small quantities floating around in our universe, and has actually been created by scientists in laboratories. When anti-matter meets up with real matter though... KA-BLAMMO! The theory here is that some wayward anti-matter came in contact with Earth, and exploded when touching our thick, lower atmosphere. An explosion of this type would behave very similarly to one created by an atomic bomb. This idea was ruled out in the mid-60's as an anti-matter explosion of this classification would have lead to a significant rise in the amount of radioactive carbon-14 in the air. Researchers studying carbon rings on trees at the site did find a rise in the level of carbon-14 at the time... but no where near enough to signify an explosion of this category.

3. Mini Black Hole: some cosmologists theorize that "mini black holes" were created at the birth of our universe, and are just floating along aimlessly like little whirlpool ripples... not big enough to swallow whole galaxies like the one in that cool Disney movie... but powerful enough to wreck havoc with anything they come in contact with. Apparently some feel the Tunguska explosion could have been cause by one of these mini black holes passing through our planet (with the same ease of a botox needle penetrating David Gest's pumpkin head), the entry point obviously being at Tunguska. This of course would mean that the black hole would have to come out the other side (which would be somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean assuming it went straight through the middle) where it would have produced a very similar explosion. Do botox needles go all the way through and come out of the other side of David Gest's head too? Anyway... this theory has been debunked by everyone as being hopelessly naive, plus there are no records of any explosion anywhere else on those areas of the planet at the time (and yes they were on and measuring stuff... even back then). Do scientists use instruments to measure seismic activity on David Gest's head when he's getting botox injections? Just to play it safe?

4. Nikola Tesla involvement: Some theorize that everyone's beloved nutty professor, Nikola Tesla, was testing out some sort of weird, fantasmigorical communication device, or super-scary "energy weapon" or "death ray" and made an "...oops!"
    Tesla was known to be working on a sort of wireless torpedo, called an "telautomaton," which was a remote controlled boat he offered to the U.S. Navy for the purpose of carrying explosives to naval targets. An airborne version of the telautomaton device was under development as well. Some also believe that if there was a Tesla connection, and it was a weapon test... that he may have been pressured into it and then kept quiet. This is of course just heaping drama onto a theory already wrought with ridiculousness. Even though the 1908 time frame does match up for Tesla working on such devices, for him to be testing out such inventions in such an apocalyptic manner is quite a stretch, not to mention he was nowhere near the area at that time.
    Even funnier is the theory that Tesla inadvertently caused the massive explosion when he was simply trying to get the attention of a friend and explorer in the area. Tesla was always fascinated with the concept of wireless propagation, and he was known to work on "projected wave energy" processes that could create microscopic, invisible particles of concentrated energy that could be beamed great distances... often resulting in electric fireballs, spherical plasmoids, or ball lightning. Of course this falls into the "secret weapons test" category as well... as the theory that he was using it to try and get the attention of a friend halfway around the world is hilarious, but adsurd: *K-A-B-O-O-O-M!!!* ---"Albert... this is Nikola, please call me."
    Here is a link to some New York Times articles where Nikola speaks of such devices, which date from 1907, 1908 and 1915.

5. A UFO inadvertently crashing into the Earth, and it's nuclear-powered engine exploding into smithereens. This is the most obvious "wild" theory about the Tunguska explosion. The idea of highly intelligent extraterrestrials coming to Earth (even crashing on it) long before the technological revolution (or even the idea of UFOs and aliens) was widespread has always been a kind of comforting thought. Kind of like the theory that space aliens helped the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids, it's weirdly reassuring to ponder such a idea.
    Some have even claimed that the remote location of the explosion was obviously an act of "humanitarian kindness" on the part of the aliens, who realized they were going to crash and quickly guided their careening craft into an area where there were almost no civilians.
    So the equation is: the explosion happened in a remarkably remote area + all aliens are good and watching out for us humans, and would obviously steer their doomed craft in this direction out of that good faith = the Tunguska explosion MUST have been a crashed alien spacecraft! No doubt! Here is a funny, imagined dialogue between two benevolent aliens just before crashing into Tunguska.
    There has been some recent activity in this thought realm (just last week) and this is what actually brought my attention to this amazing natural phenomenon.

    Thinking of visiting? Today, the Tunguska region remains a not-too hospitable, desolate area of mosquito-infested bogs and swamps nestled between sort-of beautiful hills. To reach the center of the site, you are dropped off by helicopter or you have to hike in. (note: the 'X-Files' episodes that took place in Tunguska were filmed in Canada).
    There have been a series of weird, ongoing biological consequences in the Tunguska region, presumably from the 1908 explosion. Following the blast there was accelerated growth of biomass in the region of the epicenter, and this accelerated growth has continued today. There also was an increase in the rate of biological mutations, not only within the center... but along the trajectory. Creepy abnormalities in the "Rh blood factor" of local Evenk groups (a native people to the area for centuries) have been found, genetic variations in certain local ant species are now being looked at, and genetic abnormalities in the seeds and needle clusters of at least one species of pine have been discovered there.
    To learn even more, type "Tunguska explosion 1908" into Google this.

3. 4 black and white films that have recently blown my mind (below):

Burt Lancaster throws one-liners like Ninja stars, one of the fringe benefits of "THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS" (1957)

a) "The Sweet Smell of Success" (1957, dir: Alexander Mackendrick)
    This film has a cult following for the dialogue alone. What *great* lines! I was banging my head on the table the entire time!
    "I often wish I was deaf and wore a hearing aid. With the simple flick of a switch I could turn it off and drown out the greedy murmur of little men."
    "The next time you want information, don't scratch for it like a dog, ask for it like a man!"
    "Maybe I left my sense of humor in my other suit."
    "I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic."
    "She's been on more laps than a napkin."
    "Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off!"
    "Mr. Hunsecker, you've got more twists than a barrel of pretzels!"
    "What am I, a bowl of fruit? A tangerine that peels in a minute?"
    "Here's mud in your column!"
    Hmmm... I just realized how many food analogies there are there. Did the script writers take the job so they could buy much-needed groceries? Anyway, these lines are made twice as great because of Burt Lancaster's brilliantly over-the-top, "hard-ass" delivery. Lancaster plays the infamous newspaper columnist J. J. Hunsucker (imagine Addison DeWitt from 'All About Eve' cross-bred with Genghis Khan) who rules Manhattan's elite (and some of the planet's) with a typewriter literally spatter-stained with the blood of his victims (in actuality, the character in the script was based on the real life of Walter Winchell, one of the most wonderfully nasty Americans of the 20th century)*.
    People fear Hunsucker for what he can print, and the power he can wield... and he knows it! His throne is a rickety one though, he burns bridges about as often as most people fart, and his ass is surrounded by weird subservient drones who do his bidding but are also waiting for the perfect moment to pull the rug out from under him and take over. The actual "plot" revolves around J.J.'s younger sister (a gorgeous, 20-something, drama-addicted doormat) whom stays holed up in his lavish uptown penthouse under his iron-fisted control, and her eventual need to rebel against him and fend for herself (involving several other characters close to J.J. who eventually betray him through her).
    This film is filled with dazzlingly lurid shots of late night 1950's Manhattan nightlife, and seems cast entirely by the left-over mutants of high society. It also includes some bizarre old shots of Times Square (which back then almost looked like a small town square). The snappy jazz score is also a hoot. One of the best lines in the film comes from Hunsucker's column itself. He's trying to smear the reputation of a musician dating his sister, and he prints about the kid: "The dreamy marijuana smoke of a lad who heads a highbrow jazz quintet is giving an inelegant odor to that elegant East Side Club where he  works. That's no way for a card-holding Party Member to act. Moscow won't like, you naughty boy!"  Mee-owch! It's weird to think that red scare hysteria actually used to be a powerful force. It seemed like people took newspaper columnists too seriously in this story. And, this film of course makes little sense... but it's exaggerated analogies will rattle the heads of anyone who's an aspiring journalist (or a P.R.-bot). But really anybody with half a brain who could get one eye open would dig this film! Guaranteed lurid thrills!
    Here's the IMDB link.
*- thanks Rich!

