Thursday, July 31, 2008
All of this biking experience was in no way a primer for riding motorcycles. in fact, my competence at riding damn near killed me on that very turn when i first bought a 600cc Kawasaki Eliminator (see below). take this as my attempt to save a life when i say that motorcycles do not behave at all like bikes. there is a fundamental difference that i rarely hear people talk about and i had never heard of by the time i took this turn at 60 miles an hour.
the physics of a bike going over 40 mph are completely different from what you might assume. once you are moving that fast you no longer turn by the normal means of aiming the tire in the direction of the turn. it's called COUNTER STEERING (I found this link after writing this post) and it's something that a rider absolutely HAS to understand. to turn right, as i needed to that fateful day, you need to turn the handles LEFT. this is completely counter intuitive but absolutely true. when you are moving that fast, what happens is the bike turns in the direction that it is leaning. in other words, when you see motorcycle races where the riders are so leaned over that their knees scrap the ground, its really the leaning, and not the handling, that makes the bike go in the proper direction . if you turn the handle bar left for a right turn the bike tilts to the right, as if its falling over from inertia as you turn right. then, and only then will the bike turn right.
I learned this at 60mph as my bike started to fail the turn when i assumed i needed to turn right for the right turn. i saw the yellow line of the side get closer and closer as my incorrect handling put my life in danger. by the time my hand and foot were inches from the 4 foot dividing wall that seperated the uptown traffic from the downtown traffic i realized the "leaning" necessity and threw my weight as hard as i could to the right. that just barely saved my handlebar from scraping the concrete which would have pulled the wheel right into the wall and sent me into a deadly over-the-handle-bars flip that probably would have ended my life either by the impact, or by flying into oncoming traffic. my heart was in my throat and my life was hanging by a thread.
so, be aware of this fact. COUNTER STEER when you are finally moving at break neck speeds on a two wheeled contraption of any kind. steer left to go right, and steer right to go left. you will thank me for this if it ever comes up.
note: the orientation of his shoulders. they are oriented to the left, as if he is turning left. but. in fact, he is turning right. THIS WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. it's amazing to me that nobody tells you this when you buy a motorcycle. you have to figure it out the hard way or look it up.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
It was a wild trip for me. I had never been down there and had no idea how intense the culture was and how absolutely lawless. My friends and I were young college students who had just been set free in the world with limited maturity and even more limited budgets. The trip itself was minimal in cost. I think I spent a total of 300 dollars on two weeks. the flight was 140 and I ended up renting a chicken coop that some industrious Jamaican grandma had thought to put a window and a bed in it..after removing or eating the previous chicken tenants. I believe that sheet metal structure cost me about 5 dollars a night, of course there wasn't a bathroom or a fan so it was bare bones living. But i was at the perfect age for that and all I really cared about was saving money for the "partying". Plus my coop was right next to a large room with a patio that my friends were renting and they had a bathroom that i could use.
Considering that a full garbage bag of weed was about 50 bucks and the cost of other things like that were equally as negligible, we ended up over doing it by a lot. One girl lost her mind in the middle of the second day while on the beach and was actually never quite right again. Another friend of mine, Honan, ate some "space cakes" and ended up turning into a turnip the next day. We literally carried his limp body from one shady spot on the beach to another, turning him over when we thought he might be burning. At one point we ordered food, and of course it took two hours to arrive. In Jamaica you will get handed a menu with, say, eggs on it. You then order it, asking if they have it, they nod, and then a second later you here a motorcycle start up and drive off. That means that they didn't have it, but had a motorcycle and YOUR time to go out and find some.
there's Honan in a stuper, the guy behind him was suffering but not quite as much
So, this time the lady comes back with food, finally, and gives everyone their dishes. She's left with eggs and toast and starts getting annoyed that nobody is claiming them. we turn to Honan and ask if he ordered eggs and toast and he just nods no. She storms off muttering about white people and a minute later Honan looks up and says "i'm hungry". We look at him and somebody asks if he ordered. He says "yeah, eggs and toast"
Honan recovered the following day, slightly slower then his usually slow self, but at least he was using his legs again. So we spent a nice uneventful day in paradise, puffing large spliffs and drinking Rum Creams and Dragon Stouts. The water there is always that perfect temperature and very calm. Everything was easy going except we kept on noticing a very tough looking Rasta guy with a large machete lurking around the bushes surrounding our rooms and my chicken coop. The grandma who owned our "inn" mentioned that he was her nephew and had come down from the hills to be "security" for her guests. well, we didn't feel all that secure, but once we knew this glaring character was working for the lady we assumed we could just relax and enjoy ourselves. so we did.
The next day we all went on a moped journey up through the mountains to some falls and our guide took us to his home and his very own field of ganja. it was a day i would label as "cultural" in terms of a Jamaica vacation and it was, in fact, very informative. It's a beautiful and rugged country, extremely poor, yet extremely proud and independent. There is a good deal of racism down there, due to the harsh history of the island and hundreds of years of slavery and abuse. I like to think of myself as being a "modern" white urban male, in that i am aware of the history but magically, because of my "coolness", i can manage to avert the consequences of racism towards me almost anywhere in the world.
I learned the hard way that isn't true down there. I'll admit that attitudes shifted once i got to mention coming from NYC, that carries weight in Jamaica since there is such a large connection between the two places and they all hear that NYC is a tough place...but if that never comes up.. I am a just another WHITEY BUMBOCLOT. I made the mistake of allowing my friend Imo, an attractive athletic African American from the south side of Chicago, the option of not renting a moped and riding on the back of mine because she was scared to fall. She wore close to nothing and had the relaxed look of a native riding on the moped of a tourist. That suddenly was brought to my attention when we were riding through towns up in the mountains. the winding mud roads would come around a turn and suddenly there would be hundreds of Jamaicans, out in the road walking about or dancing to the ever present Dance Hall music, It was usually blasting from speakers wired anywhere from rafters in the town's actual dance hall, to the branches of trees.
there's Imo in the middle and I am in the back all skinny with a ponytail
well, these towns would see the guide and clear a path, then they would see all the Whitey Bumboclots on their rentals puttering through in single file, until there was me and Imo. then they would lose it. Yelling to her to jump off and stay with them and actually start closing ranks and finally, after I would gun the acceleration to get them to jump out of the way, they would turn and literally chase us out of town. A few threw things at us, mangoes mostly, but a bottle exploded pretty near us.
