reasons to be a controversial human being.

Life Stuff

St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo is the patron saint of stomach ailments, apple orchards and bishops among other things. Responsible for bringing about the modern-day Catechism and the education of priests through monasteries, Borromeo’s name is synonymous with reform. When Milan was hit with the bubonic plague, Borromeo thought not of his own safety, but of those suffering by putting himself at risk to help the sick.

And now I sit in his empty church in Brooklyn Heights wondering what good all his reform has done.

The Urban Catholic church is in trouble. One could blame a lack of faith in general, the recent scandals of the Catholic church, or simply an ages old institution following the course of nature and fading away. I personally blame gentrification. Regardless of feelings on faith and god, a Catholic church is a wonderful place to be treasured. St. Charles Borromeo in Brooklyn is almost two-hundred years old. The Subway Sandwich Shop across the street from the Starbucks, however, is not.

The Catholic Church is in trouble. When these houses of worship were first built, these Brooklyn and New York Neighborhoods were packed to the limit with staunch Irish, Italian, Polish and Latin Catholics. The specific subset may vary, but the level of rigid faith here is unwavering. And as these neighborhoods, Brooklyn Heights especially, continue to gentrify, all of the ethnic roots go with it. Someone asked me what “kind of neighborhood” I lived in. Having just moved from Little Vietnam in Chicago, I can without a doubt say, “white”. The cultural roots of Cobble Hill are white, yuppie, young folks. There’s an Urban Outfitters one block from an American Apparel. It’s pretty white here.

But if you take white people out of suburbia, their religious convictions do not follow them. And it makes me sad. Not so much that there’s a lack of faith, or discipline, but that the Church is going to have to close down and consolidate some of these majestic and truly beautiful houses of worship. That one priest is doing the job of three. And Jesus aside, churches help communities. Bottom line. And if there isn’t a stable core group of priests and nuns and lay people to do this charity work that the rest of us are all so busy to do, then who really suffers?

Borromeo’s emblem is the latin word humilitas, meaning humility. And it really makes me sad to think that a church named for such a humble man is crumbling under the weight of vanity and greed brought on by the gentrification of amazing little towns in Brooklyn.


Outrunning Oldness

As a recent transplant to New York I have joined my local gym. Having been so used to the comforts of a near-empty fitness center in my old building in Chicago, it took a minute to adjust to the full-fledged gym experience (including getting flashed by old, old men in the locker room). I went for the first time during an off-peak time and it was a smattering of people: gym rats, some oldsters and non-descript people. But I went at 7pm two nights ago and was blown away. If ever anyone wanted to eliminate all Brooklyn Yuppies in one fell swoop, simply bomb New York Sports Clubs Cobble Hill. It was simply a sea of attractive 25-35 somethings running on treadmills and punishing themselves on the stairmaster. Most had fancy arm bands, some were business on top (polo shirt) party on the bottom (gym shorts) while others simply looked over their work papers while they worked on their fitness.

But it wasn’t just the way they all looked that took me aback. It was the looks on their faces. They all seemed to be punishing themselves. It looked like they were trying to outrun their impending old age. It didn’t seem like working out to stay healthy, or working out to lose weight, but this manic and desperate sweat-stained race to the finish line where the winner beats father time to a pulp in a Mortal Kombat-like “Finish Him” battle.

And as I stood there waiting for my turn on the treadmill I wondered; what kind of personal hell do these people live in where perfectly attractive and fit people feel the need to challenge something that they can’t change. You can’t stop turing 36. It’s gonna happen. I couldn’t stop my 23rd birthday this year. And no matter how many miles I log on the treadmill while flipping back between American Idol and the Biggest Loser, it’s never gonna stop. And I certainly can’t outrun it. It made me very sad.

Corners of Streets

There is a homeless man digging through the trash on the corner of Clark Street and St. James Place.
He’s wearing a stolen white scarf, mint condition. Burberry knock-off probably.
His scraggly beard makes him look like a down-on-his-luck Santa Claus.
He sifts through the trash carefully. Following a rigid and practiced system I’m sure.
The empty Arizona Iced Tea can is a discarded.
But the plastic bag is a keeper.
He stuffs it greedily into his coat pocket before he makes one more pass through the contents.
This trash can is a bust. It’s mostly empty coffee cups from Argo Tea.
A girl walks by holding bags from Bed, Bath and Beyond. She bumps into him and scurries away.
The man stands up straight, brushes himself off and looks around.
The look on his face screams of self-importance. He stands like the King of France.
And no one would dare accuse the King of France of digging in city dumpsters for food.
I can see in the window reflection that behind my a girls strokes her boyfriend’s hand over a textbook.
The man walks away.
And I think about the overwhelming destruction of human life in the world,
and I think about the small-scale struggle of this homeless man, the King of France,
and I feel nothing.

Awkward Television Stereotypes

In my pursuit of television domination I’ve noticed a large smattering of fall-back types on television.
Sometimes I ask myself if my world views are not my own, but the views that television has decided for me.

