Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Prettiest Stapler Ever

I got a stapler for Christmas. I really did.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Multi Level Marketing and The Juicemaster 3000

My Dad was an optimist. In the mid-nineties, he bought a Juicemaster. The Juicemaster 3000, an improvement on its predecessor, had seven special features including a pulping mechanism. On the limited counter space in our apartment kitchen, it took up a position of influence – the can opener was relocated above the refrigerator so that the Juicemaster could have full time access to the electrical socket.

To compliment the juicer, my Dad hung a three-tired copper fruit basket and filled it with produce – celery and carrots, pound bags of apples and oranges, and the occasional kiwi or pear depending on what was on sale at the Osco. He also tried growing wheatgrass on the kitchen sill, but it never looked better than a lawn in midwinter.

The Juicemaster was part of a Lazarus like effort to shed the skein of a series of entry-level sales positions that my Dad, at 48, felt were beneath him. He had over the years sold advertising for a local newspaper, sold carpets, sold cars, sold computers, sold medical supplies hospital to hospital, delivered daily papers and telephone books and represented oil paintings at art fairs in hotel convention rooms where tracksuited Midwestern couples went in search of pastoral scenes for the downstairs bath.

He couldn't afford the long dreamed of Jaguar in British racing green, the sailboat, or the American promise of owning his own home. Car insurance for the recently repossessed Ford Taurus was a stretch. He was a single father. He had few friends. The plan: to juice our way to a better life.

Good living through homemade juice was to be symbolic of a greater shift in our condition. Healthy people juiced. Happy people juiced. Successful entrepreneurs juiced. And juicing along side my Dad (someday) would be an appreciative and supportive wife (blonde and over 5’6”) and a daughter who would stay eleven forever.

His optimism hit its zenith in the summer of 1996, my freshman year in high school, when my Dad discovered the concept of No Money Down, which arrived in the midst of his revelation on multi-level marketing (also known as the pyramid scheme). Catalyzed by the elevated levels of Vitamin C coursing through his veins, my Dad sent away for a brochure promising that he could make hundreds of thousands just by sitting in front of his computer (which was ideal at this point because we didn’t have a car).

People think get rich quick schemes are for folks that want the easy way out. People who refuse to do the work the rest of us are resigned to. And if this is the case, I have never seen my Dad work so hard at not working. My Dad took the longest, slowest road to getting rich quick.

His favorite phrase around this time was, ‘you’ve got to spend money to make money.’ Five hundred dollars off a credit card for the brochure and first round of supplies to start a home business selling Excel phone service (a deal at 7 cents a minute). Another few hundred dollars for a fax machine and an extra telephone line.

Excel was the second choice for a home business. The first, selling Pollen Burst, a powdered health drink endorsed by Lorenzo Lamas to GNC types stores and gyms, was abandoned when my Dad discovered that after the initial sample, he had to purchase supplies in expensive bulk orders. On the upside, my Dad had a brief but ego building email exchange with Lamas himself in which they discussed old movies and Shotokan Karate. The hundreds of unsold powder packets went into the closet with the undelivered phonebooks, pipet machines from the hospital sales job, and carpet samples (great for the dollhouse we were building together).

The Excel plan seemed god-sent. Every man could be, myopically, at the top of his own pyramid. It was the American Dream writ accessible. With low start up costs and a one time only fee, a man could be the owner of his own business, the arbiter of his hours, the master of his soul.

The idea behind Excel was to recruit a sales force to work under you. From every man he recruited who sold an Excel plan (either to an actual phone customer or to another hopeful salesperson), my Dad would get a percentage. And as his sales reps recruited their own sales reps, he would get a cut of those sales too, and so on down the pyramid. My Dad could continue to sell Excel plans himself, or he could simply sit back and count the commissions coming in from his army.

My Dad worked very hard at this. He spent night and day on the phone. I was the first of his sales reps. When not hostessing at Lone Star I spent two hours after school cold calling. It’s a good thing we had Excel phone service at 7 cents a minute or our phone bill would have excelled our earnings. We photocopied, stapled, enveloped, stamped, bought phone number lists, called, cajoled, encouraged our nebulous pyramid sales force, all the time slurping carrot-apple juice and checking the mail box for the dollars that were supposed to be pouring in. Instead of girlscout cookies I hawked Excel service to the secretaries in the principal’s office.

The kitchen table was covered with the white plastic sales binders we had to assemble with the information for the troops. It was okay, because most of the time we ate in front of the television supplementing my formal education with a course in the history of my dad’s favorite cinema. He had over five hundred movies he recorded off cable, from Citizen Kane to Citizen Ruth. He cooked barbeque chicken for dinner and we juiced and for desert there were Klondike bars or Little Debbies. We bought a few new things in anticipation of the avalanche-like payload he expected.

I accepted the new clothes he wanted to buy me, and I watched him sign the credit card slip with a smile and his not so palliative 'I wouldn't spend it if we didn't have it,' or ‘it’s only money.’ I knew there was no such thing as a get rich quick scheme. No easy way out of this mess. No easy. Didn't he know this too? I could never understand. Did desperation make one desperately optimistic?

Very few Excel plans were sold to individuals wanting to change their phone service, and the bulk to men like my father who saw this as their chance to sprint to top of the pyramid. For my Dad, the smokescreen of having his own business fed a powerful need.

I don’t think it’s outdated to say that a man’s self-esteem is related in some part to his autonomy. America was borne on the spirit of self-determination and my Dad was weaned on a regular diet of Hollywood fantasy. A baby boomer, a Haight-Ashbury hippie, a Peace Core volunteer, Vietnam avoider, a college educated son of a self-made man, he has one of the toughest STDs to cure. It was going around heavy in the boys of his generation. It’s the Supposed To Disease, the Disease of the American Dream.