We got home after many mishaps, including three accidents and a break down (not me, but others on the journey). After it got dark, my stupid moped's headlights broke, right as a storm rolled in about 2 hours before we got back to Negril. So i turned on my turn signal and it was like driving in half pitch black, half yellow lit jungle. Now you see the road, now you don't. I quickly learned to survey the lay of the road well ahead of me during the brief moment my signal was on. This was so i could coast while it was off and i was surrounded by pitch black peril. All that while in a tropical downpour of epic proportions which, in turn, formed little rivers in the road. Plus, Jamaicans were flying by in both directions, driving in cars not meant for off-roading, at speeds not meant for the autobahn, let alone mountain roads in the night rain. It was one of my most exciting rides ever.
Later that night we decided to unwind on the beach by taking a bunch of mushrooms and drinking for hours. My memory of that night is pretty foggy, but i do remember that at about 5AM I suddenly woke up to some laughing outside of my chicken coop and decided i wanted to rejoin the party even though it was absurdly late. so i went out and noticed my friends Matter and Berg "the slurg" Dorfman ( a name i coined myself after he refused to stop calling me "Matoose" for no other reason then the fact that i reminded him of an old friend by that name). they were sitting out on their little patio enjoying a spliff and some smokes. I also noticed an empty jug of Rum between them and knew they were totally wasted.
They welcomed my awakening by pulling out a chair and handing me the 6 inch spliff. Then we had fun talking and puffing for a while, until one of us noticed the glistening of eyes in the bushes about 15 feet from the edge of the patio. we hushed a bit and then there was some movement in the shadows around where we could see the eyes. There wasn't any moonlight so the darkness was pretty intense. I remember saying "I think there's somebody there". just when i said that the Rastaman comes out of the shadows and we can see him, standing their in the dark. He was wearing just a loin cloth and was holding a bottle in one hand and a dark metal object in the other. It was a gun. We all knew that instantly. there was a breathless silence, very long and very tense. until we started hearing the sounds of his low quiet voice. He was speaking in heavy Patwa (the local dialect) which made it almost impossible to understand over the sound of crickets and jungle insects all around. But we did start to catch on a bit. He was talking about how he killed white men before and how he was in the army up in the mountains. He was telling us a story, not really caring if we understood what he was saying and almost talking so quietly that it seemed as if he was muttering just to himself. the awkwardness and intensity of the situation scared the shit out of me. I knew he was as fucked up as we were and that he wasn't actually mad at us, but i had no idea how this would end up. especially, when my two blitzed friends started to laugh.
I was in a different world then my two friends. Matter and Berg had been pounding Rum for hours while i slept and they were way more scrambled then I. the nervousness must have gotten to them, or maybe they were really THAT fucked up that it was actually funny to them. either way, i gave them sharp looks and was like "Shhh!". but they wouldn't stop. it turned into one of those things where the laughing got more and more out of control. as if they were high and watching Super Bad for the first time. only what we were watching might have SEEMED surreal, but in fact, was VERY REAL. I tried to make the guy know that I wasn't laughing and that they were drunk, but to my surprise the guy never changed his position or his story. he seemed to not hear the laughing or not consider that it was him who they were laughing at, he just kept on talking about some horrible war-time killing he had been a part of. slow and deliberate the story crept on, with the occasional thrust of his gun into the air and a Patwa sound effect of gunfire. in the end, i got the impression that he had literally just confessed to some awful crime in front of us. but since we could hardly understand most of what he said, and we were clearly out of our gourds from days of substance abuse, that it was tantamount to confessing to a mango tree. it might have made him feel better without actually meaning anything or having any consequences.
What was interesting about that man in the shadows and his gun wielding tale, is that he was no longer around the next day and we never saw him again. That trip set the tone for my college breaks. I ended up going back no less then 8 times. but those 7 or so times afterwards were never as crazy or intense as the first window into that island.
Monday, July 28, 2008
One great benefit of being an animator is that kids LOVE animation. Sometimes the daily grind makes me lose sight of how many young minds are captured by the silly things i do, but all i have to do is talk to some kids to be reminded of that.
My memories of cartoons as a kid are magic. I used to marvel at simple Hannah Barbara cartoons as a boy, sitting in front of the tv in the morning with my 5th bowl of cheerios. Later on, even in college, movies like Fantasia blew my mind as i watched the work of hundreds of artists come together in a two hour visual symphony of motion and color. I can only hope that kids these days view my work with the same awe.
To digress for a moment, when I was living in San Francisco and working on Shrek 2, there was a very touching moment with one of our fans. This young girl was suffering from some horrible affliction in a hospital bed in San Mateo. She wrote to our studio about how much she loved Shrek and how it made her days in the hospital easier. we saw pictures of her in her hospital room and it ended up mobilizing the studio to collect tons of Shrek toys and memorabilia. The kind of stuff we got for free just by being employees but never really used. We ended up filling her hospital room with Shrek stuff and when the pictures were posted it was unforgettable. This young girl's smile was ear to ear in a forest of games and stuffed ogres. That moment made me feel like i was really making a difference in a small way for many people. If i consider that Shrek2 was the largest grossing film in Animation history and was swiftly the 3rd most grossing film of all time. That's a LOT of young eyes watching my stuff. THat kind of realization goes beyond liking what i chose to do for a living. It gives it real world legitimacy.
Back to the class I spoke to. Here are a sampling of the thank you notes i got back from these kids. these are my top 10 thank you notes:
click on the pics to enlarge...
My winter hat that she made for me when I was about 18, is grey and blue and has a big Pom-pom, as per my requests. One other thing that makes it TOTALLY AWESOME is that it has my tag on it...ZEN II in big knitted letters across the front! what what? beat that, moms of the world.
