Sunday, November 22, 2009

American Beauty

When the anvil of unconditional love for one’s fellow man drops upon your nebbish little pinhead, the only thing to do is run, not walk, out into the unforgiving world and flit about in it for a while. Harboring a significant crush on the world, walking around town with a grin on your face like a big gaylord propels us forward against the series of disappointments and ennui that is the human condition. These, my friend, are moments of grace, and they slink back to Graceland as quickly as they come.

So in a fit of unbridled stranger love, I hosed myself down, put on pants for the first times in several weeks, and flung open the door of my tenement building. I minced on over to the Metropolitan Museum (no, it's NOT the same thing as the M and M store you fucking retard, alliteration notwithstanding. The M and M store is a Times Square tourist trap, really, you should think before you speak, even in the solitude that surrounds you after having lost all friends and acquaintances due to these fatuous outbursts) and found my love for humanity momentarily extinguished, and then dramatically rekindled by lots of purty pitchers.

Robert Frank’s book the Americans was released in 1958, after two glorious years of bourgeois bohemian ramblings sponsored only by his vagabond wits, I mean, a Guggenheim Fellowship. Frank is from Europe, Switzerland to be exact, meaning that he is "neutral" i.e. hates freedom. Usually, I find it loathsome when foreigners, especially smug Europeans, or worse yet Canadians, take the subject of our great Republic into their soft hands. But oh man I am forced to rescind my comments once again because I felt like this exhibit was made for me! Like Edward Weston’s photographic rendering of Leaves of Grass, Frank’s images could play roadside companion to On the Road. Truly, because they “burn, burn, burn, like fabulous roman candles,” et al. Why did the Beats say everythingng in threes threes threes?

The exhibit is about values. The photos show the pomp and circumstance of the democratic process in political rallies led by union bosses in Chicago, marching bands, boater hats and all. You’ve got the diner waitress as an exhausted beauty, the Hollywood starlet and her adoring public at a premiere. Consequently, the photos also show what Americans do not value. Images from Charleston, South Carolina show a black nanny holding a white infant, and the masthead for the exhibit captures Jim Crow in a New Orleans trolley car. There are flimsy road signs compelling wanderers to repent in open stretches of western split lane highway, trucks hauling migrant workers to the fields, Puerto Rican trannies in Harlem, and hobos sleeping in public parks in Cleveland. Who knew there were public parks in Cleveland?! The only thing missing was Pentecostal snake handlers. I love that. Next time the Met brings me on board as an art consultant, I’ll be sure to mention that.

I tried so hard to restrain myself from whipping out my moleskin reporter’s pad and recording all my brilliant insights for the day.

I resisted doing so during the Welsh mining boys and indigenous Peruvians in bowler hats, two more favorite things. Then I came to the photo of the blind accordion player, and all bets were off.
As I stood in front of the glass admiring the grotesque beauty and journaling (Yeah, I said it, so what who cares?! You judgemental judge, you should dedicate all that judgy energy into practicing the alphabet) about all the contradictory feelings it brought up in my belly, I felt the cumbersome, unmistakable gaze of an unsavory man’s eyes burning into places that should not burn. “Where did you get those shoes?” the smarmy fellow asked. I mean, I was wearing amazing shoes; I can’t condemn him for admiring, but what a homo pickup line, right? Then on to, “Why are you writing? Are you a student?” “No, I’m writing for a publication.” “Which one?” The Paris Review.”

And then I fled the scene of the crime, lest anyone realize that I am pathological. But no matter! This buoyancy was unsinkable, not even the unscrupulous overtures from museum predator could bring me down. I've said it once and I'll say it again: God Bless America!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Let's Go to the Movies!: Nights of Cabiria

Not since Bridget Jones or the male lead in 500 Days of Summer has a protagonist resonated more profoundly with me than Cabiria in this Fellini classic. Of course, my cinematic taste hovers between the tawdry and the deplorable, faves including Joshua Jackson vehicle The Skulls and cultural patrimony of the Dominican Republic Sanky Panky.

I really related with Cabiria for several reasons. First, she's a prostitute, but not a very good one, just like me. Instead of slithering into pencil skirts and teetering along the cobblestones of Rome in hooker heels, she abounds in stripes and flats. I enjoy donning matching stripy outfits with unsavory characters and taking photos. The resemblance is uncanny. Between Cabiria and I, dummy, not that guy upon whose head I am posing provocatively.

Cabiria's umbrella shares about 80% screen time with the actress, and as I watched this whole psychodrama play out between the fickle rainclouds and our heroine, I thought to myself, "Oh my God, I carry an umbrella on my person at all times too!" She even checks it at a nightclub, which I have also done, after using it to lambaste the doorman and "make a scene."