My Dad rebelled against and then coveted what his father had, what he saw in James Dean movies, what he thought others had that he didn’t. With his artistic personality and congenital lack of contentment, the STD rippled and metastasized.

Symptomatic of the Supposed To Disease is an incessant interior voice that feds the sufferer a stream of competing half-truths. For my Dad, I’m guessing it sounds something like this: Real men answer only to themselves, real men have careers, real men make the decisions, real men are materialistically successful, success is supposed to look like this, real men have families, real men own houses, real men have stock portfolios, real men wear suits, at fifty years old you’re supposed have this, a father is supposed to do that, a husband is supposed to be this. 

In the absence of the unqualified achievement of these things, this voice eats away at the self-esteem and can, in the worst cases, lead to depression and complete paralysis.

I met a lot of men like my Dad during those years, his sales reps, whom he would charm on the phone and bring to our home to hard sell and discuss strategy. They huddled together in deep concentration on the pink Rent-A-Center couches my Dad let me pick out; fired or frequently out of work, beleaguered by debt and family responsibilities, too old to be hired by companies looking for cheap fresh starters they could train, men who felt entitled to, and went through their lives always looking for something better.

These sessions were part business, part therapy, but no one stayed on as friends. The three tiered copper fruit basket become a home for unopened bills in descending order of final notice.

I have nostalgia for the mid-nineties and the desperate optimism my Dad must have had, his misdirected energy. I miss the man who thought he could juice his way to a better life. There is something sweetly heartbreaking and endearing in that.

My feeling is that the culture has not significantly changed, not for men, or for women who experience their version of the Supposed To Disease. A friend recently told me he thought he was supposed to move to New York, because that’s where you’re supposed to be if you’re artistic, ambitious, if you want to have a career, if you want to succeed. Once he got there, he was wise enough to realize that Supposed Tos are powerful myths, and success is idiosyncratic. For those who can’t see it, this is a sad defeat, returning home, changing courses. For the ones who figure it out, silencing the Supposed Tos helps a person listen more closely to what they really need.

I’d like to lift my glass in a toast. To carrot juice and a clean slate. I want a round to the end of Supposed Tos. And a cheer for the soldiers of the pyramid scheme.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Conversations from the Holy Land: Jesus was a Hunk

Break for a conversation:

At an art gallery in Jerusalem, I am captivated by a statue of Jesus wrought in jagged, black metal. It’s an angry Jesus, frustrated, his eyes, lids heavy with disappointment. And resignation, he will always know too much, be haunted by his prescience, misunderstood by those who claim to be his friends.

Next to me, gazing at the sculpture, is a pretty girl, a bit younger than I am – maybe 18. She looks as if she's in a quandary. Biting her lip, deep in thought. She turns to me, and asks tentatively if I am Jewish.

We chat. She is here with a youth group, I tell her a little about my trip. And when I confirm that I am Jewish, she asks,

“What does the Jewish god look like?”

I take this to be a serious theological question.
“Well, Genesis says that God made humankind in his image. So that could be mean that there’s a god that looks very much like you or I somewhere, or you could take that to mean something more symbolic – in his image, like with his complexity, or with his ability to create,” – I’m riffing with my limited knowledge.

“Jesus was a hunk,” she says.

In her hand is a post-card of a blonde, beatific Jesus that she seems to be comparing to the more slender, Sephardic-faced interpretation in the gallery. In her post-card, Jesus is rather athletic looking beneath his loose white robe. Very quarterback-esque. I have not seen anyone who looks quite like that Jesus around here.

“Jesus was probably not a hunk, I say with holy condescension. Jesus was probably starving and really skinny.”
“He wasn’t starving, he had a big meal at the last supper. And people gave him food all the time when he was walking around preaching and suntanned. He had to have been good looking to get such a following. At first, you know before they realized he had something important to say. At first he was just good looking. Like Ronald Reagan.”
“I don’t know,” I counter, “The Jewish people are into this guy the Messiach now, and he is definitely not a stud."
“But the Jewish people didn’t follow Jesus. Maybe they only follow ugly people.”
“Yes, I say, maybe they killed Jesus because they were jealous of his good looks.”
“The Jews are a jealous people,” she says, “always wanting what others have – just look at Israel.”

Repelled and delighted, I want to take this girl with me on my travels, in order to have the constant benefit of her insight.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Scaredy Cat Lost in the Holy Land, Part One

The Muslim Quarter of Old Jerusalem. I’d been told not to go. The Israeli’s that I talked to eschewed the area, exercising a long-cultivated mistrust of the people there. It was implied that I wouldn’t be welcome, that it was dangerous, and already I was developing a tickling fear, the spoiling bias of us and them.

The Damascus Gate, the entrance to the Muslim Quarter, is a maw of stone. But there is little to fear in the currency exchange booth that stands center. Nor in the stalls of cheap belts, cell phones, and men’s underwear and or even in the corridor packed, sweaty and dim. If you have money to spend, then you’re welcome. The danger, as I discovered, is artful, woven into the price of the rugs and disguised by the ingratiating smiles of the weary locals.

It would be misleading not to adopt the Israeli terminology – Arab (which here includes those merchants in the Muslim quarter of Old Jerusalem and in the Arab-Israeli cities of Bethany, or in Bethlehem, Jericho, Nabulus or Ramallah in the West Bank). It’s important not to mask the distinction with political correctness – as I came to understand for both Israelis and Arab-Israelis, this word is a checkpoint to prejudice on both sides.

The labyrinth of Old Jerusalem forks and twists, tightening its tendril alleys around innocent visitors. The market corridors are breathless spaces, spilling over with quotidian goods for the locals packed into the apartments above, and cheap tourist trinkets that vary little from stall to stall. Most shops are many-denominational in their wares – chintzy crucifixes, and tallith that hang from the walls with the rugs. Merchants are quick to gauge your persuasion and hock accordingly. Hookahs crowd the floors, ones as tall as my shoulder, copper tea and coffee sets are polished raw, and strange papery dresses hang stiffly from the ceiling, shifting in the rare breeze.

