Saturday, March 03, 2007


Sorry to those of you who have been dropping by. I've been working on a rather long article about Patti Smith's recent work and haven't posted anything else to help you while away the empty hours in between. Hopefully, that will give you something to look forward to. I can’t promise, but it should be a bit better than chuckling’s usual nonsense.

In the meantime, I’ll tell you about something I saw today. It’s nothing of great importance, I just thought I’d share it to pass the time until my Patti Smith article writes itself.

I often walk down Flatbush Avenue between the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Church Ave. A lot of stores along that stretch sell clothes in the style of what the local folk refer to as “ghetto fabulous.” If the words “ghetto fabulous” do not immediately bring a picture to your mind of a large black woman wearing bright pink boots, tight jeans, and a pink tank top with back-fat spilling out around the bra strap and the words “baby luv” emblazoned across massive breasts, or something along those lines, then it is safe to say that you are not a Brooklynite. You may live in Park Slope or “the heights,” but that does not necessarily count.

Of course I mean no disrespect to my sisters in the ghetto. Is there anything more non-sensical than fashion? In the near future, today’s couture, both haute and prêt-à-porter, will likely look ridiculous. Still, the mannequins in these stores are interesting on several sociological levels. Unlike the mannequins in Soho, or pretty much anywhere else I’ve ever noticed mannequins, the ones along Flatbush Avenue have what local folk refer to as “big fat asses.” Now before you think ill of poor chuckling for pointing that out, realize that my wife shot me an evil look the first time I mentioned it. What’s wrong with women with big fat asses you big fat ass? Nothing, I say. Nothing at all. It’s a good thing that mannequins in these parts represent what people really look like. The world would be a better place if the human mannequins in Cosmo would learn a thing or two about real women from the plastic mannequins in Flatbush.

But I mention it today because I noticed something else. Many of the fat-assed mannequins were wearing low cut jeans and the ass crack was showing. I had always thought that the ass crack on display was a result of poor design, or real women trying to fit into pants that only a Soho model could wear. It had never occurred to me that the ass crack was an actual fashion choice. I found that reassuring. It kind of strengthened my faith in humanity.

This all reminded me of an interesting conversation about the Trilogy of Alienation by Michelangelo Antonioni that took place a few days ago in comments over at Alicublog. For those of you not up on classic avant-garde Italian cinema, L’Aventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse are stylistically incredible, but their narrative structure is not what most people would call compelling. Many would describe them as films in which nothing happens to a bunch of bored, boring people who do pretty much nothing througout the film. Although the running time may be no more than 90 minutes in objective time, they can last for days in subjective time. Very long days.

Paul K and Grant, redoubtable commenters over at Alicublog, as well as the proprietor himself, discuss these films at a depth beyond the capabilities of poor chuckling, but something that one of them said did spark thoughts in my poor, battered brain. The idea that Antonioni’s films functioned as non-judgemental recordings of people’s lives in all their random meaninglessness rather than stories with anything remotely like a traditional narrative, and that this was a good thing, kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong. If you, or anyone else likes that kind of thing, I’m happy for you, but chuckling spends a lot of time observing the random narratives of people on many different streets and a wide variety of social situations, and I find this endlessly fascinating, but I just do not need to watch a movie to appreciate that experience. I can enjoy the cinematography, but when it comes to the mundane, the cinema is a poor facsimile of real life. It doesn’t even smell, unless you have the misfortune to sit next to someone eating “buttered” popcorn. But I don't want to smell popcorn. I want to smell flop sweat, and flowers, and vomit, and perfume, and the perfume of wet pussy. And I wouldn't mind touching some of those things, too. There is nothing tactile about images on the screen. Story can be another matter.

My little walk down Flatbush illustrated those points. I could conceivably film it in a way that captures its beauty and depth, and perhaps even communicate the perspective from which I see the fat-assed mannequins, but without some kind of story to ground the scene, I wouldn’t find it interesting. For the most part, we are a people who appreciate purposeful narrative. Some of us can appreciate the immediate meaninglessness of day-to-day life, the random snatches of conversation, the sounds and passing smells of an everyday situation from a detached, artistic perspective, but what’s the purpose of going to the cinema to see it represented when we can walk out the door and get the real thing. I agree with Paul K’s contention that a director should fucking direct, otherwise his or her title might as well be “recorder.”

