Monthly Archives: June 2010

Coming Out of The Dark Ages

Growing up, I was surrounded by a lowbrow smorgasbord of R.L. Stine, Salute Your Shorts, and Mortal Kombat.  Instead of reading Chaucer, I double-fisted Goosebumps and the Babysitter’s Club.  I Chose My Own Adventure and got diphtheria on the Oregon Trail.  I listened to explicit rap.  And though critics may feign horror at my culturally-deficient childhood full of commercial drivel, I thoroughly enjoyed not being a hoity-toity opera kid.  (Plus, as a member of the cultural underclass, I was always able to make fun of the highbrows and their pretentious madras pants.)

I mention this background only because I’m about to double back faster than Joe Barton not apologizing for apologizing for apologizing (yes, you read that right).  Now, as a slightly-more cultured adult, I’m concerned that true art is dead.  In my view, we’re suffering from an ugly, modern-day Dark Ages (or perhaps, Twilight Ages?): hundreds of years later, historians will look back on this era, from the neon parachute pants of the ’80s to the plasticized “real” housewives of today, and they’ll think, “Jeez. What was in the water back then?”

You might not agree with me, but let’s take a look at this era in music, literature, and the arts.  In music, Michael Jackson is the singular ray of enlightenment.  He doesn’t have the same feel-good story as deaf Mozart or orphaned Bach, but his legend is still comparable.  Fine, I’ll give you MJ.  Let’s move onto literature, where we’ve failed to produce any seminal work outside of wizards and vampires in the last 20 years.  Outside of those two series, I can’t think of any book that has garnered attention as an “instant literary classic.”  (Maybe James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, but that only comes to mind because of the Oprah shakedown.)  And finally, I am hard-pressed to name a contemporary artist today who works outside of TV or film.  Maybe this is ignorance, but I’m guessing that we’ll never see the likes of another famous Picasso or Warhol in our future, tech-centered world.  After all, why spend years painting some masterpiece when you can just Photoshop?

So what are the implications of this?  Well, I’m worried that kids won’t be able to write sentences longer than 140 characters.  I’m afraid that genuine laughter at the theater will soon be replaced by muttering “LOL.”  And I’m terrified that Snooki is a household name.

But then again, my fun-killing crossover self is probably just resisting the inevitable change in our definition of art.  Perhaps hundreds of years later, we’ll have redefined  “highbrow culture” to comprise of scatalogical humor and excessive hair spray.  Maybe then we’ll recognize the Twi-Hards as a social and literary movement akin to the Beats.

But I hope not.  Because as a card-carrying member of the current cultural underclass, I still reserve my right to make fun of the hoity highbrows.  And I won’t be able to do that if I’m one of them.

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Deciding On Lew Yongeles

The New York Mantra: “The best place to take a bullet is in the girlfriend” — spotted on a  man’s t-shirt at the Food Emporium in Hell’s Kitchen… yes, he was shopping alone

The Californian Mantra: “We’ll melt your popsicle” – from the song “California Gurls” by Katy Perry… you know it’s a Californian song if they deliberately (?) misspell one-syllable words

In the past few weeks, several readers have emailed me about my semi-bicoastal life, asking me for recommendations about New York versus LA.  One person even wrote me a very long and sincere note, though our email correspondence fell apart after she asked if I could recommend any plastic surgeons out here in LA.  (Uh, no, but I would advise you to steer clear of the ones who advertise on bus benches.)

Since January 2008, I’ve lived for more than a year in both LA and New York, in Hollywood and Santa Monica, the Upper East Side and Hell’s Kitchen.  What I’ve learned is that, in our society, people fall into two separate yet equally important groups: the hardcore New Yorkers, who hope to crush, conquer, and rule the world, and the Dionysian Southern Californians, who seek medical advice from strangers.

These are my recommendations.

If you want to meet a wealthy guy who wears cuff links on the weekends and pretends to do cocaine just to sound like a nouveau-riche douchebag, you should live in New York.

If you want to meet a girl who barely looks eighteen, popping a morning-after pill while nonchalantly eating an ice cream sandwich outside of a CVS Pharmacy, you should live in LA.

If you want to start a political conversation with your foreign taxicab driver about the ethics of tax reform (“How can you possibly support the estate tax?  You drive a CAB!”), you should live in New York.