Gaby Rodgers gets excited right down to the bone, as she greedily learns the secret of the "Great Whatsit" in the metaphysically razor-sharp "KISS ME DEADLY" (1955)

 b) "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955, dir: Robert Aldrich)
    Opening with Cloris Leechman (in one of her first roles ever) as a barefoot, late-night hitchhiker wearing only a raincoat (her heavy breathing dubbed over the film's beginning credits is one of the spookiest film openings ever) ...the film propels into what looks like a typical "mean hard streets of intrigue" stylish noir thriller. Indeed, turns out the story was written by Mickey Spillane. But after the expected face-punching, finger-twisting, dames being referred to as "tomato" and lesbian-baiting ...we start to get popcorn bag stabbing, interdimensional boxes that open the gates to Hell, jittery scientists controlled by the mafia, deadly Russian spy quests for the "Great Whatsit" and futuristic robotic answering machines that take up entire walls. By the end it looks more like it was based on a Harry Stephen Keeler book! Total insanity! A riot! Highly recommended.
    Here's the IMDB link.

"Aww honey... quit naggin' will ya?"  - No, Barbara Stanwyck would certainly not like another olive and
cream cheese hors d'oeuvre whilst contemplating her suburban "CRIME OF PASSION" (1957)

c) "Crime of Passion" (1957, dir: Gerd Oswald)
    This one is a total hoot as well, a lurid tale of feminazi woe, about a too-smart ex-journalist who decides to give it all up and live in 50's suburbia with a new husband. She doesn't fit in with the other housewives, and her frustration at her husband's lack of ambition drives her to "Fatal Attraction/Misery"-esque murder and manipulation...
    Barbara Stanwyck starts off the film as a witty, acid-tongued "His girl Friday"-type reporter. But after her lofty ambitions on becoming the next Hedda Hopper finds her hitting the journalistic glass ceiling one too many times, she manipulates her way into a June Cleaver-like cocoon to escape it all... emerging later as a gun-stealing, social-climbing, life-snuffing Valerie Solanis! She goes stab-ily nuts! She ricochets off the bottom of the glass ceiling so hard she lands all the way on death row!* I was rolling on the floor at this one... it was in the "employee picks" section of my local video store, and I can see why.
    It's an unintentionally campy, noir thriller, that looks like an episode of "Father Knows Best" written by Joseph McCarthy during a speed binge. In other words, "Crime of Passion" is to "Mildred Pierce" what "Showgirls" is to "A Star is Born" (one of the good versions). The line "I'd like another cream cheese and olive please..." has never sounded so sinister!
    Plus, the picture's apocalyptically misogynistic conclusion had me laughing uncontrollably at the end. The basic lesson of this picture is this: if you're a woman, don't upset the natural order of dominant husbands and subservient wives in perfect marriages in suburbia, no matter how smart you are or how much greener the grass really is on the other side. Because if you do, you will loose, and will end up with your husband calmly driving your ass to the police station, where you will turn yourself in for murder (and prison and eventually the hot seat) ...and you'll go willingly! Don't worry about me spoiling the ending, the picture is too hilariously trashy to not be able to guess the outcome.
    Highly recommended... I smiled and laughed through the whole thing. And I didn't want any more cream cheese with olive hors d'oeuvres afterwards.
    Here's the IMDB link.
* (BY THE WAY: it just occurred to me, is that Sir Mix-a-Lot song 'Put 'Em on the Glass' about female empowerment within the 'glass ceiling' phenomenon?)

 Flora might not, but Deborah Kerr sure as Hell sees something out there in the weeds (or does she?) in the British-ly creeped-out "THE INNOCENTS" (1961)

d) "The Innocents" (1961, dir: Jack Clayton)
    Based on Henry James' novel "The Turn of the Screw" (which I quoted in my 'Bitter Waitress' entry in last week's Top Ten), this spooky, sinister, nanny- goes- to- Hell- and- looses- her- mind flick looks like a Merchant & Ivory production of a really great Twilight Zone episode directed by Roman Polanski (in reality, Truman Capote did much of the screenplay). How can you loose?
    Deborah Kerr plays a well-to-do Mary Poppins-type, who enthusiastically takes a job as governess of two children on a l-a-v-i-s-h English estate, for a successful businessman uncle who lives miles away in the city and doesn't want to be bothered with petty family problems. Turns out he may be staying away for more reasons than he owns up to though, as Kerr slowly uncovers (or thinks she uncovers) a lurid and scandalous family past, jittery, tight-lipped servants who won't say a word, no less than two ghosts lolling around the estate scaring her half -to-death, and two very smart and very spooky kids.
    Is it all in her head? Are the kids being playful? Or are they being manipulative and murderous? Were the children witness to some sordid goings-on between the deceased mother and a sadistic, perverted lover? Did the young boy murder the lover? Is the boy now possessed by his ghost? Did the young boy just cop a feel? Nothing is confirmed in this sickeningly claustrophobic period piece about the evil that can exist within all of us, and the facade of "innocence" we all hold in front of ourselves. This film has some very powerful and creepy moments, even some dreadful ones, as well as one of the sexiest ghosts I've ever seen (played with transparent, hunky brevity by Peter Wyngarde). And any period piece picture that employs soundtrack instruments that reach much further into modern history is A-OK in my book (some of the shots of Kerr being driven to madness by the trees is accompanied by a deafening, reverberating synthesizer). Actually, there is hardly any score at all in this simultaneously bleak and sumptuous picture, which only makes it twice as panic attack-inducing. The key to this films power is it's ability to tap into the viewer's own insecurities about what he or she perceives in real life. Great... nightmarish, psychotic, chilly fun, with an uncompromising, depressing ending sure to make you want to go listen to Disneyland soundtracks and look at pretty pictures of smiley faces afterwards... lest you go MAD!!!
    Here is the IMDB link.