For awhile, I stood to the side, watching women and their young daughters scour through piles of headscarves, children’s backpacks and racks of the all-covering smock-like coats, popular among the observant. While I never saw a female merchant, the women were not shy about interacting with men. Shaking the goods in the shopkeepers’ faces, flinging them down with distaste, stomping off, scowling back.

Not what I expected. A mall. Next to the prison where Jesus was kept. A mall stretching to the Kotel, surrounding the Dome of the Rock, the monasteries, and yeshivas, and ancient mosques – this holy place. Where desperate supplicants plead for help, and the devout prostrate themselves on the rocks where Jesus bled. This is no cathedral. No hollow, muffled place where people trip along the edges hesitant and attentive, make their peace and go. People live here, loudly in all the mess and meanness of survival. Reverence when you find it is frenzied and raw. And yet, beyond the malls, tucked into the quiet, residential alleys are schools and daycares and hidden places of worship. I could turn a corner and find myself in an empty stone alley echoing with the call to prayer.

Someone could loose their sanity here, I think.

Lonely Planet in hand, it's my goal to follow the Six Stations of the Cross – the path Jesus took to his crucifixion – later dramatized with glee to a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber in Norman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar, which I watched in preparation for this trip. The monks trudge this path on their knees every Friday and I had gotten up early to follow them but, it turns out I was actually there on a Sunday and this is where the confusion began. I had misplaced two days in the timeless limbo of traveling.

He was standing under one of the few street signs marking the Villa De La Rosa, sweating in the shade. There was nothing interesting about him. No warning signs. A clean polo shirt and jeans – tourist friendly apparel - a professional. Later I would know to look for the security badges that mark the official guides – he didn’t have one.

“Girl! Pretty girl! Miss! Looking for the Stations of the Cross! Miss!” It only takes a moment’s hesitation, a pause in your step, an instant of accidental eye contact, a sigh. Then they’re on you. Merchants and would be tour guides, anyone out for a dime, they have honed the skill of reading weakness. They are practiced tradesmen. I don’t just say this poetically, these guys have it figured out.

“I can see you are lost, why you ignore me?” he demands, “I can help.”
“I uh.”
“No it’s fine. I will take you to the Stations, you want to see, yes?”
“We just go up there.” He points into a mess of people, in the direction I just came. “Stations impossible to find. No signs, this place.”
This lack of signage I have discovered for myself.
“No, that’s okay, I, uh.”
“I am the guide for the fifth station. Here.”
He notices my hesitation.
“Three men you know. American. Pass by me. Yesterday. I call out to them, they ignore me. I see them walk in a circle, once, twice. Three times they walk in circle. I say again, hello, can I help? I just try to help. I just try to help. Finally the men stop. They are hot, they are so hot and lost. I say, why you ignore me, three times you go by, I call you. I want to help. They say, we thought you want money. I hate hear about money! Always about money. I say no. I want to help. You hurt my heart, you ignore me, I say. And the men say, no I sorry, I didn’t mean to. I say, is it because I am Arab? They say no, no. But it’s too late. My heart is hurt. They think all about is money. I tell them, has nothing to do with money. I want to help, I say, you lost, I want to help. I live here. This is my city. So I show them around, beautiful things. But why they ignored me? Why, why is this? You need help. I help. I show you the six stations, come, come it will be easier.”
I didn’t want to be prejudiced. I didn’t want to be one of them. And so on behalf of all liberal Americans and exhausted tourists, I went.

To be continued...


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Scaredy Cat On the Loose in the West Bank

The Old City Jerusalem is a maze of market stalls, its labriynth corridors winding in a dizzying route made even more bewildering in the pentrating heat. In the dense heart of the Muslim quarter a tourist can become disoriented then consumed. It was in this state, only just passed through the Damascus Gate (and feeling rather intrepid) that I hestitantly accepted the hospitality of a Palestinan gentleman guide who was lounging in the shade afront the 5th station of the Cross. Having failed to find stations 1 - 4 on my self guided tour I was, I guess, easily persuaded by Victor's seemingly benign offer to lead me back to the stations I'd missed. How I ended up nearly penniless in Ramallah is still somewhat of a blur to me.

Stay tuned to see if S.C. can traverse the several remaining checkpoints safely back to the Holy Land.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Steal a Wallet, Buy A Donut

After my wallet was stolen from the Farmer’s Market in Tompkins Square, I found a Visa charge that the thief slipped in before I could cancel the card: $3.85 Dunkin Donuts.

It was one of those teasingly hot days in early spring and I was thinking ahead to the joys of what I considered My New York summer: dollar gelato in Carroll Gardens, trapeze lessons on Chelsea Pier, movies in Bryant Park and naked homeless in Tompkins Square, odd pets, methadone freaks, junk fairs and fresh fish at 4am and Puerto Rican men with boom boxes tied to their bicycles and lusty humid nights where I could try every bar because its warm enough to walk and the strawberry smoke from hidden hookah gardens tints the glossy eyes of thin, beautiful women. In New York, for those three disgustingly hot months, there is love and sex and sweat and food everywhere, except in my apartment where usually there is only sweat.

After four years in the East Village, I felt I had the city down. I’d learned some tricks. Recycling: windows can be washed with dollar store Windex and last week’s Village Voice without the carbon leaving streaks. Old issues of The New Yorker are good for a single girl to stack into a step stool for hanging artwork salvaged from the trash next door, but the New Yorkers have to be closed because the political articles are like quicksand. Nature: Roaches come in many sizes and keep running even after you’ve saturated them and everything in their path with Raid. Socializing: If you accidentally make eye contact with the older man who’s chuckling to himself at the coffee shop, he will want to talk to you.