If you want to start a car radio showdown with an elderly gentleman driving a black Mustang and blasting Vivaldi in the middle of Please-Don’t-Shoot-Me Sketchtown (a.k.a. downtown Los Angeles), you should live in LA.

If you want to run into a throng of teenagers outside of a movie theater, badmouthing the high school slut who they call “Bobblehead”, you should live in New York.

If you want to run into a throng of middle schoolers outside of Hollister, giggling over the thongs they just bought, you should live in Los Angeles.

If you want to ride the subway with hunched, grizzly men who carry an empty coffee cup in one hand and a can of paint thinner in the other, you should live in New York.

If you want to eschew public transportation altogether and instead drive along a highway death trap (cue Commander Chuck Street, jovially, reporting the morning traffic: “Another casualty accident on the 405!”), you should live in Los Angeles.

If you want to see a pigeon eat couscous off the sidewalk while narrowly avoiding a splat! death-by-bicycle, you should live in New York.

If you want to see a golden retriever play Quidditch in an Air Bud-Harry Potter mash up for the ages, you should live in Los Angeles.

If you want to date someone who works at a glossy bank that is placing a big short on middle-class America, you should live in New York.

If you want to date someone who doesn’t have a job outside of going on auditions, working on his/her memoirs/screenplays, and exercising, you should live in Los Angeles.

…and finally,

If you want to live a normal, happy existence with 2.4 kids, a hanging tomato planter, a library full of James Patterson books, and a social life that doesn’t involve big red Solo cups, you should live in Westchester.  Or Pasadena.  Anywhere but New York or LA.

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Praise for Praise

We’ve heard it before.  It’s a common refrain, frequently echoed by the well-meaning types, and directed towards everyone from teenage anorexics to rapping basketball players: “You need to love yourself.  That’s all that really matters.  Don’t listen to what anyone else says.” And we nod and we think, yes, that makes sense.  Self-love is all that matters.  Knowing thyself.  Trusting thyself.  Loving thyself. 

But then we step back for a moment, and we think:  Self-love? That’s crap.  That’s baloney.  That’s (a popular card game whereupon I throw down four cards, say “Three aces”, and you shout–).”  The only form of self-love I need is when I’m at the bank, and I’m not talkin’ ‘bout the money bank. (Last line should be read as if you were a cash-strapped dude with great genes.)

Because in our hard-fast, network-happy world, loving thyself is about as old testament as thy itself.  It’s so old that it’s become new again, in that it’s mostly appropriated by hippie-vegans who carry satchels and eat stuff off the ground.  All that matters to them is that they love themselves.  For the rest of us, well, we need outside love too.  As much as we hate to say it, we seek external validation.

It’s not something we like to admit, especially in this new age of finding breathy “inner love.”  But most human beings want praise.  We want validation.  We want a honky creepsta to tell us how hot we look, just so we can go around telling the story of how a honky creepsta told us how hot we looked (ugh, so gross!).  And even though we seek it, want it, perhaps even need it, we must pretend that we don’t care about accolades.  “Oh, please stop telling me how amazing I am.  No, really.  You’re embarrassing me.”  Because if we actively acknowledged our desire for validation, we’d just seem like a needy, attention-seeking dolt: “You like me!  You really, really like me!”  (Last line should be read as if you were an Oscar-winning actress about to throw your movie career down the toilet courtesy of Legally Blonde 2.) 

Of course, there is something to be said for Sally Field’s honesty.  When we find out that someone does like us, we get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside, of butterflies and smiling babies and blue skies ahead.  But because praise is discouraged (and, most often, by the recipient of the praise), we don’t quite get enough of this non-self-love. 

Thus, I propose a Validation Day, where you call up your friends, and say something nice about them.  In return, they’ll say something nice about you (we can even make it a mandated holiday, so it won’t seem weird).  Then everyone will hug and exchange cards that will go into a scrapbook shoebox and we’ll all feel good about ourselves.  Because no matter how many times we say “I love you” in the mirror, it feels so much better when someone else does it.  (And that’s why there are prostitutes.)

On Sunday, I spent two hours at the Verizon store.  When I finally left, the parking attendant told me that because I stayed for so long, “I cannot validate you.”  So, I paid $8 for a guy to look disgusted at me. 

At least I love myself.

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She’s Got Balls

A few days ago, someone was looking at my resume when he commented that all my college activities seemed to revolve around women: being part of a women’s business group, starting a female investment organization, generally having a uterus, etc.  “So, you’re some kind of feminist?” he asked, almost accusingly.

