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Wednesday, August 25, 2004


My man Hughes, circa late 1987.

Every once in a while one gets reminded that life is good.

Freelance gigs notwithstanding, I am still technically unemployed, and with that state of slackerness comes a freedom that I forgot during my thirteen years in the salt mines of comics. Instead of spending another day in fruitless pursuit of reentry into the nine-to-five rat race, today I chose to enjoy some time outside of my rent-a-hovel — which has become sort of a cell with amenities — and run around Manhattan with my equally unemployed pal Hughes, who has been a brother to me since we met during our college days. I had to pick up part of the cash for the latest Bunche/Cat Love Sensation barbecue soiree from Cat’s hubby in the City anyway, so why not make a carefree day of it?

Canopied by a Hollywood-backdrop-perfect blue sky Hughes and I departed for the far Western side of Midtown before noon and rendezvoused with Rich at the CBS news building. Every time I hook up with Richard I think to myself that my old friend Cat has chosen her mate wisely; Richard is a life-loving Brazilian who knows his way around a kitchen and quality butcher shops, along with being a generally cool guy whose presence in the room just makes you feel good. He took Hughes and I into the lower level of the new Time/Warner building/high class shopping Mecca and I was bowled over by its incredible butcher shop. Taking me to such a place is like taking a sports fan to the most incredible memorabilia shop they’ve ever seen, and even though the prices may be steep just witnessing such an array of items fuels fantasies of what you could do if you could get your eager mitts on the stuff. I stood mesmerized by the most visually appealing selection of meats that I have beheld in years, uncaring about my lack of funds with which to purchase these crown jewels of protein. Whenever I have such cash I will return there posthaste, and grab some choice lamb for a slow-simmered stew that will be so good that you’ll want to slap your momma.

After Rich picked up a lunch to bring back to his office, Hughes and I walked up Broadway to lunch at the incomparable — and dirt cheap — Gray’s Papaya on 72nd Street where we scarfed down some of New York’s finest grilled hot dogs; I ate three of these tasty masterpieces slathered with brown deli mustard and washed them down with the chain’s signature papaya drink, and my memory drifted back to the not-so-long-ago era of the early 1990’s when I lived in the area and if the mood struck me I could simply walk out of my apartment on 89th Street for a round of tube steaks at any hour of the day or night. The banner above Gray’s proudly proclaims, “We are open 24 hours a day. Every day,” and they are the welcome low class oasis in the snooty Upper West Side.

The perfect documentary for the perfect day.

Having merrily polished off our delicious meal of reconstituted horse anuses and hooves, Hughes and I quickly realized that we still had most of the day ahead of us and decided to see END OF THE CENTURY: THE STORY OF THE RAMONES, a critically acclaimed documentary that had opened a few days ago and chronicled the stirring saga of one of our mutual favorite bands. The film didn’t start until 4:20, so we had nearly three hours to kill. We needed to make our way down to the Lower East Side and the Angelika theater, a venue despised by myself and many of my film freak pals due to its aggressively “cineaste” leanings, but it’s the only place in the entire city that has the film, so there was no choice but to bite the bullet and wander into this Hell of film-snobbery and pay tribute to the masters of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s three greatest chords.

After we crawled from the Stygian confines of the subway system, Hughes and I wandered around areas that we frequented back in the days, noting that such fondly remembered hangouts like the Samurai Pub have fallen to the passing of time and the yuppification of New York City. Oddly enough, this wasn’t a sad reflection, merely a stroll down Memory Lane.

After stops at a videogame emporium and a kickass record store, we decided to hang out at the fountain in Washington Square Park. That former bazaar of all manner of illegal substances is now quite family friendly, and nowhere was there the furtive exclamation of “Trips…Trips…Smoke…Smoke…,” which isn’t a bad thing since most of the, er, “entrepreneurs” of old sold weed that was pretty much an eighth of dirt.

