27 April 2006

Lost and Found

It's nearly Festival time here in Brighton. Which, if it's like last year, means that M., who is employed by said Festival, will keep odd hours and I'll be out many eves seeing shows--which can't be good for the thesis-writing, but does tend to make me appreciate Brighton after a long winter of early sunsets and sour people (and god knows I'm one of them sometimes) in the streets.

One of M.'s main responsibilities this year has been "production co-ordination" (co-ordinating production?) for the Lost and Found Orchestra, the new show by the producers of world-famous Stomp. Lost and Found will be similar to Stomp, but in addition to percussive instruments made from industrial items, there will be a whole orchestra of "found" materials transformed into things that make music. And there's an acrobat. For a preview, check out the Brighton Festival Music Maker, where you can mix your own music using sounds from the show.

In other "news," it's a sunny warm day here, which has brought out another sign of Spring: the drunks have returned to the square outside our flat, along with daffodils and seagulls picking around at grass shavings for their nests. Since about 8:30 this morning they've been sitting around nursing tall cans of lager. A couple of guys are now playing football, cans still in hand. I don't mind them (except for this one girl with boofy hair who is so damn LOUD when she combines her lager with a shot of heroin around the corner), but I suspect the police will be here any minute to usher them on. Our neighbours don't like DOGS in the square, so you can imagine their reaction to lower class humans.

25 April 2006

Times Square Traces

I lived in New York City around the time Giuliani's Disneyfication of Times Square was getting into full swing. At that time, however, there still existed a number of the older peep show venues, labrynthine tunnels of neon and mirrors and strange circus deocroations snaking up and down and through buildings in and around 42nd Street. M. is a connosieur of these, and clued me in to some of his Midtown faves, which we last explored in 2001.

On our recent visit, we were excited to see that the old PlayPen peep show at least still has its marquis. Inside we found a small shop selling porn, with a depressing-looking little peep show downstairs. A few doors down we found the marquis for Show World, the largest and most mysterious of the old Times Square adult entertainment establishments; I'd read that it shut down for good in 2002. The former Romanesque statues and mannequins and carousel horses that used to adorn the place are nowhere to be seen now. It appears to simply be an average sex shop running out of the ground floor--seedy in a normal, depressing way. In 2001, when it still occupied at least 3 or 4 storeys, M. wandered around its various levels, taking video of its already partially-empty corridors and rooms, because we knew even then that it was dying.

Adult entertainment centres are not the only classic-Times-Square casualites. The old arcades, cavernous spaces emanating retro-futuristic sounds and light, have disappared as well. My favorite, a massive 4 story complex in 42nd Street, now appears to be some kind of slick shopping centre or hotel. Another fave (in 46th or 47th?), that still incorporates an old Laser Tag facility (also eerily painted in faded glow-in-the dark-space scene decor) lives on, though most of its vintage games, especially those emitting the weird noises that so mystified me, are gone. When we visited, the remaining couple of floors that were still open were packed out with kids and we could barely get around. Which is a good thing, in that kids are still going to arcades, but it's not going to bring back the strange old machines and atmosphere.

Though I enjoyed drinking gourmet beers and playing vintage arcade games for a quarter at Barcade in Williamsburg, it can never match the surreal and slightly dodgy experience of wandering through the seedy streets of Midtown on a quiet and rainy weeknight and being lured into a dark arcade by the otherworldly synthetic bleeps and vibrations of a strange game. And the people who used to inhabit the shadows of these places--many were just working class teens from the Bronx having a day in the City, but others were some pretty strange characters lurking in the shadow and light of the arcade game screens. Where are those guys now?

22 April 2006

Ghostbusters! (Two.)

Too much wine too quickly tonight, so I'm chilling out doing some "fieldwork" by watching Ghostbusters 2 on E4. At the moment, an Upper West Side-looking extra has just stepped out of a theatre wearing a mink stole and some pastel pink Dyeables (like you might have worn to your prom). She's stepped into some emotionally-susceptible hot pink ectoplasm and the taxidermied mink head of her stole has come alive and is hissing and attacking her face. The green snot-like ectoplasm of the original has evolved, you see. Like the pseudo-scientific ghosthunting I write about in my thesis: "psychical research has evolved," says the UK ghost club sponsered by Living TV here in the UK.

I need to watch this film more closely. Unlike the first Ghostbusters, which was full of mostly funny character ghosts, Ghostbusters 2 is chock full of the past itself coming back to haunt the present. A train that crashed around the turn of the last century comes hurtling through a forgotten underground track. The Titanic finally docks at a city port, allowing its long-dead passengers to file into the city (and as Jeffery Sconce reminds us, the Titanic disaster occurred around the same time as supernatural-seeming devices like radios and telegraphs, were coming to the fore, and inspired a spate of tales of dead victims communicating from the dead through these "new media"). The Statue of Liberty comes to life and walks from Ellis Island across the water to the promised land of Manhattan.