Exhibit A:
In diamond commercials / eharmony dating commercials, all women over 35 fall in love with a handsome 45-year old gentleman, with salt and pepper hair who has a yellow labrador retriever. Also a big over 35 activity, walking in a park hand-in-hand. See also: scarves and falling snow.

–I don’t actually know anyone like this. I’ve never seen the spry 35-year old lady, way too beautiful for he own good and her companion in the park. But if you were to ask me about it, I’d swear this is a common occurrence.

Exhibit B:
The Racial and Economic makeup of fast-food commercials.
Next time you go to MacDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, look around. Look at the people serving you. Look at the people working.
Do they look like this?

Exhibit C:
Who died?
In the television sitcom, there is a classic trope of someone walking into a situation finding all the people in the room grim. To lighten the mood, they say “Who Died?” and inevitably someone pipes up “Dan” or “Ben” or “Whoever”. If you’d ask me about the “who died?”, I would swear to you that it happens all the time. It’s a cliche based off of nothing. Name one time this has ever happened. Chances are, if your friends and family have all gathered together, someone would have told you that someone died as to avoid the awkward situation of you having to ask.

The Top 10 Greatest Things About the 00s.

As 2009 draws to a close, I look fondly on the things I will be so happy to never have to deal with again. But also the remarkable aspects of the last decade that I will sorely miss. So without further ado, here are the Top Ten Greatest Things about the 00’s.

10. Backstreet Boys — “The Call”
circa 2000

I mean the whole boy band thing is pretty ridiculous and has pretty much fizzled out over the last decade, but I will always fondly remember the oddly high-stakes cheating anthem, “The Call”. Especially since it contained so much cell phone ringing sound effects, speak-singing, and that sadly anonymous girl who rose to modern obscurity by saying “Hello? Hello?” over and over again. Who knew that there could be so much danger in “going to a place nearby”. Thank you Backstreet boys, thank you.

circa 2001

My love for Jennifer Garner is real, and it’s deep. And mostly solidified in my repeated viewings of the entire series of ALIAS (thanks to my Rambaldi Box Set of course). And even though the show went into some odd sci-fi territory towards the last seasons, nothing beats the first three. They just don’t make television like this anymore. The closest I’ve seen is Dollhouse and Fox certainly put an axe on that. There’s something so captivating to me about a show that has such a rich mythology. ALIAS will always remain one of my favorite shows and despite the fact that Ben Affleck put a baby in Jennifer Garner and killed the show, I look back on it fondly. It also gave me that invaluable sense that someday, someone from the FBI is gonna knock on my door and tell me they’ve been waiting for me. And I’ll get to shoot guns, be a spy, catch serial killers and save the world. All because of the spy skills I learned from ALIAS.

8.The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?
circa 2002

One of my favorite plays of all time, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia represents everything I aspire to write someday. Shockingly absurd and riveting, the play follows a man who has to inform his wife that he has fallen in love with a goat. And even though Edward Albee is SUCH an asshole in real life, I admire so greatly the way he can construct such a claustrophobic theatre experience with his language. There’s such a cool back and forth in the play and it’s so incredible the way he weaves and constructs his story solely through language. The only other play I admire more is “Doubt”.

7. Julianne Moore
circa 2003

There is no greater actress than Julianne Moore. If you need someone to play a repressed 50s housewife, I have your gal. In 2003 she was nominated for two Oscars for her work in “Far From Heaven” and “The Hours”. There is something so magical about watching her onscreen and her subtlety is just incredible. “The Hours” remains one of my all-time favorite movies and her performance in “Far From Heaven” is also just fucking incredible. She never disappoints. Never.

6. The Devil’s Teardrop
circa 2000

If you know me, then you know that I am a reader. I can’t get enough of books. My home library numbers over 400 books. I always liked to read, but I never loved it. When I was in middle school I would have to wait after school for hours to be picked up by my dad. I spent time at the YMCA and mostly, the library. One day I walked past the crime fiction section and saw this raggedy paperback with a bloody cover. I picked it up, sat down, and read it straight through. It took me five hours. “The Devil’s Teardrop” by Jeffrey Deaver is not a masterpiece of American Literature. But something about the excitement and legitimate fear I experienced while reading made me want to come back for more. It really was the turning point. From then on I devoured everything crime fiction; breezing through all of Deaver’s works followed by Tami Hoag and then James Patterson. This new love of reading, speed-reading even, put me in a great place when I entered high school to really start to learn to love other, actual, works of literature. And while I’ve outgrown the trashy crime fiction of my youth, Lincoln Rhyme will always be the paraplegic crime fighter in my heart.

5. The Westboro Baptist Church
circa 2008

After the Virginia Tech shooting, an outspoken group planned a protest. This is the same church group who frequented the funerals of fallen soldiers waving signs saying “God Hates Fags” and “America is Doomed”. They are the Westboro Baptist Church. And 80+ member group made up of closely related inbred lawyers. They see 9/11, the war in Iraq and even Virginia Tech as some kind of blood vengeance coming forth from God to teach us a lesson about being sinful and not stoning homosexuals in the street. There’s something so American about this group. They have that grassroots family-style fanaticism that could only be home-grown. But the thing that interests me most about the Westboro Baptist Church is the way they scare other fundamentalist Christians. The WBC is not that different from other religious groups in their zeal. Their message is pretty much unbelievable, but their structure and congregation style is very similar to churches all over the country. But no one wants to admit that. It’s easier just to label them as crazies and move on. Even FOX news, as shown in the clip above, the most Jesus-loving Republican station around, takes on the WBC and tries to distance themselves from a harsh comparison in values.

