A Wish

Words I desperately wish my cell phone text messaging program had in auto-complete:

karaoke
sushi
taco
fuck (and variations thereof)

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Joss Wins!

Dollhouse got renewed! This makes everybody a winner, actually. I really REALLY loved that season finale. It’s definitely the best written show on network television and I’m so excited that it’s coming back for a second go. I can’t wait to see what happens to Ballard and I’m stoked that we might get more sweet, sweetTudyk.

Here Comes the Neighborhood

As if there already weren’t enough daily reminders that we are in a recession, we are now surrounded on 3 sides by people living in their vehicles.

At the end of our block, a young man lives in an old school bus painted the colors of the Jamaican flag. He has also painted over the s and h so that it reads “cool bus”. He’s been there for a while, since before the recession, and I’ve never been all that concerned with his presence. He’s clearly made a lifestyle choice.

Across the street, a young man lives in his van. He apparently knows one of our neighbors, as I have seen them talking. One time, they returned from somewhere together in the van. But the neighbor got out and went into the house while the man stayed in his mobile dwelling. I was nervous when I first noticed him living there a few months ago, but knowing that he is an acquaintance of our pre-existing neighbors (even though it is one of the irresponsible dog owners who always lets their dog crap on our lawn) gives him a vouched-for quality.

Up until last Sunday, there was an older man and woman living in a camper in the Mormon church parking lot behind our house. But they were also flush with our back fence and could see directly into our yard as well as our living room. After the man came over to ask if he could mow our lawn for money (we declined), I started closing the curtains. He later saw my husband mowing our lawn and again approached him to ask if he could help with the blackberry bushes. We declined once more. They were in the Mormon parking lot for a couple of weeks so I assume that they had permission to be there. But perhaps the hospitality has run out because as of last Sunday, they have moved their camper, truck and sedan to the driveway to the left of our house. It’s not technically our property (I don’t think) but they’re even closer to our house than they were before. I can hear them as they come and go and when they slam the doors of their various vehicles.

There aren’t very many parking spaces left on our street so I don’t know if we’re going to be getting any new neighbors. I hope we won’t. Actually, I’m a bit torn about all of this. On the one hand, it feels a bit invasive. I’m not keen on having such a crowded alley. One of the nice things about our house was that it was pretty private. But now I can see our “neighbors” when I’m doing dishes. Likewise, they know when we’re home and solicit us for work. I feel like telling them to go park in “Hobo Alley”, a park and ride under the freeway which has been home to several van dwellers for many years. It feels like our street has unwittingly become the Hobo Alley Annex. And given our break-in last year, from which I have never fully recovered, I’m not super stoked on that fact. On the other hand, if I suddenly found myself having to live in my car, I wouldn’t want to live in Hobo Alley either. I do feel really bad for these people, which is why I haven’t said anything to them about moving on. But I’m also very wary of strangers. It feels like a liability.

One thing I’m sure I have in common with our new neighbors is that I hope this is a temporary situation. Things seem to just keep getting worse in the economy with no real indication of how recovery is even possible.

SIFF Review: I’m No Dummy

2009 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Un-rated
86 minutes
Montivagus Productions

3 stars

Ventriloquism is a strange art form. It’s part acting, part puppetry, part stand-up comedy. It’s vaudevillian in nature and therefore it feels old-fashioned. Yet contemporary ventriloquism is alive and well. The documentary “I’m No Dummy” explores the world of ventriloquism, both past and present, in an engaging enough way that you are sucked into the film, even if you are never sold on the act itself.

Now, I admit that I can be a bit of a Grumpy Guss. I hate magicians. If they were really magic that would be one thing, but the slight-of-hand doesn’t impress me. I’m not afraid of clowns, but I find them annoying and not the least bit funny. (Krusty the Clown is an exception. Do satires count?) Ventriloquism had always seemed to me akin to those professions. But I must confess that “I’m No Dummy” changed my mind. I’m not going to run right out to buy a doll and practice singing whilst drinking water, but there is definitely some art happening here and some of it is downright impressive.