And there's this constant underlying theme of how shit the city is. Bill Murray's character reiterates it over and over. At one point he questions why any ghost would voluntarily choose to haunt such a crap place. This is obviously pre-Disney-happy-Giuliani NYC. I think there are connections to be made between this self-deprecating c.1980s hatred of this most "American" of places, the undigested events of 2001, and the hyper-sanitised version of the city I encounted last week. Can you imagine a Ghostbusters 3 in which the Twin Towers are resurrected via hot pink ectoplasm and victims of 9/11 are released into the city, in need of a good "busting" by the boys?

I've just viewed a cute scene in which Rick Moranis is re-united with troublesome ghost Slimer, who's manning a hot dog stand. "Well, Ok, but I didn't know you were licensed..." says Rick. Sequels themselves are another version of repetition and regurgitation...

Photo is of me re-enacting the scene from Ghostbusters 1 in which Bill Murray happily spins around the fountain outside of Lincoln Center, where Dana (aka Sigourney Weaver) has orchestra rehearsal.

20 April 2006

New York Post

Sadly not posting from NYC, but from back home in Brighton, where I am eating the remains of my last black and white cookie for awhile. I only managed to eat 2 the whole time, not the one-a-day I'd strived for.

On the cab ride in from JFK, M. and I talked about how instantly at home we feel anywhere in the US. We love parts of the UK, and are probably more "OF" the UK (after living here more than 7 years) than we give ourselves credit for, but there's something familiar about the US that puts us both at ease.

We stayed at The Hudson, a giant "boutique" hotel near Columbus Circle. It's a lovely-looking place: a neon-coloured escalator leads to the ivy-covered sky-lit lobby, and the hotel bar has neat floor lighting and transparent furniture (and lovely cocktails), and a nice outside area. The problem with it is how try-hard all the guests seem to be! Loads of hipster PLUs (People Like Us, as M. aptly named them) were wandering around trying to too look low-key-trendy in their American Apparel and Converse, and we don't need that shit. We were also surprised that extras like Internet access and stuff wasn't free, as they might be at other hotels with slick ambitions. I guess that's what the promotional website meant by "shabby chic." But it suited our needs fine, especially since we could walk to the Park easily.

Our first night we headed out to Williamsburg where we met our friend Jonathan for a "media cabaret" event at this place called Monkeytown. However, first we visited Barcade, which is just what it sounds like. I was so jet-lagged there was no way I even got close to beating my own record at my fave game Centipede, but M. did pretty well at the old Star Wars game (pictured).
Monkeytown itself was lovely. Nice people and drinks, and the back-room space of the cinema/performance area was lovely: a white square room with screens and low white couches on each of the four walls. I wish I could screen something there! But the show itself...not so hot. The idea is that people do various acts--comedy, music, etc--while thematically appropriate films are screened on the walls around the room. I think all three of us were pretty much wishing the "performers"--who included a couple of just-post-college girls who watch way too much SNL bouncing around telling raunchy jokes--would leave and let us get on with watching the films. Most of the audience seemed to be friends of the performers, so at least everyone else enjoyed it. And there's something sort of nice about knowing that you can put on some shit, and you're going to have some trendy W'burg audience come and enjoy it--even if they're just the people with whom you share your loft in Lorimer Street.

Friday was shopping-day. We decided to go Bendix Diner to start the day like we used to lots of weekends. We took a cab downtown to save time, and then spent the next hour wandering 1st and 3rd (we knew it was on one or the other) looking for it. But it is no more, as we found out later. So we headed into one of the many little tacoria's that have sprung up around the area and had the best huevos rancheros ever, made with a fab black bean sauce. We then went to the expanded Kim's in St. Marks' Place and bought dozens of DVDs, then to a bookstore where we bought too many movie-trade mags, and a few books (though every bookstore I visited was lacking in Southern lit--it was like being in the UK where asking for Walker Percy gets you a blank stare). We wandered around the shops of SoHo then down to Chinatown, and I stocked up on writing accessories at Pearl River. We somehow ended up in the after-work crowd at Century 21 downtown. Not a good place to be, though M. scored some nice designer-y shirts and I got some short-shorts. We had a dinner reservation at OysterBar in Grand Central, where we dined years ago just after I found out about scoring an Overseas Research Award that would eventually cut short my NY life and bring me back to the UK. Then we headed to to see this film CSA, a moc-doc about what might have happened had the South won the Civil War, because we thought a movie would be a good way to round out the night. Mistake: I squirmed at its badness, then promptly fell asleep. Review of this terribly onerous (and just plain historically incorrect) film to follow in another post!