4. Arome des Fesses et des Bâtons de Cancer?
    Did you know I've been known to buy the occasional pack of cigarettes and smoke them? Yep. It happens once, maybe twice a year... and it usually takes me about week to get through the whole pack. Marlboro reds in case you're wondering. There's something very visceral and controllable and private and therapeutic about smoking.
    Anyway... one day while sitting on the couch, after having smoked a couple of cigarettes (and also having not bathed for a day or two), I used the same fingers I had been smoking with to scratch my ass. Not my butthole mind you, but not the cheek either. I scratched the top of the ass crack... kind of inside the crack. Sometimes when I go jogging (and don't bathe) that area gets really ...funky. I found the surface to be kind of slick with body grease and easy to scratch. When I pulled my hand out of my boxers, being alone, I did the naturally instinctual thing... I smelled my fingers.
    What was funny, was that the usual funk-of-man-that-hasn't-bathed smell was mixed with the nicotine that had collected on my finger tips. The aroma was... surprisingly intoxicating. I literally sat there on my own couch, alone, smelling my own fingers... inhaling the earthy, weird smell over and over and feeling the endorphins rush around my brain like I had just done some amazingly complex stretch in yoga and unknown regions of my lungs were newly filling with oxygen... or maybe I was having the first rush of newly applied morphine IV drip. It felt great.
    The only light in the room was the flickering light of the TV... illuminating my strange, lonely, testosterone ritual. I just sat there, careful not to scratch my butt again and possibly upset the delicate balance of butt and nicotine aromas collected on my fingers... just sniffing, sniffing my way into the stratosphere. Smelling my fingers and kissing the sky. Perhaps it was a butt/nicotine smell-induced hallucination, but I started to ponder commercial potentials. What if I could bottle this scent and sell it? Would people like it? Would it sell? Could the combination of male groin sweat and nicotine be the ultimate aphrodisiac? The ultimate euphoriac? Could I be the only one effected in this way by this particular odor? Would the same smell, from another person, have the same effect on me? Would my smell have the same effect on another person? Is this similar to the way you are kind of secretly fascinated with the smell of your own farts but other people's smell horrid?
    What kind of name should I give it? Something French perhaps... to give it some real class. "Fesses Bâtons de Cancer?" Or perhaps "Arome des Fesses et des Bâtons de Cancer?" Too long? Too pretentious?
    I wondered what the bottle of such a fascinating new product could look like. I pictured it as a cross between a coconut and a large male testicle in a scrotum... with bits of hair on it. It wouldn't be made of glass or ceramic... but instead of that really realistic synthetic skin that they make those really expensive dildos out of. It would be squishy... and actually, it wouldn't be a vessel at all per se... but more of a sponge. To get the aroma out... you would squeeze it... and the juice would come out from the center somewhere... oozing out through thousands of tiny pores on it's rubbery, hairy surface. The actual liquid which carried the scent would be clear, like sweat, but would perhaps be a bit milky white towards the end... like the last few drops you squeezed out, to let you know you need to buy a new bottle. Hmmm... maybe that would be too messy... it might leak when you weren't using it. Maybe there should be some kind of "cap" or "lid" that releases the liquid into the core of the vessel... which you then work to the surface by squeezing it out of the pores. Hmmm... I think the lid should look just like a lit cigarette. Not a real cigarette butt, just a mimic. It should fit into the top of the device inside a tight, life-like orifice. You would actually have to kind of wiggle and work the lid thing into the orifice in the same way you might work a AA battery into the tip of a papaya, or a lit firecracker into a cat's butt. I wonder how this product would sell? In my own mind only? Is it even possible?
    The next morning... after I awoke from this man and cigarette scent-inspired commercial packaging design dream (which it must have turned into as I fell asleep and dreamed of this product on store shelves for miles and miles forever)... I realized I was upside down on the couch... the TV still on... the morning sun blaring through the window and blasting onto my face... a bead of sweat working it's way into my eye and stinging as I opened it. My fingers were still clasped up to my nose. I got up to take a shower.

Expressway to your...

5. Echo Canyon?
    The cover of the Village Voice's "Choices" section this week (pg. 42).
    I have no idea why I'm always compelled to point out perceived faults of the band Sonic Youth. I am one of their most avid fans, and have been for over a decade. I collect their albums and obsessively hunt out their bazillion-a-year, hardcore-weird experimental side projects, and attend all their ear-blasting/baffling solo performances here in NYC... I'm practically one step away from stalking! Maybe I'm past that point.
    I even compare and contrast their odd careers to my own life. Which is why it's odd that I'm always mocking and criticizing their work and world... which I find mysteriously powerful and frustratingly hard to pin down. Yet in private I worship it. It's like some kind of sick Jungian self-reflective therapy. Actually it's probably a lot more complex than that. Anyway, Kim Gordon, who was called in some album review somewhere (can't remember where) "...the reluctant hero to high school art class daydreamers everywhere" often pens and performs some of the bands most abstract and difficult work. A woman of icy, awkward grace ...she kind of rarely speaks... but when she does it's always alarmingly eloquent or subtley enraging... depending on your political stance on various issues.
    So I wasn't surprised when I spied her (along with band mate and husband Thurston Moore) on the cover of the Village Voice's "Choices" section (pg. 42) this week... and my eyes lolled down Kim's lanky frame towards what looked like a "peek-a-Goo" of Echo Canyon. Is it intentional? A mistake? Is my own unfamiliarity with those parts of a woman's anatomy making me see things that aren't there? It looks like it was definitely airbrushed or photoshop-ed... but what? And why?
    I love the way she's eyeing the camera like "Yep."
    Of course the fantasy that it was a semi-intentional is probably just as unreal as many of the opinions I have about this band and their broad legacy. But coming from one of the most subtly intelligent and weirdly mysterious women in the history of rock, who has been alternately quoted as saying "All women are natural anarchists" and "I consider myself to be a sloppy feminist" and who feels perfectly confident singing twisted rock songs on stage in an often dabate-able vocal "style" ...thinking that it may be a subtle "fuck you" in the grass, a lurid pastorale - that's probably just another high school art class daydream.
    Sonic Youth's newest album is "Sonic Nurse," containing ten warped, gristling rock stains... in which Kim growls an ode to a character in the latest William Gibson novel "Pattern Recognition," and morphs the public breakdown of Mariah Carey  and a mysterious gift from free jazz oddball Arthur Doyle, titled "Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream." Sonic Youth's next SYR (side label) release is reported to be a live recording of a 22+ minute-long atonal noise drone that the band performed at the 2000 All Tomorrow's Parties festival in England (which had the audience simultaneously cheering and boo-ing) in which Kim babbled free-form lyrics about one of Virginia Woolf's ex-lovers, and is titled "J'accuse Ted Hughes." Kim recently had a very strange solo art show at Participant gallery in NYC, and she can also be seen starring alongside Asia Argento and Michael Pitt in Gus Van Zant's newest film "Last Days" - slated for release in 2005.

Pokia's latest: the DJ Convoy (left and middle), and the Ealing Bluetooth (right)

6. Nicolas Roope's latest Pokia phones
    I got a nice email from British design scientist and cell phone theorist Nikolas Roope, who's Pokia cell phones I had written about before. He wanted to let me know about some of his latest creations... which I am more than happy to pass along.
    The one in the far right photo (who's foot is that?) is the Ealing Bluetooth. For those that don't know, Bluetooth is a completely hands-free, voice activated headset cell phone technology... mounted here in a 1960's Ealing phone handset. You'll see the charger at the end of the curly cord. There's also the lens for the indicator light on the back of the phone and the answer button also mounted on the back.
    The "DJ Convoy" phone (two left photos) combines some old panasonic headphones and a skullcandy device that lets you mix music (e.g. from your ipod) with incoming calls that come through the headphones. Nik says; "I've hacked the skullcandy device to add a CB style microphone so you can speak into it rather than speak into the air like mad person (although you don't really look any less mad, perhaps just a different type of mad)."
    You can find more photos of Nik's latest designs here. And you can find his ongoing mad scientist "social commentary" cell phone designs at the Pokia website.