So along comes Mr. Rogers on my tv set. all grandpa like, but without the glass of scotch and thunderous presence. It took me a bit to warm up to the slightly grey haired shoe changer. but i did, and i grew to love the show. Especially when he walked to the set of the 70's TV series "the Incredible Hulk", and ended up talking to Bill Bixby and a green Lou Ferrigno.. one of my favy's at the time.
CNN just posted some factoids about the saint like guy and i wanted to share them because they really are some incredible things that i never knew...
1. Even Koko the Gorilla loved him. Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English.
What most people don't know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she'd always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off!
2. He made thieves think twice. According to a TV Guide piece on him, Fred Rogers drove a plain old Impala for years. One day, however, the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town.
Amazingly, within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot where it was taken from, with an apology on the dashboard. It read, "If we'd known it was yours, we never would have taken it." Mental Floss: Memorable commencement speakers
3. He watched his figure to the pound. In covering Rogers' daily routine (waking up at 5 a.m.; praying for a few hours for all of his friends and family; studying; writing, making calls and reaching out to every fan who took the time to write him; going for a morning swim; getting on a scale; then really starting his day), writer Tom Junod explained that Mr. Rogers weighed in at exactly 143 pounds every day for the last 30 years of his life.
He didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't eat the flesh of any animals, and was extremely disciplined in his daily routine. And while I'm not sure if any of that was because he'd mostly grown up a chubby, single child, Junod points out that Rogers found beauty in the number 143.According to the piece, Rogers came "to see that number as a gift... because, as he says, "the number 143 means 'I love you.' It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three."
4. He saved both public television and the VCR. Strange but true. When the government wanted to cut public television funds in 1969, the relatively unknown Mister Rogers went to Washington.
Almost straight out of a Frank Capra film, his 5-6 minute testimony on how TV had the potential to give kids hope and create more productive citizens was so simple but passionate that even the most gruff politicians were charmed. While the budget should have been cut, the funding instead jumped from $9 to $22 million.
Rogers also spoke to Congress, and swayed senators into voting to allow VCR's to record television shows from the home. It was a cantankerous debate at the time, but his argument was that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Mental Floss: Forgotten kids shows sure to give you nightmares
5. He might have been the most tolerant American ever. Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first.
Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, "God loves you just the way you are." Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.
6. He was genuinely curious about others. Mister Rogers was known as one of the toughest interviews because he'd often befriend reporters, asking them tons of questions, taking pictures of them, compiling an album for them at the end of their time together, and calling them after to check in on them and hear about their families. He wasn't concerned with himself, and genuinely loved hearing the life stories of others.
And it wasn't just with reporters. Once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS exec's house, he heard the limo driver was going to wait outside for 2 hours, so he insisted the driver come in and join them (which flustered the host).
On the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver's home on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet his family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life the house supposedly lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night. Further, like with the reporters, Rogers sent him notes and kept in touch with the driver for the rest of his life.
7. He was color-blind. Literally. He couldn't see the color blue. Of course, he was also figuratively color-blind, as you probably guessed. As were his parents, who took in a black foster child when Rogers was growing up. Mental Floss: Praise for the blind genius who invented cruise control
8. He could make a subway car full of strangers sing. Once while rushing to a New York meeting, there were no cabs available, so Rogers and one of his colleagues hopped on the subway. Esquire reported that the car was filled with people, and they assumed they wouldn't be noticed.
But when the crowd spotted Rogers, they all simultaneously burst into song, chanting "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." The result made Rogers smile wide.
9. He got into TV because he hated TV. The first time he turned one on, he saw people angrily throwing pies in each other's faces. He immediately vowed to use the medium for better than that. Over the years he covered topics as varied as why kids shouldn't be scared of a haircut, or the bathroom drain (because you won't fit!), to divorce and war.
10. He was an Ivy League dropout. Rogers moved from Dartmouth to Rollins College to pursue his studies in music.
11. He composed all the songs on the show, and over 200 tunes.
12. He was a perfectionist, and disliked ad libbing. He felt he owed it to children to make sure every word on his show was thought out.
13. Michael Keaton got his start on the show as an assistant. He helped puppeteer and operate the trolley.
14. Several characters on the show are named for his family. Queen Sara is named after Rogers' wife, and the postman Mr. McFeely is named for his maternal grandfather who always talked to him like an adult, and reminded young Fred that he made every day special just by being himself. Sound familiar? It was the same way Mister Rogers closed every show.
15. The sweaters. Every one of the cardigans he wore on the show had been hand-knit by his mother.
Friday, July 25, 2008
His is the pen behind Eighties comic-strip heroine Tank Girl, virtual band Gorillaz and the opera Monkey - and soon you'll be seeing his animated title sequence for the Olympics on TV.
BAMAN AND PIDERMAN by ALEX BUTERA
Thursday, July 24, 2008
The mosaic "Around the World" themed bench winding it's way around the Neo-Romanesque tomb for Grant is finally being restored. Visually it can most be compared to a creation by Antoni Gaudi, solid but organic. It morphs and meanders randomly and depicts the various cultures of the entire world through colorful little tiles of glazed pottery. It was always a fun excursion for me when I was a kid. I could walk to it with my parents from my apartment and school which were on 111th street and 112th street respectively. It is around 124th and Riverside Park. It was always a starkly different kind of place from the rough neighborhood and it made my young mind aware of the world of art, memorials to the past, and the cultures of the world SIMULTANEOUSLY. the fact that the same artist is rebuilding it warms my heart.
Above 110th street was quite the dichotomy. Pimps, Hookers, Addicts, Catholics, and Liberals all living in the shadow of the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world.
This is 112th street. I went to school on this corner from 3 to 13 years old.
there's no place like Uptown. even now that it's been taken over by gentrification and the ever expanding reach of Columbia University. There's still Koronet, the largest pizza slices on earth...and they still have video games. although I doubt the tough kids who used to pull knives out are still there...