Everywhere you looked there were people lazing about around the big fountain as children frolicked and shrieked joyously beneath the plumes of soon-to-be-gravitationally-stricken water. Hughes and I took up residence on the south side of the fountain and basked in the sun and wind-borne spray, a refreshing combination that made me realize that I hadn’t been so utterly content in months. I remarked to Hughes that we would never have been able to enjoy such excellence if we had been confined within an office, dealing with assholes.

After nearly ruining a tourist’s photo by providing the subject with the requisite via-fingers bunny ears, Hughes and I made our way to the theater and shelled out $10.25 (!!!) for admission. Yes, it cost $10.25 to get in, and if it weren’t a documentary about one of my five all-time favorite bands I would have asked the cashier if she had ever considered the possibility of turning her reproductive channel into a makeshift cash drawer. But since it was about Forest Hills' answer to the Fantastic Four, I played nice.

The theater reeked of high-falutin’ pretension, what with its overpriced café and gallery of French-language movie posters for films that were mostly rock-bottom-budget Italian superhero films from the 1960’s, but the place was pleasantly uncrowded since it was still early in the day and most of the Angelika’s clientele would not be turning out for a film about four stunningly unglamorous louts in black leather jackets and torn jeans. This atmosphere, some of the best popcorn I have had at a Manhattan theater in at least ten years and the sight of a middle-aged mother lugging her three under-thirteen-year-old sons to see the Ramones put me at ease.

The film itself was not just a treat for the faithful, but also trenchant look at one of the pioneering bands of what would later become known as punk rock, their impact on pop music and their frustrating lack of commercial success despite their status as beloved living legends. Candid and unafraid of revealing the unpleasant idiosyncrasies of the various band members over a twenty-one-year period, END OF THE CENTURY is compelling stuff indeed, and until the end I had to fight down my urge to sing along with each brief three-chord anthem that turned up on the soundtrack.

When the lights went up, Hughes and I parted ways since we both needed train lines that would return us to Brooklyn on opposite sides of the mighty Gowanus River. Steeped in the joys of a day-long romp around the city, good cheap food, the company of one of my favorite human beings and the ancient heraldic majesty of Ramones tunes resounding in my head, I made it back to Park Slope in a mood to spread love to the whole world. I stopped off at the local market and found one of the hard to get, perfectly seasoned sagey sausages that I adore for dinner and retired to my humble abode.

It just goes to show you that despite crushing poverty, every once in a while the planets align in just the right way and you get reminded beyond the shadow of a doubt that life can be good. Quite good indeed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Yesterday word of Fay Wray’s death at age 96 hit the news. Fay Wray, leading lady in the classic 1933 version of KING KONG, screamer extraordinaire and the cinema’s quintessential damsel in distress. The black and white image of her stunning blonde beauty, adorned in naught but a torn teddy while struggling to escape the fearsome-yet-adoring clutches of the thirty-foot monster god of an uncharted island has been carved in stone as a cinematic landmark for seventy-one years and is unforgettable proof of the dream machine that was once the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Upon hearing of Miss Wray’s passing the first thing that crossed my mind was “Was she the last person involved in KING KONG to go?” If she was, she may have been the last of a dying breed, the old-school Hollywood movie star. When one thinks of those who pass for stars these days, that’s a sad thought indeed. Will Keanu Reeves, Brittany Murphy or even Adam Sandler be remembered down the line with the fondness afforded Wray and her contemporaries? I sincerely doubt it, and that’s ironic since Wray publicly bemoaned the fact that the mythic status of her role in KING KONG lead to the overshadowing of every other part she essayed.

With the flagrant love that I have for giant monster films it should come as no surprise to anyone that the 1933 KING KONG is my favorite movie. I say movie because film is a somewhat lofty term often applied to films by artists such as Bergman, Kurosawa and Jarmusch, items of deep examination of the human condition and such. Not so with KONG; KING KONG is a rollicking piece of entertainment, sheer fun from start to finish with nothing on its mind except entertaining its audience and placing the viewer firmly within an adventure into the fantastic. Fun and entertainment is what it’s all about, and by those criteria KING KONG is a great movie.