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice...

7. Did you know there is an official LEAGUE OF HUMAN DIGNITY?
    There is. Here is a link to their page. They help people with diabilities and actually do great things. I don't want you to think I'm one of those morons who mocks everything around them. The reason I'm talking about them is because of their name. How great of a score is that name?
    "Comissioner? The League of Human Dignity is calling on the TTY voice-assisted the phone! They want to help you foil No Access Ramp Man's latest plot to turn the city's architecture into all right angles!" I mean how great is that?
    I actually learned about them through this unbelievable story (follow-up story here). Of course I've always contended that people with disabilities should achieve superhero status within our society. They should be standing proudly on the utmost highest plateau of the class system, and should be treated like celebrities. Their lives are so fascinating!
    Their day-to-day activities should be dragged out onto the gossip tabloids and talked about everywhere. They should be photographed coming off of access ramps and being lowered off of busses as if they were the Pope or a movie star... paparazzi flashbulbs popping all around. How insane an image would that be? Someone being lowered off a bus into a sea of shouting and popping flashbulbs? I mean, they already deman that intense kind of attention (disguised as 'no attention') whenever they enter a room anyway. Why no just roll with it? But maybe some will resent the celebrity-like adoration, and will feel as if they are being fawned over unfairly and it is ruining their lives. Like they were born into fame and didn't have a choice... like British royalty.
    I read once that one of the few subcultures that can travel easily between all the class levels without question are artists. I think in a way disabled people are the same way.
    When I showed Jim this site he wanted to know why the two guys on the front are flashing the sign of Satan.
    UPDATE (8/18/04): The "couch woman" mystery ( the 'unbelievable story' linked above) deepens! Hmmmm... could The League of Human Dignity be the only ones to unravel this nefarious case? The city waits on crutches... oops, I mean in clutches... stay tuned!

Shaad-upp yooouuu!

8. "The Dittohead Guide to Adult Beverages" (author: Britt Gillette, 2004)
    Here is the link.
    In case you've forgotten, a "Dittohead" is a term for a Rush Limbaugh fan. Written by Dittohead Britt Gillette, this book is filled with "adult beverage" recipes with right-wing political buzzword names and themes, and its a total riot. The actual recipes take the satire even further. It's not officially being published, but I think that's the author's plan. I don't know if I'd buy a copy (but I might)... but I'd probably stand by the shelf at Barnes & Noble reading it for free, laughing my ass off.
   Screw coming up with clever names for bands... my new fascination is trying to place myself in the mind-set of a right wing Republican (it's not that hard) and then coming up with funny names and recipes like the ones in this book. How about an Affirmative Action Ambrosia or a Saint Hillary's Halo? Feminazi Frazzle? How about a Sexual Harassment on the Beach? The perfect thing for fighting your "Bush-bashing overload" woes... alcohol. Ahhhh... how REFRESHING!
    Now... back to baking baking cream pies for the RNC here in New York City.

L-R: cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, Mooch the cat, former N.J. Gov. Jim McGreevey, and Earl the dog, in the halcyon days of 2002

9. NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey resigning and coming out of the closet as a gay American - and my reaction as a seasoned veteran of disorder
    Perhaps if I wasn't so burnt out on gay rights politics from the "political correctness holocaust" during my activist days of the 1990's, and retreating into my own head by embracing every gay-bashing political move and every homophobic slur like a warm, fuzzy, stuffed animal... like some sort of delusional mental comfort zone... I'd be more flabbergasted by super-handsome New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's recent public coming out of the closet, certainly a historical political first. I don't know... it seems like this is just a kind of heavy handed stunt to avoid a much worse scandal that is brewing in his political record. Watching everyone point check and keep score and theorize and try and grab the spotlight with some tired soundbite. Blugghhh... where's my hidey hole? As usual, it's like a gay rights victory wrapped in an encasement of feces (or maybe wrapped in rainbow flag gift paper - I honestly don't know which is more nauseating). It's no wonder that I seem to instinctively look away.

Shaad-upp yooouuu!

10. WFMU's "secret" Dirty Duck "Blue Hour", freeform as it might be, is nevertheless restricted by FCC guidelines. To remedy this... they have a secret, internet-only hour long show called "WFMU Blue" in which a host with a Donald Duck voice (known as 'Dirty Duck') plays every filthy song that the FCC won't allow them to pollute the airwaves with. How this person hosts a whole show with the voice of a cartoon duck is beyond me (this filthy fowl even makes a bold appearance on this sort-of dirty record). Who could this masked offender be? Everything from Rudy Ray Moore to The Frogs to Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis to Notorious B.I.G. to Kathy McGinty to Francis E. Dec to Joan of Ass makes it's way between Dirty's on-air squeeks and cartoon gribbles-grabbles. Truly surreal radio.
    I'm waiting, of course, for Dirty Duck to play my favorite "blue" song... Karen Finley's "Belgian Waffles (The Yam Jam)" disco mix from 1988, in which Robert Gorl (formerly of wet, gay German disco hunk duo DAF) give a programmed drum machine, synth and cowbell accompaniment to Finley's XXX-rated, full volume, full throttle psychosexual tourette's rantings.
    So throw some red silk shirts over the lamps, burn some coconut incense, get out the massage oils, put on your Donald Duck masks... and get ready to get blue.
    Adults only!

