Time & Binge

May 18, 2011

Times Square Armed Forces Recruiting Station.  When Bush went to war with Iraq in 2003, more people signed up here than any other recruiting station in the United States – they say somewhere just over 10,000.  The neighborhood nickname is “Crossroads of the World,” but normally Times Square is where you go after the war, not before – like after WWII, when soldiers came back and pumped the Deuce with a new slang and the girls in town with about half the Baby Boom generation.  Here, Dan Choi was the first openly gay man to enlist after the government revoked “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” On New Year’s Eve, the Army Corps of Engineers seals it up in blast-proof metal like Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Times Squared, Ken Jacobs, Nervous Magic Lantern. Ken Jacobs is a veteran downtown experimental moviemaker, and this week staged his Nervous Magic Lantern at Anthology Film Archives.  Ken and his Lantern:

After the screening, Ken Jacobs stood before the crowd to solicit comments and questions which he was all too eager to shoot down.  Campus Whits was the first to chime in, that as a tour guide who works Times Square five days a week, the movie was a perfect abstraction of the flagrant neural catastrophe Times Square inspires.  Jacobs commented on my job as a tour guide, “Wouldn’t you rather just steal money?” I didn’t get the chance to advise him, that’s what tips are for.

Ken claimed there was no story in Times Squared, and that movies are too concerned with the next and the next and the next.  But the movie does have a story, which a British woman in the audience pointed out.  Ken sort of concurred, but was quick to exit stage, “Thanks, good night.”  The continuum of visual effects, blobular and cragged movements of light and color and nonrepresentational dimension, is played in tandem with a raw street recording of Ken taking the subway, where the machine talks to its passengers, making his way into Times Square, where a steel-drum subway musician plays a doting and ripping “My Way.”  The sounds are the hypnogogic reality of a routine.  At the close of the movie, Ken trudges back to his walk-up loft, huffing and puffing up the steps, where his wife greets him, “How was Times Square?” Ken says, “Fabulous.”

The Nervous Magic Lantern is the mechanism of the “Theater District,” and the imagery which fans forth the lantern in back of the theater sparks the plasm of the city, a place to where the central nervous system of millions of people are drawn.  The magic of the nervous lantern reveals the unreadable yet not unintelligible chamber of codes, and afterwards your eyes are sore.

Bathroom at Mars Bar.  This place is closing soon, on 1st St. and 2nd Ave, surely to be replaced by a Connecticut Muffin.

Time gives the appearance of being infinite, since time will always be there, but people are always asking each other where it went.  To invest your time with meaning, you take time as finite.  And carve up time because you gotta get this thing done now, like Jack Bauer on 24. But at Mars Bar, you binge time.

Anthropologist Morris Freilich, who spent time with Mohawk steelworkers in the Little Caughnawaga neighborhood in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, lays the groundwork for ethnographic study with first the conception of Time, and whether the community under scrutiny perceives reality as the Past, Present, or Future. While in Eastern Trinidad, Freilich studied East Indians, whom he says are a Future people, and local Creoles, who are “the Now” people.  East Indians associate with family, but Creoles are free to make friends.  Freilich charts the “Sanction” of East Indians as “Supernatural,” and Creoles as “Fatalism (“Cultural Models and Land Holdings,” Freilich, M., Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4, Caribbean Issue (Oct., 1960), pp. 188-197, GW Univ. Institute for Ethnographic Research):

Campus Whits enjoyed three movies last year above all others seen:

The Fighter was a movie-within a movie that used the setting of small-time 1990s boxing as a vehicle for a way of viewing stories of the world.

In Dogtooth, the fiercely imaginative and adaptable realities of childhood behavior are run through the pantomime of a psychic prison.  The children are taught to fear the cat and so revel when it is slaughtered.  They understand that to lick the body of another is to expect a gift in return for the act.  “Bruce!” the youngest daughter calls to her nameless sister, “Bruce! Bruce!”

Hot Tub Time Machine crafts the metaphor of time-travel as a way for screwed-up dudes in their forties to understand each other.  “Your bullshit’s my bullshit,” cries John Cusack to his old friend, Lou (Rob Corddry).  It is not an easy promise to make, especially when its supposed to be 2010 and you’re in 1986 because you got naked and drunk with your buddies in a hot tub.

