There is something remarkably terrifying about the ABC network reality TV show, The Bachelor. A man searches amongst 26 pre-selected women for the one who is on the show for the “right reasons” and wants to “take it to the next level”. Adding to the difficulty of this quest, all of the candidates proclaim their love for this man and their desire to be with him for the rest of their lives.The process itself is laborious, involving group dates, cocktail parties, hand-holding, heart-to-heart talks and awkward sequences of kissing. Although the show is predictably structured – with pathetic story arcs, villains and insidious repetition – there are some moments which amuse and surprise. Tierra LiCausi, the villain of this season, blurted out a ground-breaking deconstruction of the self near the end of last week’s show. In defending her position on how she might have been seen by others when she raised an eyebrow in an insulting manner, she explained: “Raised eyebrow? That’s my face! I can’t help that…I can’t control my eyebrow. I cannot control my eyebrow. I can’t control what’s on my face 24/7.” There was no sense of irony, no sarcasm in her position; this was in fact a bold statement attempting to establish a startling new possibility that the face is an independent entity. Dissatisfied with the simplistic notion of the duality of mind and body, Ms. LiCausi sought to shatter the self into billionths, every cell and corpuscle independent of each other, only of itself, self-governed, self-determined, rarely, if ever, attuned to the body and mind as part of a whole. Ms. LiCausi continued, “I know in my own skin that I am not rude…If I could walk around with a smile on 24/7, I would. But my face would get freaking tired.” In other words, it is a virtual impossibility for another to understand the consciousness of Ms. LiCausi, or as she refers to it, her “sparkle”. Other selves, or “sparkles”, can only assume and thus interpret; they are incapable of capturing the essence of another sparkle simply because of the face’s independent notion of self and potentially abrasive manner. Predictably, Ms. LiCausi’s revelations left the other faces and bodies on the show dumb-founded, including that of the Bachelor himself, who decided to reject Ms. LiCausi, eyebrow, face, sparkle and all.
Is thinking a specifically singular activity? Is existence utterly isolated? Is “to think and be” a thing to do alone? Is it at all possible that there be a “we” in this thinking, we as a collective of “I”s? Can we think of ourselves as a “we”, truly together, or do we just go along, watching the stupidity of each other and try to get away with what we can? Can we think – and be – together?
We certainly have a notion of a “we” in cities, laws, families and music. It is in the interplay between right and wrong, sense and chaos, lyrics and rhythm. Retribution Gospel Choir – on stage this week with Wilco’s Nels Cline at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory – offered a number of connecting moments, long and straining, the guitars back and forth, Alan Sparhawk singing: Nobody put up a fight. Everyone out on the ice. You and I don’t lie. It is moments like these that there seems to be some sense to “we”, the intertwining sounds, like we’re going somewhere, wonder and excitement at every turn. Ragnar Kjartansson’s work The Visitors – at Luhring Augustine until March – develops this feeling of joy and unity as well. The communication between musicians, each alone in his/her own space, joined only by headphones, the music, flowing through crescendos and silence, until coming together, exiting the house into the wide misty expanse of what might come next. Hope looms. The same cannot be said of Andy Kaufman.Kaufman’s work – celebrated this week at the Maccorone Gallery in Greenwich – centered on the characterization of idiosyncratic individuals who didn’t fit in with the everyone else. Wide-eyed, smiling, Kaufman looked back like he wanted to be understood, waffling between child-like wonder and childish behavior, pushing us to reject him, which we inevitably did. “You could never like me. I always knew that.” That’s how he wanted it; if you weren’t in on the gag, so what?
As much of a cornerstone as the “I” might be in the work of Kjartansson and Retribution Gospel Choir, there is the invitation, a query as to what might be thought of next – not just the those on view – but the “we” in all of us “I”s too.
I am in the midst of re-formatting my writing (novels and scripts) from my WordPerfect days (1989-1996).
Unfortunately, I did not properly convert the files from WordPerfect 4.2 to Microsoft Word, and so now I am faced with the ugly and painstaking task of changing the text line by line, character by character. I start with this:
Þ_@ÞÃ_*’ÃTRAVISƒà__àà__àRelax, relax. Stay
cool.Þ_@ÞÃ_*’ÃCORINNEƒà__àà__àCool? I’m the
fuckin’…coolest.Þ_@ÞÃ_*’ÃRAYMONDƒÃ_*_Ã(holding his bleeding
neck)ƒà__àà__àTravis…Þ_@ÞÃ_*’ÃTRAVISƒÃ_*_Ã(looking into the hotel
room)ƒà__àà__àMr. Quati? Mr. Quati! You all
right?Þ_@ÞÃ_*&ÃSAVANNAHƒÃ_*#Ã(from the room)ƒà__àà__àHe’s unconscious,
Travis.Þ_@ÞÃ_*’ÃTRAVISƒà__àà__àWhat the hell’s going on here!?
I get it back to this:
Relax, relax. Stay cool.
Cool? I’m the fuckin’…coolest.
(Holding his bleeding neck)
(Looking into the hotel room)
Mr. Quati? Mr. Quati! You all right?
(From the room)
He’s unconscious, Travis.
What the hell’s going on here!?
It’s effective practice because it forces me to pick through the text, as painful as that might be. I’m the fuckin’…coolest??(And that’s not even close to the worst of it.)
Excerpt from My Bad Side: Everything was brittle and cracking. I beat my arms across my body, kicking my legs to get warm, and then lay there, as cold as before, worse, breathing fog. I closed my eyes. It was the same, awful and cold.
