Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What are you listening to?

What a stupid question. I guess lately

Die Antwoord
Madeleine Peyroux
Boby Lapointe
Joe Flood
Les Chauds Lapins
The Cure
Carole King
James Fletcher
Lionel Ritchie
Noir Desir
Baxter Dury
Justin Townes Earle
The Dead Weather
Alain Goraguer

and many more.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Placebo Effect

I've been thinking a lot about the Placebo Effect lately. There was a story in the the New Yorker about it a few weeks ago. One of the points it was making was that the placebo effect works in physical ways that are not even understood yet. It is a clearly documented, scientific fact that believing that something will cure you can have positive effects on your health. The placebo effect works. The mind exerts a very powerful force on the body. If this is the case, why do some very positive people die? Maybe the Placebo Effect is just like any other remedy? What I would like to know is this; is a placebo more effective than no treatment at all? This is fucking with my mind. I believe in the placebo effect. In fact I believe that the placebo effect is more powerful than any drug if you can actually let your body be fooled by your mind. But this is not always easy.
I know lots of very intelligent people who cured themselves with belief. I know others who believed, and yet they still got sick and died. My mother was one of those. When I was a teenager, I swallowed the pill of religion, the pill of Jesus Christ, my personal buddy, my tough, bearded bodyguard. When i was a pimply-faced thirteen-year old, my life was crumbling around me. My parents' marriage was falling apart. My balls were growing hair and my penis was spurting white milky goo. My face was covered with acne and all i could ever think about, all day, every day, was sex. I found solace and belonging in a group of Southern California Christians. I prayed and I sang and I communed with other young, confused, sexy Christians from Orange County, California. I learned how to play the guitar so i could stand at the front of the group at bible studies every Wednesday night and join our leaders in a round of godly singing. The songs we sang were Christian and also secular, songs by Bob Dylan and Car Stevens and songs to the cool, surfing Jesus we could swallow. Being the guitar player at these church gatherings was my first taste of performance, and it filled my heart like heroin.
I recently learned from a very close friend of my mother's that the reason she died at the age of 47 was that she refused to have a double mastectomy, against the advice of her doctors and friends. Something inside her refused to believe that she had to sacrifice her body, her breasts, her feminine physique to save her life. She made a fatal error and she died for it, when i was 19 years old and my sister was 17. It was a very strange realization to make that part of my mother's undoing was something as simple as vanity. I know it's more complicated, she had been through a divorce, she had recently started a relationship with a new man, and she wanted to feel that she could still draw on the reserves of her sexuality to be desirable. She wanted to be sexy and be in love, after the nightmare of her failed marriage was finally behind her, her children were growing up (I was a freshman in college and my sister was a junior in high school) and she had a solid career as an administrator at McDonell Douglas. For her, the option to have her breasts removed to counteract the effects of a disease that seems only middy threatening and easily curable seemed like no optional all.
This is a sad story and it ended badly. I wish she could have lived to meet my gorgeous wife, my beautiful kids, my sister's family. What am i left with? An unshakeable belief in the power of entropy and randomness, and a deep mistrust of cancer. Don't fuck with cancer. The placebo effect works up to a point but then science has to step in. But then again, science is not always so smart either.
Now there are more loved ones suffering from this disease, and they must deal with it in various ways. They must summon their faith in science or nature or the divine healing energy of the earth, or a combination thereof. I love them all and wish them long life.
Adam Yauch, one of the members of the Beasty Boys, just died last month of throat cancer. He was 47 years old, the same age as my mother when she died. What does this tell me? I'm getting older all the time and I'm so thankful for all of the beauty that surrounds me. I'd like to think i've contributed to some of the world's happiness, and there's a lot more to come.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmastime in New York!

It's that magical time of the year in the Big Apple! What that means for those of us that work in the midtown area is that the twenty square block area between Central Park and 50th Street and Lexington and 8th Avenue are completely crammed with tourists from all over the world. They can be found weaving slowly down the street, looking at their phones, wondering which iconic landmark to visit. As you try to cross the street and go down the subway, they walk slowly, blocking your way, staring  mouths agape at the wonder of Radio City Music Hall, the majesty of Bergdorf Goodman, the awesome loveliness of that big-ass tree, the overwhelming beauty of Uniqlo and the Gap and the Lego Store! 

One of my favorite things about Christmas in New York is the bootleg characters panhandling on 5th Avenue. These are people who manage to find or create an unlicensed costume of some famous Disney or Sesame Street character and then accost people who try to take their photos. Here's a picture of Elmo asking for change in front of some kind of military vehicle that is menacingly keeping watch over the thousands of tourists thronging the streets in front of Radio City Music Hall. This particular Elmo is relatively dirt free and not very aggressive, and he didn't seem at all upset when I took his photo and didn't leave a tip, which is quite rare.

Here's a picture of the window display at Bergdorf Goodman, with a reflection of the Plaza in the background. I work at the Plaza on occasion, and I was struck by this scene as I was leaving work. It appears to be a dinner party hosted by a very fancy lady who invited her favorite half-men, half-animals to attend. Smoking jackets required. I'm not sure if she knows that they are standing a little too close to her, and they look a little too hungry for such a hoity-toity event. Pass them some more crab cakes before someone gets hurt!