Mark Allen's Top Thirteen for August 2nd, 2004

David Wojnarowicz's "Untitled (Falling Buffalo)," 1988-89

1. New York City as a terrorist threat environment as a metaphor for living
    I was jogging on the Williamsburg Bridge late last night (11pm to be exact), and because of the newest terrorist warnings we now have helicopters with high-powered search lights in the area in the evening... fluttering overhead at ear-splitting volume. So I'm just jogging along the pedestrian footwalk of the bridge... and the helicopter is literally circling the giant bridge... it's high-beam search light shining in and out of all the bridge's intricate beams and bars and cage fences and construction nets... up and down from the traffic area to the elevated footbridge/cage walkway thing... casting these weird, endless fluttering halogen strobe patterns along my path over and over... the helicopter itself looking like one of those weird iridescent UFOs from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" every time it goes off in the distance and then comes around again.
    I can't hear it... as I have my gargantuan earphones on and am listening to my one and only excellent jogging CD: The Boredoms "Super Roots #7", the 20 minute-long track 2. I'm just barreling along at top speed... my feet pounding... the sweat literally pouring off my skin in the humid night air.
    The helicopter comes around again... it's light beam starting all the way down at the dark end of the long walkway and them weaving in and out like a giant, silent ghost as it makes it's way ...looming towards me. Then the motherfucking beam fucking locks on me. Locks on me and changes direction and follows me as I jog along. Follows me for a good ten seconds (that's a long time if you think about it). I guess it makes sense. I am one of probably three, maybe four people on the bridge at this hour. I could be a terrorist planting a bomb on the bridge to be detonated at a later time! Maybe I have bombs in my giant earphones! The thing is... I don't even react... I mean even inside myself I don't react. I'm so beyond unfazed... my indifference is to the point of zero. I just keep going at the same pace, totally aware and unmoved. The helicopter is literally following me and I'm all "...ohhh I love this part of the song!" The beam only stops when it reaches a Hasidic Jewish woman (in wig and dress) with a small boy and a baby stroller going in the opposite direction. The beam zips ahead and stops on them briefly before zooming away. This causes the woman to kind of weirdly scoot herself out of the way of it's light... and push the cart ahead of herself quickly. The young boy (holding her hand) hurries with her before trying to look up at the helicopter briefly. They continue at this more rapid pace even after the beam has left them.
    I finish my jog and get off the bridge. When I take my headphones off as I cross Delancey street, I can hear the deafening flutter of the helicopter still circling the bridge behind me. I go upstairs to my apartment and pour myself a tall, big glass of cold water. It's delicious. I turn on the TV just in time to catch a rerun of "King of the Hill." It's a good one... the one where Peggy pretends to be a nun just so she can get a job substitute teaching Spanish at a Catholic school and show up this snooty rival substitute teacher who humiliated her attempt to teach a class about electricity by dressing as Ben Franklin. Hahahaha! I fucking love this show.

Stills from Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" important story about how a man can live and work in a seedy world of trannies, drug addicts and fags and still stay true to his heterosexuality despite loosing his soul

2. Dutifully squirming in discomfort through a Film Forum screening of the brilliant, modern epic "La Dolce Vita" (dir: Federico Fellini, 1960)
    I sat for three hours in the way-too-old, uncomfortable seats of the Film Forum this week, and watched Fellini's masterpiece "La Dolce Vita" for the first time all the way through. I was so uncomfortable by the end (as were most of the audience in the packed theater... who were all squirming and writing in their seats by hour number three) that at times I felt like just saying "Fuck it!" and getting up, grabbing a pillow from somewhere, and stretching out on the floor in front of the screen... all comfortable like and relaxed so I could enjoy what I was watching... or perhaps studying.
    In a way, I felt like I was a kid again sitting in church. Being forced to sit in way too uncomfortable, squeaky seats (okay wooden pews) and listen and watch something that everyone was always telling me was important. When I used to sit in church like that as a kid, I often felicitously wondered to myself (ever do that?) "...what would happen if I raised my hand during the ceremony and asked the pastor a question?" I have no idea what I would have asked, and I think my reason for wanting to pull a childishly ridiculous stunt like that was an too-obvious.
    Don't get me wrong. "La Dolce Vita" is a brilliant, important film... no doubt. But in trying to put together this little write up about it... I kept thinking about it so hard that I kept getting a horrible headache. I think "La Dolce Vita" is one of the most important masterpieces of modern cinema... but I happen to feel about it and Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" (1957) the same way I feel about Orsen Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) and his "Touch of Evil" (1958); one is an important masterpiece epic that I think is brilliant but it gives me a headache to watch or even think about... and one I simply love and love to watch or even think about. Guess which is which in each case?
    So I can stop having this migraine-y feeling from trying to theorize about the highly important "La Dolce Vita" ...let me try and summarize this highly charged and important film for you as quickly and painlessly as possible:
    "La Dolce Vita" is a thoroughly modern epic that portrays the gradual transformation of a man's soul from a full-blooded, feeling human, into a core-less automaton... a process which is caused by a trip through scenarios that are caused by the complex but shallow side effects of humans being rushed through a modern, technological age. There. That's what the film is. It shows this through the format of a parade. A slow-moving parade with some floats that go by your field of vision... thirteen floats to be exact... which act as little stories with the main character kind of at the center of each. It takes three hours for the parade to go by... and by the end, the protagonist has lost his soul completely. That's it... that's the movie.
    Now... within that looooooong parade format, are some dazzling, picturesque moments that will burn onto your retina and subconscious forever, as well as some of the most brilliantly hidden semiotics of our time - semiotics that spell out all the profound contradictions of fleshy humans lost in a modern world... and are relevant even today. I'm not even going to attempt to go into these because I feel like I'm getting a headache again.
    I have a friend who, like many people, regards this film very highly (as do I), and in doing a little research for this write up I learned some very important things about the picture from him that are not readily known (he's very wise). Some of these came from his brain, some are my own ideas, and some I discovered in odd places on the web. Now I feel that headache coming on again from all the thinking I'm being forced to do about this massive film, set let me type them up quickly before I gnaw my hands off in a fit of hyper-contextual post-strucuralist "keyboard typing rage."
    1. The term "paparazzi" was spewed into our everyday English language via this picture. The main character in the film (Marcello Mastroianni) refers to his crew of celebrity-stalking photographers as "paparazzo" which means in Italian "sparrow." Fellini used this term because he thought the press photographers fluttering around celebrities looked like little hungry birds (this analogy is captured hysterically in the scene when Ekberg arrives at the airport... she's a willing prey to their rapaciousness - hmmmm... an interesting parallel to Tippi Hedren's character in Hitchcock's 'The Birds'?) Okay, that was an easy one.
    2. The dialogue from the scene with Anita Ekberg being interviewed by the press in the crowded living room has lines taken directly from real press conferences with Marilyn Monroe, whom Fellini based the character on somewhat. Of special note is the line where Ekberg asks her press handler what her answer to a particularly suggestive question is. The press handler quickly thinks of a witty answer, and then recites it to the press, who all laugh with delight, scribble it down on their pads as if Ekberg had come up with it herself ...and continue to adore her.
    3. The scene with the sophisticates sitting indoors listening intently to sounds of nature on a tape recorder, while the soon-to-be-murdered-by-their-father children sleep quietly upstairs? That scene is often referred to by Camille Paglia to symbolize the pompous, frozen state of the current art world (and rightfully so).
    4. The "drug orgy" scene at the villa at the end, and the subsequent discovery of the washed-up sea monster on the beach, is actually based symbolically on the bizarre and very real case involving Italian musician Piero Piccioni, who was implicated in the mysterious death of a 15 year-old girl who's body was found on a beach off the Roman coast in April 1953. The girl reportedly died in a drug orgy at Piccioni's villa. One of Piccioni's friends/mistresses at the time, famed Italian actress Alida Valli (whom, although she's had a very long film career, is perhaps best known to my generation as the big-teethed, tight-bunned, hard-assed ballet school instructor Miss Tanner, in Dario Argento's 'Suspiria') was with him on the mysterious night, and provided an alibi for Piccioni even to the bitter end of the trial... which subsequently ruined her acting career that she then had to rebuild from scratch. The case dragged on in the Italian media for years, proved a political firestorm... and remains today unsolved. This messy, decadent, highly scandalous incident involved many members of Italian "high society" for many years. It dragged them down relentlessly through the gutter press (they sometimes went willingly because of the attention) ...and the whole lurid, years-long media circus perfectly capsulated the energy Fellini wanted to portray in "La Dolce Vita."
    5. The picture is about to be released in a much celebrated DVD edition (it's first - after years of far too contrast-y video prints). If you're a lover of film... I recommend buying it if you like to collect films... or at the very least renting it. But just make sure you're in the mood to watch it. Grab a pillow from somewhere, and stretching out on the floor in front of the screen... all comfortable like and relaxed so you can enjoy what you are watching... or perhaps studying.

