Tuesday, October 31, 2006

This Halloween I am Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Am I old Buffy?

Or new Buffy?

Only time will tell. New Buffy has much better stakes, though, and mine look more like one of those childhood giant pencils. Plus, I have leg warmers, and I know all the words to old Buffy's cheer squad cheer (How funky is your chicken? How funky is your chicken? How loose is your goose? Our goose is totally loose...etc). Well. That's as much incisive criticism as I am prepared to offer regarding the old Buffy - new Buffy - me Buffy tripartate.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Two things: one, today I met Diane von Furstenberg, who comes off as very charming and open in her lectures (talks, Q&As, what have you), and is disappointingly distant one-on-one. Granted, my one-on-one with her was about two seconds long in front of the iced tea tray, but it was still disappointing.

I suppose it's because I felt led on. Not only had there been Gopnik the day before, who makes everyone around him feel smart and interesting simply by possessing both of those characteristics himself, but also because I had originally expected her to be cold and distant, and had been warmed up by her talk. Let that be a lesson to me: not everyone who says they love all women actually want to talk to all women.

The second thing: in order to offset news of the soft taffeta breeze from the fashion world, I will post a couple more pictures of my gentle brother with big fuzzy dead things.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I very rarely have the opportunity to feel star-struck, but I did this afternoon, and it's all because of Adam Gopnik.

I have to admit that I didn't really know who he was until he came into vogue with Paris to the Moon, but that's also about the time that I started reading The New Yorker in earnest, so perhaps it's fair. So why become swoony upon meeting him? He was simply a delightful person to meet; very casual and interested and funny. And it was my first experience meeting someone whose work and art I honestly admire, and whose success I am quite impressed by, whom I was also able to speak to like a normal human being.

Well, sort of. Because he is not a particularly normal person. On one level he is abnormal on a upscale New Yorker (the type of person, not the magazine) level: he has taught his children to love naturally raised, most especially French, turkeys. But on another level, his knowledge is broad. He can tie into conversation, as into his essays, myriad strands of thought that could have been utterly disparate, and make them seemless.

And now I realize that I could go on gushing and swooning, but I won't. Why is it that he so impressed me, I wonder? I suppose it was just because he put me so much at ease.

Anyway, I recommend his new book, Through the Children's Gate, and I would love to know if anyone else is able to meet people that they're huge fans of without melting into a puddle afterwards.

Monday, October 23, 2006

This weekend I went to Safeway with Dave. Outside the store, as is often the case with grocery stores, there was a person asking for signatures and donations in the name of her cause. Her particular goal was to make pet abandonment illegal, which I think is fair enough, so I stopped to listen to her talk about it.

Unusually, she was asking for a $10 donation in order to "join" the organization (which organization it was never became clear to me, exactly). At first I balked at the price of signing, but maybe I've been watching too much West Wing or something, but I decided that this was an opportunity for me to exercise democracy. So, after shopping for various materials with which to make red beans & rice (did you know Safeway doesn't carry ham hocks?) and a roasted chicken and a toothbrush and what have you, I went back outside with cash in hand and told the woman to say what she had to say.

This woman was a little bit dirty. Her operation was shoddy at best, with weathered signs and a 50-cent notebook on which to collect signatures. When I came back outside to sign up, she was eating a corndog. She needed to set the corndog down in order to point to various things, and I offered to hold it. But the corndog was sliding down the stick and I tried to lightly nudge it back up and she adopted the tone of someone who is about to be done a grievous wrong.

"Don't touch it," she said, putting her hand to her forehead as I unwittingly disobeyed.

Ok, so the crazy lady had a corndog, but did she have politics? I guess I'm not sure. She talked about traveling with the one group of animal activists who are still trying to make law, and thus are not eligible for federal grants. She talked about how difficult the fight was, how only one person (not me) had signed up all day, and how frustrating and ridiculous it is to pass law. She also mentioned that her group had made animal cruelty illegal in California.

It was a little difficult to believe that she was responsible for the entire legal battle for animal rights. But I didn't know. And certainly, an unpopular group that needs to ask for large amounts of money from squeamish shoppers has the chance to become bedraggled. So I signed up. Despite her somewhat OCD tendencies, she seemed sincere, and she had the manner of a person who has had to deal with a lot of fuck-ups (she made me stay for an extra few minutes while she checked over what I had written for legibility, for example).

And I didn't really care if the money ended up going to food for her, if her signs were shams. And I did, in the end, feel like I had participated in something. Democracy now?

Friday, October 13, 2006

I've been going to a lot of talks lately, as well as mentally organizing a reading list for myself, and the combination of these things (especially since I'm currently re-reading The Master and Margerita) has made me think a lot about when I was in Russia and how hungry I was there for comprehensible words, especially in the early days.

For example, there was a terrible weekly English-language paper called The St. Petersburg Times that was distributed near my school (and at which, incidentally, my friend Sabrina was a copy-editor for a time; the only one they paid!). It was so poorly written that under normal circumstances I would never have given it a second chance. However, when I originally decamped for foreign shores, I figured that I should bring very limited English-language reading materials to encourage myself to read - and thus learn - more Russian. Of course, I wolfed down the novel I brought with me in the first week or two, and from there on out I was scrounging for scraps; the The St. Petersburg Times was a regular and welcome addition to my fare (if you want an example of how low I sunk, I did at one point read The Devil Wears Prada in a single night).

