Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Seventies Were Heady Times

The first book I tackled in the Remi Treuer Reading Project was Charles Burns's Black Hole. The book centers around a suburban Seattle community where the local teenagers are contracting an STD called "the Bug" that turns them into monsters. Literally. One character has a second mouth on his neck that talks, some of them sprout horns, another character has a tail.

Black Hole engages several intensely compelling issues: sexual ownership, contagion, and guilt, alienation based on class and looks (the mutated kids eventually subvert this by squatting in a suburban tract house, the ultimate in manicured middle class-ness), and liminality. Of particular interest to me is the story of Chris, the popular girl who gets the Bug and goes a little crazy. The story is really fun, too. There's a murder mystery, a love story, and it's scary as hell.

I made a mistake, though, when I read the book. Remi told me to take it slow, and I read it in one sitting. I lost a lot of the nuance of the art when I did that, which is a problem I have with most comics, but Black Hole has such rich art that it deserves a deliberate reading. The art is really the star of the show, which is a good thing, as it is a comic. Every frame is nearly pitch black, with the sparse flickers of light making every face look like a deformity and every deformity look even more deformed. I unfortunately didn't take the time to really enjoy this and absorb what it means, so I'm giving the book a second read when I get through a couple more in my stack.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Too Easy

On Sunday I watched the 2001 HBO documentary Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen. It's an examination of child beauty pageants in the South, centering around precocious five year old Swan Brooner and her chain smoking, straight-out-of-central-casting, stage mom, Robin. I should have known better than to watch it, as I knew that it would inhabit the "Hey, look at this weird thing!" area of the Documentary Dormitory, somewhere down the hall from To Catch a Predator.

I have to say that Living Dolls is really enjoyable. There are parts that made me laugh out loud, like when a flamboyantly gay pageant coach from Alabama (all Southerners know this man, he lives in a mansion, he is a great musician and plays organ for the First Baptist Church, and had frosted tips before that was cool) teaches the little girls the correct way to smile and strut. And the film has a definite feminist message: the girls are instructed to flirt with the pageant MC, for example, and we cringe. That said, while the film is very well made, it approaches its theses* in a clinical and too-straightforward manner. For example, when Shari Cookson, the director, wants to show that Robin is neglecting her other children because of Swan's pageants, they show Swan's baby brother sitting on the floor while Robin shouts at Swan for forgetting her lines.

We get it.

That's the main issue I have with Living Dolls. It doesn't explicitly break the "show, don't tell" rule that informs so much good storytelling, but it doesn't quite follow it, either. Every shot in the film seems to be an attempt to oppress the viewer with as much message as it can.

The film also engages in some mild South-bashing, but I'm willing to let it slide, as the assertions it makes** are hard to deny.

If you want to watch it, it's broken into nine parts on YouTube, starting here.

*That pageants are meat markets, that being a certain kind of intense parent is bad, and an overall "Women are commodified, and that is wrong" message.
**There are large amounts of superficiality, disingenuousness, and obesity in the South.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Culled From a Conversation

From a GChat converstion with my expatriate friend, Jon McClelland:

Jon: On Saturday I went to a bumpin'-ass night club. There were so many people that my feet never actually touched the floor: I just stood on the feet of others.

This is also funny, I think, because Jon is living in Korea, and is about six feet six inches tall.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

It Kind of Ruined My Day A Little

One of the things I look forward to on my ride down Old Chapel Hill Road home from Carrboro is a kindly-looking old man walking his German shepherd. He's about five foot five, nearly spherical, and has one of those bald haircuts where the hair shoots out from the head, creating a corona of messiness. He also wears Zubaz.

Everytime I drive by, the dog is taking a shit, right on the side of the road, and Uncle Rodney (that's what I'm going to call the dude) is beaming as though Sulla's (that's what I'm going to call the dog) shit-taking is equivalent to Victory in Europe or the birth of his first grandchild (can we call her Frangelica? Good.). He beams a spaced-out grin at every car that passes, tilting his head slightly back so that he's asking for the approval of both passers-by and God Almighty. This makes me happy. After all, the guy obviously loves Sulla, so much that the simple act of defecating close to the highway is enough to send him into religious catatonia.