Commentary by the son of the Artist rebuilding the mosaic bench:
"I was quite young. I was 9, 10, and 11. We took three years to do it," says Tony Silva. "I remember this was a pretty tough neighborhood back then. There was lots of, you know, young hoodlums and gang members around and they were kind of scary folks, but little by little they started to come around and work on the benches themselves and it made them a little less scary to see them excited about a project like this."
He got me thinking about some other moments we shared. Like the time we were taking tags on 96th and Broadway one night in the heavy rain. We found that bombing (writing graffiti) in the rain was a great idea. first of all, you could hide under a big umbrella so it just looked like there was somebody standing near the wall, maybe lighting a cigarette. Also, cops back then didn't want to deal with writers, they had murders and violence to quell, and to jump out of the squad car in the rain was doubly unappealing to them.
So there we were, Left-One was doing big bubble letters on the old...ehh i forget what used to be there, it was like a supermarket or something. Self and I were watching out for cops in the middle island in the intersection. Self had bad long distance night vision so it was mostly up to me to watch for incoming. I was usually pretty good at it, and if i saw anything i would yell "WATER!". that was our code for 5-0's rolling. But this time my good eyesight was useless because these motherfucking Detectives suddenly jumped out of a Yellow Cab.
Cabs in NYC were the ULTIMATE undercover vehicle for cops. We actually considered it cheating on their part. You could spot a regular squad car with the lights on top from miles away. You could also get good at spotting unmarked cop cars because they were always dark colored Chevy Caprice Classics and had a very distinctive rounded shape. But there were always ten to twenty Yellow Cabs in sight at any given moment. We just wrote them off as non-entities. In other words, I would walk up to a wall, right in front of a fleet of cabs, even in their headlights, and just start tagging away without a thought to who was watching. Those cabbies probably saw a LOT because nobody ever thought to wait for them to pass. And usually, DT's (Detectives) never bothered us because they were too high level for Vandalism, but these guys felt the urge to do it this time. Before I could even yell, two plain clothes cops had thrown Left hard into the metal gates he was writing on, getting a nice amount of his own fresh paint on his face and chest. Self and I just stood there astonished. we knew..from experience..that it was best for us to stay anonymous just in case somebody had to go to the precinct and bail him out.
What followed is a CLEAR indication of how things used to go down on the upper west side before all the Yuppies moved in. the cops made him hold his large umbrella over THEIR heads so they didn't get wet. then they searched his pockets, found his big bag of danky weed, POCKETED it, and then told him to take a hike. they got back in their sneaky ( and somewhat UNFAIR) unmarked Cab and took off, leaving Peter with all of his unused paint. we continued our bombing mission after that. only now we couldn't get high...
Speaking of smoking while on a tagging mission, another memory I have of writing with Self, besides the time I had to bail him out of the Chinatown Precinct at 4AM, was when we decided to bomb the truck yard near Grand Street and Lafayette. We used to love getting into lots where the big boxy white trucks that deliver around the city are left at night. If there weren't any guard dogs then you were free to go in. The trucks were perfect because they were all white, and they got all over town daily. like rolling advertisements. plus, they were always parked so close to each other that nobody would know you are there and you could wedge your legs between them to reach very high spots.
Self and I planned on doing this one night. we got there very late, like 3AM and decided to roll and smoke a blunt and then do our mission. Only we got some Tabla from 106th street. this stuff was like mystery meat. it was questionably little and dense and definitely wasn't all weed. It also took down quite a few people at one time or another. One friend ended up losing his mind right before graduation and had a convulsive fit RIGHT in front of the dean. others would just panic or start throwing up. the two of us considered ourselves too hearty to be knocked down by one blunt of it. So we sat in the little triangular park where Lafayette and Kenmare come together.
after about 10 minutes we suddenly realized that we were zonked out of our heads and proceeded to get paranoid and freaked out by what we were planning on doing. I always freaked out a little on the inside before going writing. so much could go wrong back then. several times i would be rolling out for a mission and a black cat would cross my path. that was an all too common happenstance for me and it always put butterflies in my gut.
but this time we just plain over smoked ourselves. we sat there staring in fear at the yard and wondered what was going to happen if we went in. we talked ourselves down slowly, until the panic wasn't as total and finally, reluctantly, trudged forward to meet our fate. I believe we just sat there wide eyed and zonked for about a half an hour, like two of the three stooges. nothing ended up happening to us that night. we tagged the shit out of those trucks.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
There are very few possessions of mine that are that old and well kept. My first ski boot from the age of 2, an egyption cat statue from the Metropolitan Museum, and that framed poster.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Since I have a pattern of finding new music and then listening to it a lot until I start getting sick of it, the songs get ingrained into a set of memories. usually the memories of a time period that is about a month or two. Exactly how long it takes to get tired of hearing the song too much. That has the effect of essentially cataloging my life in terms of music, as if it is a library cataloging of life, by tunes. Often the songs have nothing to do with the memories in terms of theme, just in terms of coincidentally happening at the time of liking the song. so if i hear something like Bruce Sprinsteen's "Born in the USA" i don't get flooded with the memories of actually being born here, i get memories of living in Ireland and riding in my mom's rental car. it was 1985 and that song was on the radio all the time back then.
Hearing any old Fleetwood Mac or Beatles song can always transport me to the summer days of childhood. when I would lie on our Shag rug, in the Vermont sun, while my mom cooked yummy food from her garden and my dad grilled a perfect steak out on the porch.
My sister posted this gem. Just hearing that voice sends me spinning back in time. Stevie Nicks...I LOVE YOU.
Just imagine puffing on a spliff and macking out in THAT dressing room, that day.
If i hear an old Run DMC song i get the butterflies in my stomach as if it is just about to be my turn to perform in my old break dance troop.
It's the same way with distinct smells. hearing the song triggers the memory whether i want it too or not. mostly it's a pleasant thankfully, as most of my memories are pleasant. Sometimes i wonder if i would be able to get these memories so completely and clearly if it weren't for the sudden re-emergence of a certain tune. if i try to recall a memory without any song as impetus, the memory lacks the clarity and attached emotions and sensory experiences of the memory. it's usually just "paraphrased" rather then, when a song pops on, i can suddenly remember the very mind state of the time of the memory. i can remember how i felt, and what i thought about while listening to that music. it can often be so strong and surprising that i catch my breath.