“I’m No Dummy” begins by defining the subject and giving it some context. The filmmakers interview several working ventriloquists (and, of course, their dummies) and ask them to define “ventriloquism”. The answers range from the technical (“a monologue perceived as a dialogue”) to the existential (“different sides of a personality”). It’s clear they’ve all thought a lot about this. No one entered into this world lightly and they are in it for the long haul. In fact, all of them began their careers as children. One of them was an only child. One had polio and spent a lot of time in bed. One suffered from acute dyslexia and admits he took to it because he wasn’t good at much else. It’s a goldmine for rudimentary psychoanalysis.

And some of it is also pretty neat. I’m still not sold on the stand-up aspect. I like my stand-up a little more raw and/or political. But when they go into the history of it and show the early masters, it does get a little mind-blowing what some of these people can do. Senor Wences, one of the more famous “vents,” created his signature head-in-the-box “’salright – ‘salright” bit by accident when his figure’s head became detached from its body in transit. Paul Winchell performed an amazing act wherein he sang a duet with his gypsy dummy…that was playing the tambourine. He was doing the work of at least 3 men all by himself. He also hosted a children’s show and was extremely popular in his day. These days, his legend is overshadowed by Miley Cyrus.

Other early fellows profiled include Jimmy Nelson and Edgar Bergen. The filmmakers also interview and profile enthusiast W.S. Berger, who spent his life collecting ventriloquist memorabilia. He called himself a Ventriloquarian. Seemingly obscure or no, each of the hundreds of dummies in his collection once had a life in showbiz. One contemporary ventriloquist named Jeff Dunham pulls in 4000 people to one show. And some of them are teenagers.

The film concludes with theories about the future of ventriloquism. Some say it can be kept going through innovation and transcending the genre. Some say it’s a dying art. But one person suggests that art never dies. I guess that’s true because I’m off to go watch some old-timey entertainment on youtube.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

NFT Radar: RIP TUBS

In its glory days, TUBS was spa. A spa enveloped in rumor. These rumors suggested everything from anonymous sex in the secluded hot tubs to a full on prostitution ring. I don’t know what, if any of it, was true. I suspect there were some sexual indiscretions in the tubs at one point or another but what hot tub hasn’t seen at least one happy ending? And anyway, the speculation was half the fun of Tubs. It was a great conversation piece with a cool exterior. And now it’s about to be torn down. In recent months, a group called the Free Sheep Foundation started to paint the outside. Not graffiti but actual art. Really good stuff. The city let them because they were tearing it down anyway. Last Sunday, they held an open house and the artists were there. You could also go inside. Sadly, I encountered no ghostly reach-arounds. Just tons of broke tile and dust. An old TV. More art. I know we have a lot of art spaces in Seattle already but it felt like a waste to just haul it away. On the other hand, the coolest things in this world are only temporary.


4750 Roosevelt Way NE 98105

X-posted from Not For Tourists.

Old Dog, New Tricks

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. When I lived there, it was a pretty poor excuse for a major city. Sure, there was all that history, the beautiful old buildings, the James river and the greenery. There was soul food and plenty of places to get pancakes. But if you wanted ethnic food, your choices were Olive Garden or Chi-Chis. The vegetarian option most places was vegetable sides and rolls. If you wanted to see a major band that wasn’t Christian or Country, you usually had to drive to D.C. There were, in fact, 4 country radio stations but no modern rock station. Every other car on the road sported a gun rack, a rebel flag, or both. There was a pretty cool small punk rock scene and that was definitely where I spent my free time. But other than that, it was pretty difficult to locate any culture at all.