This is a mariachi band that played at my friend Jorge's annual Tamalada, which is a Mexican holiday party with all the tamales you can eat, lots of booze, and dancing to this fantastic mariachi band. The guy on the right is playing an instrument I had never seen before, which is called a marimbol. It is like a massive bass version of a kalimba, the African thumb piano. It has huge tines in a big hollow box, and it makes an amazingly rich, resonant bass sound. I love Christmas in New York.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Carbuncle on the Ass of America

I finally made it down to Occupy Wall Street today. I've been trying to find the time to go down to Zucotti Park, to check  out an actual outpouring of American dissent, but I've been much too busy working for a living. My schedule as a freelance cameraman, musician, and husband (soon-to-be father of twins) has made it  impossible for me to make the trip down to the designated protest center of American leftist activism thus far. But this afternoon I finally found the time to venture down there with my wife and a friend to see what all the fuss is about.
First, I have to briefly describe a telephone conversation I had with a friend who works in the banking industry about Occupy Wall Street two days ago. We were in college together, we were amateur agitators together, we protested the perceived evils of capitalism together. In college in the early 90's, we sat shirtless on a freeway in San Diego playing bongo drums, in collusion with five hundred passionate activists blocking traffic for five hours until the SWAT team came and forcibly removed us. We were protesting a fee increase in tuition at UCSD and demanding that the President of our university explain his actions publicly to the student body and the media. On many other occasions, we took to the streets, marched, chanted, disrupted business, and occupied student buildings, demanding justice. Our causes seem scattered at best today. We were angry about arbitrary University fee hikes. We were outraged about the Rodney King verdict and demanded that our school officials make a public statement of dissent. At the drop of a hat, we organized rallies and concerts and marches. We were privileged university students using our free time, blanketed in the knowledge of our safety from harassment and violence to make our voices heard.
So yesterday I spoke to my old protest buddy about Occupy Wall Street. He told me that he went down there after work, walking the few blocks down from his job at a major financial institution with a colleague. His impression was that these were a bunch of trust fund kids, a gaggle of professional protesters who  were there for the party, for the spotlight, for the food, for the drums, to meet members of the opposite sex, to get laid, to rant, to play bongo drums. They had no real political agenda, no clear goal, no stated purpose. He felt they were dangerous, irresponsible, useless burning man types. His reaction surprised me, but I hadn't yet been down there so I reserved my judgment till I had a chance to see for myself.
He was right and he was wrong. Occupy Wall Street is a spontaneous cry for attention. It is a collective voicing of American discontent with no clear focus, no concensus on policy or process, no leadership, and no hierarchy of purpose. It is an unorganized outpouring of liberal frustration. If you were to ask every person holding a sign what his or her underlying philosophy is, the unifying thread might be something along the lines of "Capitalism in America is not working." And this vagueness, this lack of clear focus is what gives this protest its power. No one is holding the reins. No one is in charge. People are just simply angry, sad, and disillusioned. And we live in a country that allows us to voice our protest with very little risk of serious consequences. But to say that we have the unconditional freedom to protest in this country is to give much too much credit to the police.
I have taken part in protests in New York before, once at the outbreak of the war in Iraq, when 500,000 protesters attempted to march up Fifth Avenue. The police cordoned off every block, forcing people into crowded holding pens. Policemen on horseback rode into crowds with no escape route, forcing them to push down barricades and be arrested. I was standing with a group of people when we were charged head-on by a horse, forcing me to run onto a parked car to avoid being crushed. A woman who was with me, eight months pregnant and fearing for her safety, had to quickly run to the subway and go home.
The situation in Zucotti Park right now is no different. The police are firmly in charge. Make no mistake, if you make a wrong move, they will take you down. The whole happy, hippy, freaky protest is reigned in on all sides by barricades and cops with guns. If you stop too long to look or take a photo, a cop yells at you to keep walking. Since when is it against the law to stand on a sidewalk?
Which brings me back to my impression of  the protest; I love it! Finally people are going out of their way to poke a hole in the bogus charade that consumerism works and the market will take care of everything. People don't really know why they are unhappy, or what to do about it, but they know that something is very wrong. And it's not just trustafarians, anarchist hobos or burning man travelers looking for the next good drum circle. It is people from every walk of life, representing every  level of education and employment who are deeply dissatisfied with the deal we've been given here in America. Granted, there are a lot of lost souls looking for a movement to grab onto. You have to have the time to afford being arrested if you actually march outside of the park. But in the park, there are all types.
Some are angry at the finance industry, the cycle of consumerism and credit that leads down the dark hole of unmanageable debt and despair. Some are mystified by the endless cycle of military spending and the wars created and continued to justify it at the expense of education and social services. Some are outraged by multi-million dollar bonuses being awarded to the heads of corporations in the same years that thousands of jobs are being cut. Some resent bank bailouts and the whole "too big to fail" mindfuck. Some want solar power, wind power, an end to nuclear arms, whatever. A lot of people are just there to say fuck you to the Tea Party. Whatever the reasons, Americans are actually getting off of their asses, taking their eyes off their computer/tv/phone screens, meeting in public and rallying together as a force for liberal thought.
This is a wonderful thing. I have no idea if anything will come of it. My feeling is that it will basically become a "People's Park" of New York, a perpetual carbuncle on the ass of capitalist America. I think Bloomberg would never risk the ire that would come from forcibly stopping the party. And I think America needs a lot more carbuncles of this kind. In my native country of France, people protest every single time anything happens that they disagree with. They prostest way too much. They shut down the country, they cripple transportation, all to get their point across. It is a huge pain in the ass, but it works. We could stand to take a page from the French when it comes to protesting.  Though if it actually effects change remains to be seen. Maybe the kids who met at OWS go on to form PACS, to lobby their congresspeople, or to run for office. Maybe the tourist from Nebraska who stops there on her way to the 9/11 memorial with her family gains the courage to oppose the dominant viewpoint of her high school or her church. Whatever the outcome, it is a beautiful thing to behold.
Because of some inane law, there is no amplification of any kind allowed at Zucotti Park.(Where is that law when it comes to car alarms, or car stereos blasting shitty music outside my window at 3AM?) As a result of this, there is a corner of the park where people take turns voicing their agendas at a normal speaking voice, line by line, and their statements are then echoed by a throng of bystanders, effectively amplifying their statements in an ancient ritual. The process is enough to send chills down the spine. The truth will out.
If you live in New York, go down there. If you don't, occupy your own Wall Street or Wallmart or Sesame Street or any other street, real or imagined, where money is not the answer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Food and Feuds