I would love music even if it didn't have this incredibly personal ability to remind me of times long past because music stands alone and appeals to me even the first time i hear it, without any past experiences to get involved. but the fact that it does do this to me, that i can travel through my life with a well thought out mix, just adds to its magic and too its power over me.
I have always had issues with my ears, and i was once told by a well meaning Doctor that i could eventually lose my hearing. i had only partial hearing as a small child so it wouldn't be anything new to me. But the part of this possiblity that always got to me the most, as i grew up, was the loss of music. I knew that i could learn sign language in a worse case scenario, but to lose music would be something that i have yet to come to terms with. that's a loss that i can't even imagine.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Here i am sitting in a somewhat cramped back seat of a modern NYC taxi. I have my own AC controls, a credit card swiper, a GPS locater and television. Its a far cry from my memories of the huge tank like checker cabs i grew up with that had so much room that you had a bunch of feet between your toes and the divider. A large gadget-less void that was big enough for a potential nose dive if the cab stopped short. especially since there were no seat belts back then to stop your body from trying to steal home base. I remember the huge cavernous space and high, nearly vaulted roofs of those old tanks very fondly. I am, of course, happy that AC is now standard in cabs. especially considering that it is currently 95 and humid. back then there was no escape from that heat, even if you stuck you head out the window while the car was in motion. but i really miss those fold out seats to accommodate 6 people or just a mom and her squirrelly son. The fold out seats weren't big or comfy by any stretch. But i loved sitting in them and facing my mom, dad, or sister and making faces at them as i watched the city blocks recede in the rear window.
I also remember a lot of arguing about how to get places and how much it should cost with the drivers. But maybe that was brought about by feisty parents. i think it was also due to a lack of standard when it came to meters and how often they were faulty or broken. They used to be mechanical so the driver would flip down a lever and the thing would start ticking to time and distance (hopefully). Its funny how nowadays i don't even consider that the meter might be over charging. Back then my dad definitely did. I have no less then 5 separate memories of fights erupting between dad and driver. my dad's a rather big guy who wrestled in college so he was a very intimidating guy in a fight. Unless, of course, if the taxi driver was ready and grabbed a tire iron. When that happened my dad's ability to duck and weave suddenly displayed itself. He was fast! Ahh, the good ol' days.
Another fond memory about nyc transportation was the old double decker buses. They were bigger then the ones in London and riding in them gave me an eagle eye view of the neighborhood. I loved those buses so much that i made my mom or dad wait for one to come. As they got removed from service one by one, those waits starting getting more and more fruitless. I guess that was one of my earliest experiences with the odd sensation that "progress" in NYC doesn't necessarily mean "change for the better".
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
but 19 years later, it makes for a pretty good blog post. so here it is.
I and three of my good friends were on acid one night, down in midtown. I think we wanted to go to one of the video arcades in times square that no longer exist. they were the kind of places that most resembled the bar on planet Tatooine in star wars. Smokey, dark, and extremely dangerous, even for Han Solo. the scum of the earth lurking behind every corner, waiting for a chance to prey on the weak. they would take your quarters and walkman at knife point if you weren't paying attention, or just decide to beat the shit out of you for getting close to their high score. a lively and fun social spot for three young boys knee deep in hallucinatory influences. believe it or not, none of us had ever even read any Hunter Thompson yet, so we were pretty much cutting our own path through the jungle of insanity.
It was hot, africa hot. or worse yet, NYC hot. sticky and no movement of air. you would inhale your own breath if you didn't keep moving. kind of similar to sharks that can't stop swimming in order to breath. we were in the 50th street station on the blue line waiting for a downtown E or C train. we had taken up one of the thick wooden benches that used to be in all the stations. it was around 2 or 3am so nothing was coming. my friends were all smoking cigarettes, i might have been too actually. all i remember is that i was really messed up and the smoke was just sitting there staring at me. it was so hot the smoke didn't rise up and away, it just got thicker and thicker and enveloped me completely.
between the heat, the spinning visuals going on all around me, and the dense reeking smoke, i began to get sick. well, i didn't begin to get sick. i GOT sick. i lurched forward and sprayed the ground beneath us with a nice even coating of barf. so now you can add the smell of that, and the look of partially digested pizza to the mix and the environment became quickly intolerable to the 3 of us. Self, Cosmos, and Ages (my three amigos) jumped up and ran away from the bench while i wiped the shrapnel off my lower lip.
I should take a second to briefly describe my three fleeing friends. not just because they were, and still are, very important to me. but also because they have very interesting backgrounds and were part of the flavor of NYC back then.
Ages came from a pretty poor household. he lived in a very small apartment with his Dominican mom in the projects behind Lincoln center. His neighbors were very dangerous drug dealers that covered their front door with "Jesus Loves" stickers in a show of humorous irony, or maybe it was to throw off the cops. i never asked them. but Ages was always the center of the party. everybody loved him and he had somehow managed to parle' himself into one of the best private schools in the city where he was very popular. he was a football and baseball star. he was also unbelievable funny and always down for adventure. to this day, i find that my friends and i still quote him regularly. unfortunately his awesome sense of humor wasn't universally appreciated by the uptight asshole teachers of Fieldston High School as much as, say, my sense of humor was. of course MY parents paid thousands of dollars in tuition so tolerating my miscreant behavior became simple economics. Where he got fucked out of a diploma and ended up disappearing off the map somewhere near San Jose, i was allowed to graduate. it's really very very sad.
Ages and I on 181st street in front of a burning van. circa 19 years ago.