I lived in Richmond (well…OK…the suburbs thereof) for 11 years. When I graduated from high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I went to college as far away as I possibly could and still live in the continental U.S. I visited several times a year until I graduated and never really noticed any progress. So once I started living my adult life, I hardly ever had reason to go back. I took my friend Faye as my date to my dad’s wedding in 2002. Our hotel was downtown. When the wedding wrapped up at 11, we weren’t ready for bed so we hit the town. It was a Friday. But the town was empty. We went into a bar where a man was playing acoustic guitar. We were the only people in there besides him and the bartender. We ordered drinks and sat down in the back. We clapped in between songs and then regretted it because he started talking to us. From stage. After every song. Eventually, he asked us for requests. We finished our drinks and left. We wandered around for a bit longer before deciding to see what was on pay per view back in the hotel.

When my friend Frank chose to move there, I thought he was nuts. He insisted it was a cool place. Frank is a pretty hip guy, but I had a hard time believing him.

This past weekend, my dad retired from his company after working there for 22 years. They loved him and threw him a big party. He’s been working, in some capacity, since he was 14 years old. He raised 2 kids, and then, when he finally shuffled them out of the house, he re-married and got 2 more kids. My husband and I went to celebrate his well-deserved break. It was held at the Art Museum. The food was amazing. There were speeches and lots of leaky eyes. There was a D.J., dancing (mostly done by my dad and step mom) and an open bar (mostly utilized by yours truly). It was a terrific party.


My step mother leads the charge on The Electric Slide

But that my dad had touched this many people, that they admired and respected him so much and were sad to see him go, that they could throw such a terrific party in his honor, were not the surprising things. What surprised me, was that Richmond is no longer a lame place to live.


My old man gives a speech…makes everyone cry.

It’s actually really cool there now. REALLY cool. On Friday before the party, B and I wandered around. We had sweet tea and sweet potato fries at Gutenbergs, a cafe with several vegetarian and vegan options. We did the Canal Walk. We checked out the Poe Museum (inside the oldest standing house in Richmond, est. 1737). We had lunch with my dad and aunt at Millie’s Diner, another menu full of vegetarian options. I took pictures of an old train, old buildings and lots of murals. That stuff was all there when I lived there, of course. The preservation of old buildings has long been my favorite thing about the city. They really have a respect for history there. I wish Seattle would take a queue from them sometimes.

On Saturday, we hung with Frank. He took us to yet another cafe full of vegetarian options. Then he rattled off, like, FIVE things going on that day that sounded cool. Unfortunately, they were all outdoors and the weather had other plans for us. It hardly ever rains in RVA but when it does, it pours. And pour it did. We decided to go to the store and get some BBQ ingredients in the hopes that it would let up. If it didn’t, we could still BBQ and eat inside. If it did, we could wander around or maybe hit one of the day’s outdoor events.

When we left the grocery store, it had stopped raining and the sun was out. We dropped off the groceries and went for a walk down Carey street. It was always the coolest street in Richmond, but it wasn’t always so diverse. In addition to the boutiques and movie theatre of old, there are now indie book stores, knick knack shops, gourmet ice cream (chai and mexi-chocolate flavors!) and a huge record store. We spent some time at Chop Suey, a hip bookstore complete with cat. Got some aforementioned ice cream and headed back to the house.


$2 movies at the historic Byrd theatre.

And then it rained again. So much so that we couldn’t make it the remaining 3 blocks without getting drenched. Fortunately, there was a bar right there and they didn’t mind that we had dripping ice cream cones. We had a beer and waited out the rain. Then we returned to Frank’s incredibly cool row house for some porchin’. God, I love porchin’. Our next house absolutely must have a porch on which we can place a couch or a swing. It’s imperative.


Porchin’ it.

After BBQ we headed out to an event that was, thankfully, indoors: the Found! Magazine show at Gallery 5. The founders of Found! were there, reading their favorite found notes, letters and receipts and singing songs inspired by said found words. It was a pretty incredible show. (And guess what! They’re coming to Seattle this summer!).


Indoor BBQ.