So when I walked out of my little studio on 3rd and A that morning, I was feeling pretty good about my status as a New Yorker. Only a week before, my favorite dinner reopened as a cellular phone store, so I considered myself practically a native.

As a recent college graduate from NYU, and a former midwestern Kroger’s and Osco shopper, my ritual Sundays at the neighborhood farmer’s market made me feel citified and self-sufficient. “Look, that girl carries her own canvas bag, and knows how to choose a ripe cantaloupe.” And there I was, my eyes shut in a moment of serious melon sniffing, my canvas bag wide open on the table beside me. When I’d finally chosen, and was juggling the fruit, a basket of organic cherry tomatoes and an apple juice, I reached into the bag for my wallet. I wonder if the thief was watching at the moment my face fell along with my confidence? Could he see the vulnerability take its place?

I skulked through the stalls hoping to catch the villian using my wallet. I pictured a badass in dark glasses with a handlebar mustache lurking near the potted ferns – waiting for me, his perfect target, a young woman obliviously ensconced in her New York City dream. The only person with a handlebar mustache I saw was a hipster guy with his girlfriend. He was also wearing a pink leather holster.

On Monday, the charge at Dunkin Donuts showed up on my account. The day before, I felt violated and enraged. The culprit made off with my new wallet (the only souvenir from my first trip abroad, to Italy, where I was not pick-pocketed once) and $60.00, more money than I usually carry, as the Farmer’s Market is cash only. Confronted by this singular, measly levy, I felt only pity for the very poor soul, so hungry that he went to the nearest fast food joint that takes credit cards to get this tiny, sugary pittance. An adult Oliver. This seemed a very sad thing; a wallet was stolen and a hungry person got a donut.

I feel for the thief who uses a stolen credit card to buy $3.85 worth of breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. Why not get the bakers dozen for an even $5.00? Why not try an organic apple right there at the market? I wondered what kind of donut the thief chose, and was there coffee too, perhaps with extra sugar. Did he get decaf? Unlikely.

To reassert myself as a savvy New Yorker, I sauntered over to the Dunkin Donuts to check out the scene. I was familiar with the garbage can on the corner in front of the store and was optimistic that the thief took the money and credit card but tossed the wallet in that trashcan. I'd already checked the ones around the crime scene.

The trashcan was daunting; overflowing and there were flies. The late afternoon sun was blazing. First Avenue was crowded. I stared into the can, but if my wallet were in there, it would be buried deep because the charge was made the day before. I stared so hard at that garbage as I considered my options that a young man stopped behind me to stare as well. I call this the New York domino effect.

"I think my wallet's in there," I explained.
"Why?" he said.
Would my reasoning sound as clever to someone else? I told him the whole story, hoping this curious stranger would help me dig through the trash.
"Huh," he said. "Goodluck." And walked away.

Bracing myself for something that would definitely be gross and probably futile, I donned the winter gloves that I'd brought and started digging.

I am sorry to say, I did not get very far. I barely skimmed the top. I had nowhere to put the trash once I’d taken it out and it was piling up conspicuously around me. Some things were drippy. The knit gloves were destroyed. I couldn’t go any farther with the plan, and felt unjustly defeated by the thief and the trash bin at Sixth Street and First Avenue.

As a last ditch effort, I stormed the Dunkin Donuts counter hoping the thief had, with a little nourishment, found the error of his ways and given the wallet to lost and found. The young woman at the counter said no, but was happy to call the clerk from the previous morning. She asked, was I sure I left it there?

I launched into the story again, the wallet stolen from the farmer's market and the charge from that particular Dunkin Donuts. She was incredulous that the thief would use a stolen credit for a $3.85 breakfast.

"It almost makes you want to pity the person," I sniffed.

"Nah," she said, "Dude probably just came here first to see if it worked before he went to Circuit City."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Heat and Jesus

Today I am a coffee shop philanthropist, donating my dollars to the continuation of bad local art and strong coffee that comes in white dime store mugs. For my money I get motorcycle exhaust, skateboards and panhandlers. On my feet, one of two new pairs of shoes from the flea market, a brand new, pre-used, me.

The East Village streets are empty, but the parks have become campgrounds for dredlocked lovers and the air has a hint of ash and mj. The summer belongs to the real New Yorkers. The ones that can't or don't want to leave the city. The ones that are satisfied to sweat. The summer sufferers get New York's real Gambian Gold; dollar gelato in the Italian neighborhoods in Brooklyn, trapeze lessons on the west side pier, out door movies and naked homeless, odd pets, methadone freaks, junk fairs and fresh fish at 4am and music and Puerto Ricans and lusty humid nights where you can try every bar cause its warm enough to walk and the strawberry smoke from hidden hookah gardens tints the glossy eyes of thin, beautiful women. The subways under the ice-cold movie theatres make the seats vibrate. Standing on first avenue you can see up and down the entire city. There is love and sex and sweat and food everywhere, except in my apartment where there is only sweat.

A white pigeon waddled into a café. It took a stroll around, studied the dessert case, checked out the scene and finding it lacking, strolled out with the haughty indifference of any East Villager.

The pigeon came back later; it couldn't find any place better I guess. It spent a little time at each table, picking up crumbs and gossip, clearly a busy body and a moocher. Since it was a nonpaying customer, the management eventually picked it up and escorted it out.

Lots of Christians visit New York in the summer. It's on the missionary route, like Sodom. Next stop Manhattan. They come with their gray, Champion tee-shirts, their Umbros and high-waisted khakis, blonde hair in soccer mom bobs, huge smiles. I watched a group set up a play area at the park for the local kids. I just knew they weren't from New York. They were too…happy. And it occurred to me, they must be Christian and Christians from out of town no less, because I'm not sure even New York Christians are as happy as Midwestern Christians. Maybe New Yorkers are just unhappy, but more likely they are unhappy because they are heathens. I have never considered New Yorkers to be a depressed people, but compared to these radiating, middle state Christians, we all look like we should be on wilbrutran.