Jim Krewson in "wave-o-vision!"

3. Jim Krewson -  "Artist, baker, and bluegrass musician!" the man... the myth... the legend... the website
    Jim now has his own website.
    My significant other, the very kind and talented Jim Krewson, the man... the legend... now has a kind of web page attached to mine. It's starting small but will be built upon in the coming weeks if the Lord blesses us with good weather and a fine crop. It's like the house on "Little House on the Prairie!" It's supposed to portray his artwork and stuff... although for now all that's really up there are a bunch of his illustrations (of which he is... ahem, available for hire). In trying to put it together, we both realized how schizophrenic Jim's life has been... I mean, can't he pick just one thing and then concentrate on that? Anywho... I guess "schizophrenic" is another word for "Renaissance Man" in this day and age.
    The site will eventually disengage from mine and launch into it's own space. It looks a tad puny right now, but watch it for constant changes and add-ons.

Ed Shepp as Edie Sedgwick

4. Party at Ed Shepp's house
    So this last Saturday night, I was honored to attend the housewarming party of the totally brilliant sound artist Ed Shepp (and his roommate Jacob) at their new place on the upper west side.
    It was an eventful and fun houseWARMING party... I say houseWARMING because it was literally like Hades in there (don't all the cool people end up in Hell anyway?) Trust me, if you live in Manhattan, and you're invited to a party in someone's apartment in August, and you know it doesn't have central air (what apartment in NYC does?), and you know it's going to be crowded, and there's no rooftop access or very large balcony ...then you'd better invest in one of those black leather sweat/moisture re-circulating suits from the movie "Dune" and shown up in that. You'll stand there all cool, calm and collected, with smooth non-shiny skin, as your delicious perspiration collects in little tubes inside your black leather clothes and re-circulates into your body ...while everyone else around you melts and screams and bursts into flames. But, alas... I had given my Dune re-hydration suit away at the last NYC homeless coat drive.
    Where was I? Oh yea... party at Ed Shepp's house.
    Nevertheless, the exciting company made the bodily fluid projectile excreting out of my pores a mere memory. Ed Shepp excitedly exclaimed "Oh I hope I don't disappoint in person!" as he answered the door wearing a giant gold and bejeweled king's crown tilted atop his head (this was the first time I had met him). And disappoint he certainly did not. If you've listened to the manic, brain-bending recordings Ed has created... his actual personality is actually like that. He ran all around the party the entire evening, like some crazed male-bot (trust me that's a compliment) "on" that at times I thought he should probably have Lee Wagner and Ruth Buzzi following him around at all times as perpetual co-hosts. This guy probably entertains even in a coma. I realized his world view seems to also match his maniacal sound sculptures... as a casual conversation with him  about drywall suddenly turned into a heated debate about how "...female breast implants in men are going to be the next big thing! Really!" I also realized that Ed's prolific output on the web, and in recordings, is just a natural, necessary extension of himself... his art is like new limbs in an unconscious survival to be the fittest. When you're talking to Ed Shepp... any subject from Iraq to tossed salad, inevitably ends up on the subject of how cool it would be if Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera were wearing matching bubble-helmet outfits and doing some anti-gravity perfume shopping at the new Bloomingdales store on Venus. That or how much Ed wants Bush out of office come November... a subject which Ed (according to his blog) is very adamant about.
    I actually spent most of the evening swapping lip-swung sweat beads (mostly from me) with the completely and totally fabulous Pseu Braun (and her tall, dark and handsome boyfriend who's name I can't remember), also Bill W. (who has one of the most encyclopedic minds on the subject of cinema that I've ever tried to prod - and who also brought Cuban rum to the party from his recent trip) and The Cosmic Cowboy (who's show on WFMU I recommend if you have just drank an entire case of cough syrup - trust me that's a compliment). At one point in the evening, a very Mrs. Kravitz/"Night Gallery"-esque (I heard) old neighbor came to the front door in a giant house coat and shouted "KEEP IT DOWN!" over her curlers and night cream and then ran back into her apartment and slammed the door (11pm on a Saturday night? Hello?) Apparently she did this several times... I finally just looked at Ed and recommended he rent Roman Polanski's "The Tenant" immediately. The fact that much of the music coming out of the speakers was Ed's own I assume only compounded the situation.
    According to Ed there was all kinds of intrigue going on during the party. That guy who hugs everyone in Washington Square Park and became kind of weirdly famous for it was there (wait... was he? or was that a heatstroke mirage?), as was some kind of up-and-coming actor who's name I can't remember (oh yea). But me and my loose enclave stayed in our own little corner most of the time, having a glorified little henpecking ceremony. With all the sweating and gossiping and sweaty gossiping and gossipy henpecking and henpecking-y sweating, by the end of the night we had all lost ten ponds! But we regained that bulk before leaving, as Ed kindly equipped us with "Ed Shepp Gift Bags" to say thank you for coming to his soiree. A self-confessed "sniff freak," Ed filled the bag with smelly surprises (good ones). Inside were all kinds of odd things... an Ed Shepp CD, cherry-flavored foods, scented soap and I mean waaaaaaaay, waaaaay-scented soap... even a little bottle of rum!
    In fact... the contents of the bag were so aromatic, that when I opened it up on the crowded #9 train on the way home, the cherry and ginseng wafts of the package's contents quickly spread throughout the train... and all heads turned in my direction. Some guy near the back yelled "Daaa-yuuum! Smells like Pier One up in here!!" With all eyes on me, I simply pulled my latest copy of "Ed Shepp's Magaxine-Type Thinglet" fanzine out of the bag (which has a picture of Oprah Winfrey holding Ed's head impaled on an Emmy and saying 'I love Ed Shepp so much it hurts when I pee!' on the cover) and held it in front of my face and pretended to read it as if I had no idea what they were talking about.