The nightclub scene really struck a chord, especially when Cabiria entangles herself in a velvety curtain over the entrance to the dance floor. She then proceeds to humiliate her dance partner by clearing the floor with exaggerated mambo number. Not that I've ever done that, per se, but let's just say the members of my party and/ or security may have requested that I descend from the cocktail table while throwing my skirt over my head and doing a bastardized Charleston/ Jamaican dance hall thrash that could easily be confused with a seizure, all while demanding that a busboy pour tequila in my mouth like that time in Puerto Vallarta. Oh well.
But the crux of Cabiria's character lies in the fact that throughout the entire film she is routinely shat upon by men, but never gives up on true love. While that may sound like some hooker- with- a- heart- of- gold conceit, I assure you it's not. Cabiria is a rebel, rejecting the notion that her experiences are the rule (that members of the opposite sex only show any remote interest in you because they are motivated by malicious intent like pushing you into a river and robbing all your earthly possessions, for example) and that they are the exception instead. Two different dates make attempts on her life TWICE, bracketing the film with a lugubrious symmetry. A guy hasn't tried to kill me (yet) but one did steal my identity. Would you believe that there is a check- cashing operation in Plant City, Florida, owned and operated by an Albanian named Paloma Zenaida?

Just listen to what Fellini himself said about his film:

"The subject of loneliness and the observation of the isolated person has always interested me. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but notice those who didn’t fit in for one reason or another—myself included. In life, and for my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it’s usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of those who has been excluded."

Okay, so I definitely fall on the latter half of that elegant equation, being all but shunned by my peer group and society at large, under the charge of "unorthodox social interactions" and violent dancing. But what of it?! Like my heroine Cabiria, I refuse to accept circumstances as they are, despite every signpost and omen otherwise. To the river!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

On the Waterfront

Have you ever circumnavigated the island of Manhattan? Does eating swordfish on City Island appeal to you? Would you like to ride the Staten Island ferry on a sweltering August afternoon, semi- noxious fumes from the Buttermilk Channel cooling your sweat mustache? Ok, asshole, how about drinking a Schlitz while you ogle handsome individuals in DUMBO from behind dark glasses? I knew we would meet somewhere in the middle...

Well, if any of those scenarios appeal to you even slightly, or if you've ever fetishized working class heroes like longshoreman or fish mongers, then you must visit the photo exhibit "The Edge of New York: Waterfront Photos " at the Museum of the City of New York, on display until November 29. It is an enchanting exhibit that might bring up feelings or ideas like loneliness, industry, fragmentation, tradition and change, fear of terrorism by port entry, empathy with your neighbor, and man's place in the natural world. And the entire exhibit will take you less than fifteen minutes from start to finish, and you can seamlessly resume your daily regimen of kicking cats and gobbling down non- FDA approved diet pills.

The exhibit is split between contemporary depictions of the waterfront and historical photos, many of which were shot by Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers in the 1930s. Was there ever a better government program than the WPA? Now that is what I call cultural heritage. Why can't they create a WPA for this recession? I know a few individuals who need a state guidebook to write or a mural to paint, and I'm not even taking about myself surreptitiously, then again... If you look at the photos by Berenice Abbott (WPA all the way!), you actually start hearing "Rhapsody in Blue" and smell roasted chestnuts and pickle brine wafting through the air. No, not literally, you simpleton. But maybe you will, given your proclivities to hallucinogenics. What if you, like, went to a museum on, like, PCP man??? Imbeciles, all!
Here's a collage I made, inspired by the exhibit. This creative portrayal would suggest that I am a classically trained visual artist, but nope, that's just raw talent. Note the self- standing design and the unsettling slope of my desk. The Museum of the City of New York will next be showing an exhibit entitled "the Leisure Time Hobbies of Paloma Zenaida: The Demand for a New Works Progress Administration."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We All March Together!

"Is there anything worse than a staunch woman?" No there's not, and all bets are off when a staunch woman concocts an homage to her reclusive hero and her show biz dreams. Thus spake Little Edie Beale, whose scarf I feebly attempted to fill this Halloween. Edie wore didn't wear clothes, she wore"costumes," as she referred to her eccentric sartorial choices. This costume in particular really captured my essence. I was SO happy all night, mincing around with my flag and 'do rag, and I fucking hate Halloween (but not Halloween candy). Even when I accidentally stumbled into the Bowery Hotel, and a thousand eyes glowered over thirty dollar cocktails and prompted some very self- conscious feelings about the state of my thighs in short shorts, I still felt awesome. I wish I could wear this costume everyday, but that would probably prompt imprisonment, and even more gays following me around, like this guy for example.

Please note the soldier. He offered his services in defending my person from swarms of admirers. Hagiography is not for the faint of heart!