It's the designer when into my six-year-old mind and visually represented of exactly how I would see (and did see) the movie! And how about Casablanca, as Lichtenstein (before Lichtenstein was Lichtenstein):
I once met a Japanese girl whose family owned a 500-year-old noodle place in Kyoto. 500 years old! That's like, before Galileo and shit. Which is just how old things can be when you're not from Los Angeles, where I grew up. Or more specifically, Altadena, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. As we all know, 500 years ago Altadena was a steamy, dangerous jungle of eleven-foot poppies, inhabited by sabre-tooth tigers, ornery mastodons, three- and four-toed megasloths, and the Gabrielino indians who had learned to live along side such beasts by taming them with their alien, clicking language. Needless to say, it was not an environment friendly to noodle joints. There wasn't even AM-PM back then. Or vintners or glass makers or Gasthauses like those on this list of the world's 100 oldest companies, which I find momentarily interesting because where else would you learn about a family of medieval metallurgists who developed a "mysterious method" for working with gold while outfitting crusaders with armor and are known today as Torrino jewelers?
Architect Jakob Tigges suggests putting Berlin back on the monumentalist map by erecting a 3,000-foot mountain on the site of the recently decommissioned Tempelhof airport. Summer hiking, winter skiing, Teutonic myth-making -- all convenient to the S-Bahn! A nifty idea that will never happen, and not just because the architect's own video presentation features him, along with digital images of the Berg plan, set to Looney Tunes cartoon music. But that doesn't stop this imaginary mountain from tweeting! And the pictures are neat:
First, it ascended to high art with Kutiman's assemblage of unrelated music clips into original jams. Now the ante has been officially upped by Darren Solomon, who combined twenty YouTube music clips into a sprawling, interactive, personalized Steve Reich-o-tron, right in your browser. As if that wasn't nifty enough, the conceptual coup-de-grace is the instruction to use the volume sliders as an equalizer for your own mix!
As for one Eli Horowitz, who, upon learning (from me, via email) about Pugachev's Cobra, said, "This seems totally useless. But also difficult. And cobra-related," I answer: yes to the last two points; and as for useless, it is clear that Eli has never been piloting an F-22 Hornet with a six o-clock bogey.
There's some usual suspects, like Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye. And a few surprises, like the objection to Black Hawk Down in Raceland, Louisiana, where you might imagine that Mark Bowden's politically nuetral military potboiler would go down well. Among my favorite ironies: Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep was pulled from a Prep school right here in SoCal.
Artist Amelia Bauer has redefined the excitement of cinematic fireballs by capturing stills of them on pillows. It's true. Among the movies quoted, as it were, for the series are Blood Diamond (above), The Departed,
Night of the Living -- and everyone's favorite scene from Zoolander:
The game, organized for kicks by Brent as a DVD menu, took on a life of its own as a performance art critique on US border policy. By which I mean it was a chance for me and Brent to knock the rock in the name of America! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Want to find
out who wins? Watch the whole thing! It's short. And has some awesome
freaking saves. By me. Oh, and also worth seeing is my colorful dispatch at the time of the game for the LA Weekly:
most desolate and unknown beach is desolate and unknown for a reason.
It has no name, no facilities, no parking lot. There are no signs for
it inside Borderfield State Park. There are no signs for the park
either. To get there, you depart the 5 freeway 10 miles south of San Diego, follow the roads to where the gas stations give way to horse stables, get lost in the overgrowth and streams of the Tijuana River delta, and from there walk the dirt road two miles through coastal dunes to emerge at the Pacific.
This is a filthy beach, where the Tijuana River deposits human
waste, heavy metals, toxic poisons and other industrial effluvia from Mexico into the ocean. “CONTAMINATED WATER; DEEP HOLES; RIPTIDES; NO LIFEGUARD; NO SWIMMING!” the signs announce.
This is also a geopolitically divided beach, purposefully hidden, a DMZ in miniature where the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol
would prefer no distractions as they monitor the fence of metal pylons
that draws a 20-foot-tall line in the sand all the way into the sea.
It is the perfect beach, in other words, for the world’s first game of international border volleyball.
This is the idea, at least, as I trek to the beach with no name to meet Brent Hoff
and three other collaborators who plan to stage the match. There, under
the noon sun, are a lone umbrella, some towels, lots of water and a
brand-new volleyball. Hoff is the editor of Wholphin, a new DVD
magazine published by McSweeney’s. For the DVD’s menu, Hoff wants to
film a game of beach volleyball using the border fence as the net.