Just spent two weeks in France for rest and recreation with my fine lady, and upon my return I am struck with the fact that it was all about food and feuds. Feasts and grudges, banquets and vendettas, dinners and drama.
First we spent a week in the southwest, in a region called Le Gers, where my father lives in a two-hundred-year old farmhouse which has been in his wife’s family since the 60’s and which I have been visiting since shortly after my birth (long story for another time.) 
We were there for my step-brother’s wedding, and though it was a joyous occasion filled with family and friends, it was marred by some petty family squabbles of the most juvenile and unsavory variety. Even as we sat down to enjoy a seven course meal, (beginning at 9:30 at night with a charcuterie plate featuring foie gras, and ending with a cheese course, desert, and armagnac the same age as the groom at about 1AM, by way of confit de canard, shrimp ├ęclairs, and countless other delights) various family factions drew lines in the sand and held grudges. Cousins snubbed cousins, brothers begrudged mothers, and all of it swirled around and left a slight stink that almost threatened to overpower the delightful aroma of the morbier. I chose to remain blissfully ignorant, or rather duplicitously ignorant, since I knew about all the scuffles but pretended not to. I played some Brassens songs with my uncle Yves and my brother-in-law Gerald for the guests, and danced till 7AM with my step-brother and his wonderfully international, educated, and cosmopolitan friends. Throughout the party, the bartender at the chateau cheerfully served up beer after beer as the party showed no sign of abating. His only request was for the DJ to turn down the music slightly at about 5Am, even as he served beers to the sweating dancers as the sun came up. At sunrise, I suggested we take a swim in the pool, so a few die-hards climbed the fence and washed away our cares in the pool as the birds started to chirp.
I woke up just in time for brunch the next afternoon, where I was late and therefore missed most of the family squabbling that was being recounted by various factions. 
It is worth noting that the wedding was a bi-cultural one between an English/French man and a Yemeni/French woman, and the guests and family members were French as well as Yemeni, spoke French as well as Arabic, and professed Christian and Muslim, as well as atheist religious affiliations. It is also worth noting that there was never the slightest tension or impropriety because of this fact. During the rehearsal dinner, I sat next to a 97-year old man who was a “pretre ouvrier,” meaning a “laborere-priest.” This distinction meant that he was not paid by the church, and instead traveled the world to aid the poorest and most afflicted. He was a family friend of the bride’s mother, a Yemeni who spent most of her life in Marseille. He was the officiant at the ceremony, and he made a point to include all philosophies and faiths. At the rehearsal dinner, he was seated next to the uncle of the bride, a Yemeni who made a heartfelt toast in Arabic, which was then translated into French by another family member. Unfortunately this did not help my wife Chelsea or my brother-in-law, who understand neither. But as the speech grew more impassioned and tears were shed, it became clear that there was strong spirit of common love and respect in the room generated by the lovely newlyweds. Unfortunately, other members of the family who were not in attendance were saving all of their special wedding party animosity for the following night. I don’t want to get into the details in case they read this… The food trumpet the feud. We spent the next two days enjoying the company of my eccentric French family and soaking up the countryside.