All the Christians I meet are happy. I met some in line for a Broadway show, the woman's son had just been in a devastating car accident and was terribly maimed, her mother was an out of work, alcoholic, diabetic with no legs, but God saved her, and they're all totally thrilled. My cousins in Iowa, the kindest people you could meet, Born Again Christians and they're happy, and so nice even to Jews and gay people who they think are going to hell.

This group in the park, it turns out, were from Atlanta. They had pizza and were handing out tracts and had organized games. The local kids, mostly Blacks and Hispanics, really participated and enjoyed themselves. So here they were proselytizing, but also feeding kids and showing them a good time. I did wonder if the soccer moms, behind their sincerity and smiles, looked down at the ethnic city mothers with thongs peeping half moon-like from their low riders. Christians might be happy, but they don't wear thongs. Ah! Maybe that's why they're so happy.

So I see all these happy Christians, most of the Christians I meet, all of them radiantly happy, that I've started to wonder if maybe Jesus really is behind it all. Does accepting Jesus as your personal savior make you a happier person? Is that what this is all about? Do they know something I don't? It's not impossible. A friend who was once a bible thumper told me that Jesus, or rather the way he played out in her youth groups and bible study, gave her low self esteem and a nagging sense that she was supposed to be happy but wasn't. She's an atheist now so maybe she hadn't really accepted Jesus whole-heartedly after all. She wasn't a true believer, and that's why she wasn't happy. I have considered converting. I would have to get my teeth whitened if I'm going to start smiling like they do. With this new Christian pop, even the music is not so horribly bad.

But I think these Christians are happy not because of Jesus, but because they are blonde. Something in that blonde beingess, that celestial Midwestern blondness makes them happier. They made Jesus blonde, all the angles are blonde (ever seen a red head angel, even brunette angels are very rare). Who came up with the phrase "blondes have more fun"? Jesus did. It's in the New Testament. Maybe I don't have to convert to Christianity to be impossibly happy, I just have to convert to Clairol.

Also, I think this idea of Jesus as your "personal savior" sounds very 1990's. Has that always been the company line? It's so me-oriented. Personal Savior, Personal Trainer, Personal Dietician. Who is Jesus in the 2000s? Does he mind that I'm paying too much for rent? Who is he kidding with that 'I died for your sins?' There are men and women dying in Iraq all the time for our sins. Do you think Jesus would get his long golden locks Japanese straightened like I have? Would Jesus spare a dime, or a cigarette for those homeless by choice kids in Thompkins Park? Wouldn't he know better?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Disaster Film Live

When a pipe exploded in New York City’s midtown, sending a national park sized scalding geyser of steam, rusted silt and rocks hundreds of feet into air, trains below Grand Central station sped past the 42nd street stop, and the shuttle between Central and Times Square halted mid-ride and back peddled to where it came. Passengers were herded out in an emergency evacuation.

On the crowded subway platforms people were panicked. Even the businessmen looked harried and uncertain. Mothers frantically tugged at their children. There was no information, just a tired, nervous, stampede.

Outside the station, steam billowed into the sky like smoke and people burst into tears at the sight of it. On their commute only moments earlier, passengers flipped through AM New York where an article discussed the government analysis that the threat of terror is higher now then ever. When trains jerked in unplanned stops and passengers rushed out to find a column of steam skyscraper high, there could be no other conclusion - the terrorists had struck.

So much so is terrorism in the public zeitgeist that young adult books these days discuss dirty bombs, nuclear bombs, suicide bombs – publishers must consider these relevant topics for a demographic coming of age Post 9/11. A few years ago, I was struck by an art exhibit that showed the crayon drawings of children in Palestinian refugee camps – stick figures with guns, clouds of smoke – that was their playground - and it surprised me that children could intuit so much. Even in the states, where the daily threat is considerably less severe, children are not left unaware.

A.O. Scott’s review of the frothy Hairspray remake, suggests that the triumph of youth culture, the optimistic, belief that the future will improve on the present, is possibly outdated. What do you think, do we really no longer believe that the future will be a better place – or are we just passing through a morbid phase like sixteen year old goths?

And let me just freaky is it that you could be walking along and the street would erupt beneath you - more grist for the diaster film genre.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Politics in the year 2032

From Buffoon to Bureaucrat, looking back to the MySpace years.

High school Model United Nations students and college poly-sci majors scurrying importantly to and fro their Capital Hill internships, will retreat to their dorms this weekend to upload pics of themselves naked, lock-jawed faces rigid with ecstasy, you tubing what will next Monday seem like subversively funny sketch comedy but may in twenty years ruin their run for public office. Or will it?

One might imagine that as less and less is private, the standards of propriety we hold for our public officials will have to come down. Already we’ve got Obama, the hipster’s Kennedy, hoping that his coke and marijuana days, ‘yes I inhaled, that was kind of the point,” reaches young voters who are at this minute doping, uploading, and bemoaning Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

On the flip side, we might in the near future have a bevy of candidates too boring and prurient to have considered posting a lewd joke, who’s pals never hired them a hooker, and to whom 'going down' means a drop in the polls. Should possible candidates, now in grade school, start restricting their Internet shenanigans? Then again, the candidates for the coming election are jumping off the wagon to admit they were once users of illegal substances. Does the public want a candidate, smarter, tougher, classier, more ethical than we or is it okay to vote for that guy who video tapes himself stun-gunning his friends on you tube? He’s sort of funny.