Through the pylons we can see hundreds of people — families, kids,
ice-cream vendors and fishermen — all hanging out on Mexico’s side. The
fence itself has kind of a beach vibe here: It’s broken in parts, and
Mexican nationals wander back and forth, left alone by the
border-patrol units perched up on the hill unless they happen to wander
a bit too far.
“Why not use this no man’s land as a real beach,” Hoff adds, now
spinning the volleyball in preparation, “and see if we could strike up
a friendly pickup game? There’s no law against that.”
Or is there? Hoff suddenly wonders if hitting the ball back and
forth constitutes a violation of U.S. Customs law, since goods are
technically being transported across an international border. “Does a
nice volley amount to three strikes? Can we all get thrown in the
slammer?” One friend of Brent’s refused to come down because he thought
we’d all get shot.
We decide to take our chances. Here we are, under the perfect sun of
San Diego, where beach volleyball reigns, so why should that be any
different just a few miles south?
With Hoff’s three collaborators filming, he needs a second, and so I am volunteered to be the other half of Team USA.
By chance, we are both wearing white tank tops, beaded necklaces and
swim trunks — just the right uniforms for Team USA to show everybody
who’s boss. (U-S-A! U-S-A!) Hoff’s shades are yellow and mirrored for a
nice finishing touch. We approach the fence. Within seconds Team Mexico
is formed, and the match begins.
Beach volleyball is a much different game when played over two-story
metal pylons. Strategy and nuance go out the window. There are few sets
and certainly no spikes. Mostly, it’s tit-for-tat power bumps that send
the ball in 30- and 40- and even 50-foot arcs. The ball hangs in the
air so long that a lot of time is spent looking skyward, bracing for
another bump that hopefully goes in the right direction. As I wait for
one good knock to fall from the blue, it occurs to me that our entirely
new sport makes for some extreme, if inadvertent, political theater.
Despite the difficulty, the game is fun — and surprisingly
uninteresting to the border patrol, who zipped down at the drop of a
hat several times earlier but now seem content to observe us with
Spectators line up on the other side too. Beachgoers watch the game,
and a bunch of kids doing a college art project film us as well. We
learn that our opponents are two guys named Jerry and Larry. Jerry grew
up in El Monte. He’s in Mexico because he “made mistakes in his life” — I notice a big “EMF” for the El Monte Flores
gang on his arm. But now, he says, he’s on the right path. Larry is a
student with long, rocker hair; he’s wearing a black shirt and jeans.
Although we’re not really playing for points, it’s clear we’re
losing. Hoff makes heroic dives, and I’m (sort of) pulling my weight in
the volleys that develop, but Jerry and Larry have strength and
stamina, despite the fact that Jerry is older and wider than me and
Hoff combined, and Larry looks like he should be melting.
After an hour or so, we call it quits. Our wrists
are red and raw as we go to the fence to shake hands. A crowd gathers
for this moment of cultural exchange, which turns into a photo
opportunity. Like China’s
pandas, Hoff and I are goodwill ambassadors. See how furry and friendly
we really are? We’re not all saber rattlers up here! We take pictures
with Jerry and Larry, with the art-school kids, with some tourists from
Canada who are marveling at the whole thing.
All this activity finally brings down the hammer of the border
patrol, and a jeep shows up to separate us. The officer is friendly but
firm. He’s just come on shift and has no idea we’ve been playing
volleyball over the fence for the past hour.
He tells us that a daredevil launched himself across the border in a
cannon a while back, but that ours was, in fact, the first-ever game of
international border volleyball.
“And it worked over that tall fence?”
“Yup,” we say. “We’re up for one more round if you want to play.”
Do the Almighty Freaks run into the Insane Unknowns at a midwestern regional gang conference and trade info so they can get together work on some projects? "Great meeting you in that afternoon workshop yesterday," says Ca$her to Chewdog, "Let's get together and talk about that project so we can capitalize on our synergistic opportunities!" Such a conference should probably invite our old friend the business card guru as a guest speaker, because all their cards look like like this:
These cards, if you haven't seen them already, come from a collection of business cards issued, as it were, by Chicago gangs in the 70s. At which time, apparently, gang names still had more in common with the 19th century Five Points-era Dead Rabbits. 70s-era Chicago was roamed by The Stooge Brothers, the Almighty Furies, Thee Almighty Hell's Devils, Thee Almight Shurz People. A lot of words, a lot of almighties. I like The Stoned Yarders. Says all you need to know, right? Even the members' names are of another time. The Stooge Brothers --
-- sound like a friendlier Little Rascals. Smuckers? Unicorn? Bubbles? Giggles? Sweet Pea? And it is nice to know that The Stooge Brothers make sure to endorse Michael's love for Bridget.