Today, though, something was different. Today, as I passed the guy, he gave me (and only me!) the meanest look I have ever seen. And get this...

He suddenly had a mustache.

Does Uncle Rodney have an evil twin?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wozzeck Would Have A Shit Fit

Dear Residents of Chapel Hill/Carrboro:

I once grew a mustache. I grew it as a joke, mind you, to creep out the fellow employees at Asbury Hills, the summer came where I worked. And I succeeded, because mustaches are fucking creepy. It's hard to find a mustache that doesn't look awful*.

And yet it's somehow acceptable around here for much of the male population to wear a mustache past the Crossroads of Humor, to the top of the Mountain of Detached Irony, where it makes its home in the Lean-To of Skeeve. Why is this okay? No matter how fucking cool you are, a mustache is still a mustache. It's still gross, it still collects food, it's still something that is really only easy to pull off if you're a cop, Lou Marini, or Ted Nugent (and c'mon, he's really pretty ridiculous).

It pains me to write this letter, not only because I feel that its message should go without saying, but also because I feel like maybe I'm somehow out of the loop. I understand that I'm not exactly "hip,"but am I that far detached from what is hip that I have almost no reference point for understanding why people do this mustache thing? Or are you the un-hip one, mustache boy?

No, you probably aren't.

I'm being unfair, I know. I'm just lashing out at you because I'm uncool. That said, mustaches are fucking gross, and if you insist on having one, please groom it, and keep it cleaned, because I hate mustaches even more when they look like a wire brush that got in a fight with some grimy couscous.

Respectfully yours,

Joe Stanton

PS: Crazy long beards, fuzzy soul patches, Amish-style beards (which are characterized by their lack of mustache, actually), and beards that have been braided are all bad for different reasons, but still bad.

*-ly hilarious, sometimes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I Probably Angered A Witch Doctor Somewhere

I was never that interested in gardening. I've always gotten bored and dusty when I've tried it, despite the fact that my mom really likes it and my grandmother and uncle are god damn obsessed with it. I'm really more of a plant killer, honestly. I'm a good cook, and the very basis of that is killing plants.

For the past four months or so, though, I've been killing cars. And you can't eat a car. Not very easily, at least.

It started around February, when Tabitha, my 1996 navy blue Oldsmobile Cutlass, decided to overheat right outside of Becky's old apartment.

You should really see this car, it's a beauty. It's unfashionably blocky, pockmarked from a hailstorm or two, speckled with rust spots. There's a scratch down the side. The interior is made from the same cloth as hospital robes. The radio (which included a tape deck that nearly always had Steely Dan's Greatest Hits wedged into it) was installed improperly, so rather than displaying the time of day, displayed the amount of time you had been driving through a complicated "always starts at noon" mechanism. I'm pretty sure that something was dead under the hood (aside from the water pump! oh!).

But for realz ya'll, the water pump was broken. That, combined with routine maintenance and the repair of all the things fucked up by my engine overheating, cost about a grand to repair. So I paid it, got my car fixed, and was okay with it. I mean, I never seem to have that much money: I'm essentially a secretary, I pay rent, and I like to spend a little extra on food and alcohol when I can. I absorbed this cost nonetheless, because I really loved that car.

Then the head gasket broke.

A head gasket malfunction is the cardiomyopathy of the automotive world. You can get a transplant and survive, but it's prohibitively hard to do, and might not work. I had to take my car to a tiny garage down on the fringes of Chapel Hill, where a man with a cast on his arm sat behind a desk and estimated that I would pay $2,500 to fix the gasket, at which point I decided to let Tabitha go and buy a new car.