Cosmos was also not very well off either and he lived in subsidized housing in hell's kitchen. He was the child of Algerian parents, spoke 5 languages and was basically too smart for his own good. He ended up in trouble simply by making people feel small in comparison. He was one of those guys who spoke of Inner Chi energy and focusing oneself in the universe. Right before lacing on some Doc Martin Steel tip boots and swinging from a street sign to karate kick someone in the head ( that's not a random analogy. it happened). He was the super genius who got dealt a bad hand. His mother moved to Alaska to become a Moony (the cult), and his dad was kind of a loose canon. he was the kind of lunatic that could only come out of the old school...and he came from old school Algeria. I once went to his house in the projects and his dad asked him if he wanted dinner. he said yes, and the next thing i know the guy is yelling and screaming at us in a language i can't even recognize. he then throws a packet of baloney at us before kicking us out. his dad eventually kicked him out for good. roughly around the same time, he was caught with a hit of acid at Horace Mann, kicked out of there, and was suddenly on his own. My mom ended up saving the day by putting him up for a few months and then using her clout as a defense attorney for foster care children to get him into the Kaplan house on St. Marks Place. but thats a whole other story. needless to say, Cosmos was a boy who faced tough odds, but was more then well equipped. he was that flower child who could kick ass and score higher then you ever did on any test. As a matter of fact, Cosmos moved out to oregon and got a masters in brain activity and is currently on his way to London to start a brain related job. it's always good to hear from him.
Self was more or less the leader of the pack most of the time. He was from the upper east-side and before that Governor's island and before that Hawaii. His dad was in the military so he was the one guy in our inner crew who had actually lived outside of NYC. He was also the first one of us to get into Graffiti via an older, very well known writer who managed to pass to Self a lot of skill and technique. Self was by far the most talented writer and artist we had and he raised the bar on us, which i think made us all work harder to get our own art up to a certain level. He was also key in getting us all into skating. By the time we were a writing crew we had already been a skating crew. Everywhere we went was by board, we always had them tucked under our arms or under our feet. It was more then a mode of transportation, it was our lifestyle. We often mixed the two pastimes. skating around taking marker tags was a great way to spend a night..or day. thanks to Self, both of these themes came together in our crew. We weren't thugs, as we liked to think, or as some people ended up thinking of our crew...we were like Self. Artists on wheels. Although I can't leave out one of Self's better talents. He didn't take no kinda shit from nobody. Most of our fights came from that aspect of him. people misread him because he had the look of a nice jewish boy, but the heart of a, um, lion. Now he is living in a great house in LA with a half-pipe in his backyard, which is approved of by his lovely and successful wife and two adorable kids. His artistry is still flowing, only now, like me, he has gone digital. he helped make the Harry Potter films amongst other great films, and now he is making an 3D/2D animated version of the widely known comic Block-Hedz.
Self-One...his backyard in LA...
So these three power houses had left me in a cloud of their smoke and a puddle of the consequential up-chuck.
"yo, where you guys going?!" I yelled as i got up and slipped in the puddle a bit trying to catch up with them.
"Fuck the train, it's not gonna come. let's go through the tunnel to forty doo-wops! We gotta get away from that nastiness" said Ages over his shoulder.
Now, in retrospect, OF COURSE THE TRAIN WOULD COME. just not in the time that we wanted it too. so i nodded in agreement and we walked to the downtown end of the platform. gave a quick look back at the station, saw nobody, and proceeded to enter the darkness. It's the local so we were up against the far wall where there is a foot wide ledge that you can walk along. slowly. if you lose your footing you fall about 5 feet onto dark tracks. there are rats, puddles of sludge, and all sorts of sharp and dangerous nooks and crannies to fuck yourself up on in the pitch blackness. there was also the hum of the third rail below, just waiting to turn one of us into the next Ramo of Beat Street. so we had to use the distant light of the 42nd street station and the occasional dirty light bulb to make out the thin ledge from the dark void.
Every 2 blocks or so there was a small exit to another shaft that seemed to be mostly for workmen. They were also good places to go when trains pass. But the long arduous stretches between them were just ledge. although the wall we were up against wasn't straight. it was a repeating alcove or arch-like indentation that was about 10 feet wide. at its deepest it was about 3 feet and at it's edges the ledge width was a foot. it made it difficult because one second we had enough room to face the direction we were creeping along in, and the next second we had to turn sideways and slip carefully past the outer edge of each alcove. it was hair rasing and slow. and we were...again...on acid. I tried not to freak myself out by looking too long at anything or trying to see into the pitch black at all. i just kept my eyes on Ages' Fieldston Football shirt. It was one of those brightly colored jerseys that had the school orange on it. his number was in bright white and the sleeves were bright white, making it visible in front of me.
It was after about 4-5 blocks that i noticed something changing. we were deep into the tunnel, about half way and i noticed the front side of the tracks getting lighter. then i noticed Ages getting lighter. I turned to see what was doing that and saw it. It was a train. And it was already pulling out of the 50th street station where we came from. the headlights where big and getting bigger. I guess we figured we would here it before it got too close, but we didn't. probably because we were making so much noise ourselves fucking around and joking about what we were doing.
"HOLY SHIT! GET TO THE NEXT EXIT NOW!!" I yelled. I see the flash of 3 sets of eyes look back over my shoulder and suddenly disappear and start moving forward away from me. I chased after them. but it was too late. we couldn't run for fear of bumping on of the alcove sides and falling in and we were too far from the next dimly lit exit. I would say we had a city block to go to get to the next little workmen exit. Cosmos suddenly stopped at the deep part of one of the alcoves of the wall and mushed himself up against it. Ages then flattened next to him and i was last to flatten myself up to the wall. I remember Ages trying to put his arms around the three of us and pushing towards the wall. there was a lot of "Oh Shits" and "Fuck dudes" and "This is crazy" remarks and I remember feeling the filthy concrete all cold and wet against my face. I peeked to my right just in time to see the train barreling down on us. I peeked down at my feet and could tell in the train's headlights that we had about a foot and a half between us and the edge of the ledge. What i was really worried about was the off chance that something was sticking out from the train or if the train's speed and size would create some kind of wind vortex that might pull us into it. I also remember thinking that i wanted my mommy.