Well, yes and now.  I’m a feminist in that I believe women are better than men… But, I’m not a feminist in that I don’t want to go to war, burn my bra, or pay for the first date.  So essentially, I’m a fairweather feminist.  I’m only cheering for feminism when it’s on my side.

To be honest, though, I do feel that I should stand up for women more often.  Regardless of the progress we’ve made, we still live in a world where Playboy is a $100+M company, where female execs are paid less than their male counterparts, and where women can’t even get lady Viagra.  (What is the deal?)

So, in my fairweather feminist revolution, I believe we should start by changing our entire gendered lexicon.  For example, I take offense that whenever a person does something with panache, s/he is rewarded with a set of testicles: “Wow, look at that girl squeeze jalapeno juice into her eyes.  She’s got balls, man.” OK, seriously — what is up with balls??  When  did balls become the tacit representation of courage and tenacity? Interestingly, the more audacious the task, the bigger the balls.  “And now she’s rubbing gunpowder into her eyelids?  She’s got HUGE balls!” Now as a woman, I don’t know, but I’d imagine that having balls the size of grapefruits would be uncomfortable.  So, I’m not sure how this phrase came about (and I am afraid to Google it).  Maybe a particularly daring fellow from history — Napoleon, perhaps — was really packing.  Then again, that would be pretty snug on horseback.

In any case, we need to get more positive, feminine terms to combat our overwhelmingly-male-gendered slang lexicon.  If having “big balls” is equated with bravery, then perhaps having “jumbo jugs” can be equated with persistence and determination.  As in, “Did he really just wait 12 hours in line for tickets to Twilight Eclipse?  Woman, that guy has jumbo jugs!”  Said in an admiring way, of course.  After all, if we are making fearless women out to be transsexuals, then we should reward persistent men with the same fate.

On that note, I’m really hoping that the Celtics play with jumbo jugs tomorrow night.  Let’s BEAT LA!

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What Would Ryan Seacrest Do?

Remember when Jesus died on Good Friday, rose again on Easter Sunday, and then somberly looked into our eyes and said, “I’ll be back?”*  Jesus has proved to be a man of his word, rising from the dead to hobnob with Thomas the Apostle, have a resurrection fling with Mary Magdalene, and appear in a bucket of pizza sauce.  Indeed, Jesus has been sighted many times, but not only in inanimate objects like fish sticks and pancakes… In fact, I am resolute in my belief that JC is back; he’s inhabited a body (fake-Locke style),  and he’s living right here amongst us mortals in Southern California.

In fact, you may have heard of him.

And the modern-day resurrection of Jesus is…

(Wait for it.)

(Wait for it.)

(Commercial break.)

(Long yawn.)

(Thought we were back but it’s just another commercial break.)

(…OK, we’re done here.)

Yes, Ryan Seacrest is the modern-day resurrection of Jesus.  (Shock, awe, teen screaming, and applause.)  In case you haven’t heard of him, Jesus is the guy with long hair who walks on water.  Seacrest is the ubiquitous face of Hollywood, the host of American Idol, the host of E! News, the host of American Top 40, the host of his own daily 5-10 AM radio show, and the host of Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve (with Ryan Seacrest).  Unless you drive a horse and buggy to work, you know who Ryan Seacrest is.  He catapulted Kelly Clarkson to fame. He kickstarted the Kardashians to infamy.  He is a hosting hog (he’ll show up at your son’s bar mitvah, demanding the mike).  He’s been on TV more often than Brian Williams, Oprah, and God (or, who he calls, “Pops”).

You might be skeptical.  But there is evidence suggesting that Ryan Seacrest, is, indeed, Seasus.  First, he has six jobs.  Six.  The fact that Seasus has six jobs is a testament (pun intended) to his ungodly work ethic (let’s just assume that from now on, all puns are intended).  Second, he was born on December 24.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Some disbelievers might say that Jesus was actually born on the 25th — well, Bethlehem is 7 hours ahead of Dunwoody, Georgia, where “Ryan Seacrest” was born.  So it was still the 24th in the ATL.  What up.  Third, both guys had/have girl issues.  Jesus supposedly had a lover in Mary Magdalene; Seacrest supposedly is straight.  The life of do-gooding bachelorhood seems to fit them both, though it’s a shame that Seasus got rid of His free-flowing locks (better to attract hair gel sponsors, I suppose).  And finally, if all that isn’t convincing enough, then just take a look at Jesus’ modern-day moniker: if you rearrange the letters to RYAN SEACREST, you get CRY, SATAN SEER.  (It only took me about two minutes to get that one — for some reason, “Satan” just jumped right out.)