Saturday we had a nice overpriced breakfast at the hotel and wandered over to MOMA where we couldn't be bothered to wait in the long queue. It was too nice a day for being indoors anyway. So we strolled over to the Upper East Side to check out my old workplace, Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center. It was weird to see it again, and not much has changed (though I hear women workers have to wear pantyhose with skirts now. Ugh.). Then it was on to Central Park, where a huge Easter fair was happening.

Tiring of kids and Peeps, we then did MORE shopping and I got a lovely seersucker jacket that I will undoubtedly stain before it's even warm enough to wear it in the UK. Then it was out to Queens to see Jonathan and his wife Monica's new place. For dinner, we all headed back into town to go the The Cajun, one of the last bastions of old school jazz in the city. We had some passable southern food (and I had a lovely martini made with jalapenos) and listened to the Red Onion Jazz Band, comprised of men in their 70s, one younger Hasidic Jewish guy, and an elderly female singer whose beautiful voice sounded like it was being projected from the 1920s. Lovely to hear some Dixie jazz! We decided to go over to the Meatpacking District for a final drink, and I was hoping my old fave, The Village Idiot (a sort of honkey tonk institution with $1 PBR), would still be there. No such luck. And what a shock--how could something so right have suddenly gone so wrong? The Meatpacking District is no longer comprised of trucker bars and gay s&m basement clubs sprinkled among meat warehouses. What we saw was pseudo-slick bars filled with preppy young men in Polo shirts, and ditzy, coiffed girls in J. Crew kitten heels clacking along the pretty old brick streets. We shuddered collectively and quickly passed through, and Monica told me that actually drinking PBR is a real trendy thing in New York these days anyway; I noticed later it's on tap at the Knitting Factory. Geez. We went to this Belgian bar we used to like instead where the waitress ALMOST dropped a beer on my new seersucker jacket. But not quite.
Sunday we woke up early and walked further uptown to brunch at @SQC, where I couldn't get a bloody mary from their amazingly extensive bloody mary menu because they don't serve them before noon! And I couldn't get a virgin mary because they couldn't get their drinks freezer unlocked. Nice food, though, and the place was packed when we left. It was a beautiful day, so we bought the paper and headed over to the park, where we saw robbins and starlings and a thrush, the guy who goes everywhere with his lovebirds, a few of the usual rollerskaters, and lots of people in absurdly huge Easter bonnets heading to the bonnet contest at Tavern on the Green.

After getting blissfully sunburned, it was time for the highlight our trip: Moscow Cats Theatre! The show is now a proper Broadway show, having moved to 44th St due thanks to its popularity. But it shares a space with some kind of evangelical church, and the theatre itself is quite small, with a stage decked in this lovely rainbow lame' curtain, so there's something a little seamy and old-school Times Square about it. The show itself--what can I say? It's this Russian clown and his many cats who run across the stage at odd intervals, do backbends on their front paws in the clown's palm, push baby buggies across the stage, and shimmy their way across broom handles using only their front legs. It's hilarious and weird. Highly recommended.

Last thing we did was dinner at the lovely Empire Diner in Chelsea,
where I finally got my bloody mary
and some mean homemade pig-in-a-blankets!

09 April 2006

Happy Birthday, Piper!

Piper Jones the cat is 1 year old today! Welcome to womanhood, Piper.

I've been toying around with ideas about what to get her. She's a picky eater, and has most other things her heart desires. Except for one of these Japanese costumes for cats who like to play dress up:

Oh look, it's the Easter bunny!

This is...well, it's supposed to be an elephant.

This one's reminiscent of that film Don't Look Now! Yikes.

And who's the handsome fellow, then?

Pretty in pink!

Piper is not amused. Happy birthday, baby!

07 April 2006

"Foreign types with the hookah pipes say..."

Way-oh way-oh, my M. is in Cai-ro. For the weekend, meeting his mum who's holidaying there.

So while he's away, I thought I'd share this email he sent me recently:

"Subject: Blogs - My Roseanne Crush Realised!
Hey, this new-fangled blog thingy that all you youngsters are into is good - I was just exploring blogspot that you're now part of and found a blog for my No. 2 teenage crush - Lecy Goranson - the first Becky from Roseanne. She's now an attractive 31 year old living as a middling actor in Brooklyn. You can see it here: http://aliciagoranson.blogspot.com. She could be your sister. Which is maybe why I liked her - my type! Or maybe that's why I liked you when we met?!"

