Friday, May 30, 2008

Power Animal

As far as pointless work conversations go, this one was actually interesting. Someone was chatting at the front of the store about totem animals, as in if you were a shaman or something and had a choice what animal would best represent you. The conversation then meandered to Fight Club's 'power animal' sequence, where Ed Norton is in 'his cave' and his power animal is a penguin. Eventually the track led to if you could actually be any animal in the world, what would you be? (yeah, business was kind of slow today...)

I chose a duck.

For the following many many reasons you can see why this is a superior selection:

a) I get to fly.
b) If a mallard, I get to be pretty one, with cool long feathers off the side of my head. (see picture above)
c) I totally get to do that upside down underwater move where my tail and feet are all wiggling straight up in the air.
d) if a girl duck, I totally get to lead those cute as hell duckling parades across streets near the park.
e) I get to eat bugs
f) water-proof.
g) quacking sounds cool and isn't annoying at all.
h) get to hang out with your friends and swim all day.
i) multiple layers of feathers make me impervious to the cold.
j) migrating is both impressive and an environmentally friendly way to travel.
k) if a cartoon, surprisingly immune to shotgun blasts + my bill will do that neat spinning around my whole head thing.
l) webbed feet.
m) adorable waddle while on land.

need i go on?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brunch, Bro-style.

Sunday, here in the City of Wind (and snow and tulips and bears) there was a humongous bicycle event along the lake. Bike the Drive it is called, after the mode of travel and the means, Lake Shore Drive (which is abbreviated LSD with the occasional hilarious consequences [at least to me] as in, "oh, yeah, I'll be there in a few, I'm on LSD"). Anyhow, the Croftster and myself often brunch it up at a certain place which happens to be located near the finishing point of Bike the Drive. Thus our already jam-packed weekend eatery was even more packed with jam, er, people. some of them sweaty and dusty with post-bike related hunger.

But the single most revolutionary aspect of this particular dining experience were the number of men eating brunch together. sometimes, just two of them in a little side table, tiny little coffee cups in hand. eating like there was nothing wrong with two dudes going out for omelets on a Sunday morning. it was Brunch, Bro-style.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

the day the crazy guy at work was arrested

understatement of the year: people are freaking weird. yet this weirdness is exacerbated when you put lots of different people together. like at work. there are any number of truly strange individuals in your office or firm or fastfood restaurantorium, but seeing them all together let you really get a good sense of whose freak flag flies highest.

Gorbachev was that guy at my work. That's not his real name of course, and I say was because he is no longer employed here. because he was arrested. and fired. and now there is a restraining order against his ever setting foot in the building or the immediate blocks around it. Police thought the restraining order was a good idea considering what Gorby did to get arrested in the first place. but before that, some back-story.

Gorby had worked here for ten years or so. Kind of a lumbering guy, big and slow moving, useful in physical tasks like moving stock around and stuff like that. He was also counted on to shovel the walk and take care of what little grounds needed to be taken care of, and since he got to work as early as 6am, this proved useful for everyone else. But Gorby wasn't all there 'upstairs.' Any brief conversation with the man would tip you off. He was constantly talking, to himself and anyone he was around. It was an anxious voice, like he was nervous all the time and felt he needed to talk or make jokes to relieve tension nobody else felt, well, until he was around.

And his jokes were never mean-spirited and almost always only funny to him. I don't think he had a mean bone in his body, or didn't, rather, before the incident. You see Gorby liked to play pranks on the other tenants of this building. If they put up fliers on the communal bulletin board in the elevator he would deface them, always subtly, like he was afraid of getting caught but just couldn't help himself. From time to time mail would get delivered to our office which was not for us, which was for someone many floors up, and once this mail included several heavy boxes. Our boss told Gorby he needed to take these packages to their rightful owner, and Gorby resented this deeply. Not that anyone knew this right away, he never said a word, just smiled and went to his task. yet if you were a fly on the wall of whatever hallways he was lumbering down with those boxes, one by one, I'm sure you would have been privy to a very long and random stream of disgruntled consciousness.

So Gorby decided to exact some revenge. Over a period of months, he would often pillage a control box, or circuit board (mother board?) on the floor of the person who so deeply wounded him. He would unplug wires and tangle them, plug them in the wrong slots, and this caused all kinds of network problems for the entire floor. Not exactly a smart prank, even though he often did this well before anyone was in the building, let alone on the floor in question. Seeing as it was not even on my office's property, it was all the worse. Eventually the tenants planted a sting, purposely broke the circuit panel door so that it had to be pried open, then watched as Gorby came by, fiddled, left, came back with a screw-driver and levered the door open. he then began to messing with the wires and with that, the trap was sprung and the dude was arrested.