Photos from a previous expedition

5. Yet another nighttime bike ride through Central Park!
    So I went on yet another nighttime ride through Central Park via bike... one of my favorite things in the world to do (you should try it... but by bike only). I've done it before (here's an example) ...and the energy of the park at night (everything's on and running... but nobody's around) is really incredible. It's like the mall scenes from "Dawn of the Dead" minus the muzak, but with the running fountains, and with the "last person on earth" feel, but also minus zombies that you have to shoot at with a high powered rifle before they eat your brains (you hope!) I was joined this time around by WFMU mastermind, man-behind-the-curtain Brian Turner. Brian and I have quite a bit in common... he is a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of oddball culture of which all are unrival-able.
    He had never been in the park at night... we stayed off the smaller paths and stuck to the larger roads (probably a good idea for the first time around). In some of the more remote areas, the parts with the hills... you might as well be in South Carolina on a desolate country road at night... it's that removed from the city. There's this weird thing where you'll be riding along and may not have seen the encircling skyline which wraps all the way around the giant park, for a while because of the trees... and then... boom! It will appear out of the corner of your eye like this massive light wall in the distance, and suddenly you realize you aren't in Kansas. It's really surreal.
    On what I think was near the north eastern section of the park... we suddenly came across this totally lit-up and modern swimming pool... a really huge one! I mean with like multilevels and giant colored concrete things with bars and shimmering pools and stairs and little buildings all around it. It was almost as big as a city block! Much like the rest of Central Park at night... it was totally lit up, running, fully functioning... but not a soul was around! No one! It was spooky indeed... and chillingly comforting in the way large man-made fields at night with overhead lighting (like soccer fields) can be comforting in urban areas. Brian, who claims to be a water person, went back to the pool a few days later to investigate during open hours... he said the crowd was mostly young kids and teenagers, and was packed beyond belief. Too packed indeed to investigate further.
    After that, Brian took me on the west side bike path... all the way from almost to the George Washington Bridge, down to Canal Street. I've never been that far up on that path. Did you know there's this whole boat dock area up there with people's yachts parked in the water? And this weird water processing plant that has 1980's-style neon-lit windows? Did you know that if you cross the George Washington Bridge on your bike... there is this amazing hiking path (according to Jim) on the New Jersey side? That starts right at the other side of the bridge?
    It was a fun... kooky outing. If you've lived in the city for a while and find it all kind of boring by now. Get a bicycle and go riding in Central Park after dark... it's truly memorable. Supposedly it's dangerous, and that's why it's necessary to be on a fast bike. Consider it urban adventure with chance for dangerous wildlife. It's pretty risky I guess... but worth it if you're into the thrill. Plus, technically it is illegal, and supposedly you can get a ticket for it (I know one person who has)... but I think this law is hardly, hardly ever enforced.
    Give it a try!

An atypically non-gay headline on

6. Trey Parker and Matt Stone forthcoming new film "Team America"
    Southpark creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have somehow camouflaged themselves under the radar of the massive media consciousness while hard at work on a film that uses only marionettes and puppets (think of the 1960's 'Thunderbirds' series) that outrageously portray a story based on America's "war on terror" and it's serpentine/form media associations. Slated for a clever mid-October release, the hilarious-looking film has sparked blah, blah, blah controversy from the usual sources (see Drudge coverage here).
    I was never a totally huge fan of Southpark in the way most people are... I liked the show, but for some reason it never struck an obsessive cord with me (although I thought it was pretty funny when Parker and Stone showed up at the Oscars in couture gowns after 'Southpark: The Movie' was nominated).
    One look, however, at the trailer for "Team America" had me laughing in total delight...  and instantly made me want to sit in a crowded, air-conditioned theater and watch the whole thing with an uproarious audience (similar to my experience with the far more solemn 'Fahrenheit 9/11'). I think this picture could be totally a riot and possibly a huge hit. We'll have to wait and see.
    I remember when George W. Bush won the election in 2000, I kept saying how I hoped it would kind of shake up the underground art and music world in the way Reagan's reign fueled so many things in the 80's. It didn't happen I guess. Those "scenes" that were spawned out of the Reagan and Bush Sr. years are just still around I guess... having drifted lazily through Clinton's two terms, they now seem clueless as to what to do. To be fair, there have been many half-hearted expressions of distaste for Republicans from the nether realms... but it seems like the whole underground scene, which is still as thriving as ever, is either dis-interested ...or so brainlessly addicted to "shock value" (through over repetition and weak imitation of past symbols of rebellion) that they have been reduced to trying to shock each other with flimsy exclamations of allegiance to the far right ...just for thrills (which actually might be amazing if it wasn't a temporary pose). But I don't wanna get caught up in that insular whirlpool.
    It's just weird how these kinds of expressions have circumvented the underground and appeared up in the mainstream, first. Let's hope that "Team America" (which will obviously pick on the current Bush administration and the right) will take just as many well-deserved jabs at the left... and turn what could easily be a pity party (that 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and 'Outfoxed' often were) into an insane, hysterical blow-out. Hysterical times call for hysterical expressions... I can't imagine a better "hysterical" than puppets like Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush, portrayed as spoiled sons of rich families who have turned into outrageous super villains, childishly battling it out (with each country's millions) all across the world stage... with the rest of the earth's population as disposable background extras. I'm sure "Team America" will be just as nutty.
    I'll gladly pay my ten dollars, and then seventeen dollars worth of concessions, to enjoy the ride! Yee-haw!
    You can view the film's trailer here.

Beautiful, stark crassness

7. Vince Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" billboard in LA
    Haha! I guess this isn't really that big a deal. I don't know why it strikes me as so odd and interesting. I'm definitely a fan of much of Vincent Gallo's film and music work. Whenever I spy an interview with him anywhere I always instinctually read it beginning to end. He's a totally interesting character. He's also very sexy... which is why I may be drawn to this gargantuan and hilariously crass and clever billboard. It's advertising Gallo's forthcoming and very talked-about new film "The Brown Bunny" (my friend Bill W. that I mentioned from the Ed Shepp party earlier, saw the film already and said that he thought it was actually pretty good except the ending was stupid and Sevigny looked like a stick figure). This billboard is in Los Angeles, on Sunset (right by the Chateau Marmont) and is causing the usual ho-hum but much-wanted controversy. I like it's stark and crass design, and shamelessly retro use of the "X" rating symbol. Funny.
    UPDATE: Gallo has taken to (publicly, of course) defending his billboard here in the NYT.
    UPDATE AGAIN: The billboard has now been prematurely taken down!

Alfred Hitchcock ponders the "maybe"

8. Hitchcock's lost, unrealized, 1960's film "Kaleidoscope"
    Here is a link to a story about some of the most famously unrealized films of Hollywood's golden age. In particular is a film project by Alfred Hitchcock, half-begun and then eventually abandoned (due to non-cooperation by the producers). Titled "Kaleidoscope," (love that title) the film would have eventually sat between "Torn Curtain" and "Topaz" as an odd gem in the somewhat tattered later-end of his filmography. Apparently aware of the growing duality of his career at that point (where critics and box office receipts for his later films were becoming less and less enthusiastic... but a growing generation of filmmakers worldwide were worshiping him more and more for the God he indeed was) ...Hitchcock decided he needed to break free from some of the more conventional habits within his finely honed techniques.
   "Kaleidoscope" was to employ only a hand-held camera (mostly) and natural lighting (both a nod to the European avant garde), and tell the story (from the perspective of the killer) of an attractive, vulnerable gay man who was a secret serial rapist and murderer. Apparently some of the scenes were pretty hardcore, even for Hitchcock... and were based on actual UK crime cases (including a grisly acid bath murder and some necrophilia). MCA studios eventually turned thumbs-down on the project... as they thought the filming techniques too radical, the story too cruel and violent... and the protagonist too "ugly." All that remains today of "Kaleidoscope" is one hour of silent, preliminary footage. Some critics say that if the project had been realized within Hitchcock's vision, it could had revitalized his latter-day career and spawned a whole new, recognizably different phase of his filmography.
    Click here to see actual pre-production film stills from this unrealized project.
    Click here to see an amazingly detailed, step-by-step story of how this film project was realized, and then eventually dumped (with more photos).