4. Rosie O’Donnell and Elizabeth Hasslebeck Fight on the View
circa 2007

If you knew me in May 2007, then you knew that I had this entire fight memorized. I would watch it at work, I would watch it at home, I would reenact it with my action figures. I don’t watch “The View”. “The View”, along with “Sex and the City” are two of the worst things about America. But for some reason, watching Rosie and Elizabeth go at it on National Television gets me so hot and bothered. It’s real human drama. I love when the promise of live television actually delivers. You couldn’t write this stuff, honestly. There is no greater catharsis moment then when Rosie looks at Elizabeth and says “But you said nothing“. Chills. Chills.

3. Kate Winslet in Little Children
circa 2007

There is a scene in “Little Children” when Kate Winslet’s character is sitting in her car in front of her married lover’s house. She’s asked him about his wife, ie is she beautiful? Am I prettier? And he’s only replied that she’s plain. But when Kate Winslet sees him walk out with Jennifer Connelly, she breaks down. That two minutes of her crying in the car is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen captured on film. She literally rips your fucking heart out. Every muscle in Winslet’s face is devastated and she’s not shy to show us. Not only are the book / movie pretty incredible on their own, but Kate Winslet really brings suburbia crashing to the ground with her performance. She deserved the Oscar for this, not The Reader. For sure.

2. Blindness
circa 2008

Jose Saramago is one of my favorite authors. I find that the way he writes and what he has to say is so important. His novel, “Blindness”, is one of my favorite books. Blindness tells the story of a city suddenly struck with a pandemic of “white blindess” and the quarantined people forced to survive after everyone goes blind. So how could it get better? Make a movie version and put Julianne Moore in it. Critics didn’t like this movie, my friends didn’t either, but there is something so visually stunning and heartbreaking about this film. There is an extended group rape scene that left me feeling so dirty, ashamed and awful after I watched it. There’s a moment towards the end when it begins to rain and everyone celebrates that brought me so much joy. I can’t remember seeing a movie that moved me in so many emotional ways as “Blindness” did. It’s truly powerful filmmaking and everyone should see it.

1. Philip Glass
circa 2009

Philip Glass is a genius. There is no other way around it. His music defies all other music. His scores to films like “Notes on a Scandal” and “The Hours” bring something so special and unique to those movies. Even his work on the Virginia Madsen train wreck horror film “Candyman” adds some serious mood. I think that’s what makes him so cool. His use of repetition creates such a move. I dare you to drive alone at night, listen to his music, and try not be freaked out of your gourd. It’s impossible. His music has such a mixture of danger and beauty and that’s why I love it so much. And then you look at his work on something like “Einstein on the Beach” and just marvel at the mind of man who can do so much with so little.

Screeching off of the Road to Your Death

Last night I was driving home from a good friends house.
She lives in Oberlin, Ohio and the entire town was blanketed in snow. And not just regular snow. The kind of snow that falls from the sky in huge, wet clumps and crunches under your feet when you walk on it.
What was so incredible about walking around this tiny, indie town, was the fact that the snow was fresh. No Chicago slush, no footprints, just pure Ohio snow. There wasn’t a soul around and the city was silent and white. You could practically hear the snow falling. It was pretty remarkable.

But then I had to make the trip home. My good friend assured me that only Oberlin doesn’t plow and that I should be fine the rest of the hour and a half journey.

Three hours later I arrived home, a little shaken up, and thankful that my Sonata had gotten be home alive.
Not a road was plowed: major highway after major highway.
I had my iPod on shuffle and I realized after a particularly haunting Phillip Glass song, that maybe I shouldn’t be listening to this kind of music on this trip.
Now something important to know is that I’m certain that I’m going to die soon. It’s just a fact. I’m going to be serial killed, fall of a building, into a well or just slip in my bathroom. I’ve accepted this; it’s okay.
But I knew, that if I listened to the right music, there was no way I was going to go screeching off the road to my death. The moment a David Ford song would come on or Sigur Ros, the moments would allign and my brakes would fail.

But if I blasted the Black Eyed Peas and Destiny’s Child, there was no way I was going to die. It would be just too sad and pathetic. Even for me (who has been publicly egged). So that’s what I did. For three solid hours I got that Boom Boom Pow, got Phunky, worked my humps, Said my name said my name, was a Bootylicious Survivor and an Independent Woman and paid my bills, bills, bills. And I made it home. Another Christmas Miracle. Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, yea God!

Christmas Spirit in 30 Seconds or Less

Merry Christmas.
To celebrate the holiday, here are my two favorite Christmas commercials.
Tis the season. He does exist! They do exist!