A Depression-era adventure yarn like no other, KING KONG has mood, romance, thrills and balls-out monster action from start to finish and several sequences that have since become ingrained into the worldwide popular culture. And considering that Kong himself has existed on his island for thousands of years, I have always wondered what his typical day was like. During the harrowing adventure shared by Anne Darrow and Jack Driscoll deep within the teeming jungle of Skull Island, we see Kong handing out ass-whuppings on his fellow jungle denizens like it was Halloween candy. Remove the two hapless humans from that picture and you have to realize that Kong’s day-to-day existence would have sucked most egregiously when he wasn’t being offered native women with which to do God only knows what. I can see it now: the big guy is lumbering down a dense forest path when, suddenly, some primordial crawly thing drops out of a tree and attempts to eat his face. Kong savagely dispatches this creature and continues on his mighty way. Then, without warning, a Tyrannosaurus Rex jumps out a ditch and tries to bite his nuts off. Our giant-ape-about-town puts much foot to scaly ass and vanquishes the errant T-Rex by ripping off its head and taking a big dump down its throat. After foraging for whatever may constitute the diet of a thirty-foot primate, Kong returns to his mountain top lair to chill out and relax. As he reclines and begins to nod off to Slumberland, a giant carrion bird swoops from the skies and tries to lodge its beak up Kong’s hairy ass. Kong clenches his titanic butt-cheek muscles, breaking the bird’s neck like a Mister Salty pretzel stick. Kong then stands atop the corpse, throws back his head and drums on his chest. He lets out a cry of what may appear to be triumph, but he’s more likely saying “Can’t I go through just one day without somebody trying to eat my ass? FUCK!!!”

In honor of Fay Wray’s passing, I watched the film again last night, and it was sort of like attending the wake of someone I’d known since childhood. I just wish that I could have invited everyone I know over to share it with me.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


So there I was, eating lunch at a local White Castle — a particularly scurvy one which caters to the dregs of humanity more than these establishments usually do, since this location doesn't give a fuck about whether the regular junkies and beggars pretty much take up residence without paying rent, or whether they perpetually harass the customers for money while a foot-long bolus of mucous or spittle dangles from their noses or mouths — when a guy entered the restaurant with a bulging gym bag.

This upstanding citizen looked at me and said "Yo, nigga! I gots DVD's an' shit!" The DVD's in question were undoubtedly of questionable quality, and more likely than not shot off of a movie screen by an enterprising video-bootlegger who had smuggled a video camera into the theater; not easy to do anymore since security measures at press screenings these days stop just short of a strip-search and flashlight-assisted cavity probe. Anyway, I asked him "whatcha got?" and he furtively displayed his ill-gotten wares.

Now, I am firmly against film piracy, but under the right ridiculous circumstances I have been known to buy the occasional bootleg DVD. Those circumstances usually involve a film being made available to me on DVD on the same day or night as I'm seeing the film in question. I purchased a bootleg of THE MATRIX RELOADED while walking down the street on the way to see the movie, and in a much more balls-out brazen situation, I obtained KILL BILL VOLUME 1 while on line to see it on opening night when a guy set up an open suitcase full of bootleg DVDs at the front of the line and in full sight of the uncaring theater staff.

This time, however, the utterly illegal situation upped the ante and I handed the man five bucks up front. I was less concerned with the movie than I was with the incredible circumstances of the purchase: I was able to buy a bootleg DVD of HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE on the day the film opened at the location that the film's central motivation was about.

I'd say being able to truthfully tell that story was worth the five bucks, and the bootleg itself was very good (as those things go). And the movie itself is funny as hell, coming from nowhere to be not only one of the few intelligent stoner comedies, but it's also a great piss-take on ethnic stereotypes in the US. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!