"They say it can lay dormant in your body for years before it ravages your brain."

9. Debbie Downer
    Here is the link (which I don't like to directly link but it seems codependently attached to this site or whatever).
    Did you ever see this "Debbie Downer" sketch from the most recent season of Saturday Night Live? A really rare moment that latter-day SNL could be totally hilarious. I saw it when it aired and was laughing so hard I think I may now know what childbirth is like. Then again, I love humor about depressive hypochondriacs. I can't believe someone put it up on the web! Of course this sketch employs a very tired improv "tactic" of a lot of latter-day skit comedy hacks... you know where they pretend to "crack up" and not be able to stop laughing while reciting their lines and the audience laughs along and eventually cheers. Although sometimes real, it's usually just a cover for weak material or performances (wow... do I sound like a Debbie Downer herself or what!?)
    Anywho... it happens here... but it works only because it's so opposite of what the character is supposed to be like. Plus I think what is making the cast crack up is the loud trombone sound effect playing so loudly on set. Just watch and you'll see what I mean. Debbie is played by Rachel Dratch (definitely one of the most talented and unheralded of the latest SNL troupe), and is a character who ruins her friend's trip to Disneyland by constantly talking about things like low birth weight or "feline AIDS."

All tomorrow's black angel math problem for the man

10. Ergo Phizmiz and his Orchestra's interpretation of The Velvet Underground's "White Light / White Heat" LP
    Here is the link.
    Call NASA! It turns out that if you sit a million monkeys in front of a million musical instruments for a millions years they indeed will eventually record a warped, gonzo version of The Velvet Underground's 1968 classic "White Light / White Heat" album.  Celebrated sound scientist Ergo Phizmiz and friends have ruined NASA's hopes of actually using American tax dollars to conduct that very experiment, by actually completing the aforementioned recording themselves. WFMU's Dirty Duck makes an appearance on "The Gift" ...that's right, the entire recitation read by John Cale on the original LP is this time around read entirety by a Donald Duck voice, which should give you an idea to the feel of the album.
    Here is the link the the entire recording, completely free and downloadable, song by song (apparently only for a while though).

Wasn't tomorrow wonderful?  OR:
20% or more keeps you off the maddening carousel ride that is the karmic loop!

11. Bitter waitress
    Here is the link. Hahahahahaha!!!! This site it totally fucking hilarious! apparently it was started by a girl who has been a waitress a long time, and she started this site so that wait people can send in their horror stories about horrible customers, or customers who don't tip. There are stories that involve celebrities and stuff, but the best ones are about the anonymous, middle-American fat psycho families (or as a friend of mine calls them 'the airport people') who get their "regal fix" by dragging their blob children to restaurants and ordering the wait staff around like embittered serfs.
    If you're the type who likes to treat service people like trash, or treat people poorly in general, enjoy it while you can! Because trust me, it will eventually come back to you in the most mysterious and unforeseeable way you can't imagine... and you will be in a Hell so unfamiliar and frightening to you that you won't even be able to conjure any sort of defense mechanism at all, and you'll end up converting to Christianity or Kabbalah or something... and end up in church 24/7 crying to God to please release the demons from your world... you'll end up like that woman from VANITY 6!!!
    This law of averages has nothing to do with Karma or harmony or "The Four Agreements" of the universe or any bullshit like that... that stuff is a shallow but yummy opiate for weak minds, and is just the lesbian granola version of Heaven and Hell. This has to do with the fact that the people you think you are screwing over have eyes and ears and brains and memories. This is the key to why your oh-so-perfect plan to manipulating others to supplement your ego will eventually blow up in your face in an unforeseeable way that you can't imagine even when it's happening.
    Henry James said in his classic horror/thriller/murder mystery tale "Turn of the Screw;" "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."
    Take heed.

12. I've started doing record reviews for Vice magazine
    I've traded some ideas back and forth with the editor to do a "real story" for Vice magazine, but we could never agree on anything... so I'll just do record reviews for now. Record reviews for free CDs - the lowest form of journalism! Haha! Actually I'm very happy to do it because Vice is really the only print magazine I find interesting, and Amy (the reviews editor) is really great. My (now pointless) pseudonym for my reviews is "NELLA KRAM" (can you figure out who it is? it's my name backwards... yes, I know... I'm BRILLIANT! Sssshhh!) and my reviews are cruel and hateful and filled with bile, venom, arrogance and self-loathing. The first ones come out in the newest issue... which I think comes out this week. You can get it wherever you can get Vice.


13. The end of an insular era
    So I walked into the Avenue A Kim's Video store this week, like I have probably 1,000,000 times in my life for the past twelve years, and was haunted by this reoccurring nightmare I once had as a kid where my father had dropped me off at a carnival and then left me there alone... but I realize he had brought me there too late, and all that was left was the workmen and carnies dis-assembling the rides and booths and everyone was leaving and I somehow knew I was going to be trapped forever in the closing carnival's aura of sadness and loss in some kind of horrible, bleak limbo.
    This childhood trauma (which was indeed a reoccurring dream I used to have) flashed in my cortex because, as I walked into Kim's, I spied folded-up boxes, half the inventory off the shelves, one lone employee behind the counter huffing and puffing as he loaded video boxes into bigger boxes, and one of the big, Jamaican security guards from the St. Mark's location sitting down on the middle of the floor eyeing everyone who came in. I knew... something was ...wrong. Or something was ...over.
    Indeed, when I asked the guy behind the counter what was wrong. He spilled the beans. Kim's Avenue A had lost it's lease at the 11th hour (unexpectedly... at least that's what they're saying). I simply returned the DVD that I had no way of knowing was the last thing I would ever check out from that place... and walked, for the very last time, out of a store that had weirdly served as an important kind-of side character in so many of my NYC life stages. There were people outside on cellphones calling people and going "You're not gonna believe... Kim's is closed! For good!"
    I have been in that place since the absolute earliest days of my NYC experience. I discovered it in the days of living on 11th street between B and C avenues (when it was one of the few places open on Avenue A... especially in contrast to Tompkins Square Park with was closed and barricaded for a year after the riots of 1991). I have met boyfriends there, broken up with boyfriends there, had drunken, hilarious times with friends, had drunken, horrible times with enemies, had hug-fests with comrades and fist fights with best buddies. I even made out with someone behind the counter once. I have witnessed some of the most excruciating employee/customer shouting fests and attitude wars ever (a reputation that haunts every Kim's location and it seems as though it is there to stay... perhaps not oddly Kim's don't seem to care).
    Not to mention... I have rented some incredible films. A bazillion of them. I've had numerous "cinematic awakenings" through their massive inventory. Sometimes several times over! This place was like a library to me... that I used in the deepest sense. Kim's rental stock (which is legendary) opened a whole world of unknown art up to me. Sound corny? Too bad, it's true. I have handled 90% of their inventory (of 1,000's and 1,000's of titles). How can I reconcile the loss of these four walls!? Sob! And now it's gone... thank God they have other locations (which I will join). It's just that the Avenue A location was my location. The one I loved... the one that I, truly... kind of grew up in and through. Now it's gone. Click here to read the large version of the above flyer. Here's a photo I took the day after I discovered it's demise.

Copyright 2004 Mark Allen

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