Found! Magazine show.

After that, we returned to Frank’s place to shoot pool, listen to music and chat with him and his awesome girlfriend, who had returned home from work at the liquor store. She had some terrific stories about said job. We also dug into my earlier impulse buy of a Carvel’s ice cream cake. Sadly, there was no Cookiepuss, (OR Fudgy, the Whale), but it was delicious nonetheless.

All day long I marveled about how much fun I was having. I mean, when I lived there, I had fun sometimes, but it wasn’t easy. This was effortless fun. Throughout the day, I saw fliers everywhere for things I wanted to do if only I was staying longer. Cure cover bands, 80’s and electro dance nights, readings and art shows. It was like Georgetown had been transplanted to the South. I suppose it had to happen sometime. A city can’t live in the past forever. Cheap rent attracts poor, creative types, some of whom are vegan and many of whom sport sleeve tats. I’m really happy that it happened to RVA. It’s no longer the stagnant, backwards place I grew up in. It’s even somewhere I could see myself living again (if I could get past the unbearable summer heat and mosquitoes).

Perhaps the biggest sign of change (after their blue state showing in the 2008 election) is that, in December, they are banning smoking in public places. It won’t be like in Seattle. You’ll still be able to smoke right in front of doors. Furthermore, “private clubs” will still allow smoking so a lot of bars will probably turn private, using the Utah model of $1-5/year membership fees. I bet elementary school children don’t even go to Philip Morris for field trips anymore.


It’s toasted!

Yes, Virginia is now a blue state with smoking bans and vegan restaurants. Things are looking up for America. And I’m so happy that RVA is doing their part. I was filled with pride this past weekend. Pride for my (current) dad and my (former) home state.

Film Threat Review: The Country Teacher

2008
Un-rated
113 minutes

Three and a half stars

Loneliness is terrible. And sometimes it makes an otherwise good person do terrible things. That is the theme of “The Country Teacher” (“Venkovsky ucitel”). Bohdan Slama’s film centers on Peter, a homosexual science teacher who takes a job in the Czech countryside to escape the darkness of his life in the big city. Unfortunately for him and a mother and son he befriends, the darkness comes along.

“The Country Teacher,” which screened at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival/Cinefest, is an interesting film on a provocative subject. It’s difficult to love a film about molestation but there are a lot of things to like about this one. For starters, life in the Czech countryside is beautifully captured on 35mm film. When Peter befriends a lady farmer and helps her with her chores, the audience is given real insight into what it’s like for these rural folks day to day. They love their land, they love to drink beer and dance, and occasionally, they have to hand-deliver calves by yanking them out of the mother cow by hand.

I also appreciate the way Slama handles Peter’s homosexuality. He makes sure to show, early on, that Peter has not been subject to external oppression for his sexuality. When he comes out to his mother (his father already knows), her response is simply “you shouldn’t be alone.” She only wants him to be happy. When his ex boyfriend (with amazing Judd Nelson hair and dark glasses) comes to town, he serves to represent Prague and its progressiveness. Any torment Peter feels is entirely self-inflicted. So when he develops an extremely unhealthy attachment to the teenage son of his farmer friend, we know they aren’t saying, “Gay people are pervs.” Just that “Peter has problems.”

Where “The Country Teacher” seems to fail is in its conviction. For a very long time, it’s not clear whether or not the boy in question is bi-curious himself. With his indie haircut and tight t-shirts, the boy certainly has that “Gus Van Sant extra” look to him. At one point he tells his girlfriend that he’s not sure they “fit together.” And how many times have you gone on sunset boat rides with your tutors? Not that, if he turned out to be gay, it would make Peter’s actions acceptable. But it would definitely change things.

I’m also not sure how I feel about the ending. I will try to keep things spoiler-free, but if you plan to see this film, you should be warned: loneliness is terrible. And sometimes it makes an otherwise sensible person do nonsensical things.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).