I was sold a 2003 Dodge Intrepid SE by "Ben," a mustachioed charmer of a man who, in his throaty, comically-Middle Eastern accent, relayed a story he had told his son, apparently recently:

"Never marry a beautiful woman, because she won't be yours. Marry a rich ugly bitch, and take all the money you can. Ehhhh, I need to shut up."

He also did bits from Borat with one of his fellow salesman, and this was wierd because he sort of talked like Borat already. It's felt like it would if Colonel Sanders did a Foghorn Leghorn impression--funny, but not for the right reason.

I like my Dodge Intrepid. It has low mileage, a CD player, airbags, etc. It's a pretty good, regular-ass car, which is what I want. I'm a regular-ass guy and I can't afford one of those Japanese cars anyway.

However, this past Friday the old Dodge Intrepid decided to downgrade itself from "regular-ass" to "suck-ass." I was driving some friends back from a night of debauchery when Alison remarked that my windows weren't working. Then I noticed that my air conditioner wasn't working. Then I noticed that my turn signal wasn't working.

It was fucking hot. I spent a huge amount of time on Saturday sitting in my hot car, trapped on Hwy. 54, with my shirt off, opening the door at every red light. And on Sunday, it worked again. And on Monday, the same stuff started happening, only this time with a clicking noise to accompany it.

I calmly drove the car down to the Carrboro location of Chapel Hill Tire where they looked at me blankly and told me that they couldn't get me in until Friday. They also told me that it might be a fuse problem. I don't think it is.

But it's cool. I called the Franklin St. location, who told me to take it in this morning. There, a sciuridine man told me that there was nothing they could really check, and that, if the problem returns, I should just sort of jiggle the key in the ignition and hope for the best.

So essentially I learned that my current car problems are undefinable and probably interminable. Is it my aura? Am I learning about my wizarding heritage by accidentally breaking things? If that's the case, why haven't I turned my desk into a walking version of itself yet?

Incidentally, Tabitha is still parked by my apartment. I haven't gotten up the stones to give her to the Kidney Foundation yet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

In Cheek

Last night I had a taco revelation. My new favorite taco meat is lengua (tongue). I got it from the taqueria that parks by Cliff's Meat Market. It was juicy, had a fun texture, and wasn't too grisly, which has been a problem with other tongues I've had before. I hit that up with some sauce and it was real nice.

So my girlfriend is a vegetarian, but she graciously allows me the latitude to eat meat to my heart's content. So I'm going to pose a challenge to myself to eat as many interesting cuts and types of meat as I can.

Any suggestions? I'll probably eat anything that isn't alive.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I Mean, I Know That I've Always Wanted to Stab Austin

You guys should check out this short by my friend and co-worker Nick Faber, a funny guy. I'm going to guess that most of you have already seen it, but hey.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

So I Ate Some Food Today

Today my total food consumption has been:

1. A bag of buttery-style popcorn.
2. Some cold cuts from Weaver Street Market.
3. A "rustic roll" from Weaver Street Market.
4. A hunk of cheese from Weaver Street Market.
5. A fuckload of gum. Like three packs of Trident.

I got most of this sort of late in the day (around 4ish), and I have to say, I was cranky. And depressed. I get like that when I don't eat. I don't have a good reason for this, though. As far as I know, I'm not diabetic, so I can't whine about having low BG*, and I haven't got an eating disorder. Psychological trauma from past starvation experiences is also ruled out, as I've been firmly middle class my whole life. Am I just a whiner? I know I naturally tend to be negative (last night, I even got the old "You're so judgemental of everything" line--this is true for music and movies and sometimes certain fashionable people), but I think that I've more or less trained myself to be pleasant.

But maybe I am an asshole. At least when I'm hungry. I distinctly remember the following thoughts going through my head today:

1. "Why do your friends hang out with you in the first place?"
2. "Just do one thing right today, Joe. One thing."

Both of these thoughts are ridiculous and I'm embarrassed for having them. Not because I do things right, or because I'm so awesome to be around, the jury is still out on both, punching each other and stringing up the foreman and ordering the bailiff to fetch them a whole case of lemonades to drink while they deliberate. Thinking like this automatically makes me Bitchopotron, Grand High Bitch-peror of the Bitch Dimension. These are also stupid thoughts because I couldn't count how many things are worse than being hungry and cranky.