Veg BBQ III

May 16, 2011

(from the dispatch desk of city room nerve-wracker, Mac Jasper)

Listen to Jasper’s broadcast here:
Veg BBQ III

‘Tis the sesquicentennial of the War of Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression, the War for Southern Mac JasperIndependence, the War Between the States, Johnny Reb v. Billy Yank … but friend it’s all the American Civil War to you and me, if you’ve heard of it.  How grand to see that the Big Apple has done its part, having embraced the cause of Southern cuisine today as it did the slave trade back then.  Don’t get me wrong.  Jasper loves spicy cornbread and catfish, but not on every other g’damn block.  Back in the slave days, New York merchants made a fine dime off the Southern economic paradigm, and the Big Apple rioted against its prodigious black population when Lincoln called up the draft.  As the nativist gangs of Civil War New York persecuted free blacks, so too bacon doughnuts suppress civilized life, and ravage the constitution, self-control and self-respect of bourgey BBQ burpers.  Today, you might say, trendy traders in fried foodie fat now abuse the rights of the digestive system of Gotham’s hock-hungry.

Reports from the food field note that our favorite Burmese place, and that Vietnamese place down the steps in Chinatown, and Schaffer’s oyster bar off Fifth, they’ve shuttered for good and good luck finding another. But no prob for any new place to chow cheeks and smoked lamb face, with a side of lard ‘taters….

Well, maybe the analogue don’t really hold up.  But when the crowd for Grant’s Tomb is deeper than the breadline for Barnard College-grad Martha Stewart’s Shake Shack, I might zip it.  After all its only food.  Only its food, after all.  But the bacon-ated bourgeiose are staking flags in sacred ground. Behold, that cured-piggie cookoffs are giving first prize to Bacon Bourbon Ice Cream. As far it goes, this reporter believes that Pappy van Winkle would not be pleased to share his nectar with a hog’s ass served in Ben & Jerry’s.   And that’s the squib.

In the world of Landlord/Tenant law, at least in NYC, there is a saying, “the worst landlords are tenants.”  When a tenant sublets their apartment, the opportunity has proven ripe to act like a desperate know-it-all dumbass.  In the L/T law office where Campus Whits has labored, we have had some obnoxious cases.  In one instance, a friend of the landlord’s young daughter was given a sweet deal on an apartment in the West Village, only to abuse the favor by then secretly subletting the place at a much higher rent.  It wasn’t secret for long, the woman was a total spoiled knucklehead, and matters settled in Housing Court, where she flirted with attorneys.  Anyhow, the first crime committed was that of the landlord’s unctuous nepotism…  In another case, a deadbeat tenant was living in his ex-girlfriend’s apartment.  The ex had since moved overseas and abandoned the place.  Our office moved to evict the deadbeat, who was advised of the date when the eviction would occur.  The city marshal showed up and found a new tenant just moved in.  It turned out that the deadbeat had sublet the place and hightailed it out of there before the eviction date.  The new tenant was clueless and flipped-out, but at least now has a great New York story to tell friends and family.

Campus Whits has lived in many NYC apartments over the last 14 years, and can vouch the basic human law that sublets usually end ugly.  Sometimes, as a doubledecker bus tour guide, dealing with tenants who think they are landlords is like dealing with passengers who think they are tour guides.  An example is this past Sunday.  On the Uptown Loop, which bowls through the Upper West and East Sides and Harlem betwixt, a Cuban family boarded the bus.  I didn’t know the family was Cuban until later, but would not have otherwise altered the schpiel.

On the corner of 125th St. and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. stands Hotel Theresa, a commanding white-bricked building designed in 1913 by architects trained in Paris, as was the trend in those pre-WWI years, and which proof is Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, and the James Farley Post Office on 33rd and 8th Ave.  As the Uptown Loop turns the corner,  I tell the story of when Fidel Castro stayed at Hotel Theresa with his Cuban delegation in 1960, and how the story goes Castro was rejected from hotels in midtown because his entourage included 20 concubines and 50 live chickens.  Castro was paranoid his meals might be poisoned, and so traveled with live cluckers to trust his food.  “And we can only guess why the concubines, aha ha ha….”