Also interesting – While there are thousands of intelligent, dedicated soldiers in the armed forces, it’s widely known that to a large degree, the army draws its ranks from young men and women serving in lieu of being able to afford higher education, kids desperate to flee poor home situations and returning from extended tours in greater and greater trauma. Will military service be a point gainer in future elections, and what kind of candidates can we expect to come out of today’s war – the exhausted, oft demoralized forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the WWIII that is hot on our heels?

This is all assuming the Mayan prophesy of Apocalypse of 2012 - much disscussed on the radio show Coast to Coast AM with George Noory and in the New York Times Magazine's fabulous feature 'Final Days'- doesn't end the world or destroy the Internet. Disaster scenarios for 2012, include hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions caused by solar storms, cracks forming in the earth’s magnetic field and mass extinctions brought on by nuclear winter.

However, José Arguelles organizer of the Harmonic Convergence in 1992 and the author of a number of esoteric books about the Mayan cosmos believes that: “The post-2012 world will be a world of universal telepathy.” In 1993, he claims to have received a new prophecy in Hawaii, and has been calling himself Valum Votan, Closer of the Cycle. “We’ll be literally living in a new time,” Arguelles said, “by a 13-month, 28-day synchronometer that will facilitate our telepathy by keeping us in harmony with everything all the time. There will be a lot fewer of us, with simple lifestyles, solar technology, garden culture and lots of telepathic communication.”

As for the many who “have not evolved spiritually enough to know that there are other dimensions of reality,” Arguelles predicts they will be taken away in “silver ships.”


I wonder if telepathy will be better than You Tube.

Scaredy Cat

Friday, June 22, 2007


My friendly neighborhood pharmacy, a locally owned establishment notable for its vaguely pervy seasonal window displays - most recently, a summer desert panorama with a dehydrated manikin languishing bound in several velcroed muscle restraints (a back brace, pelvis/jock strap, ace bandages and an arm sling), with a case of bottled water sadistically out of reach – has on this same window put an ad for ANTI-NUCLEAR RADIATION PILLS. And like the creeping eyes of a family portrait, the ad’s block letters, ghostly gray against a black background – follow me even as I’ve passed it by.

There is something Total Recall to me about this sign. I get a similar hunch about subway ads for conserving energy and directions for emergency evacuation, and envision a time in the near future when Ms. Subway beams at us from video billboards instructing passersby on how to don their hazmat suits on ozone free days, and the group shower hours for when we’ve used up most of our water.

To make sure the Anti-Nuke Pill ad wasn’t for portable chemo therapy or camping equipment, I did a little radiation research on the Web- an article in the New York Times from 2004 commented on The 2002 Bioterrorism Act requiring a study by scientists on how to store and distribute these pills, of potassium iodide, a drug that protects against the radioactive iodine, which would flow from ground zero in the event of nuclear attack and was the largest problem in the fallout from Chernobyl. YES. NUKE PILLS DO EXIST.

This led to the site where many Americans (1200 a day according to the site) are learning all about anti-radiation pills and the sources to buy them on the Internet. The site is run by a gentleman named Shane – and don’t we need more good Samaritans like him? Thank you Shane. Shane and his colleagues offer several helpful, practical guides to surviving nuclear annihilation including an article (written by Shane) titled: “THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT NUCLEAR DESTRUCTION!” And the free nuke prep primer: "WHAT TO DO IF NUCLEAR DISASTER IS IMMIENENT!”

I have studied the nuke prep primer and taken it to heart (and you should too) and am considering cleaning out the unused Nair hair removal kits (speaking of radiation, this Nair stuff is suppose to melt or otherwise make your leg hair fall out?!) and the accumulation of cheap makeup (bought with such great hope for its transformative powers) from the cupboard under my bathroom sink, in order that I may use this space for storage of supplies from the Nuclear Shelter Suggested Product List. Shane insists that, yes we can survive nuclear attack, with the right prep work and supplies.

Am also considering purchase of: NukAlert™ - In January of 2003, Shane and the folks at site ki4u introduced at the National Health Physics Society Annual Convention their new product, the NukAlert™. A patented, matchbox sized, key-chain attachable, personal radiation monitoring and alarming device. With a ten year battery warranty!! This handy high-tech widget will beep when it detects evidence of a nuclear explosion – just in case the user isn’t tipped off by the collapse of buildings, ball of fire, blast beam, dead people, etc. - Don’t be left out in the cold – ahem, I mean nuclear winter.

The nation was run by alarmists after 9/11, helpful, small-pupiled, camo-wearing neighbors selling duct tape and self-foaming lather by the crate to anxious New York apartmentites and ex-Navy Seal fathers of Texas high school football heroes (I believe, if you’re interested, you can also pick up a shield to protect your family's personal space from crazed refugees fleeing on the Staten Island Ferry) - but many of us consider ourselves too smart to be drawn in and too resigned to what-will-be-will-be.

Yet, the government has deemed, if not the NukAlert, than the radiation pills at least, a good idea - a veritable sanction for people like me to get crazy scared. Recently up in the Whitehouse, Bush and his advisors shot the shit over whether, like Encyclopedia Brown retracing his steps for a clue, the FBI would be able to figure out, after NY has been blown off the map, who sold uranium to the folks that hit the red button.

Governments world wide stockpiling the anti-nuke pills apparently include, Japan, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Sweden, and Russia – though not the US - which is only purchasing the pills for high-ranking military personnel and some really excellent strippers.

Health officials warn that taking the pill may cause other problems...Yet I am drawn to that sign at the pharmacy and the DYI S and M manikin in the window. At 20 cents a pop, what are a few anti-radiation pills among friends? If you need some, I’ll be in my bath tub, under the mattress, my NukAlert beeping, popping radiation pills with condensed milk, while everyone else has moved to Alaska and gone back to worrying about America’s next top model.