I'm only going to mention Darfur this once, because everyone knows that living in Darfur is bad. Here are some things that are worse than being hungry but not as bad as living in Darfur:

1. A mudslide.
2. The Parmalat Scandal. This was in the news this morning!
3. A relative being angry with you (sorry, I couldn't find a Wikipedia article about this).
4. The pitiful showing by the Cavs in the NBA Finals. This is ridiculous. As much as it chagrins me to admit this, Tim Duncan is unstoppable, the Spurs are good, and LeBron is not there.

Christ, that's frustrating.

*Blood glucose. That's diabetic jargon that I learned from my pops.

I Know It's Played-Out...

But I am currently revisiting Writer's Block by Peter, Bjorn and John, and I am enjoying it unrepentantly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

That's Me Up There!

I've noticed (and perhaps this is a pit of masturbatory reflection, you have been warned, blogosphere) that when I'm improvising I often tend to play a version of myself with one of my personality traits unraveled and flitting around in the breeze. For example, I'll play a slightly twitchy guy who is REALLY depressed, or a slightly smart guy who is REALLY twitchy. I've counted seven iterations.*

I also find that this can be really easy to do. What I'm worried about though, is whether it's intellectually/artistically lazy to do this. Am I using it as a crutch? Am I forcing something on my scene partner when I bust out my "signature" nervous gulp and quavering voice?

I suppose the general issue is how much the artist affects the art. When I was doing academic work, I rejected all notions of biographical criticism. It didn't matter to me whether Hemingway was gay or Eliot was a fascist, because the meat of the work was in, well, the meat of the work: the text. But when an actor performs, how much should he allow himself to inhabit the role? Ian McKellen is gay, and pretty swish at that, but he played Gandalf decently butch, and was fun to watch perform. That said, I get the impression that Paul Giamatti is just like that in real life, and is also regarded highly as an actor (I like him, at least).

Maybe I'm giving myself a little too much credit. If a gag is funny, I should probably do it, I just want to make sure that I'm self-conscious so that when someone calls me out on having a shtick, I'm ready. And maybe this post is boring and academic at best, wanking at worst, but I just wanted to have one blog entry that didn't reference a science-fiction book or TV show that I like.

Mal Reynolds! Damn.

*Not really. I hate counting.

Monday, June 11, 2007

They Have a Fucking Parade

Over Labor Day weekend 2006, a few of my friends and I finally bit the bullet and attended Dragon*Con, which is, according to its website, "America's largest, multi-media, popular arts convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film." Clunky syntax aside, this definition is pretty accurate. It's also woefully inadequate.

Going to Dragon*Con is a transcendent experience. There is literally a parade of people in costumes, organized by fandom: Browncoats, Stargate, Harry Potter. Princess Leia slave girl costumes are dispersed evenly, every ten feet. I saw someone dressed as a Lego man, and there were endless iterations of costumed heroes. Unlike Halloween, where people wear costumes but maintain their subjectivity, Dragon*Con attendees adopt, to a degree, the persona of the character they are dressed as. I sat for a solid fifteen minutes and watched Solid Snake stalk a guard with an exclamation point over his head through the lobby of the Atlanta Hyatt. I think he finally garotted him somewhere near a throng of pirates, or maybe Bizarro Superman.

God bless this event. At Dragon*Con, people walk around enjoying themselves completely unironically, and it's a sight to see. It's a four-day party for people who normally don't get invited to parties (at least ones that don't have "LAN" in the name).

But this is a forward-looking blog, and as such, should concentrate on Dragon*Con 2007. So I have a few questions to ponder as I plan my experience:

1. What panels should I attend?
2. Should I go in costume? If so, what costume should I wear?
3. How much booze should a bring? A lot? A ton?

I'll keep you guys updated.