In the midst of this, a strange thing occured that for some reason resonated with my homesickness, my desire for anything written down that I could easily understand (in any language), and the sort of dizzy circus that Russia occasionally makes of your mind.

My friend Roxanne was in St. Petersburg at the same time as me, and on her birthday she invited me out to the theatre with her. After seeing an amusing but peculiar version of Don Juan (starring, for anyone in the know about teleseriali, some guy from Brigada! Girls ran onstage and gave him tons of flowers! His co-star was dressed as a giant chicken throughout and we never knew why!) we decided to go back to Rox's erstwhile apartment and toast her new year.

However, Rox was in the middle of moving from one dorm to another, and thus the apartment she was staying in wasn't hers; the guys who lived there were a funny mix of ex-pats, who called and said they were at a bar down the block when we arrived with vodka. They said they'd be right by, and instructed us to wait at the courtyard gate. As we stood there, on a dark sidestreet looking somewhat fancy in our theatre clothes and laughing about the show (really! a giant chicken!), three men(/boys/manboys) approached us; two circled away from us, and one walked straight in our direction, holding a white piece of paper forward in his hand at near-eye level.

Somehow, without knowing in any way what was going on, Roxanne and I both suddenly assumed that the boy was holding a chloroformed cloth, and that he was going to knock us out and do god knows what. We back up against the gate, but didn't have much time to react before he was right there.

As it turned out, he was holding out a paper explaining that he was deaf and dumb, and asking us for a handout. Now, I've seen people do this in America, but in Russia it's a pretty well-known scam; one guy distracts you with his pity plea, and his cohorts suavely pick your pockets. The strange thing was, although he was practically laughing and almost certainly lying, his friends didn't make any attempt to get anywhere near us. As I've said, we were on a dark side street, alone. If the operation had miraculously been legit, or if they'd been trying to rob us, it would have made sense for the other guys to at least come near to us. But they didn't.

I left this situation with a weird taste in my mouth for several reasons: partially, it was unsettling to think I was about to be chloroformed. But then, the misinterpretation, the misinformation, was so very strange. We felt danger for the wrong reasons, the boy with the paper was lying, and the mini-heist or trick or whatever it was was pulled off so poorly. What was it that we didn't understand?

Finally, I remember being somewhat relieved that I could read the piece of paper. In the midst of that bizarre, even if imagined, danger, I still had a conscious desire to consume and hold onto language. It grounded me.

And now, for no particular reason, but because I wanted to include a picture, here is Reynold's 'Self Portrait as a Deaf Man'

Monday, October 09, 2006

First, a quick fix, in the form of Kurt Vonnegut on the Daily Show:

Second, yesterday I had, and took, the opportunity to see Tom Brokaw give a talk. At first I was impressed by his poise and candor; he spoke with great openness on any subject presented to him (by Eric Schmidt, of Google). However, when the talk proceeded to the Q&A phase, it quickly degenerated. One of the hot topics facing the media today is whether or not those who are dispensing the news are doing so with impartiality; I've heard Rush Limbaugh talk with as much vehemence as Jon Stewart - and using much the same language - on the topic of whether or not the media lives and breathes scratchy toady breaths under the thumb of political parties.

However, when asked whether various facets of the media are simply telling their corresponding audiences what they want to hear, he just answered that today's consumers of the news have a great deal to choose from, and must be more discriminating than viewers past. This is a valid enough point. But when the question was rephrased, when Brokaw was asked whether the media itself was living up to its end of the bargain (of, in this case, presenting accurate information that viewers must sort through and interpret as they will), he was incredibly dodgy.

I suppose one can chalk that sort of behavior up to taking care of one's own. As an active member of the team of Big Names in the tv news sky, Brokaw has a right to believe that the people he works with are Doing the Best that they Can. It is also, to a degree, admirable not to engage in the bitter debate between the extreme news left (Steven Colbert, perhaps) and the extreme news right (Fox News, anyone?), when little ever comes of such a dispute other than name calling and tattletaling. But there was a sense, in the room in which I was sitting, of palpable anxiety, a thirst for information and for an actual opinion. The question was being asked about newscasters and newspapermen at large - the NY Times, not the Onion; BBC Nightly News, not The Colbert Report. Are these women and men fulfilling their responsibility to present the public with impartial and important information? And, perhaps more importantly, are they searching for it?

Reading over what I've written here, I have too agree with Brokaw to some degree: the news is not just a pill we have to pop, it's the story of the world, and that's bound to take some sifting through. My main frustration was, and remains, that he did not acknowledge that part of the responsibility falls on those people who are presenting the news: they have chosen that life, it is, in the best of cases, their calling and their passion. So the fight for better news reporting should be also theirs, and they should own it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Martin and the Great Deer

Martin and the Great Bear!

Sorry, no pictures of the bloody deer pelt as yet.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The monkey represented here is mimicking the bad behavior of his human captor. Does this go to show that all evil finds its root in mankind? And if the animal kingdom is equally susceptible, is it culpable? If so, can we blame all of our problems on baby monkeys?

This monkey's fight face would suggest: maybe. Just maybe.