Do you secretly harbor the urge to stockpile? Have you warned your friends to get their emergency evacuation kit ready? Considering a move to Scottsdale, Arizona, America’s second safest city according to a Forbes guide. Do you think we have a false sense of security, or the opposite – are we a nation crying wolf, henny penny with a reinforced steel umbrella?

Let me know if I should pick you up some pills. I also hear Valium's good and there are certain kinds of Hawaiian pot that can really take the edge off a nuclear attack.

Scaredy Cat

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fear Fashion

My pitch for the next trendsetting glossy mag: Its Vogue meets the Koran, Esquire and GQ do Islamabad. Don’t know what to wear to a cave soiree, confused by kaffiyehs, the best burka for your buck, get ready for: Terrorist Chic, for the fashion martyr martyr.

Years ago, when a high school peer of mine was asked by our history teacher why she wore a hijab, the traditional Islamic headwrap – because it must be so hot in the humid Chicago summer – her reply was certain: Not so hot as the fires of hell. This girl is obviously not a terrorist, nor are wearers of modest Islamic garb, and we understand the virgins promised to martyrs are metaphors for the ineffable joys of the afterlife. But it all got me thinking…as did those hip pomo gorilla style Bid Laden and decapitation videos, who did they get to direct? I have some Indie pitches I'm shopping around.

Premiere Issue articles include:

Killer Accessories:
Strap on bombs. These belts will hold anything in place. Cummerbunds for the most most cumbersome DYI ball bearing explosive. Leather and pleather with plastic buckles, won’t set off metal detectors.

Centerfold Fashion Spread 1:
The roomiest burkas for hiding bombs. Breathable fabric and a variety of colors so your big bang can be beautiful.

Article 1:
The Jihad Jam: Our resident DJ gives you these explosive tracks to get you in the mood to detonate.
Chart toppers:
The Rocky Theme Song
The Best of the Koran, Chants Disc 1
Borat Throw The Jew Down The Well

Quiz: What Kind of Martyr Are You?
A) Your wife made you do it.
B) Your best friend killed more Jews than you.
C) You want peace and prosperity for all.
D) Did someone say virgins?

Sex Advice Column:
The best positions to make love to your many virgins.
How to keep your energy up:
Don’t worry about wearing yourself out in the afterlife. l-Suyuti (died 1505 ), Koranic commentator and polymath, tells us that “The penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one will marry seventy houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas."

More to come…

I offer Terrorist Chic, as a corollary to a New York Times article in this past Sunday’s Week in Review, which discusses jihad etiquette:

Permission: The Guidebook for Taking a Life

Also interesting, there seems to be something of a fatwa free-for-all of late as Muslim religious scholars wrestle to balance faith and modern life.

In an effort to better understand Islamic culture the NYT offered up this gem – here is an excerpt followed by the link.

"CAIRO, June 11 — First came the breast-feeding fatwa. It declared that the Islamic restriction on unmarried men and women being together could be lifted at work if the woman breast-fed her male colleagues five times, to establish family ties. Then came the urine fatwa. It said that drinking the urine of the Prophet Muhammad was deemed a blessing.
For the past few weeks, the breast-feeding and urine fatwas have proved a source of national embarrassment in Egypt, not least because they were issued by representatives of the highest religious authorities in the land.

The conflict in Egypt served as a difficult reminder of a central challenge facing Islamic communities as they debate the true nature of the faith and how to accommodate modernity. The fatwa is the front line in the theological battle between often opposing worldviews. It is where interpretation meets daily life."

Now, it should not go without saying that the breast-feeding fatwa meant to alleviate the necessity of a woman wearing a veil in public, was lampooned the land o’er, on local TV, etc…and while there was a woman who drank the prophet’s urine (I don’t know how this is possible, I thought the prophet had passed away centuries ago) but many people do not like drinking urine and so this is an unpopular fatwa.

The full NYT article can by found at:


Your Scaredy Cat

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tested Testies

I was recently with a man who survived testicular cancer. A young man, 28 years old, who did not deem it of import to reveal this before we got into bed. As my fingers traveled in the dark, under the covers, and I felt, or didn’t feel that something, testicular cancer was not the first thing that popped into my mind – I just thought he had really flat balls. Flat balls didn’t seem like an impossibility. After all, I haven’t been with a lot of men, I don’t know all the varietals of balls – some women are flat-chested, why not some men flat-balled.

Not that cancer didn’t occur to me. When I have any bodily discomfort I immediately leap to the conclusion that it’s cancer or a tumor or a rare blood disease. I am familiar with the possibility that a man may be missing a ball or two. A friend of a friend who had the cancer, and then an implant, enjoys taking out the sensory-less sack and setting it on the coffee table during cocktail parties. But I wasn’t going to go there with this guy. That would be crazy I said, testicular cancer, bah, I’m sure he just has flat balls.

Later, a full day or two later, as he talked about his life and I learned the truth, he also revealed that its his general policy just to let the woman figure it out on her own – should the opportunity arise. He wasn’t sure how far we were going to go, we didn’t go far (only far enough for the flat ball thing to be an inconclusive diagnosis). He didn’t want to disrupt any potential sex with the potentially unsexy heads-up about the missing ball. Ultimately, I didn’t find the lack-o-ball a turn off – I’m neutral about it – just the initial late night discovery was confusing.

Far more troubling, was the fact that here was a CANCER SURVIVOR. A man that from his accounts was really DYING, bedridden for a year and a half and who is now, as far as I can tell, healthy and strong, creative and happy. I’ve seen a picture of him riding a donkey – a testament to his full recovery. His cancer has made him valorous. And he is proud. And he should be. I tremble under his valor. He has experienced an incontrovertible trauma and survived. And he hasn’t come out of it feeling fragile and broken, but tough and, of course, lucky. Resilient! Wow.