And it looks like some of the Bishops' members got left out, or joined late, and had to be added like write-in candidates:
And is this really a gang?
But the most kudos go to these guys, who keep it simple:
That little highlighted box, or part thereof, in the corner of 119th street between Morningside and Amsterdam. Or it will be 400 years from then, then being the time conjured by this image. Or rather this digital visualization, which was created by the Manhatta Project, a years-long datalogical reconstruction of what the island looked like when Henry Hudson showed up. The recovered natural history -- surprising fact 1: Manhattan was a diverse patchwork of many ecosystems with rich and abundant wildlife -- has been compiled in book form, but the website too is very nifty. Interactive maps! Sliding overlays! Hours of fun for anyone who has lived in New York.
Get their black hats. Same place as Gay Talese. Homburgs, fedoras, no creases, creases -- Bruno Lacorazza is a name you can trust. Hasidic hats even get hasidic-ish style names: yeshivish (generic fedora) and shtreimel (fancy and furry)!
Nifty: Christian Moeller, an artist, mounted a cargo ship propeller on a giant robotic arm which is programmed to shift itself around randomly, producing the effect of viewers facing massive, sentient-seeming DaisyTron. (Moeller calls his creation just "Daisy." And, according to his website, it is a she.) Even niftier: there are sensors in the thing that know when someone is there. So when you step into the room, the Daisy becomes interested and follows you across the room. The effect is as intriguing as it is vaguely menacing, given the thing's size. And the fact that we know the robotic megaflora will one day control the earth.
That's what some girl with a dream catcher and ankle length skirt looked up from her book on Tarot secrets to tell me at a coffee shop back in high school. What about the arrow of time? Nope. A circle, said the wise one. Well, advances in flash technology prove her right.
Fundamentally understanding the addictive nature of vaguely educational, information-seeking procrastination, this thing combines the stripped-down Essence of Internet -- instantaneous delivery of nifty tidbits -- with the addictive satisfaction of a slot machine. Want another fix? Hit me again! It only takes .73 seconds. Number of Beatles simultaneous No. 1 singles on a certain day in 1964 not quite eyebrow raising enough? How about this: The ‘Crows Nest’ on a ship (the basket near the top of the mast) used
to actually contain a crow, since they invariably head towards
land. Hit me again!
Nifty website alert! So Many a Second creates visualizations of statistics so you can perceive the scale of the number. There are categories, like environment (trees cut down is a shocking cascade of instanteously disappearing), and people (births per second are surprisingly sparse). The only thing more dense than the new stars born in the universe is the number of porn requests. Interesting all, but Ronni wanted to know if they add more figures to spice it up, and she cut to the chase with the title question. "Dr. Oz on Oprah says men fart seven times per day while women average five times," she said. "Multiply those numbers times six billion, and then by the number of seconds in the day, and that's a lot. Let's see that in your computer!"
This video was going around last week. But there have been others. A man named Danny Choo has several hobbies, one of which is dressing up like a storm trooper and dancing around Tokyo intersections. My favorite is this one:
More than the others, this video is a Japan preview. The key is the first fifteen seconds or so, because it looks like the girls who walking by and start dancing along in their gothic french maid outfits are plants, and the whole thing is choreographed, like some kind of a Japanese Improv Everywhere steampunk musical, but they're not plants. The scene is spontaneous. In Japan, you see, if someone starts dancing around in a storm trooper outfit at any random intersection with foot traffic, chances are that within a few seconds a bunch of Beetlejuice-looking gothic lolita girls will wander past you and start dancing along. Because that's just how things are.
It was 2001. The monolith appeared on the moon. A baby floated in space. And back here on earth, it was, as David Dixon, audio archivist genius, points out, a technological perfect storm:
This was right around the time that Napster was just beginning to
penetrate into the average computer user's lives. At the same time,
an audio utility program called MusicMatch Jukebox was also being
widely used, since it was often pre-installed on off-the-shelf PC's.
MMJ allowed you, among other things, to make recordings using the
cheap microphone included with the PC, and save the file in mp3
format. If you didn't give the audio file a name, it assigned a
default name "mic in track" followed by a number. Now if you were
also running Napster, and you were careless enough to be sharing
everything on your computer (which *many* were), then anyone also
running Napster could just do a search for "mic in track" and find and
download these personal recordings, usually without your knowledge.