He was very excited. As are a lot of people, judging by the comments she gets on her blog. We look nothing alike, by the way.

Speaking of Brooklyn, we're off to NYC over Easter. Look us up at the Hudson if you're around and want to borrow our room key to blag your way onto (into?) the rooftop bar (sorry, the "Sky Terrace").

PS. A surprise-prize to the first person who guesses M's No. 1 teenage crush! The title of this post is a clue.

06 April 2006


I KNEW I was math(s)-dyslexic! I’ve said it for years.

I’m okay at doing mathematical calculations in an academic context—I made it to calculus-level in high school and did well. My math score on the ACT brought down my otherwise high scores in other subjects, but I did fine in and enjoyed math-based physics courses at university. As someone who now does a bit of film editing, I’m good at working with time codes and related numerical concepts. But I’m terrible with maths and numbers in social situations, especially if there’s pressure to perform well.

Example: the other day I was making a dinner reservation over the phone and I had to give M’s mobile number. Which I know by heart; I can easily recite it because there’s a certain rhythm I’ve ascribed to its playback in my head. Writing it down is another matter. I usually get confused and have to give up and copy it from my own mobile directory. Anyway, I was reciting this number over the phone when the woman on the other end told me to hang on for a sec after I’d said only the first few digits or so. When she came back to the phone she tried to start me in the middle of the phone number but I couldn’t do it. I tried to start over from the beginning, but then I got too flustered. Were there two “1”s? Were there 3 “0”s? I couldn’t do it. I had to tell her numbers aren’t my forte and hand the phone over to M. It was sort of funny at the time, but this sort of thing happens to me all the time.

So today I came across this list of symptoms for the learning disability “dyscalculia”—like dyslexia but with numbers. Ignoring the fact that there are numerous typos and misspellings in the list, some of these really hit home in a scary way:

“May have fear of money and cash transactions…”
I hate the moment in shops and restaurants when it’s time to pay for something and I’ve got a lot of change instead of notes. I get flustered; I break out in a cold sweat; I drop the money on the floor; I want to run home, leaving my groceries behind. This may be why I usually try to pay with large notes, and why we’ve amassed what looks to be about £200 in change at our house (last I counted—and I LIKE counting; I’m really NOT bad at maths in the right circumstances--it was at £75).

“May be unable to mentally figure change due back, the amounts to pay for tips, taxes, etc…”
And don’t even try to get me to calculate a tip; especially when the rules are so ambiguous in the UK anyway. For anything under £40 I’d rather just leave an extra £5 and not suffer the agony of trying to calculate on the spot; as a former suffering waitress, I have no problem with that. I love going to bars in the US because the $1-per-drink tip rule is the one thing I can get right and that allows me to pretend I’m normal. And taxes? Don't make me laugh. Have never filed them.

“Fails to see the big financial picture…”
Hmm, let’s not get into my student loan debt here. Because I honestly couldn’t tell you how much I owe. Well, I could, but only because M. made me compile a list of all my loans recently so that we can keep track of it. It had never really occurred to me that I owed so much. Or that I have to pay it back. With something called “interest.” Why did I never think about it?

“Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting…”
See above; M. also helped me make a list of what I spend and what I make and what I owe to help me learn to budget. I've always avoided having credit cards because they seem too complicated. I do have a few now--subsidiary cards of M. and my parents. But I rarely use them because they scare me. I stick to my debit card and non-coin cash and am usually fine. Money in, money out, change back from bills for the ever growing coin pile: good enough.

“Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, loose [sic] things often, and seem absent minded…”
One time I spent a whole hour searching for a friend’s house I'd never visited; I was staying there while he was out of town. His directions were good and detailed. But I went in circles over and over again, and then I found a map but apparently read it backwards and went around in circles in the opposite direction. A policmeman came and helped me; I was flustered because it was getting late and I had started crying and it occurred to me that I had a serious mental disability. It turned out that at no time was I more than block away from my destination. And don’t get M. started on my inablilty to navigate when he’s driving. That said, once I know a place, I never get lost. And I can usually find places just by "feel" (it's not like I get lost in airports or shopping malls or while running on the seafront)--I just can't make sense of directions and maps somtimes. Oh, and I used to lose things all the time (I’m still sad over that calculator watch I drunkenly lost in the Oxford Students' Union in '97!), but I trained myself not to when I started wearing an engagement ring. And of course I’m absent-minded. I’ve always been a daydreamer, and now I’m supposedly an academic. What do you want?