All that’s not to say that I don’t like Antonioni’s Alienation Trilogy, but putting cinematography aside and focusing on the here/now, I can get the more better 3D getto fabulous version on Flatbush.

Monday, February 26, 2007

IU sucks

The other night I went to a party where pretty much everyone was very wealthy. I've been to a few over the last few years and the thing that has surprised me the most is that they are generally very decent people. But still, one can only take so much. I'm sitting there drinking their wine, a nice bottle from the cellar, and eating their cheese, a wonderfully creamy Camembert, and the conversation is all "it's so funny, like everyone I meet lately went to Wellesley, and it's such a small, exclusive school. What are the odds? I know what you mean. It seems like everyone I meet went to Harvard. Ah Harvard, those were the days." And I get a kick out of this, in a visitor-from-another-planet-kinda way, and it occurs to me to ask if I could come over and fire bomb their house, but I have matured, mellowed, and I just think the thought for old times sake. They're actually quite nice and very decent people who make the world a better place.

So the next night, it’s after dinner and I check out ESPN on-line and find that Indiana is up pretty big on Michigan State at the half. I've just finished my own wine and cheese dinner with my wife, albeit the $2.99 Trader Joe's variety, and I decide to go out to the local bar and catch the second half.

I've lived in this neighborhood for going on three years and never been to the local bar. It’s the kind of place where you see 45 year old platinum blondes smoking at the entrance and grizzly old alcoholics stumbling out into the night. I've always meant to go there but just don't get out like I used to.

So I order a bourbon on the rocks. What kind? Whatever's cheapest. We get to looking and they don't even have any Bourbon (only Jack). So I say, what about the Jameson's, how much is that? $4, I'm told, do you want the white label or the black. I'll give the black a try, I say.

Meanwhile, as I drink as much 18 year old Jameson at $4 a glass as I can afford and meet Dougie and a few of the other regulars, IU is scoring a total of like 6 points in the entire second half. The crowd is surprisingly mixed. There’s a few older white guys who seem to be limo drivers. A couple of them are with women and there’s a little drunken drama going on. Some young Latino’s are playing pool, there’s a couple black guys and, surprisingly, a few young women. The music is mid-nineties style Rap.

I’m equally comfortable, and equally out of place, in this dive as I am at the dinner party. I can’t deny that I have more to talk about with the upper classes these days, but ultimately I feel pretty much the same with the one crowd as the other. Most everyone is at least superficially nice, but I don’t see a lot of evidence that the wealthy are any happier or better adjusted in their personal lives. I agree that there is a lot to be said for knowing how to appreciate the better things in life. But is Bordeaux and Camembert ultimately any better than beer and pretzals. Is it more enjoyable to look at and discuss the fine art on the walls than the sports on the television? No, I’d say (as long as the beer is decent, unlike the Buds my new friend Dougie is guzzling, and it would help if IU could make a fucking basket). It’s better to enjoy both (and plenty of other things as well). The problem for the lower classes is that they are generally unable to enjoy both worlds. I find that the working classes harbor a lot more prejudice against the enjoyments of professionals than vice versa. Most people can enjoy beer, snacks, and TV, but a large percentage of the population is missing out on the pleasures of fine arts, wine and cheese. And it’s not just a matter of money. Dougie spent as much on his Budwiesers as my wife and I spent on our entire dinner, bottle of red from Trader Joe’s included.

Then the bartender goes out for a smoke, someone jumps behind the counter, puts on Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive and the crowd erupts in a sing-along. I run out of money, pull out all my change and ask the bartender if he has anything for $3.50. He scratches his head and says, sorry, all we got at that price is Dewar's. I can live with that, I say. And the next one's on the house. Sometimes I just love Brooklyn. And if I were a religious nut, I'd weep and thank Jesus I didn't go to Harvard.