The next thing that happened was pretty much unbelievable. The driver must have spotted Ages' bright white sleeves wrapped around Self, Cosmos, and I. The horn sounds really loudly and keeps on blasting as it passes us. the screech of the breaks being pulled and the train whizzing by was incredibly loud. our own screams got completely swallowed up by it, and yes, we were a' screamin'. I would like to take a moment now to mention that this story happened TWICE. everything up to this point was basically the same both times. but the time i am not talking about was graffiti related, and when the train came to a stop and the doors opened two cops came flying out just barely grabbing us before we ran top speed back the other way. You can run much faster when the light from the train is illuminating the ledge and you don't have to worry about falling into the tracks because the train effectively prevents that from happening just by being there.
but back to the acid trip time. this time the train stops, and one lone door opens. a fat face pops out of it and yells "Hey, whada fuck are yuz guys doin' here?! Yuz aint allowed on da tracks! Get inside here!"
We raise our heads and look incredulously at this random conducter and realize that he just wants us to get on the train. "We thought that the train wasn't running and didn't have enough money to go out and walk down to 42nd and then pay again" said Cosmos. smart guy that he was.
The conductor just shakes his head and mumbles that we weren't allowed on the tracks again. We looked at each other, realized that this guy was a bit "slow" and we weren't going to get much trouble from him. so we boarded the train. In the light of the train i got to see that both of my friends were now black like charcoal from the dirt on the walls. we looked like chimney boys from mary poppins. the train doors close behind us and the train starts moving. a minute later we pull into 42nd street and the train comes to a stop halfway in. the conducter steps out and uses his key to open just one door for us. "Dis train is outta suyvice. yuz boys don't do that again..ok?"
we nod at him and step off the train. i remember there were a few people at the stop who seemed very confused about why three filthy boys who clearly didn't work for the MTA got off an empty train half pulled into the station. we had literally just hitched a ride from the conductor.
Monday, July 14, 2008
it was mostly ignored until Guiliani squeezed the life out of the city by cracking down on just about everything.
I think the impact of this is a lot bigger then New Yorkers realize. It's been footloose up in this piece for too long. yay!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
these people used to have the effect of making me feel like i was in a small town, even though the empire state building was looming in the background. it made me feel like an important individual to my huge surroundings, not like i was being swallowed up by it. I was never at all anonymous, as i waved to this person or shouted "YO!" to another. because without those small acknowledgments of recognition, it is a very easy thing to feel surrounded, yet alone.
sometimes it would suddenly occur to me how well i knew some of these people, like Shim See the korean deli guy on 85th street and Columbus. I knew him since i was a kid, and he had given me my first summer job slinging frozen yogurt for $5 an hour. he had also sold me my first 40 ounce. he was , like, a MAJOR person in my life, as were so many other individuals i need to strain to remember.
nowadays, as i walk past the latest Starbucks or Fastfood spot that used to be a small family run Pizzeria, i realize that the loss is larger then just the good Pizza. what we are left with is overpriced coffee, frustrated and over juiced yuppies, no wait for placing an order but a looong wait to GET the order (ever notice that little corporate trick? mcdonalds does that too). Plus these places are staffed by surly impersonal people who clearly don't want anything to do with the customers they ignore every day, and they get replaced like once a week. it's really very sad to think about how much that changes a neighborhood. the mom-and-pop shops full of people who had pride in ownership or in what they did all day. I used to go to a small grocery store run by turkish guys and one of them, Oktay, used to make me guess how much my mom's bill would be. if i was within a dollar i got a free lollipop. try to find that kind of awesomeness in a whole foods and you'll be standing there all day being told to move out the way.
The most shocking aspect about this painful process is it's suddenness. it was like bombs going off randomly making places and the people in them vanish overnight. the LAST deli on Broadway thats within 4 blocks of my house went out of business last month. this means that not only has rising rent managed to knock out BASIC services (like toilet paper and a bagel) to a neighborhood of people, it has also managed to make old friends of mine disappear like thieves in the night. there's never a going away party, a picture opportunity, a chance to say goodbye. you just walk out of your apartment one day, and down the block to the deli like you have for the last few decades, and suddenly you are facing an empty dark abandoned room where your deli used to be. Mohammed and his sons will never again serve me that coffee that was a mere 60 cents and yummier then starbucks. they will never see me all drunk at 3 am jones-ing for a bagel or a chocolate milk and have a laugh about it. they will never sell me the ny times on sunday again. they are just memories now. just like that. poof.
to add insult to injury, i have no doubt that what will end up being there is useless to me. i will be walking another 2 blocks just for TP, and will pass 2-3 starbucks and 7 banks along the way. this gentrification thing goes a little bonkers after a while. at first it's exciting to not duck bullets and crack heads, but when the delis go, and all those neighborhood people that defined the community go with them, what are we left with? bad coffee and a bunch of assholes who have NO idea what used to be there. grrr.
I guess it's hard to realize that what you thought was permanent and a large part of the character of your hometown is in fact, just a phase in a fluid process of change. i always wondered why old people were so grumpy about change. now i am starting to understand. things don't always change for the better. but they inevitably change, especially a big crazy place like New York City. thats the price we pay for such a non static environment.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
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When I was growing up I was an extremely lucky city kid because my mom took me and my sister on great vacations for the whole summer. we had started in Martha's vineyard, then Vermont, and ended up in Tuscany when i was 15. But in the summer of 1985, we were living in a poet's small house on the side of a mountain, overlooking a bay in Ireland. There was plenty of time to just live there, make friends, and get into reading books from the local library. I found an author who shook my world. David Eddings. Before that, and that summer, I had been a fan of science fiction and fantasy fiction mostly, and a morbid fan of religion/Christian based fiction on things like witches and the anti-Christ. the Christian lore was especially tasty that environment. I could walk a mile or two and find an abandoned Abbey that was built eons ago, washed in the red light of the sun setting over the Atlantic. Inhabited only by nettle bushes, cow poop, crows, and the occasional rabbit or cat. Sitting in that place, in the shadow of such a structure, reading about the war of angels and Satan seemed much realer then it would have, if i were reading it in Central Park. My imagination loved to try and grasp worlds far different from my own, but similar to the one i was getting a chance to see, and creatures that were like humans, but more interesting, like immortal Elves.