I live in a world of fears both real and anticipated. Worry really is what it is. It is hard to imagine coming back from bedridden, it is hard to relate to the very non-fictional, not imaginary fear this man went through, the very nearness of death, and the very realness of recovery. Illness has always spoken of permanence to me. Injustice and permanence and inevitability. Who doesn’t have cancer? Everybody has cancer!

An actress I particularly admire – a woman who does one woman monologue shows – is a cancer survivor, and is now back on stage. I am humbled and intrigued by this…as with illnesses, the woman suffered immense losses of ego and dignity – an actress needs ego to stand alone in front of a crowd and demand attention. After the vulnerability of sickness, to be able to pull it together and step into the spotlight again – that is a survivor.

Cancer isn’t sexy. And while friend and comic writer Michael Feldman, says that death is more effective for weight loss than the South Beach Diet, it’s the mortis in the rigor that turns me off. It scares me that he’s been there and back and I don’t know why.

When he was maneuvering to spend the night, so that we could get to know each other better, I suggested that perhaps he just wanted to get laid (and I'm not against this) - he having picked me up with a one-liner in a coffee shop earlier that day. He was offended that I would make this assumption (and even more so when I said no to sex). And then, in a way that I thought was somewhat self-righteous (though these are not his exact words), he said ‘you don’t know who I am and what I’ve been through’ – and he’s right. I should have known that cancer survivors are much too deep and wizened to want cheap, casual sex. I insulted him, and his cancer-valiant-ness.

Bleh. I don’t know what I am, impressed, amazed, ashamed, humbled, we’ve all got our shit to get through, but yeah whatever, this guy had fucking cancer. My shit is so much less tangible. Certainly not as tangible as a missing ball.

When confronted with something as concrete as this man’s experience, I start to question – well first thing I’m not sick and that twitch in my eye was not a stroke – but half-assed hypochondriac fears aside – I question my worth, my own survivor myth, what have I been through, what has it made me, am I victorious too or just full of myself and whinny?

So, today’s question: does surviving cancer make you a more worthwhile human being? (we know from Chuck Klosterman that dying makes B-level rock stars more famous) Or better, what’s the most important test we take?

ALSO, this is weird and hilarious and has to do with testicles:
Woman jailed for testicle attack
A woman who ripped off her ex-boyfriend's testicle with her bare hands has been sent to prison.

Your Scaredy Cat

Thursday, May 31, 2007

It began with locusts. It ends with bees.

Lesbians are going extinct. And bees. A monkey at the Denver zoo has bubonic plague. Last night, while I was masturbating, I was certain I was going to die today. I haven’t yet, but its only 11:15pm.

It’s true, about the lesbians – well, its all true – A New York Times article in Aug. 2006 reported on a growing transsexual trend in the lesbian community: a number of lesbians are having sex change operations to become men, thus rendering them no longer lezzie. Even if they sleep with women after the change. The community is concerned, many are even outraged, as this negates the feminism that is, ideally, inherent in the lesbian spirit.

In the male gay community, the proportion making the switch to vagina is considerably smaller. Gay men seem to be satisfied with dragdom and the occasional hissy fit. And while good Spandex can hide any errant genitalia, the satisfying power of ramming one’s erect (can transsexuals get erections?) long john into another human being, cannot a dildo bring. This is reductive, I know, and what it says about the human desire to mark and control one’s territory, in the way perhaps only penis can, is scary and warrants further discussion.

I’m scared of a lot of things, SARS, nuclear attack, cancer, famine, water shortages, wrongful imprisonment and the three A’s: aneurysm, amputation and AIDS, but I thought I could write bubonic plague and polio off the list – not so fast. I woke this morning with either a hangover or a brain tumor, watching the present millennium unspool like a Saturday Night Live marathon, the shows after it stopped being funny.

The bee rapture. The bees are dying in droves – current hypotheses site cell phone waves, climate changes, pesticides, wind patterns. Bees are sex on wings – pollinating, creating life – if they’re dying, humanity can’t be far behind. If no flowers, then no post-argument, pre-make-up-sex bouquets, no babies – thus death. It began with locusts. It ends with bees.

I remind myself that in the fifties, my mom was crawling underneath her desk at school, or into the bomb shelter at the local post office - that every generation suffers its own myopic horrors, real and anticipated. Still, lesbian attrition rates notwithstanding, it feels to me like we are living in a uniquely scary world.

A close friend says I have a hypersensitivity to the potential for tragedy. Though I am not a depressed person. Scared yes. To revise a cliché – I think I may have my finger on the pulse of my generation’s paranoia. And while not a conspiracy theorist, I do believe it is places like the puppy pastry shop on 8th and A in the East Village that brought about the French Revolution and later, Stalin.

From the G8 summit struggle to the “nefarious chicken-finger pandemic” recently cited in the Times, I’m attuned to the potential for nightmarish upheaval. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a Starbucks.

Apocalypse Bagel has the potential to be many things, a fast-paced thriller with philosophical overtones, or a theoretical mind fuck with agreeable measures of action and gratuitous violence, or a science fiction exercise with spiritual aspirations, or a ripe romance whose threadbare bodice is beyond ripping, all depending on your expectation. (In that sense, it may be something like the afterlife.)

It toys with a number of questions that have resisted resolution for countless generations, like, what on earth are we doing here? Why bother if nuclear annihilation is just around the corner? Did Nikola Tesla really design a field generator that amplifies biocosmic energy? Why are bees going extinct? Who needs to be killed next? Who has to do it? (Trevanian has already answered the last one perfectly: The one who can.)

I am ready to take on your fears. It's time to confront and correlate the anxieties that have, during the present administration, found a humid, non-recyclable Petri dish in which to propagate – a culture of fear. And let it be known, I came of age with Slyvia Plath and Philip Roth, so no discussion of fear could be complete without the sisterhood of sex and death. I like nookie with my nuclear warfare.

What are you afraid of?

With great hope for the future,
Your Scaredy Cat