When the Cuban family disembarked the bus, the father turned tour guide.  He was a striking guy, in casual clothes, a hairless head, stocky like a deep-sea diver, and looked liked he could be one of The Expendables. Without a buck in the tip box, he gave another tip, that I had my facts wrong.  His voice was booming and swift.  He thought it was disrespectful to portray Castro as one who kept concubines and chickens as luggage, and the real story was that the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel originally rejected the delegation because its members included Cuban blacks.  As a result, Castro was invited to Harlem.  I tried to tell the guy that I knew the point was that the newspapers invented the story, but he only repeated his own schpiel, with utmost lack of humor, while his composed teenage son tried to pull him away, like any kid embarrassed by dad going off.  The family headed out in the direction of F.A.O Schwartz before I could inform the patriarch I wanted to take his tour of Havana when next I was in town.

It wasn’t the Waldorf where Castro was rebuffed but the Hotel Shelburne.  The Shelburne might have been racist.  It was 1960 and much blood would be splattered before blacks could vote in the South without rednecks with bats and guns guarding the polls.  According to The Secret Fidel Castro, by Servando González, the Hotel Theresa was a strategic locale for Castro, who sought to cast his cause as an incendiary kinship with black nationalism.  Down the street “was Lewis Michaux’s African Memorial Book Store, the biggest black nationalist book store in the country.  Around the corner was the Harlem Labor Center, a black militant organization.”  The Cubans claimed the Hotel Shelburne was shaking them down for prohibitive hotel rates, like the way the Mafia exploits capitalism.  Read about it here and here.

The story about the chickens and concubines was concocted by squibby journalists to humiliate Castro, or maybe to welcome the communist revolutionary to the vainglorious roil of the New York press.  When Campus Whits makes it in the New York Post, it can only be hoped the story is extravagant bullshit.  Wrong facts make a right tour – they are the scotched and blitzed ectoplasm of good stories.  One cannot please everybody.  Two years ago, a passenger from Alabama similarly questioned my historical accuracy.  After I pointed out Grant’s Tomb as the resting place of the Northern general who won the Civil War, the Alabama man, in vintage twang, told me I got it all wrong.  “The South didn’t lose the Civil War.”

Like Castro, my success as a leader, of people two hours on a tour bus ahem, relies on provocation and new ideas.  Just the CIA never tried to poison my cigars so that my beard falls off.

He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.
– Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer, chap. 2, “The Glorious Whitewasher.”

The City Council is considering a bill that would criminalize the purchase of knockoff handbags with an $11,000 fine and maybe a year in jail.  Read the city’s news release here. The city is desperate for money, and millions of people come to town to buy fake crap, so naturally the City Council sees potential for some quick cabbages.  As Bloomberg lures tourists to NYC, the city seeks to revoke the only cheap resource tourists have, besides tipping their doubledecker bus tour guide a buck for two hours of unsurpassed entertainment and knowledge.

While the bill will unlikely pass, it serves to raise the profile of Bloomberg’s crackdown on fake $30 Rolex watches.  Councilwoman Margaret S. Chin, in whose district the black market thrives, sounds like a patsy for the elitist fashion industry: “What happened to the traditional value of saving up for something you really want that’s valuable?” asks Ms. Chin. “If you really like it, save money to buy the real thing.” What Ms. Chin does not realize, is that, to cash-strapped daytrippers, these $25 Louis Vuittons are the real thing.

Such justification is as reasonable as the law which mutes tour guides for creating street noise in high-traffic residential neighborhoods.  Does the City truly rely on taxes off $1,800 Gucci purses?  The handbag bill is akin to the recording industry going after illegal downloaders.  A new paradigm is among us, and the practice is unwieldy and unstoppable, people want cheap shit that looks good, I think it was Darwin that said it.  The industry of infrastructure behind fashion and music is no different than TicketMaster, which, like munching pests, charges fees for essentially that which was never there.  As a reward for all the hitting-up tourists endure coming to the Big Apple, they should be free to buy sunglasses whose provenance is no less an illusion than Jersey Boys.  No audience member ever stood up at the August Wilson Theater and shouted, “Hey, that ain’t the real Joe Pesci!”

“Major Labels” are anchored by the primacy of envy, where hard-earned money must migrate to self-anointed “tastemakers,” and it ends up that Yankee tickets are $500 to go to the old ball game, and TV-watchers sublimate the squawkings of Kelly Ripa as gospel.  The extravagant classism ingrained in the DNA of New York best reveals itself in the terminology of the housing market.  When a rent-control apartment is “de-controlled” and the rent is raised, landlords must qualify the move as “luxury de-controlled,” to indicate that, though you are going to now pay out the wazoo, at least you can be snobby about it.