So, that is Seasus.  He’s able to preach his gospel through the church of radio.  He’s got more Twitter followers than the populations of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont combined.  He’s liked by many, hated by few, but known by everyone.  And for all those wondering, What Would Seasus Do?, I imagine that it goes something like this: He wakes up at 3 AM, talks for five hours on His radio show, throws jabs with Simon Cowell on American Idol, oversees a Kardashian episode where a hissy fit is thrown, does prep for American Top 40, takes an Underdog pill around 6 pm, blows through His E! News gig, calls up Dick Clark to see if he’s still alive and if He can finally change that show’s name to Ryan’s Rockin’ Eve, hangs up once He hears a croaky voice, calls up Pops, has a discussion with the man upstairs for the umpteenth time about Dick Clark (“It’s his time! He’s like 105!”), loses the battle once again, and before you know it, it’s 3 AM and He’s telling his radio show producers that “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  Good one, Seasus.


* Yes, I did Wikipedia “Jesus”…But no, this quote is not in there.  At least, not anymore.  I hate when they edit out my Jesus quotes.  I’m confident he did say it at some point:

Free-riding man in street: “Hey Jesus, will you pick up some barley?”

(Jesus sighs, rolls his eyes)

Jesus: “I’ll be back.”

See?

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Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is Los Angeles

This past Saturday, I participated in a scavenger hunt throughout all of Los Angeles.  One of our missions was to take a photo of a guy with a six-pack.  In any other city, you would have to clarify “six-pack”…and being from Boston, I immediately thought of beer.  But given that this was LA, we didn’t need clarification.

LA is full of guys (and girls) sporting six-packs, eight-packs, and even twelve-packs (I imagine there must be a few conjoined-twin bodybuilders at Muscle Beach).  It’s a sickeningly beautiful city, only pockmarked by the ugly, pale, displaced East Coasters who ruin all the prettiness.  On Saturday, we had no trouble finding a shirtless guy in LA who was willing to be photographed for his abs.  He even tried to help us out with another one of our missions (take a photo with a celebrity) by offering up the fact that he was in a Levi’s commercial.

In LA, everyone suffers from the abnormally high curve of relative attractiveness.  A 7 in Boston would barely be a 4 in LA.  A 4 in Boston would need to hide his face out here, for fear of scaring children.  At every turn in LA, there’s another advertisement claiming that a new product will make you more beautiful: it’ll get rid of your back fat, arm fat, belly fat, etc. — without fattening your wallet, of course (it’s such a common refrain that I wonder if these fat-burning places really do make you pay in cash).  In LA, beauty is a choice, something you can achieve if you throw enough money at it: you can take pills for silkier hair, apply creams for healthier hands, and slay babies for softer skin.  Put all the right ingredients together, and you can be LA beautiful too.

This city is like a strange, stunning, alter-world, where girls named Kitty eat dinner through intravenous tubes, and guys named Sergio flex their muscles at every possible occasion.  On Saturday evening, we saw another shirtless man doing pull-ups on an elementary school’s jungle gym in the middle of West Hollywood.  It would have seemed awfully pedophilic had it not been for his incredibly sculpted body — I suppose that in order to keep those huge arms in shape, maybe he does need to do the monkey bars all day.

Now that I’m living in LA, I’m relinquishing my dream of getting a Sanrio modeling gig (Goodbye, Kitty).  It’s intimidating to live in a place where people count their freckles and think obesity starts at size 2.  This morning, I found a giant mystery bruise on my right leg.  In any other city, a huge, unsightly bruise would be a great conversation starter (“Hey! Where did you get that shiner?” … “No idea? Awesome!”).  But in LA, the same yellow bruise is like a shrieking alarm, calling out all your physical defects (“Where did you get that?” … “You don’t know? It’s probably jaundice.”).  I won’t be able to wear skirts for a week.

I can only hope that I’ll meet a cute, non-beastly, non-jaundiced 4… and hopefully that’s not a reach.