I am that guy. I've amassed many, many hours of these recordings,
which provide endless voyeuristic entertainment. Typical recordings
were of people singing, rapping, or playing along with the radio
(often badly), kids practicing their school book reports, audio love
letters, kids being silly, and so forth. One of my finds was a
14-minute-long recording of a guy praying very fervently and
emotionally, even lapsing into glossolalia.
I've posted many of my favorites on my webpage, for free.
Since I woke up this morning and someone had taken my commemorative issue of the New York Times, I walked to my coffee shop with a three week old issue of the paper, in which I found this ironic tale of an Iranian immigrant McMansion developer whose meltdown-induced hard times has forced him to move out of his own house -- a giant recreation of the White House in an Atlanta suburb:
For the last seven years, almost as long as President
Bush has been in Washington, Mr. Milani, an Iranian-American home
developer, has lived in a scaled-down version of the presidential
mansion in Atlanta. A private Xanadu for Mr. Milani, a headache for
neighbors and a destination for camera-wielding gawkers, the
16,500-square-foot home has become a kooky symbol of this boom-boom
city’s ever-growing residential skyline.
But now, like the current occupant of the real White House, Mr. Milani is planning to leave his home.
“I still do not want to sell,” he said. “But I will.”
My favorite part of the story is the man behind the vision had no vision:
“The architect just asked, ‘How about I build you the White House?’ and I said yes. That is the whole story.”
Amenities include: an oval office, with Presidential seal; lincoln bedroom for guests; portraits of all 44 presidents in the kitchen; a hookah (for when you're waiting to get in that helicopter); and a ceiling mural of Jesus ministering to people of all races. So, basically it sounds like a precise replica! No wonder Obama wont redecorate...
But I dig it. If only for the midi loop of "walking on sunshine," which is what I always hear in my head when I'm feeding pineables to the baby aligater. If that makes no sense to you, you need to play this website's "game." Thereafter, it still won't make any sense, but you will nevertheless be satisfied.
You know what I'm talking about. Not Animal House. Or Revenge of the Nerds. Or Better Off Dead. That's 101. I'm talking about Ski School. And Ski School 2:
And I'm not talking about that fake shit, Hot Dog, The Movie. This is the Ski School franchise. Starring this dude:
To see my man in action, please enjoy the Ski School trailer. So much crazy hijinks on the slopes -- and I'm not just talking about skiing with a bandana!
Diligent observers will notice that this is also Chainsaw, from Summer School, starring that other faded 80s giant, Mark Harmon. So, what is our old friend up to now? I am glad to report that Dean Cameron continues to entertain us, now with a live show he wrote and performs wherein he recounts his counter-scams of some Nigerian scammers:
While waiting to say his 4 lines each week on the ill-fated 2003 NBC
Drama Mister Sterling, Dean Cameron received email from a Nigerian
con-artist posing as the wife and son of a dead Nigerian leader. After
writing back as a sexually confused Florida millionaire, whose only
companions being his cats, houseboy and personal attorney Perry Mason,
Dean embarked upon a 9-month correspondence with the con-man.
There was a This American Life segment recently, called The Enforcers, along similar lines. The story told there was about the community of aggressive counter-scammers, centered around sites like 419eater, who bait the scammers into doing silly, and dangerous, things themselves. Chainsaw's show seems to be more about developing a fraudulent, but somehow ongoing relationship with this person who was out to defraud him. Or so I'm guessing. I haven't seen it. Just missed an LA show, alas. Guess I'll have to wait until the next local isntallment, which is on April 20th -- Hitler's birthday! (A coincidence, I'm going to guess.)
Kenneth LIbbrecht over at CalTech has a snowflake machine. I've seen it. It makes snowflakes. Libbrecht needs the snowflake machine because he studies pattern formation in nonlinear
nonequilibrim systems, aka crystal growth (or a subset thereof), and snowflakes provide a great study set because there are so many factors that govern ice crystal growth, such that the most minute of changes will create two entirely different snowflakes, which is why they're all different -- just like us! And the snowflake machine allows field work right in sunny Southern California. Libbrecht is also famous for his snowflake microphotographs, which have been collected into books and very effectively marketed by CalTech as its own cottage industry. I have one of these books. It is great. The pictures are not snowflakes from the snowflake machine, you may be disappointed to learn. The snowflake machine, as I recall, provides an experimental snowflake, good for studying, but not the perfect, photogenic kind. Those have to be collected in the field and photographed right there with a special camera, which is also nifty. Somewhere, I have a long interview on tape with Libbrecht. It was supposed to be a one page story in the Believer like four years ago, but I got busy with something else and filed it all away somewhere. Maybe now I will dig it up and rediscover the snowflake machine magic.