Photo taken by Krystian Kozerawski
Before that summer, I was also a huge lover of D&D and all things Tolkien. I was reading the Hobbit as i was learning to read, in Vermont, where I could walk into the woods and easily believe i was in middle-earth. these epic tales, that created worlds with maps, are in a lot of ways, still affecting how i dream and sometimes day-dream. I still would love to be able to learn a spell, or get into a battle on a warhorse, armed with a two-handed 6 foot sword enveloped in blue fire. It's a dork's paradise in my head sometimes. one that might feel at home at a Comicon Convention, but oddly, doesn't.
So David Eddings managed to grab my imagination at a perfect time. He created a whole world, with kingdoms that vaguely resemble Earth's historic kingdoms, and intertwined it with a set of holy books that outline a war between gods and religions that end up centering around our child main character. It was a bit soap opera-ish and often formulaic, but the characters were great and the story was epic. He also created a set of physical and "magical" laws, that allowed for a blurring of reality. i.e. magic that could be explained philosophically. I walked around spewing that philosophy all day in my own head. i talked about it to myself, mostly, and my sister who has an equally vast appetite for alternate worlds and possibilities. Questioning the "realness" of what i see around me, or at least the perceived disconnect between my mind and my surroundings. and being more questioning of the mundane, and less questioning of magic, legend, and prophecy. as if the latter might be more valid then the former. I felt in my young heart that there was a good chance that life would get far weirder and more like these stories then what has actually transpired in my real life (I am not a powerful immortal sorcerer, I am an animator). I unfortunately never learned the magic or became a Pawn of Prophecy like i so thought was a possibility back then. Not surprisingly, I then turned to learning how to VISUALIZE magic on tv and film. There's no getting closer to it, in this reality, without being disappointed.
David Edding's main stories revolved around a boy who learns that fate and destiny, and the basic struggle of the universe was based solely on him. who WOULDN'T love that kind of story? especially a boy of about the same age who dared to believe in the possibility that everything might be an illusion and that really he creates everything, or that everything happens because of him. the idea that maybe the earth was created just so he would have SOMETHING TO WALK ON, while he did the deeds that gave the universe it's very reason for happening. just imagine how empowering that is to a kid who isn't even allowed to drive a car, or drink a scotch at the pub in town? It's the kind of narcissism that makes a young mind ecstatic, expanding into the infinite possibilities of the future. I thought i was just some dumb kid with learning disabilities for a while there, now i was learning that i could actually expand into a god.
It was perfect. the boy learns as he gets older that he is the absolute focus of all that is evil, and all that is good, and that his mind is expanding as he is put into danger. he learns that his Will alone can make things happen. very much like it would in a lucid dream, only it was reality. Mr. Eddings is genius in his descriptions of the abilities and how they make an almost real sense in how it works. I started believing that if i just concentrated hard enough that I too would be able to change into a wolf, or eagle, or to call down lightning strikes by just throwing my will at the sky. or be able to morph my own body with the image of a wolf. transposed for a moment as my cells bow to the weight of my sheer thought. he called it "the Will and the Word" and i really thought it could happen. it wasn't an elvish spell that needed to be recited, it wasn't some witches mixture of potions and frog's eyes. it made sense. You bend your consciousness at an object, the force that gives you the strength live and think, and then use a word to communicate to that object, to funnel your thought into the real world and make the thought become reality.
there's a part in the story where Garion, the main character, and of course, the boy i wanted to be, rolls a boulder over. he was a novice, and just practicing his new ability. the rock's weight feels like it is on his body and he feels exhausted like he actually physically lifted the thing. when he manages to fight off the extreme fatigue, he realizes that his body sank into the soft grass under the weight and he was now stuck. his mentor laughs at his mistake and wonders why he never considered the laws of cause and reaction. he needed to exhert force under the rock, AND force down against his own weight against the earth itself. because, logically, the weight goes SOMEWHERE, and logically he ends up taking on the weight himself. it makes sense in a the paradigm we find ourselves in everyday. My physics teacher, Dr. Chuckrow no doubt believes in it too (if you believe in telekenisis in the real world, of course..which he did :)
I did too, sometimes I still do. but then, i felt like i could do it myself. It was kind of a gut feeling or inate suspicion that i had it in me. all it would take was TOTAL CONCENTWATION. So, i spent an hour or so, on the side of that Irish mountain, trying to topple a pile of rocks, and to force the sheep a few yards away, to drop their guard and walk right up to me. I would command the thought, and then utter a word to make it real. I figured if i couldn't do one feat, maybe i could accomplish the other. as if they were different uses of "will" and maybe i had more of a knack with dumb mammals then i did with dumb rocks. I kept on saying "Fall" to the rocks, and "Approach" to the sheep. like a dork. thankfully, i was alone on that hill with the sheep so nobody saw how silly i was.
to my absolute chagrin, I couldn't bring about either results. the rocks remained still, and the sheep got no closer then the 5 or so yards that they always tolerated (they were a lazy bunch of animals, they would allow me to approach to a certain point and then they would move as fast as i would, always teasing and tantalizingly close, but never close enough to touch...something that maddens a boy who considers himself a fast runner, to the point that i must have spent days on those hills trying to just grab one of them...but never succeeding) so to get them to obey my thoughts would have solved a major problem for me at the time. moving the rocks would have been cool, but not as cool as controlling the sheep. either way. my mortal, limited, no "will" having ass, couldn't do any of it. that was a hard pill to swallow. very much like the pill of getting your first job out of college. i thought the world would fall at my 20 year old feet as soon as i told it i was ready. but instead, i had every adult letting me know how much i DIDN'T know, and how much i COULDN'T do...and just how much they weren't going to just fall at my feet. I guess you need to learn how to walk before you can run.
You start out HUGE and endless, then you get struck down to infinitely small. life happens when you decide to go from there. from Infitely small, to bigger then that. that's what "the Will and the Word" taught me.