“Difficulty keeping score during games, or difficulty remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often looses [sic] track of whose turn it is during games, like cards and board games…”
Most people know I HATE card games because it takes me ages to comprehend them, and who's turn it is, and I get flustered. But damn if I don’t love some Yahtzee, and that’s based on numbers. And I never forget whose turn it is in games where the order of play is sequentially determined by where you're sitting, especially if there’s a drinking component to the game.

And as for some of the other listed symptoms, I don’t mix up people’s names unless they’re boring people, and I’m great with remembering dates and times of something interesting that happened/is going to happen, and I'm able to “visualize” things far more than is probably healthy.

But I mix up right and left. All the time. That’s not on the list; it just occurred to me that it feels related somehow. And I’m terribly shy when it comes to speaking in public spontaneously—it’s as bad as being asked to perform math on demand; I want to run away. I've always felt there was a common thread between all these idiosyncracies, such as my left-handedness. Probably there is none.

By the way, the site I got my list of dyscalculia symptoms from is charging $500 for an online diagnostic test. No wonder "dyscalculiacs" have a "fear of money and cash transactions" if that's what it takes to get diagnosed!

04 April 2006

Residue Redux?

Back in 2000, I made a 17-minute film called Residue as part of my MA in visual anthropology. It was awarded distinction, I moved back home to the Southern US and then to NYC and then back to the UK, and I never got round to doing anything with it.

My film basically dealt with the strange world of the Deep South and fundamentalist Christianity there. There are interviews with local characters and friends who tell stories about bizarre high school murders and their connection to religion.

There are slowed-down drive-by shots of suburban houses and churches, scenes of Sunday services, and a soundtrack of creepy songs about the devil, courtesy of Daniel Johnston.

Last night I finally watched the BBC-commissioned film, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Which was basically about the strange world of the Deep South and fundamentalist Christianity there. There are interviews with local characters and friends of Jim White, the narrator, who tell stories about bizarre accidents and their connection with religion.

There are slowed-down drive-by shots of trailer homes and churches, scenes of Sunday services, and a massive soundtrack (via live performances) of creepy songs about religion courtesy of the Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd, 16 Horsepower, and others. Oh, and Harry Crews drops in to tell stories from time to time.

Plagiarism on a bigger budget, obviously!

It's lovely film, no doubt about it. There are beautiful opening shots of swamp roads and Jim White talks about hating the South as a teenager but then later being in foreign places and catching a passing scent of his old home on the wind, and eventually being drawn to return there. He talks about how necessary it was to leave the South to appreciate it and do something with it (which resonates with my own experience).

But despite the pretty cinematography, the great musical performances, and the nicely disjointed nature of the film, there's something troubling about it, something that makes me question my own strategies and intentions regarding my filmic aspirations down yonder.

There’s a scene where White (and presumably the invisible film crew) are driving around some trailer park, and he says to the camera, “You could go into any of these trailers and hear the saddest or the funniest story you ever did hear. Hmm. There is a part of me that, as an insider,” really believes that. I know my friends and relatives in the South well.

There is another part of me that immediately registers this kind of sensationalist talk as tourist brochure schlock that feeds the ridiculous notions about the South that most Brits have. M. said, though, "Imagine seeing this film as a music-obsessed 15-year-old British kid. It'd be magic and you'd want to know more."

Maybe so. And you know me. I'm all for magic and festishism, even in anthropology and tourism. But it makes me wonder what side of the fence I'm on with my own upcoming film plans. Who am I making stuff for, given my insider/outsider status, and the fact that it took living in the UK for years to draw my interest back there?

[All images from Residue by yours truly, 2000]

03 April 2006

Archive Fever

Hot on the heels of completing a rough draft of my thesis chapter dealing with photographic archives (you know, Derrida, replication, false memories), I’ve been delving into the The National Archives online. I love the look of the poster to the right, on which the BBC did a little story last week.

Apparently teenage girls would bunk off school and hang out with American GIs, who offered them money and entertainment and lots of sex during the “general excitement and unsettled conditions” of wartime London.

According to the BBC article, a letter was sent by the Home Office to the police stating that "these American soldiers passed the girls on to their friends and in a very short time, any one girl could be responsible for infecting a considerable number of people."

So obviously the soldiers had nothing whatsoever to do with the spread of VD--it was the "feckless" schoolgirls! A total of 37 where arrested for it over a 12 month period.

Ah, love and war…

The National Archives also has selection of their public information films available for viewing online.

I especially like Children and Disused Fridges from 1971. Though Rabies Advice is a bizarre one too, given the UK has been rabies-free for years and years. Oh wait, that's probably a direct result of this film!