The Zombie Zeitgeist A full scale movement is on the lurch. But why the best zombie movie ever made a video game?
Believer interview with Mark Allen Digital artist and awesome gallerist Mark Allen talks about Tekken Torture Tournament and other projects where people were wired to machines and did strange things in public.
Believer interview with Marjane Satrapi Enlightening Q & A with the Persian cartoonist, memoirist, quick conversationalist in which she declares: “THE WORLD IS NOT ABOUT BATMAN AND ROBIN FIGHTING THE JOKER; THINGS ARE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.”
Yeti Researcher Yet another 100-page issue of the world's top academic journal devoted scholarship about the Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasqatch, and other mystery primates worldwide. For researchers and lay audiences alike, the latest YR features a history of Sasquatch sightings in southern California, an update on the wily orang pendek of Sumatra, and a new look into Teddy Roosevelt's obsession with bagging a Bigfoot. As Editor-in-Chief, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Panda PowerPoint! I guess I don't mind being "the entertainment" when it's at Mark Allen's second annual Holiday Fry-B-Que. Presented: preliminary findings from my ongoing research into the most charismatic megafauna of all: Giant Pandas.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Dec 9, 2006 For those who missed it, there will be more. World, Explained is going strong! Money was raised, laughs were had, and for those paying attention, small amounts of useful information about things like the aurora borealis were transmitted. Plus: Michael Cera = lovably funny. And Nick Diamonds' renditions of Dumb Dog and Hanging Tough are still in my head. As is that horribly catchy Fresh Step jam.
Jest Fest at Skylight Books Somehow I wound up hosting the 10th anniversary jubilee for Infinite Jest at Skylight Books. Because who doesn't love a jubilee, right? Despite being delirious with Hepatitis A (that's the mild, non-lethal kind; I'm not at risk for Hep B since I always go the needle share and choose clean-looking prostitutes), I managed to not mis-pronounce anyone's name and make an erudite joke and poke gentle fun at Michael Silverblatt.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | June 10, 2006 Number Three! Last one was sold out so we moved to a slightly larger theater. Andy Richter hosted, and his opening exegesis of CSI: Miami warmed the people up right. Evany Thomas presented her very scientific findings on the Secret Language of Sleep; Starlee Kine bared her neuroses to the world (or at least the 300 people in the audience); Josh Davis showed video of his 135-lb self sumo wrestling a 550-lb opera singer from San Bernardino; and Davy Rothbart closed it out with some Found Magazine magic. Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Shelton and Zooey Deschanel provided the music punctuation! I can still hear their rendition of We Are the Champions.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Feb 11, 2006 The second in our series of precision comedy and fact-based entertainment extravaganzas benefiting 826LA. Patton Oswalt was kind enough to host, and Jon Brion joined in on the piano and guitar as thematic accompaniment. Presenters included: David Rees, Michael Colton, John Hodgman (along with his hirsuit troubadour, Jonathan Coulton), and me. Plus: a fashion show of exciting multi-user garmentry.
Little Gray Book Lecture at Galapagos How to Observe President's Day. Jonathan Coulton's technical wizardry has made this entire show available online. The summary from PRX: Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman and Joshuah Bearman on Presidents' Day, along with a fifteen-piece marching band and a new song about all forty-three presidents. My contribution? Yes, from Yeti Researcher. Again. Actually that was the first one. So I have only five stories!
July 25: TJ to LA -- A Night McSweeney's Readings I was honored to be part of a strange triptych along with Salvador Plascencia and Josh Kun. Sponsored, somehow, by La Ciudad magazine, we all packed into Beyond Baroque with no air conditions. 150 people showed at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, which we took as a good sign of something. Sal held up and anxiously discussed drawings from his novel, Josh delivered an essay on the Dr. Moreau of Tijuana, and my shtick (again) was Pac Man and metaphysics, this time with fun slides.
October 8th: Skylight Books w/Stephen Elliott Fun times were had by all. Someone in the audience actually mistook me for an expert on the psychology human character. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank cheap wine and laughed at Bush and celebrated the certainty of right besting wrong in American democracy. A lot of good that did.