I was cold and dark in my head. My cheeks hurt. My breath was stuck. My sleeping bag was twisted and stunk of industrial plastic. I couldn’t move my fingers. I felt for my
heart and couldn’t feel that and then it wasn’t right, half beating and then
too many in a row and then none at all.
Subway scenes from My Bad Side:
I half followed him across Union Square and took the 4 Train. I found an empty car. There was a homeless woman sleeping at the end, her head cushioned on a blanket against the window. I wondered if she was really asleep. I wondered if she ever slept. I sat and stared and missed my stop. I was going to get off, but I didn’t. I went to the end of the line instead.
“You ever think about throwing yourself in front of the train? I mean more like rolling along the front of it like a dance move or Cirque de Soleil thing. You spin up kind of, hands out like a spinning top, you know, with that old thick wire. And then it gets bad. You hit the wall. Not even that. You just fall down and the train cuts off your legs or something like that.”
We went to see Singin’ in the Rain this morning at Film Forum and found the theatre packed with film-buff kids and parents alike – including Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman. We asked if this was a special event, a benefit perhaps, but it was just a screening for which we had just squeezed in. We settled into our second-row seats and cricked our necks for the opening short, a 1935 cartoon by Max Fleischer, Dancing on the Moon.I wondered what it was that made a 1952 musical such a draw in 2013. The song and dance is certainly something to marvel at – even if I wasn’t that fond of musicals – especially Donald O’Connor’s Make ’em Laugh and Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds’ amorous You Were Meant For Me. It is also a surprisingly thoughtful film, a tongue-in-cheek expose of the artifice of the stars and executives of the Hollywood system – ironically mirroring the behind-the-scenes story of Singin’ in the Rain itself. But most of all, the essence of the experience is in the underlying theme of integrity, celebrated in such wide-eyed innocence, where Hollywood stars drink milk at 1:30 in the morning, friends are always loyal and the worst of crimes is singing (and dancing) in the rain. And, yes, it is hard to find things like this these days. I guess that’s what sells out a theater on a cold Sunday morning in 2013, especially to such a hip crowd.
It was rush hour. The northbound 6 train was packed, pulling into 33rd Street. The doors opened, and the crowds shoved in and out. Someone shouted and another snapped back; two men were in a shoving match at the wall. The bigger one wound up and punched hard; the second and collapsed on the bench.
“Stay there!” The attacker got onto our train. The doors closed behind him. He looked around at everyone. No one looked back. It was quiet in the car, silent except for the train on the tracks and the man’s heavy breathing. I was supposed to do something. I knew that. The idea of explaining to the man that what he did was wrong popped into my head. He looked my way and I looked past him. The train swayed through the tunnel. The man was given a lot of space as we pulled into Grand Central as he went to the doors. I considered following and pointing him out to a policeman. He left. I did nothing. Nobody did. The train doors closed and he was gone.
A couple of years after that, I was on the northbound 4 train just after midnight; we pulled out of Brooklyn Bridge. A man yelled out to the riders. “Watch this!” A boy, maybe 10 years old, assumedly his son, did a remarkable dance, spinning on the ground, flipping head over heels. He was very good. The father passed around his hat. I stared back at him. “This city has child labor laws, you know.”
“What’s that?” He had bad eyes, dark and small.
“You’re not allowed to do that.”
The train had arrived at 14th Street. The man turned away and then suddenly kicked at me sideways, right on my ass, hard, and walked out, his boy behind him. Nobody seemed to have noticed any of it.
There is a new Metro Transit Authority announcement these days: Stay Back from the Platform Edge. Recently there have been a couple of highly publicized incidents of people being pushed to their deaths on the tracks. I’ve always tended to be an edge-stander, but now I check behind me and stay a few feet back.
Mostly I am disappointed in me, but I find it too much in others as well, those I know, pass in the streets, in the news and everywhere else. Today, I was on the 6 train northbound, and a young woman sat down, crazily smiling. I thought she had just remembered something funny, seen somebody, something like that, but her smile went on and on. She kept smiling crazily as she put on her chapstick.
A homeless man got on the train at Bleecker Street and made his appeal. “Anything you can spare, even a penny, whatever you can give helps us provide those in need with a sandwich or a bowl of soup.” He held up a laminated badge. Most everyone ignored him except the crazily smiling woman, who gave him a dollar. He bowed to her for that. “God bless you. I hope you get safely to your destination.” He made the rounds. No one else contributed. He bowed to the crazily smiling woman again. “God bless you. I hope you get safely to your destination.” I was disappointed in him making such a point of her dollar, weirdly damning the rest of us for not coughing up the money. (I doubted the soup story.) And I was disappointed in her for encouraging him to do it again – and take his “god-bless-your-trip” smiling still. But in the end, when they both had gone and it was just me and all the other silent, staring people, I was disappointed in myself. I had done nothing and, worse, had stood stupidly in judgment of a smiling woman giving a dollar to a homeless guy. Ugh.
I came out of the subway tonight just below St. Paul’s Church, and a man ran past, half crashing into a passerby. He apologized, spun away and continued fast down the road. Someone muttered, “That’s awkward.” Another man came past, a security guard, and then another. The only sound was of the feet. Nothing else. No yelling. No heavy breathing. A third person came past a moment later, a woman, looking tired. She was quiet too. All of them vanished up the road toward St. Paul’s, police lights flashing. It didn’t look like the first man had much of a chance. It stayed quiet.