Then it was off to Corsica, an island that has been an aosis and a battleground for longer than history has been recorded. Before the Romans, there were the various celtic tribes, the indo-europeans, and others before them. And now this breathtakingly beautiful island flies the flag of Frnace, but really feels like the bastard child of southern Italy and Napa Valley. Speaking of feuds, the mafia has had an ongoing stake in the business dealings of Crosica for centuries. In fact, as we were flying from Toulouse to Ajaccio, I read in Le Monde that  the billionaire scion of a large manufacturing enterprise, Fabrice Vial, who had just purchased a luxury yacht line called Couach, was gunned down by sniper as he was sipping champagne with his young girlfriend on his own yacht, docked in the port of Porto Vecchio. No doubt the victim of very high stakes organized crime maneuvering, a modern-day descendant of the vendettas passed on from generation to generation since antiquity.

And as we journeyed all around this breathtaking paradise, it was easy to see how blood could be spilled competing for dominion of it. Huge volcanic mountain ranges ringed by crystal blue water and white-sand beaches reminded us of an endless Big Sur.
And the food. Holy Poseidon! The freshest, most delicious seafood I have ever eaten. Spicy fish soup with croutons and garlic mayonnaise. Grilled tilapia right out of the boat. A fish stew bursting with every kind of sea creature, fresh out of the ocean. Every restaurant we ate at seemed to be perched on the precipice of the most breathtaking view ever created by nature.

 There were cows on the beach.As I lay in blissful stupor, soaking in the Corsican sun, it occurred to me that cows have served as food for humans, oblivious to the battles and wars being perpetrated by the race of two-legged animals with which they share a world. In their case, the only way to avoid a feud is to become food.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thank You

I recently found this letter in my records. It was written in the days of beepers. Please savor its outdated quaintness.

Taxi Commission
Attention David Hind:
I am writing to praise the good deed of one of your drivers. On Tuesday, February 16th at approximately 10:45 AM, Hai Wei Yu picked me up on Broome Street and drove me to Vessey Street. I left my beeper in his taxi. I called the taxi hotline and they gave me Mr. Yu’s phone number. I called him that night and he said he had found my beeper in his cab. He brought it back to my house the following Monday. I would like to praise Mr.Yu for his thoughtful act. He is a good driver.
Hai Wei Yu’s medallion number is 1G99. His license Number is 441929.
Please put this commendation in his file.
___ __ ___

Thursday, August 25, 2011



Biker welds a vast jar, five grams.

Radion? Knees rot.

Go pony! Bike is demoted.

Wide warts on the crown. King is demoted. Hail crown rot!

Now go hail humour. If the eel zaps the goat or ox, vast destiny rots.

Or bet on gay erotica. Avid knees or wide eels hit and jar.

Hail Id! Hail vast ore of destiny!

NOUNS erotica goat crown rot bet destiny bike knees humour eel grams hit pate wart jar pony radion biker id ox five vox la bin ore VERBS rot welds bet bike demoted humour hail zap hit jar go ADJECTIVES demoted gay vast avid wide CONJUNCTIONS or nor if

Orange Julius

My first job when I was 15 was working at Orange Julius, one block away from the beach in Newport Beach, California. Orange Julius was a greasy, unsanitary fast food chain specializing in hamburgers, hot dogs with all kinds of glutinous "fixins'" and Orange Julius, a sweet fruity drink made of ice, yogurt, various combinations of fruit and a secret ingredient. The branch I reported to every day was in a part of the beach called "the Fun Zone," a carnivalesque hangout for stoned surfers, over-tanned, fake breasted beach bunnies, and zombified junky street punks.

After about two weeks of working behind the counter in my orange and brown polyester outfit serving the impatient tourists their slop, I started to befriend the other mostly Mexican boys who worked there for their $4.75 an hour (minimum wage in 1985.) One day I was fixing myself a custom-made Orange Julius when I noticed two of the employees looking at me and giggling. I blended the ice, yogurt, orange juice, and crushed raspberries into a cup, and was about to put in the "secret ingredient." This was nothing more than sugar water, which was stored in a huge 50 gallon vat in the back of the store. It had to be refilled and mixed with bags of sugar about every three days when it ran out. This was part of the closing duties.

"Don't use the sugar water," one of them warned me.

"I like the sugar water, it makes it sweet," I replied.

"I wouldn't use it if I were you. It's for the tourists."

I had already made myself dozens of Orange Juliuses by this time, but I took his advice, fearing the worst.

That night at closing time the two employees let me in on their little secret. As I was sweeping the sandy floor of the restaurant, one of the boys called me into the back. I walked around the corner and saw him with his pants unzipped, a yellow arc of hot piss streaming into the sugar water.