Yes, there are 700,000 more results for “getting rid of fat los angeles” than for all of “inner beauty”…

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Hey, Soul Sister

I’m pretty sure that I am Abraham Lincoln reincarnated.

Stick with me on this.  First, let’s talk about reincarnation.   I grew up in a “spiritual-but-not-religious” household, which I say only because “atheist” makes me sound like I have neck tattoos and “agnostic” is just religion’s version of a total cop-out (like “libertarian” for politics). So, within my “spiritual” upbringing, I was exposed to several different belief systems: we had a children’s bible on the bookshelf, a fat bald man on the mantle (fine, a bronzed Buddha statue), and an Indiana Hoosiers jersey in the basement (because sports is religion and, growing up, Calbert Cheaney was God).

Anyway, back to reincarnation.  My parents were actually loose Buddhists.  Reincarnation is a Buddhist idea, and so my parents would teach me all about reincarnation as they saw it: you die, but you don’t really die, which is great, and then your soul floats up in the air, and then it finds a new body to inhabit, and thus you end up looking like someone else.  It’s like the whole Man-in-Black debacle in Lost.

Naturally, I was skeptical.  Believing in soul transfer is sort of like believing in ghosts or unicorns.  Plus, empirically it didn’t make sense: if we started out with just two souls (Adam and Eve), does this mean that  all but two of us were born soulless?  My mom convinced me that this wasn’t the case, that everyone is either given a new soul or a recycled one.  So, in my adolescent need to latch onto irrefutable truths, I believed her and bought into this whole reincarnation business.*

How does reincarnation work?  I’ve always imagined that it’s like going through customs at the airport.  The customs officials are the arbiters of soul, where they examine your soul and make sure it’s passable into the next life.  They scratch you, they sniff you, and they make sure you’re not carrying any illegal fruits or vegetables.  Tangerines hidden in your rectum?  Rejected!  Bad souls are dumped down the chute; good souls keep on rolling.  After a full-body violation, your customs official gives you the ticket to your next destination.  You’re whisked away to take a shower, getting rid of all the airplane/past-life smell.  And then, finally, you’re off to explore your new life in Tokyo/Brazil/Zimbabwe.

I like to think that the reincarnation airport is run by reality TV producers: they want all souls to have good stories, so they jumble them up a bit.  If you were a man in one life, you’ll be a woman in the next.  If you were J.P. Morgan in one life, you’ll be a German pauper in the next.  Just imagine: in a past life, 6’8″ millionaire basketball star LeBron James could have been 5’3″ communist leader Ho Chi Minh.  The E! True Hollywood Story would be fascinating.

The best part about reincarnation is that there is a limitless family tree: anyone could be your past-life dad.  In trying to figure out my soul ancestry, I worked backwards, based on my own predispositions.  Here is where I believe I came from:

Abraham Lincoln (Feb 1809 – April 1865): Honest Abe was probably a new soul, since he was born in an era of extensive population growth.  He wore a beard.  I love his beard.  We’re kindred spirits.

Beatrix Potter (July 1866 – Dec 1943): (I assume it took customs a while to sort through all the souls coming from the Civil War) Beatrix Potter, the author of children’s books like Peter Rabbit, could write and draw… I would love to be her one day, except for the whole British thing. (See picture: she’s doing the 19th century version of sexy posing… again, kindred spirits).

(Here is where my soul falls off the map a bit.  I blame it on WWII.)

Dennis Wilson (Dec 1944 – Dec 1983): Dennis Wilson, the founder of the Beach Boys and Charles Manson enabler, drowned in a boating accident in Marina del Rey.  I came to the conclusion that Wilson was my past-life daddy when I lost my phone in Marina del Rey (wait for it)… on a boat.  As T-Pain/KG says, “Anything is possible.”

So, there it is: my reincarnated family tree.  Yes, my past-life selves have all been famous celebrities/literary geniuses/presidents; every once in a while, I may drop a little Peter Rabbit, Surfin’ USA, or Hip-Hop Emance-Proc on you.  But don’t be intimidated.  Because you never know — deep down, you could have the recycled soul of John D. Rockefeller… and if so, get ready for a life of peasanthood.  It’ll be great TV.

* At one point, I had convinced myself that the reason for Buddha’s girth was because he held all the new souls in his stomach.  However, once I realized what he would need to do to retrieve the souls, I dumped this idea…  Pun intended …Yes, I’m twelve.

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