His original statement? "I just saw that the wiring were broken and was trying to fix it." Only after a half hour or so did the strange revenge drama come out. Needless to say, he was fired on the spot, and not just because he committed these acts against the same people we rent our space from (awkward!). We then got an disconcerting message on our intra-email system warning us to keep a look out, and to call the police if we saw Gorby anywhere near his former workplace.

So, for the past week I have perfected my drop and roll into the adjacent room. I have my back to the front door and if anyone came barging in with a rifle or anything, well, it's nice knowing you all for as long as I have. I am left only with the memory of on old prank he perpetrated on a colleague of mine on Halloween. From what I heard Gorby snuck into this guy's office wearing a Reagan mask and carrying a 2x4. he then lurked in the corner before the guy came back, sat down, and saw him in the reflection of his computer screen. I still remember the scream of terror.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Emmett's Voice Silenced By the Playwright

Simply put, the "Ballad of Emmett Till" is one of the most overdone puffed up pieces of theater garbage I have ever seen. Which is a shame because for much of the first half of the performance the audience is treated to a wonderful bit of storytelling full of uncompromising acting. Then the lights go dim and and when they return the playwright transforms a simple and brutal story of ignorance, racism and murder into a Grand Message piece so full of its own righteousness and self-importance that it is almost impossible to remember the stuttering boyish enthusiasm of our deceased protagonist. At some point early on in the second half Emmett's voice is silenced and only the playwright's remains, bombastic and abrasive.

Ifa Bayeza tells us in the notes to the performance that the "Ballad of Emmett Till" was born out of a single act, excised from a different play that never saw the light. This one act is devastatingly moving, a charming back and forth between Emmett and his mother, and bears a seed of tremendous promise. Yet the farther the spins away from this early movement the worse it becomes. I am told the play was originally an elegant and concise if not brutal 90 minutes. The play the audience was treated to last evening was closer to 3 hours and sags under the unfortunate extra baggage.

One need not look any further than the ridiculous pomposity of the play's title. Why ballad? Ballads are romantic and simple, light and popular and short. I cannot think of a list of things that have less to do than the drama about to unfold on stage. Yes, there is singing, but the songs are much more spiritual, or at least attempt to be. The only romance in the play are the potential relationships snuffed out of Emmett's future and as such are far from light or simple. I am not going to speculate on how the title could have been reworked, all I know is that the final product feels like it wants to be simpler, more minimal and that this conciseness would represent the core of this play much better.

The set is also emblematic of an odd minimalism gone amok. What could have been a very powerful piece of support has one or three too many additional elements. The large fragments of a massive wall are suspended at various angles across the rear of the stage and appear dangerously close to coming crashing down. Yet these same pieces also look formidable and forbidding. As a result, the combination of staunch impenetrability and inevitable peril is wonderfully evocative of the nature of race relations among many other themes present in the play. It is a terrific bit of minimalism but of course, like everything in this play, we couldn't have it as is. No, we need huge projections crisscrossing the walls to bludgeon the audience with things they could surmise from the action on stage. Oh, well now i get it, they are out near a stream, because of all the rippling water lighting effects. I never would have gotten that from, say, the fact that the characters are all fishing. All the while the center of the stage spins round and round needlessly. Perhaps if this was some sort of metaphor for no matter how much things change, they always stay the same, but it can't be since the playwright's message is so adamant that the events of this performance have changed the world irrevocably for the better. So why must everyone just keep spinning in place then?

It is not just the set that is confusingly overcomplicated. Key details of the trial and legacy of Emmett's murder are muddled via artistic, and I use the term loosely, flashbacks that splice moments of the lynching itself directly into the action of the trial. You can imagine the technique, corny lighting effects which single out characters who then bellow out their impassioned lines from that fateful evening, and when the lights return the characters are once more sitting down once more in the courtroom, cool and calm. The effect is to water down both the simplistic violence of the lynching as well as the convoluted rhetoric of the trial by having the two needlessly coexist in the same place. And all the while the shade of Emmett prowls the stage, constantly pleading with characters who cannot see or interact with him, his continued presence diluting the loss of such a cheerful kid. I can only imagine how powerful a second act we could have had if only Emmett had stayed buried and the only interaction we'd seen was the shudderingly powerful reaction of his mother upon seeing his mutilated face in the open coffin. Nothing is more tragic than a innocent voice silenced too soon.

And that is the true tragedy. A simple fun-loving boy is transformed from a foolish kid into a messiah. In the second half of the play Emmett is a gigantic megaphone but his voice is not his own, nor is it the voice of those who championed his cause, but a singular and rather shrill voice of the playwright convinced of the worth of her vision. Ifa Bayeza seems unsure whether or not she wants to discuss all of the heroes' remarkable works inspired by this awful event or describe the despicable event itself and instead muddles the two together. Emmett Till may have well been a martyr, but he died without knowing what he would eventually become a part of. The saddest thing of all, and the point entirely missed by this trumped up production, is that Emmett never even had the chance to be the hero this play so desperately wants him to be.