The Beginning of the Story

The story is as follows: Vida is from Serbia. She married a man she called a “tall drink of water” who was also of Serbian descent. They opened a diner together in Southern California before the war. After the war they adopted over a dozen children from troubled homes. They saved these children from abuse and neglect and malnutrition and sadness and even death. Her name is Vida Kavosovitch, and her husband is Savo Kavosovithch. By the time I come to know them, in the late 1970's, their names have been changed to Sam and Vida Glush. They have been fully integrated into American life. One of their adopted children was my mother, Marilyn Rae Fowler. 
Marilyn was born in 1942 to an American father and a mother of Russian Jewish descent. The sands of time have blown away many of the pertinent facts about her biological parents, but this is what i think I know. Her mother and father were lower middle class laborers. Her father, R.W. Fowler, was a drunk who had trouble hanging on to gainful employment. Her mother, who came from a jewish family, gave up everything when she married R.W. When her jewish kin heard she had married a non-jew, they wrote her out of their lives. She was dead to them, to the point where they literally held a funeral for her. Into this morass was born my mother, one  of six children. Betty, Paul , Florence, Marilyn, Phillip, and Terry. Of the six, two or three remain. I know that Betty and Florence are still with us and I am in touch with them. Terry disassociated himself from the family sometime in the early 80's and has never been heard from since. He may or may not be still alive.
The rest of the family came to their ends in this way; Phillip died of some sort of heart failure in the mid 80's. I remember him sleeping on our couch in Costa Mesa and breathing very heavily, his large lumbering chest toiling for air. Paul died of AIDS a bit later, in the late 80's. Marilyn, my mother, died of breast cancer in 1989. She was the only one in the family to have attended university.
On the other side of the family, there is a man named Victor Hemery. He is an internationally recognized, champion auto racer. In the early 1910's, he broke the world record for speed in an automobile, which he held for about twenty years. I think he went something like 100 miles and hour in one of those crazy jalopies that they drove back then. He drove for BMW and won races all over France and and europe, and also in Russia and the United Staes. There is a photo of him looking proud and fierce at the wheel of his car hanging on my hallway in Brooklyn and he looks exactly like my father. Or vice versa. My middle name is Victor, after this man. When he was 75 years old, after a life of fame and glory, he decided that he had had enough. He was ready to get off the ferris wheel of life. A madman and an egomaniac and probably a depressive, he had subjected his family to the whims of his scalding personality. They knew his ways and so they did not trust him to preserve his safety. His wife kept a close watch on him. She had two young daughters, one named Martine, (my great aunt, who I came to know and love very well, and to whom my father was very attached later in life) and Huguette, my grandmother. One fateful day Victor sent his wife and young daughters away, against their wishes. He drove his car into their garage in Tarbes, France, closed the door, and turned on the ignition. He let the exhaust fill the room and drifted into oblivion, letting one of the machines that had brought him so much glory shuttle him out of this mortal reality.
Victor's daughter Huguette married a man named Paul de Gaillande, my grandfather. He was a civil servant living in the south of France during the difficult years of German occupation in the 1940s. In 1943, they had their first child, a son named Philippe (my father). Times were tough under the Vichy regime and resources were scarce. The town organized a "cutest baby" contest, and the prize was an additional reserve of wartime rations. Baby Philippe was the winner, and the family received a bonus of food rations. In 1945, Paul was appointed a position as a an administrator in a French colony in North Africa, and the family moved to Morocco.
In 1946, while in Morocco, a second son was born, my uncle Yves. He was a "pied noir" (literally translated as "black feet") meaning he was a white man born on black soil, so only his feet were black. The family lived an idyllic and peaceful existence as colonial French occupiers in Morocco. My father recounts this part of his life as a dream of youthful nostalgia. The family lived in a seaside port town called Mazagan (a name left over from Portuguese occupation). They had a large, comfortable, government supplied villa with a cook and housekeeper. They coexisted in harmony with Moroccan society. They played on the beach with the many French expatriates in their community, and their associations with Moroccans were seemingly copacetic and friendly. My father recalls with fondness his cook Mohammed, who cheerfully admitted his sexual relations with livestock in times of desperation. For the French youth growing up in Morocco in the 50's, life was sunshine and wonder. The Moroccans, to their understanding, were appreciative of the influence of the French on their existence. And then in 1954, it all went topsy turvy and the Moroccans demanded their independence. They kicked out the French, but for some reason, they dind't kick them all out. My father's  family stayed another two years until 1956.
Then it was time to go back to France. My father was a moody and rebellious teenager. The family relocated to Tarbes, in the southwest. Philippe the heavy lidded philosopher was dissatisfied and restless. The move back to France was not to his liking. He did well in school and read well, but the spirit of the times manifested itself in his young mind as an overall dissatisfaction with society as a whole and a general personal feeling of alienation that would never leave him.
In 1956, southern California was a land of orange groves and newly built freeways. Marilyn Fowler was not satisfied with her lot in life. Her father had trouble holding a job, and her mother had turned to evangelical Christianity to soothe her suffering. The family of six was not making ends meet. Living in a trailer park in Baldwin Park, R.W. kept a gaggle of german shepherds which he seemed to value more than his own children. Marilyn was a bright student and very involved in school activities like cheerleading. But things at home were not to her liking. At age 14, she made the momentous decision to run away from home and try to find a better life. I'm not really sure how it all went down, but she turned herself in to the authorities and asked to be placed in a foster home. They placed her in the home of Sam and Vida Glush.
In the Glush home, Marilyn thrived. Sam and Vida provided material comfort and an abundance of love and support. A stream of foster children came and went, but Marilyn stayed. She was one of two children who the Glushes adopted as their own, the other being Carol. Marilyn was a very accomplished student, and she graduated from high school early, at age 16. She applied and was accepted to U.C. Berkeley. She entered in 1961 at age 17.
At Berkeley, Marilyn did her best to do well in school, fully appreciating the opportunity she had been given. She was the first person from her adopted and birth families to enter college. 
Once there, Marilyn found the political upheaval of the Vietnam war protests very distracting. She wanted to get to class and get her degree, and she found her way literally blocked by protesters, many of whom were kids with trust funds who could afford to jeopardize their educations. I think this formed the profound political ambivalence she carried for the rest of her life. On the one hand, she sympathized with the causes and philosophies being espoused and championed by the youth movements around her, but on he other hand she resented the casual irresponsibility of the leisure class who had the freedom to risk their educations in service of protest.
But Marilyn was a worldly and sophisticated young lady, and she wanted to embrace life. She befriended the daughter of wealthy New England Industrialists. Louise was a painter and artist and spirited hippie. She and Marilyn hit it off right away. Marilyn began to pursue a career in acting and modeling. Louise and her parents were happy to help relieve some of Marilyn's financial burdens, and they welcome Marilyn's stabilizing influence on their wild daughter. Louise and marilyn made a plan to go to Paris.

Flying Bear Heaven

I wrote this about ten years ago when I was working at Goldman Sachs in the "multimedia" department.


Wall Street is where I work, but I am an impostor there. I go to work every day disguised as a willing cog in the investment banking machine, but I am a dreamer and a poet. They pay me to keep the machine running, but I spend my time daydreaming about ways to destroy the system that keeps me alive.

I have a high-paid, non-finance-related, technical job, which gives me ample free time and constant exposure to people who work in the world of finance. I am not one of them. I hate what they stand for. There may be decent individuals among them, but after three years of working among them, I can honestly say that I despise their lifestyle and their arrogant worldview. I stay there because working for them gives me freedom to dream and write, and also to travel. I have traveled to many interesting places on the payroll of the bank. I consider myself a field researcher on the intricacies of human greed.

Every morning I either take the bus or ride my bike from my apartment in Chinatown to the gleaming edifices of the financial district. It is a short distance physically, but the psychological transformation one must undergo to “belong” on Wall Street is huge. I get up every morning, take a shower, comb my hair, shave, put on deodorant, put on nice, pleated pants, a good shirt, and the obligatory tie. After all of this I look like a guy who works on Wall Street. When I ride the elevator to the 31st floor in the Goldman Sachs building at 180 Maiden Lane, I look like any one of the young investment bankers there. But I’m not one of them. I’m different. I’m an imposter. I have not made the necessary psychological transformation to become a banker on the inside. I will never make that transformation.

Usually my day at the office involves sitting through any number of soul-crushing meetings about meetings about meetings. My only respite comes from the Dream. I often lapse into the Dream. In the Dream, I am always a big brown bear, and something wonderful and violent always happens. Today, as I settle in to the first of many meetings designed to drain the lifeblood and crush the will of the participant, I feel myself dozing. I am sleepy, and maybe if I relax, just maybe I will go there, I will drift, I will be, I will…

Now I’m a big brown bear, and I am striding down the hallways feeling warm and sleepy. I fall to all fours; it’s more comfortable this way. No one notices my transformation. I go into the cafeteria and I eat one of the waitresses, clothes and all. She screams a little but no one notices. I go into one of the closets and it is lined in animal furs, soft and downy. It is dark and smells like honey and smoke, like a campfire. I curl up in a soft fluffy corner. I have a big window in front of me. The lights of Brooklyn shine from across the East River. I am sooo sleeepy. My big meal sits comfortably in my stomach. I am a big sleepy, ferocious, lazy predator. I want to savor this feeling, but I drift into sleep.

In my dream, I dream I am flying. I am a dream bear dreaming I am a flying bear. I fly out over the city, looking into windows. I fly gracefully, pawing the air with my giant arms. It feels like swimming in warm, liquid air. I see naked women, people fighting, people cooking, lots of people watching TV. Some see me and run to the window, call their husbands, call the police, scream. I take no notice, for I am warm and sleepy and free. I fly up up up, high above the buildings. An airplane whooshes past me, about fifty feet away. Close call, better go back down. Back down to the buildings and lights and cars. Back into my window, into my safe downy fur nest, back to sleep. When I wake up, I will be asleep. Reality doesn’t exist. This is it. I am exempt. I am sentenced to perpetual comfort, rest, flight and freedom. I guess I died and went to flying bear heaven.

My pager vibrates at my hip. I am back at Goldman Sachs. I have to go help a client plug in a computer. I see my reflection in the window. I am no longer a bear. I am a clean-cut, professional, businesslike human male, about thirty years old. No one will suspect that I am sometimes a flying bear. I meet the client. She is a middle-aged woman, yet it seems she has been dead for most of her life. She exudes no life force whatsoever. Her professional demeanor has left her dead. I plug in her laptop. Her body language lets me know she wants me to leave. She mouths “thanks” as she looks past me. I walk out, back to my cubicle.

It occurs to me that “cubicle” rhymes with “testicle.” If a cubicle is a testicle and I live in a cubicle, does that make me a spermatozoa? If so, into what womb am I being prepared to shoot? Most likely I am one of the hundreds of billions that will die in a condom or die of exposure on a pair of breasts, or sizzle in stomach juice, or perish in an esophagus or in a colon. Of course I don’t mean I will literally die in a digestive tract, but if I stay in my cubicle, I will most certainly not reach the proverbial egg. I have to venture out, wiggle my tail and swim.

Sometimes rage overtakes me and I just want to shake everyone. I want to take my co-workers by the shoulders and shout: “When did you die? Was it when you left your parents’ house in New Jersey, when you realized you had to marry your father or your mother to keep that child-like security alive?” Mostly I just wait until the fur grows and I become the bear again.

Now it’s time for another meeting. The speaker is discussing yesterday’s meeting and fielding comments about this morning’s meeting. I’m feeling sleepy again, very sleepy, so so sleeeeepy…

Now I am skulking through the corridors again. It is warm. I swing to the right, crash a spindly door down with my great, brawny bear arm. Inside are the stacks of computers and servers. This is the LAN room, where the information nests. I lumber in and lean against one of the towers and it crashes to the ground. Cables rip and glass breaks. Millions of gigabytes of information are lost forever. Who owes what money to whom, what company is sucking the blood out of what individuals? Gone. It feels good, and I go from tower to tower, slashing and crushing and tumbling the plastic and metal like so much kindling. Two skinny men with glasses rush into the room. It is John and Felix from the I.T. department. I rip out John’s trachea with my sharp claws. He falls gurgling to the ground, spurting a thick river of brownish blood. Felix makes the mistake of jumping onto my furry back. He digs into my flesh with a pencil that feels like a mosquito bite. His other fist is clutching my fur. I rise up on my feet and back toward the large double-thick, bulletproof window. It shatters as I slam into it and Felix plunges, screaming into the cold Wall Street air, 31 floors to his long-awaited death.

When I wake up I am in a very boring meeting. The speaker is still droning on and hasn’t noticed that I was asleep. There’s a little bit of drool on my chin. I wipe the drool from my chin and I feel pretty good. I feel really good. I still work here with these people but I am something they will never be. I am a big, dangerous, furry, flying brown bear.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

True Story

Scene: A successful film producer eats granola in his Hollywood home. He is uptight and cruel. As he is leaving for work, he notices that the maid, who he doesn't really trust, has cleaned the bathtub and done a very good job. He walks to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator, and sees that a can of Sprite is missing. There were four cans in there last night and today there are only three. He knows this because he poured the fifth one into his vodka tonic when he got home from the golf club. Five minus one equals four. Obviously the maid has stolen a can of Sprite. The film producer decides to confront the maid. He gets very angry at her as he leaves the house, calling her a thieving wetback bitch. She will probably quit but he doesn't care, he will get someone who doesn't steal other people's property. As he drives to work he wonders if he was not a little too harsh with her.

At the studio, the set is ready for the shoot. It is a modern bathroom. The bathtub is big and white, but it has scuffs on the sides from where the delivery men brushed it up against a black painted background. The producer asks for the set designer. She is a young, pretty, Hispanic woman. He points out the scuff. She is apologetic and immediately begins cleaning the tub with some windex and paper towels. When she is done, she approaches the producer and shows him the gleaming tub. Wow! he thinks, she did a great job, and he is a little bit attracted to her. He thanks her for a job well done and tells her to take a break and grab herself a drink. She goes to the catering area and grabs a Sprite. As she does so, the film producer walks by her and ever so gently brushes her chest with his Rolexed hand.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don't Brand Me

I find the whole concept of "branding" very very disturbing. Everywhere I look, people are falling all over themselves to be "branded." In all sectors of life, from doctors to refrigerator repairmen to athletes to politicians to musicians to nutritionists to yoga instructors to activists, everyone wants to be "branded." There is a collective desire to be labelled and categorized, subsumed into the marketplace and monetized. In marketing parlance, to be branded is to become a viable commodity. It is to have a name that is recognized, so that the name becomes a replacement for the object, or becomes the definition of an entire category of objects, like jacuzzi, kleenex or xerox. Being a brand means having name recognition that creates instant understanding in the consumer without much research or exploration. In the business world, the sexiest, most bitchin' thing you can do is to become a recognized brand. If you are a lawyer and your name becomes synonymous with earning millions of dollars in personal injury claims, you have passed through that golden doorway, you are no longer just a person plying a trade, you are that magical thing of power and affirmation. You are a "brand." You are branded. I find the whole thing extremely fucked up.
Let's look at where the word "brand" comes from. It comes from people putting an indelible mark on their property, living or otherwise, to identify it as such. It comes from farmers putting a stamp on their cows, or slave owners branding their slaves. Branding is achieved by heating a piece of metal until it is red hot and then pushing it into the flesh to burn and permanently disfigure the person being "branded." It has always been a method of marking chattel or livestock to keep it from escaping or being stolen.
This is what we are all striving for? No thank you. I realize that the term "brand" has evolved since the days of slavery, but I believe to be willingly branded, to desire to turn oneself into a brand, is to willingly subject oneself to a different form of slavery. It is to give up one's individual identity for the sake of monetary gain. We all have to do this to some degree, depending on our occupation. But let's remember where the word comes from. I believe words have meaning and power.
Granted, I am an artist who sells his wares and a tradesman who plies his trade in the system we all live in, the capitalist system of the western world in the twenty-first century. And I realize products in the marketplace are recognized for their quality and reputation by their name. But is there no such thing as an individual? Why do politicians, musicians, athletes, and institutions of higher learning need to have a brand? Are they really so eager to stick their asses out and have someone come along and apply a smoldering piece of metal to their flesh till it oozes, fries, and scars, just to be part of a larger amalgamation of commodities? I think it behooves all of us (no pun intended) to take a step back and examine this whole concept. I am not a cow, I am not a slave. Don't brand me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Waste Land

I recently watched a documentary about the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, who makes art out of various household materials including dirt, string, sugar, chocolate, and garbage. Filmed over nearly three years, Waste Land follows Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Muniz is the most compelling modern artist I know about, not only because his art is deeply intellectually engaging and sensually appealing, but because he manages to champion social causes without being preachy. I am extremely inspired by his willingness to take a position and positively affect the communities he documents and interacts with. In this film, Muniz meets workers who make a living by salvaging recyclable materials form the dump. He then photographs them and creates enormous reproductions of these portraits out of materials gathered form the dump. He then photographs these reproductions and creates large prints, which are the finished work. These are sold at auction, and the proceeds are donated to the community of pickers at the dump, enabling them to significantly improve their lives through the aegis of their collective association.
This artist totally rocks my world. To me, he is the shining example of why art matters. I think every artist has a duty to point out the inequality and injustice in the world and try to shine a light on it, and eventually to kick inequality in the nuts. Art that is not politically engaged in some way just doesn't matter. Not only that, but Muniz is a very wealthy man who realizes that financial success is not only meaningless but actually morally wrong if it is not used to better the lives of those less fortunate.
On a personal note, Muniz lives on the same street as my sister in Brooklyn, and I have seen him walking into his apartment/studio once or twice, but I have never met him. In 2001, my band member Quentin Jennings was commissioned to make the music for a documentary about Muniz, who was starting to gain international notoriety. The film is called "Worst Possible Illusion" and Jennings enlisted me and other members of my band Melomane to record some of the soundtrack. One of the songs eventually evolved into a song called Buddha Statue that the band recorded and released on our second album Solresol. The main theme was Jennings original piece for the film, and we added lyrics inspired by the destruction of the giant buddha statues perpetrated by the Taliban at the time. So the themes of art, politics and waste all come full circle! Here it is for your listening enjoyment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Protest at the Plaza

On March 8, 2011, I was working at the Plaza for an event for Bank of America when some protestors interrupted the meeting. I was sitting about ten feet from these two guys who snuck in, unfurled a banner, started yelling and disrupted the meeting. I wanted to stand up and cheer but I was working as a video engineer, on the payroll of B of A. This is the part of my life that makes me very conflicted, but I do it to pay the bills. I am trying to phase out this kind of work because life is very short and you're either part of the problem or part of the solution. Or in my case, both.
This video is from their own posting on Youtube. Enjoy.

"Connecting" with "friends" in Minneapolis

I am in Minnesota, staying at the Hilton in Bloomington. I am here on business, taking part in top secret corporate espionage. There is a wedding going on in the lobby. The bride is a woman of Laotian extraction. I met some of her bridesmaids in the lobby this evening and I heard them speaking a language which I assumed to be Cambodian. When they informed me it was a mix of Laotian and Cambodian, I told them I had been to Cambodia and Laos and found them to be beautiful countries. They were very drunk and immediately accused me of going to south east Asia for some sexual tourism. I tried to tell them that I was there with my wife to travel and discover their beautiful country, but they would have none of it. They were very defensive and convinced I was there to sleep with young Laotian whores. 
This is the legacy of Western sex tourism in their region. They treat me like a whoremonger and assume that I see them as whores. They soon go back to their iPhones.
Everywhere I go, everyone has his face buried in his "smartphone." It is a mechanism to avoid human connection. I am outside in front of the Hilton, enjoying a balmy summer night, hoping to strike up a conversation with a Midwestern local, and all around me I see people with their faces in their apparati, “connecting” with their “friends.” A sad state of affairs indeed.

Welcome to ONALOG

The world has been waiting in desperation and darkness for me to unveil my erudite and trenchant observations, so I will deprive it no longer... Here is my Personal Log, shortened to "ONALOG" for the overstimulated, harried and savvy public. I travel a lot and have access to some pretty interesting places, situations and people, thanks to my strange occupation in corporate espionage, as well as my touring life as a musician. So you, dear readers, will reap the benefits of this access, filtered though my canny and discerning intellect.This will be a record of my travels, observations, and rantings. It might get political, it might be a preview of some of the new music I'm making or listening to, and there might be some samples of my writings and music from years past. I'm not really sure, I'm just winging it. I can't guarantee it will be funny or true, but I promise it will be almost 100% grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. Bon appetit!